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If You Believe the Bible, You Must Also Believe in ....Goat/Men
By: David Deschesne
Fort Fairfield Journal, March 7, 2012
As part of a series started in last issue of Fort Fairfield Journal, I am elucidating an atheist’s attempt to ridicule the Bible by taking verses out of context in order to prove it is inaccurate, or somewhat less than the word of God. In the last issue, we discussed the use of the word, “dragons”. In this column, we will discuss the use of the word “satyr”.
In a blog on the Thinking Atheist website, an unnamed atheist states that if you believe the Bible...
“You believe in the Satyr, a creature of Greek mythology. It is a man with a goat’s legs, ears and horns. (Isaiah 13:21, Isaiah 34:14)”
A few hours of research (I’ve got six hours into just this one word) into the context of the verses and word origins shows this atheist hasn’t a clue what the original meaning or intent was, or how easy it is to pull verses out of context and imply something they are not.
The word satyr does appear in the two verses of Isaiah (KJV) that the atheist cites above. So, does this mean Isaiah was suggesting those mythological creatures are real? Why does the King James Version also seem to acknowledge as much? A study of the word and its contextual usage—something thinking atheists hate to do—will help bring the term into better focus.
You Believe in Goat-Men (Satyrs)
According to Greek mythology, a satyr was a creature that was half man, half goat. “They were a roguish but faint-hearted folk, lovers of music, wine and women, dancing with the nymphs or pursuing them, and striking terror into men.”1
The satyr was “an ancient Greek deity of the woods, who was part man, part beast. The satyrs were followers of Bacchus, the god of wine.”2
Satyr can also be used as an adjective to describe a man who is “beastly in thought and action.”3
The word satyr appears in the King James Version of Isaiah twice and both times it is translated from the Hebrew word, שׂעיר saw-eer’4 and means, “hairy, covered in hair; goat, billy goat.”5 It is derived from the Hebrew, שׂער saw’ar which means “fear, to be afraid, fear, be tempestuous, come like a whirlwind.”6 Nowhere in Hebrew terminology does it mean the half man, half goat of Greek mythology.
Saw-eer is used in Leviticus 17:7 where the King James translates it as “devils”.
“And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils (saw-eer), after whom they have gone a whoring...”
In that verse in Leviticus, saw-eerim, or “hairy ones” were “a kind of demon or supernatural being known to Hebrew folk-lore as inhabiting waste places...”7
“Goat-worship was a form of idolatry enthusiastically practiced by the Egyptians, particularly in the nome or province of Mendes. Pan was supposed especially to preside over mountainous and desert regions; and it was while they were in the wilderness the Israelites seem to have been powerfully influenced by a feeling to propitiate this idol.”8
There is no need to go to the bizarre translation of the satyr of Greek mythology here. What is meant is simply the people were sacrificing to a goat idol.9
Saw-eer occurs 59 times in the Old Testament, and the KJV has translated it thus: “kid” (i.e.. young goat) 28 times, “goat” 24 times, “devil” 2 times, “satyr” 2 times, “hairy” 2 times, “rough” (goat) 1 time.
“The term ‘satyr’ is Greek, but it strongly resembles the Hebrew ‘saiyr.’ The Greek ‘satyr’ may actually be based on the Hebrew ‘saiyr.’ The roguish and debaucherous half-goat creature of Greek mythology strongly resembles the ‘goat demon’ mentioned in Scripture...In Isaiah 13:21, the satyrs ‘dance’ – a trademark activity of satyrs in mythology. Rather than assuming that the KJV's satyr is based on Greek mythology, it may be more reasonable to think that the Greek mythology is based on the Hebrew goat demon referred to as ‘saiyr.’”10
The usage of saw-eer in Isaiah is in the context of a prophecy to Babylon and Edom respectively, describing what their cities are going to look like after experiencing the wrath of God. When explaining wild animals would be inhabiting their wasteland of a city, Isaiah was likely using the vernacular of the day—with his reference to saw-eer, or goat idols of pagan lore—being used to help the people image the desolation their cities would look like by naming demons they were familiar with. Isaiah was not intending to reference the satyrs of Greek mythological realm, which had not yet been fully developed, and was not implying they even exist.
“The word in the context of the two Isaiah verses above gives the meaning a strong demonic sense. Compare with Lev 17:7 and 2 Chron 11:15 where the Hebrew word is used to indicate idols carved to look like goats, as well as the strong Satan/goat connection in the occult. The two Isaiah verses are dripping with this type of symbolism: “owls” are often mentioned with dragons (Job 30:29, Isa 34:13, Isa 43:20, Micah 1:8 KJV). In fact, right after the “satyr” in Isa 34:14 it mentions the “screech owl” (“night creatures” in NIV, “night monster” in 1611 KJV marginal note), which in the Hebrew is ‘lilith’ (see also NRSV) - a female night demon according to Jewish and pagan tradition. Also, the two ‘satyr’ verses are in the context and genre of the apocalyptic, which tends to hint these verses may contain spiritual symbolism instead of simply mentioning animals.”11
At the very least, saw-eer means literally a goat; at the most, it means in a strict metaphorical sense, a demon. Notwithstanding the King James translators’ use of a word depicting a Greek mythological man/goat, there is no historical, etymological or contextual data to indicate that was what Isaiah was either intending, or implying when using the word, saw-eer in the two verses cited.
1. Encyclopedia Britannica, ©1958 Vol. 20, p. 10
2. World Book Dictionary, ©1969 Doubleday & Co., Inc. p.1833
3. op. cit.
4. Strong’s #8163
5. NTC’s Hebrew and English Dictionary ©2000 NTC Publishing Group, p. 638.
6. Strong’s #8175
7. Encyclopedia Britannica previously cited in .
8. A Commentary: Critical, Experimental and Practical on the Old and New Testaments, ©1945 Wm B. Eerdsman Publishing Co., Vol. I, p. 483
9. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ©1980 Moody’s Bible Institute, Vol. II, p. 881