FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Ryan Stokes, assistant professor of Old Testament at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently presented his research on early Jewish explanations of the origins of evil spirits to top scholars from around the world during the international meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) in Amsterdam, July 22-26.
Completing his Ph.D. at Yale University, Stokes wrote his dissertation on early Jewish and Old Testament descriptions of Satan. Building upon such research during his presentation at the recent SBL meeting, Stokes described how Second-Temple Jewish literature explained the origins of evil spirits. In particular, he considered interpretations of Genesis recorded in two ancient Jewish texts, “The Book of Watchers” and “The Book of Jubilees,” as well as exorcism texts and the “Treatise of Two Spirits” found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.
According to Genesis 6, the “sons of God” have children by the “daughters of men.” In a recent interview, Stokes explained that some early Jews believed that the “sons of God” were angelic beings. The children they had by the “daughters of men” were giants, part angel and part human, who killed and sometimes ate people. As a result, God put these giants to death, but their spirits remained on earth as evil spirits. Contrary to popular belief today, Stokes said, these early Jewish writers did not think of evil spirits as fallen angels.
“Evil spirits in early Jewish literature are not fallen angels,” Stokes said. “For early Jews, they were the children of fallen angels. … In early Jewish literature, demons and evil spirits aren’t the same things either. Those are different things. So you have angels, you have fallen angels, you have evils spirits, and you have Satan. And these are all different categories of things.” Similarly, he explained that some early Jews distinguished between angels, cherubs and seraphs, which they also believed to be different creatures.
The SBL meeting, Stokes said, gave him the opportunity to interact with experts in his field from around the world, and he is currently collaborating with European scholars who were at the meeting on forthcoming research about Satan and evil spirits.
The meeting also introduced international scholars to Southwestern Seminary. According to David Allen, dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern, Stokes’ lecture exemplifies the seminary’s commitment to quality research.
“Dr. Stokes’ lecture at the international meeting of SBL displays something of the high caliber of professors we have at Southwestern and demonstrates our commitment to high standards in scholarship,” Allen said. “It is exciting for me to see how God has blessed Southwestern with such gifted and committed conservative theologians, who revere the Word of God and who are recognized for their scholarship by SBL and the academy. Dr. Stokes exemplifies in his personal, church, and academic life what we are about at Southwestern and illustrates why Southwestern is one of the leading conservative theological seminaries in the world.”
During the Joan & Andy Horner Lecture Series at Southwestern Seminary, Aug. 21, Stokes will describe how the Dead Sea Scrolls depict the origin of Satan. The lecture series accompanies the seminary’s Dead Sea Scrolls & the Bible exhibition. Stokes currently serves on a team of scholars who are studying the seminary’s Dead Sea Scroll fragments, which are now on display at the exhibition. To learn more about the exhibition or lecture series, or to buy tickets, visit