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The Quest for the Historical Satan

Reviewed by Gareth J. Medway

On the face of it, this is not quite the same as writing about, say, ‘The Quest for the Historical Arthur’, which implies that there was a historical King Arthur underlying the mediaeval romances, as it is rather more contentious to suggest that there was a historical Satan. The authors begin with a chapter on ‘Satan in the Modern World’, a quick jaunt through legends that McDonald’s or Proctor and Gamble are in league with the Devil, Halloween, Satan on film (they assert that Hollywood means ‘Holy Wood’, an unlikely etymology which derives, I have been told, from a Terry Pratchett novel), the Church of Satan, alleged Satanic crime (they kindly refer to my own publication on this subject), the views of fundamentalist Christians such as Hal Lindsay (whose reputation does not seem to have been affected by the failure of his prophecy that “The decade of the 1980’s could very well be the last decade of history as we know it”), Catholics, and Liberal Christians who obviously take a milder view of the matter. After that they turn, not quite to the history of Satan, but ‘A Textual History’.

Probably the earliest references to Satan are in the opening chapters of the Book of Job, from which it appears that heaven was regarded as a celestial courtroom, in which God was the judge and Satan the prosecutor. (In those days you were not given a defence lawyer, neither on earth nor in heaven.) A prosecutor – the word Satan actually means ‘adversary’ – is not inherently evil, but, if one takes the view that we are all ‘miserable sinners’, then he is obviously someone to be feared.

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