Showcasing student work 9: The Messianic Doctor (Who?)

In this final week of showcasing student work from our Bible and Pop Culture course (THEO 101/G), we return to the theme of popular messiahs and the American Monomyth. Our guest author is Amy Calder – Amy is in her first year studying a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English. She admits to enjoying THEO 101 a great deal, especially as it gave her the opportunity to brag to her friends about being able to write an essay about top TV programme, Doctor Who. Amy hopes to continue her studies to postgraduate level once she has finished her degree. So, whether or not you are a fan of the Time Lord, read on and enjoy.

tenant and light

The Gallifreyan and the Galilean: Doctor Who, the Biblical Messiah and the American Monomyth

by Amy Calder

Messiah means an “anointed person or thing” (Stanton 2002, 242). There are many references to messiahs throughout the Hebrew bible, but Jesus is the figure who has come to be synonymous with the term in Christian tradition. The way Jesus behaved during his life, and particularly his death and resurrection, provides a model for the secular hero of western pop-culture known as the American Monomyth. Despite the name, this is not exclusive to American characters or texts. The monomyth involves a hero who is “lonely, selfless and sexless” who saves a community in danger then disappears (Lawrence and Jewett 2002, 5-6). Doctor Who (1963-1989, 1996, 2005-present) is a British science-fiction television show. This essay will focus on the Russel T Davies era of the series (2005-2010). The Doctor is an outsider and loner – the last of his people, the Time Lords of Gallifrey. He renounces temptation, particularly the temptation to become human. Most importantly, the Doctor sacrifices himself and is resurrected twice in the Davies era. Davies, as an outspoken atheist (Clark 2015, 33), did not intend for the Doctor to be a Christ figure but rather a Christ substitute (ibid, 31).

Ninth 1One of the aspects of the American Monomythic hero is that they come from outside of the threatened community or that they are a loner within that community (Lawrence and Jewett 2002, 47). In the classic series, the Doctor had a difficult relationship with his own people. He chose to interfere with the universe rather than being merely observant. Jesus had a similar relationship with his home people. When he returns to his hometown to continue his ministry, the people think of him only as a carpenter’s son. He tells them “A prophet is not without honour except in his own town and in his own home” (Matt 13:57).

Doctor Who
The Ninth Doctor and Rose Tyler

In the revival series, the Ninth Doctor is fresh from the Time War, which has left him the last of his kind. He embodies the Monomythic idea of originating outside the community he saves (ibid), and moving on. In “New Earth” (2.1, 2006) he is called “the lonely god.” Rose Tyler becomes the first companion of the revival series, and a disciple-like figure. Rose adopts a similar lifestyle to him, leaving behind her mother and boyfriend to travel in the Tardis. Similarly, Jesus’ disciples are asked to leave everything to follow him (Matt 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20). It could be argued that Jesus and his disciples cut family associations to focus on their ministry without distraction. Jesus, in fact, seems to place loyalty to God above loyalty to family in Mark 3 where he calls his followers his mother and brothers. In Doctor Who‘s series 2 finale “Doomsday” (2.13, 2006), the Tenth Doctor has to seal the void into a parallel universe. Because Rose has been to this universe, she is in danger of being sucked into the void and lost forever. The Doctor intends to send her into the parallel universe with her family, but she chooses to stay with him, putting herself in danger and potentially isolating herself permanently from her family. The Doctor is a messiah-like hero in that he never has a sense of home, aside from those he brings with him.

dr who and his disciples
The Tenth Doctor and his ‘disciples’

In the American Monomyth, the hero overcomes temptation, and remains chaste for the duration of the mission (Lawrence and Jewett 2002, 47). Overcoming temptation is also important for the biblical messiah. Jesus undergoes 40 days of temptation in the wilderness (Matt 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). The Devil tempts Jesus into using his power for selfish reasons, and tempts him with power. Whether Jesus was tempted sexually is unclear, although widely speculated. In Hebrews 4:15 the author writes “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” This implies that Jesus faced some sort of sexual or romantic temptation but did not give in to it.

Dr who and Joan Redfern
Dr Who and Joan Redfern

Likewise, Dee identifies “sexual abstinence” as one of the main parallels between The Doctor and Jesus (2010, 24). However, although nothing is made explicit, we know the Doctor was married in Gallifrey and had children. For the Doctor, the greatest temptation is humanity. In the two-parter story “Human Nature” (3.8, 2007) and “The Family of Blood” (3.9, 2007), the Doctor becomes temporarily human to hide from a family of aliens. His human alter-ego, John Smith, is unaware of true nature as a Time Lord and falls in love with a nurse, Joan Redfern. Towards the end of the story, John Smith must choose to take up his true identity and save the day, or remain human and be with Joan. He imagines growing old by Joan’s side. When he chooses to become the Doctor again, we know he has fought the temptation of humanity.

perfect goodbye rose
Dr Who and Rose, “Journey’s End”

Central to the Monomythic hero is the humanity-defying ability to be resurrected after death, the aspect which connects the American Monomyth most directly with Jesus as a Biblical Messiah. Ever since the first doctor became the second because of the failing health of the actor (Clark, 2015, 32-33), “regeneration” has become central to Doctor Who. But death in itself is not characteristic of the American Monomyth, rather death as sacrifice for a community. The Doctor makes many sacrifices to save humanity, but his deaths in the Davies era are to save individuals.

The Ninth Doctor must die and regenerate in “The Parting of the Ways”

In “The Parting of the Ways” (1.13, 2005), Rose looks into the Heart of the Tardis and gains God-like powers. However, the power is too much for her, so the Doctor absorbs it himself, knowing it will kill him but that he will be able to regenerate. The Doctor’s speech to Rose before regeneration shows a calm resignation to his fate not unlike Jesus or other heroes following the Monomythic structure: “Time Lords have this little trick. It’s sort of a way of cheating death. Except… it means I’m going to change.” He knows, like Jesus, that he will be resurrected, although Rose is unaware of this. When he has regenerated, she struggles to accept his new face, not unlike Mary Magdalene who thinks the newly resurrected Jesus is the gardener (John 20:11-18).

end of timeThe Doctor has a different kind of “resurrection” in “The Last of the Time Lords” (3.13, 2007) when he is resurrected through the “prayers” and faith of the people Martha has talked to (Balstrup 2014, 148), amplified through the Archangel Network (Dee 2010, 29). When the Tenth Doctor becomes the Eleventh in “The End of Time Part 2” (special episode 5, 2010), the Doctor once again sacrifices himself for a friend, Wilfred Mott. After having saved the universe from the end of time itself, the Doctor hears four knocks and knows he will soon die. The Doctor rescues Wilf from the radiation chamber, and then begins to regenerate. However, he is less resigned to his fate than his predecessor. He visits all of his present incarnations’ former companions like Jesus appearing to his disciples before his ascension. Then, his final words before his regeneration “I don’t want to go” echo Jesus prayer in Gethsemane; “Take this cup from me” (Mark 14: 36). However, the Doctor has no choice, and he is reborn once again. Hefner notes the symbolism of sacrifice as a guilt-offering (Heffner 1980, 417). For Jesus, it is an offering for the guilt of humanity. For the Tenth Doctor, it is a guilt-offering for himself – for all the people he failed to save.

tenant and screwdriverThe titular character of Doctor Who fits many of the aspects of the American Monomythic hero. Firstly, he is a loner who saves the world, and moves on. However, his greatest temptation is settling down and living a normal life. Instead, he must sacrifice himself to save the world, and die for his friends. Russel T Davies invokes religious symbolism without completely acknowledging the Doctor as Christ-like. However, the audience reception of the character is just as important (dee 2010, 24). Whether seeing him as representing Christ, a substitute for him in a God-less universe, or a powerful secular hero, the Doctor continues to inspire audiences to this day.

gif rose and dr


All references to the Biblical text are from the NIV.

