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Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World Paperback – February 22, 1990

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Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World + Satan: The Early Christian Tradition (Cornell Paperbacks) + Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages (Cornell Paperbacks)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press (February 22, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801497183
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801497186
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #247,665 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This volume completes Russell's history of the concept of the Devil from antiquity to the present. (The series includes The Devil, Cornell, 1977; Satan, LJ 10/15/81; and Lucifer , LJ 11/15/84.) The concept, fragmented somewhat by the Reformation and even more by the rise of rationalism, became in the 19th century a powerful symbol of rebellion against aristocracy and "an ironic metaphor of the corruption and foolishness of humanity." In the 20th century genocide has made the Devil theologically and philosophically an issue. Russell largely succeeds in being the objective historian who carefully pursues the persistence of this concept in popular culture, art, literature, philosophy, and theology. An excellent and important intellectual history. Carolyn M. Craft, English, Philosophy, & Modern Language Dept., Longwood Coll., Farmville, Va.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Jeffrey Burton Russell" is not only a conscientious historian, he is also an introspective essayist who acknowledges his own continuing struggle to understand the nature and the source of evil."—Robert Coles, New York Times Book Review

"It is more than the history of demonological imagination as it has been displayed for half a millennium in theological controversies, in poetry, novels, paintings, and witch trials: it is the history of European man trying to cope with the terrifying riddle of radical evil. . . . Both an extremely rich sscholarly work and an exiquisite exercise in a topic that is unlikely ever to die off in our civilization."—Leslek Kolakowski, Journal of Modern History

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 29, 1996
Format: Paperback
A very thorough, well-written examination of how Satan and evil have been

viewed since the Reformation. Russell takes a historian's stance to examine

a subject both controversial and mystifying at best. No stone is left unturned

as he looks at how the devil is viewed by church officials, commonfolk,

and intelligentsia,and how these views are reflected in the artwork and pop-culture

of those times. This work manages at once to be intellectual and an easy read,

thorough and engrossing. A must for anyone fascinated by the forces that have shaped Christian thought.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Matthew S. Schweitzer on April 5, 2005
Format: Paperback
"Mephistopheles" is the fourth and final volume in Jeffery Russell's excellent series on the history and myth of the Devil. Here Russell examines the contemporary beliefs and myths of the Dark Lord in detail, from the Renaissance to the present day. Russell explorers not only traditional Christian views on the Devil, but also his incarnations in Islam, Judaism, and others.

The idea of the Devil, the very personification of evil, has changed much since the early days of Judaism and Christianity. By the dawn of the Renaissance, the Devil had undergone a kind of "rebirth" himself. Though the onset of the early modern era had seen the beginnings of science and reason, superstition and religious persecution was at an all time high. Russell examines the role of the Devil in the Reformation and during the height of the Witch Craze. Though they differed on many points of theology, Catholics and Protestants definately agreed that Satan continued to be a very real and very dangerous foe. Russell continues his story into the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason, which saw the Devil lose his teeth, followed by his romanticization in the 19th century as a rebellious anti-hero.

Though still feared by the credulous and railed against in the pulpits by evangelicals, Satan has largely been reduced to a shadow of his former self, an advertising ploy whose imagery is used to sell everything from deviled ham to movie tickets. Russell's books are generally considered the standard modern work on the history and myth of the Devil, and this volume examplifies why this is so. Well worth checking out.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Isidore Reilly on May 2, 2005
Format: Paperback
J.B.R. is a U. Cal. historian who knows scholarship - and how to write a history that's accessible to a popular audience. If you want to know about the devil in the Modern world, this is your book. See the other reviews for general content.

I'm more concerned with criticism. As I read "Mephistopheles" I began to wonder if J.B.R. is Catholic, and of the extent to which his faith might have biased his interpretation and presentation of Satanic discourse. This is evident from his dislike and/or dismissal of Protestants, Liberal Catholics, and Satanists.

In the case of the Protestants, J.B.R. is very clearly displeased with the Protestant move towards Scripture, away from Tradition, as the locus of the Christian revelation. He constantly refers to "Tradition" - and by this he means the Catholic one - as the "essence" of Christianity, alongside Scripture. He disparages Protestant scholarship's interest in the historical Jesus as one of endless concessions to secular historicism. Catholic scholarship which is commensurate with this turn in studying Christ and the early Church is similarly damned by him as conceding dogma and tradition to secularization. Liberal popes and Vatican II are criticized in the same way. He knows Protestant scholarship but clearly pays it short shrift.

Far worse, however, is his analysis of contemporary Satanists. J.B.R. dismisses Anton LaVey (the "black pope" of the Church of Satan) and the Temple of Set on the basis of their very primitive scholarship on Satan and frequent self-contradictory remarks about him.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Brian E. Erland HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on June 6, 2006
Format: Paperback
Jeffrey Burton Russell completes the journey from ancient antiquity to the present with "Old Horny" still up to his same old tricks in a variety of new guises and misdirections.

In 'Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World' Russell paints on a broad canvas pointing out the immense scale of diabolical infusion within the modern day 20th century landscape. No facet of life is devoid of his demonic image and influence; art, music, fashion, advertisin, politics. He's everywhere.

A grand conclusion to a monumental amount of research!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Certain Bibliophile on March 27, 2014
Format: Paperback
To be frank, I haven’t read any of the previous three of Jeffery Burton Russell’s books which together comprise a “history of the Devil” from antiquity through the twentieth century. I started at the end, because the only other volume I own, the third in the series, is packed away in a box somewhere and it didn’t have the chance to catch my eye. The reason why series like these attract me so much is beyond me – maybe I’m just drawn to big, unwieldy reading projects. However, judging from the last volume alone, this seems to be at a superficial treatment, with little to offer someone already interested in the history of religious ideas.

This volume picks up with the beginning of the Reformation, whose emphasis on sola fide revitalized older medieval ideas of diabology. Some interesting, and scary, fragments of Martin Luther’s life are retold, including the tidbit that one of his most important biographers, Heiko Oberman, described Luther’s whole existence as a “war with Satan.” He also uses this section of the book to look at the diabology of John Calvin and sixteenth-century mystic-contemplatives St. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila.

With the appearance of the Enlightenment, increasing popularity of empiricism, rationalism, and use of the scientific method, people started to take diabology – or at least the possible existence of the Devil – much less seriously (which is hardly a surprise). In this section of the book, Chapter III, the reader gets a plodding, thirty page-long piece of exegesis on Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” which while it is a poem largely about the Devil, seems to consist of too much summary and too much ham-handed literary analysis.
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