Discussion notes for A Cultural History of Satan (HUMA 3795)

Introduction to the Study of Personified Evil

1. Why study personified evil in ancient Judean culture and in Christianity?

  • Satan’s significance for social and religious life:
    • Ancient world
      • Judaism (e. g. Dead Sea Scroll community)
      • Early Christianity (e. g. Jesus and exorcism)
      • Satan in internal struggles and external relations
    • Medieval and early modern Europe
      • Satan’s part in religion, politics, and every day life
    • Modern world
      • Christianity
      • Popular culture (TV and movies)


  • Satan’s ideological framework: Ancient apocalypticism

2. How should we approach this subject within an academic context?

  • Main characteristics of Religious Studies:
    • 1. Non-theological, non-normative, non-value judgement orientation
    • 2. Cross-cultural and historical sensitivity
    • 3. Religion as a human phenomenon, a piece of human culture and society
    • 4. Interdisciplinary

3. Key concepts and terms

  • “Theodicy” (justice of God) and the problem of evil in religious systems
  • “Dualism” and dualistic worldviews (heaven/hell, Satan/God, demons/angels, wicked/righteous)
  • “Evil” and personified evil
  • “Satan”: a. k. a. Devil (diabolos), Belial, Prince of Darkness, Beelzebub (Prince Baal)
  • Satan’s minions/assistants: unclean/evil spirits, demons (daimonia)
  • “Hell”, “Hades”

Satan’s Predecessors in the Ancient Near East (from 3000 BCE)

1. Chaos monsters and the combat myth in the Ancient Near East (see Beal chapters 1-6)

  • Background: The Ancient Near East and common mythology; Order vs. chaos in the society of the gods
  • The Combat Myth
  • Ninurta vs. Anzu (Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian): Jealous and rebellious chaos monster (image of relief from temple of Ninurta at Nimrud)
  • Marduk vs. Tiamat (Sea) (Babylonian; see Beal, pp. 16-19; image of Tiamat slayed ?)
  • Baal vs. Yamm (Sea) and Mot (Death) (Ugaritic/Canaanite; see Beal, pp. 19-21; image of Baal from temple area at Ugarit)
  • Yahweh vs. Leviathan, Rahab, and Behemoth (Israelite; see Psalms 74:12-17; 89:5-18; compare Isaiah 51:9-11; Job 40-41; image of Blake’s 19th century depiction of Behemoth and Leviathan)
    • Avenue into Judean (Jewish) apocalypticism
  • Themes that later came to shape Satan’s character: Dragons/serpents/beasts; rebellious threat to order; battle imagery; Satan literally linked up with biblical instances of combat myth

2. Ahriman or Angra Mainyu (“Destructive Spirit”) in Zoroastrian religion

  • Background: Zoroaster (12th or 6th century BCE?) and the problem of evil; Zoroastrian sources late
  • Zoroastrian apocalypticism as combat myth writ large
    • Dualism of Ahura Mazda (Lord Wisdom) vs. Angra Mainyu
    • Discussion of passage from Plutarch and from the Zoroastrian Gathas


  • Close affinities with Judean apocalypticism (emerging concurrently) and likely influence on the Judean Two Spirits tradition (as in the Dead Sea Scrolls)
  • Themes that later came to shape Satan’s character: cosmic dualism of evil vs. good; battle central; ultimate end to the battle and triumph over evil (contrast the combat myth); Light and Darkness theme (Prince of Darkness as a name for Satan later on)

3. Other Israelite predecessors

  • Rebellious foreign kings and the metaphor of cosmic rebel in Israelite prophets
    • Background: History in cosmic, mythological terms
    • Prince of Tyre (“I am God”) and Pharoah (the “great dragon”) in Ezekiel 28, 29
    • Fall of “Shining One, Son of Dawn” (later “Lucifer”) in Isaiah 14


