Gerald Messadie traces the devil to Persian Zoroastrianism in the first millennium B.C. In founding the first true monotheism, Zoroaster was motivated by a hatred of the aristocracy and in particular bloody sacrifices. He seems to have borrowed his theology from Mazdaism, which originally taught that there were two spirits, Ahura Mazda, the "Wise God" and Ahriman, the spirit of evil, who would become our devil.
We see this coming to being when the Jews return from the Babylonian captivity, where they were influenced by Zoroastrianism. Prior to this Judaism had no hell nor a real devil. Messadie examines the Old Testament and determines that the snake in the Garden of Eden was "just a snake" and that Job’s tormenter was Yahweh’s collaborator. Only with the coming of the Essenes, who revolted against Hellenism, did our conception of the devil appear. We also learn that Jesus was at one time an Essene, as was John the Baptist, since the Jews did not perform baptism.
Some of this is awfully familiar. For instance, Zoroaster foretold a great war at the end of time when Heaven would send down a Savior, Mithra, who would destroy the forces of evil by fire and sword. Zoroastrianism also includes a Last Judgment, which will condemn the bad to hell, while the good will live in Paradise for all eternity.
Zoroastrianism also had a great deal to do with consolidation of the power of the clergy. The religion was based on a transcendent definition of Good and Evil whose human adjudicator would be the clergy. Zoroastrianism also tried to lay down not only religious law but also civil law. Any breach in religious law would also be punished by secular authorities. Thus, it was politics that gave birth to the Devil and "the Devil is indeed a political invention." We would see this again with the Devine Right of kings.
Messadie works hard at proving that some cultures managed to get along fine without a devil. Native Americans, The Celts, pre-Christian and Arabic Africans, and Greeks and Romans managed without a devil. In Greece religion reflected its democratic culture; the individual had direct contact with his Gods. Greeks knew where Hercules lived. The Romans had utilitarian gods. Messadie insists, "From the very beginning, the Roman gods were consuls, prefects and functionaries—in a word, state employees." In Roman "superstitio" was a crime. The Africans and the Native Americans’ religions were animistic. Every one of God’s creatures contained "a portion of his breath."
One of the last chapters deals with Islam. According to Messadie, Islam is very much misunderstood in the West. Messadie was raised in Egypt, so he’s a little easier on Islam than other scholars might be, but he doesn’t mention the angel Gabriel dictating the Koran to Muhammad. Instead he emphasizes the political nature of Islam’s inception. According to Messadie, Muhammad was a student of power most influenced by the Byzantiums. He studied the structure of their empire and determined that religion and the state must work hand in hand.
He also studied the Bible. The Koran and the Bible are not much different, except for Muhammad’s rejection of the trinity and Jesus as a corporal God. He emphasizes that the cause of Evil is individuality. "Whoever does not abdicate his individuality to Allah is ‘arrogant’ and thus Satan’s tool."
I could go on for many more pages. Let it suffice to say that this is one of the most enlightening books I have read in a long time. Messadie’s conclusion is irate if nothing else. He blames the Holocaust, not on the devil, but on human stupidity. He ends by saying, "My conviction is that it is profoundly Satanic to believe in the Devil. We live under the sign of a nonexistent deity cobbled together twenty-six centuries ago by power-hungry Iranian priests."