Balstrup, Sarah. “Doctor Who: Christianity, Atheism, and the Source of Sacredness in the Davies Years.” Journal Of Religion & Popular Culture 26, no. 2 (2014): 145-156.

Celibacy. In Encyclopedia of the Bible Online. 2012. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter. Retrieved 9 Oct. 2015, from

Clarke, Jim. ””The Resurrection Days Are Over”: Resurrection from Doctor Who to Torchwood.” Journal Of Religion & Popular Culture 27, no. 1 (2015): 31-44.

Dee, Amy-Chin. “Davies, Dawkins and Deus ex Tardis: Who finds God in the Doctor?” In Ruminations, Peregrination and Regenerations: A Critical Approach to Doctor Who, edited by Christopher J. Hansen, 22-34. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010.

Family. In Encyclopedia of the Bible Online. 2014. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter. Retrieved 9 Oct. 2015, from

Hefner, Philip J. “The cultural significance of Jesus’ death as sacrifice.” The Journal Of Religion 60, no. 4 (1980): 411-439.

Lawrence, John Shelton and Robert Jewett. The Myth of the American Superhero. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

Stanton, Graham. The Gospels and Jesus. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Showcasing student work 8: Modern messiahs and The Hunger Games

Today’s student offering returns to the theme of the American Monomyth and its understanding of the modern messiah in pop culture. Our guest author is Tessa Duncan, a second year student studying for a Bachelor of Commerce and majoring in Accounting and Information Systems. Tessa hopes to qualify as a Chartered Accountant after finishing her degree, and would like to work in auditing or corporate finance. She took our Theology 101 Bible and Popular Culture course because she thought religion would be a fascinating area to study (she’s right!), and the course  interested her in particular because as a Christian, she was keen to discover how a text that has been so important to her personally has influenced and been influenced by popular culture. Tessa chose to explore the messianic qualities of a figure who is currently very in vogue within both contemporary literature and film: Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. So, whether or not you’ve read the books or seen the movies, sit back and enjoy.

Katniss 1
Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games movies

Katniss Everdeen, the Girl Messiah

By Tessa Duncan

 The word “Messiah” causes many to immediately think of Jesus. After all, Christians believe He was the original Messiah. But Messiah figures have appeared in cultural texts across the centuries, and have taken on a new life in current popular culture. These figures traditionally tend to be male, following the traditional Judaic expectation, but there are many female Messiah figures and one, for me, stands out above the rest: The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen. In this essay, I will discuss the American monomyth and the characteristics it gives for a popular culture Messiah. I will use these, and a small discussion on the Christus Victor theory, to discuss why I think Katniss makes for a great example of a pop culture Messiah.

hunger games book coverBruce David Forbes (2005) talks briefly on Christ figures in films, giving examples such as E.T., Neo from The Matrix films and Superman. He notes that these allegories tend to have a similar plot structure that was first introduced by Joseph Campbell as the classical monomyth, in which a hero “ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” This plot structure may have been applicable to popular culture long ago, when it included the stories of Ulysses and St. George and the dragon, but doesn’t have much relevance to popular stories and films today, and definitely doesn’t relate to The Hunger Games and the story of Katniss Everdeen. Fortunately, this was a view shared by Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence. They developed the idea of the American monomyth to describe a plot structure that is pervasive in popular culture today. Their monomyth is of “a community in a harmonious paradise is threatened by evil; normal institutions fail to contend with this threat; a selfless superhero emerges to renounce temptations and carry out the redemptive task; aided by fate, his decisive victory restores the community to its paradisiacal condition; the superhero then recedes into obscurity,” (Lawrence and Jewett, 2002). They admit that there are a multitude of variations on this basic plot structure, and The Hunger Games is no exception – I don’t think anyone would describe Panem as “a community in harmonious paradise” – but it does give some useful criteria for identifying a Christ figure in pop culture. Their monomythical hero is someone who is selfless and “impassively gives his life for others,” avoids temptations, carries out the task at hand that culminates in a victory for the good guys, and then fades into obscurity. This makes, in my opinion, The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen a near-perfect Christ figure.

katniss poster mockingjay

The first characteristic of the pop culture Messiah figure is selflessness. Lawrence and Jewett list it as the first criterion for their monomythic hero, and David Fillingim (2010) goes so far as to describe “a theme of voluntary self-sacrifice” as “most essential among all Christ-figure characteristics.” Throughout the Hunger Games series, Katniss Everdeen shows herself to be incredibly selfless. In order to keep her family from starving, she chooses to accept a small amount of oil and grain from the Capitol in exchange for entering her name in the reaping pool extra times, resulting in her name being entered 20 times, as opposed to the minimum of five times for 16 year old citizens of Panem, and thus greatly increasing her chances of being picked for that year’s Hunger Games (Collins, 2008).

Katniss and her sister Prim, in Catching Fire

And we can’t talk about Katniss’ selflessness without talking about the fact that she volunteered to take her sister Prim’s place in the Hunger Games, absolutely convinced she wouldn’t return. In Mockingjay, when deciding how to use Katniss to inspire the rebels of the districts, Haymitch Abernathy asks everyone to think of one time where she had genuinely moved them, and her volunteering in her sister’s place is the first example given (Collins, 2010). In Catching Fire, when Katniss figures out she will have to go back into the arena with one of the only friends she has in the world, she immediately goes to Haymitch to ask him to do all he can to keep Peeta alive, again knowing this would be at the cost of her own life. Katniss demonstrates time and again that she would willingly give her life for others, meeting our first criterion for a pop culture Messiah perfectly.

