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Today, I finished The Origin of Satan by Elaine Pagels. Here’s an excerpt from the conclusion.

To pray for one’s enemies suggests that one believes that whatever harm they may have done, they are capable of being reconciled to God and to oneself. Paul, writing about twenty years before the evangelists, holds a still more traditionally Jewish perception that Satan acts as God’s agent not to corrupt people but to test them; at one point he suggests that a Christian group “deliver to Satan” one of its errant members, not in order to consign him to hell, but in the hope that he will repent and change. Paul also hopes and longs for reconciliation between his “brothers,” “fellow Israelites,” and Gentile believers.

Many Christians, then, from the first century through Francis of Assisi in the fifteenth century and Martin Luther King, Jr., in the twentieth, have believed that they stood on God’s side without demonizing their opponents. Their religious vision inspired them to oppose policies and powers they regarded as evil, often risking their well-being and their lives, while praying for the reconciliation–not the damnation–of those who opposed them.

Pagels suggests that the traditional Jewish view, prevalent throughout most of the OT and much of the NT, holds that Satan is not the arch-rival nemesis of YHWH, engaged in an epic, dualistic battle. Rather, Satan is an agent or servant of God, an antagonist sent to test God’s subjects, as in the case of Job.

Today’s popular views of Satan as the ultimate rival of God, embodiment of evil, became popularized in the couple centuries before the life of Christ with the Essenes. In the face of persecution during the early centuries of the Christian movement, many Christians adopted this perspective. Married to such beliefs is the systematic identification of one’s enemies as agents of or embodiment of Satan and his foes.

Jesus’ teaching of nonviolence and love for neighbor radically challenges the Christian dualistic beliefs. Our foe should not be one whom we demonize and seek to eradicate. We should not accept or permit violence and oppression. We should not under any circumstances, wish damnation on our enemies. Rather, we should, above all else, seek reconciliation.

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