Pazuzu...Lamashtu...Khatyu...Sheseru...Sasam...Lilith...Asmodeus...Beelzebub.... Names to conjure with. Literally. Years ago, when I was a student at Harvard, my teacher Frank Moore Cross raised a puzzling question: Why do demons—so prominent in the greater Near Eastern world, in the New Testament and in the postbiblical world of Judaism and Christianity—play such a minor role in the Hebrew Bible? I never forgot his offhand comment.
Throughout the ancient Near East, demons were thought to be the agents of bad fortune, including disease. Only professional sorcerers and exorcists knew how to repel them.1 Similarly, in the New Testament, one way that Jesus and his disciples establish their credibility is by expelling demons, thereby curing dumbness, deafness, blindness, lameness, and epilepsy.2