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A History of the Devil Paperback – November 17, 1997

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Now that God's biography has been written, by Jack Miles, it's time to give the Devil his due. Messadie's book is the finest of the legion of recent books released about the archfiend and his cohorts. Using a comparative and phenomenological approach, the author traces the idea of the Devil from ancient Greece and India to contemporary Western culture. What emerges from Messadie's explorations is that the Devil is a very recent concept, arising primarily out of Zoroastrianism in Persia in the sixth century B.C. In that religion, a personified evil being is coexistent and coeval with a personification of the good, and Messadie examines how that dualism has slipped into Christianity, in particular. Thus the author concludes, on the basis of careful historical study, that the Devil does not exist in societies where the need for a force opposing the good is absent. Finally, Messadie aptly demonstrates how people in contemporary culture, in the absence of the personification of evil, use the Devil to vilify their enemies and to promote hatred.

Copyright 1996 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Given the great success of books about angels, is it any surprise that the Fallen Angel himself, the devil, wants to horn in on the territory? Actually, Messadie's book is a comparative historical study of the development of the concept of the devil in different cultures, from ancient Oceania to 20th-century Europe and America. While the idea of the devil as evil personified is often absent from Eastern cultures, such an idea is common to many Western cultures. Yet Messadie's conclusions call into question the existence in the late 20th century of a personified evil figure whose presence often becomes the pretext for human abdication of moral responsibility. Massadie's highly engaging and provocative cultural history is essential for most libraries.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Kodansha USA; Reprint edition (November 17, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 156836198X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568361987
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 1.2 x 5.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #337,597 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Quetzal on February 20, 2004
Format: Paperback
I've read the book; and subsequently have read the earlier reviews on Amazon.
This is the best book on comparative religions I've read (over 3/4s of a century). Having been educated by the same robed priests as the author, and having subscribed (without the benefit of exposure to a classical world as he has) to a structured religion for more years than he, I found much empathy with M. Messadie's book. Having read extensively in other "religions", I believe that this is, on an objective exploratory and historical outline basis, the best of the bunch.
The reviews that take exception to the fact that Messadie doesn't speak to horror movies, or satanic cults at length may have been misled by the title of the book, but have little substantial critique to contribute. His comparison of Christ to Zoroaster is another example of the extension of myths that can be read well back into primitive cultures. That is his point...not to suggest that one is the avatar of the other.
The central issue is Good and Evil...and the fact that structured religion can't exist without positing good and bad before proceeding to preach how to behave. Good and bad doesn't appear to have existed (excepting in the sense of man-defined acceptable behavior) until it was introduced into the middle east about 700 BC. Messadie has done a superb job making one think about this fundamental concept.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Chris Luallen on February 6, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book is a cross-cultural examination of how different societies have attempted to explain evil. Messadie describes the traditional religions of India, China, ancient Greece and Rome, Africa and the pre-Colombian Americas as having a generally more unitary and tolerant theology. Meanwhile, Western religions, especially Christianity and Islam, are shown to be dualistic, believing that God and the Devil are waging an ongoing struggle for world domination and control of the human soul.

Messadie traces the origin of this mythical fallacy back to the ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism. It is here, through a God named Ahura Mazda and a Devil named Ahriman, that we find the most important theological foundation for the dualism that is to later soil Western religion.

Interestingly, Messadie makes a convincing case that in the Old Testament Satan is generally shown to be acting in accord with the wishes of God. For example, the suffering Satan causes Job, so that Job may be forced to demonstrate his faith, is done with God's blessing.

But it is in the New Testament that Satan is continually depicted as the enemy of God. This Christian obsession with defeating the Devil is shown to have tragic historical consequences. For example, Messadie writes about how church and state authorites conspired in the Middle Ages to imprison and murder various such "Devil inspired" heretics as the Cathars in order to maintain religious and and political control while also profiting from the property they confiscated from the victims. He even suggests that it was the Inquisition that served as the ultimate model for the Nazi and Stalinist legal systems.

Personally, I think that the Western religious belief in dualism is one of its primary theological errors.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By gemosav on January 2, 2008
Format: Paperback
I considered giving this review one star, but have given it two for the simple reality that Messadie attempted to work on a field given too little attention. For that, I acknowledge his contribution. Yet, I certainly hope this is far from the final say on the topic.

The book is somewhat sarcastic, with overtones of political agendas mixed with theological history--not exactly conducive to genuine history. The translation is--at times--downright horrific, and all other times, mediocre. This is the first attempt at academic scholarship I've seen in a long time in English that makes frequent use of contractions.

As for his actual scholarship, I find it highly lacking. His attempts to encapsulate world history's entire understanding of demons, the Devil and evil--or lack thereof--within a mere chapter per civilization seem to deviate from a clear path. At times, I am left wondering what his actual thesis is anyway, whether he seeks to actually lay out an honest history of the development of Satan, or attack fundamentalists by attempting to show their limited support in the context of world history.

Beyond this structural issue, his scholarship is, as I have already noted, melded with sarcasm, dismissal, and dramatic misunderstandings of nearly every religion he touches upon. Simple sarcastic quips like commenting on the ugliness of Byzantine iconography--without even a hint of understanding what they actually seek to portray--add nothing to his scholarship, and, in fact, detract from his credibility. As I am not an expert on much of the chapters he has done, I cannot comment freely. However, in the fields of Zoroastrianism--which I have read widely upon--I must say his citations are old, outdated, and often questionable.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Dave Schwinghammer VINE VOICE on July 26, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Gerald Messadie traces the devil to Persian Zoroastrianism in the first millennium B.C. In founding the first true monotheism, Zoroaster was motivated by a hatred of the aristocracy and in particular bloody sacrifices. He seems to have borrowed his theology from Mazdaism, which originally taught that there were two spirits, Ahura Mazda, the "Wise God" and Ahriman, the spirit of evil, who would become our devil.

We see the Christian devil developing when the Jews return from the Babylonian Captivity, where they were influenced by Zoroastrianism. Prior to this Judaism had no hell nor a real devil. Messadie examines the Old Testament and determines that the snake in the Garden of Eden was "just a snake" and that Job's tormenter was Yahweh's collaborator. Only with the coming of the Essenes, who revolted against Hellenism, did our conception of the devil appear. We also learn that Jesus was at one time an Essene, as was John the Baptist, since the Jews did not perform baptism.

Some of this is awfully familiar. For instance, Zoroaster foretold a great war at the end of time when Heaven would send down a Savior, Mithra, who would destroy the forces of evil by fire and sword. Zoroastrianism also includes a Last Judgment, which will condemn the bad to hell, while the good will live in Paradise for all eternity.

Zoroastrianism also had a great deal to do with consolidation of the power of the clergy. The religion was based on a transcendent definition of Good and Evil whose human adjudicator would be the clergy. Zoroastrianism also tried to lay down not only religious law but also civil law. Any breach in religious law would be punished by secular authorities. Thus, it was politics that gave birth to the Devil and "the Devil is indeed a political invention.
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