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I have heard that the Greek name ό Σατανάς (Satan) derives from the Hebrew word שָׂטָן (shaitan), but I have not yet seen any manuscript evidence to support this etymology. Considering there are known instances in the Hebrew scriptures where a bad pun was used over an accurate translation (e.g. the stories of the Tower of Babel and Helel ben Shahar, where the purpose was to get in polemical zingers), it seems equally likely sans evidence that the name derived from some other source with some other meaning and then was borrowed into Hebrew as a pun.

A cursory perusal of the Dead Sea Scrolls reveals mentions to Belial, but so far I have found no references to Satan. As we know, the Masoretic text is no older than the 9th century CE and contains known alterations, e.g. changing 2 Samuel 21:19 to read "brother of Goliath", so it does not fit my evidential requirement. The Septuagint, as we have it from the 3rd century CE or thereabouts, contains the oldest manuscript references that I know of but in Greek.

Alternately, any evidence supporting any other etymologies would be appreciated. I have heard the theory floated about a Mycenean etymology deriving from Saturn, but I have not seen any evidence for it.

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    Welcome to BHSX. Thanks for your question. Please remember to take the tour (link below left) to better understand how this site works.
    – Dottard
    Jul 7, 2023 at 19:39
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    See legionary like biblehub.com/hebrew/7854.htm See also the Dead sea scrolls dating from the 2nd century BC.
    – Dottard
    Jul 7, 2023 at 19:40
  • @Dottard what portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls in particular? I have a copy and have skimmed through it, and there are no inclusions of the name "Satan" -- as I indicated in my question, I can find only "Belial," "Mastema," "Shemjaza," and "Azazel." The index even says "see Belial; Melkiresha" -- i.e. there are no instances of "Satan" in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Jul 7, 2023 at 20:32
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    This manuscript suggests that, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the word 'adversary' refers to Satan. (As it does in the Hebrew Old Testament.)
    – Nigel J
    Jul 7, 2023 at 21:05
  • @Dottard I think that could form the basis of an answer, if you want to write one up. Jul 7, 2023 at 21:41

2 Answers 2

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The earliest uses of the Hebrew word "satan" (שָׂטָן - with a soft "a", not "shaitan," which is closer to Arabic) portray him as an opponent or adversary, but not necessarily a demonic one. The Jewish Encyclopedia notes:

The word is used to denote an antagonist who puts obstacles in the way, as in Num. xxii. 32, where the angel of God is described as opposing Balaam in the guise of a satan or adversary; so that the concept of Satan as a distinct being was not then known. Such a view is found, however, in the prologue to the Book of Job, where Satan appears, together with other celestial beings or "sons of God," before the Deity.

In Job, the word "satan" is prefix with an article "ha-satan," meaning The Adversary. But here he is still not a demon. He reports to God and acts as God's agent to test Job's faith.

In most English translations, the only other place the word appears in the Hebrew Bible is in 1 Chronicles 21:1. In this case it is difficult to know if it is used as a proper name or not. However the Hebrew word is used in many other places, with various meanings. According to the Scripture Index of Brown-Driver-Briggs these include:

Numbers 22:22; 22:32; 1 Samuel 29:4; 2 Samuel 19:23, 24:1; 1 Kings 5:18, 11:14, 11:14, 11:23, 11:23, 11:25; Psalms 109:6, 109:6; Zechariah 3:1, 3:2.

Some have suggested Jewish demonology took form after the Jews' exposure to Zoroastrianism during the Babylonian exile. In any case, as the first-century c.e. approached named demons flourished in writings such as the Book of Enoch, Tobit, the Wisdom of Solomon, and others. The chief demons are given many names in this literature. Belial (בְּלִיַּעַל) - "worthless, evil, good-for-nothing" - is applied to the chief demon in the Dead Sea Scrolls document known as the War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness. The exact process by which these demonic powers emerged as the archdevil Satan is uncertain. However, by the time the New Testament was written, Satan was clearly the undisputed king of evil.

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IF the question is asking for the first Biblical manuscript that used "satan" as a name, then the answer must be that there is none. The Hebrew word "satan" is not a name. It is properly a noun that is sometimes used as an adjective, and it is properly translated in Young's Literal Translation as "adversary." (See Strong's Heb. 7854 - Biblehub)

Anyone who stands against, or opposes another is an adversary (satan) to the other as the messenger of YHVH (Yeshua) was to Balaam in Num. 22:22, 32.

and the anger of God burneth because he is going, and a messenger of Jehovah stationeth himself in the way for an adversary to him, and he is riding on his ass, and two of his servants [are] with him, (Num. 22:22, YLT)

and the messenger of Jehovah saith unto him, `Wherefore hast thou smitten thine ass these three times? lo, I -- I have come out for an adversary, for [thy] way hath been perverse before me, (Num. 22:32, YLT)

Anyone who stands against YHVH, or Yah's people is an adversary, and these are most often human men and women who reject or scorn or despise Yah's word. Most often the context of the word "satan" in the Hebrew scriptures is applied to earth-born men (Lev. 18:18; Num. 10:9; 1 Samn. 29:4; 2 Sam. 19:23; 1 Kings 11:14; Esther 3:10; etc). But, sometimes God calls Himself an adversary to the people (Jer. 10:18).

The context of the use of "adversary" in 1 Chron. 21:1 is again of God standing against the people. The article used in 1 Chron. 21:1 is not "the" but "an", so an adversary stood up against Israel. The commentaries are somewhat mixed on this verse, but most attribute it to God's wrath against Israel finding the parallel from 2 Sam. 24:1 -

And the anger of Jehovah addeth to burn against Israel, and [an adversary] moveth David about them, saying, `Go, number Israel and Judah.' (YLT)

So, again God called Himself an adversary against Israel because of their sins. It is mankind who is in an adversarial relationship with YHVH, and that is why we needed our mediator and savior Yeshua / Jesus.

The word "satan" began to be used as a name for the belief in an evil spiritual entity some time in the 2nd century AD (CE) because of a misinterpretation or misunderstanding whose origin derived from pagan beliefs in a Persian two-god system of a "good" god and an "evil" god. This false pagan belief was so universally accepted that men began applying it to the scriptures.

So, the early church "fathers" read their biases and false beliefs into their writings and expositions of their interpretations of scripture. It is often cited that Jerome mistranslated the Hebrew word "helel" from Isa. 14:12 into the Latin Vulgate as "Lucifer" which was an error, and it began to be used in the Latin speaking regions as a name for "Satan". (See my post on Slandering Angels here).

It is not certain when the word "satan" began to be capitalized and used as a name, but it is entirely due to human error that this concept is so embedded in people's minds. It comes solely from false teaching which the article here points out.

There is no spiritual being named "satan" in the scriptures. There is no such thing as "Lucifer." The adversary of Job, and of Luke 22:31 is given capitalization through custom and habit assuming the definite article "the" indicates an evil spiritual being. But in both cases this "adversary" is subject to God's will, and seeks God's permission before he can act. This adversary then is under God's command, so ultimately God is the source of this adversary's actions, and cannot be presumed to be a devil or demon.

Further discussion here is too long for this site, and it is going to take a long time to help people unwind all of the history of the human errors of interpretation regarding the use of "Satan" and "Lucifer" as names of an evil spiritual entity.

Please see the following posts:

Testing the Spirits - Slandering Angles IVa

Testing the Spirits - Slandering Angels IVb

Testing the Spirits - Demons, Devils, & Idols VIa

Testing the Spirits - Demons, Devils, & Idols VIb

Testing the Spirits - Demons, Devils, & Idols VIc

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