Demons, Angels, and Writ­ing in Ancient Judaism

Annette Yoshiko Reed

January 14, 2020

What did ancient Jews believe about demons and angels? This ques­tion has long been puz­zling, not least because the Hebrew Bible says rel­a­tive­ly lit­tle about such trans­mun­dane pow­ers. In the cen­turies after the con­quests of Alexan­der the Great, how­ev­er, we find an explo­sion of explic­it and sys­tem­at­ic inter­est in, and detailed dis­cus­sions of, demons and angels. In this book, Annette Yoshiko Reed con­sid­ers the third cen­tu­ry BCE as a crit­i­cal moment for the begin­nings of Jew­ish angelol­o­gy and demonolo­gy. Draw­ing on ear­ly pseude­pigrapha’ and Ara­ma­ic Dead Sea Scrolls, she recon­structs the scrib­al set­tings in which trans­mun­dane pow­ers became a top­ic of con­cert­ed Jew­ish inter­est. Reed also sit­u­ates this devel­op­ment in rela­tion to shift­ing ideas about scribes and writ­ing across the Hel­lenis­tic Near East. Her book opens a win­dow onto a for­got­ten era of Jew­ish lit­er­ary cre­ativ­i­ty that nev­er­the­less deeply shaped the dis­cus­sion of angels and demons in Judaism and Christianity.

Discussion Questions

In Demons, Angels, and Writ­ing in Ancient Judaism, Annette Yoshiko Reed expert­ly dis­cuss­es a sub­ject that is rarely stud­ied but is of great inter­est to many. This book explores angelol­o­gy and demonolo­gy dur­ing the peri­od of ancient Judaism rather than the bib­li­cal epoch; it exist­ed in the ear­li­er time, but it was in the Hel­lenis­tic Age (start­ing in the third cen­tu­ry BCE) that there was a bur­geon­ing Jew­ish inter­est in the sub­ject. This is not a cat­a­logu­ing or source book, rather it is an exam­i­na­tion of what Reed calls trans­mun­dane pow­ers. It is through this explo­ration Reed is able to recon­struct the scrib­al set­tings that led to the study and dis­cus­sion of these forces. This excep­tion­al­ly well-researched and com­pelling­ly writ­ten book con­sid­ers both the Hebrew and Ara­ma­ic texts of ear­ly Judaism and how they work with­in the cross-cul­tur­al trends of the ancient world.