Who is Mammon in the Bible?
Mammon is usually understood to imply money, material riches, or any institution that promises wealth in the New Testament of the Bible and relates to the greedy desire for gain. Jesus used the word in his famous Sermon on the Mount, and it also appears in The Gospel According to Luke. It was usually understood by mediaeval literature as a malevolent demon or god. Mammon was widely represented as the demon of money and greed during the Middle Ages. According to Peter Lombard (II, dist. 6), “Riches are termed by the name of a demon, namely Mammon, for Mammon is the name of a devil, by which name riches are called in the Syrian dialect.”
‘Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.
If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and mammon.’ — Matthew 6:19–24 (NKJV)
Other words by Jesus in chapter 6 of Matthew in the New Testament seeks to explain to us that one should not look for treasures upon the earth because this is futile, given that such treasures are prone to erosion by rust and moths, or that such materials can be stolen by thieves.
Instead, Matthew seeks the guide believers to seek their treasures in heaven which will last forever, and this serves as an incentive for people to be righteous and to do good things. For this is the only way into heaven.
He also tells us that we already have a great treasure in our hearts and that this is enough for us to be fulfilled, providing we are humble and don’t get greedy. Here, Matthew seeks to show believers the emptiness in material possession and seeks to warn them of the perils of being too fixated on filling one’s own pockets.
Notice the final line, ‘You cannot serve God and mammon’, is showing us that one must choose as to whether he is rich in mind and body or rich in earthly possessions and the superficial. In other words, you can’t buy your way into heaven. But what is mammon in this sentence?
Definitive Meaning of Mammon in Different Region and Ages
In the Bible, mammon is commonly thought to mean money or material wealth. You’ll notice mammon in this part of scripture is not capitalized, leading us to believe that mammon is not a being but simply a term.
In Hebrew, it meant ‘money’ before evolving into the broader term of ‘wealth’. As far as the Bible goes, mammon appears to only be a concept, one that represents greed or the pursuit of personal gain.
In post-classical Latin, the term was pronounced as Mammona — a term still used today in several languages, usually in a derogatory manner concerning money and finances. The term also held the meaning of wealth in Hellenistic Greek, where we see the more traditional usage of mamon used, to again, mean wealth or profit.
In the Revised Standard Version of the Bible meanwhile, mammon is thought to mean the Semitic word for money or riches. The term itself would eventually become a pejorative term used by Christians to describe gluttony, greed, and the obsession with the material or wealth.
In Polish, the term mamona is used derogatively as a word for money, while in Slovakia mamonar is sometimes used to refer to a greedy person. Other countries such as Finland and Estonia also adopt a similar sounding word to describe this material wealth.
In Germany, mammon itself is a colloquial term for money, though it is often used in combination with the adjective ‘schnöde’, meaning contemptible. So, it would pretty much be der schnöde mammon or the contemptible money!
The Origin of the Demon Mammon
It wasn’t until the Middle Ages did Mammon become personified, where he would go on to become one of the Seven Princes of Hell in some classifications. This might have stemmed from what was thought to have been an ancient Syrian deity who may have shared the same name as Mammon or at least represented the same things such as riches, wealth, and gold.
How much influence this deity may have had over the demonic figure now represented in literature is not known and many details about these ancient Syrian gods are hard to come by.
Mammon himself is a relatively hard demon to speak of given that biblically, he never actually appears, leading many to believe that this demon was added into religious belief much later; most likely in the Middle Ages were some of the earliest personifications of money, wealth, and greed seemed to stem from.
Some believe that Mammon was just another name for the demon known as Beelzebub, whilst others including the 4th-century saints Cyprian and Jerome believe that Mammon was an evil demonic master that enslaved those who were driven by riches and financial abundance.
A 12th-century bishop of Paris named Peter Lombard had some interesting insights about Mammon saying that,
‘Riches are called by the name of a devil, namely Mammon, for Mammon is the name of a devil by which named riches are called according to the Syrian tongue.’
