Recently read: Stokes’ ‘Satan’

Ryan E. Stokes, Satan: How God’s Executioner Became the Enemy (Eerdmans, 2019).

I began reading Ryan E. Stokes’ Satan this summer. I was teaching a class on the Hebrew Bible at the time. It made me have to revisit my lesson on the Book of Job in order to update how I presented Ha-Satan. And I felt like each chapter had that effect on me. It introduced new ways of looking at the figure of Satan and his evolution that I hadn’t considered.

Chapter 1, The Origin of Satan focuses on his this character is presented in Numbers 22, Zechariah 3, and 1 Chronicles 21. My key takeaway is that Stokes argues that this figure is an “Attacker” more than say as “Adversary”. I always thought of him as being a prosecuting attorney-type but his role seems to be more sinister.

Chapter 2, The Satan and the Innocent Job stood out to me because it showed how the Attacker, usually of sinners, is presented as attacking an innocent, righteous man. This is a major development, especially in the Hebrew Bible’s approach to theodicy.

The development of this figure (often by different names, though Stokes makes many observations that indicate that the same figure is in view) is traced from the Hebrew Scriptures through other works of Second Temple literature, most importantly in Chapters 3-8: Chapter 3, Demons, Evil Spirits, Fallen Angels, and Human Sin; Chapter 4, The Prince of Mastema and His Deceptive Spirits; Chapter 5, The Prince of Mastema, Enemy of God’s People; Chapter 6, Demons, Evil Spirits, The Satan, and Human Responsibility for Sin; Chapter 7, Belial, Sin, and Sectarianism; Chapter 8, Belial and the Power of Darkness). In these chapters there were several topics of importance in my view. First, as mentioned, the presentation of these different figures as being different expressions of a single figure (the one called “Satan” in the New Testament) was helpful. The role of determination and human will factors into most of these chapters. And ancient approaches to what we can theodicy runs throughout.

The final chapter, Chapter 8, The Satan in the New Testament was briefer than I anticipated but felt more like a capstone. For some reason I imagined it would be the main focus of the book but the emphasis is evenly spread across the various collections of literature.

If you are interested in the figure of Satan and his development, this is a great book.


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