Sunday, September 26, 2010

Satan:a course on the historical development of an idea

The presence and the problem of evil in the world has long been discussed. Some religions like Christianity and Islam attribute some responsibility for evil to a a being known by many names, but most popularly as Satan. Modern Judaism rejected the idea of a personal evil centuries ago.

One element that often influences the way we think about evil and the figure of Satan is popular media. Whether it is medieval paintings, modern films or Halloween costumes, the father of evil has evolved over the years.

Jim Davila points out that a new class is being offered on the history of Satan at Carleton University in Ottawa. Here is an excerpt of an Ottawa Citizen interview with Kimberly Stratton who is teaching the course.

The devil is not who we think he is. In fact, for much of ancient history, he wasn’t even a “he,” says Kimberly Stratton, who is teaching a new Carleton University course on the history of Satan.

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.”

Even in the New Testament’s Gospel of Matthew, the Devil tests Jesus in the desert, but then he disappears, and ministering angels come in. “So it’s not clear there that he isn’t still part of God’s entourage. … acting somehow as the Crown attorney.”

Stratton outlines in her course how man’s ideas of God and goodness, evil and misfortune, are shaped by history.

This looks like an interesting course. Perhaps it will have some influence on popular notions of Satan and evil.

1 comment:

  1. Very intriguing course it should be. Just this tidbit brings to mind Rev 12:10 and reminds me of the question I have always had about Satan being in Heaven before the throne accusing the Brethren. Or for that matter why he was before God in Job.