Here, we see yet another belief that Mammon originated from Syria culture, and again, may have once been a deity in Syrian belief, but also that Mammon is the name of a demon.
In a way, it’s quite easy to see how this belief may have transpired. Many people view money and wealth as evil parts of society, noting that money makes people do wicked things or that the pursuit of money can lead one down the unscrupulous path.
By giving money a face, it may have served to dissuade some people into getting too invested in chasing materialistic wants and desires. For if one could see the ugliness of Mammon, they would surely run in the opposite direction.
Establishing Mammon as a demon may have been necessary for some communities, for it may have had the effect of reminding people that their God certainly wouldn’t approve of such a lifestyle and that the closer they found themselves to Mammon, the further they would find themselves away from God.
Mammon in Literatures and Texts
The Faerie Queen (1590): Mammon is no stranger to the literary works of some of the greats, however. He’s seen in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queen (1590), an English epic poem that details Mammon as guarding a cave full of wealth.
Paradise Lost (1667): Meanwhile, in John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667), Mammon takes the role not as a demon, but as a fallen angel who appears to be greatly intrigued by earthly treasures. He tells us,
‘Mammon led them on—
Mammon, the least erected Spirit that fell
From Heaven; for even in Heaven his looks and thoughts
Were always downward bent, admiring more
The riches of heaven’s pavement, trodden gold,
Than aught divine or holy else enjoyed
In vision beatific. By him first
Men also, and by his suggestion taught,
Ransacked the centre, and with impious hands
Rifled the bowels of their mother Earth
For treasures better hid. Soon had his crew
Opened into the hill a spacious wound,
And digged out ribs of gold…’ — Paradise Lost, Book i. 678-690
In this interpretation, we see that Mammon was one of the angels to fall from heaven, presumably after Lucifer‘s revolt. We understand that even in heaven, Mammon cared more about the golden pavement than he did about God or perhaps even Lucifer’s ill-fated rebellion.
It’s possible that by this, Mammon didn’t even care that he was being exiled from heaven because on earth he still got to do that which he loved to do—admire a treasure and incur wealth.
He’s also attributed to being the one who taught men to long for treasure and that he instilled in them his same tenacity that would see them do whatever it took to get more money, even if it meant destroying the earth to get at it.
Dictionnaire Infernal (1818): Meanwhile, in the Dictionnaire Infernal (or the Infernal Dictionary) by Jacques Collin de Plancy (1818), a famous book on demonology, we see Mammon appear as the demon of greed, and again like in Paradise Lost, he’s described as teaching men to bleed the earth to acquire its treasures.
In Peter Binsfeld’s Classification of Demons meanwhile, Mammon is one of the seven princes of hell and is naturally the prince of greed.
Perhaps a little bit more recently in the early 20th century, progressives of the era would use the term Mammon in campaigns to describe the culmination of riches and power in big banking corporations and political institutions.
Of course, much like how the term was used throughout history, it was also used here in his derogatory form.
Greek Mythology: It’s also possible that Mammon was inspired by the Greek god of wealth, Plutus. It’s understood that Plutus was a deliverer of gifts, but that Zeus blinded him so that he would then be able to dispense the gifts without favouritism or prejudice.
In Plutus, the play by Aristophanes, Plutus regains his sight and he’s then able to determine who is worthy of his gifts, which causes some chaos.
But whilst Plutus is a giving god, Mammon is perhaps the antithesis, seeking to take all that he can, even if this comes at the cost of hurting or fatally wounding others including the very world, he lives in.
In Dante’s Inferno, Plutus shows up as a demon of wealth and perhaps this is more akin to Mammon, given that Plutus guards the fourth circle of hell, otherwise known as the circle of greed. Here Plutus, like Mammon, becomes a symbol for the evils of hoarding wealth.
Mammon in Bible Verses — The Book of Luke
There is one other mention of Mammon in the Bible though. ‘Mammon’ is often referred to as simply as money in some modern translations.
