The Quest for the Historical Satan, by Miguel A. De La Torre and Albert Hernandez. Fortress Press (Minneapolis, 2011). 256 pp., $20, paperback. 

It was only a matter of time before writers about the historical Jesus gave Miguel A. De La Torre and Albert Hernandez the idea to write a book about the historical Satan. De La Torre, associate professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology, Denver, Colo., and Hernandez, academic vice president, dean, and associate professor of the history of Christianity at Iliff, state, “The purpose of this book is to explore the problem of evil as historically and morally constructed by Christianity through the changing image and symbols of Satan.” 

After posing a series of questions — “Who exactly is Satan? What are his origins? Does Satan have power over humans? How has he evolved throughout history? Is he the evil counterpart to God? Does Satan contain similar attributes as God: all knowing, all-powerful, ever-present?” — the authors begin their quest by examining Satan in the modern world. 

Quest for the Historical Satan book

“We begin our quest for the historical Satan,” they write, “by realizing that there exists no single, universal representation of Satan.” According to the authors, various groups within modern society “have created Satan to meet their own needs, justify certain actions against demonized opponents, or provide answers to the unanswerable fact of what can appear as the total moral depravity of humans and creation.” 

De La Torre and Hernandez trace the development of Satan from the Greek world through the Hebrew Bible, noting the Babylonian and Persian influences, and in the apocrypha and pseudepigrapha. They conclude the journey of development with the New Testament, the writings of the Church Fathers, and the Quran. 

They conclude this section, writing, “In a very real way, the search for the historical Satan is an attempt to justify God’s grace while legitimizing the reality and presence of evil in human history.” The development of Satan, according to the authors, “was, to a certain extent, trying to save God from appearing as the source of evil that is so much a part of the reality of human suffering and death.” 

They argue that, originally, Satan played the role of a trickster, and that this image has been lost in Christianity. They write, “If Satan was (sic) to be conceived as a trickster, then his existence not only accomplishes the purposes of God but also those of marginalized groups.”  

This work builds on Elaine Pagels’s 1996 The Origin of Satan. While some of the 248 pages present tedious reading, the authors’ insights in The Quest for the Historical Satan are well worth the time. Many good ideas can be gleaned for preaching biblical texts that mention Satan, the devil, and demons. 

Those who need ideas for funeral homilies may find Great American Catholic Eulogies (Chicago: ACTA, 2011) helpful. Compiled by Carol DeChant, the eulogies/homilies are divided into eight chapters on the subjects of heroes, family, friends, artists, those who served, those who showed the way, those remembered with poetry, and the unknown child. 

Keeping in mind that the Order of Christian Funerals states, “there is never to be a eulogy” (No. 27) at a funeral, Great American Catholic Eulogies offers lots of ideas on how the “homilist [can] dwell on God’s compassionate love and on the paschal mystery of the Lord, as proclaimed in the Scripture readings” (OCF, No. 27) and not give a eulogy. The 403-page book comes complete with discussion questions for a book club. 

For those who would prefer to listen rather than read, ACTA presents a three-CD set of 16 of the eulogies. While driving, one might spend time listening to the 234 minutes of eulogies presented. Each is accompanied with a short introduction. TP

Father Boyer, a priest for 36 years, is the author of 33 books primarily in the areas of biblical and liturgical spirituality as well as numerous articles in various magazines, including The Priest, for which he wrote Homily Backgrounds 1987-1993. He teaches in the Religious Studies Department of Missouri State University, Springfield, Mo.