The Pros and Cons of Demon Labor


Inspired by this post, I recently read the Testament of Solomon, a short book written in Greek sometime around the third century (although there’s debate on this point). It’s a story about King Solomon capturing demons and forcing them to do his bidding, with the help of a ring given to him by the Archangel Michael. Most of it is basically a demonic roll call, with each demon showing up and telling the king their name, function, home (most of them seem to moonlight as stars), method by which they can be defeated, and greatest enemy among the heavenly host. Solomon then gets each one in turn to help in building the temple. The description of Asmodeus comes directly from the deuterocanonical book of Tobit, but I’m not sure how many of the other demons were already established by the time of the Testament.

I’ve written before about Solomon’s reputation as a sorcerer and his power over demons, and this is one of the most concrete examples of that tradition. It seems to have caught on particularly well in Arabian lore, with the wise king’s power over jinn being mentioned in the Quran, and the tales of the Arabian Nights include several jinn who were imprisoned in bottles and such by Solomon.

The ifrit in “The Fisherman and the Jinni” is said to have been imprisoned for about 1800 years before being found by the titular fisherman. For what it’s worth, the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin gives his time of imprisonment as 10,000 years, which I suppose means Solomon was not his old master. Not that Disney is known for being especially careful about such things.

An interesting fact about the Testament is that, while it is steeped in Jewish tradition, a few passages make it pretty overtly Christian. A few demons mention that they can be bound by the number 644, which is the numerical value of the name Emmanuel. This is obviously Jesus, even though the idea of the founder of Christianity also being called Emmanuel is based entirely on a passage in Matthew quoting another verse in Isaiah. Since the child in Isaiah’s prophecy to King Ahaz is named Emmanuel, Christians who took this as a prediction of Jesus had to take this as an alternate name for their savior, even though nobody in Matthew’s Gospel or anywhere else in the Bible calls him that. I think the general belief is that Emmanuel is his spiritual name, but I say that when you have to jump through that many hoops to make the prophecy fit, you’re better off looking for a different prophecy.

The demon Ephippas actually says that the Son of God will be crucified by “the Jews,” an odd statement not only in that I don’t think the term “Jews” was in common usage until several centuries after Solomon’s lifetime, but in that Solomon WAS a Jew. The Testament is believed to have either been written by a Jew who converted to Christianity, or to be a Jewish work that was later modified by Christians. It’s odd how, in Christian apocryphal writings, so many people knew about Jesus centuries before he was even born. Why, then, do the Gospels show pretty much everybody regarding Jesus as a loose cannon, with even his closest friends and relatives having no idea what he’s going to do next?

The Testament ends with the demons unionizing and demanding a health plan from Solomon. No, that would have been cool, but it actually ends with the legendary ruler being pressured by a non-Jewish woman into worshipping other gods, on the condition that she have sex with him. Apparently the libido will bring down even the supposed wisest man in history. I guess this could be seen as revenge on the part of his hellish slaves, as foreign gods were often regarded as demons. Mind you, I’ve always questioned whether Solomon’s shrines to other gods were totally the result of his being horny, and not an attempt to please different factions within his kingdom. Maybe he paved the way for multi-faith community centers.

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10 Responses to The Pros and Cons of Demon Labor

  1. vilajunkie says:

    I’ve never seen most of the Testament demons anywhere else, but they all seem to be authentically Jewish or Greek Christian. I think there’s one that’s a woman with the legs of a donkey, which is the description of the (both ancient and modern) Greek folklore “bogeyman” Empusa as well as a couple others like her. So it’s possible that the demons in the Testament of Solomon were well-known at the time it was written, regardless of whether or not they had names, and known by the public, not just scholars. But as time goes on and beliefs change, especially in the realm of folklore, the demons may have become forgotten. After all, there wasn’t an internet back then to document all the tales of the apocryphal demons.

    Disney’s Genie would have to be from before the advent of civilization if he was imprisoned 10,000 years ago. So, yeah, unless he was imprisoned by the Atlanteans, I doubt he was really in the lamp for that long and probably exaggerated since he was clueless about what was going on in the world at the time. (He was locked away in an underground treasure chamber in the middle of the desert, after all.)

    • Nathan says:

      A lot of the demons probably date to when they were associated with various diseases and maladies, as seen with Jesus’ own exorcisms in the Gospels. A few are simply personifications of negative things, like how I’ve seen Mammon portrayed as a demon.

      Maybe the Genie forgot to wind his watch. {g}

      • vilajunkie says:

        The Sumerians and Babylonians associated certain demons with certain diseases, or even groups of demons for certain diseases. Some of them weren’t even named, but still listed in poetry and magical/religious incantations. Since Babylonia and Sumer overlapped with the Hebrew territory, it’s totally possible that the cultures influenced each other and the Hebrews copied demons from their neighbors.

        Genie having a watch would imply that wristwatches were around before the 20th century. Maybe Disney genies (not Genie from the original movie, but genies as the race from the TV show) live outside the realm of human time, so they can travel throughout time the way people can travel through the physical world. That would explain Genie’s claim of 10,000 years as well, since he has no concept of human time.

      • Nathan says:

        That would make a certain amount of sense, as Genie is constantly accessing and referencing things that would not exist for centuries. Maybe he doesn’t even realize those things are anachronistic.

  2. OH THIS IS SO WEIRD. Your post showed up in my Google Reader directly above a review of a book CALLED The Ring of Solomon. WHAT ARE THE CHANCES. Demonic activity?

  3. Pingback: Solomon Always Rings Twice | VoVatia

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  5. Knowledge says:

    The Testament of Solomon has been tampered with by Christians adding in random bits of Jesus here and there this and that, and calling the demons/jinn as part angels or such uncanny and contraindication ways, where it clearly is shown that angels and the demons are of two different separate beings, angels are of light, and the demons are of fire. And at the end of the story it just doesnt make much sense, Solomon was the wisest of all Kinds, the most powerful, he had as many wives as he could possible have, and he even controlled all the gods (demons/jinn). The Christians seem to put the other prophets down and make Jesus look like he is the best human being on the face of the earth and that the other prophets sent by God are just dogs.

  6. Pingback: My Teacher Is a Devil | VoVatia

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