Jessica Wolf | 

Modern Judeo-Christian rhetoric and imagery purports that Satan is an evil opponent to all that is good and godly — a literal opponent of God.

But that characterization doesn’t hold up under critical scrutiny of the Bible, says Henry Ansgar Kelly, UCLA distinguished research professor of English and one of the world’s leading experts on Satan. His 2006 book “Satan: A Biography” was a top seller for Cambridge University Press.

His latest book, “Satan in the Bible, God’s Minister of Justice,” combs through all the relevant passages of the Old and New testaments, tracking evidence of stories of the devil we think we know. The early appearances of the word “satan,” when literally translated from Hebrew, simply means “adversary.” None of the passages that use the word refer to an inherently evil spirit, Kelly said.

“A frequent assumption about Satan is not only that he is as bad as can be, but also that he has always been considered this bad,” Kelly said. “I have been researching and writing about the devil for over 50 years now, and have been making many of the same points without really being able to get across my main point, that no matter when we have heard about Satan and his nature and history, and activities, most them are not to be found in the Bible, where he is a much different person.”

Looking back through the Old and New testaments, Kelly said it becomes clear that Satan, no matter what we may think of him or imagine him to be now, was not originally presented as the implacable enemy of God, but rather God’s heavenly assistant in dealing with human beings.

As Kelly contends, Satan is more like an old-guard authority figure committed to the status quo and as such is an obstructer of social welfare or change — such as the ideas preached by Jesus. Satan is looking out for God’s interests and is distrustful of humans, but that doesn’t necessarily make him “evil” per se.

“In our government, he would correspond to the head of the department of justice, the attorney general,” Kelly said.

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