Satan: The Early Christian Tradition Hardcover – 31 Oct 1981
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"Russell has complete mastery of his material, and the book's sweep is grand - a tour of the first five centuries of Christian intellectual history with the spotlight on the villain instead of the hero. . . . Satan is a vaulable introduction to the theological portion of the Western Devil tradition." Speculum"
"Drawing extensively on earlier scholarly literature, as well as his own original research in complex source materials, Russell has offered a coherent account of the development of a tradition in Christian thought that should be of great interest to specialists and nonspecialists alike. Although Russell would be the very last to claim that he can draw out leviathan with a hook, he has competently and diligently drawn out an image of leviathan that takes a respectable place in the literature of early church history." American Historical Review"
"Russell has complete mastery of his material, and the book's sweep is grand: a tour of the first five centuries of Christian intellectual history with the spotlight on the villain instead of the hero. . . . Satan is a valuable introduction to the theological portion of the Western Devil tradition." Speculum" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
Jeffrey Burton Russell (Ph.D., Emory University) was a histoJeffrey Burton Russell (Ph.D., Emory University) was a history professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara ry professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara from 1979-1998 where he is now a professor of history, emerifrom 1979-1998 where he is now a professor of history, emeritus. He also taught at the University of Mexico, Harvard, Untus. He also taught at the University of Mexico, Harvard, University of California in Riverside, Notre Dame, and Califoriversity of California in Riverside, Notre Dame, and CaliforC --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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?
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.
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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