Spotlighting Student Work #8: Delilah, a History

Today’s essay is a piece from student Zoe O’Neill about the biblical figure Delilah, and some of her more interesting appearances throughout history. Zoe is doing a conjoint degree in Law and Arts (LLB/BA), and hopes to work in the areas of international law and intellectual property law. She also has a love of art and art history (as you can tell from her essay!)

Enjoy the read!



Delilah’s Greatest Hits throughout the ages

You gave her a throne, so she could cut your hair

Zoe O’Neill

Samson and Delilah are but one of many symbolic pairings that spring to life from the pages of the Old Testament in modern day reimaginings, but are arguably the most embellished in contemporary interpretations. Beyond Delilah’s origin in Judges 16, her story has been extrapolated to be that of a seductive temptress who ensnares her male victim. Such themes are evident in the works of Rubens and in the more modern film of Cecil B DeMille. Comparatively these show that, irrespective of the time of production, Delilah has repeatedly been reimagined to reinforce socially significant views of women and has thus influenced both the lives of women beyond of the text, and the image of women within the text.

The iconic duo. And their very nice rug.


Both Cecil B DeMille’s film Samson and Delilah and Rubens’s 1609 work by the same name add to the original biblical tale to rewrite a story of scandal and mystique. The origin of Delilah’s story is within the Judges 16 sequence that details Samson’s life. Little can be gleaned of Delilah’s person other than that her origin is in Sorek, she was paid by the Philistine powers to find the source of the warrior’s strength and was responsible for his hair being cut (Judges 16). As such, the depiction of Delilah as a sexualized harlot or femme fatale is an extension of artistic license by both DeMille and Rubens. The origin of her characterization may be attributed to the earliest biblical scholars such as Flavius Josephus, who identifies a “harlot among Philistines” (Antiquities). The depth to which they are perpetuated, however, is rooted in Delilah being deployed as an envoy of other social regimes of each artist’s era. Both Rubens and DeMille demonstrate an artist influenced not only by religion but by a subtle agenda of warning against the liberation of women through their personifications of the deceitful Delilah.

Samson and Delilah, Peter Paul Rubens, 1609

Ruben’s depictions of Delilah emphasise her sexuality, whether it be passive or vengeful, and play into Baroque social expectations of female physical beauty (Sweet 2014). The “harlot among Philistines” image of Delilah, based on fabrications of her characteristics and occupation, is encapsulated in Rubens’ Samson and Delilah, 1609-1610. Here, artistic license draws sumptuous crimson swathes around the reclining Delilah’s body, and the stark white of her breasts glow in the warmly lit interior. Sensuality pervades the candlelit space as Samson lies splayed across her lap. The slumped figure of the great warrior upon tousled sheets and beneath the gaze of Venus and Cupid in an alcove does more than enough to suggest unsavory acts prior to this scene. Such an overt show of sexuality is particularly interesting when it is considered that earlier in Samson’s tale, “he saw a prostitute and went in with her” (Judges 16). Here, it is evident that Samson is seeking pleasure, but a similar relationship is imposed upon his with Delilah even though “he fell in love” with her (Judges 16). That their relationship is simply assumed to be only sexual, or that of a service, is the product of Ruben’s own expectations due to a moralistic Dutch background. She is painted to be a victim of her own desires that has coerced a hero into the same, and both of their ultimate undoing’s will be the sexuality she so proudly professes. Ruben’s Delilah feeds a cultural anxiety for the persuasive power of a woman able to emasculate and disarm a strong man with nothing more than her sexuality (Blyth 2011).

Rubens was followed in his fascination with Delilah by his student, Anthony Van Dyck, most notably in Gefangennahme Simsons, 1628-30. This work is focused on the ambiguity of emotion between the two protagonists of the Judges 16 tale, and in doing so highlights the power of love over Samson. With his outreached arms, the warrior clings to the affection he feels for Delilah perched upon the strewn bedsheets. Even as the Philistine soldiers, wielding whips and bludgeons, tackle him en masse, his instinct for self-preservation appears to be overwhelmed by the temptation of Delilah’s embrace and promise. The raw physicality of their battle, with exposed breast and neck opposed by taught brawn and musculature, makes the overt sexuality of the situation difficult to overlook. Such a powerful pull further illustrates the sexuality and femininity imposed on Delilah so that she might be a desirable woman.

Gefangennahme Simsons, Anthony van Dyck, 1630

Historically, religious works of art such as Ruben’s can be viewed as representing the popular philosophical tradition of gendered ‘matter’ and capacities (Witt & Shapiro, 2017). It is said that maleness of reason is symbolic and metaphorical rather than cultural or psychological (Witt & Shapiro, 2017). Here, the symbolically masculine perception of reason takes root in the subsequent idea that a lack of reason, such as a saturation of emotion, might be female. In Ruben’s work, emotional response to the situation are rampant through the supposed prostitute’s intimate caress of the muscular torso of Samson, and her isolated gaze despite the crowded figures. She appears distant and fulfilling an obligation (Georgievska-Shine, 2007), but also maternally, intimately responsive to the man in her lap. This is shown in her lilted gaze upon Samson’s back, which may also be read as ‘sleepy affection’ (Blyth, 2011), suggestive of an emotional confusion for the temptress. Delilah, in Ruben’s scene, has done her duty to the Philistine soldiers at the door, but this is contradicted by her own quiet love for the man. And so, Delilah’s preoccupation with the sentimental echoes philosophical traditions of the time; humanism and its rationalistic approach to the world is biased toward the masculine energy her entire being refutes. Since the origins of rationalism in Aristotle, reason has been associated with maleness (Witt & Shapiro, 2017). As such, the notion that Delilah was simply a passionate, mischievous pawn in the Philistine’s political scheme, as rendered by Rubens, is a reflection of the periods philosophical emphasis on gendered nature.

Cecil B DeMille’s depiction of Delilah is the product of its post-war conservative social context. American films at this time reflected dominant social discourses, including that traditional nuclear family structures are imperative to success and community (McEuen, 2016). As the emancipated woman of the Second World War was again relegated to the domestic sphere, independent and mysterious women – traits indigenous to the femme fatale – posed a threat to social prescriptions. Thus, it can be said that the femme fatale character of post-war Hollywood was not necessarily born of a textual tradition, but rather as ‘a metaphor of discursive unease’ (Hanson & O’Rawe, 2010). Implications of this context in the film itself are implicit in the helpless pleas of Samson, victim to the manipulation of the all-too-powerful woman before him; even as she betrays him he cries “Vengeance is yours, O Lord. Strike her, destroy her, for I cannot” (DeMille, 1949). This quote echoes perhaps the core fear of post-war America – that wild, powerful women would hold so much power over the wartime hero, that he would no longer be a hero at all.


Further to DeMille’s cautionary aims are strategic cinematic devices that further emphasise Delilah’s destructive potential; the casting of Hedy Lamarr and use of Miriam as a foil for her demonstrative ways. The familiarity of Miriam, the intervener in Delilah’s trapping of Samson, to the conservative American woman accentuates the curiosity Lamarr’s character is built on. Miriam is a steadfast objector to Samson’s devotion to Delilah and is characterized by her plain appearance, diligent nature and moral aptitude. Indeed, her glowing sexuality pervades the tapestried love nest within which she confronts Samson, but never more so than when she is seen alongside Miriam.

Olive Deering as Miriam

Hedy Lamarr was herself an exotic and promiscuous figure of the early 20th century, known for both her divorces and provocative films (Hedy Lamarr, 2017). In her earlier years, Lamarr was seen in the film Ecstasy (dir. Gustav Machaty, 1933) in the first fully nude role in cinematic history (Blyth, 2011). With her husky Austrian accent and exotic, midriff baring costumes, she was a classic type of Hollywood’s obsession with ethnic female stardom that played upon fantasies of domesticity and femininity with a foreign allure (Negra, 2001). In the biblical story of Delilah, her nationality is not determined (Judges 16). But due to her betrayal of the Israelites she is presumed to be ‘other’ – that is Philistine. Hedy Lamarr’s rich accent in a time of post-war conservatism fed this undertow of feminized racism. The other side to Lamarr’s Delilah coin is her justification of Samson’s desires through perfect embodiment of 1940s beauty standards. Her curvaceous figure, luscious lips and glossy curls made her the ‘late 40s vision of perfect womanhood’ (Llewellyn-Jones, quoted in Blyth, 2011), and surreptitiously excused Samson’s failure to resist. It would appear that, at least in DeMille’s telling of history, Samson was not to blame for succumbing to Delilah, as no man could. To this end, DeMille himself described his Delilah as “quite the bitch” (Kozlovic, 2010; 12), evidence of the world behind the text, that is post-war America, and it’s male superiority complex. All in all, such techniques paint Delilah as an ‘all time femme fatale’ (Head and Ardmore, quoted in Blyth 2011)  and speak to a war-time America that sought to warn of the tribulations of such exotic, sexualized activities, and inspire instead a safe, domestic way of being.

Hedy Lamarr as Delilah

To say Delilah is the figment of many an imagination is a truer statement than many; her characteristics are largely the product of liberal contemporary supplementation, far more so than her biblical outline. The result of this process is a recurring scapegoat role for Delilah, whereby she is cloaked with the social and political agendas of whatever period she is being reproduced for. Though post-war America and pre-modern Northern Europe are vastly different in many ways, they shared a fear of female independence and emancipation that resulted in a highly sexualized, ultra-feminine image of Delilah the harlot. Both Ruben’s and DeMille’s Delilah is ultimately a tool for reinforcing preexisting social anxieties, transforming a biblical passerby into an icon of uncontrollable, irresistible sexuality.



Biblical references are taken from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Blyth, C. (2011). Cultural representations of Delilah… a whore or more?. Auckland Theology. Retrieved from representations-of-delilah-a-whore-or-more/

Charles, S. (2017). Peter Paul Rubens | Flemish artist. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 17 October 2017, from Rubens#toc6288

DeMille, C. (1949). Samson and Delilah. Hollywood.

Blyth, C. The Lost Seduction: Reimagining Delilah’s Afterlives as Femme Fatale. London: Bloomsbury, 2017.

Exum, J. (1996). Plotted, Shot, and Painted: Cultural Representations of Biblical Women (Gender, Culture, Theory) Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press.

Georgievska-Shine, A. (2007). Rubens and the tropes of deceit in Samson and Delilah. Word & Image, 23(4), 460-473.

Hanson, H., & O’Rawe, C. (2010). The Femme Fatale: Images, Histories, Contexts. Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hedy Lamarr. (2017). Retrieved 9 October 2017, from

Josephus, F. (1768). The whole works of Flavius Josephus (pp. 5.8). Aberdeen: Printed and sold by J. Bruce and J. Boyle.

Kozlovic, A. (2010). The Construction of Samson’s Three Lovers in Cecil B DeMilles Techinolor Testament. Women In Judaism: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 1(7), 8-13.

Negra, D. (2001). Off-white Hollywood. London: Routledge.

Sweet, L. (2014). Fantasy Bodies, Imagined Pasts: A Critical Analysis of the “Rubenesque” Fat Body in Contemporary Culture. Fat Studies, 3(2), 130-142.

Witt, C., & Shapiro, L. (2017). Feminist History of Philosophy. In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2017 Edition).

McEuen, M. (2016). Women, Gender, and World War II. In Oxford Research Encyclopaedias. Oxford University Press.


Spotlighting Student Work #7: Basketball’s Chosen James

And now for something completely different–we have an essay about a sporting saviour by student Jamahlia Smith. This essay discusses basketball icon LeBron James and his role as a chosen one within the sport. We will let Jamahlia say a bit about herself.

I am Maori (Ngai Tahu), Pakeha, and Tongan. I’m in third year and double major in social anthropology and (mainly NZ) history. I plan to do a post graduate diploma in early childhood education and look forward to developing and participating in inclusive environments for young children. I took this paper as although I have explored religion across cultures, there was a gap in my knowledge of biblical texts. It has been eye-opening, and the course has created a passionate and inclusive learning environment.

Now for LeBron!

