BOOK REVIEW ABOUT THE ORIGIN OF SATAN
To begin with, Elaine Pagels who lives and teaches in Princeton University, New Jersey wrote this book “The Origin of Satan”. In addition, Elaine Pagels is Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University. In addition, she is the author of four other different books including The Johannine Gospel in Gnostic Exegesis, The Gnostic Paul: Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters, The Gnostic Gospels and Adam, Eve and the Serpent. The book” Origin of Satan” does not go straightforward into details of describing the source of Satan as the title says. Instead, it starts with historical events mixing biblical times and other story’s slowly but accurately describing this Satan origins and his ways but not directly. The Book was published by the Library of Congress in 1995.
The book divides into six parts after the introduction. The first topic of the book is titled “THE GOSPEL OF MARK AND THE JEWISH WAR” , we first come across statements mostly talking about the Jewish wars with Romans who were their occupiers by then. Among those who joined the rebellions against Rome, many were convinced that God was on their side since they were fighting for their freedom.
However, We also see that, as the revolts spread to towns and cities including the well-known city of Jerusalem , some Jewish populations refuse to fight alongside with their fellow countrymen : in Jerusalem itself, the priestly party and the city-dwelling allies do their best to maintain peace with the with Romans Empire. After three years of fighting, the Romans army comes and besiege the city (Jerusalem).
Aftermath we come across a Jewish man by the names, ‘Flavors Josephus’. Josephus is born in a wealthy priestly family lineage and later in life, he becomes a historian and a partisan. During the same Jewish war, it seems this Josephus does not agree with or support what the Jews were doing fighting against the Romans, because he sensed the disastrous results the Jews were about to endure. He even tries to stop the cause by reminding them of how the Jews were inferior to Romans both military and financially. Surprisingly, after serving as governor of Galilee, he lately joined the revolt against Rome under high pressure from his Jewish countrymen. Luckily, he survives a Romans massacre but he was caught by them and starts to serve as mediator and interpreter for the Romans.
We come to know that the first Christian gospel was probably written during the last year of the war. However, none knows exactly who wrote it. However, many attribute these works to Mark (who was co-worker of Apostle Peter). Still not yet, seeing anything rated to origin of Satan, Instead, we see Mark stating how the Jesus’ followers had no quarrel with the Romans but the Jewish leaders even though the Romans (Pontiffs Pilate-the governor) had sentenced Jesus to death.
Additionally, Mark continues to show how Jesus followers nor Jesus had no threat to the Romans, Mark may have wanted to convert Gentile readers. After this, we start knowing how God’s power anointed Jesus to challenge the forces of evil that now dominate the world. Firstly, after Jesus was baptized, he began his ministry in the wilderness and later was tempted by Satan. Jesus returning to society, Satan continues to fight Jesus but Jesus wins every time. However, Satan (through Judas) causes Jesus to be arrested and killed. We at-least come to know this struggle between God and Satan all began at his BAPTISM. Lastly, Gospel writers like Mark all identify the ways in which evil forces act through certain people to effect violent destruction .They also say most human conflict are subject to unseen supernatural form.
Secondly, we enter the next topic titled “THE SOCIAL HISTORY OF SATAN FROM THE HEBREW BIBLE TO THE GOSPELS”. Here, we start seeing how new identity was given to Abraham when God revealed himself to him (Gen. 12:3). God bless everything of Abraham though not his allies (Sodom) and Lot (his nephew) and the enemies (to Israelites). Yet at certain points, Israel (country) suffers danger, war, and crisis against itself. Many attribute this weak leaders, Israel as whole or disobedience to God hence bringing down divine punishment example -(Isaiah 26:21) .
Additionally, according to Elaine Pagels, we see how Satan was not evil in the first place, in books like (Numbers and Job), we can find he was one of God’s obedient servants. The name ‘Satan’ in Hebrew meant angels sent by God to block human activity. By God’s permission, Satan can block or opposes human plans and desires. Surprisingly, God can send angles or even Satan to protect the person from worse harm, like the story of Balaam who tried to curse the Israelites, on his way God sent a Satan (obstruct-or) to stop him .
