Category Archives: History and the history of Christianity

The horrifying Nosferatu, personified plague and death (Satan 9)

Last night we watched the original 1922 version of Nosferatu, a movie by German film-maker F.W. Murnau (very loosely based on Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula — other online information here). In the film, Nosferatu (the vampire figure) is presented as personified plague and death, as well as the seed of Belial (the seed of Satan). His arrival in Bremen in 1838 signals the onslaught of a terrible plague that leaves behind the mysterious double mark on the neck. One has to remember that, when this first dracula film was made, such things were not widely known (at least in visualized form) and the horror is sometimes lost because we are now so familiar with dracula from his many incarnations. This film’s presentation of evil came to have an important influence on horror-films and on the subsequent portrayal of evil in film generally.

Despite the difficulty in getting oneself away from 21st century special-effects expectations and into the silent-era mode, there were certain points when I experienced a feeling of fascination or terror, which points to the effectiveness of the movie-maker in portraying evil in a frightening, though intriguing, manner that spans across time. Well known is Murnau’s use of shadow. The shadow of the vampire itself possesses the evil powers which can grab hold of you and control your feelings, as when the shadow of Nosferatu’s hand firmly clutches Nina’s heart. (This is the source of the title for the recent “behind-the-scenes” movie remake, The Shadow of the Vampire [2000], with John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe).

Two other scenes in the original Nosferatu are especially worth mentioning for how they affected me. I found particularly terrifying the slow and magical rising of Nosferatu from the hull of the ship as he comes to Bremen. Even more evoking of dread is the scene where the star-struck lover Nina, presumably in a dream state, longingly goes to the window to gaze out into the distance, namely to gaze out towards her other lover, Nosferatu the vampire. (This growing love of sorts was reflected earlier in the ambiguity of Nina’s cross-stitch of “Ich liebe dich”, “I love you”, which was seemingly directed to her lover Harker but really, we learn to our dismay, at the horrible Nosferatu who has a strange hold over Nina). Nina’s longing gaze is juxtaposed with Nosferatu’s longing reach for the “beautifully-necked” Nina, as he gazes out of his own window at a distance (not in Nina’s actual eye-sight). Nosferatu’s powers are very much at work from afar, but apparently more so as he comes closer. This horrifying love affair ironically ends in Nosferatu’s destruction. For the destruction of a vampire, we read earlier on in the Book of Vampires (shown on screen), requires that a woman of pure heart, namely Nina, offer herself to the vampire in a night of pleasure. Nosferatu-style pleasure, that is. “The blood!”

Photos (above) from Wikipedia, now in the public domain.

Enter the serpent: Adam, Eve, and the Devil (Satan 8)

The story of Adam and Eve in the first chapters of Genesis makes no explicit reference to “Satan” or the “Devil” (merely the serpent). Yet around the first century BCE or CE we first get clear signs that some Jews were interpreting this narrative in ways that clearly linked the serpent with the story of Satan as an evil-intentioned angel.

Some background and reminders are necessary before addressing the convergence of Satan and the serpent of Paradise. We have already discussed how the earliest developments in the story of a fallen angel, named Azazel or Semyaz (not Satan per se), centred on a particular interpretation and elaboration of the sons of God mating with the daughters of men in Genesis 6 (reflected by about 200 BCE in book 1 of 1 Enoch). This positioning of the angels’ introduction of evil and sin into humanity helped to explain why God sent the flood in this case. Furthermore, in the second or first century BCE, certain Judeans belonging to the Dead Sea sect — those who composed the Community Rule (or Manual of Discipline) — placed the origins of an evil angelic power, identified variously as Belial (Worthless one) and the Angel of Darkness, earlier in the mythical time-line:

God “created man to rule the world and placed within him two spirits so that he would walk with them until the moment of his visitation: they are the spirits of truth and of deceit. In the hand of the Prince of Lights is dominion over all the sons of justice. . . And in the hand of the Angel of Darkness is total dominion over the sons of deceit. . . [God] created the spirits of light and of darknesss and on them established all his deeds” (1 QS III 17-25; Florentino Garcia Martinez, trans., The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated [trans. by W. G. E. Watson; Leiden: Brill, 1994], p. 6).

So there are differences in where Satan makes his entrance on the narrative time-line, so to speak. And, as time progressed, there seems to have been a tendency among certain Jewish (and Christian) authors to find the origins of personified evil at points earlier than the story of the fallen angels of Genesis 6. In some respects, this is the interpretive context in which to make better sense of the association of the serpent in Paradise or Garden of Eden with the fallen angel. This component begins to appear clearly on our radar screen in the centuries around the time that the Jesus movement emerged (first centuries BCE and CE).

The expansions of the story of Adam and Eve that came to be incorporated within the so-called Apocalypse of Moses (in Greek, first century CE) and the Life (Vita) of Adam and Eve (in Latin, 3rd-4th centuries CE) likely reflect an earlier source of the first century BCE, a source which scholars often call the Book of Adam and Eve (online translations here; online resources here). In these particular expansions of the story of Adam and Eve, the blame for sin, illness, and death is placed firmly upon the first woman, Eve (in a way that diverges from the Genesis account itself, which is somewhat more “balanced”, one could say, in apportioning blame and punishment to both Adam and Eve for eating from the tree of knowledge). This association of women and Satanic deception was to continue for centuries to come, as we know; the notion that women were more susceptible to evil temptation or were more likely to be deceivers themselves still has its legacies today within our patriarchal culture (despite attempts to deconstruct just such notions or gender stereotypes).

So, in the Adam and Eve expansions, Eve is presented as not learning from her mistake and is tricked not once, but twice, by the angel Satan. Once Eve gives in to Satan’s temptation (via the wise serpent) by taking from the forbidden tree (Apoc. Moses 15-30). A second time Eve is fooled while doing acts of repentance for the first mistake and follows the advice of an apparently nice, bright angel (really Satan) that God was satisfied with how much penance she had done (Vita 9-11). God was not (according to the authors of this story).

What I want to draw attention to here, however, is a first-person statement by Satan himself as to why he so eagerly sought the downfall of humanity by way of tempting Eve, and why he inspired covetousness in Eve (making her want something she was forbidden, the knowledge of good and evil). This story became an important component in the portrayal of Satan as the jealous, envious, or covetous rebel against God:

Following the second temptation, Eve cried out,

“‘Why do you treacherously and enviously pursue us, O enemy, all the way to death?’ And the devil sighed and said, ‘O Adam, all my enmity and envy and sorrow concern you . . When you were created, I was cast out from the presence of God and was sent out from the fellowship of the angels. When God blew into you the breath of life and your countenance and likeness were made in the image of God, Michael (the archangel) brought you and made us worship you in the sight of God, and the Lord God said, ‘Behold Adam! I have made you in our image and likeness” (Vita 11:3-13:3; trans. by M. D. Johnson, “Life of Adam and Eve,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha [Garden City: Doubleday, 1985], vol. 2, p. 262).

When Michael then tried to enforce this command of God:

“I (Satan) said to him, ‘Why do you compel me? I will not worship one inferior and subsequent to me. I am prior to him in creation; before he was made, I was already made. He (Adam) ought to worship me.’

This denial is what then leads Satan to his jealous and covetous plan to overtake the power of God himself, alluding to the passage in Isaiah 14 regarding the king of Babylon as Day Star, Son of Dawn (later Lucifer in the Latin Vulgate):

“And I said, ‘If he (God) be wrathful with me, I will set my throne above the stars of heaven and will be like the Most High.’” (15:3)

“So with deceit I assailed your wife and made you to be expelled through her from the joys of your bliss, as I have been expelled from my glory” (16:3).

Bitter revenge, jealously, envy, and covetousness is why.

That was a long one, but it had to be done.

UPDATE (Feb.7 ): In an ironic twist of sorts, I was listening to Led Zeppelin (for whom I have an appreciation that does NOT stem from their expressed views of women) the same day I wrote this post. I thought I’d provide an example of the comment above about the legacies of the association of the first woman with Satan:

“Been Dazed and Confused for so long it’s not true.
Wanted a woman, never bargained for you.
Lots of people talk and few of them know,
soul of a woman was created below. ”
Jimmy Page, “Dazed and Confused,” Led Zeppelin I (SuperHype Music Inc, 1969). Full lyrics online here.

One can appreciate the raw expression of emotion in Led Zeppelin’s (or others’) performances without agreeing in any way with their opinions on things like this, thankfully.

Rhetorical functions of Satan: From Babylon the whore to devilish super-apostles (Satan 7)

As a Jewish apocalyptic movement, the early Jesus movement (“Christianity”) inherited a worldview in which Satan played an important role as the ultimate adversary or opponent of God and his agents. Plenty could be said of the centrality of Satan’s (or his demons’) opposition to Jesus in the synoptic gospels, for instance, where the temptation in the desert at the start of Jesus’ mission draws clear attention to an ongoing struggle (further illustrated in the many exorcisms) that seemingly threatens to undo that very mission. Jesus is often presented, as in the gospel of Mark, as the beginning of the end for the evil powers that are active in the world. Most early Christians took Satan and his demons seriously and felt evil powers could be active in the real-life settings of Christians and others. So this was more than just thoughts in peoples’ heads, and Satan played an important role in real-life social and political interactions and in polemical discourses.