King James – The Chosen One

Jamahlia Smith

The American Monomyth can certainly be seen in film and television, such as the current abundance of superhero movies (Lawrence & Jewett, 2002). However, messiah figures are not restricted to a world of fantasy – they also walk among us. Sport exemplifies secular devotion in the modern day. The National Basketball Association (NBA) is one of the biggest sites for fanatical devotion in the sports world. LeBron James plays in the NBA, and is one of the most well-known and followed figures in basketball today. In this essay I will demonstrate how James fulfils many of the characteristics of a modern messiah, drawing comparisons to Jesus – a biblical messiah. I will argue that James is a modern messiah in the sporting world by outlining his professional career. Furthermore, I will argue James is just as much a messiah off the court due to his participation in social justice, politics, activism, and charity.

Like many messianic figures, LeBron James’ origins were unusual in nature, and he was set apart from others at an early age. James’ mother was just sixteen at the time of his birth (Wahl, 2002). His early life was rough, as he moved frequently in the low socio-economic areas of Akron, Ohio (Wahl, 2002). James never knew his biological father, however in fourth grade he moved in with his basketball coach (Marsh, 2010; Wahl, 2002). James then flourished as a young man, both academically, and in sports. Similarities can be seen in James and Jesus’ early lives. In Matthew 1:18-24, Jesus is embraced by Joseph, a man who is not his biological father. As James grew older his divine, outsider status became apparent. Before starting his NBA career in 2003, the hype surrounding James was rising at a rapid rate (Marsh, 2010). At just seventeen years old, messianic language was used to describe James, as can be seen in the 2002 Sports Illustrated cover that positions James as “The Chosen One”:

The young James. Full of energy.

Moreover, many in the sports industry assigned greatness to James. For context, Kobe Bryant was one of the biggest names in basketball in the late nineties through to the 2000s, and is hailed as one of the greatest players of all time. Adidas representative Sonny Vaccaro asserted “At this age LeBron is better than anybody I’ve seen in thirty-seven years in this business, including Kobe” (Wahl, 2002). Coach Jim Fenerty shared Vaccaro’s sentiments: “We played Kobe when Kobe was a senior, and LeBron is the best player we’ve ever played against. LeBron is physically stronger than Kobe was as a senior, and we’ve never had anybody shoot better against us” (Wahl, 2002). Positioning James as superior to Bryant before James had entered the NBA was huge, and nicely exemplifies the sensational nature surrounding James’ early career. Perhaps most importantly, James embraced his outsider status from a young age, this is demonstrated particularly well in his first tattoo that came shortly after his Sports Illustrated cover in 2002:

And a really nice back, too.

In John 4:25-26, Jesus accepts his messiah status exclaiming “I am he”. James is most certainly not an apprehensive messiah figure, and I believe his first tattoo can be seen as a contemporary expression of “I am he”. James’ messiah status has evolved over time and in monolithic proportions as he entered the NBA and was given an international platform to flaunt his powers.

Notions of LeBron James’ extraordinary powers and divine competence come from his inherent talents, but have also been constructed through specific Nike marketing campaigns. Again, we can see James embracing a messianic identity, claiming extraordinary talents and the ability to remain ‘cool’ as can be seen in his Sports Illustrated article:

A lot of players know how to play the game, but they really don’t know how to play the game, if you know what I mean. They can put the ball in the hoop, but I see things before they even happen (Wahl, 2002).

This highlights James’ self-proclamation of physical prowess, but more importantly here is the claim of magical mental abilities (Billings & Mocarski, 2014). Nike played on these attitudes surrounding James, developing commercials that utilized religious iconography, and positioned James as a quasi-divine figure that should be worshiped. This is seen in two commercials: “Book of Dimes” and “Pressure”.

“Book of Dimes” is set on a basketball court that has been transformed to also resemble a church service. There is a podium in which ‘preacher’ Bernie Mac stands, with a gospel choir behind him. He preaches to the audience, not from the bible but from the “King James Playbook”. Mac reads: “Basketball’s chosen one asked the soul of the game for court vision, and it was granted to him”. The audience becomes increasingly excited. It is at this point LeBron James enters the ‘church’ – the audience rejoices, with singing and celebration:

Holy crap

This commercial has obvious religious connotations. Firstly, Nike declares James ‘King James’ – attaching a religious narrative to James, with the King James Bible having influence in America (Billings & Mocarski, 2014). Further, the commercial assigns a clear messianic identity to James – James is positioned as an extraordinary individual, who deserves worship (Marsh, 2010).

Rejoicing all around

This commercial has obvious religious connotations. Firstly, Nike declares James ‘King James’ – attaching a religious narrative to James, with the King James Bible having influence in America (Billings & Mocarski, 2014). Further, the commercial assigns a clear messianic identity to James – James is positioned as an extraordinary individual, who deserves worship (Marsh, 2010).

“Pressure” is less overtly religious, however it does present a modern messiah narrative by demonstrating LeBron James’ divine competence. The commercial depicts James playing his first NBA game. James is given the ball as the commentators exclaim: “talk about pressure, is he going to be able to handle it?” The crowd is loud and rowdy, awaiting action from James. However, he then freezes, staying still for around ninety percent of the one-minute commercial. The crowd grows silent, commentators whisper “talk about not being able to handle the pressure”.  Suddenly, James laughs and proceeds over the three-point line to take his shot. This commercial shows James’ ability to stay ‘cool’ in the face of pressure, both physically and mentally, fulfilling the criteria of a divinely competent modern messiah (Billings & Mocarski, 2014).

It is also of note that LeBron James’ career was on the rise when NBA legend Michael Jordan was retiring from professional basketball. Jordan’s departure from the NBA left a gap that needed to be filled – a Second Coming of Michael Jordan (Marsh, 2010). The 2002 Sports Illustrated article together with the two Nike commercials clearly demonstrate the American Monomyth narrative – James was born of unusual circumstances, was given an extraordinary gift, and divine competence, in order to restore faith in the NBA after Jordan’s retirement (Laurence & Jewett, 2002; Marsh, 2010).

I will now turn my attention to LeBron James’ divine competence off the court, exploring his selfless zeal for justice through social activism. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement arose from a rise in police brutality and racial profiling in America, which saw many young African American males killed by police (Coombs & Cassilo, 2017). James supports the BLM movement, demonstrating his black and white moral world that is driven by justice. This can be seen through various acts in social media, and also in real life:


In the first image James and his teammates wear the same clothing Trayvon Martin wore when murdered by police, highlighting problematic racial profiling. In the second image, James wears a shirt depicting the last words of Eric Garner before his death at the hands of police (Strauss & Scott, 2014). The clear message bought forth is that James stands in solidarity with victims of police violence. James supports the African American community, providing a platform to bring light to these issues. This highlighting of injustice through peaceful protest was recognized, most notably by Barack Obama who commented:

We forget the role that Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe and Bill Russell played in raising consciousness. We went through a long stretch there where [with] well-paid athletes the notion was: just be quiet and get your endorsements and don’t make waves. LeBron is an example of a young man who has, in his own way and in a respectful way, tried to say, ‘I’m part of this society, too’ and focus attention (Westfall, 2014).

James’ activism is exemplary of the American Monomyth narrative – America is in a state of social crisis (racism, violence, political indifference), James attempts to deliver his community from evil through peaceful protest (Laurence & Jewett, 2002). Further, James’ careful approach to protest is reminiscent of Matthew 5:43-48 which stresses the importance of peaceful relationships, even with one’s enemies. James’ participation in social activism very much aligns him as a modern messiah. Moreover, the deliberate choice to focus on attention rather than aggression demonstrates James’ divine competence in relation to social justice (Coombs & Cassilo, 2017).

Sport offers hope for national and regional communities. Sports stars and teams often have a loyal band of followers. LeBron James fandom takes these notions to the next level. It is typical for fans to strongly support certain teams, with the athletes in these teams taking a secondary role. However, James’ fandom supersedes team supports and loyalty. Fans of James will follow him wherever he goes, the team in which he is in has become irrelevant. Further, these disciples look upon James in awe and as quasi-divine. This can be seen in Nike’s “Witness” campaign. This campaign involved a commercial in which fans express their undying admiration for James whilst wearing “witness” shirts. Nike then took fans notions of James, and constructed his image in billboard form:

What a guy

This billboard depicts James in a Christ-like manner, with his arms extended. Moreover, this billboard is huge, demonstrating James’ larger than life status (Marsh, 2010). James fandom is not restricted to basketball. James has built a loyal following as a community leader and role model due to his social activism previously mentioned, together with his many charitable acts, including opening schools for disadvantaged children (Savvas, 2018). In this way, James is situated as ‘bigger’ than his position as an athlete, rather he is an empathetic messiah, whom should be witnessed and worshipped in all his glory (Billings & Mocarski, 2014).

LeBron James exemplifies the American Monomyth just as much as the fictional superheroes we watch at the movies. James fully embraces his identity – he has been on a messianic path since his unconventional childhood, and is assured he is made for greatness. James blurs lines between religion and pop culture through his career as an athlete. However, James is never limited to his on-court life. He transcends sports through his social activism and passion for justice. His devoted followers witness and admire his extraordinary powers both on and off the court.



All references to the Biblical text are from the NIV.

Bob Bob. (2008, May 14). Nike Basketbal: Witness – LeBron James Ad . Retrieved from

Burfiend, G. (2014). All the King’s men. [online image]. Retrieved from

Coombs, D. S., & Cassilo, D. (2017). Athletes and/or activists: LeBron James and Black lives matter. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 41(5), 425-444. doi:10.1177/0193723517719665

Hughes, A. (2004). Book of Dimes. . Retrieved from

James, L. [kingjames]. (2012, March 24). #WeAreTrayvonMartin #Hoodies #Stereotyped #WeWantJustice . Retrieved from

Jewett, R., & Lawrence, J. S. (2002). The myth of the American superhero. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

LeBrecht, M. (2002). LeBron James SI Covers. [online image]. Retrieved from

Marsh, B. E. (2010). The Emperor and the Little King: The Narrative Construction of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. Retrieved from

Mocarski, R., & Billings, A. C. (2014). Manufacturing a messiah: How Nike and LeBron James co-constructed the legend of King James. Communication & Sport, 2(1), 3-23. doi:10.1177/2167479513481456

Savvas, L. (2018). LeBron James opens school for underprivileged children. Retrieved from

Strauss, C. & Scott, N. (2014). LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Nets players wear ‘I can’t breathe’ shirts before Cavs game. USA Today. Retrieved from

Tony Ricks. (2006, May 14). Nike – LeBron James Pressure . Retrieved from

Wahl, G. (2002). AHEAD OF HIS CLASS: Ohio High School Junior LeBron James is so Good that He’s Already being Mentioned as the Heir to Air Jordan. Sports Illustrated. (Feb 18. 2002). Retrieved from

Watson, T. (2014). 10 Of The NBA’s Most Tattooed Players. [online image]. Retrieved from

Westfall, S. (2014) President Obama: More Sports Stars Should Speak Out on Social Issues. People Magazine. Retrieved from

February 2002 Sports Illustrated cover. Retrieved from LeBron James SI Covers by Michael LeBrecht, 2007, Retrieved 2018, Oct. 08, from

LeBron James’ ‘CHOSEN 1’ tattoo. Retrieved from 10 Of The NBA’s Most Tattooed Players by Terrence Watson, 2014, Retrieved 2018, Oct. 08, from

Stills from “Book of Dimes” Nike commercial. Retrieved from Believe Media by Allen Hughes, 2004, Retrieved 2018, Oct. 09, from

Tweet about Trayvon Martin. Retrieved from Twitter by LeBron James, 2012, Retrieved 2018, Oct. 09, from

“I can’t breathe” shirt. From LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Nets players wear ‘I can’t breathe’ shirts before Cavs game by Chris Strauss and Nate Scott, 2014, Retrieved 2018, Oct 09, from

“We are all witnesses” billboard. From All the King’s men by Grant Burfeind, 2014, Retrieved 2018, Oct. 09, from


Spotlighting Student Work #6: The Best Messiahs Come in Pairs

We have another Messiah-themed essay today, with a look at two characters from the 2015 Assassin’s Creed installation, Syndicate. Our author is TheoRel and Physics major Elizabeth Leaning. Here’s a bit about her.

I’m in my first year, studying a Bachelor of Arts and Science Conjoint, majoring in Theology and Religion (as well as Physics, Maths and Ancient History). Having spent my secondary education at an Auckland Catholic School, I took THEOREL 101 to gain insight into the pop culture element of Catholicism. I look forward  to studying TheoRel to PhD level, and combining it with my Physics major in my career.

