Mephistopheles (Magill's Literary Annual 1987)
Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World concludes Jeffrey Burton Russell’s four-volume history of the Devil in the Judeo-Christian-Muslim context. The series began with The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity (1977), followed by Satan: The Early Christian Tradition (1981) and Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages (1984), the latter a period on which Russell has written five other volumes. Mephistopheles carries the story of the Devil from the Reformation to current times. While the first three volumes traced the slow emergence and consolidation of a tradition in which the figure of the Devil played a major part whose meaning was generally agreed upon, the final volume recounts the irrevocable dismantling of that tradition and the consequent reinterpretation—or even denial—of the meaning of the Devil.
In what sense can the Devil be said to exist? This is a question to which Russell returns frequently in Mephistopheles, as in the previous three volumes. Although earlier ages believed in the literal reality of the Devil, such a belief is less accessible in the modern world, in view of the putative prestige of scientific thinking with its empirical theory of knowledge. As a spiritual or moral phenomenon, the Devil is necessarily elusive of empirical verification. His existence is limited to the mythic, theological, psychological, and historical realms of knowing....
(The entire section is 1692 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1987)
The Atlantic. CCLIX, January, 1987, p. 84.
Commonweal. CXIV, January 30, 1987, p. 56.
Kirkus Reviews. LIV, October 15, 1986, p. 1566.
Library Journal. CXI, November 15, 1986, p. 105.
The New York Times Book Review. XCII, March 8, 1987, p. 28.
(The entire section is 28 words.)