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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loaded with Insights and Information
In THE ORIGIN OF SATAN Elaine Pagels traces some of the earliest known incidents of religious groups demonizing their enemies back to Jewish apocalyptic sources and then shows how this idea was further developed by the Essenes and soon thereafter employed by the first Christian writers. The book is much more than a history of Satan. It is actually a story of the...
Published on 5 Mar 2004 by Peter Kenney

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars mediocre at best
Most disappointing, although well written.

The book title is not entirely accurate; this is not a book about The Origin of Satan as a theological idea. This book is about the Christian church and its attitude towards `the other'. Jeffrey Burton Russell's four books on the same subject are far more articulate, lucid and erudite and do provide a fascinating...
Published 14 months ago by Mr. Tawfiq E. Kassir


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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loaded with Insights and Information, 5 Mar 2004
By 
Peter Kenney (Birmingham, Alabama, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics (Vintage) (Paperback)
In THE ORIGIN OF SATAN Elaine Pagels traces some of the earliest known incidents of religious groups demonizing their enemies back to Jewish apocalyptic sources and then shows how this idea was further developed by the Essenes and soon thereafter employed by the first Christian writers. The book is much more than a history of Satan. It is actually a story of the beginnings of Christianity told from the vantage point of how Satanic forces were described by different groups and succeeding generations of Christians.
The author's primary interest is the history of early Christianity. As usual her text is loaded with information on that subject. You may not agree with her conclusions but you will probably be impressed with the wealth of insights she gives to the reader on her favorite topic.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating exploration of the social history of Satan, 2 Jan 2004
By 
Daniel Jolley "darkgenius" (Shelby, North Carolina USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics (Vintage) (Paperback)
The Origin of Satan is a fascinating monograph that might best be considered a social history of the concept of Satan in the formative era of the early Christian Church. The actual origin of Satan in terms of Lucifer's fall from grace is mentioned but is not specifically explored. Instead, Pagels sets out to explore the evolution of early Christian conceptualizations of the ultimate adversary as an increasingly internal threat. Israel had always retained a strong moral and ethnic identity as God's chosen people ever since God's promise to Abraham, but Jesus' ministry and the nascent Christian Church tore asunder this viewpoint and offered salvation to Gentiles as well as Jews; in the process, Israel, already occupied by foreign powers, became a house divided internally. In this fractious atmosphere, "the enemy within" came to be seen as a more insidious threat than even the Roman occupiers by many early Christians.
The greatest strength of this book is Pagels' description of the historical and political atmosphere in which early Christianity developed and its influence on the writing of the Gospels and the movement's growing internalization of concepts of "the adversary." While my personal belief in the infallibility of the Gospels keeps me from reading as much into them as Pagels does and while I do not necessarily accept without question some of her "facts" in terms of the dates and authorship of the primary books in question, I am impressed by the logic and consistency of her presentation and principal arguments; what she says does indeed make sense. I found myself taking copious notes on her chapters dealing with the writing of the Four Gospels and came away with a much greater understanding of the formative first two centuries of the Christian church.
The Origin of Satan basically follows the progression of the internalization of "the enemy" among early Christians; the enemy without has become the enemy within by the time of John's gospel. The Essenes, seeing a cosmic war between the forces of God and those of Satan, were among the first group of Jews to withdraw from the larger Jewish community. Mark, the earliest of the Gospels, likewise envisions a cosmic war between God's people and Satan's. At the time Matthew was written, the Pharisees were seen as the chief rivals of the Christians and so the book of Matthew becomes to a degree a polemic between Jesus and the Pharisees. Matthew reverses traditional roles to turn the outside entities of Israel's antiquity (such as the pharaoh) into intimate enemies existing within the Jewish community itself. God's people have been split into opposing camps, those who accept Jesus and those who deny Him. The Gospels of Matthew and Mark implicitly link Jesus' Jewish enemies with Satan; the Gospels of Luke and John state these charges outright. Luke's Passion narrative casts all the blame for Jesus' arrest and execution on the Jewish community, deflecting guilt from the Romans. Those who oppose Jesus perform the work of Satan on Earth, Luke argues. John truly paints his portrait of Jesus and his execution in terms of a cosmic war between Good and Evil. Unlike the other Gospels, John portrays the Jewish people as performing Satan's work for him. Pagels concentrates on how John, much more aggressively than the other Gospels, associates the work of Satan with specific human opposition, implicating Judas Iscariot, then the Jewish authorities, and finally "the Jews" collectively.
By the time John's Gospel was written, Christianity had become largely a Gentile religious movement, and Pagels goes on to explore the spread of Christianity among Roman pagans in the following era. Pagels argues that it was Christians' strong belief in Satan that made them so dangerous in the eyes of the Roman leadership; their teachings of a rebellion in Heaven between forces of light and forces of darkness was seen by many pagan leaders as a means for justifying rebellion on earth against those they viewed as Jesus' enemies. Pagels goes on to include a chapter describing the church's condemnation and eradication of dissidents within the Church itself – church leaders viewed the Gnostics as the supreme heretics, for through them Satan was seen as infiltrating the very heart of the Christian movement itself.
All in all, The Origin of Satan is a fascinating look at the evolution of Satan from a murky concept to the sustaining force that served to define Christianity as a movement. Her look at the formative years of the Christian church demonstrates how "the enemy without" increasingly became "the enemy within." While some could argue that the early Christians shaped and evolved Satan to fit their own political and social purposes, Pagels never strays from the objective stance of the historian proper. The book's title is something of a misnomer, as the true origin of Satan is not really investigated; instead, what this book provides is a penetrating examination of the way in which early Christianity's viewpoint of the ultimate adversary in an increasingly cosmic war between forces and good and evil shaped the very foundation of the Christian church in the volatile decades following the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars mediocre at best, 8 May 2013
This review is from: The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics (Vintage) (Paperback)
Most disappointing, although well written.

