To hear popular culture inform it, Satan—or the satan, if we’re being formal—is the ruler of hell. He runs infernal operations in Far Side comics, canoodles with Saddam Hussein in South Park, reclines on a throne in Lucifer, and receives lap dances from Lil Nas X within the scrumptious “Call Me By Your Name” video. He is, ubiquitously it appears, in command of everlasting punishment and, although it’s work, he appears to get pleasure from it. You is likely to be stunned to study, subsequently, that within the Bible there’s no reference to Satan lording it over the damned. On the opposite, if the satan is in hell, it’s only as a result of he’s being punished himself. All of which makes you marvel, when did Satan go from inmate to warden?
Both Satan and hell have difficult histories which might be typically however not all the time intertwined. In the oldest books of the Bible, hell appears like an afterthought. There is Sheol, a darkish pit underneath the bottom the place folks go after demise, nevertheless it homes everybody, not simply the depraved. He pops up in Numbers as effectively however as a bit participant within the heavenly courtroom. Satan first seems as an actual character within the e book of Job, however right here he’s a authorized determine. He’s an adversary who engages God in a wager in regards to the righteousness of Job. Satan isn’t evil, he’s only a lawyer.
It was the Second Temple interval, and within the shadow of Alexander the Great’s conquest the supernatural inhabitants witnesses an explosion. Angels, God’s messengers and hit males, had been a comparatively secure characteristic within the Bible. It was an angel who guarded the entry to the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve had been evicted. And it was angels who visited Abraham, wrestled with Jacob, and slew the primary born of Egypt. Demons, nevertheless, had been one thing else and it’s on this interval that we discover the primary descriptions of demonic exercise and fallen angels.
One of essentially the most influential accounts of the origins of demons comes from a bit of the apocryphal e book of 1 Enoch referred to as the Book of the Watchers. Dr. Archie Wright, writer of The Origin of Evil Spirits and Satan and the Problem of Evil and a visiting lecturer at Catholic University of America, advised me that 1 Enoch takes its go away from the biblical flood story, which refers to angels who’ve intercourse with human beings. “In 1 Enoch [these] fallen angels, or Fallen Watcher Angels, rebelled against God and his creation activity and created their own offspring with human women which are referred to as the Giants.” The drawback with the Giants is that they ate lots and, having run out of much less offensive sources of protein, finally set their sights and appetites on human beings. As a end result, mentioned Wright, “God sent the Flood to destroy the Giants, but they were only destroyed physically; their spirits survived and are identified as evil spirits or demons.”
The Fallen Angels, the dad and mom of the now disembodied Giants, had been imprisoned by God in a Pit or Abyss (a sort of small-scale model of hell). They will solely be launched on the finish of time. As for the demons they continued to roam the earth tormenting human beings in a brand new type. According to the second century B.C. Book of Jubilees, mentioned Wright, 90 p.c of the evil spirits had been imprisoned with their fathers whereas 10 p.c had been free to work with a mysterious determine named as Mastema, a person later recognized with the satan. This Mastema, nevertheless, works in a lot the identical approach because the Satan of Job: he assessments humanity with the help of evil spirits however he “is not an autonomous being.”
At no level within the Bible, Wright advised me, is Satan ever hell’s ruler or warden. Instead, as bestselling writer and Princeton professor Elaine Pagels has written in her e book The Origin of Satan, Satan was a servant of the Lord, an angel of God. If Satan or Mastema torment humanity, it’s only as a result of God has granted them permission. Satan by no means acts independently of God. Satan activates God, writes Pagels, on the identical second when Jewish teams activate each other. The Essenes, the sectarian group chargeable for the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the followers of Jesus, who confronted some opposition from fellow Jews, use demonic figures as ciphers for these real-world opponents. For the Essenes, demonizing these with whom one disagrees because the sons of darkness is a approach of restaging grievances on a cosmic stage.
This chief of those figures, who’s variously referred to as Satan, Belial, and Beelzebub, is the chief rival to God. In the primary century Book of Revelation (the ultimate e book of the canonical Bible), Satan is seized by an angel of God and solid into “the Abyss.” This, says Wright, is probably going not the identical pit by which the Fallen Angels of Genesis and Enoch had been imprisoned. There Satan stays for a thousand years earlier than a remaining battle and everlasting punishment within the Lake of Fire.
It is, in response to Pagels and Wright, a small group of Christian philosophers referred to as the Gnostics who promote Satan from rebellious angel who may be bested by one other angel to an evil deity with enviable powers. Satan in Gnostic thought remains to be recognized as a subordinate being, nevertheless it creates its personal inferior materials realm by which humanity is (at present) imprisoned. Just because the Essenes had accomplished, Christians used the satan to nonetheless a narrative of cosmic battle by which first (different) Jews, then the Roman authorities who opposed them, and eventually different dissident Christians had been all solid as demons. The satan takes form in antagonistic encounters between competing teams.
But all through this era, and actually for the primary thousand years of Christianity, the satan nonetheless doesn’t sit on a shadowy throne or reign over the tortured topics of hell. As Dr. Meghan Henning has written in her lately revealed e book Hell Hath No Fury, early descriptions of hell present human beings being tortured by angels, not demons. It is angels who administer “justice” in an area that, whereas infernal, remains to be clearly owned and operated by God. Any reader who recoils in horror ought to keep in mind that, within the eyes of those authors, the horrors of hell are usually not in battle with the Divine. This is what God’s justice appears to be like like.
It is simply really a lot later, within the writings of Dante, Milton, and their successors that the favored mythology of the satan emerges. For Dante, the satan is Lucifer, the bringer of Dawn, who had as soon as been God’s favourite. As a wonderfully created being, Lucifer refused to bow all the way down to and worship newly created humanity. Lucifer fractured the heavenly hosts and waged conflict in opposition to these loyal to God. He was defeated and solid into the inferno the place he guidelines his fellow demons from the frozen tundra of the ninth circle of hell. Though certain within the bowels of hell, he was however in a position to undertaking himself onto a mortal aircraft to tempt and deceive. Milton’s Satan is equally consumed by envy. In the phrases of Thuswaldner and Russ, he “prowls through the chasm between hell and the newly created earth” scheming the demise of human beings.
What these photographs of the satan convey to the floor is the paradox in Christian concepts about Satan. As Philip Almond places it in The Devil, “the devil is God’s most implacable enemy and beyond God’s control…yet, he is also God’s faithful servant, acting only at God’s command.” Satan could hate humanity and (fairly successfully) scheme its demise and destruction, however he’s barely God’s sparring companion, a lot much less an equal. What all of this implies is that hell is dominated by God. Satan shouldn’t be the Lord of Hell, but when he’s then he’s only a puppet king ruling on the behest of a God who permits demonic interference however doesn’t tolerate disobedience.