The Devil: A Biography

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Evil - disturbing, inexplicable, deeply rooted - persists. Inching toward the millennium, we speak of the Devil once again: in tabloid accounts of cults, in popular novels, and even in scholarly theological works. We are back where we began 2,000 years ago: going to the Devil. Now, in this informed, lucid, and very readable biography, Peter Stanford introduces us to this figure of fascination. Tracing the idea back to the pre-Christian era with its many devils, he pauses to explore Judaism's approach, then moves ...
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New York, NY 1996 Hard cover New in new dust jacket. Sewn binding. Paper over boards. Audience: General/trade. Clean, tight copy with no writing; the pages are starting to ... yellow. APPEARS NEVER TO HAVE BEEN READ! As new dust jacket with light shelf wear for its age. Read more Show Less

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Overview

Evil - disturbing, inexplicable, deeply rooted - persists. Inching toward the millennium, we speak of the Devil once again: in tabloid accounts of cults, in popular novels, and even in scholarly theological works. We are back where we began 2,000 years ago: going to the Devil. Now, in this informed, lucid, and very readable biography, Peter Stanford introduces us to this figure of fascination. Tracing the idea back to the pre-Christian era with its many devils, he pauses to explore Judaism's approach, then moves on to concentrate on Christianity's contribution: the creation of the monster we know today. Stanford casts his net widely to include literature and the arts, folklore and psychology, history and theology, and he distills a wealth of complex information - from early Church teachings to medieval iconography, from witchcraft and satanism to satanic cults and modern-day exorcisms. The result is a lively, engaging account of an age-old enemy.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Now that Jack Miles has written God's biography (God: A Biography, 1995), Peter Stanford must give the Devil his due and tell the life story of Old Scratch. The personification of evil in a figure who co-exists with the goodness of God entered Western religious thinking through the demonology of Zoroastrianism. Thus, late Judaism and early Christianity divided up the world into good powers and evil powers. As Stanford narrates the story, the living character of an Evil One persisted through Puritan America but began to lose its grip amid the cultural and scientific optimism of the 19th century. Yet, he argues, since evil has persisted in our century, as evidenced by the Holocaust and other horrors, perhaps we shouldn't do away with the idea of Satan just yet. In spite of the fact that contemporary culture seems to have the left behind a personified figure who wreaks havoc and evil in the world, Stanford points to a number of cultural currents like film and Satanic cults to show that Satan is alive and well in our society, even if the contours of his figure are visible only in the shadows, which, as Stanford argues, may be just the way Satan wants it. Stanford offers a workmanlike treatment of ideas and themes that have already been explored in fuller and more interesting ways by Gerald Messadie (The History of the Devil, 1996) and Andrew Delbanco (The Death of Satan, 1995). (Oct.)
Library Journal
British journalist Stanford provides a brief overview of the concept of the Devil in Western thought. In an effort to give readers a concise and colorful look at a fascinating subject, he traces the Devil from ancient sources, through the Middle Ages and the Reformation, down to the current newly awakened interest in exorcisms and Satanism. What makes this book stand out is the author's admitted ambivalence toward the subject. "For ninety-nine percent of the time, I am coldly rational about the whole subject...[but]...there is a single thread that remains caught on a nail on the other side." Like many educated believers, Stanford sees clearly the dangers in literal belief in the Devil, but he also realizes the need for some explanation of radical evil. He knows that mainline churches are reluctant to mention the Devil, but he sees him as crucial to the New Testament story of salvation. A readable and informative popular work; for public libraries.C. Robert Nixon, Lafayette, Ind.
Booknews
British Catholic journalist and author Stanford traces the origins of the Christian epitome of evil in Jewish, Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Greek, Celtic, and Norse traditions; recounts his career in the Old and New Testaments; describes how he has been depicted by artists and various Christian sects through the centuries; and modern manifestations in witchcraft, satanic cults, and exorcisms. Not illustrated. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Kirkus Reviews
The Devil doesn't really get his due in this rushed "If it's Tuesday, it must be Beelzebub" biography.

While most religions have devils, few have placed as much emphasis on this personification of evil as Christianity. His lineage is mixed, with distant relations as diverse as Egyptian gods, the Canaanite's divinity Baal, and the Greek god Pan (from whom he inherited his looks). Because the early Church focused almost exclusively on the supposedly imminent Second Coming, the Devil played only a secondary role. But with apocalypse a no-show, he was rushed onstage to shore up the faltering beliefs on the faithful. Evil is always a problem in a monotheistic system, and the Devil was a useful scapegoat. Those, like the Gnostics, the Cathars, and the Albigensians, who suggested that the world and everything in it (including, perhaps, the religious establishment) was the work of the Devil, were ruthlessly suppressed. In fact, the Devil has usually been more sinned against than sinning, offered up as the thin pretext for a truly horrific Church-sponsored catalogue of repressions, inquisitions, and other general nastiness, from the extirpation of heretics to religious wars to the witch-hunt mania. As medieval superstition gave way to the Enlightenment, the Devil began to fade as an active instrument of malice, but he acquired a compensating literary reputation as Goethe, Milton, Hugo, and Shaw all gave him star treatment, often casting him as a "romantic rebel." The 20th century has not been kind. Despite several recent comeback attempts, he is now largely washed up, with perhaps only Baudelaire's wisdom for comfort: "The Devil's deepest wile is to persuade us that he does not exist."

Stanford, former editor of the Catholic Herald of London, does a thoroughly adequate job of chronicling his subject's career, but there is just too much material for one slim volume to fully examine the significance of the Devil in all his guises.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805030822
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/1/1996
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.75 (w) x 8.54 (h) x 1.10 (d)

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