Taxonomic analysis in satanological studies

The following table presents a taxonomy for assessing the extent to which a text exhibits belief in supernatural evil. Within this taxonomy the term ‘mythological’ refers to supernatural evil (‘cosmological’ and ‘mythological’ are both used in the literature). Each taxon is subsequently explained in detail.

_taxonomy table

1. Explanatory recourse.

This examines what a text uses as an explanatory recourse for hamartiology (explanation for temptation and personal sin), theodicy (explanation for the presence of evil in the world), soteriology (explanation for the atonement), martyrology (explanation for persecution of the righteous), and astheniology (explanation for sickness), and eschatology (explanation for certain events at the end of time).

Three explanatory recourses are typically found in Jewish and Christian texts: theological (God), anthropological (humans), and cosmological/mythological (Satan, or evil spirits such as demons or fallen angels). These are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and a text may use more than one explanation. A text exhibiting strong mythological belief will typically use a mythological explanation, a text exhibiting weak mythological belief will sometimes use a mythological explanation, and a text exhibiting non-mythological belief will never use a mythological explanation.

2. Mythological material.

This examines how a text uses mythological material. A text exhibiting strong mythological belief may import the mythological referent into the text in a manner which demonstrates acceptance of its presentation in the source; the existence of pagan gods, mythological beasts, and supernatural evil beings found in the source material is completely acknowledged (adoption). Alternatively, they may introduce mythological elements into a text in which they did not appear previously, or expand a text containing ambiguous references which could be mythological or non-mythological, so that they refer explicitly to mythological elements (amplification).

A text exhibiting weak mythological belief may acknowledge the existence of the mythological referent, but reduce its status; the existence of spirit beings worshipped by the pagans as gods is acknowledged, but they are demoted from powerful benign deities to insignificant evil spirits or demons (reinterpretation). A text exhibiting non-mythological belief may use terms and imagery from mythological source material, but such elements are typically omitted, replaced with non-mythological terms, or polemicized in a manner demonstrating the writer’s disbelief.

3. Terminology.

This examines how a text uses specific terms. A text exhibiting strong mythological belief will use terms with an explicit mythological referent; words such as diabolos will explicitly or even exclusively refer to a supernatural evil being. A text exhibiting weak mythological belief will use such terminology polyvalently or ambiguously; either using them sometimes of a mythological referent (diabolos as supernatural evil being), and sometimes of a non-mythological referent (diabolosas human slanderer), or using them in such a way as the referent is difficult to determine due the ambiguity of the context. A text exhibiting non-mythological belief will typically avoid terms with a unique supernatural referent (such as proper names for supernatural evil beings; Mastema, Beelzebub, Beliar, etc), and terms which could have either a mythological or non-mythological referent (such as diabolos), will be used explicitly and exclusively of non-mythological referents.

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