SATYRS OR WILD GOATS?
Note: The Hebrew ayn appears as in the internet version of this text.
Isaiah 13:21 “But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there.”
Isaiah 34:14 “The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest.”
TV entertainer, deceiver, and pet parrot of James R. White, John Ankerberg, has declared that the KJV has translated these passages incorrectly. His contention is that they should be translated as “wild goats” as many of the modern versions have done for the Isaiah verses. For example the ASV has: “But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and ostriches shall dwell there, and wild goats shall dance there.” As Ankerberg explains it: “the satyr and the cockatrice [to be dealt with later] represent translations that were acceptable in 1611, but today these translations have either been corrected or admitted that the exact meaning is unknown.” [Ankerberg, p. 16-17]
This is one of the times that the RSV actually does a better job with the text and agrees with the KJV in both these passages against the ASV.
The RSV has: “But wild beasts will lie down there, and its houses will be full of howling creatures; there ostriches will dwell, and there satyrs will dance.”
Similarly the RSV has “And wild beasts shall meet with hyenas, the satyr shall cry to his fellow; yea, there shall the night hag alight, and find for herself a resting place” for Isaiah 34:14.
What Ankerberg — a man who cannot pronounce Hebrew words correctly, let alone understand them — is saying is that in spite of his philological incompetence, he is qualified to override the view of the more than 50 great scholars behind the King James, not to mention Martin Luther, the translators of the Diodati, Reina Valera, and the entire history of Jewish Hebrew scholars who wrote commentaries on these verses.
For example the Italian Diodati has i demoni. The Spanish Reina Valera has pelugos meaning “hairy creatures.” Luther’s Bible has Feldgeister, which means field-spirits or satyrs.
A few modern versions besides the RSV do agree with the KJV in these Isaiah passages:
The Living Bible has demons. The Amplified Bible has “wild goats [like demons] will dance there.”
The CEV adds a footnote “or demons.” I’ll elaborate more on what the modern versions have later in the essay. First we should examine what the dictionaries tell us.
The dictionary of Brown, Driver, Briggs gives us a definition of sa’iyr that makes a mockery of the mockery of Ankerberg.
Brown, Driver, Briggs has as its third definition: “satyr, demon (with he-goat’s form, or feet, hairy demons inhabiting desolate ruins, so pl wa’yrim; name for idols…” Fuerst’s Dictionary has: “rough, hairy,…the shaggy, hairy one; hence a buck, specially a he-goat…” and most importantly: “A goat-shaped deity, which was idolatrously worshipped beside the bamot and egelim, a thing which was strictly forbidden the Israelites Lev. 17,7; 2 CHR. 11,15. It was believed that such hostile beings inhabited the deserts and woods (Is. 12:21; 34:14), and that they must be appeased by divine worship. Hence the LXX have daimonia, the Targ. and Pesh. Sheddin; and Jerome describes them “vel incubones vel satyros vel silvestres quosdam homines &c.” This superstition was probably derived from Egypt, where a goat (Josephus contra Ap. 2,7) or Pan who was depicted with a goat’s head and feet (Herod. 2,46. 145; Strabo 17. page 802), was worshipped. The latter symbolised the procreative and male power (Steph. Byz. s.v. Panos polis; Horap. 1, 48).”
Gesenius has (1) hairy, rough (2) a he-goat (3) wood demons, satyrs, resembling he-goats, inhabiting deserts. I’d include more dictionaries, but it is already becoming redundant.
The base meaning of sa’iyr is neither wild goat, nor is it satyr. The base meaning is “hairy”, being derived from the root s’r, which means hair. The same word appears in Arabic as sh’r. Hence the word refers to a hairy thing, which may be a type of goat or a goat-like demon or idol, but may also be a substantive for anything else that is hairy. In the two passages from Isaiah, it has always been clear in context that the reference is to goatlike creatures of a demonic nature. Whether they be a mythological god of pagan cultures, or an actual reference to actual demons, is up for debate. What is clear is that they do not refer to regular goats. Contrary to the image that is undoubtedly clouding the already foggy mind of Ankerberg, this is not a description directly from Greek mythology, and no such image is to be found in the Bible.
Peter France in his An Encyclopedia of Bible Animals theorizes about the purport of the word satyr in these verses:
“The same word appears in 2 Chronicles 11:15 where it is translated as devils, “And he ordained him priests for the high places, and for the devils, and for the calves which he had made.” Tristram convincingly argues that these devils are the half goat half man gods that were worshiped in Egypt. “These devils, or se’irim, Bocharrt and many other commentators consider to be the goat-gods of Egypt, an idol half goat, half man, with the worship of which the Israelites had been familiar in Egypt, and which Jerobaom re-introduced from thence; and consequently, the se’irim of Isaiah’s prophecy would mean really what we understand by Satyrs i.e., demons of the woods and desolate places with the human head and arm, and the body and legs of a goat. The popular superstitions of Arabia and Syria are full of such fabled monsters, which people all the ruins.” [France, p. 132] It might be added here as an aside that Masons to this day still worship Baphomet, a demonic creature that is part goat part man in his iconological images. In this case it is the head of a goat on the body of a man. The goat’s head itself shows up in Satanic imagery to this day and also is depicted in Masonic imagery, including the upside-down five pointed star of Mendes.
Tristram also presents the alternate theory that these devils could represent the dog-faced baboons what were worshiped in Egypt and known to have lived in Arabia. Peter France in his Encyclopedia of Bible Animals rejects this theory on the grounds that he believes this to be a mythological reference that applies to the goat-like creature. I would agree with him that we need not assume that the Greek description of satyrs is intended here. [France, p. 132-33.]
