The Devil, they say, is in the details. T. J. Wray and Gregory Mobley look into those details in The Birth of Satan: Tracing the Devil’s Biblical Roots. It’s often a surprise to Christian readers that the Devil clearly evolves in the Bible. From being virtually absent in the Hebrew section, he appears, almost full blown, in the New Testament. This, of course, flies in the face of the idea that the truth was pretty much revealed from the beginning and that it’s consistent throughout. The Devil in the details proves that it’s not. The Bible has multiple suggestions of whence evil arises, God among them. The Devil came to be one explanation of the origin of evil, but he’s not the only biblical one.
One of the things I found fascinating here, however, was that the authors often refer to popular culture to illustrate their point. They particularly favor movies. The authors are biblical scholars and it’s not at all unusual to find movie fans among them. I suspect that since biblical scholars (apart from the linguists) specialize in stories it’s only natural that movies appeal. They aren’t given extended discussion here, and indeed, a book about the Devil in the movies would be very thick if it attempted to be comprehensive. Satan is a movie star. Since he evolves into the embodiment of evil this is probably not surprising. A good plot needs some evil in it, and one character in the western canon is the granddaddy of all evil.
Those looking for a fuller biography of the Prince of Evil may be disappointed that this book keeps to its remit—the biblical Satan. There are, however, many more books about the Devil. Maybe even more than movies in which he appears. Scholars and laity both seem interested in this character. He appears late on the scene, only within the last century or so of the biblical writing period. His fullest portrait there is the highly symbolic book of Revelation. And no matter what else you say about it, we can all admit Revelation is tricky to understand. Since we take the Bible so seriously, one aspect of Satan that isn’t addressed here is his role as trickster. Folkloric characters who cause chaos (which the Devil does) are often tricksters doing it for no particular reason. We don’t know why the Devil is bad. The Bible has no clear origin story for him, since he’s built up from several other cultures’ ideas of bad deities. To sort it all out requires, well, the details.
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