Saturday, August 19, 2006

What the Devil? Prince of Darkness Is Misunderstood, Says UCLA Professor

He's not the enemy of God, his name really isn't Lucifer and he isn't even evil. And as far as leading Adam and Eve astray, that was a bad rap stemming from a case of mistaken identity.

"There's little or no evidence in the Bible for most of the characteristics and deeds commonly attributed to Satan," insists a UCLA professor with four decades in what he describes as "the devil business."

In "Satan: A Biography" (Cambridge Press), Henry Ansgar Kelly puts forth the most comprehensive case ever made for sympathy for the devil, arguing that the Bible actually provides a kinder, gentler version of the infamous antagonist than typically thought.

"A strict reading of the Bible shows Satan to be less like Darth Vader and more and more like an overzealous prosecutor," said Kelly, a UCLA professor emeritus of English and the former director of the university's Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. "He's not so much the proud and angry figure who turns away from God as [he is] a Joseph McCarthy or J. Edgar Hoover. Satan's basic intention is to uncover wrongdoing and treachery, however overzealous and unscrupulous the means. But he's still part of God's administration."

The article summarizes Kelly's exegesis of biblical passages in detail. One can debate some of it, but he's basically correct and what he says won't be new or controversial to biblical scholars. But I don't see that it follows that "If Satan isn't really in opposition to God and he isn't really evil, then that means the fight between good and evil isn't an authentic part of Christianity." One certainly doesn't get that impression from, say, the book of Revelation. Or Paul, for that matter. It would be more fair to say that the traditional picture of Satan is the product of postbiblical eisegesis of biblical texts. Of course, that's true of a great many traditional ideas in both Christianity and Judaism.

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