Here I want briefly to draw attention to two main rhetorical functions of Satan in polemical discourses or discourses of the “other”. Moreover, the ultimate Opponent (Satan) could make his appearance (discursively) in struggles with (1) opponents outside of one’s group and (2) opponents within (or on the fringes of) Judaism or the Jesus movement that were nonetheless categorized as “other”, as demonic outsiders. The “demonization” of either external enemies or internal adversaries continued in various ways throughout the history of Christianity (and was characteristic of earlier polemical discourses within the context of early Judaism as well).

(1) First of all, Satan and the language of evil play an important role in the “demonization” of outsiders or other peoples, including ruling powers. John’s Apocalypse (Revelation) provides an excellent example of this (written some time in the years following Rome’s destruction of the temple in 70 CE, perhaps in the 90s). The author of these visions thinks in terms of an ongoing struggle between God and his Lamb (Jesus), on the one hand, and the dragon, Satan, and his Beast, on the other. More importantly here, the dragon here is quite clearly in league with the Roman imperial power, which is portrayed as a seven-headed, chaotic beast arising from the sea in chapter 13 (with the emperor Nero in particular — as the mortally wounded head who “was, and is not, and is to ascend” [17:7-14] — on the top of the author’s mind). The “dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority” to this beast, and the people worshipped both the dragon (Satan) and the beast (the emperor), according to these visions (13:2). The rhetorical attack on the external Roman imperial power continues in chapters 17-18, where the author speaks of Babylon (= Rome — both had destroyed God’s temple in Jerusalem) as a whore who rides on the seven-headed beast and drinks the blood of the saints. For more on the imperial dimensions of the Apocalypse, see my earlier post on Worshiping the Beast / Honouring the Emperor.

The use of the language of evil and Satan in relating to outsiders or external opponents would continue long after John wrote down these visions. One particularly prominent example is the way in which subsequent Christians (e.g. Justin Martyr) spoke of the gods of the Greeks and Romans as “demons” (compare Paul’s first letter to the Christians at Corinth at 10:14-22).

(2) Second, in the internal debates and struggles within Christianity, Satan was frequently called on to combat those within or on the margins of one’s own cultural group who held different views on what following Jesus meant. Thus, for instance, when Paul attempted to convince some Christians at Corinth that they should take him as authoritative rather than some other eloquent “super-apostles”, he employed the language of evil and Satan to describe these (Jewish-Christian) opponents:

“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11:12-15 [RSV]).

These leaders of the Jesus movement with whom Paul strongly disagrees become servants of Satan who will share the evil one’s fate, in this discourse.

One more example will suffice here. The Johannine epistles (1-3 John) reflect a particular group of Jesus-followers (likely living in western Asia Minor) which had recently had difficulties that led to a schism. The author portrays those that had left the group, who held differing views on Jesus, as “antichrists” in the service of the devil:

“Children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come . . . They went out from us, but they were not of us . . . Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:18-23 [RSV]; compare 2 John 7-11).

This is the earliest known occurence of the term “antichrist”, by the way, which would soon develop its own history in reference to a primary earthly assistant of Satan that would precede the final battle between evil and good. Among later interpreters, the beasts in John’s Apocalypse, or in the book of Daniel before it, were sometimes identified with this developing antichrist figure.

“Me and the Devil Blues”: Robert Johnson and the crossroads (Satan 5)

Satan is very much a part of popular culture in the West. His story has heavily influenced the portrayal of evil in film, as we shall see, but the devil also makes his appearance in our music, including the blues and its offspring, rock-n’-roll. The profound influence of Robert Johnson, a Delta blues (or country blues) performer of the 1930s (who made just two recording sessions in 1936 and 1937), was not fully felt until the re-release of several recordings in 1961 (which the likes of Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Zeppelin, and others have expressly identified as a profound influence on their work).

(For Johnson’s lyrics, cited in part below, go here. For sound clips from the songs discussed below, scroll down to see the CD information for King of the Delta Blues (in this case on Amazon). Eric Clapton has recently released a tribute album (is that word still used) with new performances of Johnson’s songs: Me and Mr. Johnson (2004).)

The powers of evil make their appearance in a variety of ways in Johnson’s songs, some with more frightening effect than others (all of Johnson’s music is “haunting” in some way). In a devil-made-me-do-it sort of way, “Me and the Devil Blues” expresses the notion that some evil power outside of Johnson is responsible for his more violent behaviour towards a woman friend:

Early this mornin’
when you knocked upon my door
Early this mornin’, ooh
when you knocked upon my door
And I said, “Hello, Satan,”
I believe it’s time to go.”

Me and the Devil
was walkin’ side by side
Me and the Devil, ooh
was walkin’ side by side
And I’m goin’ to beat my woman
until I get satisfied

. . .

You may bury my body
down by the highway side
spoken: Baby, I don’t care where you bury my
body when I’m dead and gone
You may bury my body, ooh
down by the highway side
So my old evil spirit
can catch a Greyhound bus and ride

Less disturbing, in some ways, are songs like “Hellhound on my trail”, which nonetheless express Johnson’s angst in raw terms drawn from ideas associated with the powers of hell and the hell-hound successor of Cerberus (the guard-dog of the underworld in some Greek mythology) :

I gotta keep movin’
I gotta keep movin’
Blues fallin’ down like hail
Blues fallin’ down like hail
Umm mmmm mmm mmmmmm
Blues fallin’ down like hail
Blues fallin’ down like hail
And the days keeps on worryin’ me
there’s a hellhound on my trail
hellhound on my trail
hellhound on my trail. . .

All I needs is my sweet woman
and to keep my company hey hey hey hey
my company

The notion that the crossroads or intersection outside of town was a magical place where the-powers-that-be were especially potent has a long history. But a specific legend grew up in the context of the emergence of the blues which also attached itself to Johnson himself. In particular, there was the notion that in order to gain exceptional skill at playing the blues, a person might meet the devil at the crossroads and make a deal, with the soul being the precious item in the devil’s sight. The lyrics in Johnson’s own “Cross road blues” apparently have very little, if anything, to do with this notion:

I went down to the crossroad
fell down on my knees
I went down to the crossroad
fell down on my knees
Asked the lord above “Have mercy now
save poor Bob if you please”

Still, the overall legend nonetheless attached itself to this performer, who was known for playing the guitar like noone else could. (This is partly because of the shared name with Tommy Johnson, another blues artist who supposedly claimed that he did sell his soul to the devil). It is this legend of selling one’s soul for exceptional guitar skills that is enacted in Oh Brother Where Art Thou? (2000).

Selling one’s soul to the devil has a much longer history going back to medieval legends that Goethe incorporated in his eighteenth century poetic story of Faust, as we will see later. The film The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) re-tells a similar tale in a new setting, with Jabez Stone making a contract with Mr. Scratch, the devil (a remake with Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin ran into financial difficulties and is yet to be released):

[examining the contract]
Jabez Stone: What does it mean here, about my soul?
Mr. Scratch: Why should that worry you? A soul? A soul is nothing. Can you see it, smell it, touch it? No. This soul, your soul is nothing against seven years of good luck. You’ll have money and all that money can buy. (Full script online here).

The legend of selling one’s soul, which continues as part of Satan’s story, is also reflected in the Simpsons episode in which poor Homer sells his soul to the devil for a doughnut (Treehouse of Horror IV). In this case, though, Homer actually robs the devil of his due in the long run.

Rebellious, fallen angels and the flood: 1 Enoch (Satan 4)

A very important part of Satan’s identity within Christianity is the notion that Satan is the chief angel among a group that rebelled against God and fell from their original position in the heavenly realm. We first have clear signs of this critical component in Satan’s story around 200 BCE in a Jewish writing in the Pseudepigrapha known as 1 Enoch (text and introductions online here). 1 Enoch is an apocalypse in terms of genre and is a composite work, divided into five books, with book one (chapters 1-36) being among the earliest (on which go to my earlier post here for further clarification).

What is most important here is that book one of 1 Enoch presents a midrash (interpretation) and considerable expansion of a few mysterious verses in Genesis (6:1-8): the account of the “sons of God” (angelic figures) mating with human women that immediately precedes the story of God sending the flood. “Enoch’s” visions explain the origins of evil and sin among humanity, and in this case suggest that ultimately evil came from the divine realm by way of fallen angels. Issues regarding the degree to which humans, on the one hand, or divine beings (angels), on the other, were responsible for the introduction and continuation of evil and sin among humanity would continue to occupy those who told and re-told the story of Satan in subsequent centuries. Some would configure things differently than book one of 1 Enoch does.

In the process of explaining the origins of evil, this author seems to blend together two separate traditions that existed before his time concerning a conspiracy among certain angels (perhaps drawing on a lost work called the “Book of Noah”, mentioned in the book of Jubilees ch. 10, for one of these traditions). The reason we can detect these traditions is that, in 1 Enoch, there are inconsistencies in who was the leader of the rebel angels (see further John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination). At times the author speaks of Semyaz (Semihazah) as the chief and at others of Azazel (Asa’el). Not only that, but the author seems to have preserved the different emphases of each tradition. The Semyaz material portrays the conspiracy against God as centred on the sexual act of union with humans and the Azazel tradition focusses on how the fallen angels subsequently reveal secrets of heaven to humanity, including skills that led to war and seduction, to the general chaos that brings the flood. For this author, the offspring of the mixing of divine and human are giants whose spirits after death are demons that continue to mislead humanity (15:8-12).

