The Birth of Lucifer:

Linguistic and Astronomical Confusion

A. E. Salmon, Ph.D., M.A.

11-17-04

 

     Venus is the second planet from the sun, the sixth largest planet, the brightest of the objects in the sky except for the sun and moon.  Before Pythagoras discovered it to be a single star, it was thought to  be two stars, one appearing in the morning, the morning Star, and the other appearing at evening, the evening Star.    It was known in Greece as  Eosphorus, the morning star,  and Hesperus,  the evening star.   In Rome, Castor is the morning star  and Pollux is the evening star.  They are both the sons of Zeus and Leda, the Spartan Queen, who is divinely impregnated by Zeus in the form of a swan.  Helen of Troy is their sister.  (See W. B. Yeats’ “Leda and the Swan.”) When she is carried abducted from Sparta, Castor and Pollex attempt to rescue her.  In Canaanite mythology,   Shaker is the morning star, or planet Venus seen as a deity, and Shalom is the evening star. They are the twin sons of Ashram, the Great Mother or Goddess.   According to Walker, Shaker aspired to become the sun god; he "tried to usurp his thorn, but was defeated and cast down from heaven like a lightning bolt" (Walker 551).  

     The story of Lucifer is partly a story about misunderstandings of Hebrew references to the morning star in Isaiah (14:12-15).  The early Christians and Jesus in Luke identify the image of Shaher in Isaiah (14:12-15) with a new view of Satan, borrowed largely from Persia, of Satan as the enemy of God.  This fusion and confusion contributes to the process of myth syncretism in forming the myth of Satan.  The process receives powerful support in the early fifth century with Jerome's translation of the Bible. Lucifer is Jerome's Vulgate translation into Latin from the Hebrew (not Greek) of the Hebrew Helel ben-shachar in Isaiah (14:12-15).   Lucifer, it has been argued or noted, is the Latin translation of Helel (Asimov, Isaac. Asimov’s Guide to the Bible: Volume One: The Old Testament.  New York, Equinox Books/Avon, 1968, 538).  Helel means shining, or star, or the God of the Dawn, or the planet Venus (The Hebrew Lexicon).  Jerome’s invents the term Lucifer by combining   lux, or light, and lucis, and ferre, for bearing or bringing. He may have been influenced in this matter by the comments attributed to Jesus about seeing Satan fall from heaven like lightning in Luke.   As to the phrase "ben-shachar," shachar appears to some readers to be a variation of Shaher, means the brilliant one and is the Canaanite Morning Star or God of the Dawn.  Ben of course means son or son of.  A reasonable translation of the passage in Isaiah would be Shacher, son of light or son of the Morning Star.  In this case, however, since Shachar is the Morning Star or God of the Dawn, which creates at least a redundancy.  An option is to translate the entire phrase as simply, Shachar, son of shining, or son of light.  Another possibility is to see Helel as a reference to the Mother Goddess in "her world-womb aspect as Hele, 'the Pit'" (Qtd. by Hooke, and  qtd. from Hook by  Walker).

     The Canaanite source for Isaiah reads, "How has thou fallen from heaven, Helel's son Shaher! Thou didst say in thy heart, I will ascend to heaven, about the circumpolar stars will raise my throne, and I will dwell on the Mount of council in the back of the north; I will mount on the back of a cloud, I will be like unto Elyon" ( Albright 232.  Qtd. from Albright by Walker 551).. The writer of Isaiah  Chapter 14:12 borrows without acknowledgement from this earlier seventh-century B.C.E. dirge to Shaher, the God of the Dawn,  which is translated into English by the King James scholars in 1611, using Jerome's translation and its reference to Lucifer, as followers:   "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit" (14:12-15).  The earlier text provides a text or pre-text and a pretext for denigrating the King of Babylon, whose assaults and threats have weakened many nations, is viewed by the Isaiah writer as arrogantly aspiring to be like God.  The passage may be considered as forming part of a war poem, intended to encourage the faithful and boastfully intimidate opponents.  The reference to being "brought down to Hell, to the sides of the pit," refers to Sheol, the underground pit or cavern, and not to the concept of Hell as a place of "punishment."  The word Hell is used by the King James translators for the word Sheol.

