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A Talmudic Tale of Asmodeus

In boredom I have actually looked at the Talmud concerning my favorite demon, Asmodeus.  The following is found in b.Gitten 68a.  This is from the Soncino translation,  let it be noted I’ve changed “Benaiahu” and “Ashmedai” to Benaiah and Asmodeus respectively, formated it to be more paragraph like, and added quote marks. Here is the source of the text I used. So here as follows is b.Gitten 68b.

Solomon thereupon sent thither Benaiah son of Jehoiada, giving him a chain on which was graven the [Divine] Name and a ring on which was graven the Name and fleeces of wool and bottles of wine. Benaiah went and dug a pit lower down the hill and let the water flow into it and stopped [the hollow] With the fleeces of wool, and he then dug a pit higher up and poured the wine into it and then filled up the pits. He then went and sat on a tree. When Asmodeus came he examined the seal, then opened the pit and found it full of wine. He said, “It is written, Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whosoever erreth thereby is not wise, and it is also written, Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the understanding.  I will not drink it.”

Growing thirsty, however, he could not resist, and he drank till he became drunk, and fell asleep. Benaiah then came down and threw the chain over him and fastened it. When he awoke he began to struggle, whereupon he Benaiah said, “The Name of thy Master is upon thee, the Name of thy Master is upon thee.”

As he was bringing him along, he came to a palm tree and rubbed against it and down it came. He came to a house and knocked it down. He came to the hut of a certain widow. She came out and besought him, and he bent down so as not to touch it, thereby breaking a bone. He said, “That bears out the verse, A soft tongue breaketh the bone” He saw a blind man straying from his way and he put him on the right path. He saw a drunken man losing his way and he put him on his path. He saw a wedding procession making its way merrily and he wept. He heard a man say to a shoemaker, “Make me a pair of shoes that will last seven years,” and he laughed. He saw a diviner practicing divinations and he laughed. When they reached Jerusalem he was not taken to see Solomon for three days. On the first day he asked, “Why does the king not want to see me?” They replied, “Because he has overdrunk himself. So he took a brick and placed it on top of another.” When they reported this to Solomon he said to them, “What he meant to tell you was, Give him more to drink.”

On the next day he said to them, “Why does the king not want to see me?” They replied, Because he has over-eaten himself. He thereupon took one brick from off the other and placed it on the ground. When they reported this to Solomon, he said, “He meant to tell you to keep food away from me.” After three days he went in to see him. He took a reed and measured four cubits and threw it in front of him, saying, “See now, when you die you will have no more than four cubits in this world. Now, however, you have subdued the whole world, yet you are not satisfied till you subdue me too.”

He replied: “I want nothing of you. What I want is to build the Temple and I require the shamir.” He said: “It is not in my hands, it is in the hands of the Prince of the Sea who gives it only to the woodpecker,to whom he trusts it on oath. What does the bird do with it? — He takes it to a mountain where there is no cultivation and puts it on the edge of the rock which thereupon splits, and he then takes seeds from trees and brings them and throws them into the opening and things grow there.” (This is what the Targum means by nagar tura). So they found out a woodpecker’s nest with young in it, and covered it over with white glass. When the bird came it wanted to get in but could not, so it went and brought the shamir and placed it on the glass. Benaiah thereupon gave a shout, and it dropped [the shamir] and he took it, and the bird went and committed suicide on account of its oath.

Benaiah said to Asmodeus, “Why when you saw that blind man going out of his way did you put him right?”
He replied: “It has been proclaimed of him in heaven that he is a wholly righteous man, and that whoever does him a kindness will be worthy of the future world.”

“And why when you saw the drunken man going out of his way did you put him right?”
He replied, “They have proclaimed concerning him in heaven that he is wholly wicked, and I conferred a boon on him in order that he may consume [here] his share [in the future].”

“Why when you saw the wedding procession did you weep?”
He said: “The husband will die within thirty days, and she will have to wait for the brother-in-law who is still a child of thirteen years.”

“Why, when you heard a man say to the shoemaker, Make me shoes to last seven years, did you laugh?”
He replied: “That man has not seven days to live, and he wants shoes for seven years!”

“Why when you saw that diviner divining did you laugh?”
He said: “He was sitting on a royal treasure: he should have divined what was beneath him.”

Solomon kept him with him until he had built the Temple. One day when he was alone with him, he said, “it is written, He hath as it were to’afoth and re’em, and we explain that to’afoth means the ministering angels and re’em means the demons. What is your superiority over us?”
He said to him, “Take the chain off me and give me your ring, and I will show you.”

So he took the chain off him and gave him the ring. He then swallowed him, and placing one wing on the earth and one on the sky he hurled him four hundred parasangs. In reference to that incident Solomon said, “What profit is there to a man in all his labour wherein he laboureth under the sun.”

And this was my portion from all my labour.  What is referred to by ‘this’? — Rab and Samuel gave different answers, one saying that it meant his staff and the other that it meant his apron. He used to go round begging, saying wherever he went, I Koheleth was king over Israel in Jerusalem. When he came to the Sanhedrin, the Rabbis said: Let us see, a madman does not stick to one thing only. What is the meaning of this?

They asked Benaiah, “Does the king send for you?” He replied, “No.” They sent to the queens saying, “Does the king visit you?” They sent back word, “Yes, he does.” They then sent to them to say, “Examine his leg.” They sent back to say, “He comes in stockings, and he visits them in the time of their separation and he also calls for Bathsheba his mother.”

They then sent for Solomon and gave him the chain and the ring on which the Name was engraved. When he went in, Asmodeus on catching sight of him flew away, but he remained in fear of him, therefore is it written, Behold it is the litter of Solomon, threescore mighty met, are about it of the mighty men of Israel. They all handle the sword and are expert in war, every man hath his sword upon his thigh because of fear in the night.

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