Friday, January 1, 2010

Who or What is a Satan?

"The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist."   --Verbal from "The Usual Suspects"

"We may not pay Satan reverence, for that would be indiscreet, but we can at least respect his talent..."  --Mark Twain 

According to the Oxford Dictionary of World Mythology, expounds on Satan, explaining:

"Belief in malevolent beings which haunt the air and the secret places of the earth stemmed from early man's instinctive fear of the unknown, the strange and frightening.

In West Asia this common superstition expressed itself potently in a variety of ways: the Egyptians struggled against Ammut, the 'eater of the dead', and the serpent Apophis daily threatened the sun god Re; the Babylonians attributed sickness and misfortune to demonic attack, while at night men were endangered by Lilitu, a beautiful winged succubus; the Hebrews had to cope with a host of fallen angels under the crafty leadership of Satan and Beelzebub; the Arabs fought of the assaults of countless dijnn, 'hidden ones', inhabitants of the world before man; the Persians, the hardest pressed of all peoples, faced in the dreadful creations of Ahriman nothing less than absolute evil.

It was the impact of Persian dualism on the Hebrews, after the Babylonian Exile, that led to the crystallization of the Devil in the form we recognize today."

 Because it's relevant to defining Satan, I'll quote from part two of the Oxford Dictionary of World Mythology also:

"In the Old Testament the word Satan originally meant 'adversary', the supernatural being that Yahweh allowed to test Job, 'a perfect and an upright man'. But the idea of a spirit of evil was developed in apocryphal literature, especially the 'Book of Enoch', written down after 200 BC.

The fall of Satan was explained in terms of envy; he was jealous of Adam and refused as 'a son of god' to pay him reverence and homage. Michael said he should worship 'the image of God' or face the wrath of Yahweh, but Satan and his followers refused. They were flung out of heaven, down to earth, and from that moment started the enmity between Satan and mankind.

Other angels, however, fell earthward because of the sensual charms of the daughters of men. Thus did Shemhazai and Azazel, who fathered 'the wicked demon Asmodaeus', the Zoroastrian Aeshma. On the Day of Atonement the priests had to sacrifice a second ram. One scapegoat was for the sins of Israel, the other for Azazel. From the union of angels and women sprang the titans mentioned in Genesis, the giants who were drowned along with the 'corrupt' descendants of Adam in the flood."

I must ask, how is this all not myth? How anyone can think that Satan is real is beyond me. Evil is real enough; Satan, on the other hand, is entirely fictitious. But I guess the devil is in the details.

For further reading:

The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics by Elaine Pagels  

The History of the Devil: With 350 Illustrations by Paul Carus

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist