I’ve been intermittently reading John Milton’s Paradise Lost, which popularized the idea of Satan being a fallen angel originally named Lucifer.
The name means “light-bringer,” and is not used to refer to the Adversary in the Bible. It was actually the Latin name for the Morning Star, which was later discovered to be the planet Venus, and the same as the Evening Star.
Many ancient cultures regarded stars as celestial beings, and the Hebrews were no exception. The book of 1 Enoch includes references to angels in the form of stars who rebelled against God, and hence were cast out of Heaven. The cast-out stars could refer to meteors, which we all know look like falling stars. There are apparently several ancient myths about the Morning Star trying to ascend to the highest place in the heavens, and being cast down by the gods. It’s possible that, since the Morning Star is the brightest in the sky for a while but only stays in vision until the sun rises, this was seen as a constant struggle rather than a one-time thing. As Satan was sometimes presented as an angel, as in Job, it’s not surprising that he came to be mixed in with both the falling star and rebellious Morning Star myths. At least, that seems to be the most likely historical explanation.
In a Christian context, the name Lucifer in particular is usually associated with Isaiah 14, which speaks of the Morning Star trying to place itself above the Most High God, but being cast down into Sheol. In context, this passage actually refers to the King of Babylon, but it’s quite possible it’s referencing an earlier myth as well. The Vulgate translates the reference to the Morning Star (“Helel ben Shahar” in Hebrew) as “Lucifer.” Combine this with the rebellious angel myth from Judaism, and you get the modern Christian interpretation of Lucifer becoming the evil Satan.
As I mentioned here, the myth of Satan’s rebellion as it developed is hardly as simple as some fundamentalists might want to present it. Lucifer is presented as having been motivated by power, but does that necessarily mean he didn’t have any legitimate gripes against God? In much of the world today, the trend has been toward making sure no one person has too much power. Yet, at the same time, polytheistic religion has given way to monotheism, in which one deity has absolute power. I’m not saying there’s a direct correlation here (European monarchy as we know it was supported by the Christian Church), just that it’s kind of odd to me that so many people still buy into the idea of perfection when it comes to religion.
It’s a common thought that servitude to God is acceptable because the Almighty is totally good, but how do we define that? The God portrayed in the Bible does a lot of things that we wouldn’t consider good if humans were to do them. But if God is all-powerful and all-knowing, there’s really no way to know that, is there? And if you determine that there is a God and He’s a big jerk, what could possibly be done about it? Really, the omnipotence thing seems like kind of a racket to me. That’s not to say we’d be better off under Satan, if what religion and popular culture say about him is correct.
One of the annotations to the online version of Paradise Lost that I’m reading suggests that Milton might have been comparing the Devil to Oliver Cromwell, who overthrew King Charles I in the name of the people, but then took over England as a dictator. But just because the replacement was not such a great guy doesn’t mean the original ruler was either.