The book title is not entirely accurate; this is not a book about The Origin of Satan as a theological idea. This book is about the Christian church and its attitude towards `the other'. Jeffrey Burton Russell's four books on the same subject are far more articulate, lucid and erudite and do provide a fascinating history of the conception of good and evil; god and the devil.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Balanced, Nuanced Picture of Christianity, 3 Aug 2007
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A. O. P. Akemu "Ona" (Rotterdam, The Netherlands) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics (Vintage) (Paperback)
If you thought that the depictions of Satan and God were all black and white, think again. Elaine Pagels paints a picture of the evolution of Satan in a balanced and very human way.

The gist of the book is that the character of Satan in Christian thought has undergone an evolution from being the God-sent adversary of the Jews, to the embodiment of hated Roman rule in the time of Christ to that of the heretic in Orthodox Christianity.

Like all matters religious Satan is not all evil and bad. He, like the Jesus of the New Testament, is the end result of different agendas and political intrigue in "high" places.

Read this book for a more worldly (and realisitic) view of the character of Satan in current Christian tradition.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth a read!!!, 17 Jan 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: The Origin of Satan (Paperback)
I enjoyed this book immensely! I wanted to learn how the idea of satan evolved in the Old and New Testaments, and got much more. This book has compelled me to research more into the beginnings of Christianity.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pagels at her boldest, more informative and most responsible, 15 Oct 2007
This review is from: The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics (Vintage) (Paperback)
Elaine Pagels is an orthodox Christian but one who has used her deep knowledge of early Christian history to challenge Christians. For those who only know of Pagels through her study of Gnostic Christianty, this book may come as a surprise. Only one chapter "The Enemy Within: Demonizing the Heretics" is concerned with Gnostic Christianity but in that chapter Pagels is focuses on the responses of the orthodox Church to the Gnostic Christians.

Grounded in her knowledge of history, Pagels speculates reasonably as to the intent of the gospel writers. In doing so, she provides an understanding of the development of the gospels and early Christianity that makes historical sense but is a far cry from the naive picture presented by some traditions that ignore the known history.