Katnis gale and peeta
Katniss, Peeta and Gale

Lawrence and Jewett’s monomythic hero is also “marked by sexual renunciation” (Lawrence and Jewett, 2002). The media greatly played up the love triangle aspect of the films, but the Katniss portrayed in the books is very much uninterested in love and romance, having decided a long time ago never to get married, for fear of watching her children being picked for the Hunger Games. Katniss has two love interests in the series, her fellow tribute Peeta Mellark and her best friend Gale Hawthorne. Very soon after we are introduced to Gale in The Hunger Games, Katniss tells the reader explicitly that “there has never been anything romantic between Gale and me,” (Collins, 2008). However, in Catching Fire, Katniss realises that she does, in fact, have feelings for Gale. She says, “Gale is mine. I am his. Anything else is unthinkable,” (Collins, 2009) but never acts on these feelings, scared of what the Capitol would do to him given that everyone believes she is madly in love with Peeta and this is the only thing preventing a full-on rebellion. Katniss’ entire relationship with Peeta was simply a means of keeping them both alive during their first Hunger Games and of convincing the districts that their refusal to kill each other in the final minutes of their Hunger Games was an act of love, not rebellion. Peeta, though, makes it clear that for him, it isn’t just an act. When Katniss does begin to share his feelings in the Games’ arena in Catching Fire, she again chooses to ignore them, knowing they wouldn’t both make it out of the arena a second time and chooses to focus on keeping him alive instead. Katniss spends the entirety of the series ignoring her romantic feelings to protect the men involved, only being able to admit her feelings for and begin a romantic involvement with Peeta in the final lines of Mockingjay (Collins, 2010), and in doing so, she meets another key criterion for being a pop culture Messiah.

Katniss and Peeta
Katniss and Peeta

The final criteria – the hero carrying out the redemptive task, culminating in a decisive victory and fading into obscurity – are all well-demonstrated in Mockingjay. It takes some convincing, and a short list of demands on her part, but Katniss agrees to be the figurehead of the rebellion against the Capitol (Collins, 2010). In spite of the great personal risk involved, she is present at many battles in the districts and plays an active role in getting every district to turn on the Capitol. It is she who leads the first team of rebels through the booby-trapped streets of the Capitol to President Snow’s residence. In the end, she doesn’t kill President Snow herself, but that’s a decision that doesn’t really matter; by this stage, all of Panem had already turned against President Snow and he dies seconds later anyway, resulting in a decisive victory for the rebellion. With the victory a sure thing, as Katniss says, “no-one knows quite what to do with me now the war’s over.” She moves back to District 12, where she, Peeta and Haymitch try to move on. The book doesn’t make it clear exactly, but it seems they are mostly left in peace, the parts they played in the rebellion remembered, but they themselves are left to fade into obscurity. This is just another way in which Katniss fits the criteria for the pop culture Messiah figure, and by now, makes her a very good candidate indeed.

katniss moody sepiaThis far, I have discussed pop culture Messiahs and the criteria for what makes a character a pop culture Messiah, but haven’t yet discussed who Christians believe to be the original Messiah and similarities between Him and Katniss Everdeen. Granted, there aren’t many, but there is one worth mentioning: Both faced a great triumph over evil. Several theories try to explain Jesus’ Messiahship, and the Christus Victor theory in particular applies to Katniss Everdeen as a pop culture Messiah. The Christus Victor theory is the idea that Jesus’ death and resurrection gave him the final victory over everything that holds humanity captive (Galli, 2011). There are many verses in the Bible which talk about Jesus’ victory, and many of these can be applied to Katniss’ victory. Hebrews 2:15-15 says that Jesus “shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death…and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

Hunger games catching fire posterKatniss, like Jesus, shared in her people’s condition – oppression by the Capitol. Having experienced it all her life, it was a big factor in her decision to be the face of the rebellion. Her victory, too, allowed her people to be set free from their fear of death at the Capitol’s hands, as it was fear of being completely obliterated by the Capitol, like District 13 had been, that ensured there had been no rebellion for 75 years. 2 Thessalonians 2:8 gives a powerful image of Jesus’ final victory, saying that “Lord Jesus will overthrow [the lawless one] with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming.” By the time the fight reaches the Capitol, President Snow is already defeated. But the only reason the rebellion caught on was because of powerful propaganda films made by Katniss and the rebels at District 13. It was Katniss’ words that gave strength to the rebellion, and she overthrew the Capitol with the breath of her mouth just as Jesus overthrew the “lawless one”. Taking a look at the Christus Victor theory allows us to draw parallels between Katniss and Jesus, and lends strength to Katniss’ position as a pop culture Messiah.

Jennifer LawrenceThe idea of American monomyth gives us a very clear and distinct type of hero; one who, among other things, is selfless, resists temptation, carries out a redemptive task to return their world to a paradisiacal state, has a decisive victory and fades into obscurity. The Christus Victor theory expands on the characteristic of a decisive victory by comparing said victory to Jesus’ triumph over death. The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen shares all these characteristics, and we can see strong parallels between her and Jesus’ respective victories over their enemies, and it is for these reasons that I believe she makes a great pop culture Messiah.hunger games katniss with wings


All references to Biblical texts are from the New International Version, 1985

Collins, S. (2008). The Hunger Games. Scholastic Press.

Collins, S. (2009). Catching Fire. Scholastic Press.

Collins, S. (2010). Mockingjay. Scholastic Press.

Fillingim, D. (2010). When Jesus was a Girl: Polymythic Female Christ Figures in Whale Rider and Steel Magnolias. Journal of Religion and Film, 14(1).

Forbes, B., Mahan, J. & Chidster, D. (2005). Religion and popular culture in America. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Retrieved October 6, 2015, from:

Galli, M. (2011, April 7). The Problem with Christus Victor: An increasingly popular view of the atonement forces the question: What are we saved from? Christianity Today.

Lawrence, J. and Jewett, R. (2002). The myth of the American superhero. Eerdmans Publishing.

Spotlighting student work 7: Harvey Milk – prophet of hope

Today’s student offering from our Bible and Pop Culture class is a marvellous essay about modern prophets, hope, and the LGBT+ community. The author is Lauren Winthrop, who is currently doing a Bachelor of Arts/LLB conjoint degree, majoring in Chinese Language and minoring in Asian Studies. Lauren has a passion for international human rights and social justice, and hopes to work in China after she finishes university. Her passion for justice certainly shines through in this essay, as she explores the prophetic qualities of gay rights activist, Harvey Milk. Enjoy.

hope will never 2

Harvey Milk: A prophet bringing hope

“I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living.”

Harvey Milk played a major role in the Gay Rights movement during the 1970’s through his political activism and passion for justice. He can be seen as a modern day prophet for the LGBT community in particular. In this essay I use Marcus Borg’s definition of the biblical prophet to demonstrate that Milk had similar attributes to the prophet Amos, such as disturbing the sense of normality in society, a passion for social justice and most importantly a bringer of hope to the oppressed.

milk speaking
Photo by Suzan Cooke

Borg’s definition of the biblical prophet identifies a prophet as someone that disturbs society’s sense of normality (Borg 2001, 120). In amongst the politically tumultuous 1970s, Harvey Milk emerged as a key figure in the fight for gay rights within the gay community (Clendinen and Nagourney 2013, 339). The 1970s was a difficult time for the gay community as they faced strong oppression from religious groups in the form of discriminatory political policies and the threat (and reality) of violence. Milk challenge the religious status quo, going against the current of a predominantly Christian Society (ibid, 329). He spoke up against the religious intolerance of Christian groups, criticizing them, using similar language to the prophet Amos, who spoke up about the wealthy, powerful, and outwardly religious people in his cultural context who oppressed the poor and marginalized:

“They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name.” (Amos 2.7)

Harvey with a crowd Daniel Nicoletta
Harvey Milk’s Innaugeral Walk Daniel Nicoletta  

