What Does Satan Look Like Today?

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With Halloween drawing near, Iliff School of Theology explores Satan throughout history.

Biblical references say Satan is a corruption of good; a fallen angel who was cast from heaven for resisting God.

Caricature imagery of Satan has long been a part of the interpretation of Halloween but really, who is Satan?

“Since the earliest accounts of the Halloween celebration, there have been tales of dark chaos, and costumes representing ghouls of some sort,” said Miguel De La Torre, professor of social ethics, Iliff School of Theology (Iliff), and author of 27 books, including co-authoring “The Quest for Historical Satan” with Iliff’s Albert Hernández, academic vice president, dean of the faculty and associate professor of the history of Christianity. “Today images of Satan for Halloween are thought of as fun – children enjoy it, they dress in colorful costumes and trick or treat to get candy – it’s tradition, yet there was a time when conjuring images of Satan was enough to change one’s behavior, to prevent falling into Satan’s clutches.”

“Identifying Satan and the evolution of Satan in all its forms, is fascinating. We have an image of Satan that is not the image that Jesus had when Jesus was talking about Satan. It’s not the image that the Jews had of Satan during the Babylonian captivity or even during the Exodus. So whoever this Satan is, he has radically evolved over the last several thousand years.”

According to De La Torre, character and characteristic interpretations are historically part of defining and describing Satan throughout the centuries.

“Satan was once less the personification of absolute evil and probably more emerged in the personification of trickster. The purpose of the trickster is not absolute evil, but to trick us into thinking of possibilities we might not have thought of. Continuing this imagery, the Satan with horns and hooves for feet is of Pan, the Greek God,” commented De La Torre. “Lore, filmmaking, storytelling have created a host of imagery of the Satan. Consider the Satan who is half-man, half-beast, a ghoul in red tights with a forked tail, cloven hooves, horns on his head, while holding a garden tool. Going further, we have envisaged a Satan wearing a $600 business suit, with manicured fingernails, looking as though he just stepped out of Gentlemen’s Quarterly magazine. In this form, Satan is like a man, yet personifies pure evil.”

So, who is Satan? The answer often is tied to a person's faith tradition. “Biblical references say Satan is a corruption of good; a fallen angel who was cast from heaven for resisting God. The Talmud portrays Satan as simply another demon of limited powers and maybe the true Satan is us. Suppose humanity has created the Satan to have a figure to blame for oppression, horrors, atrocities, pain and tremendous sadness to help us deal with the messiness of right and wrong, good and evil.

“There are times when there is no good and evil or that we move beyond what is good and evil. In reality, most people live somewhere in the margins of good and evil the 50 shades in between, and we may never truly know who the Satan is,” concludes De La Torre.

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The Iliff School of Theology is a graduate theological school related to the United Methodist Church, serving more than 38 different faith traditions. Founded in 1892, the school provides several degree programs, including a Joint Ph.D. Program with the University of Denver.

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M. Celeste Jackson

Greta Gloven
since: 08/2008
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