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The sheyd אַשְמְדּאָי (Ašmodai) in bird-like form, with dragon’s wings, lion’s tail and human phallus, as depicted in Compendium rarissimum totius Artis Magicae 1775
Child sacrifice to the sheyd מֹלֶךְ (Mōleḵ), showing the typical depiction of the Ammonite deity 'Moloch' in medieval and modern sources (illustration by Charles Foster for Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us, 1897)

35. And they mingled with the nations and learned their deeds. 36. They worshipped their idols, which became a snare for them. 37. They slaughtered their sons and daughters to the demons [(shedim)]. 38. They shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters whom they slaughtered to the idols of Canaan, and the land became polluted with the blood. 39. And they became unclean through their deeds, and they went astray with their acts.

Tehillim (Psalms), 106.35-39[1]

17. They sacrificed to demons [(shedim)], which have no power, deities they did not know, new things that only recently came, which your forefathers did not fear.

Devarim (Deuteronomy), 32.17[2]

Shedim (Hebrew: שֵׁדִים; singular: שֵׁד Sheyd)[3] are spirits or demons in the Tanakh and Jewish mythology. Shedim do not, however, correspond exactly to the modern conception of demons as evil entities as originated in Christianity.[4] While evil spirits were thought to be the cause of maladies, shedim differed conceptually from evil spirits.[5] Shedim were not considered as evil demigods, but the gods of foreigners, and were envisaged as evil only in the sense that they were not God.[6]

They appear only twice (and in both instances in the plural) in the Tanakh, at Psalm 106:37 and Deuteronomy 32:17. In both instances, the text deals with child sacrifice or animal sacrifice.[7][8] Although the word is traditionally derived from the root ŠWD (Hebrew: שוד shûd) that conveys the meaning of "acting with violence" or "laying waste,"[9] it was possibly a loan-word from Akkadian in which the word shedu referred to a spirit which could be either protective or malevolent.[10][11][12] With the translation of Hebrew texts into Greek, under the influence of Zoroastrian dualism, the term shedim was translated into Greek as daimonia with implicit connotations of negativity. Later, in Judeo-Islamic culture, shedim became the Hebrew word for Jinn conveying the morally ambivalent attitude of these beings.[13]


According to one legend, the shedim are the descendants of serpents, or of demons in serpent form, in allusion to the story of the serpent in Eden, as related in Genesis.[14] A second view is that they are the offspring of Lilith,[15] from her union with Adam or other men, while a third says that God created them on the sixth day, starting to fashion their bodies but failing to complete the work because he was obliged to rest on the Sabbath.[16] Even after the Sabbath, he left them as they were, in order to show that, when the Sabbath comes, all work still unfinished at the beginning of the Sabbath must afterward be viewed as complete.[17] As a result, the shedim have souls like those of humans, but lack the bodies to contain them.[18] Yet a fourth conception was that the shedim had their origins among the builders of the Tower of Babel - these being divided by their motivations into three groups, of which the third and worst comprised those who sought actively to wage war against God and were punished for their sacrilegious hubris by transformation into the shedim.[19] Finally, the Zohar describes them as offspring of the demons Azazel and Naamah.[12][20]

Biblical and rabbinical texts depict shedim as demonic entities, with references such as Deuteronomy 32:17 and Psalm 106:37 suggesting sacrifices to these beings, including human sacrifices like the firstborn. However, the extent and details of such practices in ancient Israel remain a subject of debate among scholars. Hurwitz's work, citing archaeological finds and the existing rite of 'pidjon ha’ben,' supports the notion of such sacrifices, especially in the archaic period.[21]


The Talmud describes the shedim as possessing some traits of angels, and some traits of humans:

In three ways, they are like ministering angels: They have wings like ministering angels; and they fly from one end of the world to the other like ministering angels; and they know what will be in the future like ministering angels. And in three ways, they are similar to humans: They eat and drink like humans; they multiply like humans; and they die like humans.

— Babylonian Talmud Hagigah 16a[22]

According to Rashi, shedim, like lillin but unlike ruchos, have human form, although no human body. They eat and drink as humans do.[19](p177)

They can cause sickness and misfortune,[17] follow the dead and fly around graves.

There are many things that one is admonished not to do in order to avoid invoking the shedim, such as whistling or even saying the word "shedim". The 12th century mystic Judah ben Samuel of Regensburg wrote in his will and testament that one should not seal up windows completely because it traps shedim in the house.

The shedim are not always seen as malicious creatures and are also considered to be helpful to humans. They are said to be even able to live according to the Torah, like Asmodeus.[23]

Conjuring shedim is not necessarily forbidden, depending on whether the theologian discussing the topic views such summoning to constitute sorcery. Even if summoning shedim is an act of sorcery and thus forbidden, consulting shedim conjured by a non-Jew would be permissible.[19](p179)


The clawed and scaly feet of a fowl, undisguisable feature of the (otherwise mutable) anatomy of the shedim
The bird-footed night shedah (goddess/she-devil) of the Burney relief (Isin-Larsa or Old Babylonian period circa 1800 BCE)

Shedim are said to have had the feet and claws of a rooster.[24] To see if the shedim were present, ashes were thrown to the ground or floor, which rendered their footsteps visible.