The result of this whole conspiracy is war and chaos on earth. God consults with his trusted angels, such as Michael and Raphael, to arrange punishment of both the humans and the fallen angels, referring to the end of days in the process:

“then spoke the Most High. . . ‘the earth and everything will be destroyed. And the deluge is about to come upon all the earth; and all that is in it will be destroyed.’ . . . And secondly the Lord said to Raphael, ‘Bind Azazel hand and foot and throw him into the darkness!’ And he (Raphael) made a hole in the desert. . . he threw on top of him (Azazel) rugged and sharp rocks. And he covered his face in order that he may not see light; and in order that he may be sent into the fire on the great day of judgment.” (1 Enoch 10:1-7; trans. by E. Isaac in James H. Charlesworth, ed. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha [2 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1983-85], p. 17)

The imprisonment and end-time fate of this fallen angel here resembles the fate of “the ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan” in John’s Apocalypse (20:1-10), as we shall soon see. As in other apocalyptic writings, the flood of long ago becomes a precursor or foreshadow of God’s final intervention in the end times, the “great day of judgment”, when the angels who rebelled, along with the humans who sided with them by doing evil, will meet their end. The righteous ones, on the other hand, will go on to live in a new world cleansed “from all sin and from all iniquity” (see 10:17-22).

The name “Satan” itself does not appear here at all, but the fallen angels story was soon to be linked up with passages involving the angelic adversary (“satan”) in the Hebrew Bible, as we begin to see in the likes of Jubilees (chapters 10-11; c. 150-105 BCE). Still later (in the second and third centuries CE), this notion of fallen angels would also be linked up (by Christian authors) with a passage that originally referred to the Babylonian king as cosmic rebel in Isaiah 14, the “Day Star, Son of Dawn” who falls from heaven (where he imagines himself to belong). Part of the phrase just mentioned was translated into Latin by Jerome (in 410 CE) as “Lucifer”. Looking far ahead to the 1600s, it would be hard to imagine Milton’s Paradise Lost without the story of Satan or Lucifer as the chief rebel angel who fell from heaven’s height.

Other predecessors of Satan in Israelite religion and the Hebrew Bible (Satan 3)

When reading the Hebrew Bible (a.k.a. “Old Testament”) for historical purposes, it is important not to project back into its pages later developments in Judaism and Christianity, and this is particularly true in the case of “Satan”. Although there is no full-blown notion of personified evil in Israelite religion, there are indeed important messenger or angelic figures associated with Yahweh (“LORD”), God of the Israelites. Sometimes these figures could later on be associated with the notion of Satan as a thoroughly evil figure. (“Israelite religion” is the term scholars often use to refer to the religious life of the Hebrews before the Babylonian exile of 586 BCE, while “Judaism” is generally used in reference to developments following the return under Cyrus and foundation of the second temple in Judea, hence “Second Temple Judaism”). Here I want to briefly discuss three closely related, recurring figures associated with Yahweh’s (God’s) heavenly entourage or council: (1) “the adversary” (ha-satan), (2) the injurious, or evil, spirit (rucha ra’a) and (2) the “messenger” (mal’ak).

1) The Hebrew word for an opponent, prosecutor, adversary, or one who obstructs, satan, occurs in a number of places in the Bible, sometimes in reference to human opponents and sometimes in reference to a figure sent by God. In 2 Samuel 19:22 and in 1 Kings 11:14-25, for instance, the term satan is used of human adversaries of the protagonists (David and Solomon). In most other cases, it is a heavenly figure or messenger (mal’ak = Greek angelos) that God sends to act as an obstruction, adversary, or accuser (see, for instance the story of Balaam in Numbers 22, especially verse 22). The most well-known case of “satan” is the adversary among the “sons of God” (bene ha-elohim) in The Book of Job (chapters 1-2; seventh-fourth centuries BCE). This figure acts almost as a legal prosecutor in challenging Job’s piety and in letting loose severe treatment (e.g. killing all of Job’s 10 children) as a test, all with the active consent of God. The adversary is by no means an evil figure opposed to God in this story (online resources for Job here).

The closest we come to the notion of an angelic adversary (satan) going against the will of God and perhaps even needing to be stopped is in Zechariah (c. 520 BCE), where “the satan” is a prosecutorial figure against Joshua, and Yahweh “rebukes” the satan for accusing Joshua in this particular case (see Zechariah 3; also see 1 Chronicles 21:1, where a “satan” apparently opposes Israel, but with little clarification by the author). There is no indication that these angelic figures are inherently evil in an ongoing manner, however.

2) A recurring figure in the Hebrew Bible sent to do God’s work, either in opposition to or in support of humans, is the mal’ak, or messenger (translated in an ancient Greek translation of the Bible [LXX] as angelos and now often as “angel” in English). Thus, for instance, it is an angel of Yahweh that appears to Moses in a flame of fire (the burning bush) and an angel (as well as pillars of cloud or fire) that helps to guide the Israelites out of Egypt and slavery (Exodus 3:2 and 14:19-24). But we have already seen above that an angel can also serve God’s will in an oppositional manner, if necessary (as in Numbers). And there are passages which imply or state that an angel is involved as a “destroyer” on God’s behalf, as in the Passover incident (Exodus 12:23; cf. 2 Samuel 24:16).

3) Quite similar to the latter role of the messenger sent by God to cause injury is the “evil spirit” in the Hebrew Bible (especially in the so-called Deuteronomistic History, sixth century BCE and earlier). This figure, who is directly distinguished from the “spirit of Yahweh”, is sometimes sent by God to facilitate things happening in the way that God wants them to happen, sometimes inciting violence (see Judges 9:22-23; 1 Samuel 16:14-16; 18:10-11; 19:9-11; also see 1 Kings 22:19-22 for a “lying spirit”).

The most important distinction between these “satans” (including the one in Job), “messengers”, or “evil spirits” and the evil Satan figure of later apocalypticism is that the Hebrew Bible’s satans and angels are almost always acting in conjunction with the will of Yahweh, or God. They are almost always sent by God to be an obstruction or to act as an adversary or prosecutor against some person or persons.

However, even these same passages involving the Israelite God taking adversarial action against certain people could be interpreted differently by later Jews or Christians. This is the case with those in later centuries who did indeed hold a view of Satan as an evil figure opposed to God (such as Jubilees, where Mastema, Enmity personified, takes on some of these same roles, as we shall see later). With the full-blown, apocalyptic Satan, just about the only thing that is in accordance with God’s will is the existence of this figure, whose intentions are directly opposed to God but who unwittingly plays a crucial part in the unfolding of God’s plan (according to many ancient apocalyptic Jews and Christians).

I am indebted to Neil Forsyth’s The Old Enemy, pp. 107-123 (cited in full in the previous entry) for getting me going on analyzing the passages (I disagree somewhat with his take on Zechariah).

Mesopotamian gods, chaos-monsters, and the “combat myth” (Satan 2)

A rebellious fallen angel who later develops into a full-blown personification of evil (as Satan) first begins to appear clearly in our sources within the context of Jewish apocalypticism around 200 BCE (in book 1 of 1 Enoch). The story of this personified evil figure continues to develop and play an important role in early Christianity. Yet there are important predecessors in the Ancient Near East which help us to understand subsequent stories surrounding the figure of Satan. Among the predecessors is Angra Mainyu or Ahriman (the opponent of Ahura Mazda) within Zoroastrianism, which I have discussed here in an earlier entry on this blog.

Oldest among these predecessors are the chaos-monsters (also gods) who are slayed by an up-and-coming Mesopotamian (or Hittite or Canaanite or Israelite) deity in traditions dating as far back as the third millenium BCE (our earliest evidence for literate civilizations). In particular, the portrayal of Satan in John’s Apocalypse (written c. 90s CE), which became the most potent early image of Satan as the ancient serpent or dragon, cannot be understood without reference to these older gods who threaten or even personify chaos and are ultimately defeated in combat (see especially Revelation, chapters 12-13).

Although there is considerable diversity among these stories of the Mesopotamian gods and we should not imagine that they’re all the same, there is nonetheless a common pattern that emerges in many of these combat stories:

1) A god among the pantheon engages in activity that threatens the well-being (or even existence) of other gods and the society of the gods.

2) The opposition from the chaos-god seems insurmountable and other gods desperately seek (with great difficulty) someone who can solve the problem.

3) Finally, a less prominent or younger god steps forward and acts as a hero in battling and successfully defeating and killing the monstrous threat, re-establishing order in the universe. Often, there are two rounds in the fight, with the hero losing the first. Sometimes (as in the case of Marduk vs. Tiamat and Yahweh vs. Leviathan) the slaying of the chaos-monster coincides with the creation of the world of humans by the hero-god. In essence, the hero-god has saved the entire cosmos from reverting to chaos and now has a new status as a chief or king among the gods.

It is important to state that the gods who threaten to bring chaos to the entire cosmos are not inherently evil in these traditions, however, and they are indeed gods (which Satan is not within early Judaism and Christianity). Yet the role of the chaos-monster as opponent or adversary of the hero-god and the centrality of the battle between the two (“combat myth”) which ends in triumph for the hero are, in many respects, at the heart of Satan’s story and his function within early Jewish and Christian apocalyptic worldviews.