Milk was elected onto the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco, becoming the city’s first openly gay elected leader – and one of the first in the nation (Morris 2007, 76). There was minimal national consensus on gay rights; instead, people like Anita Bryant and religious groups backing politicians saw the gay community as being anti-family. Milk spoke against these groups, arguing for separation of church and state to promote gay rights. But even before his election, Milk founded the Castro Village Association, to promote gay friendly business partnerships and for supporting the labour union (ibid).

milk posterThe cultural text “Milk” (Gus Van Sant 2009) reflects a modern day cultural reflection of Milk in support of his challenge to the status quo. As the ideology of “separation of church and state” has gained popularity, films like this can be made with far less opposition. The film shows Milk under a prophet-figure light, showing his challenging of the status quo as fundamental for the gay rights movement through his passionate speeches. Anita Bryant, John Briggs and other strongly Conservative politicians accused gay individuals of being perverted and sick (Clendinen and Nagourney 2013, 16). Milk knew that this view was held by many, and that it was in turn pushing young people who could not be accepted by their families towards suicide. Milk challenged the status quo in his speech “Tired of Silence” at the Gay Freedom Day Parade in San Francisco, California on June 25, 1978, saying that they will no longer take what has been happening:

“I’m tired of listening to the ‘Anita Bryant’s’ twist the language and the meaning of the Bible to fit their own distorted outlook. But I’m even more tired of the silence from the religious leaders of this nation who know that she is playing fast and loose with the true meaning of the Bible. I’m tired of their silence more than of her biblical gymnastics” (quoted in Gottheimer 2003, 377).

not sick gifMilk uses biblical texts to challenge Anita Bryant and John Briggs, accusing them of using the Bible as a ‘cultural prop’ to reflect their own opinions, hurting many gay people.

“You talk a lot about the Bible. . . . But when are you going to talk about that most important part: “Love thy neighbor?” After all, she may be gay” (ibid, 379).

milk at office
Daniel Nicoletta

Borg’s definition of the biblical prophet is someone who advocates for social justice (Borg 2001, 118). Amos is an excellent example of such a prophet because he prophesized during a period where there was an immense class disparity (Bergant 2006, 91). Amos believed that justice towards a neighbor and righteousness before God were entirely connected. He cared deeply for the oppressed, and his words are timeless as there is, still today, a great deal of social oppression. Amos saw the worship of God as useless if people were not willing to help the oppressed. He viewed God as being a God for the oppressed and not a God of showy festivals:

I hate, I despise your religious festivals;  Your assemblies are a stench to me. Though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,  I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.(5.21-23).

(c) Bettmann/CORBIS

Amos’ passion for social justice is mirrored by Milk. Milk knew he was risking his life to advocate for a cause that was going against the tide of the religious movement, and received numerous death threats (Clendinen and Nagourney 2013, 404). Although he did not succeed immediately in being elected into office, he rallies for the LGBT community and stood up against Proposition 6 which would have caused gay teachers to be fired (ibid 367). He argued fiercely and publically against the “Save Our Children” campaign (Blasius 1997, 448), calling out the assumptions being made about gay people in his speech “Tired of Silence”.

“Clean up your own house before you start telling lies about gays. Don’t distort the Bible to hide your own sins. Don’t change facts to lies. Don’t look for cheap political advantage in playing upon people’s fears! Judging by the latest polls, even the youth can tell you’re lying!”

Amos’ message of God’s opposition to injustice and his witness of God’s special concern for the oppressed are thus similar those values and actions expressed by Harvey Milk, for which, even today, he is still remembered.

milk on a car
Terry Schmitt

Another of Borg’s definitions of the biblical prophet is that the prophet is one who brings about a vision for a better future (2001, 119-20). Amos spoke about God’s judgment within society at that present time as opposed to God’s judgment at the end of time (ibid). His writings still conjure up hope in people’s hearts; for example, Amos is cited in the famous speech by Martin Luther King Jr, which he delivered at the Lincoln Memorial during the Civil Rights March on Washington:

But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5.24)

Jerry Pritikin
Jerry Pritikin

Another prophet to bring hope for a better future was Isaiah, who assured his audience that those who hope in the Lord will  “Soar on wings like eagles; They will run and not grow weary, They will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40.31).

Similarly to these prophets, Milk used his speeches to bring a hope of a better future. For Milk, hope was key:

“Without hope not only the gays but the blacks, the seniors, the poor, the handicapped the Uses give up….if you help me get elected that election – no it is not my election it is yours – it will mean that a green light is lit … a green light that says to all who feel lost and disenfranchised that you now can go forward – it means hope and we – no, you and you and you and yes you got to give them hope.”   (listen to Milk’s speech here)

Harvey Milk
Harvey Milk Archives, Scott Smith collection

Even though Milk was assassinated by his coworker Daniel White only eleven months into his office term (Morris 2007, 74), his message of hope and his dream for justice has lived on in the hearts of those he encountered, especially within the LGBT community. Today, the Harvey Milk Foundation continues his work, guided by his dream “for a better tomorrow filled with the hope for equality and a world without hate.”

Image by Daniel Nicoletta

The biblical prophet also has the role to be the mouthpiece of God, and God was ultimately central to them (Borg 2001, 123). God gave the prophets legitimacy, and thus their words were anointed and listened to; they did this by often prefacing their announcements with the words, “Thus says the Lord” in order to establish that it was God’s words they were speaking (ibid, 124). The focus of the prophets was to bring a message from God, be it good or bad, and to deliver the message the way God intended, regardless of the audience and if what they said was popular (ibid, 125). Prophets such as Jeremiah and Amos suffered as a result of speaking what they believed to be God’s message to the people, because that message tended to challenge the rich and powerful (ibid). The prophets were therefore individuals who knew God and were passionate about social justice; these two factors seemed to go hand in hand.

Milk icon
Robert Lentz

However, in comparison, Milk’s approach was not explicitly religious and did not command the seeking of a “higher being” to speak into situations. Whilst his work does echo certain sentiments regarding social justice that are found in the biblical prophetic material, his desire to inspire hope and keep hold of hope reflects more of a Humanist approach to this issue. Milk had a strong message about the importance of being yourself, and as part of that, coming out to people around you so that they could see that LGBT people were an integral part of the community, rather than a marginalized group who deserved to be ostracized by public opinion (Morris 2007, 87). This reliance on being who you are and having hope in the goodness of humanity contrasts with prophets such as Isaiah, who suggests that one needs to rely on God in order for hope to be found and sustained. Yet, while Milk does not come under Borg’s definition of a biblical prophet in this aspect, I suggest that his commitment to social justice and the sustaining hope he brought with his actions and campaigns aligns him to the prophetic traditions in significant ways.

In conclusion, Harvey Milk was truly a modern day ‘prophet’. He brought hope to oppressed people by disturbing the oppressive heteronormalcy in society, by his political activism for social justice and gay rights, and by giving LGBT people in 1970s San Francisco a vision for a brighter future. I believe that he left a lasting impression on those around him and the LGBT+ community as a whole. Personally, Milk is a hero for me, and I believe that by employing his attitude and commitment to justice, we can also make the world a better, more hopeful, place.