Although Pagels cannot know with certainty the intent of the writer of Mark's Gospel, she can suspect that his intent was to comfort Christians living at the time of the Jewish War and provide, in his depiction of Jesus, a model of one who would "endure to the end." If so, this gospel was not written to present primarily what happened to Jesus but rather with the needs of Christians during the Jewish War primarily in mind. Sayings of Jesus such as are claimed in "The Gospel of Thomas" intended for the solitary seeker of insight lost favor to the creation of a group identity:

"Mark and his successors combine many elements of earlier Jesus tradition ... to show Jesus and his disciples in a social context...In the process, Mark and his successors offer social models by which Jesus's followers identify themselves as a group..."

The four New Testament gospels were, according to Pagels, "chosen not necessarily because they were the earliest or most accurate accounts of Jesus' life and teaching but precisely because they could form the basis of church communities". Such a view is in sharp contrast to the hypotheses of apostolic succession presented by fundamentalist and evangelical theologians. Does Pagels historical evidence undermine such hypotheses? Perhaps human history and the people who make it are not so simple after all. Pagels offers a compelling alternative view.

The Gnostic Christian emphasis on knowledge and insight seemed less capable of securing a group identity. Pagels says Tertullian, a contemporary of Irenaeus, insisted "that making choices is evil, since choice destroys group unity". In this way belief, e.g. in creeds formed by church leaders, became expected of church members.

Adding to the manipulations of the image of Jesus and the discouragement of individual questioning were the teachings of the demonic. Pagels writes "Within the ancient world, so far as I know, it is only the Essenes and the Christians who actually escalate conflict with their opponent to the level of cosmic war". But it is not only the outer demon early Christians feared. Pagels tells Justin's story of how he learned that his Platonism was insufficient because "the mind itself is infested with demonic powers that distort and confuse our thinking". But a Christian can feel strength because "the faith the Jesus had conquered Satan assures Christians that in their own struggles the stakes are eternal, and victory is certain". Baptism was viewed as exorcism, as a way of freeing oneself from the hold of inner demons.

Pagels has presented the early development of a religion that responded to fears, encouraged belief and promised salvation, in no small part through teaching that "enemies are evil and beyond redemption". Unfortunately, as Pagels concludes with, such a teaching is in conflict with "the words of Jesus that reconciliation is divine."

By introducing what is known historically of those early times without undue speculation, Elaine Pagels makes sense of the Gospels and early Christianity's development and a major problem to be found even in Christianity today: that which made it successful, the skillful use of enemies, is that which makes it dangerous, as a recent "crusade" is demonstrating. Whether, as Pagels reminds us, that "the words of Jesus that reconciliation is divine" can matter to Christians given that even from the times of earliest Christianity a spirit of viewing enemies as "evil" and "beyond redemption" shaped the religion remains to be seen, but it will be of great consequence to whether there can indeed be peace on earth.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I wanted more, 25 Feb 2013
By 
DB "davidbirkett" (Co. Kildare, Ireland (but born & raised Liverpool, UK)) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Origins of Satan (Hardcover)
Which is a good thing. I found Pagel's thesis (that Satan rarely appears in the Old Testament, that when he does is it is as something sent by God to test his people, but that the Essenes and early Christians saw him as more of an adversary and demonised their enemies as "servants of Satan") fascinating. However, I doubt that the Essenes and early Christians came up with this concept themselves. There are definite echoes of Ahriman in the Zoroastrian mythology, and Sutek in the Egyptian and I have to wonder how much these influenced Jewish thought in the Persian, Hellenistic and Maccabee periods. It would have been good to have had some investigation of non-scriptural Jewish writing from those few centuries in that light. Certainly the concept of the evil god killing the good god, but being avenged by the good god's son seems to have been in the back of the minds of early Christians.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good read, 24 Mar 2014
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This review is from: Origins of Satan (Hardcover)
Interesting subject , have read another by her about Gnostic Gospels and of the two I felt this was stronger . 'Everything's fine until people get involved ' springs to mind . I have always felt the medieval construct of the red horned devil was somewhat absurd and this book explains the history of this idea very well in my opinion .Recommended
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