Considered to be one of the Seven Princes of Hell, the demon known as Asmodeus has been involved with both lesser-known biblical characters such as Tobias, as well as more recognised figures such as the Archangel Raphael and King Solomon.
In all his appearances, all of which appear in non-canonical biblical stories and apocryphal works, Asmodeus is as evil as they come. Notably being responsible for kidnapping, torturing, murdering and conspiracy against man.
According to the classification of demons by German Bishop and theologian Peter Binfield, Asmodeus represents Lust of the Seven Deadly Sins.
Asmodeus or originally known as Ashmodai, as derived from an early Eastern Iranian language, is thought to mean wrath. But we don’t get to see much of his wrath from the text available. We see that Asmodeus’ wrath, if any, is often thwarted by mortals and angels alike and that while he is revered, he shows tremendous cowardice when met with direct opposition, often opting to flee from battle and hide behind the women that he has managed to possess.
Asmodeus in the Book of Tobit — Apocryphal Biblical Story
There does appear to be a mention of a similar demon name in 2 King 17, where we see the people of Israel who are exiled to Assyria set up false gods to worship. One of these false gods takes the name Ashima, which some believe is the demon Asmodeus—seeing as the names are quite similar.
The second book of Kings 17:30 tells us that it is those from Hamath who worship this being, as it reads,
‘Each national group made its gods in the several towns where they settled and set them up in the shrines the people of Samaria had made at the high places. The people from Babylon made Sukkoth Benoth, those from Kuthah made Nergal, and those from Hamath made Ashima.’
Beyond this, the main mention of Asmodeus comes out of the apocryphal biblical story in the Book of Tobit. Tobit, a God-fearing man who goes blind from taking a face-full of bird droppings—would you believe—sent his son Tobias on a journey to retrieve some money he is owed.
On his journey, he meets Archangel Raphael who disguises himself as a man named Azarias, who becomes Tobias as a guide.
As their journey progresses, Tobias meets Raguel and his daughter Sarah, a woman he falls in love with. Of course, there is a catch though.
Sarah appears to be cursed in that whenever she takes a husband, that husband dies on the night in which they consummate their marriage. We soon learned that this curse is a result of the demon Asmodeus, who is haunting Sarah, and his role in this story is to plague Sarah so that she remains single.
We never really learned why he’s doing this. But some have contemplated that Asmodeus is obsessed with Sarah, and possibly infatuated with her. But knowing she will never love him; he chooses to destroy her potential spouses to keep her for himself.
When Sarah agrees to marry Tobias, Raphael advises him not to sleep with Sarah on their wedding night, but to place the heart and liver of a giant fish that had previously caught over piping hot coals.
This has the effect of driving Asmodeus away from Sarah, where he is subsequently pounced upon by Archangel Raphael, who defeats him in battle and bounce him to Egypt, allowing for Tobias to seal the deal with Sara.
The text tells us,
“When they had finished the meal, and it was time to go to bed, Sarah’s parents that young Tobias to the bedroom. He remembered Raphael’s instructions, so he took the fish’s liver and the heart out of the bag where he had been keeping them. Then he placed them on the burning incense. The smell drove the demon away from them, and he fled to Egypt. Raphael chased after him and caught him there. At once he bound him hand and foot.”
In other translations, we see the Archangel Raphael make a more permanent punishment for Asmodeus, and that’s by strangling him.
Whilst Asmodeus is thought to almost certainly be an evil entity in a precise over Sarah, killing her husband and taking a possessive role over her, others see him as misunderstood.
In this light, Asmodeus is thought to have been a protector of Sarah, and that while he may have grown attached to her, he kills her husband because of the lust they have towards her. A lust that may be more intense than the actual love they feel.
By this, Asmodeus is simply looking out for Sarah, and therefore, you might say meets a harsh fate at the hands of Archangel Raphael.
Asmodeus in the Babylonian Talmud
Asmodeus is also thought to appear in the Talmud, though under the name Ashmedai, where he’s presented as a less violent demon, that he doesn’t kill anyone, but shows himself to be a cunning and wicked demon, nonetheless.
His name Ashmedai, meaning ‘evil spirit’ or ‘evil demon’, is quite fitting in the Talmudic story between himself and King Solomon, and he’s even described as a King of Demons, as told by Rabbi Rav Yosef.
