Asmodeus (//; Greek: Ασμοδαίος, Asmodaios) or Ashmedai (//; Hebrew: אַשְמְדּאָי, ʾAšmədʾāy; see below for other variations) is a king of demons mostly known from the deutero-canonical Book of Tobit, in which he is the primary antagonist. The demon is also mentioned in some Talmudic legends, for instance, in the story of the construction of the Temple of Solomon. He was supposed by some Renaissance Christians to be the King of the Nine Hells. Asmodeus also is referred to as one of the seven princes of Hell. In Binsfeld's classification of demons, each one of these princes represents one of the seven deadly sins (Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, and Pride). Asmodeus is the demon of lust and is therefore responsible for twisting people's sexual desires.
It is said in Asmodeus; Or, The Devil on Two Sticks that people who fall to Asmodeus' ways will be sentenced to an eternity in the second level of hell.
The name Asmodai is believed to derive from Avestan language *aēšma-daēva, where aēšma means "wrath", and daēva signifies "demon" or "divine being". While the daēva Aēšma is thus Zoroastrianism's demon of wrath and is also well attested as such, the compound aēšma-daēva is not attested in scripture. It is nonetheless likely that such a form did exist, and that the Book of Tobit's "Asmodaios" (Ἀσμοδαῖος) and the Talmud's "Ashmedai" (אשמדאי) reflect it.
The spellings Asmodai, Asmodee, Osmodeus, and Osmodai have also been used. The name is alternatively spelled in the bastardized forms (based on the basic vowels אשמדאי, ʾŠMDʾY) Hashmedai (חַשְמְדּאָי, Hašmədʾāy; also Hashmodai, Hasmodai, Chashmodai, Chasmodai), Hammadai (חַמַּדּאָי, Hammadʾāy; also Chammadai), Shamdon (שַׁמְדּוֹנ, Šamdōn), and Sidonai (שִׁדֹנאָי, Šidonʾāy). Some traditions have subsequently identified Shamdon as the father of Asmodeus.
The Jewish Encyclopedia of 1906 rejects the otherwise accepted etymological relation between the Persian "Æshma-dæva" and Judaism's "Ashmodai" claiming that the particle "-dæva" could not have become "-dai" and that Æshma-dæva as such—a compound name—never appears in Persian sacred texts. Still, the encyclopedia proposes that the "Asmodeus" from the Apocrypha and the Testament of Solomon are not only related somewhat to Aeshma but have similar behaviour, appearance and roles, to conclude in another article under the entry "Aeshma", in the paragraph "Influence of Persian Beliefs on Judaism" that Persian Zoroastrian beliefs could have heavily influenced Judaism's theology on the long term, bearing in mind that in some texts there are crucial conceptual differences while in others there seems to be a great deal of similarity, proposing a pattern of influence over folk beliefs that would extend further to the mythology itself in general.
In the texts
In the Kabbalah
In the Book of Tobit
The Asmodeus of the Book of Tobit is attracted to Sarah, Raguel's daughter, and is not willing to let any husband possess her (Tobit 6:13); hence he slays seven successive husbands on their wedding nights, impeding the sexual consummation of the marriages. He is described as 'the worst of demons'. When the young Tobias is about to marry her, Asmodeus proposes the same fate for him, but Tobias is enabled, through the counsels of his attendant angel Raphael, to render him innocuous. By placing a fish's heart and liver on red-hot cinders, Tobias produces a smoky vapor that causes the demon to flee to Egypt, where Raphael binds him (Tobit 8:2-3). According to some translations Asmodeus is strangled.
Asmodeus would thus seem to be a demon characterized by carnal desire; but he is also described as an evil spirit in general: 'Ασμοδαίος τὸ πονηρὸν δαιμόνιον or τõ δαιμόνιον πονηρόν, and πνεῦμα ἀκάθαρτον (Tobit 3:8; Tobit 3:17; Tobit 6:13; Tobit 8:3). It is possible, moreover, that the statement (Tobit 6:14), "Asmodeus loved Sarah," implies that he was attracted not by women in general, but by Sarah specifically.
In the Talmud
The figure of Ashmedai in the Talmud is less malign in character than the Asmodeus of Tobit. In the former, he appears repeatedly in the light of a good-natured and humorous fellow. But besides that, there is one feature in which he parallels Asmodeus, inasmuch as his desires turn upon Solomon's wives and Bath-sheba.
Another legend depicts Asmodai throwing king Solomon over 400 leagues away from the capital by putting one wing on the ground and the other stretched skyward. He then changed places for some years with King Solomon. When King Solomon returned, Asmodai fled from his wrath.
