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Recommended book for 2014-JULY

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Previous months' recommendations

Tentatively scheduled selections for future months

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2014-July's selection

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Elaine Pagels, "The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics"

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store. $14.04 in Kindle format& $10.72 plus postage in Paperback.

Amazon.com book description:

"From the religious historian whose The Gnostic Gospels won both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award comes a dramatic interpretation of Satan and his role on the Christian tradition. With magisterial learning and the elan of a born storyteller, Pagels turns Satan's story into an audacious exploration of Christianity's shadow side, in which the gospel of love gives way to irrational hatreds that continue to haunt Christians and non-Christians alike."

Some book reviews:

  • "... ground-breaking. Many times in the course of reading her explications I found myself saying, 'Of course, why hasn't someone said this before?' By showing how the sectarian demonization of the 'intimate enemies'--Jews and heretics--shaped early Christianity, the book helps us to understand the power of irrational forces that still need to be confronted in contemporary society. -- S. David Sperling, professor of Bible, Hebrew Union College.

  • "Pagels ... here examines the New Testament tendency to associate the Devil with Jews resistant to the teachings of Christianity." Reed Business Information, Inc.

  • "Elaine Pagels is an exceptional author and skilled interpreter of Christian history. The "Origin of Satan" is an excellent book for laypeople trying to understand the evolution of one piece of the Christian paradigm, namely the cosmic battle between good and evil, and the vilification of the Jews in the gospels.

    The book is organized in three principal sections. The first part dissects the four gospels in the order they were written, and delineates the relationships between the authors, their social context, and their thinking with regard to Satan and all things/people evil. Among the most helpful recognitions in this part of the book is that as the gospels evolved, Pilate and the Romans grew more and more "innocent" (the Christians were trying to make a distinction between themselves and the troublesome dissidents of Palestine), and the Jews grew more and more "responsible" for Jesus' crucifixion, thus "under the influence of Satan." Much of this awareness is found in the recognition that Jews in the Roman Empire were torn between the social elite who were for the most part the priesthood and the wealthy, and the poor fundamentalists who saw the privileges of the empire in opposition to the covenants with God.
    The second section of the book describes the growing rift between the pagans of the Roman empire and the growing Christian sect. What is most helpful in this section is comparing the writings of such pagan minds as Celsus and Marcus Arelius with the early writings of Justin, Origen and others. In the Roman Empire, there was no greater virtue than that of "citizenship" in the empire, and the strength of the empire was assured by performing the ritual obligations to the Gods. The Christians saw themselves not as citizens of Rome, but of Heaven, and their rituals ran counter to those of the Pagans. Naturally, this was threatening to the pagan majority, and resulted in the wholesale slaughter of Christians who wouldn't cede to the authority of the Roman pantheon. Satan, of course, was identified with the pagans.

    The last section of the book discusses the growing dissent within the early church itself, and the identification of Satan with heretics from within. For me persoanally this was the most engaging part of the book, as it was SO telling in terms of the evolution of the control paradigm so apparent in Western religion to this day. Reading the writings of Tertullian in particular, compared with the gnostic writers of the same time period, is incredibly enlightening!

    In spite of the title, this book is in no way "dark." In fact, it shines light in so many dank dark corners of our history that it is truly a bright spot on my bookshelf and in my mind. This is a "Highly Recommend" book!" Review by "Missing in Action" an Amazon customer.

Insightful excerpts from Amazon customer reviews:

  • Anon: "Such moral interpretation of conflict has proven extraordinarily effective throughout Western history in consolidating the identity of Christian groups; the same history also shows that it can justify hatred, even mass slaughter."

  • Anon: "A society does not simply discover its others, it fabricates them, by selecting, isolating, and emphasizing an aspect of another people’s life, and making it symbolize their difference."

  • Barry Schwartz: "Among themselves, Christians debated whether converts should maintain ordinary social and familial relationships or break them, as Jesus in the gospels required. ... We have seen that Christians did teach converts not only that the bonds of family, society, and nation are not sacred, but that they are diabolic encumbrances designed to enslave people to 'Roman customs,' that is, to demons. ... As we shall see, Jesus’ followers did not invent the practice of demonizing enemies within their own group, although Christians (and Muslims after them) carried this practice further than their Jewish predecessors had taken it, and with enormous consequences."

Popular excerpts from the book as highlighted by readers:

  • We cannot fully understand the New Testament gospels until we recognize that they are, in this sense, wartime literature.

  • while angels often appear in the Hebrew Bible, Satan, along with other fallen angels or demonic beings, is virtually absent.

  • Jesus’ followers believed that there was no point in fighting the Romans because the catastrophic events that followed his crucifixion were signs of the end—signs that the whole world was to be shattered and transformed.

  • The figure of Satan becomes, among other things, a way of characterizing one’s actual enemies as the embodiment of transcendent forces.

  • the figure of Satan, as it emerged over the centuries in Jewish tradition, is not a hostile power assailing Israel from without, but the source and representation of conflict within the community.

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You might consider getting a Kindle ebook reader:

Amazon.com has tens of millions of movies, TV shows, songs, magazines, books, and audiobooks available for download into their Kindle eBook reader. As of 2013-NOV, models cost from $139 and up. They also have FREE reader apps that you can dowload to your PC, tablet, and many other devices. Not only is this more portable than lugging up to 3,500 books with you but you can save a lot of money, because eBook versions generally cost significantly less than print versions. In addition, delivery of the books over the Internet is free and almost instantaneous. You don't need to build or expand bookshelves. You don't kneed to dust off Kindle copies of books. But beware that some publishers take advantage of buyers, and charge more for the digital versions than for the print versions.

Ebooks have a search function. You can select passages from books and store them in a text file for use by an editor program on a PC or Mac:

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Originally written: 2009-MAY-03
Latest update and review: 2014-JUL-02
Author: B.A. Robinson
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