The Celestial Fall
“How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations!”
This verse comes from one of the books of the Tanak, from Isaiah, the biblical prophet who lived in Judah over 2700 years ago. The verse has commonly become a touchstone to one of the more fascinating myths created by human beings. A myth that told of a primordial War in Heaven between titanic, cosmic forces of good and evil, led on one side by Michael the Archangel and on the other, Lucifer, the Light-Carrier. Lucifer failed and his Fall from Heaven preceded the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden. However, that is not what Isaiah was writing about, because the notion of a War in Heaven would have been incomprehensible to him. The concept didn’t exist in Isaiah’s religious conception. Lucifer the fallen angel, as we will show, was a singularly Christian invention that was used to portray certain theological concepts that the Churchmen thought were crucial to the Christian religious framework. There needed a contender against the Will of God, and adversary that explained evil in an existence of a “good God.” If Lucifer did not exist, he would have been invented.
It is a fact that the planet Venus was also called “Lucifer’ by the ancient Greeks. Lucifer is Greek for Light-bearer. As we see in the above quotation, the subject is the “star of the morning.” So the question to ask is how the planet Venus, as the “Morning Star,” become associated with the biblical Lucifer?
The answer comes from a principal early Latin version of the bible known as the Vulgate, compiled sometime around 405 CE. The Hebrew books that makes up the “Old Testament” in the collection was edited largely by the Church Father, Hieronymus, commonly known today as St. Jerome. While it took many centuries, the Vulgate eventually enjoyed the status as the official bible of the Roman Catholic Church by the 16th century. The Vulgate was a great influence on the English language and on the Geneva (French) and the King James (English) versions of the bible. Instead of using the popular Greek version of the Hebrew Bible called the Septuagint, Jerome used the Hebrew version of the book of Isaiah. Concerning the passage of Isaiah, Jerome would have seen the Hebrew words to translate O star of the morning, son of the dawn, as ”Helel,”the shining” or “brilliant one,” and “ben Shahar,” “son of the dawn.” Instead of using the Hebrew name, “Hehel,” Jerome substituted with the Latin, “Lucifer.” Jerome effectively changed the meaning of the verse from “star of the morning” to “light carrier.” We’ll find out why in a moment. Incidentally, the Septuagint (the writings of the Hebrew Holy Books written in Greek), uses the word Greek word “Eosphoros,” which is Venus in her aspect as the morning star, which a far more accurate translation than the Latin word, Lucifer.
This Eosphoros was first written about by Homer in his Illiad.
“At length as the Morning Star (Eosphorus) was beginning to herald the light which saffron- mantled Dawn was soon to suffuse over the sea, the flames fell and the fire began to die.”
“Eosphoros, that most often heralds the light of early-rising Dawn (Eos Erigeneia).”
“And after these Erigeneia (“Early-born”) bore the star Eosphorus (“Dawn-bringer”), and the gleaming stars with which heaven is crowned.”
—Hesiod, Theogony 378-38
The name Lucifer also appears in Plato’s Timaeus, where Timaeus discusses the origin of creation with Socrates. Later the Romans also referred to the morning star Venus, as “Lucifer.”
To review: Jerome translated “Helel ben Shachar,” Hebrew for, “Daystar, son of Dawn” — with ”lucifer qui mane oriebaris,” (morning star that used to rise early),” effectively changing the meaning of the passage. Incidentally, the fascinating thing about Helel, the brilliant, shining one, was that he is first portrayed in a Phoenician religious story as attempting to usurp his father’s throne, but failed, resulting in his being cast out of Heaven into the darkness. This mirrors a Greek myth about Phaethon, where the day-star is cast out of heaven for similar reasons. Could these ancient myths be the genesis of the biblical War in Heaven and the Fallen Angels?
But a War in Heaven is the farthest thing from Isaiah’s mind, as he makes no mention of “Lucifer,” fallen angels or Satan. In a later blog, we will show how Satan, in fact, has no explicit origin in anywhere in the Bible, which will no doubt come as a big surprise among casual and devout Bible-readers all over the world. Instead, Isaiah set out to use the astrological symbol of Helel, the “shining one” as an ironic title of the King of Babylon, who boasted of his great power, but as Isaiah tauntingly japes, the king’s power will be useless to prevent death. Using Venus as an astrological symbol, Isaiah compares the fall of the King of Babylon, most likely Nebuchadnezzar, with the bright Day Star rising (or “ascending”) to Heaven only to be obliterated by the light of the sun, with the sun obviously meant to be compared to the Isaiah’s God of Judea.
The Myth of the Fallen Angels
So how did a polemical and mythological allusion to the death of a Babylonian king become transformed into a Christian myth of a fallen angel? In apocryphal works of Jewish, Christian and Islamic religious traditions, there are many stories of fallen angels.
The Book of Enoch was collected from various sources between the third and first centuries BCE. It was known in ancient times by the rabbis but the book was excluded from the Jewish canon, precisely because the idea that angels could “sin against God” wasn’t something the religious leaders thought possible. The only complete copy of the book exists in an Ethiopian Christian abbey. It contains some of the earliest mentions of fallen angels, but does not mention Lucifer or Satan.
Instead we hear the story of the angel Samyaza, leader of the angelic order of the Watchers. They were supposed to keep watch over the Earth and of human beings, but became filled with lust over human women and took them for wives, who bore the gigantic Nephilim who then set out to consume and destroy everything in sight. Women… why is it that they always seem to catch the blame for the fall of men and angels?