Shedim can shapeshift, sometimes assuming a human form, the Talmud telling of the sheyd Asmodeus assuming King Solomon's form and actually ruling in his place for a time, although he had to take care never to be seen barefoot, because he could not disguise his clawed feet.[25]

In the Zohar:[26]

The Shekhinah hid Esther from Ahasuerus and gave him a Shedah [a she-devil][27] instead while she returned to Mordechai's arms. [...] This is why a man must speak with his wife before he mates with her, because she might have been exchanged with a female demon.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Complete Jewish Bible.
  2. ^ The Complete Jewish Bible.
  3. ^ Russell, J. B. (1987). The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity. Vereinigtes Königreich: Cornell University Press. p. 215
  4. ^ Dorian Gieseler Greenbaum. The Daimon in Hellenistic Astrology: Origins and Influence. BRILL, 2015. ISBN 9789004306219. p. 127.
  5. ^ Dorian Gieseler Greenbaum. The Daimon in Hellenistic Astrology: Origins and Influence. BRILL, 2015. ISBN 9789004306219. p. 128.
  6. ^ Benjamin W. McCraw, Robert Arp. Philosophical Approaches to Demonology. Routledge, 2017. ISBN 978-1-315-46675-0. p. 9.
  7. ^ W. Gunther Plaut, The Torah: A Modern Commentary (Union for Reform Judaism, 2005), p. 1403 online
  8. ^ Dan Burton and David Grandy, Magic, Mystery, and Science: The Occult in Western Civilization (Indiana University Press, 2003), p. 120 online.
  9. ^ "Old Testament Hebrew Entry for Strong's #7700 - שֵׁד". Retrieved 8 March 2019.
  10. ^ Rachel Elior; Peter Schäfer (2005). על בריאה ועל יצירה במחשבה היהודית: ספר היובל לכבודו של יוסף דן במלאת לו שבעים שנה. Mohr Siebeck. p. 29. ISBN 978-3-16-148714-9.
  11. ^ Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses. Judika Illes. HarperCollins, Jan 2009. p. 902.
  12. ^ a b The Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology. Rosemary Guiley. Infobase Publishing, May 12, 2010. p. 21.
  13. ^ Jan Dirk Blom, Iris E. C. Sommer. Hallucinations: Research and Practice. Springer Science & Business Media, 2011. ISBN 978-1-461-40958-8. p. 237.
  14. ^ The Expositor. The Expositor. 1907. p. 331.
  15. ^ Altschuler, David (1740–1780). Metzudat Zion on Isaiah (in Hebrew). Chapter 34:14.
  16. ^ Loos, H. v. d. (1965). The Miracles of Jesus. Belgien: E. J. Brill. p. 343
  17. ^ a b Maureen Bloom. Jewish Mysticism and Magic: An Anthropological Perspective. Routledge, 2007. ISBN 978-1-134-10329-4. p. 128.
  18. ^ Edwards, J. R. (2009). The Hebrew Gospel and the Development of the Synoptic Tradition. Vereinigtes Königreich: Eerdmans Publishing Company. p.52
  19. ^ a b c Taylor, P. (2020). A Jewish Guide to the Mysterious. Mosaica Press. ISBN 9781946351890.
  20. ^ Zohar. 3:76b-77a.
  21. ^ Hurwitz, Siegmund (1999). Lilith - the First Eve: Historical and Psychological Aspects of the Dark Feminine. Daimon. ISBN 978-3-85630-577-2.
  22. ^ Babylonian Talmud. pp. Chagigah 16a.
  23. ^ Raphael Patai Encyclopedia of Jewish Folklore and Traditions Routledge 2015 ISBN 978-1-317-47170-7
  24. ^ Carlson, Marc. "Notes on a demonic pantheon". University of Tulsa. Archived from the original on 27 February 2012.
  25. ^ Babylonian Talmud. pp. Gittin 68a.
  26. ^ Zohar. pp. 3:276a.
  27. ^ "שדה | Definition of שדה at Definify". Retrieved 2021-10-18.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ben-Amos, Dan. "On Demons." In Creation and Re-creation in Jewish Thought: Festschrift in Honor of Joseph Dan on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday. Mohr Siebeck, 2005, pp. 27–38, limited preview online.
  • Charles, R.H. The Apocalypse of Baruch, Translated from the Syriac. Originally published 1896, Book Tree edition 2006 online.
  • Charles, R.H. The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, vol. 2: Pseudepigrapha. Originally published 1913, Apocryphile Press Edition 2004, p. 485 online and p. 497.
  • J. H. Chajes. Between Worlds: Dybbuks, Exorcists, and Early Modern Judaism. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003, pp. 11–13 online.
  • Goldish, Matt. Spirit Possession in Judaism. Wayne State University Press, 2003, p. 356 online.
  • Heiser, Michael S. 2015. The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible. [1]
  • Koén-Sarano, Matilda. King Solomon and the Golden Fish: Tales from the Sephardic Tradition. Translated by Reginetta Haboucha. Wayne State University Press, 2004. Limited preview online.
  • Plaut, W. Gunther. The Torah: A Modern Commentary. Union for Reform Judaism, 2005, p. 1403 online.
  • Walton, John H., and J. Harvey Walton. 2019. Demons and Spirits in Biblical Theology: Reading the Biblical Text in its Cultural and Literary Context.[2]

External links[edit]

  • Elyonim veTachtonim. An on-line database of angels, demons, ghosts and monsters in the Bible and Babylonian Talmud.