Carleton University is running a course this year on the history of Satan. I bet that’ll be a fun time. So many things to know about that topic – not the least of which is the fact that Satan the demon in charge of hell is a complete and total human invention. Yes indeedy.
Kimberly Stratton did a bunch of research to prepare for teaching this course and I wonder if she had a chance to browse through Satan: Christianity’s other God by James R. Brayshaw while she was at it. I wrote about that one some time ago. It’s hellishly long and quite detailed. He included this information provided to the writer of this piece:
The earliest Biblical references use “satan” as a verb, meaning to block or prevent something.
In the Book of Numbers, an angel blocks or “satans” Balaam from cursing the Israelites. “In the original Hebrew, the verb is to ‘satan’ him,” says Stratton. “The angel himself was a normal angel of God.” In the Book of Job, “satan” is a job title, something like a Crown prosecutor who seeks sinners and brings them to justice.
“He is still an angel in God’s court. There is no indication that he is an opponent of God. He just seems to be an angel doing his job. If anything, he has a higher-ranking position in heaven.”
This is interesting:
In 586 BC, the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, the sole place of Jewish sacrifice, and dragged the nation into exile.
Once there, they tried to reconcile their misfortune with God’s justice. They also started to believe there was only one God — their own.
“If your god uses other nations to punish you, he must be in charge of those other nations and if he’s in charge of those other nations, he must be more powerful than those other gods,” says Stratton. “Eventually, you conclude there is just one god.” The other gods became characterized as demons, traced back to the race of giants mentioned in Genesis, the offspring of “fallen angels” who came down from heaven and mated with human women. Stratton stresses that this is the only mention in the Bible of fallen angels, later stories notwithstanding.
Isn’t that a great use of hokey logic? Our god wanted us to get our asses kicked, tortured, enslaved, killed, and booted out of our homeland. What a wonderful god we have. Surely he’s the best and only god in town…
It never occurred to any of them to think their god was some other god’s bitch and not deserving of any worship at all? Yeesh.
One scholar on Stratton’s recommended reading list argues that Satan is not really that important, not even in the Bible.
Nor is he all that evil, writes Henry Ansgar Kelly in Satan: A Biography.
Kelly, distinguished professor emeritus in UCLA’s English department, calls for a return to the original biblical view of Satan as a sort of prosecuting attorney rather than an embodiment of evil bent on destroying humankind.
Kelly’s argument is that God wouldn’t come across as such a tyrant if people went back to thinking of Satan in this manner.
Moving away from the “Prince of Evil” nomenclature brightens our view of God and human nature, allowing us to focus “on the real causes of the evil actions that people actually commit.” At the end of all this research, Stratton believes there is no devil out there. “But what we have is people who create devils by believing in devils.”
And if you can extrapolate that a little further, you get to what I figured out years ago – people created all the gods as well. That is the only sensible explanation and it mystifies me why so many people willingly continue to believe these mental inventions exist and have the power to influence day to day living.
On, but kind of off, topic – my university had been offering a Philosophy of Angels course when I was there. I actually took it. I still have the text books, one kept mostly because the art in it is quite beautiful and the write-ups about all the levels of angel and demon are pretty hilarious. They sure went through a shit load of pointless work back in the day to rank each type in order of goodness or severity. And they really did decide on just how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. I believe they came to the conclusion that sixteen could manage it. Actually, I’m just kidding about that last part, as was everyone in history who pretended it mattered.