End slide
Daniel Nicoletta


Bergant, Dianne. Israel’s Story, Part 1. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2006

Blasius, Mark. We Are Everywhere: A Historical Sourcebook of Gay and Lesbian   Politics. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Borg, Marcus J. “Reading the Prophets again.” In Reading the Bible Again for the First Timepp. 111-144. San Francisco: Harper, 2001.

Dudley Clendinen, Adam Nagourney. Out For Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay   Rights Movement in America, Simon and Schuster, 2013

Escobar, D.S., 1995, ‘Social justice in the book of Amos’, Review and Expositor 92, 169–174.

Gottheimer, Josh. Ripples of Hope: Great American Civil Rights Speeches. New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2003.

Morris, Charles E. Queering Public Address: Sexualities in American Historical      Discourse. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 2007.

Watson, Sandy, and Ted Miller. “LGBT Oppression.” Multicultural Education 19, no. 4 (2012): 2(6). Accessed September 23, 2015.

Milk. Directed by Bruce Cohen. Universal Studios Home Entertainment, 2009. Film.

References to the Bible are taken from the New International Version

Yesterday’s grand book launch

Yesterday evening, University of Auckland staff, students and friends of Auckland TheoRel celebrated the launch of a new volume, Sexuality, Ideology and the Bible: Antipodean Engagements, co-edited by Auckland TheoRel staff Robert Myles and Caroline Blyth, and published by Sheffield Phoenix Press. A good time was had by all.

Some photos:

(Thank goodness we kept those balloons around from Helen’s and Derek’s farewell on Tuesday)

IMG_0143 IMG_0146 IMG_0161 IMG_0164

Spotlighting student work 6: Gaming, inquisitors, and messiahs

coverToday’s splendid student essay from our Theology 101 Bible in Popular Culture takes us into the world of video games. Although this has previously been a neglected area within academic research, it’s good to see a growing interest in the cultural and religious significance of this genre of popular culture. The recently published Exploring Videogames with Deleuze and Guttari (Routledge, 2015) by Colin Cremin (senior lecturer in Sociology at the University of Auckland) analyses the content of videogames – including their narratives around gender and violence – and the social and cultural context in which they are played. Meanwhile, postgraduate student Emily Foster-Brown at the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies (SIIBS, University of Sheffield) is just embarking on an MA thesis that explores the ways videogames engage with Judaeo-Christian conceptions of Jesus within their female character leads. So we are pleased to add to this new discussion on the Auckland TheoRel blog, by introducing the work of Brianna Vincent, a first year Arts student who is doing a double major in English and Writing Studies. Brianna is fascinated by the ways different mediums (books, comics, tv shows, video games etc) engage in storytelling; she was therefore delighted that our Bible and Pop Culture course gave her the opportunity to write about videogames and thus add her voice to the academic study of this fascinating form of cultural narrative. So, whether or not you are a gamer yourself, give yourself a treat and read Brianna’s excellent essay on contemporary messiahs in the hugely popular game, Dragon Age: Inquisition.

inquisition posterThe Hand that Saved Thedas: The Inquisitor as a Messiah Figure

By Brianna Vincent

The American Monomyth and the concept of a messiah are found throughout contemporary popular culture, and Bioware’s video game Dragon Age: Inquisition is no exception. When the fantasy world of Thedas is thrown into chaos a protagonist rises up who incorporates three of the central themes surrounding messiahs and the American Monomyth; mysterious origins and powers, resurrection, and uniting the land against evil. The protagonist, first called the Herald of Andraste then the Inquisitor, functions in their context not merely as a hero figure but that of a holy saviour. As the game progresses we see the Inquisitor fulfil their Messianic role as they are confronted with their purportedly divine origins and powers, experience a sacrifice and resurrection arc that is reminiscent of the Judeo-Christian messiah figure of Jesus, and unite the lands of Thedas in a way that parallels the Tanakh’s understandings of a messiah. The character Varric declares near the beginning of this journey that “Heroes are everywhere. I’ve seen that. But the hole in the sky? That’s beyond heroes. We’re going to need a miracle” and indeed the protagonist needs to become more than a hero. The protagonist needs to become a messiah that can deliver Thedas its miracle – the protagonist needs to become the Inquisitor.

The Breach which destroyed the Conclave
The Breach which destroyed the Conclave

At the beginning of the game the Conclave at the Temple of Sacred Ashes was meeting to try to mediate peace between mage and templar factions currently embroiled in civil war. The sudden explosion which destroyed the Conclave, killed the Chantry’s holy leader, and tore a dangerous hole in the sky was as mysterious as it was destructive. This sets the world of Thedas in the common monomythic trope in which “The world seems out of control and people lose any sense of order or meaning” (Aichele 2011, 263), and it is in the midst of this mystery and chaos that the protagonist emerges. The protagonist falls out of the hole in the sky, called “the Breach,” with no memory of the incident and appears to have been saved by the divine figure of Andraste. The protagonist begins to follow in the traditions of the American Monomyth hero who “is distinguished by disguised origins, pure motivations, a redemptive task, and extraordinary powers” (Lawrence and Jewett 2002, 47).

Andraste triptych
Andraste triptych

The contention within the game over whether or not the protagonist was truly saved by Andraste codifies the protagonist as being “distinguished by disguised origins” (ibid) as well as having a “least-likely hero beginning” (Scheub 2012, 144), which is another key theme is the monomythic paradigm. The protagonist, now bearing the title “Herald of Andraste,” possesses “extraordinary powers” (Lawrence and Jewett 2002, 47) in the form of a magic welded onto their hand (called the Anchor) that will enable them to “defeat the forces of evil or overcome great challenges” (Clark and Clanton 2012, 118).

The Anchor (the mark that gives the Inquisitor the unique power to close the Breach and the smaller rifts)
The Anchor (the mark that gives the Inquisitor the unique power to close the Breach and the smaller rifts)

Another aspect of the American Monomyth, the “hero as outsider” origin tradition, is fulfilled as the protagonist becomes “both in the world but not of the world” (Kozlovic 2002, 10) as they are set apart from everyone else by “virtue of his unknown origins” (Lawrence and Jewett 2002, 47) and by the unique magic they possess. Thereby “the Chosen of Andraste, a blessed hero to save us all” is mired in mystery from the beginning as they, following the American Monomyth traditions, “find a new life amongst strangers” (Kozlovic 2002, 2) by joining the Inquisition, and embark on their “messianic rescue mission” of the world (Clark and Clanton 2012, 119).

The Inquisitor is confronted with being divinely chosen.
The Inquisitor is confronted with being divinely chosen.

A key element of the American Monomyth is “the selfless servant who impassively gives his life for others” (Lawrence and Jewett 2002, 6) and the protagonist fulfils this aspect of their role during the quest ‘In Your Heart Shall Burn’ which ties into themes of sacrifice, death, and resurrection found in the New Testament and in the American Monomyth.