Perhaps the most well known case of this mythology is the Babylonian story of Marduk’s slaying of Tiamat, the chaotic sea-monster and mother of all gods, whose husband, Apsu, had plans to do away with her noisy children, the rest of the gods. (As chaotic sea-monster, Tiamat is comparable to the Israelite Leviathan or the Canaanite Yamm). Marduk then uses the corpse of Tiamat to create the world as we know it. You can read that story in the Enuma elish (When on high) online.

The other story I want to briefly cite here, a poetic myth dating back to the second millenium BCE, is also intriguing with regard to the chaos-god as a jealous rebel against the current head of the gods. This is the story of the frightful, monstrous bird Anzu (also Zu), who brings chaos in the world of the gods by stealing the tablet of destinies — the record of all the plans of the gods and locus of power — away from Ellil (also spelled Enlil), the father of the gods (see photo below). What better time to rebel than when Ellil’s taking a shower. The problem begins like this:

“Ellil appointed him (Anzu) to the entrance of the chamber which he had perfected.
He would bathe in holy water in his presence.
His eyes would gaze at the trappings of Ellil-power:
His lordly crown, his robe of divinity,
The Tablet of Destinies in his hands, Anzu gazed,
And gazed at Duranki’s god (i.e. Ellil), father of the gods,
And fixed his purpose, to usurp the Ellil-power.
Anzu often gazed at Duranki’s god, father of the gods,
And fixed his purpose to usurp the Ellil-power.
‘I shall take the gods’ Tablet of Destinies for myself
And control the orders for all the gods,
And shall possess the throne and be master of the rites!
I shall direct every one of the Igigi (category of gods)!’
He plotted opposition in his heart
And at the chamber’s entrance from which he often gazed,
he waited for the start of the day.
While Ellil was bathing in the holy water,
Stripped and with his crown laid down on the throne,
He gained the Tablet of Destinies for himself,
Took away the Ellil-power. Rites were abandoned,
Anzu flew off and went into hiding.
Radiance faded (?), silence reigned,
Father Ellil, their counsellor, was dumbstruck,
For he (Anzu) had stripped the chamber of its radiance.
The gods of the land searched high and low for a solution.”
Standard Babylonian version, tablet 1, iii, first millenium BCE; Stephanie Dalley, trans., Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others (Oxford: OUP, 2000), pp. 206-207.

The abandonment of rites in honour of the gods, the silence, and the dumbstruck state of Ellil (as well as other passages which indicate that Anzu’s action has halted water for agriculture) are symbolic of the utter chaos that ensues in the cosmos as a result of Anzu stealing the tablet of destinies, the power of Ellil. After interviewing several divine candidates to fight Anzu, all of which are not up to the seemingly impossible task, young Ninurta (or Ningirsu in some versions) is put forward for the job, and is instructed by his mother, Belet-ili:

“Seize him by the throat: conquer Anzu,
And let the winds bring his feathers as good news to Ekur, to your father Ellil’s house. Rush and inundate the mountain pastures
And slit the throat of wicked Anzu. . .
Show prowess to the gods and your name shall be Powerful!” (SBV, tablet 2).

Ninurta vs. Anzu

In the first battle-sequence, Anzu gains the upper hand by using his Ellil-power to disassemble any of Ninurta’s arrows before they can approach Anzu and Anzu has the power to release and return his own feathers as a smokescreen (using the phrase “Wing to wing” to employ this power). Ninurta then consults with Ea, god of wisdom, who advises that Ninurta disguise his own arrows as though they were Anzu’s feathers, and to time his shooting to coincide with Anzu’s use of his “super-power” (emitting and recalling his feathers). Thus in the second, overwhelming confrontation:

“(As Anzu) shouted ‘Wing to wing’, a shaft came up (?) at him,
A dart passed through his very heart.
He (Ninurta) made an arrow pass through pinion and wing. . .
He slew the mountains (symbolic of Anzu), inundated their proud pastures (ending drought). . . slew wicked Anzu.
And warrior Ninurta regained the gods’ Tablet of Destinies for his own hand.”

Problem solved, and Ninurta’s reward for slaying the jealous and rebellious god who brought chaos was supremacy among the gods:
“You have won complete dominion, every single rite.”

Here, then, is the essence of what scholars call the “combat myth” which, via the Israelite case of Yahweh vs. Leviathan, came to play an important role within the apocalyptic worldview, with its battle between the forces of God and the forces of Satan, the dragon or ancient serpent in John’s Apocalypse.

For an online scholarly article about Ninurta and Anzu (and Azag, another combatant), go here. For Israelite instances of the combat myth, with Yahweh vs. Leviathan or Rahab or Behemoth or Tananim, see the following biblical passages: Psalms, chapters 74, 104; Isaiah chapter 27; Job chapters 40-41. You can view William Blake’s illustration of Leviathan and Behemoth (1825) online at the Tate gallery here. There are also several useful online overviews concerning Ancient Near Eastern mythologies and gods of the Sumerians, the Babylonians and Assyrians, the Canaanites, the Hittites and Hurrians.

Excellent books on the relevance of Mesopotamian combat myths and chaos-monsters for early Judaism and Christianity (including Satan) include: Norman Cohn, Cosmos, Chaos, and the World to Come The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith (2nd edition; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), and Neil Forsyth, The Old Enemy: Satan and the Combat Myth (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989).

Photo (above): Ninurta pursues Anzu, as depicted on a stone sculpture in the temple of Ninurta at Nimrud, Iraq. Drawing from Austen Henry Layard, A Second Series of the Monuments of Nineveh (London: John Murray, 1853), volume 2, plate 5. This full work, now in the public domain, is available online at ABZU.

A History of Satan (Satan 1)

Welcome to ongoing discussions regarding the origins, development, and significance of personified evil — Satan and his demons — in early Judaism and in the history of Christianity. We will be tracing the history of Satan (a.k.a. the Devil, Beelzebul, Beliar, Mastema, Lucifer, Mephisto) and his minions from ancient Mesopotamian chaos-monsters to early Jewish and Christian fallen angels to modern portrayals in music, television, and film. Dragon-like mythical figure, Ishtar gateTo get a sense of what topics and sources may be covered in the next few months, you can look at my outline for the undergraduate course: “A History of Satan”. There are already a number of entries here on this blog that deal with topics relating to Satan and hell. Ideas associated with this personified evil figure are thoroughly embedded within western culture, and these discussions will be an attempt to partially unravel the layers in his story.

Come again, and I’ll look forward to any historically-minded comments or questions you may have.

UPDATE (Jan. 2): Check out the comments section, where significant (as well as not-so-significant) discussions have already begun.

Photo: Dragon-like mythical figure, associated with the god Marduk, on the Babylonian Ishtar Gate (c. 575 BCE; now in the Istanbul Archeological Museum; photo by Phil). Images like this one may have inspired the story of Daniel slaying the dragon in the Apocrypha, which draws on a long tradition of slaying the chaos-monster.

History Carnival XXI

History Carnival edition 21 is now up over at CLEWS: The Historic True Crime Blog (by Laura James). This interesting blog, which I discovered only now, focusses on the history of crime and criminals. In browsing through some of Laura James’ other posts, I could not yet find any ancient criminals discussed, but do check out fascinating posts like The Very Nutty Professor (poisoned chocolate–now that is one professor you don’t want on your bad side).

A guided tour of the heavens: The Ascension of Isaiah (NT Apocrypha 21)

When scholars of early Judaism and Christianity identify a writing as an “apocalypse” (in terms of genre), they usually have in mind a first-person visionary report that claims to narrate a “revelation” (apocalypsis) from God himself. Almost always the content of the visions that are narrated also presuppose or directly pertain to an apocalyptic worldview, namely, an ideology in which this present world is dominated by evil forces (headed by Satan, or Beliar, or what have you) which will ultimately and imminently be destroyed (or perpetually punished) in the final intervention of God and his angelic forces (there is a thoroughgoing dualism in this way of thinking).

One of the two main types of apocalyptic writing that have been identified is the so-called “historical apocalypse”. Here the focus of the visions relates to the unfolding of God’s historical plans (on this, see John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination, which is browsable online here). The Book of Daniel in the Hebrew Bible (written about 160s BCE) and John’s Apocalypse or Revelation (written about 70-90 CE) in the New Testament are largely characterized by this historical focus: both relate the unfolding of God’s plan for history in relation to actual political powers (Hellenistic kings and Roman emperors, respectively), and these political powers are cast in the role of the ultimate evil opponents of God (on John’s Apocalypse see my earlier post on Worshiping the Beast / Honouring the Emperor or my article here).

The second main type of apocalypse is the “otherworldly journey”. Here the visionary is taken on a tour of the far reaches of the world and beyond, usually a tour of either the heavens or the underworld (hell). The earliest surviving example of this type is the first book (chs. 1-36) of 1 Enoch (online here) written about 200 BCE, in which the Enoch of Genesis is presented as the visionary who expounds the story of the fallen angels (Gen 6) and is guided by an angel in order to witness the workings of the universe.

