Liz's Reviews > The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans and Heretics

The Origin of Satan by Elaine Pagels
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review

really liked it
bookshelves: apologetics, nonfiction

Elaine Pagels has a way of presenting the history of the early Christian community that makes it accessible to non-scholars. She presents a "whole picture" of the political, cultural, religious and sociological climates of the first 2 centuries after Jesus' death. Her insights come from much research into all the literature of the time which was immensely augmented upon the discovery of the Nag Hammadi scrolls found in the 40's.

In this volume, she carefully reviews the writings of the 4 gospels with an eye to the use of the figure of Satan. In the intro she writes: "What interests me..are specifically social implications of the figure of Satan: how he is invoked to express human conflict and to characterize human enemies within our own religious traditions." Whereas fallen angels and demons are virtually absent in the Hebrew Bible, the devil as we think of him makes a strong showing in new Testament literature. She makes a case that the early Christians saw themselves as victims and so needed to 'dehumanize' enemies by portraying themselves as part of a cosmic battle between light and darkness; (John's gospel) or God and the devil. I have to agree that this almost paranoid aspect of Christianity is not only built in, but disturbing.

However, she points out that Christianity has also produced those that oppose the paranoid viewpoint that 'the other' is evil.
"Many Christians, then, from the first century through Francis of Assisi in the 13th century and Martin Luther King, Jr. in the twentieth, have believed that they stood on God's side without demonizing their opponents. Their religious vision inspired them to oppose policies and powers they regarded as evil, often risking their well-being and their lives, while praying for the reconciliation-not the damnation-of those who opposed them." (I would add Nelson Mandela and John Lewis to that list.)

I really liked the chapters about 'Satan's Earthly Kingdom' and 'The Enemy Within' which enlightened me about Justin Martyr's, and Irenaeus', and Valentinus' influences on the early church.
If you are interested in some of the writings left out of the official canon of the church that have come to light, this would be a good book to read. Or any of her books really.
9 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Origin of Satan.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

April 10, 2012 – Shelved
April 14, 2012 – Started Reading
April 16, 2012 –
page 145
April 20, 2012 – Shelved as: apologetics
April 20, 2012 – Shelved as: nonfiction
April 20, 2012 – Finished Reading

No comments have been added yet.