  • Angelic beings and the heavenly court in the Hebrew Bible:
    • 1) Yahweh’s “messenger (malak)”
    • 2) “the adversary / prosecutor” (“the satan”)
    • 3) Evil spirit
  • Themes that later came to shape Satan’s character: false claims to power (“I am god”); rebellion against God; future destruction and punishment; literally linked up with Satan stories later on


Satan’s Origins in Judean Apocalypticism (from about 300 BCE)

1. Introduction: Judean apocalypticism as Satan’s framework

  • Characteristics of the apocalyptic worldview: Revelation, dualism (light/good vs. darkness/evil), evil world, God’s predetermined plan, final combat, destinies of the righteous and the wicked
  • Apocalyptic literature: Visionary reports in the name of respected figures

2. The fall of rebel angels: Origins of Satan

  • Background:
    • Reminder: “Sons of god” and “angels / messengers” of Yahweh in the Hebrew Bible; Angels in the function of “adversaries” (satans) doing God’s will (cf. 1 Kings 22:19-22; Job) vs. an independent angelic adversary (following his own will)
    • The “sons of god” and daughters of men in Genesis 6:1-8 and the flood narrative
  • Elaborations and interpretations of the story in 1 Enoch, book 1 (c. 200 BCE)
    • Solving the problem of sin / evil and the origin of human sinfulness
    • The sin of the fallen angels: Azazel and Semyaz (who’s the leader)
    • The consequences of the angels’ fall and intercourse with humans
    • Angelic or human responsibility for sin/evil (links with the Adam/Eve stories)
    • The giant offspring’s spirits = demons

3. Further developments in Satan’s story in Judean apocalypticism

  • Rebel angels, Satan, and Mastema (“Enmity” personified) in Jubilees (c. 105-150 BCE)
  • Adam’s sin and the fall of the angels in 2 Baruch (question of responsibility for evil)
  • God’s functionaries in the final battle against his Adversary/ Satan/Beliar
    • Patron angels: Michael and the kingdoms/beasts (though not Satan) in the book of Daniel (c. 169 BCE)
    • Beliar and the two spirits (angels) in the Dead Sea Scrolls (c. 100 BCE)
      • Background: The Dead Sea (Qumran) community as an apocalyptic sect
      • Beliar (Worthless One) in the worldview of the group
      • The Two spirits tradition
    • Satan and the Elect One (son of man) in the later Enoch books (first century CE): Judgement of kings // Azazel // Satan



Satan and his Roles among Jesus Adherents

1. Introduction: Jesus groups as Judean apocalyptic movements

  • Jesus the Christ/Messiah as Satan’s ultimate and final combatant

2. Jesus vs. Satan: Endtime combat with evil powers in the Gospel stories (c. 65-100 CE)

  • Background: Jesus’ mission and “the kingdom of God”
  • Jesus’ combat with the Devil/Satan in the synoptic gospels (especially Mark)
    • The hero’s test in the desert (Mark 1:12–13 // Luke 4)
    • Jesus’ battles with demons: Exorcisms (e. g. Mark 1:21-28)
    • The Beelzebub controversy (Mark 3:19-27)
    • Jesus’ mission and Satan’s ultimate fall (Luke 10:17-20)
  • Gehenna/Hades/Hell in the Gospels (see Mark 9:43-48; Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 16:19-31)

3. Satan and internal struggles: Christian leaders and their Christian adversaries

  • Paul (c. 50s-60s CE)
    • Paul’s apocalyptic perspective: Sons of light vs. sons of darkness (1 Thess 4:13-5:11)
    • Christ’s combat with (and destruction of) Death and other cosmic powers (1 Corinthians 15:20-28, 54-55)
    • Paul’s combat with opponents: The “god of this world”/“Satan”, the serpent, and deception: Combating the “superapostles” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4 and 11:1-15)
  • Epistles of John (c. 90-100 CE)
    • “Antichrists” in the communities of John the elder (1 John 1:5-10; 2:18-25; 3:4-10; 4:16; 2 John 7-11)