In its present Christian form, the Ascension of Isaiah (reflecting materials ranging from the second century BCE to as late as the fourth century CE; online here) consists of the story of the prophet Isaiah’s martyrdom (who is sawn in half) and a report of Isaiah’s vision in which Isaiah is taken on a journey through the seven heavens with an angel as guide (chs. 1-5 and 6-11 respectively). The martyrdom and the vision are linked in their present form, since it is because Isaiah had gone on the tour, witnessing God’s plan to send his Beloved (Christ) to destroy the evil powers, that Beliar (Satan) seeks to have Isaiah killed (through the evil angel Sammael and king Mannaseh) (3:13).

Isaiah’s otherworldly journey begins as he ascends with the angel-guide to “the firmament” above the world, but below the heavens. Isaiah then proceeds through each of the seven heavens. In each heaven he witnesses a throne flanked by angels, and the glory of each heaven and its angels increases until he reaches the final, seventh heaven, the dwelling place of the Most High (God) and his “Beloved” (Lord Christ). There, says Isaiah,

“I saw all the righteous from Adam. And I saw there the holy Abel and all the righteous. And there I saw Enoch and all who were with him, stripped of the garment of the flesh, and I saw them in their higher garments, and they were like the angels who stand there in great glory” (Ascension of Isaiah 9:7-9; trans. by Müller in Schneemelcher)

Isaiah then gains a revelation of what will occur in the future, final intervention of God (the end times). Ascending and descending are important not only for Isaiah here, but also for other key figures in the apocalyptic visions. Isaiah hears the voice of the Most High himself calling on his Beloved (Lord Christ) to descend, to trace the steps that Isaiah had just traversed, in other words:

“Go and descend through all the heavens; descend to the firmament and to that world, even to the angel in the realm of the dead (on the descent to hell see my other posts on Satan) . . . that you may judge and destroy the prince and his angels and the gods of this world and the world which is ruled by them, for they have denied me and said ‘We alone are, and there is none beside us’. And afterwards you will ascend from the angels of death to your place, and you will not be transformed in each heaven [i.e. you will not be affected by the inferiority of each heaven in relation to the seventh heaven], but in glory you will ascend and sit on my right hand. And the princes and powers of this world will worship you” (Ascension of Isaiah 10.7-14).

Almost immediately, Isaiah then witnesses the descent and ascent of the Beloved (Christ). But there is more of this ascending and descending. Earlier in this writing we learn that, as part of the “consummation” of the world, an anti-Beloved (so to speak), Beliar himself, will be sent before the Beloved comes:

“And after it has come to its consummation, Beliar, the great prince, the king of this world who has ruled it since it came into being, shall descend; he will come down from his firmament in the form of a man, a lawless king, a slayer of his mother, who . . . will persecute the plant which the Twelve Apostles of the Beloved have planted; and one of the twelve will be delivered into his hand. . . All that he desires he will do in the world; he will act and speak in the name of the Beloved and say ‘I am God and before me there has been none else’. And all the people in the world will believe in him, and will sacrifice to him and serve him saying, ‘This is God and beside him there is none other’ . . . And after (one thousand) three hundred and thirty-two days the Lord will come with his angels and with the hosts of the saints from the seventh heaven with the glory of the seventh heaven, and will drag Beliar with his hosts into Gehenna” (4:1-14).

In a manner reminiscent of John’s Apocalypse (esp. ch. 13), the author is here presenting an end-time evil figure in the form of an actual king and, more specifically, a king modelled on a returning emperor Nero (Nero redivivus) who is worshipped as a god (alluding to the Roman imperial cult, on which go here for a brief discussion or here for an entire article). It is important to remember that the line between “otherworldly journey” apocalypses and “historical” apocalypses is by no means stark (as with the fluidity of genre as a whole), and there are some apocalypses with the characteristics of each, of course.

The ascending and descending theme is an important component in this apocalyptic author’s worldview, and the apocalyptic seer’s own guided tour gives him a first-hand experience of otherworldly travel himself.

UPDATE (Dec. 15): Now also see Alan S. Bandy’s collection of various scholarly definitions of the apocalyptic genre.

Blog on early modern women and the Reformations (Reformations 12)

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There is a new blog, Maids, Wives and Mistresses: Early Modern Women, by Suzie Lipscomb, who is doing her doctorate at Oxford on women and the Reformations (especially regarding Protestants in France). The blog is “designed to explore issues of gender and religion in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.” One of her most recent posts deals with Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe.

Latest edition of Carnivalesque is up

Previously I have mentioned the History Carnival, which (twice a month) pulls together interesting posts on a variety of history related topics in various historical periods. Another regular carnival is Carnivalesque, which alternates between ancient / medieval and early modern topics in historical study. They often touch on the history of religions in the process. The most recent Carnivalesque (#10) is hosted by Sharon Howard (U. of Wales) at Early Modern Notes.

What’s so magisterial about it?: Magistrates and the Swiss and German reformations (Reformations 11)

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Scholars use the term “magisterial reformation(s)” to refer to the mainline German and Swiss reformation movements under the leadership of Luther and Zwingli (or Calvin) respectively. The term is used because magistrates (the elite, princes, or ruling classes) were so instrumental in both cases, though in quite different ways. Politics had an extremely important role to play in these reformation movements.

Martin Luther’s well-known Appeal to the German Nobility (written 1520, online here) begins to illustrate just how important magistrates, princes, and other rulers were for the Lutheran reformation. In that writing, Luther appeals directly to the German aristocracy to assert their “temporal” authority over against the supposed authority of the “Romanists” (the papacy of the time and those that supported it). German magistrates were called on to apply their punishing role throughout the whole Christian body: “Forasmuch as the temporal power has been ordained by God for the punishment of the bad and the protection of the good, therefore we must let it do its duty throughout the whole Christian body, without respect of persons, whether it strikes popes, bishops, priests, monks, nuns, or whoever it may be” (trans by C. A. Buchheim, online here). There is a sense in which Luther’s appeal to magistrates, which continued well after this was written, was successful. Already the prince who had recently founded the University of Wittenberg (where Luther was a “star” professor), prince Frederick, was a strong supporter of Luther and was instrumental in saving Luther from being tried or burnt as a heretic by the papacy. Soon, many other magistrates likewise came to support the Lutheran reformation and made their territories officially Lutheran, over against other German princes and rulers whose territories remained Catholic. As a result, many actual wars were fought between these territories.

The situation with the Swiss reformation was quite different, but magistrates were heavily involved again. This time, it is city-magistrates that give the descriptor “magisterial” to this movement. The reformations led by Zwingli in Zurich and Calvin in Geneva were intimately tied in with the city-council, led by civic magistrates, and the city council continued to be the main force behind reformation movements in various other Swiss towns. The role of magistrates in both the Lutheran and Zwinglian movements contrasts strongly to the so-called “radicals” within these same areas who insisted that being a Christian and being a magistrate were by nature incompatible (more about these “radicals” later).

Salvation according to the “modern way” in the middle ages (Reformations 10)

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As many scholars have noticed, there is a sense in which the Lutheran (German) reformation (in contrast to the Swiss reformation, for instance) emerged out of a personal struggle with the question of salvation, of how a righteous God was to have relations with sinful Luther (as Luther might put it). Important as background to Luther’s personal struggle is the traditional explanation of salvation offered by the so-called via moderna, the “modern way” (in the late middle ages), in which Luther had been trained as a scholastic (schoolman) in the university, only to reject it in his own re-discovery of Augustine.

This tradition within scholasticism emphasized the notion of a covenant between God and humans, as Alister McGrath explains (for the following, see Reformation Thought, pp. 53-61; compare Ozment, Age of Reform, 22-42, 231-39). This covenant, initiated by God alone, set up an arrangement wherein God would accept and provide salvation for humans if a person strove to “do his / her best”. In this view, God was not unfair in expecting more than what humans could do.

Scholastics who adopted the “modern way” were sometimes accused of being Pelagian. Pelagius(not to be confused with pope Pelagius) was a Christian who, in the early 400s CE, was concerned with what he perceived to be problems of moral laxity among Christians. Ultimately Pelagius had a run-in with Augustine of Hippo precisely over the question of how humans were to relate with a righteous God (i.e. salvation). On the one hand, Pelagius stressed that God had given people an ability to do what is right (otherwise his requirements would be unfair, since God created people, according to most Christians). On the other, Augustine stressed that humans could do nothing to overcome sin, as they were born inherently sinful (original sin at birth), and salvation could only be given by God as a gift, as grace (see Augustine’s On Nature and Grace, against Pelagius and On the Proceedings of Pelagius). So the university-types of the scholastic “modern way” were accused by some of being Pelagian, of being too optimistic about the abilities of humans to overcome sin and do the good works or moral behaviours that were necessary in God’s view (in this perspective).

Some among the “modern way” (in the late middle ages) responded that they were not Pelagian by using the economic analogy of the king who recalls gold coins for emergency purposes (e.g. a war). When a king recalls all gold coins, he offers lead replacement coins with the promise that, once the crisis is over, the king will ascribe the value of gold to the lead and do the exchange. Worthless lead was counted as if gold. In the same way, so these schoolmen would explain, God has made an arrangement (covenant) wherein he has decided to provide salvation by accepting the best works that humans can do (however inadequate and lead-like they may be) as if they were deserving of salvation (gold), so long as they strove to do what was right (keeping their side of the covenant).