However even the Satan can be aggressive like the story of Job. Additionally, as Satan became insubordinate to his commander he was thrown out of heaven, demoted and disgraced like a falling star. However, there is another version of fallen angles who crossed the border of heaven and came to earth lustfully to mate with human women and produced giants lately these became the demons (Genesis 6:4) . All that matters most however is the way Satan is ‘intimate’ enemy against Godliness. Also, get advices from the mentioned books like “Jubilees” and The Book of “Watchers” that: If the angels can sin and bring God’s wrath upon themselves, how can humanity (us) expect to be spared every creature whether angel or human will not be judged for our deeds accordingly. Besides, we also learn about how the sins of people have virtually canceled God’s covenant with Abraham, on which the Israelites depend on.
As we proceed, we go to third topic titled “MATTHEW’S CAMPAIGN AGAINST THE PHARISES: DEPLOYING THE DEVIL.” Firstly, we learn how Jesus followers largely succeeded in converting many gentiles but failed to attract the Jews. For example, Paul often saw practices like circumcision as unnecessary and a barrier for Gentile to convert to Jesus word. Also, we that though Paul preached in synagogues, his audience was largely the Gentiles. Here he could proclaim that’ al Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, men and women could become ‘one in Christ’. Leaving that, we get informed that there are other Gospels that were there including; Gospels of Mary Magdalene, Gospels of Thomas and Book of James. Finally, Matthew shows how Jesus came to earth not to abolish the Law instead to fulfill the deeper true meaning of the Law, which Matthew insists, has nothing special to do with ethnic identity.
The forth topic of the book is titled “LUKE AND JOHN CLAIM ISRAEL’ S LEGACY: THE SPLIT WIDENS. Here look at Luke, the only Gentile author among the gospel writers; he speaks mostly for those Gentiles converts to Christianity. In addition, Luke goes beyond Mark and Matthew and he states that God has always intended to offer ‘salvation’ to everyone not the Jews alone. Besides, Luke agrees with Matthew about the fact that those who arrested and killed Jesus had been under influence from the ‘Dark powers’. However, Luke claim that not all the Pharisees were hostile to Jesus but express all of them as ‘Lovers of money’ .While among Jesus followers were Tax collectors and prostitutes ,whom Luke believes they are also God’s own. Unlike Mark and Matthew, for Luke changes many details of the gospel concerning the death scene in-order to emphasize Jesus’ innocence, and give a more uplifting image of how faithful people should suffer or die just like Christ if possible. Despite this, Luke goes on to change what Jesus said before dying: instead of Jesus anguish cry Luke wrote that Jesus gave a pray of faith, Luke removes all signs of Jesus showing any agony on the cross. Apart from that, Luke indicates how Pilate and Romans soldiers were immune or even had no hand in Jesus death. Instead, it was the Jews leaders and the community that carried out the crucifixion of the Jesus themselves.
On the other side, John decides to tell the story of Jesus as a story of light and darkness conflict. Again, we see even in John gospel it through the people that the tempter works. For example, afterwards “people” urge Jesus to more bread for them again (this was from Satan temptation to force Jesus to perform his divine power in public). Further, unlike other gospel authors, John mostly uses the word ‘Jews’ to highlight people who were hostile to himself and Jesus, even though, the ‘disciples’ were Jews. For instance, John claim how Pilate tries many times to save Jesus from death but the chief priests and Jews “cry out”, demanding Pilate to crucify him, to which Pilate forcibly gives in to their wish. John tells how the Jews were very aggressive to Jesus that his followers had to bury him in secret.
The fifth topic of the book is titled “SATAN’S EARTHLY KINGDOM: CHRISTIANS AGAINST PAGANS. Here we see how many Gentiles converting to Christianity faith are increasingly facing more danger from ‘PAGANS’ (new enemy) than the Jews are. Once, even Paul complained that faced danger and persecution at every turn- ‘danger from robbers, danger from his own people (Jews), and false brethren’ (2 Cor.11:26). However, Paul probably first show how the Jews caused lot of harm and he was only saved by the Romans magistrates. On the last minute, the Romans took his life.
