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on September 9, 2003
This book is a historical study of early Christians and their relations with opposing groups. Pagel starts with a detailed interpretation of the Gospel according to Mark as a historical document, juxtaposed with a description of the rebellion that was raging amongst the Jews in Palestine at the time the account was written. She then goes on to some Old Testament interpretations of the word and concept of Satan. Following this, she takes up the remaining gospels in turn, interpreting their historical content in the political context of the times when they were written. She also considers lesser known Christian religious writings, such as the Gnostic scriptures.
Reading this book made me a lot more familiar with some of the political issues that were of concern to early Christians, and how these issues may have been reflected in the writing of the Gospels. But I was a little disappointed in the book because I felt that most of the focus was on general Christian history and politics and not on the central questions posed on the back cover concerning the origin of Satan. It seemed that the idea of using the question of the invention of Satan as the central theme of the book was almost pasted onto individual articles as an afterthought. In reading each chapter, it often felt like the chapter was meant to be a self-standing entity, and details concerning the conception of Satan were added simply to glue the book together. Many times, Pagel's comments touched on how the early Christians related to opposition, and how they might even demonize opposing groups, but how this led to the invention of the concept of Satan is still unclear to me after reading this book.
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on May 5, 2000
I found this book via a search through Amazon. I was looking for a real in depth history of the legend and character of satan, his origins and developement through history. I feel the title of the book is misleading as for much of the text it concentrates on the developement of the gospels through history and how they interpret the Jesus story differently, and Satan seems to be a very background figure in the whole thing, barely earning a mention. It is much more a religious/ theological book than a study study of the character of satan, which the title seems to indicate. Having said that, it is an interesting book in it's own right, just not what I was looking for or, I feel, what the title indicates.
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on March 24, 2004
This book deals with early Jewish and Christian religious politics and how these formed the identity of satan. Anyone that is interested in early christianity will find much of interest in this book. With this book and others she has swritten, the author has shown how early christianity evolved into what it is today. Recommended!
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a "spirited" and authoritative look at the inner workings of the gospels and their attempt at giving meaning to the concepts of evil and Satan.
Reading just one of her books obviously doesn't provide all the answers to a subject both complex and controversial. However, to read several of Pagels' books is to give your mind a tapestry of penetrating, insightful dialogue on arguably the most influential book of all centuries.
Christianity and Judaism deserve a scholar who is willing to probe the depths and return with vivid, entertaining language that nullifies the typical babble occurring at any given moment in a Sunday sermon.
Pagels does just that in a style that is always fresh and fulfilling to the mind and heart.
Readers are able to develop appreciation of the gospels while gaining further understanding of what they were really about.
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on March 5, 2004
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 origins of Christianity told from the vantage point of how Satanic forces were described by different groups and succeeding generations of Christians.
In the beginning the enemies of the Christians are seen as other Jews such as the Pharisees. When the new movement fails to attract many Jewish converts, it instead starts to successfully recruit Gentiles. Now Satan is more likely to be seen at work orchestrating the Roman persecutions or instigating angry pagan mobs. Still later the enemy can be identified among groups of Christian heretics.
The author's strength and 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. Don't let the heavy-sounding title discourage you. Above all Elaine Pagels is an optimist and a message of hope can almost always be found in any of her books.
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on October 14, 2003
I could use many adjectives to describe Elaine Pagel's book The Origin of Satan, but, they can't really do it justice. All of Elaine Pagel's works have been extraordinary, this is no exception. A highly interesting look at the very roots of where Christians and Jews alike got their views of Satan and Evil, and how it contributed to the development of the church. Interesting too, is the look at the Gospels and the demonization of the Jews. Of course, as always the Gnostic interpretations are much appreciated and very insightful.
If you are looking to expand your religious horizons and open your mind, look no further. In fact, I'd suggest reading this before her book on the Gnostic Gospels.
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on January 10, 2003
Elaine Pagels is a wonderful historian and writer. In this book, which I personally regard as her best, she takes the reader on a journey to discover the character of "Satan." Did he start out as "the devil"? How did one of god's servants transform over the course of time into a rival for power? As always, Pagels is much like Marvin Harris or B.F. Skinner. You thought you understood an argument or issue, but she finds a way to explain it that makes it make perfect sense, but in a way you hadn't considered.
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on July 25, 2000
The author of this book has amazing credentials. The topics covered in this book are primarily oriented towards scriptural comparisons with the traditional four gospels and the Nag Hammadi findings. Further, too much attention is focused on Jesus, and not enough on Old Nick. Of course, had they called this book a textual and historical comparison of the gospels with the Nag Hammadi scriptures, three people would have purchased it. So...they figure to call it the Origin of Satan to bring in the masses. (No pun intended). Wanna read better stuff on the Prince of darkness? Try Jeffrey Burton Russell or Paul Carus. With them ya gets what ya pays for.
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on January 5, 2004
Whether or not you have read other works by Elaine Pagels, you will find the book "The Origin of Satan" as a fascinating view into the time of the writings of the gospels. This is not a deep theological treatise and those familiar with her earlier books ("The Gnostic Gospels" for one) will find this book easy to read. It does not have that large a scope. Exploring the usage of the word "Satan" in the writings of new testament times, this book is really more about the Christian gospels than it is about the adversarial angel. The title is a bit misleading: the work is really about the origin of the use of the word "satan". There is a considerable amount of treatment of how Mark and each of the gospel writers used invective to refer to the other Jewish sectarian movements. And whether any of us can really pin down when a word came into usage or why, there is a clever and well articulated theory in this work. You get the sense that there is a moral behind all this, that the challenge in the church is not to survive persecution (as it was in the early days), but to stand on God's side without demonizing perceived opponents. For those who want as complete an understanding of the new testament writings as possible, this book will be a helpful teacher of one aspect of that writing. Just do not expect too much from this little study.
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on January 5, 2004
This is a fascinating read. The author explores how the concept of Satin evolved from a loyal servant of God who carried out His instructions for creating "good obstacles on bad paths" to essentially the "Lord of everyone we dislike."
Those who actually believe that Satin exists will not be able to stomach this book or perhaps assume that Satin is behind it! This is a historian's look at the emergence of Satin as a concept, it's development and the historical context for these changes. The early Christians come off looking like a some what vicious bunch of name callers.
A large part of the book is devoted to trying to show how various authors (particularly of the gospels) stretched and bent the truth to achieve their desired effect. The account of the life of Jesus just prior to his crucifixion is a key story in this analysis. The "truth" is assumed based on various historical accounts and by exposing the inconsistencies in the main reference text, The Bible. This kind of analysis will obviously make the author unpopular with those who actually believe that the Bible is the word of God.
I found the book to be factual and objective however my Christian friends have advised me that it is terribly misguided and dangerous. A must have for anyone interested on the impact of Christianity on early history.
I will certainly read this author again.
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