The Inquisitor facing Corypheus to give the citizens of Haven enough time to escape
The Inquisitor facing Corypheus to give the citizens of Haven enough time to escape

The town of Haven is under siege by the villain Corypheus and his army and “there are no tactics to make this survivable.” The Herald goes to confront Corypheus to buy time for the Haven citizens to escape, in essence sacrificing themselves for Haven, and during the confrontation the Herald triggers an avalanche and is buried under the ice. In this sacrifice the protagonist not only incorporates the American Monomyth traditions of sacrifice but the biblical understanding for a messiah “to suffer and make himself as a ‘guilt offering’” (Satterthwaite, Hess, and Wenham 1995, 117) and the following “resurrection” of the protagonist continues these allusions. “Jesus experienced a resurrection from his grave site, Superman was resurrected from his grave site” (Kozlovic 2002, 7) and the Herald follows in these traditions as he or she rises from their would-be grave of ice and just as “Superman emerges from the water and, in another symbolic rebirth, regains his powers” (ibid) the Herald now emerges with a new power called the “Mark of the Rift.” As Scheub suggests “The movement of the hero is through a difficult terrain marked by tests and tasks, by villainy and traps, by various experiences that test his heroism and shape him” (2012, 144) and this heroic confrontation with the villain acts as a test that transforms our protagonist from the Herald into the Inquisitor as they are, after this trial, chosen to be the official leader of the Inquisition. The American Monomyth pattern of “persons depart from their community, undergo trials, and later return to be integrated as mature adults who can serve in new ways” (Lawrence and Jewett 2002, 6) is therefore fulfilled as the Herald departs to sacrifice themselves, undergoes the trial of the confrontation with the villain, and then returns to the Inquisition ready to take on the task of being its leader. This resurrection also solidifies the Inquisitor as an ordained figure regardless of what the protagonist may personally believe:

“Our leaders struggle because of what we survivors witnessed. We saw our defender stand…and fall. And now, we have seen her return. The more the enemy is beyond us, the more miraculous your actions appear. And the more our trials seem ordained.”

The Inquisitor waking up after the avalanche
The Inquisitor waking up after the avalanche

Through this resurrection the Inquisitor has become a messiah figure to the people of Thedas, a hope against the threat of Corypheus who escaped the avalanche, and the messianic overtones in the subsequent “The Dawn Will Come” scene highlights this. After the avalanche the survivors of Haven sing while bowing, saluting, or otherwise showing reverence to the Inquisitor in a song that echoes verses in Isaiah. The song lyrics “The night is long and the path is dark. Look to the sky, for one day soon, the dawn will come” use similar imagery to that which surrounds the messianic prophecy “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2). These biblical allusions to a messiah overlap and combine with American Monomyth traditions around sacrifice and resurrection to create the Inquisitor not just as a hero but as a messiah figure within the world of the text.

Dawn will come
Dawn will come – the Inquisitor unites the community

The uniting of a community is another key aspect in the American Monomyth and the Inquisitor unites Thedas in a way uses those monomythic traditions as well as echoing the Tanakhh’s concepts of a political and military messiah. As Aichele notes, “The monomyth hero is typically solitary, and although she may have allies, she often performs her great deeds alone” (2011, 269) and these allies supporting the Inquisitor include a group of twelve companions, a parallel to the twelve disciples of Jesus, and the eventual support of the most powerful institutions of Thedas. The amount of power the Inquisitor gains through these allies has Biblical parallels where we can see such power described in verses like “and to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all people, nations and languages should serve him” (Daniel 7:14; quoted in Aichele 2011, 264). That political and military power gives Inquisitor the ability to make world-altering decisions like who shall rule Orlais, whether to banish the centuries old institution of the Wardens, and who should be the next religious leader of the Chantry.

The Inquisitor (centre) at the war table surrounded by their 12 companions. It's bit 'last supper'-like
The Inquisitor (centre) at the war table surrounded by their 12 companions – echoes of the Last Supper abound.

This powerful leadership also mimics the leadership of the American monomyth hero who “offers a form of leadership without paying the price of political relationships or responding to the preferences of the majority” (Lawrence and Jewett 2002, 48) and how the monomythic hero “finds an answer in vigilantism” (ibid). The Inquisition is itself a vigilante institution, that was instigated when the Chantry failed to contend with the threat of Corypheus, and through it the Inquisitor has become a “combination of a heavenly judge and a king- or warrior messiah” (Trost 2010, 128). The Hebrew word Messiah is interconnected with the idea of “The Anointed One” (Satterthwaite, Hess, and Wenham 1995, 88) and the Inquisitor has been “anointed” by Andraste in the eyes of Thedas and operates within the three offices associated with the Tanakh messiah; the prophet, the priest, and the king (Barclay 1962, 93).

Coronation of the Inqiusitor as leader of the Inquisition. In Hebrew BIble traditions, the king was anointed as messiah at his coronation.
Coronation of the Inqiusitor as leader of the Inquisition. In Hebrew Bible traditions, the king was anointed as messiah at his coronation.

As the Herald of Andraste, this figure fulfils the offices of prophet and priest and as the Inquisitor ruling the Inquisition they incorporate the office of the king. The Enoch picture of the messiah is “a completely otherworldly figure of divine and majestic and superhuman power, destined to conquer and to judge all, to obliterate sinners and to exalt the righteous” (ibid) and the figure of the Inquisitor, sitting on the throne within their fortress Skyhold, endowed with religious authority and the magic of the anchor on their hand, while dispensing freedom and judgement as they see fit conforms to this interpretation of a messiah. Upon appointing the protagonist as the Inquisitor the character Cassandra says to them “I would be terrified handing this power to anyone. But I believe it is the only way” and it is with this terrifying power that the Inquisitor unites Thedas to stand against Corypheus wielding the political and military power that draws on the tropes of the American Monomyth and the Old Testament concepts of the Messiah.

The Inquisitor (centre) surrounded by their companions
The Inquisitor (centre) surrounded by their companions

As Scheub notes, “The hero’s journey… moves on the earth but it has mythic overtones and consequences” (2012, 143) and the Inquisitor’s journey of mysterious origins, sacrifice and resurrection, and uniting the land is rich in messianic and monomythic overtones. In the Inquisitor we can see “elements of the selfless servant who impassively gives his life for others and the zealous crusader who destroys evil” (Lawrence and Jewett 2002, 6) that makes them a messiah within the world of Thedas and a fascinating character study outside the world of the text. The protagonist’s dual functions as ‘Herald of Andraste’ and ‘Inquisitor’ interweave different facets of a popular messiah figure; the monomythic beginnings, the Christ-like resurrection, and ideas of a powerful leadership by an ‘anointed one’ put forward by the Tanakh. It is these Biblical and American Monomythic conceptions and themes that combine to create the multi-layered contemporary messiah that we see in Dragon Age: Inquisition. A saviour that transforms from stranger, to chosen one, to a messiah who can save Thedas.

fabulous imageBibliography

Aichele, George. “The Posthumanity of “the Son of Man”: Heroes as Postmodern Apocalypse.” Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 23, no. 3 (Fall, 2011): 263-275. Accessed October 10.

Barclay, William. Jesus as They Saw Him: New Testament interpretations of Jesus. New York: Harper & Row, 1962.

