One of the core questions was, from a scholarly perspective, who was Satan in religious history? Did this powerful figure’s story change in any way, or evolve over time? For example what was this figure’s role in historic Jewish culture, from which Christianity was founded? In Dr. Pagels’ book The Origin of Satan I found answers expressed in a highly readable, compelling presentation and a reasoned explanation. She observed that religious scholars accept that the first appearance of the figure was in early Old Testament Biblical writings. In this figure’s earliest appearance as Śṭn it was actually not an individual at all, but any one of a category of God’s angels who was sent to act as an adversary, whose mandate is to oppose or obstruct mankind’s will or actions (p. 39). In the book Pagels makes the case that the figure of Satan ultimately evolved into an agent for Jews and Christians to demonize their rivals, such as pagans, other Christian sects, and Jews. This made great sense to me, since in Satan’s current form, he is the ruthless and all-powerful contender, the challenger, for the rule of the world against the will of God for the Christians and Jews. This concept is confusing for some, since a figure of this powerful stature should rightly be considered a god himself—the God of Evil—but that idea stands in direct conflict with the concept of monotheism upon which these faiths firmly stand. To suggest that concept, that there is a God of Evil, would be heresy.
In my quest to gain a better understanding of what the landscape of Christianity was like centuries ago, in its many different forms (over 180) during the time of my novel which takes place in 391 AD, in Alexandria, Egypt, I found this book, and many others of Pagels to be invaluable sources to help me depict a time of Christian belief which was very much in flux. It was a world of belief very different than the Christianity of today. I found The Origin of Satan a highly rewarding, insightful read, and I still refer to it years later after my initial study of this important book.