Random Quote #79 topic: hebraic, Translations from the Talmud, Midrashim and Kabbala

The Talmud is particularly rich in demonology, and many are the
forms which the evil principle assumes in its pages. We have no
wish to drag these shapes to the light, and interrogate them as
to the part they play in this intricate life. Enough now if we
mention the circumstance of their existence, and introduce to
the reader the story of Ashmedai, the king of the demons. The
story is worth relating, both for its own sake and its
historical significance.

In Ecclesiastes ii. 8, we read, "I gat me men singers and women
singers, the delights of the sons of men, as musical
instruments, and that of all sorts." These last seven words
represent only two in the original Hebrew, _Shiddah-veshiddoth_.
These two words in the original Hebrew translated by the last
seven in this verse, have been a source of great perplexity to
the critics, and their exact meaning is matter of debate to this
hour. They in the West say they mean severally carriages for
lords and carriages for ladies, while we, says the Babylonish
Talmud, interpret them to signify male demons and female demons.
Whereupon, if this last is the correct rendering, the question
arises, for what purpose Solomon required them? The answer is to
be found in 1 Kings vi. 7, where it is written, "And the house,
when it was in building, was built of stone made ready before it
was brought thither," etc. For before the operation commenced
Solomon asked the Rabbis, "How shall I accomplish this without
using tools of iron?" and they remembering of an insect which
had existed since the creation of the world, whose powers were
such as the hardest substances could not resist, replied, "There
is the Shameer, with which Moses cut the precious stones of the
Ephod." Solomon asked, "And where, pray, is the Shameer to be
found?" To which they made answer, "Let a male demon and a
female come, and do thou coerce them both; mayhap they know and
will reveal it to thee." He then conjured into his presence a
male and a female demon, and proceeded to torture them, but in
vain, for said they, "We know not its whereabouts and cannot
tell; perhaps Ashmedai, the king of the demons, knows." On being
further interrogated as to where he in turn might be found, they
made this answer: "In yonder mount is his residence; there he
has dug a pit, and, after filling it with water, covered it over
with a stone, and sealed with his own seal. Daily he ascends to
heaven and studies in the school of wisdom there, then he comes
down and studies in the school of wisdom here; upon which he
goes and examines the seal, then opens the pit, and after
quenching his thirst, covers it up again, re-seals it, and takes
his departure."

Solomon thereupon sent Benaiah, the son of Jehoiada, provided
with a magic chain and ring, upon both of which the name of God
was engraved. He also provided him with a fleece of wool and
sundry skins with wine. Then Benaiah went and sank a pit below
that of Ashmedai, into which he drained off the water and
plugged the duct between with the fleece. Then he set to and dug
another hole higher up with a channel leading into the emptied
pit of Ashmedia, by means of which the pit was filled with the
wine he had brought. After leveling the ground so as not to
rouse suspicion, he withdrew to a tree close by, so as to watch
the result and wait his opportunity. After a while Ashmedai
came, and examined the seal, when, seeing it all right, he
raised the stone, and to his surprise found wine in the pit. For
a time he stood muttering and saying, it is written, "Wine is a
mocker: strong drink is raging, and whosoever is deceived
thereby is not wise." And again, "Whoredom and wine and new wine
take away the heart." Therefore at first he was unwilling to
drink, but being thirsty, he could not long resist the
temptation. He proceeded to drink therefore, when, becoming
intoxicated, he lay down to sleep. Then Benaiah, came forth from
his ambush, and stealthily approaching, fastened the chain round
the sleeper's neck. Ashmedai, when he awoke, began to fret and
fume, and would have torn off the chain that bound him, had not
Benaiah warned him, saying, "The name of thy Lord is upon thee."
Having thus secured him, Benaiah proceeded to lead him away to
his sovereign master. As they journeyed along they came to a
palm-tree, against which Ashmedai rubbed himself, until he
uprooted it and threw it down. When they drew near to a hut, the
poor widow who inhabited it came out and entreated him not to
rub himself against it, upon which, as he suddenly bent himself
back, he snapt a bone of his body, and said, "This is that which
is written (Prov. xxv. 15), 'And a gentle answer breaketh the
bone.'" Descrying a blind man straying out of his way, he hailed
him and directed him aright. He even did the same service to a
man overcome with wine, who was in a similar predicament. At
sight of a wedding party that passed rejoicing along, he wept;
but he burst into uncontrollable laughter when he heard a man
order at a shoemaker's stall a pair of shoes that would last
seven years; and when he saw a magician at his work he broke
forth into shrieks of scorn.

On arriving at the royal city, three days were allowed to pass
before he was introduced to Solomon. On the first day he said.
"Why does the king not invite me into his presence?" "He has
drunk too much," was the answer, "and the wine has overpowered
him." Upon which he lifted a brick and placed it upon the top of
another. When this was communicated to Solomon, he replied "He
meant by this, go and make him drunk again." On the day
following he asked again, "Why does the king not invite me into
his presence?" They replied, "He has eaten too much." On this he
removed the brick again from the top of the other. When this was
reported to the king, he interpreted it to mean, "Stint him in
his food."

