In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Demons

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Greco-Roman

Biblical Studies Demons
Matthew Goff, Blake Jurgens, Emily Olsen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 March 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 February 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0013


The term “demon” is used to describe a wide variety of spiritual beings. The word derives from the Greek term daimōn, which refers to all sorts of beings, by no means only ones that are evil. The conventional definition of “demon,” however, is that it refers to malignant supernatural entities who seek to harm humans. A rich mythology of such creatures is found throughout the ancient world. They were understood to cause a variety of problems that people face in everyday life, such as disease and problems in childbirth. For this reason magical practices, including incantation spells and use of amulets, constitute important evidence for the study of demons. There is a rich lore regarding demons in the ancient Near East. The evidence, however, is surprisingly sparse for such figures in the Hebrew Bible. A resurgence of interest in demons occurred in Early Judaism. Jewish traditions about demons from this era not only inform conceptions of evil spirits in later periods of Judaism, but also comprise an important part of the Jewish heritage of Christianity, which is evident in both the New Testament and subsequent Christian literature.

General Overviews

Two works set the stage for the study of demons within the domain of biblical studies—the large collection of essays Demons (Lange, et al. 2003) and the encyclopedia Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (van der Toorn, et al. 1999). They both cover demonic figures not simply in the Bible, but also in related contexts such as the ancient Near East. In addition, a dictionary, Lurker 2004, offers a basic resource addressing deities and demons in a worldwide context. Volume 8 of The Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception (Abusch, et al. 2014) serves as a good introduction to exorcism through a variety of lenses. Further, Bhayro and Rider 2017 provides a number of studies on illness and demons. People interested in demonological research should consult these items first. No comprehensive, scholarly online resource is available for demons, but several websites are beneficial for the study of demons, although these sites should be used with caution. The formats of these websites tend to be like that of an encyclopedia. In general, they provide basic information on various named demons, without containing extensive analysis. DeliriumsRealm is often quite helpful and should be the first online source consulted. Lange, et al. 2003 and van der Toorn, et al. 1999 are leading bibliographic resources.

  • Abusch, Tzvi, Mark Bradshaw Busbee, Joseph Davis, et al. “Exorcism, I–VIII: Ancient Near East and Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.” In The Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception. Vol. 8, Essenes–Fideism. Edited by Sebastian Fuhrmann and Rainer Hirsch-Luipold, 513–519. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2014.

    A good introduction to exorcism as it pertains to magic in the Greco-Roman world, Christianity, the Hebrew Bible, and Judaism. The entry also discusses exorcism’s relevance in contemporary media (film and literature).

  • Bhayro, Siam, and Catherine Rider, eds. Demons and Illness from Antiquity to the Early-Modern Period. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2017.

    This edited volume offers an array of studies, ranging in topics from demons in Mesopotamia to early modern ideas of demons and illness.

  • DeliriumsRealm.

    A good online resource with numerous alphabetical entries on demons. The articles often consist of citations of relevant passages from ancient texts or later demonological treatises, such as Johan Weir’s Pseudomonarchia daemonum (1583).

  • Lange, Armin, Hermann Lichtenberger, and K. F. Diethard Römheld, eds. Demons: The Demonology of Israelite-Jewish and Early Christian Literature in Context of Their Environment. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2003.

    This book contains numerous essays on demons in the ancient Near East, ancient Israel, Early Judaism, Greco-Roman literature, the New Testament, Gnosticism, and Jewish texts written after the destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE). Some of the essays in the book are written in German.

  • Lurker, Manfred. The Routledge Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses. 3d ed. London: Routledge, 2004.

    A translation of the author’s German edition of 1984. This volume provides brief dictionary entries for a variety of divine and demonic beings in numerous socio-religious contexts.

  • van der Toorn, Karl, Pieter W. van der Horst, and Bob Becking, eds. Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. 2d ed. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1999.

    A core resource for the study of demons in the ancient world. The book contains a wide range of helpful entries on divine beings (not only evil demons) in Mediterranean, Israelite, and ancient Near Eastern religious traditions.

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