- ASMODEUS (Ashmedai), an "evil spirit" or "evil demon." In the talmudic aggadah, Asmodeus is described as "king of the demons" (Pes. 110a). According to Rapoport, the concept of such a personage originated in Babylonian myth, though the name is Hebrew, derived from the root שמד, "to destroy." It is more likely, however, that the name derives from the Persian aesma daeva or aesmadiv, i.e., "the spirit of anger" which accompanies the god of evil. Asmodeus first appears in the apocryphal book of Tobit (3:8, 17), which describes how in a fit of jealousy he slew the successive husbands of a young girl. He is again depicted as a malefactor – and in particular as the sower of discord between husband and wife – in the Testament of Solomon (first century C.E.). Throughout the later aggadah, however, Asmodeus is a gay creature, inclined at worst to drunkenness, mischief, and licentiousness. The Talmud nowhere identifies him as an evildoer, and in fact often assigns him the specific function of preserving the ethical order of the world. Asmodeus does, to be sure, usurp the throne of King Solomon in the celebrated talmudic account of his confrontation with the king (Git. 68a–b; Num. R. 11:3). But even here the demon is not vindictive: his actions are presented as opening the king's eyes to the emptiness and vanity of worldly possessions. What is more, the Asmodeus of this story is the source of considerable benefit to Solomon. He provides the king with the shamir, a worm whose touch cleaves rocks, and so enables Solomon's builders to hew stones for the Temple without the use of prohibited iron tools. Asmodeus is described in the Talmud as "rising daily from his dwelling place on the mountain to the firmament," where he "studies in the academy on high" (Git. 68a). As a result of this practice, he possesses exact foreknowledge of the fate of human beings, knowledge which often prompts him to act in a seemingly inexplicable fashion. While on his way to Solomon, for example, Asmodeus weeps at the sight of a wedding party, only later explaining that the bridegroom has but a short time to live. Similarly, on the same journey, the demon goes out of his way to set a drunkard on the right path; "it was proclaimed in heaven," he later reveals, "that he is wholly wicked, and I have conferred a boon upon him in order that he may consume his share in the world to come in this world" (Git. 68b). Such stories of Asmodeus' enigmatic behavior provided the model for a long line of Jewish folktales, in which the apparently unjust acts of an angel or prophet are eventually justified by circumstances and thus demonstrate the infinite wisdom of God. In Jewish folklore, though still the king of demons, Asmodeus often appears as a degraded hero – the butt of popular irony and humor. Typical stories relate how he is duped by the men with whom he enters into a partnership, or how his various lusts and loves on earth are exposed. For the most part, however, Asmodeus is regarded as a beneficent demon and a friend of man. He plays a similar role in the Kabbalah, where his name is frequently invoked in spells and incantations. The story of Asmodeus' enigmatic deeds and sayings (Git. 68a–b) are the narrative nucleus of the widespread international style type, known as "Angel and Hermit." The talmudic and the Jewish oral traditions of the Solomon-Asmodeus cycle penetrated the early Russian apocryphal literature and became the narrative archetype of the Solomon-Kitovras folk legends. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: Klausner, Bayit Sheni, 2 (19512), 59–60; M. Gaster, Ilchester Lectures of Greco-Slavonic Literature (1887), 40–44; A.A. Aarne, Types of the Folktale, ed. and tr. by S. Thompson (1961), no. 759; D. Noy, Shivim Sippurim ve-Sippur mi-Pi Yehudai Luv (1967), notes to nos. 37, 58; J.H. Moulton, Early Zoroastrianism (1926), 322–40; Meyer, Ursp, 2 (19254), 96; Scholem, in: Tarbiz, 19 (1947/48), 160–75; S.J.L. Rapoport, Erekh Millin (1914), 106 ff.
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.