I'm James Maxey, the author of numerous novels of fantasy and science fiction. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.


Monday, January 24, 2005

Lucifer takes the fall

In my last post, I talked about "ghost words," words that entered the dictionary by mistake. There is a very common ghost word that became well established in our language--a ghost name, to be more accurate.

Almost everyone has heard of Lucifer, and knows him to be one of the fallen angels, indeed, the leader of the fallen angels, as famously portrayed in Milton's "Paradise Lost."

Lately, I've been doing research into angels and fallen angels, in preparation for a new novel. The novel will be using a Biblical mythology--it's set in a universe very like our own, only it really was created in seven days about five thousand years ago. Angels and devils play major roles in the plot, as the Judgment Day draws ever nearer. One thing that confused me about the Biblical fallen angels was the identity of the devil. Was the devil Lucifer, or Satan, or were they actually the same character?

Lucifer appears only once in the Bible. His name is variously translated as Lucifer or Morningstar, and is identified with the planet Venus. The relevant passage is Isaiah 14:12. "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, that didst lay low the nations!" Yet, in context, it is plain that Lucifer isn't a name, it's a title. The author is addressing Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. It's like referring to Louis XIV as the Sun King--Isaiah is saying that Nebuchadnezzar is riding pretty high and mighty right now, the brightest star in they sky, but that being up that high is only setting him up for a bigger fall.

St. Jerome, translating Isaiah from Hebrew to Latin in the 4th century, made the choice to use the word Lucifer, meaning "Light Bringer", and not long after, Lucifer began to seep into Christian mythology as a fallen angel. By the time that Milton wrote "Paradise Lost," it was well established that Lucifer was the devil--all due to a simple misreading.

So, Lucifer as a fallen angel stands out as a "ghost word" that made it big--a mistake that caught on, eventually taking on more life than its literal meaning of Venus or metaphorical meaning of Nebuchadnezzar. The chief fallen angel of popular culture not only didn't rebel against God, he didn't even exist!

I was building up to a joke about Lucifer being the ultimate fall guy, but now it no longer strikes me as funny.

So. Never mind.


Defiant1 said...

I'm not sure the full nature of your beliefs, but you almost contradict yourself. To call Lucifer the brightest star is parallel if not synonymous to calling him Satan. Satan was the chief angel. The most beautiful. His shortcoming (sin) was pride and thinking that the creation is greater than the created. When individuals set themselves up in life with pride, they are endorsing and mirroring the sin of Satan.

To truly immerse yourself in Biblical Mythology, you open the door to some convoluted teachings. I'm not saying there is not some merit to such a quest, but how do you narrow the scope? Gnostic texts, Manichaean creation myths, Kabbalah, Jewish Pseudepigrapha, Apochrypha.... the quest to understand the implications of these writings is a life-long endeavor. It is also a daunting task that can fuel one's pride and make anyone feel their perspective is superior because they know more history than those around them. A quest of this nature can offer more contentious strife than enlightenment.

I happen to be a born and raised Georgia boy that scoffed the Christian Bible until he was about 21. I had a knack for picking up the Bible at age 10 and within seconds finding paradoxical aspects that left me smug and cynical. By the time I was 14 I was proudly agnostic. Why Agnostic? Because to be Atheistic, that assumes you have enough knowledge to see the full picture. It assumes that the snapshot of the world around us is completely visible. I later learned that Jesus compared us to blind people, but I'd already factored that possibilty and considered it a valid issue.

I am a believer now. The transition was humbling and I'd have it no other way. My faith today was found outside the church and I tend to keep it outside where I can debate such issues without being classified as the sterotypical Christian hypocrite. I'm a normal hypocrite like every other living, breathing human being that I've met.

Knowledge is the accumulation of facts, wisdom is the ability to use it. Your perspective is interesting, but I'm not sure I'd be so quick to cite this as a mistake. Describing it as a ghost might be fitting, but I wouldn't call the spirit of a word or it's implied meaning a mistake.


James Maxey said...

Defiant, thanks for your comments. You write, "Satan was the chief angel. The most beautiful. His shortcoming (sin) was pride and thinking that the creation is greater than the created." But, I'm curious, what is your Biblical sourcing for this? Most of what is commonly known about "the devil" comes from non-Biblical Christian mythology. The Bible (at least the King James Version) is actually rather sparse in its descriptions of Satan. But, unlike Lucifer, Satan is an actual Biblical figure, playing major roles in the book of Job then popping up again in the book of Revelations. He undergoes a dramatic personality shift between Old Testament and New--in Job, he's still freely walking into Heaven and getting in God's face. In Revelations, he's exiled from Heaven and whipping up the war to end all wars.

As to where I'm coming from, let me be blunt: I'm an atheist. I view Satan as a mythic figure, no more real than Loki of Norse myth or Hades of Greek myth. I was raised as a fundamentalist Christian, and still retain some of the bias of my upbringing--i.e., when it comes to Christian myth, the final world is God's word, as contained in the King James Version. I'd like to flavor my novel with Biblical quotes whenever possible. But, a lot of stuff I'll simply be making up, just as Milton and Dante made stuff up when writing about angels and fallen angels. I figure I'll be in good company.

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Defiant1 said...


Sorry for revisiting this so late. Your answer is logical. A quick review of the Biblical texts about Satan reveals that it is sparse and ambiguous. I believe the details are intentionally left vague so that we do not try to absolve ourself of personal responsibility. How one interprets the verses would most definitely depend upon what you believe or in this case don't believe.

As one who now believes in God, I am always reluctant to accept Christian based fiction. Revelation 22:18 is justification enough for most Christians to steer clear of it.

Years ago in high school I took a class on science fiction. In that class, the teacher said "The best science fiction is that which is based upon the most science fact." Her assertion was logical. If you have astronauts land on the moon and it is depicted as being a big sphere of green cheese, you are going to lose some credibility as a writer. That thought stayed with me many years through my conversion from being Agnostic to Christian.

One day it dawned upon me that the most convincing and deceptive lies are those which are shrouded by the most truths. People are more willing to accept a lie when so many other things said before and after it are known to be true. Herein lies the concern which motivated me to respond initially. Had I still been agnostic (without knowledge), I might have given more weight to the fictional elements regarding a topic that I feel holds the souls of mankind in the balance. As you can perhaps imagine, a benign literary work can sometimes spark unexpected reactions.

BTW, I don't believe in converting people. I only witness what I have experienced and let others come to their own conclusion. I've always believed that the stronger one has faith in nothing, the greater their soul will eventually yearn for something. I don't shudder in fear that your soul is doomed.

This weekend I prayed to understand something about people and the word
oxytocin came to me. I believe that in addition to explaining social interactions, it also explains people's attitude towards God, or the lack of it. I have much to ponder. The research on that chemical is going to change the way I look at people and their choices for the rest of my life.