In the same way, we learn about a man called Justin, who had come to Rome for philosophy studies and meets an old man, who shows how ‘the mind itself is infested with demonic powers that confuse our thinking. Lately, Justin comes to understand how Christianity had discovered access to great divine power through rituals like baptism. Subsequently, Justin claims that after baptism we become children of choice and knowledge. Besides that, Justin raises the matter ‘why the Christians suffer many persecution?’ and suggests the solution. Reflecting on the written gospel, He remind us how after Jesus baptism Satan and his allies (demons) fought back. From then on, Justin just realizes when anyone receives the Holy Spirit whether baptized or not, the same evil forces that opposed Jesus attack his ‘followers’.
The last topic of the Book is titled: “THE ENEMY WITHIN: DEMONIZING THE HERETICS”. To begin with, in this last chapter Pagels notes that as Christianity was rising all the new converts came to understand that baptism can wash away past sins and evil spirits but there is a question of what must be done to maintain this Christian state after baptism. In addition to that, many Christian bet whether converts must retain their ordinary life and others were differently interpreting the gospel. Even Paul had noticed did as written in second Corinthians 11:13-15. Additionally, we see that those who wrote the First Peter and First Timothy were concerned to deflect the pagan hatred against Christians by modifying some of the demands the gospels attribute to Jesus as seen in Peter (2:13, 3:1, 3:7, ) and many others in Timothy.
Afterward, with came to know a man by the name of Clement was likely the third bishop of Rome who wrote a letter to Christians in the Greek city expressing his discomfort to those who were not fully accepting the authority of their priests whom he insisted that they are their proper leaders. Adding to this, Clement continuously advocates the way the apostles themselves appointed their first converts as “bishops” and “deacons.” In addition, encourages Christians to imitate the Jewish priesthood and adapt from the Roman army administration the practice of organizing into districts. Hopeful, Clement tries not to associate with Satan those who had refused to obey in order to make it easy to submit to the priest’s leadership.
Moreover, there is said to have come a canon of Scriptures of the church tradition included in the “apostle fathers.” Who wanted to revise for the newcomers to Christianity? Here Pagels invites us to a man called Irenaeus who suggests that people who do not obey the priests do so, because they are driven by passion and others yield to the lust of fresh greed. Pagels also shares cases of these cases where some people started to demonstrate the way the creation of first people (Adam and Eve) was instead done by other divine rulers rather than God. Pagels insists how these ruler claims how God was jealous about the human eating the tree of life and was scared that if they continued eating from it hence chased them out of Eden. Finally yet importantly, Pagels writes about how the gnostic Christian finally come to know that the gospel is more than a message about repentance and forgiveness of sin; it becomes a path of spiritual awakening, through which one discovers the divine within.
In conclusion, The “THE ORGIN OF SATAN” by Elaine Pagels is the book with easy to read text and the best thing about this book is that it is provocative and written in a bold way that it makes clear every topic with learnable data and can be partially untrusted at a moment before finishing the whole story. Additionally, the book is full of ethnic divisions mainly about how the Christians demonized the Jews and later the Pagans and Heretics. Besides that, the author mostly shows how this struggles and conflict that all human being suffer, are attributed to direct conflict that the evils and Jesus forces are always having together.
On the other side, the book has weaknesses like most of the parts focus on the New Testament and a history of the early Christian church. This is very inaccurate according to the book’s title because the content of the book is not fully explaining the exact origin of Satan as the title of the book suggest. The book leaves the reader to wonder off if the book was meant to detail the devil’s source or recall the Christian struggles and historical ways. Moreover, the book is actually a history of the early Christian movement and how that history was reflected in the writing of the Gospels. In fact, just like in the Bible, Satan does not really appear much in this book. Rather, Pagels looks at how the early Christian movement fought for its survival against enemies without and within, and then how Satan became a spiritual catch-all for those who disagreed with them. I would advise that more research can be done further on the origin of Satan.
Alain Pagels. The Origin of Satan, 1st ed. New York: Random House, Inc.,, 1995.
“Bible Gateway Passage: Genesis 6:4 – New International Version.” Bible Gateway. Accessed July 16, 2023. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+6%3A4&version=NIV.
“Bible Gateway Passage: Isaiah 26:21 – New International Version.” Bible Gateway. Accessed July 16, 2023. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah%2026%3A21&version=NIV.