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Satan: The Early Christian Tradition (Cornell Paperbacks) Paperback – 25 Aug 1987

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Product details

  • Paperback: 258 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press; 1st New edition edition (25 Aug 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801494133
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801494130
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 15.4 x 1.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 927,150 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Neutral VINE VOICE on 20 Nov 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Russell's book - one of a series written about the concept of the Devil - is concerned with the nature of evil in the world. However, while the book addresses the problem of evil it does not pretend to be able to solve it. Indeed, it recognises the fundamental disagreements over the nature of evil and its existence in theological interpretations of the cosmos.

Unlike critics of religion, who attribute evil to religious practice and opinion, Russell points out that the problem of evil transcends religion. Evil, rather like the concept of the Devil, has been used by human beings to attribute evil to anything and anybody who is opposed to particular individuals or groups in the human world. Irrespective of what John Lennon suggested in his song "Imagine" if the world was full of atheists with "no religion too" evil would still exist.

Which raises the question of what evil is and how it can exist in a world created by an all knowing, all loving God? In fact any convincing idea of God must carry with it an ability to account for good and evil in the world. The Devil, whether portrayed as a fallen angel or a spirit who chose through free will to ignore God's commands, is a concept for dealing with metaphysical ideas of objective reality which cannot, by their very nature, be established other than by conviction and belief. As Russell points out, "in human affairs the truth is often inversely proportional to the certitude with which it is stated." Hence the need to evaluate by reference to history.

Concepts which have developed historically should be read in their historical context and identified by that context and development.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 8 reviews
65 of 77 people found the following review helpful
Avoiding the issue 14 Jun 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This I think is without question the weakest of all four volumes of this series, in that it doesn't address the real question surrounding the devil in early Christianity which is "where did the Christian devil come from?". It will be obvious to most readers familiar with Jewish background to the New Testament that the NT devil comes virtually out of the blue. One can point to only two significant Satans in the whole OT (Job's and Zechariah's - one poetic, one prophetic) and then suddenly in the NT there is an explosion in diabolic activity from page 1 (35 mentions of "devil", 35 of "Satan", plus various synonyms such as "prince of this world"). Yet one searches in vain for anything in the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha and Dead Sea Scrolls that prefigures the NT devil.
Why? This is the $64,000 question. But Russell doesn't address it - he allows his own personal faith in an everpresent fallen angel (from Eden?) to buck the issue that puzzles everyone confronted with the sudden upgrade of the devil in early Christianity, and what we get is a pedestrian walk through of early Christian devil belief without even attempting to explain this radical departure both from the Old Testament and also contemporary Judaism. Nor does Russell explore Paul's equally radical concept of the Old Man versus the New Man as a spiritual battle. If this isn't relevant to the NT devil, what is?
26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Satan: The Early Christian Tradition. 31 Aug 2000
By Thordur Gudmundsson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is written by Jeffrey Burton Russell professor of History at the University of California. It is his second volume about the history of concept of the Devil, first published 1981. Satan: The early christian tradition tracks the first five centuries of the christian church. There are lot of questions in these book concerning the origin of evil in this world and the existence of the Devil. What was the nature of his fall? Where is he now? Can he be saved? Going through history with the guidance of J.F.Russell we see in what way the early church fathers tried to answer questions like these. It is also interesting to see why some early christians preferred martyrdom while others become monks. And here you find the basis for persecutions of heretics and witches for centuries! To my mind this is a good literature about the first five centuries of Christian history.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
More than a book about the devil and his friends 15 May 2011
By Dave - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a fantastic book. So much history regarding the development and wanderings of the church with regards to evil, satan, demons, angels and God's purpose in it all. I really liked the chapter on asceticism. Great old stories of monks confronting demons in the wilderness. One story recounts a demon presenting himself as an enticing woman, for example. Even more interesting are the notions of people like Origin, Clement and other Fathers regarding the heirarchy of the spiritual realm.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The Problem of Evil 10 Aug 2011
By J. Mccormack - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In Russell's first volume, [book:The Devil: Personifications of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity|11152379], he dealt with an era of time that was much more diverse, covering ancient history of all kinds of religious views. This time around, he sticks with Christian history, and focuses on only the first few hundred years of church history. A much easier read than the first volume, and covering an era already somewhat familiar to me, this volume was easier to digest overall.

I found it very interesting to read some of the understandings held by the early monks, and the ways they believed and dealt with evil, demons and possession. It revealed a glimpse into where some of the traditions of the Roman Catholic church started from (i.e. sign of the cross, views on baptism).

This volumes ultimately comes out to be a large discussion on the problem of evil, and how they sought to explain it. It seems the most common explanation they have used to explain the existence of it was that it was tied to man's free will. It was not until Augustine comes on the scene that this view changes to more of a mix between free will and predestination. but the struggle in understanding has never really been exhausted or satisfactorily answered for some. Good stuff.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Authoritative and Impartial 13 Dec 2008
By The Old Wise Man - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This volume more resembles a volume on the theology of evil of this time period, rather than upon the entity of Satan himself. Much of this volume discusses the theology of evil that was proposed by the early church fathers. Though this is largely acceptable under Russell's stated purview, Russell does spend much less time discussing Satan, and the perception of Satan, then in the first volume of the series.

The main problem that I found with Russell's first volume "The Devil: perceptions of evil from antiquity to early Christianity" was the amount of theology that he imposed apon history. Russell seemed to take advantage of the fact that early history was largely obscure and unknowable by plugging the inherent historical holes with what he thought the ancients believed.
This has definitely changed in this next volume. Due to the fact that we know more about this time in history than previously, there is thus less theology that Russel has to assume the subjects believed. Russell delves deeply into the current thought of that time, and where space restricts him he supply plenty of references for further study.

I was a little disappointed with Russell's lack of study into the beliefs of the Christian society. Russell only discussed a couple of the early church fathers and really failed to go much further than that. Sure this may have been the general position of the Christian thinkers of that time, but I was also interested in knowing what the common Christian's perception of satan was. Russel just seemed to focus on the thoughts of the Christian `elite'.

This volume is much more a study of the facts, as apposed to the fist volume where Russell seemed to just fabricate what was missing.
Russell also spends a couple of pages at the end of this volume discussing his thoughts of evil, something I wished he had done in his first volume. And in this I found one of the most outstanding efforts at theodicy in regards to the existence of evil that I have seen, I found it quite profound and inspiring. And it is also clear from knowing his own beliefs that he does not let them cloud his research.

Russell's research is quite superb, and conveys his thesis eloquently and precisely. I really have no serious quibbles with this book. Though I found myself disappointed a few times, this was more due to my false expectations then any fault in the book.

Thus I have no troubles giving it five stars.
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