4. Satan and external relations: The evil Roman empire in John’s Apocalypse (Revelation; c. 90s CE)

  • Introduction to John’s Apocalypse (Revelation): Context of the temple destruction and Nero’s actions; apocalypse = first person visionary account about the coming end; series of visions
  • John’s internal combat with Christian opponents: The “deep things of Satan” (esp. Pergamon and Thyatira)
  • Convergence of Satan’s stories and use of Satanic rhetoric to critique external powers:
    • The fallen star, angel of the bottomless pit = “Destruction” (Rev. 9:1-11)
    • The dragon (Leviathan/Satan/Devil) and cosmic combat (ch. 12)
    • The dragon’s assistants: Roman emperors and the two beasts (13)
    • The evil empire as Babylon the whore, riding the first beast (17-18)
    • Final destiny and judgement of the beast and Satan (19:19-20:15)


Developments of Satan’s Story in the First Centuries: Satan (or the World Creator) and the Serpent

1. Enter the deceptive serpent: Adam, Eve, and Satan’s motivations (lust or jealousy)

  • “The Book of Adam and Eve” and evil personified (about first century)
    • Convergence of the story of a fallen angel (flood era) and the story of fallen humans (creation) – Entrance of evil on the mythical timeline


    • 1) Apocalypse of Moses (first century CE)
      • Eve’s story of deception (no. 1) by “the enemy”/serpent (Apocalypse 15-30)
      • The Devil’s motivation: jealousy and covetousness
      • Who’s to blame: Eve
      • Adam’s (humanity’s) pain and death (physical evil) and the hope of the oil of mercy (5-14, 37-43)
    • 2) Life (Vita) of Adam and Eve (third or fourth century CE)
      • Repentance and the Devil’s deception (no. 2) of Eve (Vita 1-11)
      • “Why do you assault us”?: Satan’s account of his expulsion and motivation (chs. 12-17)
      • Seth and the beast-serpent (36-39, 44)

2. Inverting the serpent’s role: The (evil) world-creator god in gnosticism

  • Background:
    • Gnosis = “knowledge” of the way things are (brings salvation)
    • Thoroughgoing dualism
      • 1) Good spiritual realm/Fullness, Father-god, Aeons, Sophia
      • 2) Evil material realm, rulers (archons), world-creator (demiurge), abortive creation entrapping spiritual sparks
      • 3) Return to the Fullness/salvation: the descent of the saviour, ascent of the spiritual sparks
  • The demiurge (world-creator) and the serpent in On the Origin of the World: Gnostic interpretations of Genesis and other traditions
    • Interpretation of Genesis’ creation narrative
    • Shared traditions with the “Book of Adam and Eve”
    • Interpretation of other stories and traditions
    • Fallen rulers // fallen angels
    • The world-creator’s (or rulers’) envy or jealousy // Satan’s envy or jealousy


Satan in the Church Fathers: Instigator of Idolatry (“Paganism”) and Heresy (150-430 CE and beyond)

1. External factors: Defending “superior” Christianity against “inferior” paganism

  • Background: Tensions between Christianity and society (popular persecutions, intellectual attacks); Defending Christianity (“apologists”)
  • Justin Martyr (c. 100-165 CE) on the worship of demons (“they called them gods”) and the invention of Greek myth (all part of Satan’s ploy)
  • Origen’s (c. 185-254 CE) defense against Celsus
    • Celsus’ intellectual critique of Christianity, naive dualism, and the idea of Satan: Taking the combat myth too literally (making God impotent)
    • Origen’s response to Celsus: The Opponent’s (Satan’s) antiquity (older than Homer and copied by Greek myth)

