The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity

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Cornell University Press, 1987 - Religion - 276 pages
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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 Preface

This 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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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Strider66 - LibraryThing

Pros: very thorough, lots of endnotes Cons: not many photos This was a very interesting book about how peoples in the past thought about the concept of evil and how those philosophical musings and ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - RandyStafford - LibraryThing

How evil was personified in the lands of India, the Middle East, and the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome is the subject of this book. I suppose Russell thought the opening chapter, "The ... Read full review


The Question of Evil
Concentration camp victim
In Search of the Devil
Alchemical androgyne drawing Germany fifteenth century
Head of Dionysos Roman sculpture
Gustave Moreau Zeus and Semele painting
The Devil East and West
The dancing sorcerer paleolithic drawing France
with Seth and Horus rendering from Egyptian source
Hathor copy of statue twentysixth dynasty
Pazuzu statue Mesopotamia second millennium B C
A shitenno Japan eighth century
Evil in the Classical World I 22
Hebrew Personifications of Evil
The Devil in the New Testament

The asura Sumbha painting India eighteenth century
The wheel of becoming painting Tibet eighteenth century
The Face of the Devil

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About the author (1987)

Jeffrey Burton Russell is Professor of History Emeritus at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Bibliographic information