In his own personal experience, Luther strove to do his best but continued to feel that it was never enough and he was anxious about his own personal salvation: “I was a good monk, and kept my order so strictly that I could say that if ever a monk could get to heaven through monastic discipline, I was that monk. . . And yet my conscience would not give me certainty, but I always doubted and said, ‘You didn’t do that right. You weren’t contrite enough’. . . ” (as cited by McGrath, p. 72). Luther ultimately rejected the “modern way” and much of scholasticism as a whole for a (new to him) Augustinian way in which salvation was solely an action of God with no human good works involved in the process of salvation itself.

The sacraments and divisions in the reformations (Reformations 9)

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An understanding of the sacraments is essential in making sense of the reformations of the sixteenth century. The seven sacraments (baptism, confirmation, marriage, extreme unction, eucharist, confession, orders) were central to the medieval concept of the church (and would continue to be central within Roman Catholicism in the wake of the Council of Trent). The official church under the leadership of the pope, the representative of Christ on earth, was the mediator between God and the people. In the view of the papacy, it was through the administration of the seven sacraments in particular that God’s grace was communicated through the church to the people.

Reformers in the early sixteenth century, including Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and those considered “radical” (Anabaptists) by others, unanimously rejected the traditional understanding of sacraments. For both the German and Swiss reformations (including the “radicals”), only baptism and the eucharist remained (and even these were not usually understood as “sacraments” in the traditional sense). Yet despite this agreement in rejecting a central aspect of medieval Christianity, the precise understanding of baptism and the eucharist remained a point of contention and division among reformation movements.

Thus, for instance, the leaders of the magisterial reformations (Luther in Germany and Zwingli in Switzerland) maintained certain medieval concepts of baptism, namely baptism of infants. Yet the Anabaptists, as their name shows (literally “re-baptizers”) felt that only the adult who could choose to follow Christ was to receive baptism. Anabaptists were executed (by Lutherans, Zwinglians, and Catholics alike) for their views, sometimes with the ironic death by drowning as in the case of Felix Mantz at Zurich (died 1526, among the first Anabaptists executed).

Divisions were also very apparent in the case of the eucharist (or communion or Lord’s supper). Despite their agreement on many other factors and despite the shared threat from Catholic (military) powers who opposed the reformation movements, Luther and Zwingli just could not agree to disagree on the precise understanding of the eucharist. On the one hand, Luther held to a view (closer to the medieval) that Christ was really present in the bread and wine based on the phrase “this is my body” (Matthew 26:26) (he nonetheless rejected the medieval explanation of this presence–the theory of transubstantiation). On the other, Zwingli understood Christ’s statement to mean that “this signifies my body” (understanding “is” in a metaphorical sense), and that Christ was not really present in the bread itself (but rather in the hearts of participants). When a meeting aimed at unifying the German and Swiss reformation movements took place in 1529 (the Colloquy of Marburg), this issue of “is” vs. “signifies” was the only factor that continued to separate these two major branches of the reformations (the German or Lutheran and the Swiss or Reformed).

For more on this topic see, for instance, Alister E. McGrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell, 1988), especially the chapter on the sacraments.

Into the mystic: Meister Eckhart and medieval mysticism (Reformations 8)

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I say that if a man will turn away from himself and from all created things, by so much will you be made one and blessed in the spark of the soul, which has never touched either time or place. This spark rejects all created things, and wants nothing but its naked God, as he is in himself. It is not content with the Father or the Son or the Holy Spirit. . . [This spark] wants to know the source of this [divine] essence, it wants to go into the simple ground, into the quiet desert, into which distinction never gazed, not the Father, nor the Son, nor the Holy Spirit. In the innermost part, where no one dwells, there is contentment for that light. . . ” Meister Eckhart (Sermon 48 [in German]; trans. by Edmund Colledge and Bernard McGinn, as cited below, p.198).

Getting into the mind of the medieval mystic is very difficult. Even contemporaries of figures such as Meister (Master) Eckhart (c. 1260-1327; some works online here and here) frequently were mind-boggled by what they read in the mystic’s accounts or heard in the mystic’s sermons about what union with God or the divine might entail. In some cases, the misunderstandings could result in accusations of heresy (and Eckhart was condemned by a papal bull or proclamation in 1329). So it is no wonder that we moderns find medieval mysticism, which was centred precisely on union with the divine in an immediate manner, hard to understand. Though not necessarily all mystics came into conflict with the official church, by its very nature mysticism claimed direct experience of God. This could be considered at odds with the official medieval church’s sense that there was a need for a mediator between God and humans, and that that mediator was the church under the leadership of the pope, the representative of Christ on earth.

There were varieties of mysticism, however, with some focussing on identification with the suffering Christ (e.g. Francis of Assisi) as the means to union with God, and others that took a different approach, such as the so-called Rhineland mystics. Meister (Master) Eckhart’s brand of medieval mysticism became very influential among other mystics in the lands of the Rhine valley (i.e. future Germany–there was no German nation at this time). Eckhart’s notion of union with God owed very much to neo-Platonism (Plato’s ideas as they had been expanded, developed, and later Christianized following the Middle Platonic period, which I discussed here in connection with “gnosticism”). For a discussion of Eckhart and philosophy, go here. Neo-Platonists (new-Platonists) emphasized the existence of a supreme and perfect Being (God) from whom all other things, including all heavenly beings and earthly creations, had emanated (On emanation, think of a stone being dropped in water, with the circular waves emanating out from the centre and distance from the centre being accompanied by a lessening of contact with the divine origin). Ultimately, the goal and end was return to the divine origin from which the emanations came.

Thus, for Eckhart, the Trinitarian Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were emanations from the perfect “Godhead” or divine nature (the God behind God, so to speak), and all of creation (including us) are further emanations. More importantly for questions of how a human being might come to union with God, despite the fact that humans are mere creatures, each human being has a spark or light within the soul, referred to in the quotation above, which intersects with the Godhead itself. Shedding off all attachment to creatureliness was the means by which one could come into contact with, or “break through” to, the eternal part of the soul that was one with the Godhead.

See Edmund Colledge and Bernard McGinn, trans. Meister Eckhart: The Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises, and Defense (New York: Paulist Press, 1981).

Menocchio on judgement and hell (Reformations 7)

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I have previously posted in this series on the intriguing figure of Menocchio, a peasant miller of the late sixteenth century. One of Carlo Ginzburg’s main arguments in his book (The Cheese and the Worms) is that Menocchio, although extraordinary in being literate, is nonetheless representative of an underlying peasant oral culture. This oral culture, suggests Ginzburg, remained out of the historian’s sight for centuries until this odd case of a literate peasant was combined with the atmosphere of expression and inquisition in the wake of the reformations. Finally, so the argument goes, we are able to witness some ongoing characteristics of peasant attitudes to various aspects of religious life that had remained hidden for centuries. Although the argument is difficult to refute (how do you refute an argument which says that a peasant oral culture remained hidden–it’s an argument from silence, of course), there is certainly some truth in this way of putting things.

There is a sense in which Menoccho’s attitudes regarding judgement and hell, for instance, may reflect some strands of peasant opinion and may, therefore, qualify the notion that all peasants believed in the official church line on hell (which seemed to suggest that the majority of the population would end up there). Menocchio addresses the inquisitors: “No sir, I do not believe that we can be resurrected with the body on Judgment Day. It seems impossible to me, because if we should be resurrected, bodies would fill up heaven and earth. . .” (p. 76). This is Menocchio the late-medieval Corinthian, so to speak (see 1 Corinthians 15), but there is little sign of a philosophical basis for Menocchio’s denial of the bodily resurrection.

Surely we do have clear evidence of anti-clericalism (dislike of the higher-ups in the church hierarchies) among the populous in various sources beyond Menocchio. Mennochio (perhaps along with other peasants) criticizes the notion of hell in connection with his negative attitude towards church leaders: “Preaching that men should live in peace pleases me but in preaching about hell, Paul says one thing, Peter another, so that I think it is a business, an invention of men who know more than others” (p. 76). Hell is neither here nor there, so to speak, for this peasant, and perhaps for others.

Myths-ploitation film?: Satan, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Hollywood

As Jim Davila points out, there are now plans to make a hollywood film out of John Milton’s 17th century poetic Paradise Lost (book online here). Milton (1608-1674) brings together many of the biblical and post-biblical (including medieval) stories that attached to the figure of Satan or the Devil (on which see my brief comments on a conversation between Hades and Satan here). Regardless of whether this ends up being another myths-ploitation film which does very little justice to its sources (e.g. Troy), at least this will give me more to talk about in connection with modern depictions of personified evil in my “History of Satan” course (though not in time for this Winter term–oh well. As if there wasn’t enough Satan in films already). The Telegraph has a brief article on the plans for the movie here.

There are a few websites devoted to Milton, with the more scholarly one here. Also, for an interesting conference paper which looks at the themes of Paradise Lost in relation to Star Trek, go here (bet you never expected that one).

An early modern history blog, and the value of blogging for research

As we move our way from medieval to early modern Christianity in one of my classes, I thought I’d mention an interesting blog that focusses on the early modern period (though not on Christianity specifically). Sharon Howard (post-doctoral fellow at the U. of Wales), who also hosts the Early Modern Resources site, has her blog on Early Modern Notes.