Now for the essay.


Jacob and Evie Frye: The Duality of the Modern Messiah

Elizabeth Leaning

When we consider the idea of a Messiah we think of a singular individual. However, when we consider the paradigm of the Messiah archetype – Jesus Christ.  we cannot ignore his duality. The First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, determined Jesus as both fully human and fully divine. So, is it too surprising that a Modern Messiah may share this duality? The twins Jacob and Evie Frye from the game Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, produced by Ubisoft in 2015 are testament to this belief. Being able to switch between Jacob and Evie during gameplay does more than fulfil Ubisoft’s quota of playable female characters. Through this mechanic, we see how the Frye twins approach the same goal, following the same moral code, but through different means. By having both characters contribute towards the concept of Messiah, the game suggests that having a single, perfect Messiah is not the only option for the archetype. Jacob and Evie Frye are able to present a unified, but compromising Messiah figure who fulfils many of Jewett and Lawrence’s criteria of a Modern Messiah, without being portrayed as overly perfect (Jewett & Lawrence, 2002). They are far more real, showing their flaws, but also showing that they are able to come together to act in a way befitting the title of a Modern Messiah.

Jacob and Evie, naming their gang

The Frye twins each possess traits that the other does not, and it is only when they are unified that these traits contribute towards their messianic identity. Jacob’s purified and rationalised divine rage is one of these such traits, matching the approach seen in scriptures describing Jesus, such as when he “overturned the tables of the money changers” (Mark 11:15). Though his systematic assassinations of Templar leadership is undeniably violent, Mirt Komel argues that the assassins are not a “perverse, negative evil-self of the player,” (Komel, 2014). Their actions have meaning, and are not superficially designed for a murderous escapist fantasy. They are rationalised, as were Jesus’ acts of violence.

I’m sure he deserved it

Another element of the messianic identity that Jacob fulfils is that of having a loyal band of iconic followers. For Jesus, it was his disciples, many of whom were outcasts before being called to mission (Matthew 9:9). Similarly, Jacob aimed to “unite a mix of disenfranchised outsiders under one name” while forming his gang – the Rooks. Furthermore, while Jesus had Mary Magdalene as a confidante (and potential love interest), Jacob found an unlikely companion and even more unlikely romantic interest in Maxwell Roth. The mission of both the 12 Apostles and the Rooks is also similar: to continue the work of their “Messiah” and spread the “Good News” amongst the people, and in both cases, this mission is spread with the solidarity that “only comes when [they] all start from the same point and are united in the same truth” that is characteristic of disciples fit for mission (Leaning, 2017). Whether this “Good News” be freedom from death or freedom from capitalism, the fact that Jacob Frye and Jesus Christ both surrounded themselves with trusted allies in order to spread this message indicates that Jacob is more messianic than he originally appears.

The twins and crew

From the game’s early days, a distinction has been made between “Jacob’s brawn and Evie’s stealth” (Wireless News, 2015). With many players viewing Evie as the more reasonable of the siblings, she fulfils two of Jewett and Lawrence’s traits of a Modern Messiah that Jacob does not. First is her ability to remain ‘divinely competent’ under pressure. Much as Jesus reassures the drowning Peter with a simple “do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27), it is Evie who calms allies with gentle reassurance.

Idk what that guy in the background is doing. Our girl however, top form.

However, the most recognisable trait of a Messiah is their ability to recover from suffering. Though both twins “respawn” if the player desynchronises, it is Evie who goes through a metaphorical ‘resurrection’. Her strict adherence to her Father’s rules is a common theme throughout the game, causing her the most suffering, as it damages her relationships with both Henry Green and Jacob. As she chastises herself with her father’s words, “Don’t allow personal feelings to compromise the mission” we glimpse of the pain she is feeling in being forced to live her father’s life. So, when she sacrifices something that was so important to her – her reliance on rules – for the sake of accomplishing her final mission, it can be read in the same way in which Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice. She herself did not die, but she willingly sacrificed the parts of herself that were stopping her from accomplishing her mission. Though Evie’s resurrection and conquering of suffering is metaphorical, it is no less valid, and contributes towards her and her brothers’ messianic status.

One Stoic Boi

Though even from the earliest trailers, Evie was described as one who “executes both her plans and her targets with meticulous precision”, while Jacob is “brash and reckless”, there are undoubtedly parallels between the twins. (Ubisoft, 2015). In these parallels, Jacob and Evie fulfil four more elements of a Messiah. Firstly, they have unusual origins. They were not born to a virgin in a stable, nor were they spared from genocide by the daughter of a Pharaoh; they were, however, born into a brotherhood that left them no autonomy over their lives. They never had the option of integrating into contemporary society, much as Jesus could never have merely been a carpenter’s son, and Moses could not grown up the son of a Pharaoh.

Only the autonomy to be AWESOME

Furthermore, being born in Crawley, when the twins arrived in London they were outsiders. Not only were they overwhelmed by “the churning seas of London”, but being unfamiliar with the city, they initially relied heavily on Henry Green for information and contacts. Jesus too experienced life as an outsider – unwelcome in high social circles and treated like a criminal by some (Mark 15:3). Both the Frye twins and Jesus are the “unlikely redeemer[s]” that Matthew McEver viewed as being the epitome of the messianic narrative (McEver, 1998). Another important characteristic that both Jacob and Evie share with Biblical Messiahs is their strict morality. Though they disagree on their methods, both Jacob and Evie agree on the three tenets of the Creed. There is no grey area or region of doubt, and their morals are non-negotiable.

Yeah, looks pretty non-negotiable from here pal

This is a similar stance held by Biblical Messiahs. Jesus repeats the phrase “truly I tell you” 24 times in the New International Version of the Bible, conveying the same sense of moral surety. Old Testament Messiahs like Moses maintained the same immutable ethics. His knowledge of his own righteousness when conveying the word of God to the Pharaoh Rameses is proof of this unshakeable nature of a Messiah-figure’s principles, and is a knowledge also held by both Jacob and Evie Frye. The final characteristic the twins have in common with Messiah figures is their seemingly superhuman abilities. In the Bible, Messiah figures frequently act in ways not easily explained by those around them, while the Frye twins possess the rare trait of Eagle Vision, allowing them to see things not visible to the naked eye. Furthermore, although they cannot rise from the dead per se (outside of respawning), they can survive even the most violent of encounters – including Leaps of Faith from the top of St Paul’s Cathedral and the derailment of trains. Though neither is a “transcendent individual” in the traditional sense of a Messiah (Kozlovic, 2004), these abilities border on the miracles that Christ performed, and give Jacob, Evie and Jesus a sense of the supernatural.

Ok maybe this isn’t the most exciting picture I could have chosen, but Evie looks kinda spooky here. And she’s being SUPER stealthy.

From this analysis of the traits that Jewett & Lawrence attribute to a Modern Messiah, it becomes evident that there is nothing stopping a pair or group from achieving a Messianic status despite the flaws they may hold as individuals. However, the ninth trait has not yet been considered: resisting temptation. This is something both Evie and Jacob fail to accomplish, where Jesus was successful. Most famously, during his forty days in the desert, Jesus’ bold declaration of “Away from me, Satan!” (Matthew 4:10) displays a resolute resistance to temptation that neither Jacob nor Evie possesses. Jacob is not able to resist the appeal of Roth’s free world and the opportunity to create chaos without consequences, while Evie finds herself more and more enticed by the chance to understand and use the pieces of Eden they seek, rather than simply destroying them.

Jacob and Evie discussing resisting temptation. Probably.

Although this seems very un-Messiah-like, Jesus faced the same dilemma in Gethsemane. Begging that “this cup be taken” from him (Matthew 26:39), he faced the temptation to flee from his responsibilities. He too yielded to the idea of freedom, and the promise of being able to live a fuller life. It is arguable that for those few moments, he caved to temptation and was no longer willing to carry out his divine mission. What is important, however, is that Jesus recovered his. Evie and Jacob follow this same path, ultimately conquering their temptation and becoming even more determined to carry out their original moral mission as a result. So, the twins come to the same realisation that Jesus did in Gethsemane, proving that they still share his messianic qualities without necessarily imitating them to the same extent.

More and more forms of modern media are suggesting this idea that there is a strength in a pair of characters not available when they stand alone: Pacific Rim’s Rayleigh and Mako, Marvel’s Thor and Loki, even Star Wars’ Ben and Rey. So, is it inconceivable to consider that our Modern Messiahs may share the same duality that Jesus did?  Though it would be false to say that one of the Frye twins was “divine” and the other “mortal”, it is undeniable that they are perfect yet opposite halves of the same idea. The balance between divinity and mortality in a Messiah is arguably just as important as a balance between impulse and strategy. One lends a sense of calm and reason, while the other grounds the bearer in the fallible, human world. The Frye twins are undoubtedly messianic, but do not sacrifice their relatability in doing so. Having a single Messiah is clearly not the only available option for the archetype, and what Jacob and Evie Frye suggest is that it may not be the best option either.

2gether 4ever



All references to Biblical text are from the NIV

All textual quotes from Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate (2015) Ubisoft

Jewett, Robert & Lawrence, John. (2002). The myth of the American superhero. Grand Rapids, USA: W.B. Eerdmans

Komel, Mirt. (2014). Orientalism in assassin’s creed: Self-orientalizing the assassins from forerunners of modern terrorism into occidentalized heroes. Teorija in Praksa Vol. 51

Kozlovic, Anton K. (2004) The Cinematic Christ-Figure. Furrow Vol. 55

Leaning, Elizabeth. (2017) Being Fit For Mission. Tui Motu InterIslands Vol. 216

McEver, Matthew. (1998) The Messianic Figure in Film: Chritology Beyond the Biblical Epic. Journal of Religion and Film Vol. 2

Ubisoft North America. (2015, June 15). Assassin’s Creed Syndicate: Evie Frye | Trailer | Ubisoft [Video file]. Retrieved from:

Ubisoft North America. (2015, May 12). Assassin’s Creed Syndicate: Jacob Frye | Trailer | Ubisoft [Video file]. Retrieved from:

Wireless News. (2015, October 28). Ubisoft Rolls Out Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. Wireless News. Retrieved from|A432863457&v=2.1&u=learn&it=r&p=ITOF&sw=w

Spotlighting Student Work #5: A Supernatural Child but a Human Messiah

For our fifth essay this year we have a piece by local Parisa Feyz. Parisa is looking at the depiction of a super-powered yet relatable child Messiah in the form of Eleven from Netflix’s popular serial Stranger Things. We’ll let Parisa introduce herself.

I was born and raised in Auckland, I am doing a law and arts conjoint, with a major in politics and philosophy.  I would love to work in an area where I can help people and I am interested in pursuing a career in politics where I can help improve equality. I took Theology 101 because I am very interested in how religion influences our society and the course was highly recommended.

And now for Eleven!

El: The Messiah and the American Monomyth

Parisa Feyz


In Christianity, Jesus is commonly referred to as a Messiah. Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection have created a monomythic theme that we see in many fictional works today. Some of these messianic traits are seen in the Stranger Things character of Eleven. Eleven has inspired fan art, tattoos, and has even been nominated as a mascot for National Waffle Day (Hoffman, 2016). In this essay, I argue that El is a monomythic figure who can rightly be described as a popular messiah. Jesus the Messiah’s birth, life, death and resurrection is a parallel to the American Monomyth as explained by Lawrence and Jewett, and we see this in the character of Eleven as well as she becomes a saviour figure when it seems like all hope is lost. This is shown through her unusual origins, supernatural powers, her selflessness in closing the ‘Upside Down’ and her resurrection. Ultimately, I will show that Eleven is not a perfect messiah as she does not withstand temptations. However, this makes Eleven more relatable as a result.

The Duffer Brothers’ Netflix series Stranger Things is about the disappearance of a 12-year-old boy Will Byers (King, 2017).

Will Byers

Over the series we learn that the Hawkins National Laboratory have been experimenting on a girl (Eleven) with supernatural abilities, forcing her to contact a monster in an alternate universe with her telekinetic powers she opens a gate between our world and the “Upside Down.” This allows a creature, the Demogorgon, to cross over into our world. This creature then takes others to the ‘Upside Down,’ and this disappearance of these people spread fear amongst a small group in Hawkins. Eleven is Hawkins’ only hope when it comes to closing the gate.

