Does the Hebrew Bible refer to demons? Remarkably, the standard answer to this question has remained rather stable: although there are indeed traces of demons, there is no evidence of the sophisticated type of demonology that is found in Akkadian texts. While this may be true, a more fundamental point remains unanswered. Did the ancient Near Easterners view demons in the same way as modern scholars do, as intrinsically evil beings who deliberately choose to engage in malicious activities contrary to the wishes of the governing deity? Here the answer must be negative. The present article examines the issue of demons in the Hebrew Bible through an evaluation of an Akkadian subordinate supernatural being called rābiṣu, the root of which is shared by רבץ (rōbēṣ) in Gen 4:7, which is routinely thought to denote a demon. Akkadian texts indicate that the rābiṣu is a neutral being that is nothing other than a current of wind dispatched by the deities to perform certain duties. This point not only informs the use of רבצה (rābəṣâ) in Deut 29:19 but also permits a connection with רוח אלהים (“spirit of God”) and רוח יהוה (“spirit of YHWH”), both of which are occasionally qualified with רעה (“evil”). The evidence demonstrates that, like the evil associated with rābiṣu, the רעה attributed to a divine רוח actually references its mission and not its moral standing. Therefore, demons as inherently evil subordinate supernatural beings did not exist in the ancient Near East. They are, rather, divinely articulated verdicts handed down as judgments in response to human transgressions.

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