After the third day, he was introduced to the king; when
measuring off four cubits upon the floor with the stick he held
in his hand, he said to Solomon, "When thou diest, thou wilt not
possess in this world (he referred to the grave) more than four
cubits of earth. Meanwhile thou has conquered the world, yet
thou wert not satisfied until thou hadst overcome me also." To
this the king quietly replied, "I want nothing of thee, but I
wish to build the Temple and have need of the _Shameer_." To
which Ashmedai at once answered, "The Shameer is not committed
in charge to me, but to the Prince of the Sea, and he intrusts
it to no one except to the great wild cock, and that upon an
oath that he return it to him again." Whereupon Solomon asked,
"And what does the wild cock do with the Shameer?" To which the
demon replied, "He takes it to a barren rocky mountain, and by
means of it he cleaves the mountain asunder, into the cleft of
which, formed into a valley, he drops the seeds of various
plants and trees, and thus the place becomes clothed with
verdure and fit for habitation." This is the _Shameer_ (Lev. xi.
19), Nagger Tura, which the Targum renders Mountain Splitter.

They therefore searched for the nest of the wild cock, which
they found contained a young brood. This they covered with a
glass, that the bird might see its young, but not be able to get
at them. When accordingly the bird came and found his nest
impenetrably glazed over, he went and fetched the Shameer. Just
as he was about to apply it to the glass in order to cut it,
Solomon's messenger gave a startling shout, and this so agitated
the bird that he dropped the Shameer, and Solomon's messenger
caught it up and made off with it. The cock thereupon went and
strangled himself, because he was unable to keep the oath by
which he had bound himself to return the Shameer.

Benaiah asked Ashmedai why, when he saw the blind man straying,
he so promptly interfered to guide him? "Because," he replied,
"it was proclaimed in heaven that that man was perfectly
righteous, and that whosoever did him a good turn would earn a
title to a place in the world of the future." "And when thou
sawest the man overcome with wine wandering out of his way, why
didst thou put him right again?" Ashmedai said, "Because it was
made known in heaven that that man was thoroughly bad, and I
have done him a good service that he might not lose all, but
receive some good in the world that now is." "Well, and why
didst thou weep when thou sawest the merry wedding-party pass?"
"Because," said he, "the bridegroom was fated to die within
thirty days and the bride must needs wait thirteen years for her
husband's brother, who is now but an infant" (see Deut. xxv.
5-10). "Why didst thou laugh so when the man ordered a pair of
shoes that would last him seven years?" Ashmedai replied,
"Because the man himself was not sure of living seven days."
"And why," asked Benaiah, "didst thou jeer when thou sawest the
conjuror at his tricks?" "Because," said Ashmedai, "the man was
at that very time sitting on a princely treasure, and he did
not, with all his pretension, know that it was under him."

Having once acquired a power over Ashmedai, Solomon detained him
till the building of the Temple was completed. One day after
this, when they were alone, it is related that Solomon,
addressing him, asked him, "What, pray, is your superiority over
us, if it be true, as it is written (Num. xxiii. 22), 'He has
the strength of a unicorn,' and the word 'strength,' as
tradition alleges, means 'ministering angels,' and the word
'unicorn' means 'devils'?" Ashmedai replied, "Just take this
chain from my neck, and give me thy signet-ring, and I'll soon
show thee my superiority." No sooner did Solomon comply with
this request, than Ashmedai, snatching him up, swallowed him;
then stretching forth his wings--one touching the heaven and the
other the earth--he vomited him out again to a distance of four
hundred miles. It is with reference to this time that Solomon
says (Eccl. i. 3; ii. 10), "What profit hath a man of all his
labor which he taketh under the sun? This is my portion of all
my labor." What does the word this mean? Upon this point Rav and
Samuel are at variance, for the one says it means his staff, the
other holds that it means his garment or water-jug; and that
with one or other Solomon went about from door to door begging;
and wherever he came he said (Eccl. i. 12), "I, the preacher,
was king over Israel in Jerusalem." When in his wanderings he
came to the house of the Sanhedrin, the Rabbis reasoned and
said, if he were mad he would not keep repeating the same things
over and over again; therefore what does he mean? They therefore
inquired of Benaiah, "Does the king ask thee into his presence?"
He replied, "No!" They then sent to see whether the king visited
the hareem. And the answer to this was, "Yes, he comes." Then
the Rabbis sent word back that they should look at his feet, for
the devil's feet are like those of a cock. The reply was, "He
comes to us in stockings." Upon this information the Rabbis
escorted Solomon back to the palace, and restored to him the
chain and the ring, on both of which the name of God was
engraven. Arrayed with these, Solomon advanced straightway into
the presence-chamber. Ashmedai sat at that moment on the throne,
but as soon as he saw Solomon enter, he took fright and raising
his wings, flew away, shrieking back into invisibility. In spite
of this, Solomon continued in great fear of him; and this
explains that which is written (Song of Songs, iii. 7, 8),
"Behold the bed which is Solomon's; threescore valiant men are
about it, of the valiant of Israel; they all hold swords, being
expert in war; every man has his sword upon his thigh, because
of fear in the night." (See Gittin, fol. 68, cols, 1, 2.)

Ashmedai is the Asmodeus of the Book of Tobit, iii. 8, vi. 14,
etc, The Shameer is mentioned in Jer. xvii. i; Ezek. iii. 9;
Zech. vii. 12. The Seventy in the former passage and the Vulgate
passim take it for the diamond.

Six things are said respecting the children of men, in three of which
they are like angels, and in three they are like animals. They have
intelligence like angels, they walk erect like angels, and they converse
in the holy tongue like angels. They eat and drink like animals, they
generate and multiply like animals, and they relieve nature like

THE TALMUD, _Chaggigah_, fol. 16, col. 1.


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