2. Internal factors: “Error” (heresy) and the “Father of Lies” (arch-heretic)

  • All Heresies derive from the Father of Lies (Apostasy personified – stepping away or rebellion) = Satan
  • Background: Countering gnostic answers to the problem of evil (demiurge)
  • Marcion: The good God’s payment (Christ) to the evil world-creator
  • Irenaeus (c. 140-202 CE)
    • Freeing the captives by paying off the devil: Ransom theory
  • Origen (c. 185-254 CE)
    • Evil by will (choice), not by nature: The angel of light rebels out of pride (Ezekiel’s rebel kings and Isaiah’s Lucifer) and loses his wings
    • Developing the ransom theory: Out-deceiving the deceiver (cf. Gospel of Nicodemus)
    • The return of all things to God (universalism): Even Satan will be saved in the end
  • Augustine (354-430 CE)
    • Background: Christianization of the Roman empire (post-Constantine) and the continuation of “paganism”; Ongoing internal struggles – Augustine vs. Manichees and Pelagians
    • Impact of internal struggles on Augustine’s notions of evil and the devil:
      • vs. “optimistic” Pelagians: Humans possess sin by birth (original sin concept)
      • vs. “pessimistic” Manichees: Natural evil does not exist; importance of will


A Brief History of Satan’s Home (Hell)

1. The underworld (grave) and its development in other contemporary cultures

  • Mesopotamian underworld: Realm of Nergal (shadowy [non]existence)
  • Hebrew Sheol, “the grave”
  • Greek underworld: Realm of Hades and the shades (neutral or moral death?)
    • Vague notions of an afterlife in Greek religion: Evidence of grave-inscriptions
    • Otherworldly journeys into Hades’ realm
      • Homer and the shades: Odysseus journey to consult a dead seer
    • Divisions of the underworld: Tartaros as a place of torture for rebellious gods
    • Retribution after death in Plato (4th century BCE) and Virgil (1st century BCE)
  • Zoroastrian judgement after death (moral death): Destruction vs. the “making wonderful”
    • Walking in one of the two spirits, resurrection and judgement

2. Apocalyptic Judaism and early Christianity: Gehenna/Hades vs. the kingdom of God

  • Apocalyptic framework of the origins of Hell (opposed to the kingdom of God/Heaven)
    • Concept of moral death: Resurrection and judgement
    • Destruction or eternal punishment for wickedness
    • Otherworldly journeys in apocalyptic literature (e.g. 1 Enoch)
  • 1 Enoch (ca. 225 BCE) and the pit for the fallen angels / “wicked” people
  • John’s Apocalypse (ca. 90s CE) and the punishment of Satan/Leviathan and “wicked” people
    • The lake of fire as Satan’s ultimate destination (e.g. Revelation 20)
  • Jesus and Hell – Gospel portrayals (ca. 70-110 CE)
  • Apocalypse of Peter (ca. 130s CE) as the earliest Christian tour of hell: Law of retaliation principle for punishment in hell
  • Christ’s journey into the underworld (descent into Hell) to defeat Death (Hades) and Satan
    • 1 Peter 3:19-20 (late first century CE)
    • Gospel of Nicodemus (fourth century reflecting earlier developments) and the story of Christ’s descent into hell
      • Satan’s plan and Hades’ hesitation
      • Christ’s triumph over Satan and Hades

3. Medieval culmination of Hell: Visualizing the Inferno and Satan

  • Vision of Tundale of the 11th century (Russell, pp. 140-42)
    • Vision of two demons and of Satan
  • Hell’s torment in Dante’s Inferno (13th century)
    • Satan (Dis) iced at the centre of the earth
  • Giving Satan a face (and horns): Satan and Hell in medieval and early modern art



Satan in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period: Popular Religion and Polemical Rhetoric

1. Visualizing Hell and Satan: From Origins to Dante

  • Dante’s Satan
    • Sandro Botticelli’s illustrations of Dante’s Inferno (link)

2. Satan and his demons in Medieval cultural life

  • 1) Evil in everyday life: Stories about demons and ghosts (discussion of primary sources)
  • 2) Satan in popular movements (“heresies” from 1000 CE)
    • Accusations of Satanic alliances in struggles against heresies (Inquisitions etc)
    • Ancestors of the Cathars: Gnosticism and the Manichees
    • Satan in the dualistic worldview of the Cathars (Albigensians)
      • Moderate Cathars: God and the rebel evil power
      • Radical Cathars: God and Satan from the beginning


