The Devil by Amelia Wilson first caught my attention with its many color illustrations of the Judeo-Christian devil throughout history. It is a concise look at the evolution of the devil over 2.5 millennia through art.
The book is divided into 6 chapters: Chap 1 – Paving the Way: The Devil’s Earliest Origins – gives a brief overview of Sumerian, Babylonian, Zoroastrian, and Canaanite beliefs that influenced the ancient Israelites.
Chapter 2 -Becoming Satan: The Devil in the Bible – explains the origins of the word, ‘devil’ which comes from the Greek ‘diabolos’, a translation of the Hebrew word for adversary, and how that word never actually appears in the Hebrew bible. Wilson then explains the Old Testament concept of Satan and how it evolved by the time of the New Testament writings.
Chapter 3 – The Devil Grows Horns (and Teeth) describes the devil from the writings of the Early Church fathers. Here, Wilson includes some interesting trivial about pairing the 7 deadly sins with their associated punishments in hell.
Chapter 4 – The Devil Takes Center Stage – gives a rushed account of the Inquisition, the Protestant Reformation, the Burning Times and the Renaissance, all of which get no more than a few pages.
Chapter 5 – The Romantic Devil – discusses John Milton’s Paradise Lost, while Chapter 6 – The Modern Devil – talks about modern day Satanism, Wicca, and how Hollywood portrays the devil, such as in Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist.
The best part of the book is the illustrations, which appear on virtually every page. Unfortunately, there isn’t much rhyme or reason to where she puts each picture. Text about the earliest beliefs of the devil is accompanied by paintings from the 13th, 17th and 18th centuries.
Which brings me to the book’s biggest flaw – it tries to cover too much in too little space. The book is only 128 pages, yet tries to cover the evolution of the Devil from its beginnings. As a history book, it’s a vague overview at best. Wilson assumes you are familiar with extra-biblical histories like Gnosticism, the Book of Enoch and basic church history. She also doesn’t include footnotes, which leads to blanket statements about how scholars believe this or anthropologists tell us that with no reference to who or what. While she does quote some primarily texts, she often skips over several hundred years in the course of a paragraph or two, picking and choosing what to highlight before jumping to the next topic, which makes the book feel rushed.
As an art book, the illustrations are lovely, but there’s no discussion of the paintings except for a brief caption. There’s also no sense of time period or how ideas changed over time. In some cases, the pictures do illustrate what she discusses in the text, but often, the references seem vague and you have to wonder why she placed certain pictures where she did.
I suppose the book will appeal to two types of people: 1) those looking for a collection of color illustrations of the devil and 2) those looking for a very brief overview of evolution of the devil.
Those looking for more advanced information on the history of the devil should check out Jeffrey Burton Russell’s five part work on the devil throughout history.