Campbell, Heidi and Grieve, Gregory P. Playing with religion in digital games. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014.

Clark, Terry Ray and Clanton, Dan W. Understanding religion and popular culture : theories, themes, products and practices. Abingdon, Oxon; New York: Routledge, 2012.

Gaider, David. Dragon Age: Inquisition. Video Game. Developed by Bioware. Electronic Arts, 2014.

Kozlovic, Anton Karl. “Superman as Christ-Figure: The American Pop Culture Movie Messiah”. Journal of Religion and Film 6, no. 1 (2002). Accessed October 10.

Lawrence, John Shelton and Robert Jewett. The Myth of the American Superhero. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

Satterthwaite, Philip E, Richard S. Hess, and Gordon J. Wenham. The Lord’s Anointed: Interpretation of Old Testament Messianic Texts. Carlisle, U.K: Paternoster Press, 1995.

Scheub, Harold. Trickster and Hero: Two Characters in the Oral and Written Traditions of the World. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2012.

Trost, Travis D. Who Should Be King in Israel: a study on Roman imperial politics, the Dead Sea scrolls, and the Fourth Gospel. New York : P. Lang, 2010.

Ngā mihi mō tō manaakitanga mai

Yesterday morning we said goodbye to Helen Bergin and Derek Tovey who are retiring after two decades teaching Theology at the University of Auckland (as well as at the Catholic Institute of Theology in Helen’s Case, and Saint John’s College in Derek’s).

Both were involved in the Auckland Consortium for Theological Education, became the School of Theology at the University of Auckland in 2003.

As we launch into a BA Major in Theological and Religious Studies within the Faculty of Arts, we hope we can build something worthwhile on the foundations that Helen, Derek and many others have already laid.

Thanks to Therese Kiely and other students for the hard work – during exam time, too – that went into getting this farewell ready.

IMG_0123 IMG_0063IMG_0085IMG_0079IMG_0067IMG_0065

Spotlighting student work 5: Corbyn and Christ

Today’s wonderful student offering brings us into the realm of UK politics, considering the prophetic (and Christ-like) qualities of that political phenomenon du jour, Jeremy Corbyn. The author of this piece is Harriet Winn, a first year student here at the University of Auckland, who is doing a BA in History and Theological and Religious Studies. Harriet originally hails from West London but now lives in Wellington with her family. While she admits the future is ‘frighteningly ambiguous’, she hopes to pursue a career in journalism or writing of some sort that invoves her working with people to make the world a more egalitarian place.

So, whether or not you are familiar with the intricacies of British politics, read on and enjoy this fabulous discussion of the Christlike Corbyn.

jeremy jesusJeremy Corbyn and Jesus Christ – liberators of the last, the lost, and the least

By Harriet Winn

Jeremy Corbyn is a political anomaly. The hard-left socialist entered the race for leadership of the UK Labour Party somewhat begrudgingly, spurred on by his moral conviction that the government ought to be doing more for those in need (Hattenstone 2015). Whilst he was initially the distinct underdog of the contest, Corbyn emerged as the people’s favourite. He was elected leader of the Labour Party on September 12th, 2015 with an astonishing 59.5% of the vote (Eaton 2015). Despite living centuries apart, Jeremy Corbyn and Jesus Christ have an exceptional amount in common; primarily, both are unlikely pioneers of radical socio-political movements. As established by the Council of Nicea in c.325, Jesus was monumentally more than a prophet – he was fully divine, yet he also displayed many of the traits of an ordinary prophet (Migliore 1991, 62-63, 148). Marcus J. Borg asserts that prophets fundamentally challenge the status-quo, have a passion for social justice, emerge as a prophet from a context of oppression by elites, and possess a vision of hope (Borg 2001, 111-44). Like Christ, Corbyn was the instigator of a grassroots revolution that embodied these traits, a revolution that prioritised compassion and justice, and spoke the language of hope. Corbyn is a 21st century prophet.

jeremy futureProphets disturb what society deems ‘normal’; they challenge unquestioned assumptions and reject complacency (Borg 2001, 111). Like many prophets before him, Jesus disturbed the normalcy of life. Roman Palestine was a nation created and sustained by imperial violence; ‘it is increasingly clear that Roman military violence created the very conditions of and for Jesus’ mission’ (Horsley 2014, 54). Yet, in a culture permeated by violence, Jesus advocated for peace. As famously quoted in the Beatitudes; ‘If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also’ (Matt. 5:39). Jeremy Corbyn is also disruptive presence in the political sphere; he is rejuvenating politics by challenging the status quo and promoting peace. Corbyn takes a similar stance on violence and imperial war to Jesus; he is an ardent believer of pacifism.

jeremy stop the warLike Jesus, Corbyn does not just implicitly speak of pacifism – he actively engages in the advocacy and practice of it. ‘I have been very involved in the peace movement, the anti-nuclear campaign, the campaign against the Gulf war, the Afghan war…’ (Corbyn 2003, 39). Corbyn has made it exceedingly clear that he would never condone use of Trident: the UK’s nuclear weapon programme (Wintour 2015). His definitive stance on Trident has been interpreted by many of his opponents as threatening, a senior general from the UK military even insinuating that ‘the general staff would never allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of the country…’ (Eaton 2015). In a world where imperial violence and warfare is widespread and constant, Corbyn gives voice to a resonating and alternative rhetoric. Similarly to how Jesus’ radical values of non-violence unsettled Roman Palestine in the 1st century CE, Corbyn’s refreshing rhetoric moves against the grain of 21st century culture and politics.

Jeremy ladiesFurthermore, prophets have a passion for social justice (Borg 2001, 118-20). Central to Jesus’ ministry was the defence of those who couldn’t stand up for themselves. Jesus’ ministry emphasised universality and inclusiveness (Braaten 2008, 167). Women in Roman Palestine were unquestionably inferior in status to men (Swidler 2007, 18). Yet, Jesus pioneered for the rights of women by teaching them the gospel; using examples of women doing good in his parables; choosing a woman to be the first witness of his resurrection; and by condemning misogynistic violence (John. 8:1-11) (Harrison and Richards 1996-7, 183). In the 21st century, the patriarchy continues to dominate and sexism still persists. Jeremy Corbyn pioneers for the rights of women and works earnestly to combat sexism and misogyny; 52% of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet are women (Arnett 2015). By giving more than half of the top jobs in his political party to women, Corbyn showed that he not only believes in the equality of women, but he will actively pursue it. Moreover, Corbyn launched a campaign called ‘Working With Women’ in which he claimed that ‘we will never be a successful society in which all are able to achieve their potential until we have equality for women’ (Corbyn 2015b). Distinctive parallels on the inclusion of women exist between Jesus’ ministry and Corbyn’s political campaign.

jeremy childrenLike women, another group of overlooked individuals are children. Children are often ignored or not taken seriously. This was the case in Jesus’ lifetime, yet he spoke widely of the importance of children and the value that they offer to society; ‘Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these”’ (Matt. 19:14). Just as the inclusion of children was a significant element of Jesus’ ministry, Corbyn also makes time for children in his political activity; ‘Corbyn proudly shows me one [a card] from the children of Duncombe Primary School in Islington, north London. “Please remember, just as you have always been there for us, we are there for you,” it reads’ (Eaton 2015). The legacy of Jeremy Corbyn will likely be one of prophetic and zealous commitment to striving for social justice for women and children.

jeremy hands aloftIn addition to challenging the status quo and being passionate about social justice, a fundamental aspect of prophecy is that it arises from a context of oppression of the vulnerable by the elites (Borg 2001, 127-28). Jesus regularly reinforced the idea that all humans are equal, and also exposed the hypocrisy of the religious leaders (Matt. 23:1-39) – who were amongst the elites in the social hierarchy of Roman Palestine. In The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, Jesus said; ‘“So the last will be first, and the first will be last”’ (Matt. 20:16). Jesus emphasised the irrelevancy of social hierarchies and implied that the poorest, the most vulnerable of society would be valued most by him.