El fights the Demogorgon

In the Old Testament, a messiah is known to be “the anointed one,” someone we look up to as a leader, to help guide us through a task. Messiah figures are often there in desperate times when people need someone. The American Monomyth, as stated by Jewett and Lawrence, is a popular theme in movies where “a selfless superhero emerges to renounce temptation and carry out the redemptive task,” provides us with a hero in times of need (Lawrence and Jewett, 2002, p6). Where a community is threatened by evil, a selfless hero saves us from a task in which institutions have otherwise failed (Lawrence and Jewett, 2002). A monomyth is also described as one who is distinguished by disguised origins, a redemptive task, and extraordinary powers (Lawrence and Jewett, 2002).


Eleven has unknown origins of birth.  We do not know who her parents are, how she got her supernatural powers, and who she is. A characteristic of a messiah figure is that they come from unknown origins, or that there is a mystery around their birth (Lawrence and Jewett, 2002). Throughout, Stranger Things there is a constant mystery as to who Eleven’s parents are. This is analogous to Jesus’ unusual origins story. In season 2 it is revealed that Eleven has a mother. However there is mystery around who her father is. As well as this Eleven was stolen from birth, and this is because of her powers.

As a character in the series, Eleven is introduced to us as a twelve-year-old with a shaved head, tattered clothing, and a limited vocabulary. This exemplifies Eleven’s “otherness” as she is an outsider who doesn’t really belong. We slowly learn throughout the series that she was kidnapped and raised in Hawkins National Laboratory where she was experimented on.

El and pseudo father figure, the leader of the Laboratory

Eleven was born with supernatural abilities. She has telepathic and telekinetic abilities that allow her to move and lift objects. Eleven can enter into a mental void using her extrasensory perception, and through this, she seeks others in the ‘Upside Down,’ and locate people (Stranger Things Wiki, /Eleven). Laurence and Jewett state that “superhuman abilities reflect a hope for divine, redemptive powers that science has never eradicated from the popular mind” (Lawrence and Jewett, 2002, p7). However, using her powers does take a toll on Eleven’s body, and her powers are connected to her emotional state as well. The fact that Eleven’s powers drain her is analogous to Jesus’ being both human and divine. Even though she has these supernatural abilities, she still succumbs to the human state.

El usually gets a nosebleed even from minor uses of her power

Eleven reveals her caring nature by rescuing people with her supernatural powers in saviour-like ways. As Eleven is the only one who knows where the Demogorgon is, by using her telepathic abilities, she becomes anointed as “The Chosen One,” and this ability of hers is almost prophetic as only she can voice where the monster is and can save others trapped in the ‘Upside Down.’ Eleven’s arrival and her supernatural powers provide hope, and she is seen as a saviour because she is the only person who can defeat and close the gate to the ‘Upside Down.’

Eleven’s desire to save the people around her, even when she becomes weak and drained as a result of using her powers, shows her selflessness.  Eleven’s portrayal as a messiah figure can also be seen through this selflessness in sacrificing herself to save her friends and as a result the world. This is a characteristic seen in messianic figures (Lawrence and Jewett, 2002). Eleven continuously saves her friends, and at the end of season 1 attempts to close the gate and save Hawkins and her friends from the ‘Upside Down,’ in an ultimate sacrifice where we believe that Eleven has died as she disintegrated along with the Demogorgon. Season 2 revealed that she was unharmed and resurrected. However, this act of self-sacrifice shows an incredible amount of courage and also Eleven’s ability to fiercely protect those people around her, despite growing up in an abusive and loveless environment.

El and friends after facing down an opponent

Eleven is not a perfect messiah, and does not withstand temptations. This is seen in her crush with character Mike Wheeler. As well as her obsession with Eggo Waffles, where we see her steal many boxes of Eggos from a supermarket.

Even messiahs can like (and steal) junk food.

These temptations, however, make Eleven more relatable and identifiable amongst viewers of Stranger Things. Throughout the series, we are referred to the fact that Eleven is a 12-year-old girl, who, like other children just want to be normal, she is a messiah who seems pushed into saving Hawkins. Eleven reminds us of her humanity in the last episode of season 2 where she kisses Mike Wheeler at the school dance. The one aspect of criteria for a messiah figure, which is renouncing sexuality, is one that Eleven does not fulfil. And for a good reason, as it reminds us of her childhood innocence that she has lost as a result of the ‘Upside Down,’ but which she desperately would like to hold on to.

El and Mike

Eleven’s unknown origins, supernatural powers, and selflessness show that El is a contemporary messiah figure willing to sacrifice herself for the greater good. This shows many of the criteria associated with a popular culture messiah. However, the character of Eleven does not cater to the traditional messiah standard that we are used to. El is a young child, and a girl who has wants and desires. Eleven’s temptations make her more relatable as a result and show that although she is not a perfect hero, she is still a popular culture messiah figure.


Angelone Alexander. “How Stranger Things Is A Realistic Superhero Show.” Odyssey. Updated: Nov 2017.

Aslan Reza. “Messiahs.” Bible Odyssey. Accessed Oct 2018.

BibleGateway. “Messiah.” Accessed: Oct 2018.

BibleStudyTools. “Messiah.” Accessed: Oct 2018.

Flint Hanna. “Stranger Things Season 2: Eleven’s Origins Explained.” ScreenRant. Updated: Oct 2017.

Hair Angel. Stranger Things: Eleven Steals the Eggos. From Youtube. Video, 2.31. June 2017.

Hoffman, Ashley, “Why Eleven From Stranger Things Is the Perfect National Waffle Day Mascot,” Retrieved October 16, 2016.

King Lisel E. “On Secular Spirituality in the Duffer Brothers’ Stranger Things, Series 1.” Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities 9, no. 3 (2017): 9-15.

Lawrence, Jewett. The myth of the American Superhero. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 2002.

Miller Gretchen. “Stranger Things’ Eleven: The Hero We All Need.” Her Campus Media. Updated: Sept 2016.

Roffey LP. [Stranger Things] Eleven stops the Demogorgon. From Youtube. Video, 3.51. July 2017.

Stranger Things Wiki. “Eleven.” (Accessed Oct 2018).

Walker Wesley. ‘The Gospel According to ‘Stranger Things.’ Relevant. Updated Oct 2017.



Spotlighting Student Work #4: Son of God–Daughter of Man

Today’s essay is a look at dystopian media and its biblical themes, focusing on the acclaimed 2006 film Children of Men. Our author is Edin Harvey. Here’s a bit about them.

My name is Edin Harvey and I lived in Gisborne until moving to Hawkes Bay for my high school years. I’m currently studying a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Philosophy and Sociology, conjoint with a Bachelor of Global Studies, majoring in Global Environment & Sustainable Development and Māori. I would love to do postgraduate study once I have finished my Bachelors, and then one day work in an area where I can share interesting issues or ideas with the public, enabling them to be understood in a different light. I loved taking THEOREL 101 because I went in knowing nothing about the Bible, and came out with such an appreciation for it.

Let’s have a look at Edin’s piece.


Dystopian Filmmakers: Our Modern Day Prophets

Edin Harvey

Widely accessible and mass produced, popular culture is filled with explicit and implicit references to the Bible, modernising its themes, stories and messages. One of the most discreet yet impactful of these references is to the Bible’s apocalyptic literature, in which – before God brings salvation to humanity – common issues affecting the intended audience bring their world closer to its end. References to apocalyptic themes are scattered throughout popular culture and are particularly apparent in dystopian film. In reference to Alfonso Cuaron’s dystopian Children of Men, this essay will argue that when modernised to suit the contemporary audience, these apocalyptic themes are used to a similar effect as in the bible. Acting as prophets, dystopian filmmakers address and warn viewers of contemporary problems. Combined with the use of Christian themes and symbols, dystopian films become a subject of both social and theological reflection.

A still showing aspects of the new social reality in Children of Men

Children of Men, released in 2006, is noted for its biblical symbolism, the most obvious being it’s reference to Psalm 90, which states that “Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, return, ye children of men”, referencing God’s greatness and humanities frailty – working to subtly foreshadow the films underlying theme of destruction and salvation. Exploring the contemporary concerns of greed, pollution, and government control, the broadness of this film touches on the environmental, power, and biological genres of apocalypse. Because of its heavy allusions to the bible and its broad apocalyptic themes, this film is an embodiment of the dystopian genre and will therefore be referenced to throughout this argument.

When addressing the contemporary problems which we often disassociate from, dystopian film – in a similar effect to the Bible – uses “the end of the world” to rebuild an emotional connection to the gravity of the issues. In the 21st century, we are taking our environment for granted, transforming it into a conduit for our own self-destruction. Now prominent in our everyday lives, our society is still dissociating from the consequences of this reality. Because of this, environmental depletion has been a common theme throughout contemporary dystopias. By polluting the environment, we offset its balance – its ability to create and sustain life. Reinstating its purpose as a hub of life, the world in Children of Men has begun to rid itself of the cause of its deterioration.

Social conditions have regressed and become militarised

Opening with crowded streets and tuk-tuks, Cuaron establishes us into a community suffering from overpopulation. After learning of their lost ability to conceive children, the human population slowly depleting, we realise that this community is being controlled by the environment they had been abusing. In Genesis’s Noah and The Great Flood, the author explains that the flood was created by God to “put an end to all people, for earth is filled with violence because of them” (Genesis 5:32-10:1 line 13). Similar to this story, capitalist greed and corruption appear to be destroying our environment millennia later. Cuaron alludes to this story throughout his film – with animals walking around in pairs and Theo, who safely delivers Kee to a boat, drawing strong similarities to Noah. Having an environment in which humanity can thrive is indisputably the most critical, undervalued requisite of life. However, even in an age of environmental catastrophe, we find ourselves in disaffiliation with the problem. This film places the deteriorating environment at the top of the hierarchy, proving its power over humanity. Much like biblical apocalyptic literature, dystopian film serves as a wake-up call to an audience, forcing them to connect their actions to their now obvious consequences.

Kee and Theo floating–hopefully–to safety

Similar to the Bible, dystopian film utilises apocalyptic themes to establish connections between contemporary issues and their potential consequences, expanding consciousness within their intended audiences. As well as disassociating from the self-inflicted nature of our problems, we tend to put a wall between the actions and consequences of those in charge. A relevant issue of the 21st century is that of excessive government control. Contemporary dystopian films commonly address this issue, connecting it to apocalyptic themes and therefore the collapse of life as we know it. After 9/11, fears around terrorism skyrocketed, putting a lot of pressure on the US government to keep the public safe. Combined with the public’s vulnerability, this resulted in the adoption of bills that – if it were not for a crisis – would never have passed. For example, “uniting and strengthening America by providing appropriate tools required to intercept and obstruct terrorism” was the US Patriot Act (Public Law 107-56).


By pitching the main protagonists against their government, Children of Men offers the American audience a different lens through which they could view the protective nature of this Act. Throughout this film, Janice is completely catatonic – alive but dead to her surroundings. The explanation of her state, although never outrightly communicated, is implied through a newspaper article entitled “MI6 Denies Involvement in Torture of Photojournalist”. Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, a euphemism for systematic torture, was a practice that emerged from the USA Patriot Act, including methods such as waterboarding or being bound in contorted stress positions. A consequence of this is psychological damage, as the body goes into spasm (BBC News par. 1). This film allows audiences to see the receiving end of this torture, criticising the actions of the film’s government and therefore criticising the actions of their own. By showing a foreign, apocalyptic setting, dystopian films help break down the wall which audiences use to block themselves from connecting their fears to the actions of someone they are supposed to trust. This, therefore, heightens their awareness of social problems much like in biblical apocalyptic literature.

Expanding on this connection between audience consciousness and the more concealed issues in our society, dystopian films take advantage of the foreign setting to explore apocalyptic themes and subsequently convey ideas to an open mind. In post 9/11 US society, fears around security heightened – and although this was stimulated by terror, the backlash from their government gave the public reason to subsequently elevate these concerns. This fear was translated in Children of Men through the alienation of refugees trying to enter London. Refugees were often seen locked up in cages, treated as the scum of society. This was highlighted through the unethical treatment of Theo, an native English male, when he was mistaken for an immigrant and yelled at by a prison guard; “you fucking people [refugees], you disgust me”. As Jasper explains, the refugees “escaped the worst atrocities and on making it to England, our government hunts them down like cockroaches”.