This Rabbi further gives us insight into the nature of Ashmedai and despite being thought of as evil, he tells us that a king cannot be a harmful spirit and that Ashmedai cannot cause harm. But this is disputed amongst scholars and believers alike, who take the stance that any king, less one who is the King of Demons, has the capacity and full licence to harm any he pleases.
Moreover, if we look at the name of Asmodeus, which is derived from Persian, that is Aesma Daeva or Aesmadiv, which roughly means ‘the spirit of anger’, something far more fitting with a demon who murders people like in the Book of Tobit.
But going back to Asmodeus, or Ashmedai’s in the (Babylonian) Talmud, his most notable appearance is where he is captured by King Solomon in the story appropriately titled, ‘The Story of King Solomon and Ashmedai’.
The Story of King Solomon and Ashmedai
The story begins with Solomon building his temple where he asks the Rabbis what’s the best way to go about doing this. The Rabbis tell him of Naxian Stone, which Moses had used to engrave the stones in a vest worn by the high priest, and that this would be a good resource to incorporate in the temple’s construction.
The Rabbis also know how best to obtain it, and that was to consult amongst the demons who would reveal where it was.
So, Solomon went off and bound a whole bunch of demons and asked them where he might find the stone, to which the demons declared they didn’t know but did know someone who did—Ashmedai, the prince of demons.
They tell Solomon that he can be found upon a certain mountain filling up a cistern with water from which he drinks from and that every day, he ascends to the skies, where he learned something new from the celestial school. Then he returns to Earth and drinks from his cistern—a cistern he marks with his seal to prevent it from being tampered with.
Solomon sends Beniah to capture Ashmedai, which he does by carving a cistern above Ashmedai’s cistern and pouring wine into it. He also drains the water out of Ashmedai’s cistern by digging beneath it, and so when Ashmedai returns, he finds only wine to drink.
Succumbing to thirst, the demon drinks the wine and gets so drunk that he falls into a heavy slumber. Beniah, with chains that he had received from Solomon that beheld the name of God, bound us with die and dragged him back to Solomon.
Upon waking Ashmedai tries to escape, but is at the mercy of Beniah, who continues holding him back to Solomon. On this journey, every tree and house they pass was destroyed by Ashmedai as a sign of his spitefulness for having been captured.
We also begin to see what we think at first is a multifaceted character, in that Ashmedai demonstrates a range of very human emotions and expressions.
He sends a blind man back onto the right path when he sees him wandering in the wrong direction, and began to cry upon seeing a group of people having fun. He laughs when he hears a man asking a shoemaker to make him shoes that will last for seven years, and last stubbly so, upon seeing a holy man asking about for last bread.
Ashmedai was thrown into prison and was not seen by Solomon until three days later.
Ashmedai mock Solomon questioning why he cannot be satisfied with ruling what he already has. But Solomon doesn’t rise to the bait but demands to know where the Naxian stone is.
Obtaining a stone proves to be a long-drawn-out Skyrim Esque side quest that sees Solomon sending his men under the instruction of Ashmedai to track down a bird that possesses the stone and to trick it into surrendering it.
Eventually, they’re successful. But Ashmedai remains in the prisons where he is questioned by Beniah, who asks him why he had helped the blind man they had seen. Ashmedai shows us that what we thought might have been honest traits, had insidious motives, that any empathy or compassion he showed in those moments was quite disingenuous.
He tells Beniah that he had only helped the blind man because he’d heard that the man was righteous and that he’d heard the heavens declare that he who helped him would receive a portion in the world to come.
By this, we see that Ashmedai only had himself in mind when assisting the blind man in need.
Beniah continues to interrogate him, asking why he’d laughed at the man asking the shoemaker to make shoes that would last seven years. To which Ashmedai tells him that the man asking for shoes only had seven days to live. And the fact that this man thought he had seven years to enjoy a pair of shoes was hilarious.
He also tells Beniah that he laughed at the holy man looking for bread, because beneath where he stood, was a buried treasure, there was fit for a king.
Interestingly, when Beniah asks why Ashmedai had cried upon seeing the group of married people, we get a glimpse of acidized humanity in that he is not a complete asshole, but has some measure of compassion for men. He tells Beniah that of the people in that Jubileus group, one of them had just been married, but was to meet his demise in 30 days.