Jeremy Corbyn at an anti-Apartheid rally, 1984
Jeremy Corbyn at an anti-Apartheid rally, 1984

Jeremy Corbyn also dismisses such rigid social hierarchies as harmful and unnecessary; he recognises that the government is firmly rooted in the ideals of neo-liberalism, which values a deregulated economy. Corbyn believes that the government’s preoccupation with austerity is partly due to neo-liberalism. He condemns both neo-liberalism and austerity and cites the latter as an excuse for the rich to oppress the poor (Corbyn 2015a). Contrary to the current Conservative government in the UK – who Corbyn identifies as elitist oppressors, Corbyn avidly believes in the ability of the welfare state to bring about better quality of life for the most vulnerable. Fuelling speculation about the divinity of Corbyn is his employment of biblical imagery when speaking of the welfare state; ‘…we want to live in a society where we don’t pass by on the other side of those people rejected by an unfair welfare system… we reach out to end the scourge of homelessness and desperation that so many people face in our society’ (Crossley 2015). Corbyn’s vision is one of egalitarian socialism: where the poor and vulnerable will be treated with the same dignity and respect as the elitist rulers.jeremy refugeses

Both Jesus and Jeremy Corbyn also perpetuate a narrative of hope – hope is the language of a prosperous future (Borg 2001, 130). Hope is a recurring theme in Jesus’ sermons. Even when not mentioned explicitly, the topics broached by Jesus evoked hope in the oppressed by presenting a radical new way of living and thinking. Jesus’ narrative of hope is found most clearly in the Sermon on the Mount; ‘“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth’ (Matt. 5:3-5). Jeremy Corbyn’s political mandate is commonly referred to by his supporters as ‘politics of hope’ (Chakrabortty 2015). Thus, to his supporters – many of whom suffer social deprivation, he is an explicit icon of hope: a prophet. Corbyn speaks of themes which are similar to those evident in the Sermon on the Mount; ‘…even his biggest fans admit he can’t open his mouth without expressing the need for peace, justice and solidarity’ (Hattenstone 2015).

jeremy bikeYet, Corbyn does not just talk about hope – he is a living embodiment of the term. Much of English society has grown cynical with politicians, and this can be seen in the waning voter turnout, which has been in steady decline since 1992 (Electoral Commission 2015). The deep-rooted cynicism towards politicians can be attributed to a plethora of reasons, but one of the most compelling is the expenses scandal of 2009, in which many MPs claimed the mortgages of their second houses on parliamentary expenses (Rogers 2009). During this scandal, Corbyn emerged as a man of integrity and a politician who practiced what he preached; ‘…it was reported that he had the lowest claim in the Commons – £8.96 for a printer cartridge’ (Hattenstone 2015). Corbyn does not only instil a sense of hope in his supporters that through him they will receive a better quality of life – he regenerates faith in the political system. Through Corbyn’s commitment to the underprivileged faction of British society, and through his integrity, he has cultivated a narrative of hope.

jeremy hope

Jeremy Corbyn and Jesus Christ: unassuming, pacifist warriors of social justice and hope. The similarities between the two men are pervasive and suggest that if Jesus walked earth today, he and Corbyn would have much to talk about. Corbyn is decidedly a contemporary prophet; he embodies the traits identified by Borg. Yet Corbyn surpasses prophetic status to something more potent – he is saviour-like; he resembles Jesus Christ. The similarities are uncanny; ‘Dichotomies don’t come much starker: the new leader of Britain’s left is either delusional or a saviour’ (Chakrabortty 2015). After all, even their initials suggest a divine affiliation…

Kaya Mar, Jesus of Islington, 2015
Kaya Mar, Jesus of Islington, 2015


 All references to the Biblical text are from the NIV, unless otherwise stated.

Arnett, George. “Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet – older, more rebellious and less male.” The Guardian, September 14, 2015.

Borg, Marcus J. Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but Not Literally. San Francisco: Harper, 2001.

Braaten, Carl E. That All May Believe: A Theology of the Gospel and the Mission of the Church. Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008.

Braaten, Carl E. Who is Jesus? Disputed Questions and Answers. Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011.

Chakrabortty, Aditya. “Jeremy Corbyn’s politics of hope can seize power from the elite.” The Guardian, September 14, 2015.

Corbyn, Jeremy. “Rogue States.” In Anti Imperialism: a guide for the movement, edited by Farah Reza, 33-41. London: Bookmarks, 2003.

Corbyn, Jeremy. “Jeremy Corbyn: ‘Britain can’t cut its way to prosperity. We have to build it.’” The Guardian, September 13, 2015a.

Corbyn, Jeremy. “Working With Women.” Paper presented to the Labour Party, July 28, 2015. Accessed October 8, 2015b.

Crossley, James G. “Jeremy Corbyn and the Radical Bible”. Harnessing Chaos. Accessed October 8, 2015.

Crossley, James G. Harnessing Chaos: The Bible in English Political Discourse since 1968. London: Bloomsbury, 2014.

Eaton, George. “Jeremy Corbyn interview: the leader strikes back”, New Statesman, September 23, 2015.

Harrison, B. Kent, and Mary Stovall Richards. “Feminism in the Light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Brigham Young University Studies 36, no.2 (1996-97) : 181-199. Accessed October 8, 2015.

Hattenstone, Simon. “Jeremy Corbyn: ‘I don’t do personal.’” The Guardian, June 17, 2015.

Horsely, Richard A. Jesus and the politics of Roman Palestine. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2014.

Lonergan, Bernard. Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, Volume 11: The Triune God: Doctrines. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009.

Migliore, Daniel L. Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology. Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991.

Pyper, Hugh S. The Unchained Bible: Cultural Appropriations of Biblical Texts. New York: T & T Clark International, 2012.

Rogers, Simon. “MPs’ expenses: all the revelations, as a spreadsheet.” The Guardian, June 18, 2009.

Swidler, Leonard. Jesus Was A Feminist. Plymouth: Sheen & Ward, 2007.

“Electoral Data.” The Electoral Commission. Accessed October 8, 2015.

“Jeremy Corbyn wins Labour leadership contest and vows ‘fightback.’” BBC. Accessed October 8, 2015.