If you were to read Chapter 16 of Luke, the Parable of the Shrewd Manager, you might have not realized that Mammon is mentioned, though again, it’s likely that in this instance like in Matthew, money itself is the subject and not the entity that would later come to represent money in some interpretations.
The passage details a conversation between Jesus and a Pharisee, and Jesus tries to teach him about being responsible with money saying,
‘He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much; and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one and love the other or else he will hold on to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.’ — Luke 16:10–13
Jesus is essentially trying to explain that if you cannot be trusted with money, a very earthly immaterial notion, then how can God trust you with the heavenly treasures that he has in store for you.
If you are trustworthy with something as trivial as wealth, then how will you be trusted to handle the glory in the heavens. He goes on to ask that if you cannot be trusted with someone else’s property, then how do you intend to gain property for your own.
His words end in the same way they do in Matthew, saying that you cannot serve both God and mammon, in that you will end up loving one and hating the other. So, you best choose wisely.
Again, whilst the mammon here is likely not the demon, it’s only natural that Mammon would eventually become personified into a demon, for it helps illustrate an even more compelling picture for us to absorb.
Given that money itself has the power to turn us away from God, as Jesus highlights here, the money earns itself for the image of something wicked and evil, and what better way to envision that wicked and evil form than as a demon-like Mammon—one who is as ugly as our own greedy and gluttonous tendencies.
Mammon as a Demon
What makes a demon-like Mammon so interesting is that, unlike other demons, we need a part of what he represents in our lives. Unless you’re an indigenous tribe who lives off the land, we need money to survive in our modern Western world.
Perhaps in this then, Mammon isn’t money per se, but the abundance of money or the walked mindset one may experience by having too much of it. Perhaps Mammon is the demonic being that guides us into achieving even higher standards of living for ourselves, even though we could be better off using that which we earn to feed the poor or help the sick.
In essence, money in its basic form is of course not evil, but the spell it can have over some people and how it becomes our sole motivation for much of what we do could very well be the work of Mammon the demon; pushing and prodding us onto a path that will one day lead to him.
Perhaps, the moral here is ‘too much of a good thing is a bad thing, and that it is important to share that which we have so that we do not become corrupt.’
The Appearance of Mammon
There doesn’t appear to be much in the way of artistic representation of Mammon throughout the ages, furthermore, contributing to the idea that Mammon was likely a very late addition to religious belief.
Again, many Christians did not even acknowledge Mammon, and might not even know who he is for that matter. After all, the demon itself is not imperative to scripture.
In any case, Mammon in much more modern times is illustrated in a various set of ways. Some see him as a gluttonous ogre, who is fat and grotesque, whilst others see him as a glorious and sumptuous figure.
In Dictionnaire Infernal, however, there does exist an illustration of Mammon, where he appears to be a bony old man, one who is unremarkable to gaze upon and one who would blend into society with relative ease.
The Powers of Mammon on People
Some believe that Mammon can embody people and the signs you can supposedly see of him are people who display their wealth quite openly, in boastful or ostentatious manners. These are the types of people who buy things they don’t need with money they don’t have.
Others believe that the urge we get to have things like a new phone, expensive clothes or even jewellery is Mammon whispering in our ears, goading believers away from God and closer into his clutches.
Perhaps the greatest trick that Mammon has over his fellow demons is that he has a pretty big influence over humans. If any of these beliefs or ideas are true, Mammon is one of the most powerful demons, in that he inspires greed, envy and perhaps even lust, that makes it so irresistible to a man that one cannot help themselves and may end up giving in.
Through this thinking, even the most spiritually loyal is susceptible to corruption. Some thoughts on this also continue that once you are under Mammon’s spell, you become obsessed until you have that which you desire and by this point, it becomes hard to turn back.
Like in Paradise Lost, where he is described as ransacking the earth to obtain its buried treasure, those on Mammon’s spell also acted with the same mindless tenacity.
Given that one is powerless under Mammon’s spell, you might consider him to be something of an enslaver of men, especially given that a is difficult to be free of him once he has you.
Art Sources: Douglas Deri