Ashmedai seems to take pity on the widow, who would be forced to marry the brother of her deceased husband, a mere child no-less.
Through this, we can see a parallel to the idea in the Book of Tobit. That Ashmedai or Asmodeus seeks to protect certain women, or at least, has some compulsion to acknowledge the unfairness in their plight.
Ashmedai is kept in prison until Solomon has finished building the temple. But one day, Solomon had visited Ashmedai and asked him ‘what sort of power he possessed’.
Ashmedai, eager to escape, told Solomon to give him his signet ring and to remove the chains that bound him so that he might demonstrate his powers.
Seeing nothing amiss about this request, Solomon obliged, and as you would have guessed, Ashmedai blast Solomon with his wings, sending the king flying for over 400 miles.
Solomon was duped and having been blasted so far away from his kingdom had to resort to becoming a beggar.
In his absence, Ashmedai took Solomon’s place, disguising himself as the king, as he got up to all kinds of mischief.
Perhaps his greatest, the most ultimate troll was sleeping with Solomon’s wives, all of whom he bedded nightly for three years. But they know Solomon was lost and Ashmedai wanted to stick it to Solomon after he’d imprisoned him. And what better way to stick it to someone, than by sticking it to their mother.
Yep, Ashmedai after having banged Solomon’s wives took in banging Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba.
Solomon would somehow muster up the dignity to show his face again, and as you can imagine, was angry. He stormed into his throne room and saw Ashmedai, now doppelganger of himself seated in his throne.
Ashmedai didn’t fancy having to answer for the crimes he’s committed, and so ditched the throne and took to the skies, fleeing from Solomon’s vengeance.
Despite a somewhat triumphant return, it said that Solomon was filled with a constant fear of Ashmedai thereafter and grew particularly wary about the demon returning to have his way with his wives and his mother again.
This is echoed in Song of Solomon, 3: 7 through 8, where it said,
‘Behold! The bed of Solomon! Sixty mighty men are about it, of the valiant men of Israel! All of them wield the sword and are the most expert in warfare; each man with his sword upon his thigh because of fear in the night.’
The Role of Ashmedai in the Story of Solomon
The role of Ashmedai in the Story of Solomon features a few different variations of the demon.
In some versions, he does not interact with Solomon’s wives nor mother at all, and his role in Solomon’s absence is left ambiguous. During his reign, some ideas have painted the demon as a homosexual creature, one who drinks, gambles and commit sodomy, to reflect what would have been complete deviancy at the time of its writing.
He is not thought of as an evildoer, though, in other Jewish takes off the tail, but instead as a beneficial presence to Solomon by serving to help him build the temple, along with the other demons, and even presents Solomon with a worm that can cleave through rocks, allowing for Solomon’s team of human and demon builders to sculpt the temple more efficiently.
In other tales in Jewish folklore, the demon Asmodeus is thought to be more of a joke of a demon, one who tries to be evil, but it’s ultimately duped and taken advantage of by the mortals who seeks to harm.
Others see Asmodeus as a friendly demon or a companion.
Asmodeus in the Malleus Maleficarum
In the Malleus Maleficarum, a treaty of witchcraft from the 15th century by clergyman Heinrich Kramer, Asmodeus is identified as the demon of lust, and that he is most powerful during November. He’s thought to control 72 legions of demons and serves under Lucifer in the kingdom of hell.
Much like some of the aforementioned Jewish laws, Asmodeus insights gambling, indulgence, and seeks to corrupt the virtuous.
Asmodeus in the Dictionnaire Infernal
In the Dictionnaire Infernal or the Internal Dictionary, an early 19th-century demonology book by Colin de Plancy, Asmodeus is thought to have a serpent’s tail and three heads: one of a man spitting fire, one of a sheep, and one of a bull.
He’s also described as riding a lion that has the wings of a dragon.
Asmodeus in the Lesser Key of Solomon
Meanwhile, in the Lesser Key of Solomon, an anonymous grimoire on Demonology from the 18th century, Asmodeus is thought to appear as the king Asmoday, where he is said to be strong, powerful, and possess three heads. The first like a bull, the second like a man, and the third, like a ram.
He too has a serpent’s tail and is thought to breathe fire from his mouth. He is detailed as sitting atop a dragon and holding a lance with a banner to represent his 72 legions of demons.
