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Satan a victim of bad PR, professor saysBy Ruth Gledhill
August 07, 2006 12:00am
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THE Devil has been unfairly and wilfully maligned and deserves a reassessment, according to a new study.
Professor Henry Ansgar Kelly, a medievalist, says the Devil has had unfair press and has been the victim of groundless aspersions. Satan is no more evil than the head of MI5 or the prime minister, he says.
In his book Satan: A Biography, to be published by Cambridge University Press this month, the California university academic argues that interpretation of the Bible shows that the Devil suffered a "severe blackening of character" by the clergy, early church fathers, artists, philosophers and religious scholars. The "Devil is in the detail" - literally, he says.
The reassessment of Satan comes hot on the heels of attempts to recast Judas in saintly form. Professor Kelly does not go as far as that, but he does call on theologians to consider whether the Devil is as bad as traditionally depicted.
Instead of being the personification of evil, Satan is a "divine functionary" whose kingdom is the earth, he says.
"My advice is, forget about evil and worry about evil deeds and the people who commit them," he said.
His interpretation is accepted by many biblical scholars. The theory provides an explanation for the presence of evil and suffering, without denying the existence or omniscience of God.
Professor Kelly refers to traditional texts, such as the Lord's Prayer, where the line "Deliver us from evil" is written in some prayer books as "Deliver us from the Evil One".
Most Christians believe that Satan was an angel named Lucifer who rebelled against God at the beginning of Creation. After being thrown out of Heaven, he tempted Adam and Eve into sin, and since then has strived to win souls for his kingdom of Hell.
But Professor Kelly argues that none of this is in the Bible, and that it represents conclusions drawn by the early church fathers and read back into the Bible.
He argues from Revelation, at the end of the Christian Scriptures, that Satan remains in Heaven, as the "accuser of humankind", and will stay there until the Battle of Armageddon, when he will be imprisoned in the abyss. After a brief release, he will be imprisoned in the lake of fire for eternity.
He says Lucifer is not synonymous with Satan, arguing that in the Hebrew Bible, only the King of Babylon is called Lucifer, or the morning star, cast down to earth (Isaiah xiv, 12). In the New Testament, Jesus is referred to as the star of the morning (II Peter i, 19). Nor is Satan the serpent who tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, he says.
Professor Kelly argues from Luke iv that Satan is a minister of God in charge of the world.
"He's a government heavy, whose main job is to test human beings and to accuse them of their misdeeds, but he is cynical and overzealous in performing his duties," the professor says. "We can think of an unscrupulous and feared official investigator or prosecutor, like J.Edgar Hoover or senator Joseph McCarthy."