A Cultural History of Satan: Ideological, Rhetorical, and Social Functions of Personified Evil

(Notes for Goodspeed Lecture, April 16, 2018)

Prelude: “Sympathy for the Devil” (audiolyrics)

1.  The Judean apocalyptic worldview and Shemihazah’s origins and ideological function within it: 1 Enoch (ca. 200 BCE)

  • Satan sightings: link
  • Where did Satan come from?  What was his ideological function?
  • From angelic prosecutor / accuser (e.g. Job and Zechariah) to figure with a will opposed to God’s
  • Predecessors of Satan: Mesopotamian and Israelite monsters in combat (e.g. Leviathan); Israelite angelic figures in the divine council; Zoroastrianism (Ahura Mazda vs. Angra Mainyu) in the exilic context
  • Solving the problem of evil: Satan as evil personified
  • Judean apocalypticism and Satan’s function within the worldview (using 1 Enoch)
    • Just one among many strands of Judean culture in the second temple period
    • Judean apocalyptic worldview as Satan’s framework: Revelation, dualism (light/good vs. darkness/evil), evil world, God’s predetermined plan, final combat, destinies of the righteous and the wicked
    • Personified evil’s many names: Satan, Belial, Mastema, Devil, dragon, Prince of Darkness
    • 1 Enoch‘s fallen angels–Shemihazah and Asael (ca. 200 BCE)–and subsequent elaborations
      • Traditions interpreting Genesis 6:1-8
      • Answer to the question how did humans become so evil? (cosmic rather than human explanations of moral evil)

2. Living the worldview and fighting Belial: Dead Sea Sect’s Community Rule (first century BCE)

  • How important was Satan in the lives of some Judean groups?
  • Satan not just an idea in people’s heads
  • Belial in the Community Rule (Qumran community) – photo
    • Living in “Belial’s dominion”
    • Two spirits material and variety in Satanic timelines (Satan at creation, in the garden, before the flood?)
      • Two opposing factions with humans taking sides in the battle: sons of light vs. sons of darkness.  A manual for war: The War Scroll
    • God’s ultimate plan to destroy Belial or the Prince of darkness and set up a perfect place
      • Role for the two messiahs: priestly (“of Aaron”) and kingly (“of Israel”)
      • Destinies of humans on the two sides: wicked and the righteous
    • Sociopolitical implications: Sons of darkness as (1) other Judeans; and (2) current political powers

2. Social and rhetorical functions of the great Dragon: John’s Apocalypse (first century CE)

  • What social functions did Satan serve?
  • John’s Apocalypse and the convergence of Satan’s story: Chaos monster (Leviathan), fallen angel, serpent [?], war with God’s angels, imprisonment, final battle (chapters 12-13, 20) – Satan is multivalent
  • Satan’s appearance in real world situations – Social and rhetorical functions of personified evil:
    • (1) Demonizing opponents: “synagogue of Satan” (Smyrna: 2:9; cf. Philadelphia: 3:7-10); “deep things of Satan” (Thyatira: 2:18-25; cf. Pergamon: 2:12-16)
    • (2) Demonizing external enemies: Beast (= Roman emperor chs. 12-13) and Babylon (= Roma) the whore (chs. 17-18) in league with the dragon (= Satan)
      • Critiquing Roman imperial military power, cults (“worshipping the beast”), and economic power using the imagery of Satan

4. Legacies

  • Second century: (1) Satan as the arch-heretic in internal struggles (Irenaeus, Against the Heresies); (2) Greco-Roman gods as demons (e.g. Justin Martyr, First Apology 5)
  • Middle Ages and reformation era iIlustrations:
  • Modern era
    • E.g.: Satan rhetoric in reactions to Charlottesville:
      • White supremacy as Satanism: link (Russell Moore in Washington Post)
      • Trump as Satanic for refusing to condemn white supremacy: link ( Jonty Langley in Premier Christianity)
      • Franklin Graham defends Trump and blames Satan: link (CBN News)
      • Co-founder of the Satanic Temple objects: link (Lucien Greaves in Washington Post)

5. Further study

  • Frances Carey, ed., The Apocalypse and the Shape of Things to Come (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999). (on Art)
  • Norman Cohn, Cosmos, Chaos and the World to Come: The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993).
  • John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature (3rd edition; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016).
  • Neil Forsyth, The Old Enemy: Satan and the Combat Myth (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987).
  • Loren T. Stuckenbruck, The Myth of Rebellious Angels: Studies in Second Temple Judaism and New Testament Texts, WUNT 335 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014).
  • Leonard L. Thompson, The Book of Revelation: Apocalypse and Empire (Oxford: OUP, 1990).