"evil twin"

James A. Landau <JJJRLandau@netscape.com> JJJRLandau at NETSCAPE.COM
Sat Nov 26 00:42:29 UTC 2011

On Thu, 24 Nov 2011 14:33:04 +0000 Charles C Doyle <cdoyle at UGA.EDU> wrote:

Not an instance or a source, certainly, but an interesting analog of the
concept, from Milton's _Areopagitica_ (1644):  "It was from out the rind
of one apple tasted that the knowledge of good and evil, as two twins
cleaving together, leaped forth into the world. And perhaps this is that
doom which Adam fell into of knowing good and evil, that is to say of
knowing good by evil."

Another vocabularian shocker.

No 19th C. GB hits on "evil twin" in the modern sense of the evil
complement of a good twin.

In fact, there's only one "evil twin" at all: an 1873 observation in
the _Phrenological Journal_ that alcohol and tobacco are evil twins of
each other.

The modern sense of "evil twin" might begin here:

1908 Susan E. Blow _Educational Issues in the Kindergarten_  (N.Y.:
Appleton) 97: The typical hero, son of a god, one of twins....The evil
twin apprises us that man's imagination is haunted by his double
selfhood, and the struggle between him and his nobler brother
celebrates that holy war wherein the soul is at once hero and

[Kindergarten had become less sophisticated by the 1950s.]

1913 T. Proctor Hall in _The Monist_ XXIII 98: If the creator of life
cannot overcome his evil twin, or cannot destroy Satan,
or cannot prevent "delusions of mortal mind," these causes of evil, he
is not omnipotent. If he can but will not, he is not good.

The world doesn't seem to have been much interested in "evil twins"
till the 1980s and later. There are 12,000 [!] GB hits in the 21st C.


I can beat Milton by a millenium.

According to an Agadic (homiletic) teaching in the Talmud (Babylonian talmud, tractate Shabath 119b), two angels accompany people on their way back home from synagogue on Friday night — a good angel and a evil angel. If the house has been prepared for the Shabbat ("the lamp has been lit, the table set, and his couch spread"), the good angel utters a blessing that the next Shabbat will be the same, and the evil angel is forced to respond "Amen". but if the home is not prepared for Shabbat, the evil angel expresses the wish that the next Shabbat will be the same, and the good angel is forced to respond "Amen".

The souls of the pious are received by three good angels; those of the wicked, by three evil angels, who accompany them and testify for them (Tosef., Shab. xvii. 2; Shab. 119b; Ket. 104a; Ḥag. 16a).


ADS-L, as any member can testify, is plagued by false antedatings, but I suspect the following false antedating (although of a tune, not a word or phrase) holds the record: somewhere over 3,000 years

The slow, well-known melody for the song was composed by the American Rabbi Israel Goldfarb on May 10, 1918 while sitting near the Alma Mater statue in front of Low Memorial Library at Columbia University. Goldfarb's work is often presumed to be a traditional Hasidic melody. He wrote in 1963, "The popularity of the melody traveled not only throughout this country but throughout the world, so that many people came to believe that the song was handed down from Mt. Sinai by Moses."

    - James A. Landau

the above is mostly cut-and-pasted from the Jewish Encyclopedia, VOL I (1901), article "angelogy", available on-line at
and from Wikipedia, article on "Shalom Aleichem (liturgy)"

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