The films shows the dehumanisation of both guards and guarded

After 9/11, the US government took advantage of their public vulnerability, pitching all immigrants to be the enemy and removing 10.3 million people from the US between 2001 and 2008, which heavily influenced the the view of immigrant in their vulnerable minds. These fears led to another act being uncharacteristically passed, with Homeland Security Bill, allowing “interoperable communications across divisions”. The general public, still vulnerable after the horrors of 9/11, had faith that the government were doing the right thing, however lost an element of their freedom in the process. With their undying trust in their own government, it was difficult for the US public to see that this trust may be detrimental to the very thing they are trusting their government to give them. By criticizing the government in a foreign setting, Alfonso Cuaron was able to show that the public’s undying trust in the government is, ironically, enabling the exploitation of the public’s freedom. Throughout dystopian film, foreign environment are used to translate issues to an open-minded audience, therefore breaking down their barriers and – much like biblical apocalyptic literature – making them more conscious of the issues threatening their humanity.

A casual day bomb

Drawing further similarities to the Bible, dystopian filmmakers fulfil a prophetic role in society by joining their protagonists to deliver awareness, hope, and solutions to contemporary issues. The exploration of apocalyptic themes expresses the importance of father and hope in maintaining social structure during a crisis. An essential aspect of apocalyptic literature is the idea that, although the world near its end, that faith and hope will conquer, bringing our world back to a position of prosperity. When translated into the contemporary world, the dystopian film can show audiences the importance of this faith and the consequences of lacking in it. Introducing the audience into a world of despair, this film opens with a black screen and news headlines audio, including statements such as “Day 1000 on the Siege of Seattle”. Following this with Theo’s indifferent reaction to a street bombing, we develop the understanding that violence is commonplace in this society. In Children of Men, the public finds it hard to grieve for their dying environment because they are a part of its death, and this inability to mourn has increased violence noticeably. To contrast this hopelessness, Cuaron introduces the pregnant Kee – a symbol of hope. Our introduction to Kee has strong parallels to Mary, mother of Jesus. When he first sees Kee standing, pregnant, in the barn, Theo exclaims ‘Jesus Christ,’ before we hear Kee jokingly suggest that she is still a virgin (Luke 1).

Kee carries not the son of God, but the daughter of man–perhaps a new son of God.

Theo then proceeds to get Kee medical care despite everyone else wanting to hide her. In dystopian films, the main protagonist, whose goal is to bring salvation back to the world, acts as a prophet – teaching the audiences to hold onto their faith and hope. Theo, despite knowing the evil his current government is capable of, has hope for Kee and the future of the world. The dystopian filmmaker, therefore, becomes a prophetic figure in themselves – spreading messages of awareness, action, and faith to the audience through prophetic characters and their corresponding dystopia.

Theo helps shepherd Kee through the darkness

Ultimately, apocalyptic themes are an effective way of addressing issues relevant to the intended audience. When used throughout the Bible, readers are not only made more aware of these issues, but are taught to have faith in God to bring salvation back to earth. Although the concerns addressed throughout the Bible no longer resonate as powerfully with the modern reader, these apocalyptic themes and the lessons they teach are still prevalent in popular culture, particularly the dystopian genre. By addressing these themes in a contemporary way, Dystopian filmmakers can act as a prophetic figure in our community. By drawing on apocalyptic themes, filmmakers show the audience a battle of hope and hopelessness – therefore exploring concerns, heightening consciousness and association, and offering solutions, and therefore acting as a prophetic figure in our community.




All references to the Biblical text are from the King James Version.

BBC Author. “CIA Tactics: What Is Enhanced Interrogation?” BBC News, 10 Dec 2014.

Borg, Marcus J. Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but Not Literally. HarperCollins, 2001. EBSCOhost,

Montevecchio, Caesar A. “Framing Salvation: Biblical Apocalyptic, Cinematic Dystopia, and Contextualizing the Narrative of Salvation.” Journal of Religion & Film, vol. 16, no. 2, 2012, Article 7. University of Nebraska Omaha,

The USA Patriot Act: Preserving Life and Liberty: Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Justice, 2001. Internet resource.



Spotlighting Student Work #3: A Sitcom Samson & Delilah

Tonight, we have an interesting look at the popular sitcom Parks and Recreation, and the Samson & Delilah parallel that it can be said to contain. The author we have with us is Aucklander Emmanuel Ortiz. Here’s a bit about him.

I was born and raised in Auckland, I am doing a law and arts conjoint, with a major in politics and philosophy.  I would love to work in an area where I can help people and I am interested in pursuing a career in politics where I can help improve equality. I took Theology 101 because I am very interested in how religion influences our society and the course was highly recommended.

Now for the essay. Sit tight folks.

Parks and Recreation Opening Title Screen.

Parks and Recreation’s Samson and Delilah

Emmanuel Ortiz

Parks and Recreation (2009 -2015), a television situational comedy created by Michael Schur and Greg Daniels, tells the story of the Parks and Recreation Department of Pawnee, Indiana (Daniels & Schur, 2009). Situational comedies are not typically associated with biblical stories; however, Schur and Daniels (2009) have created a refreshingly modern twist of the Samson and Delilah story through the implicit use of the original characters and themes. In this essay, I will discuss how Ron Swanson and his ex-wife Tammy act as Samson and Delilah ‘type’ characters. I will also explain the similarities and differences between the Parks and Recreation pair and the original biblical duo by comparison of the episodes where they are featured to the writings in Judges 16, as well as ideas associated with them across popular culture.

Ron Swanson, portrayed by Nick Offerman, acts as the director of the parks department and one of the main protagonists of the show. Recently, Ron Swanson has gained a cult following due to his unique personality, deadpan voice, thick moustache and memorable one-liners. Throughout the show’s seven seasons, Ron’s character has been steadily developed. Initially, all we know of Ron is his identity as the parks director, his hatred of large government and distaste of the Parks Department (Daniels & Schur, 2009). Later we learn of his love of fishing, hunting, camping, woodworking, football, alcohol and women (Daniels & Schur, 2009).

Ron Swanson Portrayed by Nick Offerman on a hunting trip.

Ron and Samson share similarities due to parallel stories, which I will explain later in this essay, but, their personalities and actions on the surface have nothing in common. However, when considering the time periods both men lived in, they are more similar than they appear. In Samson’s time, the war between the Israelites and Philistines was raging, and the world was filled with conquest, war, famine and death (Derck, 2017). Throughout Judges 13 to 16 we read of the tales of Samson, teeming of stories which imbue awe, such as Samson slaying a lion bare-handed and killing a thousand philistine men alone. He was the last biblical judge, a military leader during critical periods and was feared/praised for his enormous strength (Derck, 2017). We know that Samson is aware of what gives him his strength, his long braided hair, which channels God’s power through him (Judges 16:17, The New Revised Standard Version). These traits of physical strength and violence were considered masculine at the time, with Samson stating himself that his strength made him unlike any other man. He was elevated above the rest.

Ron Swanson’s Pyramid of Greatness

Comparatively, Ron Swanson lives in an era of peace, with the most significant conflict being Pawnee’s rivalry with the neighbouring town Eagleton. In modern times, the need to kill enemies and commit acts of violence is not required, resulting in personality and interests acting as the venues of masculinity. Ron partakes in typically masculine activities such as camping and hiking and also displays personality traits associated with masculinity by society and popular culture such as independence, assertiveness and machismo throughout the series (Daniels & Schur, 2009). Ron exhibited these traits from early childhood, where he worked in a sheet metal factory at the age of 9, married his former Sunday school teacher at 15 and moved out of his parents’ home. Ron is also very particular and proud of what he considers masculine and has created a diagram called the Swanson Pyramid of Greatness, which includes everything he believes one needs to be a man (Daniels & Schur, 2009). In Ron’s eyes, not following these traits would make you “lesser” of a man.

The critical similarities between both men aside from a parallel story is from their adherence to typical stereotypical masculine traits of their respective eras. While Samson’s defining features were enormous strength and violence, Ron’s distinguishing features are his masculine personality and actions. These features are both respectively and stereotypically male characteristics of their times, and both individuals use their masculinity to define themselves. These definitions of masculinity make us wonder, what is Samson without his God-given strength or Ron without his masculine persona?

Opposed to Ron is Tammy Swanson, portrayed by Megan Mullaly, who is Ron’s ex-wife and the Deputy Director of Library Services (Scully & Miller, 2009). When Tammy first appears in the episode “Ron and Tammy”, she attempts to claim Lot 48 for the Library Services Department to build a new library. Ron then expresses his hatred of his ex-wife with Leslie, his subordinate, calling Tammy a “devil woman” and “destroyer of all happiness in the world”. Leslie then confronts Tammy, where unexpectedly, Tammy gives her Lot 48 without resistance. Tammy then convinces Leslie to bring her to the Parks department to settle her differences with Ron. This conversation results in Tammy seducing him over breakfast and the pair having sex in a motel room. Ron is then left in an infinite state of lust for Tammy and nearly trades Lot 48 to Tammy for more sexual favours. Ron is prevented from proceeding further in the trade by Leslie who talks him to his senses (Scully & Miller, 2009).

Ron and Tammy Swanson at Breakfast from the episode “Ron and Tammy”

In her next appearance in the episode “Ron and Tammy Part 2”, Tammy continues her efforts to ruin Ron’s life when she hears at a party that Ron had broken up with his girlfriend Wendy (Kapnek & Gate, 2011). Tammy then uses her powers of seduction to lure Ron away and the couple proceeds to have a night of drunken public sex, criminal activity and marriage in jail. Unfortunately for Ron, Leslie is away on business and is unable to halt Tammy’s influence on him. During the night Ron changes dramatically, losing his cool and calm demeanour, signature hairstyle and entire personality. No longer is Ron the great masculine man he once was, he is now a braided haired, loud, psychotic, kimono wearing, sexual deviant (Kapnek & Gate, 2011).

Ron and Tammy Swanson in jail from the episode “Ron and Tammy Part 2”.

In the biblical text, Judges 16 does not tell us much about Delilah. We know she is from the Valley of Sorek and had been paid by the Philistines to learn Samson’s secret (Clanton, 2013). We also know she is a persuasive, persistent and determined woman based on the events of the original tale.  However, in popular culture, Delilah has been described as a vindictive, seductive and treacherous femme fatale, but compared to Judges 16 there is no explicit mention of these traits (Exum, 1996). These traits are attributed to Delilah with no supporting evidence and have been concocted through media. Authors such as Clanton have argued that Delilah has been painted in a negative light to adapt biblical narrative for people to identify with for an underlying agenda (Clanton, 2013).

These two episodes discussed above demonstrate how Ron and Tammy follow a parallel story to the biblical text. In Judges 16, Delilah repeatedly attempts to persuade Samson to reveal his secrets, similar to how Tammy tries to get back into Ron’s life throughout the series. Delilah then finds out Samson’s secret, his hair, which once removed he will become powerless. Similarly, Tammy reveals Ron’s weakness, his sexual lust for Tammy, and once Tammy has influenced him, he is left powerless as well. However, in Ron’s case, his power doesn’t stem from physical strength or murderous ability, but instead his personality. Repeatedly throughout the show, Ron has spoken of traits which he is proud of and believes in making him masculine (Daniels & Schur, 2009). After Tammy’s influence on Ron, he loses those traits which he and the audience believes to make him masculine and great.  Samson’s physical power and Ron’s personality are both lost at the hands of a Delilah or Tammy, removing their masculinity and leaving behind two men who are “like any other man”. This trope has been repeated throughout popular culture and is one of the few parts of cultural afterlives of Samson ‘types’ that is somewhat accurate to the original biblical text (Derck, 2017).

Tammy Swanson portrayed by Megan Mullaly, suggestively fingering a bread roll while staring at Ron Swanson.

Throughout these episodes, Tammy has shown her biblical Delilah characteristics of persistence and determination through her multiple attempts at thrusting herself into Ron’s life and numerous attempts at ruining it (Daniels & Schur, 2009).  Whereas the characteristics typically attributed to Delilah through popular culture of being sexual, seductive, vindictive, manipulative and a dangerous woman are expressed through Tammy’s seduction, extortion, and ruining of Ron and his life (Exum, 1996).  Overall Tammy can be described as a Delilah ‘type’ character who also follows a very similar Samson and Delilah story through her exemplification of biblical and popular culture Delilah traits.