In the Testament of Solomon
In the Testament of Solomon, a 1st–3rd century text, the king invokes Asmodeus to aid in the construction of the Temple. The demon appears and predicts Solomon's kingdom will one day be divided (Testament of Solomon, verse 21–25). When Solomon interrogates Asmodeus further, the king learns that Asmodeus is thwarted by the angel Raphael, as well as by sheatfish found in the rivers of Assyria. He also admits to hating water and birds because both remind him of God.
In the Malleus Maleficarum
In the Malleus Maleficarum (1486), Asmodeus was considered the demon of lust. Sebastien Michaelis said that his adversary is St. John. Some demonologists of the 16th century assigned a month to a demon and considered November to be the month in which Asmodai's power was strongest. Other demonologists asserted that his zodiacal sign was Aquarius but only between the dates of January 30 and February 8.
He has 72 legions of demons under his command. He is one of the Kings of Hell under Lucifer the emperor. He incites gambling, and is the overseer of all the gambling houses in the court of Hell. Some Catholic theologians compared him with Abaddon. Yet other authors considered Asmodeus a prince of revenge.
In the Dictionnaire Infernal
In the Dictionnaire Infernal by Collin de Plancy, Asmodeus is depicted with the breast of a man, a cock leg, serpent tail, three heads (one of a man spitting fire, one of a sheep, and one of a bull), riding a lion with dragon wings and neck, all of these animals being associated with either lascivity, lust or revenge. The Archbishop of Paris approved his portrait.
In the Lesser Key of Solomon
He "is strong, powerful and appears with three heads; the first is like a bull, the second like a man, and the third like a ram; the tail of a serpent, and from his mouth issue flames of fire." Also, he sits upon an infernal dragon, holds a lance with a banner and, amongst the Legions of Amaymon, Asmoday governs seventy two legions of inferior spirits.
In The Magus
Asmodeus' reputation as the personification of lust continued into later writings, as he was known as the "Prince of Lechery" in the 16th century romance Friar Rush. The French Benedictine Augustin Calmet equated his name with fine dress. The 16th century Dutch demonologist Johann Weyer described him as the banker at the baccarat table in hell, and overseer of earthly gambling houses.
In 1641, the Spanish playwright and novelist Luis Velez de Guevara published the satirical novel El diablo cojuelo, where Asmodeus is represented as a mischievous demon endowed with a playful and satirical genius. The plot presents a rascal student that hides in an astrologer's mansard. He frees a devil from a bottle. As an acknowledgement the devil shows him the apartments of Madrid and the tricks, miseries and mischiefs of their inhabitants. The French novelist Alain-René Lesage adapted the Spanish source in his 1707 novel le Diable boiteux, where he likened him to Cupid. In the book, he is rescued from an enchanted glass bottle by a Spanish student Don Cleophas Leandro Zambullo. Grateful, he joins with the young man on a series of adventures before being recaptured. Asmodeus is portrayed in a sympathetic light as good-natured, and a canny satirist and critic of human society. In another episode Asmodeus takes Don Cleophas for a night flight, and removes the roofs from the houses of a village to show him the secrets of what passes in private lives. Following Lesage's work, he was depicted in a number of novels and periodicals, mainly in France but also London and New York.
Asmodeus was widely depicted as having a handsome visage, good manners and an engaging nature; however, he was portrayed as walking with a limp and one leg was either clawed or that of a rooster. He walks aided by two walking sticks in Lesage's work, and this gave rise to the English title The Devil on Two Sticks (also later translated The Limping Devil and The Lame Devil). Lesage attributes his lameness to falling from the sky after fighting with another devil.
In the film Gabriel, Asmodeus is shown as a very handsome owner of a brothel in Purgatory, where a fallen angel is forced to work. He's disfigured one of the workers, til she looks like him. He also blows up the soup kitchen, just before the final confrontation between Gabriel (Andy Whitfield) and Sammael/ Michael. He's portrayed by the Australian actor Michael Piccerilli.
On 18 February 1865, author Evert A. Duyckinck sent President Abraham Lincoln a letter, apparently mailed from Quincy. Duyckinck signed the letter “Asmodeus”, with his initials below his pseudonym. His letter enclosed a newspaper clipping about an inappropriate joke allegedly told by Lincoln at the Hampton Roads Peace Conference. The purpose of Duyckinck’s letter was to advise Lincoln of “an important omission” about the history of the conference. He advised that the newspaper clipping be added to the “Archives of the Nation”.
References and sources
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