  • 3) Satan (Old Percy) and witchcraft (discussion of Brigg’s chapter)
    • Witch and witchcraft within the medieval worldview: Were there really witches? (No, but people really believed there were, and that’s what matters for historical developments)
      • The social and psychological functions of witchcraft accusations and confessions
    • The image of the witch
    • Pact with the devil / Percy / Satan or his minions
      • Legacies regarding deals with the devil (e.g. Faust, musicians at the crossroads, etc)
    • Witch’s sabbat: Inverting the Christian communal gathering

3. Satan and his son (Antichrist) in internal and external struggles

  • Internal: Demonizing other Christians
    • “Satanic” heresies vs. “Satanic” Roman church
    • A brief history of Antichrist and his use in internal struggles
    • Who’s the Antichrist: Martin Luther or the Pope?
    • Menno Simons (Anabaptist) on recognizing the Satanic church of Antichrist (i.e. the papacy and the Lutheran church)


  • External: Demonizing outsiders (Jews, Muslims)


From Traditional (Evil) Satan to Modern (Ironic) Mephisto: Milton (1600s) and Goethe (1700s)

1. Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost (c. 1660)

  • Milton’s context and life: Revolutionary England; Protestant Puritans; Rationalizing and systematizing old stories
  • Milton’s epic poem and its key themes: Fall of humanity and justifying God’s actions
    • Satan and the other fallen angels: Convergence and culmination of earlier traditions
    • The initial fall of the angels and Satan’s dialogues with Beezlebub (I)
    • The (anti)-divine council and Satan’s plan to pursue the “other world” and “Man” (II)

2. Mephistopheles (Mephisto) in Goethe’s Faust (c. late 1700s)

  • Goethe’s context and life: Enlightenment and modernism; Critique of revealed religion; Decline of Satan and Hell
  • Goethe’s poetry and its key themes: The pursuit of wisdom and the goal of love
  • Mephisto’s ironic and pathetic Mephisto: New directions for evil personified
    • Drawing on older traditions but in a playful and ironic way – fundamentally changes the overall affect of the personified “evil” figure
    • Council in heaven (prologue)
    • Faust’s pursuit of “godlike” knowledge (“I rode too high”)
    • Traditional characteristics of Satan/fallen angel/rebel kings in Faust
    • Mephisto (Satan), the poodle (irony)
    • Faust’s pact (wager) with Mephisto


Modern Case Study: Satanic Cults and Satanic Conspiracies of the 1970s-1990s

1. Worshipping Satan: The Church of Satan and its rivals (1970s on)

  • Church of Satan and the Satanic Bible
    • Inverting Christian values: Satan as symbol of real human values
    • Competing groups and techniques of demonization (correction: christianization) in intergroup rivalries
  • Other forms of modern Satanism: e.g. Black Metal and the gnostic Satanists

2. Satanic conspiracy 1: Satanic Ritual Abuse Scare of the 1980s and 1990s

  • Context: New Religious Movements (including the Church of Satan) and the anticult movement within conservative Christianity; Notions of spiritual battle in some conservative Christianity; the Church of Satan and its “ancient” worldwide networks
  • Origins of the accusations: “Psychiatry”, sexual abuse, repressed memories, and Christian demonology
  • Satanic ritual: Human sacrifice, cannibalism, and sexual perversion
    • The trio of atrocity in historical perspective (demonizing / marginalizing outsiders and insiders: foreign peoples, early Christians, early “heresies”, medieval witches, etc. )

3. Satanic conspiracy 2: “nataS” in music

  • Background: Rock n’roll, sex, and the devil’s gyrations
  • Satan in rock lyrics: From “Sympathy for the devil” to “Devil’s haircut” (1960s-present)
    • “Stairway to hell”?: Supposed backtracking and the deceptive seductions of Satan in the 1970s-80s
    • Identifying with Satan and evil (in a superficial way): If religion is nerdy, then Satan must be cool (heavy metal culture of the 1980s)
    • Deliberate backtracking (and a not so deceptive Satan): Play it forward, play it backward same thing
    • “To hell with the devil”: The holy head-bangers’ response

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