In conclusion, Parks and Recreation contains a pair of Samson and Delilah ‘type’ characters who follow a Samson and Delilah ‘type’ storyline. The resemblance to the original story is so similar that it appears the writers intentionally wrote these characters as modern Samson and Delilah. The characters display characteristics which are attributed to the duo from the biblical text and popular culture; thus providing the viewers with an enjoyable hour of television through a modern implicit re-telling of the legendary biblical tale.



All biblical text references in this essay are from the New Revised Standard Version.

Clanton, D. W. J. (2013). Daring, disreputable, and devout: interpreting the bible’s women in the arts and music. Retrieved from

Daniels, G. (Producer), & Schur, M. (Director). (2009). Parks and Recreation [Television series]. New York City, New York: NBM

Derck, M. (2017). Keeping up Appearances: The Impossibility of Samson’s Heterosexual Performance. The Scholar & Feminist Online, 1(14.2), 1-2. Retrieved from

Exum, J. C. (1996). Plotted, shot, and painted : cultural representations of biblical women. Retrieved from

Kapnek, E. (Writer), & Gates, T. (Director). (2011, February 10). Ron and Tammy: Part Two. [Television series episode] In D. Daniels (Producer), Parks and Recreation. New York City: NBC.

Scully, M. (Writer), & Miller, T. (Director). (2009, November 5). Ron and Tammy. [Television series episode] In D. Daniels (Producer), Parks and Recreation. New York City: NBC.

Spotlighting Student Work #2: A Musical Prophet

Today’s essay is a piece by Caitlin Jardim, covering the topic of broadway, and how Lin Manuel Miranda has come to be seen by many as a prophetic figure within the medium. Here’s a bit about Caitlin.

I am a first-year biomedical science student, born and raised in good old Auckland! I took THEOREL 101 as my General Education paper because I’ve always been interested in the way religion is used by people to justify actions – be it good or bad. This course really opened my eyes to how much the Bible is referenced in modern day media and it was an incredible course to be a part of – it offered an aspect to my studies that broadened my views beyond just science. I would highly recommend this course. 

Enjoy the essay!

Hamilton as portrayed by Miranda

Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton: Contemporary Prophet or $10 Broadway Puppet?

Caitlin Jardim

Lin-Manuel Miranda has made headlines ever since appearing in Hollywood a few short years ago. His hit musical, Hamilton: An American Musical, first appearing on Broadway in 2015, follows the story of Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers. Writing, producing and starring in the musical, Miranda has won a staggering number of awards, including the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Drama, 11 Tony Awards and the 2016 Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album (Broadway, 2018). Being renowned for regularly selling out, Hamilton disturbs preconceptions of what high culture should look like, by being the first Broadway musical to be written almost entirely in rap, telling a historical story in an entirely new, and accessible, way. Like the biblical prophets, both Miranda and his character of Hamilton, disturb our sense of normalcy and challenge the status quo. In doing so, fulfilling the requirements needed to be considered contemporary prophets, as detailed by Marcus Borg (2001). In this essay, I will argue that not only do both Hamilton and Miranda act in their respective roles as contemporary prophets but through his role as Hamilton, Miranda is carrying out his prophetic duties.

Alexander Hamilton, the face of the United States $10 bill, is possibly one of the most well-known characters in American history.


Hamilton’s refusal to bend to societal norms and his unrelenting drive to do what he believed was just, makes him a contemporary prophet as outlined by Marcus Borg (2001). Namely, Hamilton’s prophetic portrayal, passion for social justice, a deliverance of a message of protest and hope, and his role as an outsider in his society make him an 18th-century prophet of biblical proportions. Talking about his passion for social justice, Hamilton appears in a prophetic light, mentioning that he “rolls like Moses, claimin’ [the] promised land” (Genius, 2018). Exodus 4:12-14 talks of Moses, a biblical prophet, using speech to pass on the message of God, who says, “Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak”. This idea of prophetic duty as encompassing the deliverance of a message shows how Hamilton is fulfilling the role of a contemporary prophet, through both his actions and through his words.

Not only does this reference to Moses, a biblical prophet, draw parallels between Hamilton and the God-chosen leader of Egypt, but is representative of the 21st-century view of the founding fathers – having led Americans to their promised land. Hamilton’s place of divinely granted power is also reflected in a quote from the opening titular number of the musical, bearing a striking resemblance to an often quoted biblical expression – “at the right hand of the father” (Genius, 2018). This shows Hamilton’s status as almost reaching biblical proportions – almost because the quote is preceded by a stunning insult “obnoxious, arrogant, loudmouth bother” which only serves to cement his place as an 18th-century contemporary prophet by fulfilling another of Borg’s requirements – being an outsider (Genius, 2018).

Miranda’s portrayal of Hamilton, as just a human man, is a key feature of not only his biblical prophet allusions but of Miranda’s ability to use Hamilton as a mouthpiece for challenging the status quo.

Miranda’s charisma as a performer has been a key factor in Hamilton’s success

As a society, we often look at those in history and on our screens as more than mere mortals – pictures of perfection at an unattainable standard. Miranda breaks this conventional image by not only detailing his internal monologue through sites such as Twitter but by his portrayal of Hamilton as flawed. This brutally honest retelling of a story most American school-children are taught is played in a light that shows the human side of Hamilton. Hamilton’s fall from grace, instigated by a long affair, is punctuated only by the public letter he writes announcing it to the world. Miranda’s retelling of true events shows one of Borg’s key features of a contemporary prophet played out in Hamilton – that, like biblical prophets, they are only human, and while they may be acting on God’s behalf, are still prone to the same downfall as any other (Borg, 2001).

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the author of the 21st-century re-invention of Hamilton, fulfils Borg’s requirements himself. Miranda’s passion for social justice allows him to disturb the status quo and oppose the accepted view of normalcy–requirements for contemporary prophets (Borg, 2001). For these reasons, I believe that Lin-Manuel Miranda acts as a modern-day prophet. By writing Hamilton as a rap, Miranda breaks the clean-cut status quo of the typical Broadway musical (Broadway, 2018). Explains that he feels rap is a method of communication that goes beyond words and speaks on a different, more accessible level, Miranda opposes the accepted view of Broadway and American history as entertainment for the 1%. In taking something as far off as 18th-century American history and making it contemporary, the story of Hamilton, and of Miranda, is able to reach far and wide.

In addition to this, Hamilton the Musical is the first Broadway musical to employ colour-blind casting.

The original cast of Hamilton

Colour-blind casting is a method in which actors for parts are not picked based on their race, but solely on their ability. This means that George Washington, a man infamous for his owning of slaves and push to maintain the slave industry, is played by Christopher Jackson, a biracial American (Rich, 2018). Reconciling these two identities was something that pulls to the surface social justice issues, like racism, that span the centuries and still remain today. Miranda utilises colour-blind casting to speak out against the inherent American racism and uses this to speak out against what he believes is a social injustice. Miranda also addresses these injustices directly in a ‘cabinet (rap) battle’ between Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, saying “A civics lesson from a slaver […] your debts are paid cuz you don’t pay for labour.” (Genius, 2018).

Both Hamilton and Miranda act as contemporary prophets in their respective societies, I believe that in playing the role of Hamilton, in the original casting of Hamilton, and in the simple act of writing and producing the musical, Miranda is acting in the role of a contemporary prophet. By protesting social injustices in a contemporary context outside of Hamilton the musical, Miranda uses the Hamilton as a platform for modern-day prophetic messages and in doing so, is acting as a contemporary prophet through his role as Hamilton.

Miranda does this in many ways, including using the show as a performance influenced by modern-day crises. For example, less than 24 hours after the deadliest mass shooting in US history, at a gay nightclub in Orlando, the Hamilton performance at the 70th Tony Awards was due to take place. Hamilton had earned 16 Tony Nominations in the previous May, and the cast was to perform ‘Yorktown’ a number calling for prop guns. In the wake of the shooting in Orlando, the Hamilton cast made a stand. Guns were absent from stage as the cast members expressed support for those affected by the shooting (Segal, 2016). Miranda also works with a group of 12 non-profit organisations to raise money to support immigrants, refugees and asylees – causes close to his heart, and offers competitions with tickets and flights to the musical as raffle prizes for those who donate (Miranda, 2018). Miranda’s identity as Hamilton means that he is able to use both the past and present to make a difference in the future.

Like the Hebrew prophets, both Hamilton and Miranda are “dramatic speakers first and foremost…asking their audiences to reimagine reality” (Giles, 2018). To see the world through the prophet’s eyes, as what it could be. This biblical flair for drama reflected in the oration that goes beyond the mere repeating of a message from the Heavens and shows a passion for social justice, that exists in all contemporary prophets, both of then and now. Like Hamilton, biblical prophets perform their prophetic duties through drama and oration, such as in Amos 5:12-15, in which the prophetic performer attacks the judicial courts, telling the audience to “establish justice in the gate” with such vigour that the audience “suddenly becomes part of the performance, no longer mere spectators” (Giles, 2018). In this way, Hamilton, like the dramatic performances of the biblical prophets, becomes more than just a tool and is woven into the very act of prophetic duty.

Miranda has not been shy about speaking out against the current US “Father”

Despite living in an increasingly secular world, contemporary prophets can be found in all aspects of our lives, from our history books, to our $10 notes, to our Broadway stages. Prophetic action calls for a willingness to act as agents of change, and an unrelenting ability to shake off the shackles of social norms. Both Hamilton and Lin-Manuel Miranda were, and still are, prophets of their time. Through their deliverance of messages of protest and hope, their shared passion for social justice, and their flair for dramatics, these two monumental figures mirror the biblical prophets of Amos and Exodus. Lin-Manuel Miranda and Alexander Hamilton show that no matter the platform, or the social context, they are contemporary prophets, not just $10 Broadway puppets.


A modern spokesperson, but a historic figure



All biblical references are from the NSRV.

Anon, (2018). [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Oct. 2018].

Borg, M. (2001). Reading the Bible again for the first time; taking the Bible seriously but not literally. 1st ed. Harper San Francisco, pp.111-114. (2018). Hamilton Dominates 2016 Tony Awards But Just Short of Record; Complete List of Winners. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Oct. 2018].

Genius. (2018). Lin-Manuel Miranda (Ft. Anthony Ramos, Christopher Jackson, Daveed Diggs, Leslie Odom Jr., Okieriete Onaodowan, Original Broadway Cast of Hamilton & Phillipa Soo) – Alexander Hamilton. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Oct. 2018].

Genius. (2018). Lin-Manuel Miranda (Ft. Anthony Ramos, Daveed Diggs, Leslie Odom Jr., Lin-Manuel Miranda, Okieriete Onaodowan & Original Broadway Cast of Hamilton) – My Shot. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Oct. 2018].

Giles, T. (2018). Prophets as Performers. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Oct. 2018].

Houston, W. (2018). Social Justice and the Prophets. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Oct. 2018].

Miranda, L. (2018). Puerto Rico Relief Collection. [online] Lin-Manuel Miranda. Legit. Available at: [Accessed 8 Oct. 2018].

Rich, K. (2018). George Washington Never Mentions Slavery in Hamilton, but the Actor Who Plays Him Does. [online] Vanity Fair. Available at: [Accessed 8 Oct. 2018].

Segal, C. (2018). ‘Hamilton’ cuts guns from Tony performance. [online] PBS NewsHour. Available at: [Accessed 8 Oct. 2018].


Spotlighting Student Work #1: Dealing with the Devil

It’s that time of year again, where we showcase some of the best student work from this year’s Bible and Popular Culture (THEOREL 101) class. Starting us off is a wonderful essay from Ani Harris. We’ll let Ani introduce herself.

I’m a first year from the sunny fruit bowl that is Hawke’s Bay. Currently, I’m studying a degree in Arts majoring in Psychology and Gender Studies which so far has been thrilling! In the future, I hope to go into post-graduate–if I’m lucky–to continue researching my fields of interest. I’d like to one day work within academia.

Within the THEOREL 101 course, I particularly enjoyed looking at the bible with a feminist lens and tracking the evolution of figures in the bible alongside history as I’ve never had that opportunity before. I can recall absolutely fizzing over some of the assigned reading to the point where I printed it out to keep it on my wall. I’ve always had a bit of an interest in theology but I’ve never been able to really explore it in the way THEOREL 101 let me. THEOREL 101 was an incredibly enjoyable paper and I happily did my best to wake up so I could get to the 9am classes (though with not non-existent complaints).

