Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Darren Oldridge - The Devil, A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2012) ***

There is no mythical figure more interesting in the history of mankind than the devil himself, the dark one, the evil one. Understanding the creation of the figure and his transformation over the ages is the subject of this little book, just over one hundred pages (without bibliography, notes and index).

The complexity and the ambiguity of the devil was already clear to me as an 8-year old, who was punished in my catholic school for claiming that the devil was actually God's servant instead of enemy, with the argument that if he was God's enemy, he would not punish the wicked ones in hell, but rather set them free again, just to counter God's plans. If what the religion teacher said was right, and the devil would help to keep sinners burn in hell for ever, he was nothing less than God's accomplice.

And that's partly how the figure evolved, as the fallen angels in the jewish texts of the 3rd and 2nd Century BC, and later introduced as God's opponent and evil enemy in the New Testament. Apart from some possible references in the books of the Old Testament, the devil hardly appears at all. He reached the status we currently attribute to him only with the Book of Revelation, written in the second century CE. Some early views even claim the concept of Jesus giving his life for our sins, is part of a deal with the devil. He offers himself to the devil, so as to liberate the rest of humanity.

The visual figure of the devil was further refined based on more eastern mythology of demons and other descriptions. But even then, deep into the middle ages, there was still a concensus among theologists that the devil needed a proxy body to interact with humans. There was less concensus about whether the devil could create offspring with humans. The concept of human evil was definitely placed outside of a person's will, and were, according to Saint Thomas Aquinas nothing less than the devil interfering with the body fluids of a person, in this way creating the wrong mental images and urges, "sometimes in those asleep, sometimes in those awake".

If nothing else, Oldridge's book is exactly what it says it is: a short introduction to the idea of the devil, and for a general and interested audience, it serves its purpose.

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