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The Old Enemy: Satan and the Combat Myth [Paperback]

Neil Forsyth
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Dec 21 1989
". . . [a] learned . . . but also robust book. . . . Forsyth is much at home amid the heroics, graphic laments and winged enormities and leviathans of the Sumerian, Hittite and Canaanite epic fables. . . . He sees the narrative links between Marduk and Zeus, between the death-king Mor and the classical underworld. At the close of the study, the chapters on Augustine glow with intelligence and sympathy."--George Steiner, The Times Literary Supplement "[The Old Enemy] really is one of the dozen most genuinely brilliant and original works I've encountered in the past few years."--Jeffrey Burton Russell, Commonweal

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". . . [a] learned . . . but also robust book. . . . Forsyth is much at home amid the heroics, graphic laments and winged enormities and leviathans of the Sumerian, Hittite and Canaanite epic fables. . . . He sees the narrative links between Marduk and Zeus, between the death-king Mor and the classical underworld. At the close of the study, the chapters on Augustine glow with intelligence and sympathy."--George Steiner, The Times Literary Supplement

"[The Old Enemy] really is one of the dozen most genuinely brilliant and original works I've encountered in the past few years."--Jeffrey Burton Russell, Commonweal

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5.0 out of 5 stars The Old Stumbling Block May 3 2003
Format:Paperback
Forsyth produced a wonderful survey of the development of "Satan" from his "humble" origins as a "thing"--a "stumbling block" or "stn." Along the way, Forsyth discusses the early combat myths, biblical and extra-biblical sources. Reasoned treatments of these sources usually drown the reader unless one has a Ph.D. in various ancient languages. Forsyth succeeds in discussing these sources without wandering into linguistic minutia. When he does discuss the linguistics behind names, he does so clearly and succinctly.
To give an example, he provides a measured explanation of how the concept of "fallen angels" developed from the Genesis passages refering to the "sons of the gods" who come to Earth and mate with human women.
I cannot recommend this book too highly.
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Old Stumbling Block May 3 2003
By "doctorx9" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Forsyth produced a wonderful survey of the development of "Satan" from his "humble" origins as a "thing"--a "stumbling block" or "stn." Along the way, Forsyth discusses the early combat myths, biblical and extra-biblical sources. Reasoned treatments of these sources usually drown the reader unless one has a Ph.D. in various ancient languages. Forsyth succeeds in discussing these sources without wandering into linguistic minutia. When he does discuss the linguistics behind names, he does so clearly and succinctly.
To give an example, he provides a measured explanation of how the concept of "fallen angels" developed from the Genesis passages refering to the "sons of the gods" who come to Earth and mate with human women.
I cannot recommend this book too highly.
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly take on the rise of Satan April 6 2007
By Paul Vitols - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This weighty, thorough, wide-ranging, and authoritative book examines ancient texts and uses recent theories about folktales to examine the rise of the character we call Satan.

I was torn between assigning this book 4 stars or 5. It deserves 5 stars by reason of the importance of its subject-matter, the thoroughness of its treatment, and the reasoning power of the author. I feel a slight hesitation only because I feel that the book, which is aimed at academics, could and should be a more popular work aimed at a wider audience, and should help the reader to understand more about the implications for our current world of the development of Satan as, essentially, a literary character. But this may simply be my bringing slightly wrong expectations to a book that is clearly a deeply researched and carefully thought-out piece of work.

Making use of the functional analysis of folktales developed by Vladimir Propp, Forsyth, an expert on Milton's "Paradise Lost", shows us how the modern and theologically vital character of Satan evolved from the ancient "combat myth" in which a hero, seeking glory or justice, sets out to defeat a menacing foe. Examining variants of this tradition from ancient Babylon, Canaan, Greece, and other places, Forsyth shows how the biblical character of Satan (still "the" Satan in the Old Testament--the accuser who had a respectable job on the divine council of Yahweh) gradually came, for theological reasons, to conform to the combat myth as a way of accounting for evil and sin in the world.

In a closely reasoned, step-by-step argument, Forsyth shows how Satan evolved from employee of Yahweh to leader of the angels lustfully tempted by women to resentful rebel against God to cosmic antagonist seemingly rivaling God in power. He concludes with a discussion of the theology of Augustine, who managed to knit the disparate and often incompatible aspects of Christian teaching on cosmology, sin, and evil into a more or less consistent whole that could meet the challenges of sophisticated heretics and pagans.

Forsyth's writing style is scholarly but readable. He has definite opinions about the issues, but comes across as fair and reasonable. His knowledge of the ancient texts and scholarly literature is impressive, and he does many of his own translations. The guy is a brain, and you'll need your thinking-cap on to read this book.

This is an important work in the history of Western religion, philosophy, literature, and ideas. I suppose I feel it's a bit too scholarly and deep to make the wide impact that it deserves. But if you're interested in Satan, Christian theology, the structure of combat myths, or even the underpinning of "Paradise Lost" (which Forsyth does not really discuss in this book, however), this book is for you.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Neil Forsyth, July 19 2012
By David F. Krause - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Forsyth's survey analysis of the evolution of the concept of Satan, recomended by Prof, Elaine Pagels in her New Testament study, is a thorough survey of the Biblical notion of the Devil from it's earliest inception through the Old and New Testaments, and into early Christianity.
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