Historically, the word sa’yrim has always been interpreted as referring to demons or goat demons. The targum of Onkelos translates, or rather paraphrases this, as sidim, which means demons or devils. Israel Drazin’s translation of the Onkelos Leviticus targum includes a footnote on the topic that is relevant. “MT’s “goats” is interpreted as a euphemism for “demons” by most translators and commentators. They are called goats here and in Isa. 13:21 and 34:14 because they dance and skip about like goats (Rashi). The root syrm, “goats,” may be related s’r, “hair” or “horror,” and they may be called “goats” becaus they appear in the form of goats (Radak, Nachmanides). To takes its lsydyn, “demons,” from Deut 32:17 where the word is in MT.” [Drazin p 157-158] He continues with references to various commentaries that have the same word, but these are not really relevant to our discussion.
Even modern commentators who have no loyalty to the King James Bible have understood these verses. Otto Kaiser wrote the following in his commentary to the Westminster Commentary series: “So the place will become the refuge of the desert animals, which occupy a curious position between the world of animals and that of demons, and whose presence helps to increase the uncanny nature of the ruins. Owls and ostriches will dwell there. Among them will leap the ‘hairy ones’, the satyrs or goat demons, whose cult, probably deriving from Canaanite popular belief, seems to have had a location in Jerusalem itself before the time of Josiah.” [Kaiser, p. 20 21]
The Soncino Bible commentary and the Jewish Publication Society translation that it uses both translate this word as satyr, and the commentator’s footnote reads: “Goat-shaped demons. The Hebrew also means goats.” [Slotki, p. 66]
I have saved the most important section of this essay for last, and all by itself it is enough to show Ankerberg for the fool and deceiver that he is. Note that sa’yr is translated as devils in Leviticus 17:7 and 2 Chronicles 11:15.
Lev. 17:7 “And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils, after whom they have gone a whoring. This shall be a statute for ever unto them throughout their generations.”
2 Chron. 11:15 “And he ordained him priests for the high places, and for the devils, and for the calves which he had made.”
The RSV has satyrs in both of these passages. Other translations that have noted that “goats” does not fit this passage include The NIV with goat idols with a footnote stating that it can refer to male or female demons (same for 2 Chron.), The Modern Language Bible with “field spirits” (influence of Luther?), The Living Bible with evil spirits out in the fields. The Message has goat-demons in Leviticus and goat idols for 2 Chronicles. The Amplified Bible has goatlike gods or demons for Leviticus and the [idols of demon] he-goats for 2 Chronicles. The New Living Translation has goat idols or goat demons.
The English Standard Version has goat demons for the Lev. passage and goat idols for 2 Chronicles. The CEV has goat-demons for both. The NKJV has demons for both. The NCV has goat idols for both. The NLV has goat like gods and goat gods. The Holman Bible has goat-demons and both verses include a footnote referring to the Isaiah verses in question. The New International Reader’s Version has gods that look like goats and goat-demons. The NEB, which has more trouble with its translation of creatures than any other version even has devils here, and includes a footnote that says “or satyrs” for both passages. Most noteworthy, the NASB, the version that Ankerberg used to allegedly correct many of the KJV’s “outdated” translations agrees with the KJV in this passage and translates sa’yir here as goat demons! Maybe Ankerberg and White can explain what the difference between a goat demon and a satyr is! If you think this is funny, take a look at how the NASB translates 2 Chronicles 11:15: “And he set up priests of his own for the high places, for the satyrs, and for the calves which he had made.” The NASB translates it as satyrs here! The version that both Ankerberg and White place above other versions and falsely claim corrects the KJV’s so-called errors has “satyrs”! Ankerberg, in his stupidity, spirit of deception, and haste to attack God’s word, didn’t bother to examine these other two relevant passages. If he had done so, he would have realized that out of all of these modern versions, only one supports his contention that satyrs is an erroneous translation. It is not unlikely, however, that Ankerberg did notice the flaw in his argument, but was hoping that no one who read his book would notice. Judging by the vacuous look that he displays on his TV program, I assume that he just didn’t notice. In any event, all of the modern versions, except for the ASV, agree with the KJV and translate sa’yir as demon, goat-demon or idol, i.e. satyr, or even translate it with the word “satyr”. The criticism of Ankerberg and White is blown out of the water by the modern versions themselves, and once again they prove to be nothing but smoke and mirror scam artists. We can, however, thank them for showing how inconsistent the majority of the modern versions are in these passages. Most of them contradict their own translations in the Isaiah passages by their treatments of the Leviticus and 2 Chronicles passages.
There is another aspect of Ankerberg’s comment in regard to these passages that should be noted. The Bible mentions angels, devils (demons), cherubs, seraphim, dragons, and a number of other creatures that are not seen by man under normal circumstances, or of which their existence is questioned by Bible-scoffers and pseudo-Christians. Do Ankerberg and his fellow Scripture mockers believe that these entities should be made objects of ridicule as well? Perhaps he believes that cherubs as described by Ezekiel are an allegorical vision, and that angels are merely the product of the imagination as his Harvard-educated heroes believe. Do Ankerberg and White believe the Bible at all, or are they just actors? Whatever they are, they should not be taken seriously by anyone.
Ankerberg, And John Weldon. The King James Only Debate. Eugene, Orgean: Havest House Publishers, 1996.
France, Peter. An encyclopedia of Bible animals. Tel Aviv, Israel : Steimatzky, c1986.
Kaiser, Otto. Isaiah 1-12 A Commentary. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1983.
Kaiser, Otto. Isaiah 13-39 A Commentary. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1974.
Slotki, Israel W. Isaiah with Hebrew Text and English Translation. Soncino Books of the Bible. London: The Soncino Press, 1949.
John Hinton, Ph.D.
Bible Restoration Ministry
A ministry seeking the translating and reprinting of KJV equivalent
Bibles in all the languages of the world.