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Theology Today


The Quest for the Historical Satan by Miguel A. De La Torre and Albert
Gregory Mobley
Theology Today 2013 70: 238
DOI: 10.1177/0040573613485528g

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238 Theology Today 70(2)

As interdisciplinary as the book intends to be, something appears lost in the

exchanges, particularly from the Pentecostal side of the interchange.
Despite these reservations, Wariboko’s is a fascinating thought-experiment. On
several occasions, this reader was delighted to see moments of originality and cre-
ativity that make one ponder anew basic methodological considerations. Time will
tell if it proves to be the kind of work that generates and prods forward discussions
related to the ethical task.

Daniel Castelo
Seattle Pacific Seminary and University
Seattle, Washington

The Quest for the Historical Satan

Miguel A. De La Torre and Albert Hernández
Minneapolis: Fortress, 2011. 248 pp. $20.00

The Quest for the Historical Satan is a welcome addition to the diabolical library.
Two professors from the Iliff School of Theology, Miguel De La Torre, an ethicist,
and Albert Hernández, a historian, guide their readers—presumably English-
speaking evangelical and progressive Christians—on a fascinating, often meander-
ing, journey through three millennia of religious and popular culture about the
devil, before briefly offering their own modest proposal: that contemporary critical-
thinking Christians take the idea of Satan seriously and view this trickster-figure
through the ancient lens of hassatan, from the Book of Job.
The five chapters of their Quest are, for the most part, organized chronologic-
ally, as the title suggests, with one notable exception. There are successive chapters
on the emergence of Satan and growth of Satanic lore in biblical and post-biblical
literature (chapter 2: ‘‘The Birth of Satan: A Textual History’’), in Judaism,
Christianity, and Islam during late antiquity (chapter 3: ‘‘Satan through the
Ages’’), in medieval and early Renaissance epochs (chapter 4: ‘‘Satan Comes of
Age’’), and in the early modern period after the rise of science and rationalism
(chapter 5: ‘‘The Devil Made Me Do It’’). But their treatment of Satan’s profile in
contemporary culture is in their initial chapter (chapter 1: ‘‘Satan in the Modern
World’’), and this editorial inversion makes for a dramatic, entertainingly relevant
The authors arrange a bedazzling array of personages and lore along the string
of time, producing a fascinating treasury of oddities, lunatics, and Believe-It-Or-
Not Satan sightings. The data is, after all, legion, and much of it is here: the
authors of all those Great Books (Augustine, Aquinas, Dante, Goethe), urban
legends about Faustian conspiracies involving McDonald’s, Proctor and
Gamble, and Santeria. We read about early Jewish angelology, Islamic djinns,
the Lost Tribes, C.I. Schofield (of the Schofield Bible), Pat Robertson, conquis-
tadors, Church Fathers, Hannibal Lecter, Indiana Jones, Brer Rabbit, Hellboy,

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Book Reviews 239

murderous occult Nazis, and murderous medieval witch-hunters. We learn about

alchemy and demon possession, Grail legends and Left Behind fables. We are
amazed by fantastic statistics about the number of demons counted by medieval
census takers (in the trillions) and the ratio of Americans who, according to a poll
from April 2000, believe in the Devil (75 percent). The Devil’s story has as many
twists and turns as its serpentine protagonist. It does occasionally slip the grasp of
its handlers. So many fascinating jewels of lore are here, and yet the pendant of a
tightly drawn thesis sometimes sags beneath their sheer weight.
But a shyly advanced thesis is finally revealed near the end (196–215), opening
with the section titled ‘‘Satan as Trickster?’’ (Note: the authors too often cower
behind rhetorical questions and, as above, couch potentially controversial ideas as
suggestions.) That thesis is to view the Devil, ultimately, as Christianity’s trickster-
figure, as the Necessary Evil, the disruptive imp of chaos who unsettles the stagnant
and suffocating status quo and who tests the mettle of the faithful. This is an
elegant, bold, and (given their religious backgrounds) even courageous move on
behalf of De La Torre and Hernández, and they acknowledge in a postscript that
this destination surprised even them. Our Ancient Foe, it seems, is not Satan
himself, but the kind of extreme binary moral thinking that demonizes and scape-
goats and marginalizes persons, cultures, and ideas that are foreign to us and our
interests. As it turns out, then, humanity’s clearest sighting of Satan came at the
moment when he first debuted on the stage of religion, in the prologue to the Book
of Job, before his appearance was beclouded by a plethora of distracting diabolical
details. It is there that hassatan, ‘‘the adversary,’’ a member of the divine council,
initially displayed his essential and invaluable function in human reality, as the
loyal (to God) opposition that makes virtue meaningful, acts of justice necessary,
and that forces sentimentality and good intentions to grow into mature love.

Gregory Mobley
Andover Newton Theological School
Newton Centre, Massachusetts

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