Asmodeus in the Testament of Solomon
There appears to be another text that shows Asmodeus encountering Solomon, albeit a non-canonical Jewish text from between the first and third century titled ‘The Testament of Solomon’, which sees the two characters meet in an entirely alternate fashion.
With the demons under his control, he sets them to work on building his temple, as more and more demons are brought him. It is when the demon Asmodeus is brought to Solomon do we see yet another variation of his character, this one far more vengeful and aggressive than the previous ones discussed.
You only must look at their very first exchange in the text where Solomon tells us,
‘And I had once bade another demon to be led on to me. And instantly, they’re approached me the demon Asmodeus, bound and I asked him, “Who art thou?” But he shot me a glance of anger and rage and said: “And who are thou?”’
Asmodeus eventually reveals that while he is bound by Solomon’s power, his kingdom will one day fall apart, and on that day, he and his fellow demons will be free to dominate mankind.
In response to this, Solomon has Asmodeus flogged until the demon confesses his true purpose, as he tells him,
‘I am called Asmodeus among mortals, and my business is to plot against the newly wedded, so that they may not know one another. And I sever them utterly by many calamities, and I waste away the beauty of virgin women and estranged their hearts. I transport men into fits of madness and desire, when they have wives of their own, so that they may leave them and go off by night and day to others that belong to other men; with a result that they commit sin and fall into murderous deeds.’
Through his confession, we see how much of his story links to that of the Book of Tobit, in that he preyed solely on Sarah, a virgin woman and broke her heart repeatedly by killing her husband.
Asmodeus takes responsibility for the committing of adultery as well. And this furthermore cements him as the demon of lust, as mentioned earlier.
Asmodeus goes on to reveal that he was put to flight by the smell of a fish’s gall and liver that had been burnt over the coals. And again, this might relate directly to the Book of Tobit, where Tobias burns the fish guts under the instruction of Archangel Raphael.
While Asmodeus flees in Tobit, we are told that Raphael catches up to him and either binds him or strangles him. Whether this happens immediately during Asmodeus’s escape or not, is not known. But the testament of Solomon potentially fills in the gap, telling us that before being caught by Raphael, he came here to Solomon.
Asmodeus proceeds to tell Solomon about how much he hates the water and fish, presumably because these remind him of God.
He pretty much begged Solomon not to send him into the water, to which Solomon sees an opportunity to take the absolute mockery. He commands Asmodeus to make the clay for the entire temple and to treat it with his feet.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, he makes Asmodeus do this whilst holding jars of water, knowing full well of his disdain for the element.
He goes a step further with his ridiculing of the demon, and tells us (Testament of Solomon),
‘And I Solomon glorified God, who gave wisdom to me, Solomon a servant. And the liver of the fish and its gall I hung on the spike of a reed and burned it over Asmodeus because of his being so strong, and his unbearable malice was thus frustrated.’
So, despite telling Solomon his utmost triggers, Solomon proceeds to exact them out upon Asmodeus, despite already having him and several other demons under his thumb.
You might say that Solomon is justified for this, as he knows, Asmodeus was full of malice, which may have made him dangerous. Or you might say that Solomon just felt like being a total troll, and sort of pushed Asmodeus over the edge.
Asmodeus in Islam
Asmodeus makes an appearance in Islam too, where he is referred to as Sakhr or rock.
This is like the reference to the Islamic belief that after Solomon returned to reclaim his kingdom, Asmodeus was not successful in fleeing from his wrath and that Solomon trapped him with a rock before tossing him into the sea.
Other beliefs see Asmodeus as a king of Djinn—which are supernatural creatures within Islam.
Asmodeus in Other Beliefs
There appears to be a few layers to the character of Asmodeus, or Ashmedai, where we can see him as both a terrifying demon who was aggressive and powerful, as well as an obnoxious schema, who relishes in causing rifts between married couples and relationships.
He seemed to be emotionally intelligent, and he’s able to understand man’s desire and how best to use it against him, as well as demonstrating the ability to cry, suggesting he is far more human than we might give him credit for.
In any case, Asmodeus is perhaps one of the most complex demons in terms of his behaviour, his personality, and why he does the things he does.
Art Sources: Douglas Deri