    In the story of how Evening Star wins Morning Star in Skidi Pawnee mythology, from the Skidi Pawnee tribe of the Kansas-Nebraska area, Morning Star, or Venus, is one of the males of the sky. He is able to win the hand of Evening Star, Venus.  From their union, the world is created.  Middle-eastern thinking develops in another direction.  The author Revelation equates Jesus with the Morning Star, the "bright and morning star," and in the Gospel of Luke, "Jesus" (as depicted in the Gospel of Luke)   identifies the new idea of Satan as an enemy of God with accompanying demons with the figure falling from heaven in Isaiah: "The seventy-two returned with joy and said, 'Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.' He replied, 'I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven' (Luke 10:17-18). Since stars may also fall from the heavens in the New Testament cosmology (that is, fall from the solid firmament of the sky where they have been attached on day four of Creation in Genesis One), and meteors and comets falling from the skies are interpreted as harbingers of the impending judgment on the world, in the new apocalyptic literature   appearing in Palestine after c. 200 B.C.E

     In the Avesta,   "He who is of the wicked falls from the lower end (tih) of the bridge, or from the middle of the bridge; he falls head-foremost to hell. . .” (Yasna--Ushtavaiti Gatha,  Avesta, Chapter 20.4).  The image of Lucifer falling headlong appears in John Milton's Paradise Lost and a drawing of Satan's headlong fall by William Blake.  Blake was inspired by Milton, no doubt, whose Satan, despite Milton's best efforts, is recognized by scholars as inspired the Romantic poets, such as Blake, Shelley, and Byron.  Fusing Greek and Christian myth, Shelley depicts Satan as Promethean rebel in his Prometheus Unbound. Mark Twain later finds Satan a mouthpiece for his own criticisms of Christianity and the Bible in Letters from Earth.  Twain's Satan concludes that Christianity is "a thousand billion times crueler than Judaism" with its original belief in Sheol, for Jesus devised Hell whereas Judaism did not, a conclusion about the origins of the myth of Hell which goes farther than facts will allow, but of course Satan is not a Biblical scholar or mythologist, being himself a part of myth made into satiric fiction.  James Joyce adapts the myth of Satan or Lucifer falling in his A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The poet must fall, is the premise here, like Icarus and Lucifer fell, from their lofty but childish beliefs in supernaturalism into the natural world, which they are called to celebrate.

A. E. Salmon, Copyright. 2004.

Works Cited

Albright, William P. Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan. New York: Doubleday & Co., 1968. Albright, a scholar who confirmed the authenticity of the Dead Sea Scrolls, taught at John Hopkins University, where he received his Ph.D. 

BibleGateway.com. The complete text of the King James version, used here, as well as other versions, may be found at this site. http://bible.gospelcom.net/

Enuma Elish, The Epic of Creation. (Trans. L. W. King, from The Seven Tables of Creation. London, 1902). http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/enuma.htm.

The Jewish Encyclopedia: The History, Religion, Literature, and Customs of the Jewish People from the Earliest Times.  Ed. Isodore Singer. Vol. XI. KTAV  Publishing House, Inc. n. d. 

 Hooke, S. H. Middle Eastern Mythology. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books Ltd., 1963, 93.

Leeming, David. Myths of the Female Divine.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994).  Leeming has a number of useful  and entertaining books in mythology published by Oxford University Press. 

Messadie, Gerald. A History of the Devil. Trans. Marc Romano. New York, London: Kodansha International, 1997.  (See the S.C.C. library for this book.)

Pagels, Elaine. The Origin of Satan. New York: Random House, 1995. Pagels is the Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University, and probably mostly widely known for her research on Gnosticism and appearances on PBS television.

Sagan, Carl. The Demon-Haunted World. New York: Ballantine Books, 1996.  This  work treats critical-thinking principles, visionary experiences of the Virgin Mary and Aliens, the growing credulity of the American public in the last decades of the twentieth century, changes made by Christianity to the Greek view of demons.

Starlore of Native America. Assembled by Brad Snowder. Western Washington University Planetarium.   http://www.ac.wwu.edu/~skywise/legends.html#Evening%20Star. This is a relatively pleasant tale or myth from the Skidi Pawnee tribe who lived in Kansas and Nebraska, entitled in this text as "Evening Stars Wins Mmorning Star."

Yasna--Ushtavaiti Gatha. AVESTA: YASNA - Ushtavaiti Gatha. Trans. Bartholomae, from I.J.S. Taraporewala, The Divine Songs of Zarathushtra. YASNA 43.(http://www.hinduwebsite.com/sacredscripts/zoroscripts/dd17.htm#chap20).

Walker, Barbara. Womens' Encyclopedia of Mythology.  New York: HarpersCollins Publishers, 1983. Walker's academic background is not know.  She is listed as being a member of the Morris Museum Mineralogical Society, etc., of New Jersey.  The book, widely appreciated in England,  might be considered as adjunct reading, and of a highly entertaining nature, by American scholars treating  mythological literature. Its extensive bibliography contains the works of a large number of  reputable scholars from whom Walkers has extracted her conclusions.