“Satan (Hebrew: שָּׂטָן Satan, meaning “adversary”; [1] Arabic: شيطان shaitan, meaning “astray” or “distant”, sometimes “devil”) is a figure appearing in the texts of the Abrahamic religions [2][3] who brings evil and temptation, and is known as the deceiver who leads humanity astray. Some religious groups teach that he originated as an angel who fell out of favor with God, seducing humanity into the ways of sin, and who has power in the fallen world. In the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, Satan is primarily an accuser and adversary, a decidedly malevolent entity, also called the devil, who possesses demonic qualities” (Wikipedia).

This partly temple jargon sounds too complex for our ancestors. Guys and girls, the famous river Nile has a very simple origin “rain water” from the root *N’ that gave us ‘nautical’. The word now refers to navigation, sea, maritime, sailor and what have you but *N’ originally meant something far away, like the formation of clouds and weather variations that bring rain. The root is found in dozens of words in several European languages. It is the origin of Norway, near, nor, no etc.

And here is a surprise: ‘*N’m’ (nam > sleep) was thought of by our ancient ancestors as a state of “going away” or “lapsing”. So, let’s think really simple about all ancient words, really, really simple.

Satan is a Nucleitic Compound (NC) made of two different roots. The first is Š’ or *ŠY (shay). The category of this root and its primary (’Š) is all about trees, branches and wood. When in English you say “a thing” you are using a general word to describe or denote an item. Branches, etc., were plentiful so a branch or a stick or a piece of wood is not very far from where you are, and it is ‘the thing’ par excellence.

The Š (sh) in the case is not substitutable because the root will be different. ShayṬan is a common word in Arabic diglossia which still retains the primeval bilateral linguistic rhythm and it used as a verb to mean “naughtiness” especially by children. In all cases where the “sh” is substituted by an “s” a mistake is made unless the substitution is deliberate to conceal the origin, a possibility that’s difficult to prove due to the importance given to the name by religious texts as an entity imperative to believe in in order to believe in the deliverance from Satan by God.

The second root. *ṬN is not with ‘t’ but a hard ‘t’ such as the one in ‘ton’ (IPA > Ṭ). The root has an original meaning “to settle down” but the root in “Satan” is an onomatopoeia or the human approximation of a sound with any or several of the following meanings:

“A shrill sound; make a clear resonant sound, like that of a bell being struck; make a humming sound; move rapidly or excitedly; be filled with a buzzing noise; to make a continuous low dull sound; make short sharp ringing sound; fill a place with sound; produce echoes; emit or cause to emit this sound; ring; plunk; peal or rattle; clank; make a continuous rapid buzzing or softly clicking sound as of a bird’s wings or of cog-wheels in constant motion.”

In certain cases, ear ringing and other abnormal ear noises occur. If persistent it becomes a medical case called “tinnitus”. People with tinnitus perceive buzzing, roaring, and pulsatile sounds when no actual sound is present. Tinnitus can arise from problems in any of the four areas responsible for hearing: the outer ear, the middle ear, the inner ear, and the brain.

This sudden buzzing and hissing caused ancient people to question the reaspm. They didn’t exactly know what caused the sounds so they simply described them as “something that rings in the ear”. The word ‘ton’ is used in Arabic to describe the sound of bells. Priests, however, thought otherwise and produced a creature from this noise *ŠY/*ṬN, literary “something that rang (in the ear) but priestly speak “a horrid evil creature that tells people to fornicate, steal, kill, etc.”
And this is the very simple origin of Shaytan and Satan. If you need another name for it call it “the whisperer”.

Satan is not in Akkadian. The closest to the impression about Satans are the following:
1- “lilītu: [Religion → Myths] a she-devil, a she-demon, a demoness.” The word means nothing more than a creature of the night > ‘Lil’ “night”.
2- “kiskilili: [Religion → Myths] a demoness, a she-devil.” Like Satan, this word is a Nucleitic Compound: The second part (Ilili) has the same meaning like ‘lil’ “night”. The first part ‘kis’ is “woman private part” to indicate female.

About the author

Adel Bishtawi

Adel S (Said) Bishtawi was born in Nazareth, Palestine, 1945. He read English Literature at Damascus University, attended short courses of familiarisation of languages including Latin, German and Russian, and attended a course in Linguistics at the Central London Polytechnic.

Adel published more than 20 books in both English and Arabic. the last of which is Only When Desire Screams co-authored by Selvi Sado. A journalist since the late 1960s, he became Front Page Editor of Al Arab Newspaper (London), the first pan Arab Newspaper launched in Europe. In 1978, he joined Jihad Al Khazin in launching Asharq Al Awsat Newspaper (London) as Business and Supplements Editor. In 1980, he was appointed Central Managing Editor of the Emirates News Agency in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. In 1988, he joined Jamil Mrowa (who later re-launched the Daily Star in Beirut in 1996) in London for the re-launch of Al Hayat Newspaper and continued under the editorship of Jihad Al Khazin until he left in April 2001 to dedicate what is left of his time to literary and historical writing. as well as investigating origins by means of historical and etymological linguistics.

Adel produced and co-produced a number of TV documentaries. He produced, directed and wrote “Muslims along the Silk Road”, a five part-60-minutes-each documentary tracing Muslim culture and heritage and the legacy of Muslim pioneers and merchants along the Silk Road starting from China.

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