In a recent post she discusses why she blogs as an academic, as well as the value of blogging for research (much of which rings true to me). She writes, in part,

Blogging research lets you develop the very first drafts of ideas. Bits and pieces that don’t yet amount to articles (or even conference papers), but they may well do some day. And something else, sometimes: last year I was having trouble thinking up any new ideas at all, but blogging old ideas, often attached to new sources, meant that I kept writing, if only a few hundred words a week, without having to worry about it being original or impressive. And now, because it’s all archived and easy to find, I can look back over some of that work and see potential themes, little seeds of ideas that are worth working on, start to make them grow. . . Another thing: writing for a slightly different audience than in the usual academic contexts. This is an amazing opportunity to reach out.”

I also really enjoy the broader audience thing.

UPDATE: Jim Davila and Instapundit point to an online article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on academic blogging.

Among other things, the author of the article, Henry Farrell, notes that perhaps the majority of academic bloggers “see blogging as an extension of their academic personas. Their blogs allow them not only to express personal views but also to debate ideas, swap views about their disciplines, and connect to a wider public. For these academics, blogging isn’t a hobby; it’s an integral part of their scholarly identity. They may very well be the wave of the future.”

I was recently interviewed for an article, “Academics take up blogging,” in our local Thursday Report here at Concordia U, where you can see some of my basic thoughts on academic blogging.

Menocchio on the Synoptic problem (Reformations 6)

Other posts in the late-medieval and reformations series.

In a previous entry in this series, I have discussed the peasant miller Menocchio who lived in the 16th century and was put on trial in the inquisitions. For those of you who study the synoptic gospels, I thought you might find his brief take on the synoptic problem and redaction criticism, so to speak, humorous and maybe a little insightful:

As for the things in the Gospels, I believe that parts of them are true and parts were made up by the Evangelists out of their heads, as we see in the passages that one tells in one way and one in another way” (Ginzburg, p. 11).

At another point in the trial, he suggested that a good portion of the New Testament writings were, in fact, made up in his own time (or just before) by devious priests and monks. Here and in other statements he reflects a peasant’s dislike for the higher-ups in the system. Don’t expect consistency from Menocchio, but do expect creative thinking and fascinating statements.

Demons and everyday life: Giving birth to monsters (Reformations 5)

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One of the more difficult things for (most) modern people to get their minds around is the medieval popular belief in demons and spirits. These malevolent, benevolent, or neutral (sometimes just a nuisance) beings permeated the air (“swarming like flies”) and were in continual interaction with people in their daily lives, at least according to the ghost and demon stories that were written down.

Among the tales documented by a German Dominican in the thirteenth century is one about a noble knight and his wife. The story goes that “demons quite often appeared to [the knight]” and on one occasion while he was away on “business”, a demon decided to appear to his wife instead:

When his wife got into bed that night, it seemed to her that her husband came to her and had realtions with her in due manner. From this, so she believed, she became pregnant. The next day her husband returned, which caused his wife to be very much amazed, and she said to him ‘Where have you come from?’ He answered, ‘From our other castle’. She said, ‘Surely you were with me last night, and had relations with me contrary to your custom.’ He answered, ‘I did not.’ Terrified and upset almost to death, the woman learned that she had given birth to three monsters at once. One monster had teeth like a hog’s, the second had a startlingly long beard, the third had one eye in its face, so reported someone who saw them. But the mother, after the birrth of these children, died”
John Shinners, ed.,
Medieval Popular Religion 1000-1500: A Reader (Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 1997), 217.

“So reported someone who saw them”, a common claim for many of these tales. For historians of popular religion, it is less important what grain of truth, if any, is reflected in the story (e.g. deformities at birth) than what the telling and retelling of stories such as this means about the worldviews of those living in the middle ages: evil powers are at work in the world around us and we need to beware of what havoc they can cause even in our own family’s life. The horror movie comes to life.

Menocchio, the peasant, on cheese and maggots (Reformations 4)

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Carlo Ginzburg’s classic social historical study of an obscure peasant living in Italy provides a fascinating window into popular culture during the late medieval and reformation periods. Menocchio, a peasant miller who considered himself among the poor and yet was also literate at a basic level, was put on trial in Italy during the later inquisitions, church run court-cases against heresy (in the late 1500s). As one witness put it, Menocchio “is always arguing with somebody about the faith just for the sake of arguing – even with the priest” (Ginzberg, p. 2). His well-documented testimony and the perspectives of other peasants and priests on his views (from the court records) provide a picture of an independent thinker who was nonetheless in some respects reflecting a deeper stream of medieval popular religion, as Ginzburg argues.

Quite captivating is Menocchio’s view on creation, his cosmogony, which draws on the analogy of putrefaction:

I have said that, in my opinion, all was chaos, that is, earth, air, water, and fire were mixed together; and out of that bulk a mass formed – just as cheese is made out of milk – and worms appeared in it, and these were the angels. The most holy majesty decreed that these should be God and the angels, and among that number of angels, there was also God, he too having been created out of that mass at the same time, and he was made lord, with four captains, Lucifer, Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael” (Menocchio as cited by Ginzburg, pp. 5-6 )

The inquisitorial judges just could not get their minds around these elaborate and imaginative ideas of a relatively uneducated peasant. The angels emerged like worms in rotting cheese? God was created as one of these angels? Where did you come up with this stuff, and why do you insist on continually sharing your strange ideas with others (was the sentiment)?

More on Menocchio and popular religion later, which you can also read about in Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller (trans. by John and Anne Tedeschi; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992 [1980]).

Ginzburg was among the pioneers of “microhistory“, a type of social history which focusses attention on detailing what we can known about one particular individual, family or village, for instance. You can read an online interview with him about microhistory and his work on the witches’ sabbat here.

Another social historian that engages in microhistory is Natalie Zemon Davis, well known for her book on The Return of Martin Guerre: Imposture and Identity in a Sixteenth-Century Village (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983). As you may know, Martin Guerre’s story was also made into a film (in French, 1982) followed by a less historically-injected Hollywood version called Sommersby (1993), which was instead set in post-Civil War America (rather than a 16th century French village).

Menocchio, the peasant, on cheese and maggots (Reformations 4)

View other posts in the late-medieval and reformations series.

Carlo Ginzburg’s classic social historical study of an obscure peasant living in Italy provides a fascinating window into popular culture during the late medieval and reformation periods. Menocchio, a peasant miller who considered himself among the poor and yet was also literate at a basic level, was put on trial in Italy during the later inquisitions, church run court-cases against heresy (in the late 1500s). As one witness put it, Menocchio “is always arguing with somebody about the faith just for the sake of arguing – even with the priest” (Ginzberg, p. 2). His well-documented testimony and the perspectives of other peasants and priests on his views (from the court records) provide a picture of an independent thinker who was nonetheless in some respects reflecting a deeper stream of medieval popular religion, as Ginzburg argues.

Quite captivating is Menocchio’s view on creation, his cosmogony, which draws on the analogy of putrefaction:

I have said that, in my opinion, all was chaos, that is, earth, air, water, and fire were mixed together; and out of that bulk a mass formed – just as cheese is made out of milk – and worms appeared in it, and these were the angels. The most holy majesty decreed that these should be God and the angels, and among that number of angels, there was also God, he too having been created out of that mass at the same time, and he was made lord, with four captains, Lucifer, Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael” (Menocchio as cited by Ginzburg, pp. 5-6 )

The inquisitorial judges just could not get their minds around these elaborate and imaginative ideas of a relatively uneducated peasant. The angels emerged like worms in rotting cheese? God was created as one of these angels? Where did you come up with this stuff, and why do you insist on continually sharing your strange ideas with others (was the sentiment)?

More on Menocchio and popular religion later, which you can also read about in Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller (trans. by John and Anne Tedeschi; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992 [1980]).

Ginzburg was among the pioneers of “microhistory“, a type of social history which focusses attention on detailing what we can known about one particular individual, family or village, for instance. You can read an online interview with him about microhistory and his work on the witches’ sabbat here.

Another social historian that engages in microhistory is Natalie Zemon Davis, well known for her book on The Return of Martin Guerre: Imposture and Identity in a Sixteenth-Century Village (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983). As you may know, Martin Guerre’s story was also made into a film (in French, 1982) followed by a less historically-injected Hollywood version called Sommersby (1993), which was instead set in post-Civil War America (rather than a 16th century French village).

Online resources for late-Medieval Christianity and the Reformations (Reformations 3)

ONLINE PRIMARY SOURCES

OTHER RESOURCES

NOTE ON USING THE INTERNET FOR STUDYING THE HISTORY OF RELIGIONS: Internet sites are not all equally valuable and reliable when it comes to historical information, and it is not always easy for everyone to distinguish which ones are reliable. Above I have limited myself primarily to sites which collect together or link sources from the time period we are studying (“primary sources”) and to sites with ties to legitimate educational institutions or produced by professors. This means that they will be relatively reliable. However, at this point in history, the internet is never a substitute for doing proper reading and research in primary sources, journal articles and books.

Other posts in the late-medieval and reformations series.

Online resources for the study of the Christian Apocrypha and “Gnosticism” (NT Apocrypha 9)

ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS ONLINE

RESOURCES ON CHRISTIAN APOCRYPHA AND GNOSTICISM

RESOURCES ON SPECIFIC APOCRYPHAL WRITINGS

ONLINE DOCTORAL DISSERTATIONS ON APOCRYPHAL WRITINGS

(Thanks to Tony Chartrand-Burke [Atkinson College, York U.] for sharing with me the links he had already found in connection with his course on gnosticism).

