In Judeo-Christian traditions, Abaddon is known both as a “place of destruction” and a personified entity of destruction, though in most writings, it is primarily the former.
Abaddon in the Old Testament
The name Abaddon is derived from its Hebrew root, meaning ‘to destroy.’ It is used six times throughout the Wisdom literature in the Old Testament. Proverbs 15:11, 27:20 and Job 26:6 draw parallels between Abaddon and Sheol.
- Proverbs 15:11: “Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord, How much more the hearts of men!”
- Proverbs 27:20: “Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, Nor are the eyes of man ever satisfied.”
- Job 26:6: “Naked is Sheol before Him, And Abaddon has no covering.”
In Ps 88:11, Abaddon is associated with graves.
- Psalm 88:11: “Will Your lovingkindness be declared in the grave, Your faithfulness in Abaddon?”
In Job 31:12, Abaddon is described as a place of fire.
- Job 31:12: “For it would be fire that consumes to Abaddon, And would uproot all my increase.”
While it may be argued that Prov 27:20, referring to Abaddon as “never satisfied,” is a personification of Abaddon, Job 28:22 is the first clear reference to Abaddon as an entity that can speak and hear.
- Job 28:22: “Abaddon and Death say, ‘With our ears we have heard a report of it.’”
Abaddon in Revelation
In Revelation, Abaddon is the king of the abyss or bottomless pit who commands an army of locusts. According to Revelation 9:1-11, after the fifth angel sounds his trumpet, a star falls from heaven and opens the bottomless pit. A storm of smoke arises, and from the smoke, a plague of locusts emerge to torment, but not kill, men who lack the seal of God on their foreheads for five months.
They have as king over them, the angel of the abyss; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in the Greek he has the name Apollyon. – Rev 9:11
While the root Apollyon (“the Destroyer”) is generally not used as a name in Greek writing, the Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible notes that there may still be some connection with the Greek god, Apollo. Though Apollo was known as a god of prophecy, law and purification, in his earliest accounts, he could both set plagues upon men and cure them.
For instance, at the beginning of the Iliad, after Agamemnon captures Chryseis, her father Chryses tries to make a deal with the Greeks for her safe return. They refuse, so Chryses calls upon Apollo to intervene. Apollo does, causing a nine-day deadly plague to infect the Achaean army and cattle. Perhaps this tradition is where the parallels with Abaddon, “the destroyer,” originate.
Later Christian theologians sometimes reference this personified entity with Satan. For instance, in Robert Jamieson (1802-1880), Andrew Robert Fausset, and David Brown (1803-1897)’s Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, published in 1871, the authors describe Abaddon in reference to Rev 9:11 as follows:
Abaddon — that is, perdition or destruction (Job 26:6; Proverbs 27:20). The locusts are supernatural instruments in the hands of Satan to torment, and yet not kill, the ungodly, under this fifth trumpet. Just as in the case of godly Job, Satan was allowed to torment with elephantiasis, but not to touch his life.
Whether these authors meant to equate Abaddon with Satan, or simply that this is the work of Satan and that Abaddon here refers to “perdition or destruction,” something Satan is known to cause, I think, is open to interpretation.
Abaddon References In Other Writings
Aside from Revelation, most later writings depict Abaddon as a place rather than an entity. For instance, in the Babylonian Talmud (Er 19a), Abaddon is listed second in the list of the seven names of the underworld (Sheol, Abadon, Baar Shachath, Bor Sheon, Tit Hayavon, Tzalmoveth, and Eretz Hathachthith).
The Biblical Antiquities of Philo, dating from the first century CE and probably not written by Philo, says:
When the years of the world (or age) are fulfilled, God will quicken the dead, and raise up from the earth them that sleep: Sheol will restore its debt, and Abaddon its deposit, and every man will be rewarded according to his works. – III. 10.
Similarly, Abaddon is mentioned as a place in several of the Dead Sea Scrolls, including
- Thanksgiving Hymns: “[Hell and Abaddon] shall open ” (Hymn 9)
- Thanksgiving Hymns: “from the hell of Abaddon” (Hymn 10)
- Thanksgiving Hymns: “the torrents of Belial shall break into Abaddon” (Hymn 10)
- Apocryphal Psalms (11Q11): “by the curse of Abaddon (the bottom of hell)” (IV)
- The Words of the Heavenly Lights (4Q504): “the great [Abyss] and Abaddon”
Much later, in 1671, Milton describes Abaddon in Paradise Regained (IV, 624) as “in all her gates Abaddon rues thy bold attempt.”
What Abaddon Looks Like
While most writings simply equate Abaddon to a place within the underworld, Louis Ginzberg goes to great extent to describe the seven divisions of hell – including Abaddon – in his book, The Legends of the Jews. In The Creation of the World, Ginzberg describes hell as being comprised of seven divisions – Sheol, Abaddon, Beer Shahat, Tit ha-Yawen, Sha’are Mawet, Sha’are Zalmawet, and Gehenna – each sitting atop one another. He also states:
- It takes 300 years to travel the height, width or depth of each division
- It takes 6300 years to travel a piece of land equivalent to the 7 divisions
- Each of the 7 division has 7 subdivisions
- Each subdivision has 7 rivers of fire and 7 of hail
- Each river is supervised by 90,000 Angels of Destruction
- Each subdivision has 7000 caves filled with venomous scorpions
- Hell has 5 types of fire: (1) devours and absorbs, (2) devours and does not absorb, (3) absorbs and does not devour, (4) neither devours nor absorbs, and (5) a fire which devours fire
- Hell is filled with mountains and hills of coal
- Hell has rivers of pitch and sulfur
Abaddon in Magickal Practices
Francis Barrett lists nine degrees of evil spirits in his book, The Magus (1801). In it, Abaddon is listed in conjunction with the 7th degree, where the furies live. However, he does illustrate Abaddon’s face.
The seventh mansion the furies possess, who are powers of evil, discords, war, and devastation; whose name in the Revelation is called in Greek, Apollyon; in the Hebrew, Abaddon, that is, destroying and wasting. – The Magus, Chap VII.
In S.L. Mather’s Key of Solomon, Abaddon is the name of God that Moses invokes to bring destructive rains.
and by the Name ABADDON which Moses invoked and sprinkled the dust towards heaven, and immediately there fell so great rain upon the men, cattle, and flocks, that they all died.