Digest of terms


along with demons, a personification of the force of evil met in human experience. Historically, the figure of devil is found in the Persian Zoroastrian background to the Jewish tradition as it developed between the Christian Old and New Testaments. Several images become conflated in subsequent thinking: the figure of the tempting serpent from Genesis, Lucifer, a fallen angel in Isaiah, the tester of faith in Job, and in the gospels, the tempter of Jesus, but whose final defeat by God heralds the dawn of His kingdom on earth (Luke 10:18). Demonic imagery is developed further in popular imagination over the centuries.

At the very least, talk of the devil points to the serious challenge involved in understanding the nature and source of evil and the power which it can have in people's lives. In its 'Manichaean' form, the Devil is granted equal but opposing reality to that of God, with the apparent logical consequence that responsibility for wrongdoing is displaced away from ordinary individuals (destiny). Belief in the Devil as an actual person has weakened considerably among today's liberal Christians, but remains powerful in conservative evangelical circles, as too amongst Muslims (under the names al-Shaytan, or Iblis, he features very significantly in the Qur'an).

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