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Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World Paperback – February 22, 1990
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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 scholarly work and an exiquisite exercise in a topic that is unlikely ever to die off in our civilization."―Leslek Kolakowski, Journal of Modern History
"This book moves with sustained seriousness and brilliance across five centuries, from Luther's time to our own . . . and, although it has all the virtues of great intellectual history, it is explicitly rooted in a profound moral analysis of our own era."―M. D. Aeschliman, National Review
"No few sentences can adequately convey the book's richness of content and seriousness of purpose. Russell has without doubt bequeathed us a magnificent synthesis of Western culture's modern, tortuous grappling with the ideas of radical evil and the devil."―Brian Easlea, American Historical Review
"An excellent and important intellectual history."―Library Journal
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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.
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. One quickly gets the impression that he is out to ridicule rather than understand, and the reader really learns very little about what LaVey and his peers are all about - a secular philosophy of rugged honesty and individualism mixed with a ritual practice bathed in antinomian imagery and symbolism. Much worse is his acceptance of frequent and long-debunked myths of Satanic ritual abuse and even "backmasking" (i.e., rock bands coding Satanic messages backwards in their records). Propogation of such sensationalized falsehood is really unacceptable for any historian of religion and especially a specialist like him. Obviously he felt entitled to be sloppy when it came to contemporary Satanism. Readers interested in the subject should check out LaVey's oeuvre. J.B.R. is right on target for pointing the finger at rock music as the source of Satan's newfound popularity amongst secular teens. If you want to understand rather than ridicule this, read Gavin Baddeley's "Lucifer Rising," which isn't so good on the Christian tradition (J.B.R. is the one for this!) but really knows heavy metal and why Satan is so prominent in it.
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!
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.