אם תהיה רעה בעיר ויהוה לא עשה
“If there is evil in a city, has Yahweh not done it?” Amos 3:6
A new book entitled “Quest for the Historical Satan” is scheduled to be released this August 2011 (Amazon). The authors, Iliff School of Theology (Denver, CO) Professors Miguel De La Torre and Albert Hernandez, argue the following:
The figure of Satan has for centuries embodied or incarnated absolute evil. Existing alongside more intellectualist interpretations of evil, Satan has figured largely in Christian practices, devotions, popular notions of the afterlife, and fears of retribution in the beyond. Satan remains an influential reality today in many Christian traditions and in popular culture. But how should Satan be understood today?
De La Torre and Hernandez’s volume probes the murky origins of the satanic legends and beliefs back to their pre-Christian roots in the Middle East. They unearth the Satan’s roots in Egyptian and Babylonian understandings of evil. They also show, however, that the ancient Satan has some characteristics we would hardly recognize, especially his appearance in most ancient cultures and survival in many traditional religions as the “trickster” figure. While a minor tradition in historic Christianity, the authors argue, seeing Satan as trickster is historically accurate and holds real promise for Christian rethinking in “theology, philosophy, and practice of evil” and how it can be dealt with. This is a fascinating story that helps the reader reframe basic elements of our worldview of good and evil.
Bible and Interpretation has an essay from the book’s authors here, which concludes:
Viewing Satan as trickster is not without problems, specifically the ambiguity that exists between Satan and God—an ambiguity that can find its full expression in the trickster figure. Rather than being God’s antithesis, God’s opposite, a certain ambiguity, if not complimentary position is held by Satan. If Satan has no power except that given by God, we are left wondering whether evil can come from God, a proposition which the early biblical writers and ancient Church Fathers like Augustine raised. We heard the prophet Amos asking “If there is evil in a city, has Yahweh not done it?” (Amos 3:6). More disturbing is the passage where God sends evil spirits to torment King Saul (1 Sam 18:10). Such a proposition has the potential of dismissing any notion regarding God’s ultimate goodness. Once we eliminate Satan as some type of quasi-deity who can be blamed for all of the evils which befall humanity, we are left asking if God has a dark side. What is more, if Satan is only carrying out God’s divine will; then does this mean that God is the ultimate trickster?
(The entire essay is worth a read.)
Setting aside the obvious question about the “historical questing” for anything theological or superhuman, the book should offer an interesting critique of what has become the standard view of Satan as absolute evil (and conversely of God as purely good). How did ancient Israel go from a singular monotheist faith (at least in a prescribed, orthodox sense) to a Christian pantheon of good and evil divine beings complete with names and characteristics?
I’ll read the book when it arrives. It should give rise to some discussion.