Reformations: Continuity or disjunction? (Reformations 2)

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One of the more important scholarly questions regarding the nature of the reformations of the 16th century is the degree to which the reformations had their roots in what preceded or were something new that broke from what preceded. Most recent scholars of the reformation period would answer that it is far more complicated than choosing between the two, but that many scholars in the past have emphasized the “new” to the neglect of continuity.

A very important work by Steven Ozment (The Age of Reform 1250-1550, 1980) argues strongly and convincingly that, in many respects, the reformations were strongly rooted in the intellectual and religious traditions of the late middle ages. And by that he does not mean simply things like the movements which followed the lead of Wycliff in England or Huss in Bohemia (in the late 1300s and into the 1400s), to which we will return. There is a sense in which the reformations would not have happened without the important influences of the spiritual traditions of the Franciscans and Dominicans or the intellectual traditions of scholasticism, or the reforming agendas of certain popes (which we will explain soon).

The cultural history of late-medieval Christianity is worthy of study in its own right, but it is also the place to look if you want to understand the reformations. Luther and other “reformers” were part of this late-medieval world despite the changes that their movements brought, namely the birth of a new branch of Christianity now known as Protestantism.

Reformations and Late-Medieval Christianity (1300-1650) course (Reformations 1)

Welcome to the ongoing discussion of Christianity in the late middle ages and the Reformations in connection with an undergraduate course. The outline for the course, which will also give you a sense of what topics and readings may be covered in blog entries, is available online here. (The course takes place on Thursdays).

I will do my best to write these entries in a way that will be of profit not only to the students in the class, but also to other readers who have an interest in the social and cultural history of Christianity and the Reformations specifically. (My own area of expertise is in the earliest period of Christianity and its Greco-Roman and Jewish contexts, about which I also do blog entries here). Feel free to leave comments or questions (by clicking on “comments” below and registering your name with blogger).

The nature of the blog genre requires that entries be somewhat brief and to the point (and hopefully interesting!). So reading this blog will by no means substitute for reading about the cultural history of Christianity (both primary and scholarly sources) for yourself in “good-old-fashioned” books or for attending the classes (if you are a student;). Come again!

View other posts in the late-medieval and reformations series.

Early Christian Apocrypha and the historiography of early Christianity (NT Apocrypha 6)

Before approaching the study of the diversity of Christianity reflected in writings such as the early Christian Apocrypha, it is important to be familiar with some of the main historical theories that have been put forward regarding the nature and varieties of early Christianity (especially with respect to notions of “orthodoxy” and “heresy”). Historiography (the study of how history is written and what “spin” historians put on their materials) is very important. Here I have chosen to simplify the discussion by briefly outlining three historians’ viewpoints in terms of unity (Eusebius), duality (F.C. Baur), and diversity (Walter Bauer, with an “e”). For a proper understanding you will need to study these and other works for yourself, as well as the ancient documents that these historians use to build their theories.

  1. Eusebius and Unity (Ecclesiatical History, c. 311-323 CE): The traditional view of early Christianity emphasized the unity of early Christians and downplayed any tensions or struggles among them. Truth, unity and orthodoxy (right belief) came first and were strong; error or heresy came later and was always in the minority. The emphasis on unity can already be seen in the Acts of the Apostles’ history of the early church, but this came to expression in a more comprehensive historical theory with the first major church historian, Eusebius (who built upon what many anti-heresy writers had been saying for a while). This theory posits that from the beginning all Christians agreed and got along: the church was a “pure and uncorrupted virgin” (3.32.7-8; some relevant passages from Eusebius are now available here on this website). But, subsequently, through the work of the devil, errors or heresies were introduced (usually pictured as beginning in the second century). These errors were readily recognized as such and successfully battled by representatives of “the universal and only true church” (such as Hegesippus), who “held to the same points in the same way, and radiated forth to all. . . the sobriety and purity of the divine teaching. . . [O]ur doctrine remained as the only one which had power among all” (see 4.7.1-14). Orthodoxy came first and was in the majority, heresies later and in the minority. Many, though not all, of the writings we call the New Testament Apocrypha would be considered heretical by Eusebius.
  2. F.C. Baur and Duality (mid-late-1800s): The theory of F.C. Baur and the so-called Tübingen school is quite thorough-going, but its main contours can be simplified thus: Early Christianity was characterized by a fundamental conflict between a particularistic Jewish form (Peter) and a universalistic Gentile form (Paul). The second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians was very important here. This thesis (Jewish-Petrine Christianity) and antithesis (Gentile-Pauline Christianity) finally settled into a synthesis (catholic Christianity) in the second and subsequent centuries (F.C. was influenced by the dialectical philosophy of Hegel). Most early Christian writings and Christian groups, including writings in the Apocrypha, can be understood and categorized based on this struggle. On the one hand, the Acts of the Apostles reflects an attempt to hide and smooth over the battle. On the other, a writing such as the Pseudo-Clementines (in the Apocrypha), which has Peter battling Simon Magus (a cipher for Paul), shows that the battle really continued beyond the time of the canonical Acts (which F.C. dated to the second century). Baur would tend to trust the apocryphal Pseudo-Clementines over the canonical Acts of the Apostles (in terms of its reflection of historical reality). Although there is certainly truth in observing a tension between Pauline and other Jewish forms of Christianity (read Galatians!), most scholars now see a problem with this oversimplified picture of just two main camps in early Christianity, with just about everything fit into this dual framework.
  3. Walter Bauer and Diversity (Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, 1932, translated into English in the 1970s): Walter Bauer wrote what can be considered among the most influential works in the study of early Christianity. Turning the traditional theory of Eusebius on its head, Walter argued that heresy came first, orthodoxy later. Not only that, but the various forms of Christianity often called “heresies” were, in fact, in the majority. When orthodoxy began to emerge in the second and subsequent centuries, it continued as the minority for some time until the church at Rome increased its hold on Christianity elsewhere. Walter continued to use the terms “orthodoxy” and “heresy” despite the fact that his own theory began to deconstruct these very notions. Most who study early Christianity now recognize that, although Walter’s theory clearly has its problems, Walter was at least correct in emphasizing that various forms of Christianity existed from early on, and that “orthodoxy” only developed later in an attempt to get the diversity under some control. He was also correct in deconstructing the Eusebian view of the orthodox, united church threatened by later heresies, which does not accurately reflect what actually went on in the first centuries of Christianity.

As I said, this is certainly a simplification of the matter, but a basic acknowledgement of the diversity of early Christianity will be essential as we discuss the Apocrypha further and as we attempt to see what specific Christians in particular places were thinking, doing, and writing about. Certainly we will observe some common denominators among followers of Jesus (at least they followed Jesus [as each understood that]!), but there were also important differences that we need to attend to in mapping out early Christianity.

Acts of John: Be thou like the bed-bugs (NT Apocrypha 5)

Scholarly debates continue regarding what genre (type) of literature were the apocryphal Acts, with the Greek novel often being considered a close relative of these Acts by most. Certainly both the apocryphal Acts, which relate the miraculous deeds of the followers of Jesus, and the novels share in common the aim of entertaining (alongside teaching and admonishing certain values or behaviours).

In the Acts of John, the disciple John is depicted on his journeys to demonstrate the power of God (dating sometime in the second or early third century; available online here). Among these demonstrations or signs are the repeated resurrections of various characters in the story, from bad guys like the priest of Artemis to good guys like the permanently sexually-abstinent Drusiana. Resurrection of the dead is John’s favourite miracle, so to speak. Just about everyone converts as a result of these miracles, including the aforementioned bad guys, so there is a purpose to it all.

One of the “miracles” of John that stands out, however, involves bed-bugs. While staying in an inn at Ephesus, John is trying to catch some wink-eye while other of his followers talk quietly in the background. The bed-bugs are driving John nuts, and so he commands, “I tell you, you bugs, to behave yourselves, one and all; you must leave your home for tonight and be quiet in one place and keep your distance from the servants of God!” (60).

That we, the readers, are meant to be entertained and to laugh is suggested by the fact that John’s followers do laugh, and think that John is just joking (he’s not really commanding bugs, is he?). To these followers’ surprise, they find a mass of bugs waiting just outside the door in the morning, and John says that since the bugs have behaved themselves, they can go back home to bed. But even in this humorous story there is a lesson. Be thou like the bed-bugs, who quietly listen and obey: “This creature listened to a man’s voice and kept to itself and was quiet and obedient; but we who hear the voice of God disobey his commandments and are irresponsible; how long will this go on?”, queries John (61). (All translations, again, are from Schneemelcher).

UPDATE: Once again Ken Penner is on top of things and, in the comments, points to a passage that involves commanding worms in the Testament of Job (of the OT Pseudepigrapha, translation available online here, Greek text here). Job is once again facing the torments which God allows Satan to send upon him, and he shows a particularly heightened ability to withstand and, in what you could call an ascetic spirit (or perhaps just an attempt to ensure that God’s will is done to its completion), even further the torture:

“In great trouble and distress I left the city, and I sat on a dung heap worm-ridden in body. Discharges from my body wet the ground with moisture. Many worms were in my body, and if a worm ever sprang off, I would take it up and return it to its original place, saying, ‘Stay in the same place where you were put until you are directed otherwise by your commander” (Testament of Job 20:7-9; trans by R.P. Spittler in Charlesworth, OTP).

This story is less funny than John’s;)