Satan: a Biography

I was driving around earlier today, listening to a show on Los Angeles NPR affiliate station KPCC called "Air Talk," and caught guest host Jon Beaupre's interview with Henry Ansgar Kelly about his new book, "Satan: A Biography." I just ordered the book. The interview was terrific, and here's an online archive of the audio: Link.

Here's the publisher's blurb:

Christians traditionally think of Satan as Lucifer, God's enemy, who rebelled against Him out of pride and then caused Adam and Eve to sin. But, as Kelly shows, this portrayal is not biblical but a scenario invented by the early Fathers of the Church which became the 'New Biography of Satan'. The 'Original Biography' must be reconstructed from the New Testament where Satan is the same sort of celestial functionary we see in the Book of Job - appointed to govern the world, specifically to monitor and test human beings. But he is brutal and deceitful in his methods, and Jesus predicts that his rule will soon come to an end. Kelly traces the further developments of the 'New Biography': humankind's inherited guilt, captivity by Satan, and punishment in Hell at his hands. This profile of Satan remains dominant, but Kelly urges a return to the 'Original Biography of Satan'.
That's right! Bring back old-school Satan, woo-hoo! Here's an article about the book in The Australian: Satan a victim of bad PR, professor says.

Reader comment: Alexander Platt says,

The title reminds me rather strongly of the (not very good) book by Peter Stanford, "The Devil: A Biography" with much the same premise. And I've never read Kersey Graves' "Biography of Satan: Exposing the Origins of the Devil" but I understand it's the classic reference. For my money, though, it'd be really hard to do better than Elaine Pagels' "The Origins of Satan". As far as I'm concerned it's the definitive work.
William Vanti says,
There's also a great old book on this exact topic originally published in 1900 entitled "The History of the Devil and the Idea of Evil" by Dr. Paul Carus. It's still available in various reprints.
The Lizardman says
Here's another for the list of books on Satan: "The Origins of Satan" by Elaine Pagels does an excellent job of acquainting readers with the original conceptions and development of Satan in Christianity. Serpents (Snakes on a Plane) & Biographies of Satan, Boing Boing is on a wonderfully diabolic track...
Cathoderay says,
As long as bb is disseminating wonderful resources on the history of Satan, may I also suggest "A History of The Devil" by Gerald Messadie. This book traces the concept of "devil" chronologically across world civilizations. It is interesting to see how often the concept evolved in tandem with the political whims of warring opponents -- especially when so many wars (past and especially present) are being fought for these same antiquated notions of absolute holy and absolute evil.
T.O.M. says,
Here's another knuckle for your finger... "The Anthropology of Evil" by David Parkin
Omnivore says,
Uber-historian Jacques Le Goff's The Birth of Purgatory provides a highly developed view of the conscious reconstruction of the afterlife, including the creation of Purgatory. It's not a light read, but it is a very complete and thought provoking discussion of how the manipulation of hope (to motivate people to contribute to the church to save the newly categorized souls in purgation) and fear (the explicit construction of a devil, of hell, and of what you had to do to get there) was managed, out of pretty thin sources in the bible. There's a lesson to be learned about how any power structure with world-wide ambitions manipulates popular sentiment, and how unverifiable assertions made by those in power are constructed to do so. If they could repackage it to match My Pet Goat, it would be a hit with the current US administration...

A criticial component in this process was the creation of the Divine Comedy, by Dante, who was, after all, not a theologian, but a poet. Milton too (although not Le Goff's concern) is also responsible for a big chunk of what passes for theology regarding Satan.

ISBN: 0226470830


  1. I have read allot of books on this subject so I feel I can donate some information to this great boingboing post… (keep up the great work guys!). In many definitions in books that I have read, traditional Satanism, orthodox satanism, and Theistic Satanism are normally all considered one thing and that they are all just classifed simply as the worship of the Devil. These other forms of satanism, and christian devil worship are based on christian literary myths and legends like this book outlined.

    According to this book and many others this is a false history created by the religious for propoganda throughout the centuries.…I thought I would add something in addition to Xeni’s original post. The French occultists in the 1890s called Stanislas de Guata are today being employed by some of the head occults who are prominent in the occult revival and they believe that the devil is not bad had has had bad PR. If we look at some of the occultists such as J.F.C Fuller who wrote “A true vision is to awaken a dream to judge the visions” I personally think that there is evil out there but we cannot draw any conclusion.. I look forward to reading this book. Thanks for posting the book… I will order from Amazon and add this to my collection. Take Care, Kay x

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