Lynn R. Huber

in Biblical Studies

ISBN: 9780195393361
Published online December 2011 | | DOI:

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The Satan of popular imagination, God’s cosmic archenemy and the source of evil, has a long and complex history. Although scholars typically locate this history within the context of ancient Jewish and Christian imaginations, these origins are complicated by a number of factors. Among these are the various uses of the Hebrew noun satan to describe both earthly and cosmic figures and the multiple aliases referring to God’s cosmic opponent in Jewish and Christian literature, including Belial or Beliar, Mastema, Beelzebul, Lucifer, and the Devil, and others. The roots of the character Satan are typically discussed in relation to the Hebrew Bible, although the image of the cosmic opponent emerges most clearly within the writings of early Judaism, in the literature of the Second Temple period (c. 515 bce–70 ce). Many scholars associate the emergence of this figure with ancient Near Eastern influence on early Judaism. Others highlight it as a response to the problem of evil; Satan and his retinue effectively distance God from acts difficult to reconcile with beliefs about God’s nature. Still others locate the emergence of Satan and satan figures within the context of social movements, arguing that the character of Satan serves as a tool for constructing communal identity and defining opposition. Satan, or the Devil or Beelzebul, as a cosmic opponent also plays an important role within the literature of the emerging Christian movement, especially the New Testament texts. In the Gospels the cosmic battle between God and Satan imagined in early Judaism is interpreted in relation to Jesus, whose defeat of Satan is evidenced through exorcism, healing, and resurrection. Although some interpreters contend that the depiction of Jesus as exorcist reflects the historical Jesus’ understanding of his ministry as the eschatological defeat of Satan, others maintain that Jesus’ conflict with Satan should be viewed in terms of his opposition to the Roman Empire. The question of whether or to what extent references to Satan and evil powers should be read as describing political, social, and other human forces permeates scholarship on Paul and Revelation as well. Scholarship on Satan appears in a variety of forms, including wide-ranging treatments of the character of Satan across literary and historical contexts; exegetical examinations of specific texts using the terms satan, Belial, and so on; and discussions of Satan in relation to demons, the problem of evil, serpent imagery, and other elements. Many of the latter are intertwined explicitly with theological concerns and questions.

Article.  17877 words. 

Subjects: Biblical Studies

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