Anyway, the angels are judged to be bound to Earth forever for their “blasphemy.” In the later Jewish tradition, notably the Qabala, the rebellious angels are either chained to the Mountains of Darkness or hurled from Heaven to Earth, where they teach human beings magical spells. But without mention of Lucifer or Satan…
So how did Lucifer, the ancient name of the planet Venus, come to be conflated into the mythos of fallen angels? We turn back again to the Doctor of the Church, Jerome. He was the one who replaced the Morning Star with “Lucifer” in his translation of Isaiah.
Jerome’s own notes on the subject says:
“Now the Sun of justice is rising in the West, but in the East, that notorious Lucifer, who had fallen, has exalted his throne above the stars.” (The Letters of St. Jermone: Volume 1 [Charles Mierow, Ancirnt Christan Writers 33: New York: Newman, 1963] Theodoret of Cyprus)
While there existed a Phoenician legend that Helel sought to ussurp his father’s throne and was cast out for his troubles, there is no biblical text saying that Lucifer tried to “exalt his throne above the stars,” and now you know the rest of the story. Lucifer wasn’t created as an angel by God, but by the flourish of the pen of St Jerome. Jerome moved to the Middle East to get closer to the Hebrew language to aid in his translations. He undoubtedly heard of the Semitic stories of a deities brought low through overreaching, like Phoenician myth of the fall of Helel ben Sahar. While Jerome made the connection between the primordial fall of Lucifer, the Babylonian Talmud, compiled by Jewish scholars in Babylon around the 5th century BCE during the Babylonian Exile, understood the Helel referred to the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. Satan was not considered to be the Light Bringer and neither was Lucifer. Remember, Lucifer is not a Hebrew or a Greek word. It’s Latin. Lucifer is a thoroughly metaphysical bogeyman created by St. Jerome and made to order for Christian theological doctrine. There needed to be a black hat, a Satan, or Lucifer or a Devil and a Fall into the abyss. There was a need to have an explanation for evil in the world. As we have already seen in the Book of Enoch, the fallen angels provide a fulfillment of that need. All that was missing were the figures of Lucifer and Satan.
The Islamic traditions of Lucifer offer a slightly different take on the Light-Carrier’s difference with God. Lucifer (or Satan) is called Iblis, a Jinn. Jinns were created from fire by God, while angels were created from light, according to the Quran. The expulsion of Iblis came when God ordered Iblis to bow and worship Adam, which Iblis refused.
We bade the Angels bow down to Adam, and they bowed down; not so Iblis; he refused to be of those who bow down. (Allah) said: ‘What prevented thee from bowing down when I commanded thee? He said: ‘I am better than he: Thou didst create me from fire, and him from clay.
Iblis then asks for a delay in his punishment, and Allah grants it. However, Iblis then says:
Because thou hast thrown me out of the Way, lo! I will lie in wait for them on thy Straight Way: Then will I assault them from before them and behind them, from their right and their left: Nor wilt Thou find, in most of them, gratitude (of Thy mercies).’ (Allah) said: ‘Get out from this, disgraced and expelled. If any of them follow thee – Hell will I fill with you all. (Quran, 11-18)”
In 1273, Bishop of Tusculum, (who would later ascend to the papacy as Pope John XXI), actually claimed to know how many angles followed Lucifer in the revolt in Heaven. Somehow the number came to 133,306,668. Lucifer was traditionally thought to have support of 1/3 of Heaven, which would bring the total amount of angels to under 4 million!*
Jerome provided the subtext and others, like John Milton and his work, “Paradise Lost,” refers to Satan as “Lucifer.” This is the first time in print that someone identities Satan and Lucifer as the same being. The background of Paradise Lost (1667 CE) is Lucifer/Satan and the Fallen Angels’ failed rebellion against Heaven, a rebellion which is never explicitly stated anywhere in the Bible. One would think such an enormous celestial battle as a War in Heaven between Lucifer and the Hosts of Heaven would draw more commentary in the bible than it has. But as we have already seen, no such war existed until it was created by Jerome’s comment around 405 CE. Milton adopts Jerome’s interpretation of Isaiah’s Morning Star/Venus/Lucifer verse with these lines:
The infernal serpent; he it was, whose guile
stirred up with envy and revenge, deceived
the mother of mankind, what time his pride
had cast him out from Heaven, with all his host
of rebel angels, by whose aid aspiring
to set himself in glory above his peers,
he trusted to have equalled the Most High,
if he opposed; and with ambitious aim
against the throne and monarchy of God
raised impious war in Heaven and battle proud
with vain attempt.
Him the Almighty Power
hurled headlong flaming from th’ eternal sky
with hideous ruin and combustion down
to bottomless perdition, there to dwell
in adamantine chains and penal fire,
who durst defy the Omnipotent to arms.
Lucifer here is identified explicitly with the wily “Serpent” from the book of Genesis. Even Jerome didn’t that connection. But thanks to Milton, another link in the chain of the evolution of the Myth of Lucifer is manifested. Milton says that the Serpent was Lucifer, and ascribes the Serpent all kinds of baleful characteristics, especially envy and ambition to the point of instigating a War in Heaven, and when that failed, Lucifer sends himself forth to spoil God’s newest creation by instigating the Fall of Mankind.
For all of his faults, Milton’s Lucifer has come to be regarded as a ‘sort of’ literary Romantic anti-hero who is perhaps best described by his motto of, “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” Nobody, not even God,, was going to tell Lucifer what to do.
Coming up next: The Legacy of Luciferianism
———————————————————————————————————————*Ashley, R. N. Leonard. “The Complete Book of Devils and Demons”