I actually took THEOREL 101 for two reasons. The first being that it fulfilled criteria as a stage I paper under Gender Studies and the other being because of my own self-interest. I grew up in a Catholic household and though I’m not Catholic myself I’ve always been very intrigued by religion as a whole and the effect it has had and continues to have on the world. This course gave me the opportunity to discover new facets of the bible I hadn’t yet considered and quite successfully played on many of my interests. It was my absolute favourite paper this semester.

Without further ado, let’s deal with the devil.



Ani Harris

This essay will analyse the Devil as a Biblical character who has a popular afterlife. I will explore this using Dante Alighieri’s Inferno showcases the Devil as a monstrous being, a typical trope in Western religious fiction, Paradise Lost by John Milton and the trope of “Sexy Satan” with Fox’s portrayal of Neil Gaiman’s Lucifer and an animated reboot adaptation of 1970’s Japanese comic Devilman, play around with perceptions of one of the world’s most famous characters. Each portrayal highlights the different tropes and caricatures that have been used and changed over time since the advent of the Devil’s very first appearance in Abrahamic religion.

The Devil’s beginning has its roots in the Bible. However, his first appearance does not come where most would assume. Contrary to popular belief, Satan does not make an appearance in Genesis. The serpent who tempted Eve (Genesis 3:1-24) was not at the time associated with Satan. And, despite the Devil’s later characterization as a tempter, accuser, and prosecutor of humanity, he never appeared as an entity in his own right until the Book of Enoch. Part of the deuterocanonical writings, the Book of Enoch is not part of the Hebrew Bible, and though sometimes included in Christian Bibles, it is mainly considered non-canonical within most denominations. It details the casting out of “the satans”, sinful angels who taught humanity wickedness in the form of technology and invention (Enoch 41:7; Enoch 8:1-9).

The Fall

This original Satan goes by the alias of Azazyel, alternatively spelt ‘Azazeel’, and is stated to have, along with other angels, taught humanity lessons covering a wide range of topics. From weapon creation and progression to perceptions of beauty, the spectrum includes the coveting of precious stones and metals, innumerable attempts to perform sorcery, increasing the known limits of mathematics, and acquiring other dangerous forms of knowledge in the eyes of heaven (Enoch 9:5-9). In the Hebrew Bible, Satan is instead “the satan”, God’s tester and persecutor who stands to prove the inherent possibility for wickedness and impiety in humanity (Job 1:6-8; Zechariah 3:1-7).  From Enoch, Job, and Zechariah, we gain some of the foundational tropes of the character “Satan” which commonly appear to this day; “angel to demon king”, “tempter of humanity”, and “evil incarnate”. Though Satan was never physically described in the Bible the cultural approximation became an amalgamation of deities of various other religions; a monster with a tail, the legs of a goat, and crowned with horns. And with these depictions birthed the trope of “monster Satan”.

With the original character and accompanying tropes defined, the focus can now change to the Devil’s cultural afterlives. Of religious fiction, one of the most renowned is Dante Alighieri’s book series Divine Comedy, with the Inferno being the most relevant volume for the purpose of this essay. The Inferno chronicles Dante’s descent into and guided journey through Hell.

Dante, and the entrance to Hell

Satan in this novel appears in the thirty-fourth chapter. Colossal in his grotesque visage, Dante’s Satan is endowed of the “monster Satan” trope; he has three faces of which he uses their mouths to chew on three people whom Dante considers the most traitorous of humanity. Satan in this work of fiction has also has large, leathery bat wings attached just under his chin, and excessively hairy legs (Dante & Musa 1971). Dante’s figure of the Devil retains many of the original biblical tropes; not only “monster Satan” but his “angel to demon king” arc as well. Dante himself states that had Satan been as beautiful as he was now ugly he can, therefore, understand how he is the source of all bad in the world. From this, we can discern that the Inferno expects readers to understand Satan’s origin as an angel fallen from grace. Dante’s Satan is a wonderful reference point for the popular image of the Devil before his Renaissance rebirth within another piece of literary fiction.

Contrary to Dante’s portrayal, Milton’s depiction of Satan in Paradise Lost was considered blasphemous. An epic poem written in vernacular English following the very entity of conceptualised evil which began by invoking the Holy Spirit as a muse. Milton’s satan operates on the notion that Satan, formerly known as Lucifer, retained his visage as the most beautiful of all the angels when he fell from Heaven. Which then shows that Milton’s version of Satan is sympathetic. He is considered the most favoured of all the angels and decides that should it be impossible to be God’s favourite (Milton 1674 rpt. in 2001). He rebels and tries to usurp God, claiming that angels should all reign as gods whilst God is simply a tyrant. Thus, he falls.


Tragic in a desire all too common. He then goes on to attempt another rebellion, by tempting God’s newly created humans, of which Milton subtly implies he is jealous of, to sin and thus join him in banishment (Milton 1674 rpt. in 2001). This sets the stage for a tragic hero who appears to be rebelling out of a childish need for validation and attention of any kind. Milton’s Satan appears not as the root cause of all evil but merely a child throwing a tantrum. Paradise Lost has been a major inspiration and provided the perfect material for the changing world to take Satan as a literary device and apply him in many ways to great effect. Milton’s reconceptualization of Satan as both a sympathetic and beautiful figure greatly stoked the flames of popular culture turning a monstrous and terrifying evil into a nuanced character with great depth. Satan becomes a potential anti-hero and even protagonist along with his trademark villainy. Even his conceptualisation as a villain is changed by Milton’s portrayal. Lucifer is the first recorded entity to claim free will and oppose God. Refusing ignorance and order for knowledge and the ability to make and be a part of unorganised chaos. He is the first recorded instance of an individual leading a rebellion against what they consider a corrupt power, a trope which is not only common in modern pop culture but almost its own genre.

Milton’s Satan paved the way for Satan to become Lucifer.

Hello there

Based on a character from Neil Gaiman’s lauded comic book series The Sandman, Lucifer is a fantasy police drama developed by Tom Kapinos and produced by Fox. The premise of the film is Lucifer Morningstar, Tom Ellis, leaving hell for Los Angeles. Lucifer runs a nightclub, Lux, and acts as a consultant for the LAPD using his powers of persuasion and desire to deal justice to sinners. Kapinos’ Lucifer takes a great deal of inspiration from Milton’s Satan. Kapinos’ Lucifer is entirely a sympathetic character within the series. The show goes so far as to have Lucifer explicitly say that humanity merely blamed him for their sin rather than being accountable for their actions, effectively demonizing him as a scapegoat, and humans are responsible for damning themselves (Sánchez 2017). Kapinos’ Lucifer plays heavily into the “sympathetic Satan” trope with viewers encouraged to empathize with the devil and understand him as a pawn in his father’s plans which in itself displays the trope of “the devil has daddy issues”. Lucifer is consistently paranoid that his father, God, is manipulating him and often acts out of fear of being made to return to hell and be humanity’s scapegoat again (Shilati 2017; Gaviola 2017). Played by Tom Ellis, Lucifer is physically very attractive and seems to play directly into the “sexy Satan” trope, however, Lucifer has a second visage he calls his “devil-face”. Lucifer’s “devil-face” is bald, red-skinned, heavily scarred, and glows with an inner light like fire, his sclera turns a deep red and his irises gold. This “devil-face” plays into the pre-Milton “monster Satan” trope and exists as a unique juxtaposition as both faces belong to Lucifer and yet one makes him seems human and beautiful and the other demonic and ugly. This devil is well beloved in the show and in current day popular culture.

In contrast to Lucifer’s family-friendly Satan, Devilman Crybaby has been lauded as one of the most violent, gratuitously chaotic, and disturbing animated shows of 2018 (Farokhmanesh, M. 2018).

Ryo/Satan (left), Akira (right)

Based on Go Nagai’s 1970’s manga Devilman, Devilman Crybaby written by Ichirō Ōkouchi and directed by Masaaki Yuasa is a dark fantasy horror animated series around the characters Akira Fudo and his childhood friend Ryo Asuka. The premise of Devilman Crybaby is Akira’s attempt to help Ryo expose demons to the world. In this portrayal, Ōkouchi’s Satan takes many post-Milton tropes. Physically portrayed as beautiful as both Ryo Asuka and Satan, Ōkouchi’s Satan does not take a monstrous form at any point remaining well within the trope of “sexy Satan” while his legions of demons take monstrous and often revolting forms.

Yes, I am.

Ōkouchi’s Satan remains a tempter and persecutor of humanity and retains his status as the root cause of all evil within the show. In the show’s eighth episode after Ryo has learned his origins as Satan, he proceeds to cause more chaos in an already unstable world where demons had been revealed by betraying Akira and broadcasting an ill-intentioned warning that anyone dissatisfied with society could be a demon (Shibata 2018). Ōkouchi’s portrayal of Satan and Ryo is complex and while appreciated by audiences for his role as an antagonist he is not a character one can feel overly sympathetic for save for brief moment where his affection for Akira humanizes him.

Overall, this essay explained how Satan’s portrayal in popular culture is seen through Milton’s Paradise Lost, Fox’s Lucifer and Devilman Crybaby. Since conception, the devil has always been a fascinating Biblical character, and authors has taken him and written him into stories as the oldest villain and one of humanity’s most rebellious role models. Through Milton’s epic, Satan became understandable and the way was paved for the humanization of the greatest evil in Abrahamic religion. The devil lives on through pop culture, influencing and teaching much like his original incarnation. In the end, Neil Gaiman said it best; To absent friends, lost loves, old gods, and the season of mists; and may each and every one of us always give the devil his due (Gaiman, 1992).

And to all a good night. (Lucifer as he appears in Sandman)


References to the Bible are taken from the New Revised Standard Version

The Book of Enoch (1917) translated by R.H. Charles

Dante, A., & Musa, M. (1971). Dante’s Inferno. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Milton, J. 1674. (2001). Paradise Lost; and, Paradise Regained. New York: Signet Classic

Rafferty, C. (Writer); Costa, M. (Writer); Sánchez, E. (Director) (2017) Lucifer Season 3 Episode 7 “Off the Record”

Ning, J. (Writer); Shilati, S. (Director) Lucifer Season 2 Episode 16 “God Johnson”

Modrovich, I. (Writer); Gaviola, K. (Director) Lucifer Season 3 Episode 1 “They’re Back, Aren’t They?”

Farokhmanesh, M. (2018) Devilman Crybaby is Netflix’s horniest, most shockingly violent show yet: And that’s exactly why you should watch it

Ōkouchi, I. (Writer); Shibata, K. (Director) (2018) Devilman Crybaby Episode 8 “I Must Know Myself”

Gaiman, N. (1992) The Sandman #21-28: Season of Mists. DC Comics

Upcoming conference



Postgraduate Conference, 2018

31 August, 2018, 9am-4pm

The University of Auckland

Arts 1 building, 14A Symonds Street, room 203

Arts 1

The inaugural postgraduate conference of ANZABS takes place on 31 August, 2018. The conference will be held at the University of Auckland, Arts 1, 14A Symonds Street, room 203 (you’ll find Arts 1 on the City campus map). As you will see below, we have a fabulous line-up of PG students from Aotearoa NZ and beyond whose research spans biblical studies, religious studies, cultural studies, and theology.

The conference is free and open to everyone. We will provide tea and coffee for morning and afternoon tea (and some cookies, although you are welcome to contribute too!). Lunch will be a ‘get-your-own’ affair, and there are lots of food vendors around campus, as well as a kitchen in Arts 1 (in case anyone brings their own).

If you are keen to come along to listen to our speakers, please drop a note to Caroline Blyth. And please share this invitation widely among your networks.


9.00 Mihi

9.10 – Ben Hudson, Otago: Ephesians’ Jewish Readers

9.40 – Karen Taylor, University of Chester: Cutting judgment in pieces: a judgment parable through a lens of relational faithfulness.

10.10 – Marina Pasichnik, University of Auckland: Descent into Hell in Russian Iconography

10.40 – Morning Tea

11.00 – Anne Aalbers, University of Auckland: The Ascetic Couple

11.30 – Paul Mosley, Laidlaw College: Paul and Adversity

12.00 – Therese Kiely, University of Auckland: Young Pasifika women’s images of God and mental wellbeing.

