Who is Satan in the New Testament, and what is the evil that he represents? In this groundbreaking book, Elaine Pagels, Princeton's distinguished historian of religion, traces the evolution of Satan from its origins in the Hebrew Bible, where Satan is at first merely obstructive, to the New Testament, where Satan becomes the Prince of Darkness, the bitter enemy of God and man, evil incarnate. In The Origin of Satan, Pagels shows that the four Christian gospels tell two very different stories. The first is the story of Jesus' moral genius: his lessons of love, forgiveness, and redemption. The second tells of the bitter conflict between the followers of Jesus and their fellow Jews, a conflict in which the writers of the four gospels condemned as creatures of Satan those Jews who refused to worship Jesus as the Messiah. Writing during and just after the Jewish war against Rome, the evangelists invoked Satan to portray their Jewish enemies as God's enemies too. As Pagels then shows, the church later turned this satanic indictment against its Roman enemies, declaring that pagans and infidels were also creatures of Satan, and against its own dissenters, calling them heretics and ascribing their heterodox views to satanic influences.
Elaine Pagels is in a different class when it comes to historical critical studies of Christianity.