The Devil
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The Devil : Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity

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"Evil the infliction of pain upon sentient beings is one of the most long-standing and serious problems of human existence. Frequently and in many cultures evil has been personified. This book is a history of the personification of evil, which for the sake of clarity I have called 'the Devil.' I am a medievalist, but when I began some years ago to work with the concept of the Devil in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, I came to see that I could not understand the medieval Devil except in terms of its historical antecedents. More important, I realized that I could not understand the Devil at all except in the context of the problem of evil. I needed to face the issue of evil squarely, both as a historian and as a human being." from the PrefaceThis lively and learned book traces the history of the concept of evil from its beginnings in ancient times to the period of the New Testament. A remarkable work of synthesis, it draws upon a vast number of sources in addressing a major historical and philosophical problem over a broad span of time and in a number of diverse cultures, East and West. Jeffrey Burton Russell probes the roots of the idea of evil, treats the development of the idea in the Ancient Near East, and then examines the concept of the Devil as it was formed in late Judaism and early Christianity.Generously illustrated with fifty black-and-white photographs, this book will appeal to a wide range of readers, from specialists in religion, theology, sociology, history, psychology, anthropology, and philosophy to anyone with an interest in the demonic, the supernatural, and the question of good and evil."

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  • Paperback | 276 pages
  • 154.94 x 233.68 x 17.78mm | 408.23g
  • 02 Sep 1987
  • Cornell University Press
  • Ithaca
  • English
  • New edition
  • New edition
  • 50, 50 black & white halftones
  • 0801494095
  • 9780801494093
  • 518,685

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Review quote

"Russell is not only a conscientious historian, anxious to examine in texts, myths, legends, art and literature the persistence and transformation of a particular idea. He is also an introspective essayist who acknowledges his own continuing struggle to understand the nature and source of evil." Robert Coles, New York Times Book Review"

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Review text

The devil is the personification of evil, so an opening chapter defines evil as "abuse of a sentient being, a being that can feel pain." Dostoevsky, Colin Turnbull's mountain people, the daily newspaper are among the points of reference in this pointed, concrete but literate and humane introduction. Jung is a recurring theorist, with the journey from individuation's knowledge of good and evil to integration as the hoped-for goal seen as having meaning for mankind, as well as for the individual. Per the subtitle, this is Part I of a history, the history of the concept of the devil - the reasons why this continuous objectivation of forces felt to threaten men has been found necessary at different times within the period covered, and the ways in which it has taken place. An excellent teacher-to-layman discussion of how we know and learn, of history and in particular of the history of concepts, constitutes the first third; here, the latter is distinguished from the conventional history of ideas as being more broadly based and dealing with PsYChological levels deeper than the rational. Then we move to that learned and masterly two-thirds of the book which traces the history of the concept of the devil through the bizarre deserts of the mythology of the ancient world. The string which threads the selection of material is the monist/dualist question, in that "the perception of a flawed world is deeply rooted in each individual soul." If there is one god and he good, whence evil? "Dualism wrenches from the unity of God a portion of his power in order to preserve his perfect goodness." A professonal historian's book, and a sometimes eloquent one, impatient of intellectual games and dealing with a problem central to humanity. (Kirkus Reviews)

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