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Cosmic Warfare Between Good and Evil
on November 18, 2002
Elaine Pagels is an exceptional author and skilled interpreter of Christian history. The "Origin of Satan" is an excellent book for laypeople trying to understand the evolution of one piece of the Christian paradigm, namely the cosmic battle between good and evil, and the vilification of the Jews in the gospels.
The book is organized in three principal sections. The first part dissects the four gospels in the order they were written, and delineates the relationships between the authors, their social context, and their thinking with regard to Satan and all things/people evil. Among the most helpful recognitions in this part of the book is that as the gospels evolved, Pilate and the Romans grew more and more "innocent" (the Christians were trying to make a distinction between themselves and the troublesome dissidents of Palestine), and the Jews grew more and more "responsible" for Jesus' crucifixion, thus "under the influence of Satan." Much of this awareness is found in the recognition that Jews in the Roman Empire were torn between the social elite who were for the most part the priesthood and the wealthy, and the poor fundamentalists who saw the privileges of the empire in opposition to the covenants with God.
The second section of the book describes the growing rift between the pagans of the Roman empire and the growing Christian sect. What is most helpful in this section is comparing the writings of such pagan minds as Celsus and Marcus Arelius with the early writings of Justin, Origen and others. In the Roman Empire, there was no greater virtue than that of "citizenship" in the empire, and the strength of the empire was assured by performing the ritual obligations to the Gods. The Christians saw themselves not as citizens of Rome, but of Heaven, and their rituals ran counter to those of the Pagans. Naturally, this was threatening to the pagan majority, and resulted in the wholesale slaughter of Christians who wouldn't cede to the authority of the Roman pantheon. Satan, of course, was identified with the pagans.
The last section of the book discusses the growing dissent within the early church itself, and the identification of Satan with heretics from within. For me persoanally this was the most engaging part of the book, as it was SO telling in terms of the evolution of the control paradigm so apparent in Western religion to this day. Reading the writings of Tertullian in particular, compared with the gnostic writers of the same time period, is incredibly enlightening!
In spite of the title, this book is in no way "dark." In fact, it shines light in so many dank dark corners of our history that it is truly a bright spot on my bookshelf and in my mind. This is a "Highly Recommend" book!