Unsong is an fantasy novel written by Scott Alexander based heavily on Judaism. It was published online as serial fiction and it just finished it this past week. I highly recommend it, but I was confused by the ending. In the Epilogue of the novel,

the minds of Ana, Erica, Dylan Alvarez, Sohu, Uriel, Sarah, and THARMAS all end up in the body of Aaron Smith-Teller through SCABMOM or Kabbalistic marriage, and then along with Aaron they all coalesce into a collective consciousness in Aaron's body. Then (the new and improved) Aaron decides that he'll speak the Shem Hamephorash, the Explicit Name of God, and remake the Universe, since he has the combined skills and knowledge of so many people.

But before he speaks the Shem Hamephorash, he first does something that I don't quite understand.

He speaks the name of Thamiel, i.e. the Devil, and Thamiel appears there, cries, asks whether he did a good job as the Devil, and then hands his bident weapon to Aaron who uses it to kill Thamiel: [Yes. This isn’t a coincidence. A supercomputer. An encyclopaedic knowledge of kabbalah and the secret structure of the universe. A passion for revolution. And an answer to the problem of evil. This is what we were made for.] [There’s someone else we need.] We all realized it. We all paused, reflecting on what had to be done. We all agreed. There are many summoning rituals, but one is older and purer than the others. Speak of the Devil, and he will appear.


I didn’t say anything to Thamiel. He sobbed, then handed me the bident. I took it from its far end, the two points in my two hands, the single-pointed end facing the Devil. A unident. He kept sobbing. I held the unident undaunted. Finally, I thrust it at him, and he disappeared, a puff of smoke, a thread too weak to hold.

My question is, what exactly is going on in this scene? First of all, why does Aaron want to kill Thamiel? The line "There’s someone else we need." suggests that he wants to kill Thamiel so that Thamiel too can merge his mind with Aaron. But the only way that would happen is if Thamiel was in a SCABMOM chain with Aaron, and as far as I know he wasn't. Am I wrong about that?

Second of all, why is Thamiel

asking Aaron of all people whether he did good? Is it because by all those minds merging, Aaron has become Adam Kadmon, the seed of the Universe?

Finally, what is all this about evil being "the world’s dumbest joke, the flimsiest illusion," etc.?


4 Answers 4


Remember the revelation about the nature of God.

God is:

a) a goodness maximiser. He will create universes which, on the whole, are net good;

and b) Unable able to create two identical universes - since two identical universes would, to him, be the same universe and therefore would not increase net good.

As a result of this, God wants to create as many net good universes as possible. To start with God created perfect universes - all good, the perfect form. Over time he had to add more and more flaws - evil - to his universes.

Thamiel is the manifestation or perhaps personification of evil in the Unsong universe. His task is to bring the evil that the Unsong universe needs in order to be unique and there for exist.

His question relates to his task. Did I do good? Did my evil result in a net increase good, by allowing the universe to exist. The implication here is that the second head is a moral person and is intentionally doing evil to do good, even though it brings him great personal pain.

As to why Thamiel has to die? He has to die because he is evil. If the universe is to become net good, he has to be removed.


You're overthinking it.

  • They needed Thamiel because he had to be killed before the world could be recreated; he was, so to speak, no longer part of the divine plan.

  • Thamiel asks Aaron his question because Aaron is the only one there. But given who Aaron has become, it's hard to imagine anyone (other than Metatron, I suppose) more qualified to answer.

  • Aaron's observation that evil is "the world's flimsiest illusion" was in response to the revelation that even Thamiel, the very incarnation of evil, wasn't in fact, well, evil.

(I'm not entirely on board with that final sentiment, but I think it makes sense in-universe.)


It's actually much sadder than that. Aaron kept the promise.

The Comet King had his hands around the demon’s neck in an instant. “Listen,” he said. “I know the rules as well as you do. Take her. But as God is my witness, the next time we meet face to face I will speak a Name, and you and everything you have created will be excised from the universe forever, and if you say even a single unnecessary word right now I will make it hurt.

The grin disappeared from the demon’s face.

You can’t harm me,” said Thamiel. “I am a facet of God.”

(Unnecessary word marked in bold.)

Poor Thamiel. He just had to twist the knife.

  • "You" isn't an unnecessary word here. "Can't harm me" isn't grammatically correct. Commented Jul 26, 2023 at 19:21
  • I mean, in the sense of "if you say an unnecessary word right now". Thamiel could have just left. Commented Jul 28, 2023 at 4:26

I believe it has to do with the free will.

Free will is meaningless when there is no choice possible. Thus it is implied that God "created" evil and commanded some of his best "servants" to do evil.

Since their purpose is getting rid of evil, they also have to rid universe of evildoers, even if their task was assigned to them by God.

I think.

I believe there are several logical faults in the whole concept, but can't do anything sensible on the epilogue only. Witness the "flimsiest illusion" bit - for me confusion of several concepts, of which one states that evil is in part a distraction from nothingness. At least according to Judeo-Christian worldview and put in very simplistic form. I'm not prepared nor inclined to comment on Kabbalah

  • This explanation seems to contradict the story. The reason for evil was explained in the chapter; it had nothing to do with free will nor distraction from nothingness, but was a way to create different universes. Commented Nov 24, 2018 at 0:43

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