Friday 12 January 2007
A Snake in the Grass
Every so often a troublesome fellow comes along who turns the barrel of certitudes upside down, dumps them all over the carpet and then stands there smirking while everyone else is rendered speechless.
Such a troublesome spirit is Henry Ansgar Kelly, author of Satan: A Biography.
Kelly enters the fray from UCLA. Not a theologian, but a professor of English with a passion for Medieval history. As we all know, non-theologians are dangerous creatures with a nasty habit of thinking outside of the square.
Now let's pause for a quick true or false quiz:
1. Satan is also known as Lucifer (T / F)
2. Satan first appears in Genesis as the serpent who tricks Eve (T / F)
3. Satan fell – he was cast out of heaven for leading a rebellion against God long ago (T / F)
4. Revelation speaks of a coming Anti-Christ (T / F)
If you said true to any of the above, Kelly has news for you. In a closely argued book which isn't without a sense of humor, the author sets out to put the record straight, and the gasps from the cheap seats are quite audible.
Now, just to be clear, we're not talking about some Biblicist text-banger who has discovered a “new truth.” This is a serious historical account of how we came to believe what we do about Satan. And according to Kelly, most of the things we think we know about the devil are creations of the Church Fathers, especially Justin Martyr, Origen and Tertullian. And that includes a lot of detail that Herbert Armstrong taught. Kelly doesn't mention Armstrong, but anyone who has read the literature will see that, for example, much of that “new truth” in his booklet “Did God Create a Devil?” was lifted directly from impeccably Catholic sources. Kelly argues that these views were then read back into the Bible, or “retro-fitted.” Put another way, it doesn't really say what most of us assume it does... and he proceeds to make a strong case.
Kelly goes through every occasion where Satan or the devil (which he translates as a proper noun, Devil) appears in the Bible, and even takes the reader through a crash course on the influential books of Enoch, Jubilees and the Wisdom of Solomon. The Prince of Darkness emerges as an authorized agent of God, a kind of divine Tester, not a particularly nice one, but “just doing his job” as they say.
And who really is Lucifer if he isn't Satan? Well, maybe not who we think he is, and Kelly indulges in a fascinating bit of exegesis to demonstrate another possibility entirely.
This wide ranging book is a major broadside at traditional beliefs, and the surprise is just how traditional COG beliefs on this subject really are. It's sure to stir up a hornet's nest, or perhaps it would be more apt to say a devil of a fuss.