Samael, from the amoraic period onward the major name of Satan in Judaism. The name first appears in the account of the theory of angels in the Ethiopic Book of Enoch 6, which includes the name, although not in the most important place, in the list of the leaders of the angels who rebelled against God. The Greek versions of the lost Hebrew text contain the forms Σαμμανή (Sammane) and Σεμιέλ (Semiel). The latter form takes the place of the name Samael in the Greek work of the Church Father Irenaeus in his account of the Gnostic sect of the Ophites (see below; ed. Harvey, I, 236).
According to Irenaeus the Ophites gave the snake a double name: Michael and Samael, which in the Greek work of the Church Father Theodoretus appears as Σαμμανή (Sammane). The Greek version of Enoch used by the Byzantine Syncellus retained the form Σαμιέλ (Samiel). This form still retains the original meaning derived from the word sami (סמי), meaning blind, an etymology which was preserved in various Jewish and non-Jewish sources until the Middle Ages. In addition to Samiel, the forms Samael and Sammuel date from antiquity. This third version is preserved in the Greek Apocalypse of Baruch 4:9 (from the tannaitic period), which states that the angel Sammuel planted the vine that caused the fall of Adam, and therefore Sammuel was cursed and became Satan. The same source relates in chapter 9, in an ancient version of the legend of the shrinking of the moon, that Samael took the form of a snake in order to tempt Adam, an idea which was omitted in later talmudic versions of the legend.
In the apocalyptic work The Ascension of Isaiah, which contains a mixture of Jewish and early Christian elements, the names Beliar (i.e., Belial) and Samael occur side by side as names or synonyms for Satan. What is recounted of Samael in one passage is stated in another about Beliar. For example, Samael dominated King Manasseh and embraced him, thus taking on the form of Manasseh (ch. 2). In chapter 7, Samael and his forces are stated to be under the first firmament, a view that does not accord with his position as the chief of the devils. Samael is mentioned among the “angels of judgment” in the Sibylline Oracles 2:215. In the tannaitic and amoraic period, Samael is mentioned as being outside the alignment of the hosts of the *Merkabah. Drawing from Jewish tradition, several Gnostic works refer to Samael as “the blind god” and as identical with Jaldabaoth, who occupied an important place in Gnostic speculations as one of, or the leader of, the forces of evil. This tradition apparently came down through the Ophites (“the worshipers of the snake”), a Jewish syncretistic sect (Theodore Bar Konai, Pagnon ed., 213). Partially ecclesiastical traditions of this period, such as the pseudepigraphic versions of Acts of the Apostles, Acts of Andrew, and Matthew 24, retain the name Samael for Satan, acknowledging his blindness. He is mentioned as head of the devils in the magical Testament of Solomon (Testamentum Salomonis), which is essentially a superficial Christian adaptation of a demonological Jewish text from this period (ed. Chester Charlton McCown (1922), 96). Undoubtedly Simyael, “the demon in charge of blindness” mentioned in Mandean works (Ginzā, trans. M. Lidzbarski (1925), 200, and The Canonical Prayer Book of the Mandaeans, ed. E.S. Drower (1959), 246), is simply a variant of Samael.
In rabbinic tradition the name first occurs in the statements of Yose (perhaps b. Halafta or the amora Yose) that during the exodus from Egypt “Michael and Samael stood before the Shekhinah” apparently as prosecutor and defender (Ex. R.18:5). Their task is similar to that of Samael and Gabriel in the story of Tamar (Sot. 10b), in the statement of Eleazar b. Pedat. Samael retains the role of prosecutor in the account of Ḥama b. Ḥanina (c. 260 C.E.; Ex. R. 21:7), who was apparently the first to identify Samael with Esau’s guardian angel during the struggle between Jacob and the angel. His name, however, does not appear in Genesis Rabbah (Theodor ed. (1965), 912), but he is mentioned in the old version of the Tanḥuma, Va-Yishlaḥ 8. In the parallel version in Songs of Songs Rabbah 3:6, the amora has Jacob saying to Esau: “your countenance resembles that of your guardian angel,” according to the version of the Sefer Mattenot Kehunnah (Theodor ed.). Surprisingly, in the section of the Midrash Yelammedenu on Exodus 14:25, Samael fulfills a positive function during the dividing of the Red Sea, pushing back the wheels of the chariots of the Egyptians. In gematria, Samael is the numerical equivalent of the word ofan (“wheel”; in Ms. British Museum, 752, 136b; and in the Midrash Ha-Ḥefeẓ ha-Teimani, which is cited in Torah Shelemah, 14 (1941) to this verse).
