You see a lot of the same things, doing trials over and over again: the same jury instructions; the same oath; the same admonitions. Sitting in jury selection, the defense attorney will invariably explain the burden of proof and point at me. She’ll say, “the government, the accuser, they have to prove my client is guilty.” This is literally, true, I have accused her client of something. But this little skit bothers me every time. Partially because another lawyer should know that prosecutors don’t actually represent the government. But mostly it’s the second part. In ancient Hebrew (not that I’m familiar with it) the word for accuser is “satan.” In the Hebrew bible, the word is used repeatedly to describe angels that get in the way of humans, for example, angels discussing Job and his trials. But it is also used to refer to David and Rezon of Damascus. The word satan as accuser is mentioned 18 times in the Old Testament, including 14 in the Book of Job. In most of these references, the definite article precedes the noun: the satan. It was a title: it didn’t refer to a red horned devil, it just described a role that anyone could play.
Later books in the New Testament, although written in Greek, follow this convention. Strong’s Concordance gives only two words to define the original Greek word: prosecutor and accuser. In Revelation 12:10, a voice from heaven says,
“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.”
The public defender doesn’t know any of this stuff when she does her bit; nobody does. And I’ve been called lots of names. But at least now I know why I don’t like this one.