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Description - Satan by Jeffrey Burton Russell

Undeniably, evil exists in our world; we ourselves commit evil acts. How can one account for evil's ageless presence, its attraction, and its fruits? The question is one that Jeffrey Burton Russell addresses in his history of the concept of the Devil-the personification of evil itself. In the predecessor to this book, The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity, Russell traced the idea of the Devil in comparative religions and examined its development in Western thought through ancient Hebrew religion and the New Testament. This volume follows its course over the first five centuries of the Christian era. Like most theological problems, the question of evil was largely ignored by the primitive Christian community. The later Christian thinkers who wrestled with it for many centuries were faced with a seemingly irreconcilable paradox: If God is benevolent and omnipotent, why does He permit evil? How, on the other hand, can God be all-powerful if one adopts a dualist stance, and posits two divine forces, one good and one evil? Drawing upon a rich variety of literary sources as well as upon the visual arts, Russell discusses the apostolic fathers, the apologetic fathers, and the Gnostics. He goes on to treat the thought of Irenaeus and Tertullian, and to describe the diabology of the Alexandrian fathers, Clement and Origen, as well as the dualist tendencies in Lactantius and in the monastic fathers. Finally he addresses the syntheses of the fifth century, especially that of Augustine, whose view of the Devil has been widely accepted in the entire Christian community ever since. Satan is both a revealing study of the compelling figure of the Devil and an imaginative and persuasive inquiry into the forces that shape a concept and ensure its survival.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780801494130
ISBN-10: 0801494133
Format: Paperback
(229mm x 152mm x 17mm)
Pages: 262
Imprint: Cornell University Press
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Publish Date: 25-Aug-1987
Country of Publication: United States

Other Editions - Satan by Jeffrey Burton Russell

Book Reviews - Satan by Jeffrey Burton Russell

US Kirkus Review » The History of the Devil, Part II: the continuation of a clear, competent, but rather dry survey. In his first volume, Russell (Univ. of California, Santa Barbara) followed the supreme symbol of evil from antiquity to the beginning of the Christian era. He now traces Satan through the first four centuries, up to and culminating in the "diabology" of St. Augustine. This period shaped much of subsequent Christian thought on the Devil, and Russell's study handily summarizes this important chapter of Western intellectual history. He notes, for example, the long shadows cast by Tertullian's doctrine that paganism and heresy are directly inspired by Satan. This means that the apparently good lives of infidels (Jews, witches, etc.) are in fact diabolical evil, a notion future Inquisitors took to heart. Like many other church fathers, Origen too had demons on the brain: he popularized the theme of human life as the setting of a psychomachia between good and evil angels. And Augustine grimly argued that, "The human race is the devil's fruit tree, his own property, from which he may pick his fruit. It is a plaything of demons." Russell's book should prove a gold mine for students of religion, though they'll need Greek to understand his footnotes. And many of them will wish he had devoted more time to the early iconography of Satan and less to the logical conundrums posed by Satan's existence (why does God allow evil spirits such power over humanity? etc.). Yet, for all the withering critical fire Russell trains on diabology, he still thinks the devil, whether personal reality or mere personification, can serve to explain the existence of evil. Perhaps. But even Russell's atheistic readers will admit his contention that, given the horrors of the 20th century, we won't be able to get the devil off our minds for a long time yet. A valuable piece of scholarship. (Kirkus Reviews)


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Author Biography - Jeffrey Burton Russell

Jeffrey Burton Russell is Professor of History Emeritus at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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