12.30 – (Get your own) lunch

1.30 – Lyndon Drake, Oxford University: Economic Capital in the Hebrew Bible.

2.00 – Taryn Dryfhout, Laidaw College: Kaumātua ahi kā; Kaumātua ahi tere: Considering a theology of adoption and how it relates to the Māori practice of whāngai.

2.30 – Tekweni Chataira, Laidlaw College: Motive and Intent in the Book of Ruth: A Narrative Critical  Interrogation of Naomi.

3.00 – afternoon tea

3.30 – Caroline Blyth, University of Auckland: Reflections and Q&A on the PhD journey

4.00 – Farewells


Ben Hudson, University of Otago: Ephesians’ Jewish Readers

Ephesians presents its interpreters with numerous puzzles, not only over questions of authorship, but also audience, setting, and purpose. In a number of places, Ephesians identifies its addressees as Gentiles (2:11, 3:1, 4:17), and for this reason most interpreters assume that the intended audience of the letter are essentially Gentile believers. This paper will argue, however, that Ephesians was intended to be read as well by Jewish believers, and that this has implications for discerning its purpose and setting.

A number of features of the letter point to this conclusion, including: prominent Jewish literary characteristics; the reciprocal manner in which unity between Jews and Gentiles in the church is promoted; the use of οἱ ἅγιοι (‘the Saints’) as a designation; the way Paul himself is portrayed; and Ephesians’ distinctive ethical material.

These elements suggest a rhetorical strategy in which Jews are addressed in Ephesians, not as Paul speaks to them directly, but in hearing Paul speak as a Jew and on behalf of Jews to Gentiles. Furthermore, they point to a Sitz im Leben and purpose in which the letter aims to bring Jewish believers into the orbit of pauline churches.

Karen Davinia Taylor, St John’s College Nottingham & University of Chester: Cutting judgment in pieces: a judgment parable through a lens of relational faithfulness

David Ford has argued for a wisdom hermeneutic as “engagement with scripture whose primary desire is for the wisdom of God in life now,” nurturing wisdom’s childlike openness to surprise (Ford, 2007, 52). The desire to grow such wisdom within a multi-ethnic congregation motivates this fresh interpretation of Matthew 24:45-51.

Scholarship situates this parable of the faithful or unfaithful slave in an eschatological discourse. Within that, the phrases “cut in pieces” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (v. 51) are heard as guilty sentences, meted metaphorically or literally, resulting in torment, even repentance (Erdey & Smith, 2013; Sim, 2002; Snodgrass, 2008). In dialogue with scripture, experience and biblical scholarship, including 1 Samuel 24: 5-8 (Gordon, 1990), I argue for a lens of relational accountability where Jesus describes daily social dynamics. And while this shapes eternal life, the focus of this wisdom hermeneutic is on human flourishing in life now. This paper reads the parable as teaching how to live well while we wait for Christ’s return. Such a voice aims to be gentle, robustly curious and respectful of multiple conversation partners in its 21st century context.

Marina Pasichnik, University of Auckland:  Descent into Hell in Russian Iconography

 This presentation will examine features of change in the depiction of Eve in medieval Russian Descent into Hell icons.  Eve’s physical characteristics and her proximity to Christ’s mandorla in these icons carry symbolic and eschatological meaning because Eve was the prototype of women.  The changes in the icons will be discussed in relation to the Neoplatonic and Hesychastic spirituality that underpinned Russian Orthodoxy at this time.  The increased reverence that the Hesychasts had for the Virgin Mary raised the status of Eve too as a prefiguration of Mary.  The salvation message of these icons extends beyond their time with implications for both the role of Eve and Mary at the end of time when humanity is judged.

Annie Aalbers, University of Auckland: The Ascetic Couple

 There is little we know about Mary Magdalene from the New Testament. Although she was a very significant woman – mentioned in all four Gospels at the significant points in Jesus’ life and central as a witness to the resurrection – she only features there as the woman in Jesus’ entourage healed of seven demons and in the post-resurrection encounter in John 20:11-18. In the Nag Hammadi Library and apocryphal works in general, however, she plays a role as a counterpart to Jesus as a leading ascetic. This paper will examine Mary’s role in several of these texts and, based on that, suggest some implications for understanding her role in John 20:17. There, the prohibition to touch directed by the resurrected Jesus to her, has puzzled many a scholar, but gains some clarity in the context of such asceticism.

Paul Mosley, Laidlaw: Paul and Adversity

This study investigates Paul’s understandings of adversity, to answer the question: does Paul provide practical theodicies that might help modern-day Christians deal with adversity? The study considers nearly sixty passages from eleven of Paul’s letters; it is a broad and exploratory survey.

Paul does not provide explicit teaching on adversity, but most of his references to it are intended to inform, encourage, and guide the reader. His wide-ranging understandings of the nature of adversity can be expressed as a set of theodicies (both practical and explanatory), which I have called Primordial Sin, Normal Christian Life, Christian Ministry, Gift of God, Spiritual Opposition, “Bad Choice,” Eschatological Recompense, Retribution, and Educative and Discipling Theodicies. There are some commonalities with Jewish/OT and Hellenistic thought, but Paul develops his own understandings. Thus, the Pauline Retribution Theodicy is similar to the Jewish equivalent, but Paul sees retribution as applying to non-believers (who have rejected the gospel of Christ), rather than the people of God (who have received Christ and are assured of eternal salvation, although they may continue to do wrong).

Paul’s responses to adversity also are wide-ranging: trust and depend on God, draw on the Holy Spirit’s resources, be disciplined, learn from adversity, maintain unity, make right choices, pray, rejoice, do not take revenge, actively confront adversaries, and seek the progress of the gospel.

Modern “popular” Christian literature on adversity shows both similarities with and significant differences from Paul’s understandings. There is emphasis on the educative and discipling benefits of adversity, and on the concept of God’s “perfect plan” for the believer’s life. The first is very Pauline. The second seems to conceive God as directing every detail of one’s life, which differs from Paul’s certainty that God is engaged in the believer’s life, can turn any circumstance to good, but does not plan and direct every eventuality nor set aside human ability to make choices. On the other hand, there is little reference in modern “popular” literature to Paul’s belief that Christians experience adversity simply because as Christians they threaten non-Christian society, or to his foundational expectation of an eternal reward on the day of Christ.

A particular concern of modern western Christians is illness, about which Paul has remarkably little to say. He never mentions it as a hardship that validates his apostolic ministry; Epaphroditus’s illness caused him great anguish; and he regarded the illness and death of some Corinthians as regrettable but necessary discipline. On the other hand, he recognizes healing as a spiritual gift that he himself uses. We may conclude that Paul sees no benefit in illness (the case of the Corinthians is an explicable exception). It should be confronted by prayer and the gift of healing, in the confidence that God, too, does not favour illness.

There are differences between the circumstances in which Paul wrote his letters and in which modern western Christians live. Nevertheless, the divergences between Paul’s understandings of adversity and those of modern western writers suggest that reflection on the influence of modern and postmodern worldviews on our understandings of adversity is warranted.

Therese Kiely, University of Auckland“But who do you say I am?” Images of God and NZ-Pacific Mental Wellbeing

My research investigates the significance of Christianity for the spiritual and mental wellbeing of young Christian, multi-ethnic Pacific women. It focuses on this cohort’s individual images of God, what influences these images of God and how these images can impact an individual’s mental wellbeing. Roman Catholicism, mixed ethnic cultural backgrounds, family life and social media all intersect in discerning who God is for these young women and how they see themselves in the world. Using the Praxis Model and an Intersectionality hermeneutic, I aim to weave strands together and contribute to community suicide prevention strategies.

Lyndon Drake, Oxford University: Economic Capital in the Hebrew Bible

Abstract to follow.

Taryn Dryfhout, Laidlaw: Kaumātua ahi kā; Kaumātua ahi tere: Considering a theology of adoption and how it relates to the Māori practice of whāngai

Tikanga plays a significant role in the Māori world, and in New Zealand society, due to the unique status of Māori as tangata whenua, and as partners of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. In particular, Māori cultural ideas about whanau (family), whanaungatanga (relationships), and whakapapa (genealogy), have come to shape many Māori practices, including the long-established institution of whāngai. The purpose of this research was to gain insight into the practice of whāngai, and how this might relate to a theology of adoption. This began by exploring Māori understandings of the practice of whāngai, looking at how both whāngai and adoption has been, and currently is, practiced in Aotearoa, and comparing how whāngai differs from western understandings of adoption. This revealed that whāngai operates out of the principle of whanaungatanga – relationship, kinship, family connections. This kinship principle is what shapes the beliefs, attitudes and motivations for whāngai. Biblical investigation into Pauline adoption revealed a similar thread. Paul’s adoption metaphor draws on the kinship language that is pervasive throughout Ancient Israel and the Old Testament to shape and express the way in which believers are adopted into God’s family, locating a theology of adoption within the wider ideas of family, and kinship. As a result, several connections can be drawn between a theology of adoption, and contemporary whāngai practice including the shared concern and reverence for genealogies and whakapapa, the emphasis on family and community, and the shared language of kinship. Paul draws on ideas of kinship from the Old Testament in order to construct his metaphor for adoption. In the same way, whāngai is deeply bound up with the kinship framework and the wider principal of whanaungatanga which places value on family processes, kinship obligations and the concern for the collective, over the individual. It within this rich kinship framework that whāngai can be understood as a practice, and theologically.

Tekweni Chataira, Laidlaw: Motive and Intent in the Book of Ruth: A Narrative Critical Interrogation of Naomi

There has been recent debate amongst Book of Ruth scholars concerning Naomi’s relationship with Ruth. Phylis Trible, in God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality, holds a majority view that Naomi was a grieving widow and had only the best of intentions for her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. Fewell and Gunn hold a provocative view contrary to Trible. In their article “A Son is born to Naomi,” contra Trible, they assert that Naomi displays mixed motives and that her concern for her daughters-in-law is superficial, and further, that her later interaction with Ruth is opportunistic rather than altruistic. Fewell and Gunn’s views are, in part, based on their reading of the gaps and ambiguities (silences) as well as literary allusions in the narrative with regards to Naomi’s underlying agenda. Since the publication of the Fewell and Gunn article, there has been a great deal of interest in this conversation.

This study is an exploration of motive in Naomi’s relationship with her Moabite daughters-in-law, especially Ruth. Through a detailed narrative analysis of key scenes involving both Naomi and Ruth, this study explores Naomi’s and Ruth’s relationship keeping the scholarly debate in mind. Narrative analysis provides a further evaluation of the text in this light and contributes to the scholarly discussion concerning Naomi’s intentions towards Ruth. Engaging in this conversation is a chance not only to acknowledge and understand the presence of different views about the characters in the text but also to evaluate them.

Public lecture: Professor Gerald West

gerald picWe are delighted to welcome Professor Gerald West to speak at our TheoRel seminar next week. Gerald is Professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible and African Biblical Hermeneutics in the School of Religion, Philosophy, and Classics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.  He is also Director of the Ujamaa Centre for Community Development and Research, a project in which biblical scholars and African readers of the Bible from poor, working-class, and marginalized communities collaborate for social transformation. His most recent publication is The Stolen Bible: From Tool of Imperialism to African Icon (2016). He is currently based at the University of Otago working on a book project (Facilitating Interpretive Resilience: Biblical Scholarship, Local Communities, and the Bible as a Site of Struggle) as part of the De Carle Distinguished Lectureship.

Gerald’s lecture for us next week is titled, “Building biblical interpretive resilience and resistance in the context of gender violence”. Gerald will discuss the ways that the Bible is complicit in gender violence in South African (and other) contexts. So how do we work with a complicit Bible in the struggle for gender justice? He will draw on the praxis of the Ujamaa Centre for Community Development and Research’s ‘Tamar Campaign’ and ‘Redemptive Masculinity Campaign’, reflecting on the participatory interpretive practices of the Ujamaa Centre’s work, using the story of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13:1-22 as an example.

This event is co-hosted by the Shiloh Project, a joint initiative run by scholars at the Universities of Auckland, Sheffield, and Leeds. It fosters research into the intersections of religion and rape culture.

The lecture is free and open to everyone. We hope to see you there.

Gerald West seminar poster