Mention of Samael as the angel of death first occurs in Targum Jonathan on Genesis 3:6, and this identification frequently appears in late aggadot, especially in the legends on the death of Moses at the end of Deuteronomy Rabbah, at the end of Avot de-Rabbi Nathan (ed. Schecter (1945), 156). In Deuteronomy Rabbah 11, Samael is called “Samael the wicked, the head of all the devils.” The name “Samael the wicked” is repeated consistently in Heikhalot Rabbati (1948), chapter 5, an apocalyptic source. The Hebrew Enoch 14:2, acknowledges him as “chief of the tempters” “greater than all the heavenly kingdoms.” This text differentiates between Satan and Samael, the latter being none other than the guardian angel of Rome (ibid. 6:26). In traditions concerning the rebellion of the angels in heaven (PdRE 13–14 (1852)), he is the leader of the rebel armies. Prior to his defeat he had 12 wings, and his place was higher than the ḥayyot (“holy heavenly creatures”) and the seraphim. Several tasks are attributed to him: Samael is in charge of all the nations but has no power over Israel except on the Day of Atonement, when the scapegoat serves as bribe for him (ibid. 46). It is he who rode on the snake in the course of the fall of Adam and hid in the golden calf (ibid. 45). In Midrash Avkir (see *Midrashim, Smaller), Samael and Michael were active at the time of the birth of Jacob and Esau, and even on the way to the *Akedah of Isaac, Samael intervened as a prosecutor (Gen. R. 56:4). The war between him and Michael, the guardian angel of Israel, will not be completed until the end of days, when Samael will be handed over to Israel in iron shackles (Gen. R., ed. Albeck, 166, following Mak. 12a, and similarly in the messianic chapters (pirkei mashi’aḥ) in A. Jellinek, Beit ha-Midrash 3 (1938), 66f.).
Particular motifs on Samael in later aggadah include the following: Samael does not know the path to the tree of life, even though he flies through the air (Targ. Job 28:7); he has one long hair in his navel, and as long as this remains intact his reign will continue. In the messianic era, however, the hair will bend as a result of the great sound of the shofar, and then Samael will also fall (Midrash Piyyutim, quoted in a commentary on Ms. Munich 346, 91b). In Jewish astrological sources, which in time influenced those of other groups, Samael was considered the angel in charge of Mars. This idea recurs at first among the Sabans in Haran, who called him Mara Samia (D. Chwolson, Die Ssabier und der Ssabismus, 2 (1856); Picatrix, ed. H. Ritter (1933), 226) and later in medieval Christian astrological magic literature. He appears as the angel in charge of Tuesday in Sefer Razi’el (Amsterdam, 1701), 34b; in Ḥokhmat ha-Kasdim (ed. M. Gaster, Studies and Texts, 1 (1925), 350; in Judah b. Barzillai’s commentary on Sefer Yeẓirah (1885), 247, and in many other works. In demonological sources known to the brothers Isaac and Jacob b. Jacob ha-Kohen, Spanish kabbalists of the mid-13th century, an echo of the ancient etymology is still retained and Samael is called Sar Suma (“blind angel”).
In later literature, Samael often appears as the angel who brought the poison of death into the world. These same demonological sources contain the earliest references to Samael and Lilith as a couple in the kingdom of impurity (Isaac ha-Kohen’s essay on aẓilut, Madda’ei ha-Yahadut, 2 (1927), 251, 260, 262). These sources are full of contradictory traditions concerning the roles of Samael and the war against Asmodeus, then regarded as guardian angel of Ishmael. Different systems were constructed of the hierarchy of the leaders of the demons and their consorts (Tarbiz, 4 (1932/33), 72). According to one view, Samael had two brides (resp., Sidrei de-Shimmusha Rabbah, Tarbiz, 16 (1945), 198–9), an idea which also appears in Tikkunei Zohar (Mantua, 1558). The couple Samael and Lilith are mentioned many times in the Zohar, mostly without specifically mentioning the name Lilith (e.g., “Samael and his spouse”), as the leaders of the sitra aḥra (“the other side”; i.e., evil). In Ammud ha-Semali by Moses b. Solomon b. Simeon of Burgos, a contemporary of the author of the Zohar, Samuel and Lilith constitute only the eighth and tenth Sefirah of the left (evil) emanation (Tarbiz, 4 (1932–33), 217f.). In the Zohar, the snake has become the symbol of Lilith, and Samael rides on her and has sexual intercourse with her. Samael is cross-eyed and dark (Zohar Ḥadash 31, 4) and has horns (Tikkunei Zohar in Zohar Ḥadash 101, 3), perhaps influenced by the Christian idea about the horns of Satan. However, the image of Satan is linked with the goat in Targum Jonathan to Leviticus 9:3. The party, hosts, and chariots of Samael are mentioned in Zohar part 2, 111b; part 3, 29a. Different classes of demons, all called Samael, were known by the writer of Tikkunei Zohar (published in the main body of the Zohar 1, 29a). “There is Samael and there is Samael, and they are not all the same.”
The conjurations of Samael often appear in magical literature and in practical Kabbalah. In 15th-century Spain a system was developed in which the heads of the demons were Samael, the representative of Edom, and his assistant Amon of No, representing Ishmael. A legend telling of their downfall at the hands of Joseph della Reina appears in several sources (G. Scholem, in Zion, 5 (1933), 124f.). After Isaac Luria had introduced the practice of not pronouncing the name of Satan, the custom of calling him Samekh Mem became widespread (Sha’ar ha-Mitzvot (Salonica, 1852), Exodus; Sha’ar ha-Kavvanot (Salonica, 1852), Derushei ha-Laylah 1).
R. Margulies, Malakhei Elyon (1945), 248–70; M. Schwab, Vocabulaire de l'angélologie (1897), 199; H.L. Strack and P. Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch (1922), 136–49; E. Peterson, in: Rheinisches Museum, 75 (1926), 413–5; J. Doresse, The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics (1960), index; G. Scholem, Origines de la Kabbale (1966), 311–4.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.