Spotlighting Student Work #17: The Genesis of Gender Violence

Today’s essay is a piece from Lynn Song, exploring biblical influences in the recent screen adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale. Here’s a bit about Lynn:

I was born in South Korea but lived in Auckland for my whole life. I am now done with my Bachelors of Fine Arts and Arts (art history) degree and thinking about taking a break before studying for Masters. I took Theorel 101 because I come from a family with different religious beliefs and had been religious myself before. I find it fascinating how much religion can impact people’s lives in very negative ways and was interested in proof-texting Bible and the idea of Bible as a cultural prop. 

Here’s the essay, have a great day.

Looking into The Handmaid’s Tale (2017) for justification of Rape culture within the Bible

Lynn Song


In this essay, I will be looking into the new Hulu TV series The Handmaid’s Tale (2017) to explore justification of ‘Rape culture’ shared within the Christian and Hebrew Bibles. The series sets place in a dystopian society named Gilead founded by religion-driven fascists government with authoritarian powers. The laws and systems of Gilead are taken from the Bible to justify their unethical political stances, and provides reason for why one must confront records of violence and encouragement of ‘rape culture’ within the Bible. The term ‘rape culture’ originated in the 1970s by American feminists to describe a culture that does not condone sexual violence while it is contrarily also accepted as a social norm by both men and women (Schulte 2). It links itself to broader patterns of misogyny and sexism rooted in the foundations of patriarchal culture, which supports and accepts rape as well as other forms of gender violence as the expression of sexuality (Blyth et al. 2). Therefore, in this essay, I will be looking into the normalization of rape culture within patriarchal culture exemplified in the Bible while looking into The Handmaid’s Tale as an example of its manifest.

June, the protagonist of the series

The most iconic and disturbing scene of The Handmaid’s Tale is the ‘Ceremony’ scene that represents the core of the existence of Gilead and fits within the literal definition of ‘rape culture’. As mentioned above, Gilead is a totalitarian and dystopian nation formed to counter the global issue of low birth rates. Their solution requires looking into the Bible for answers of which the government is heavily inspired on the story of Jacob in Genesis, hence why militants of Gilead refers to themselves as ‘the Sons of Jacob’. Handmaids in Genesis are given to Leah and Rachel by their father as wedding presents of which they have complete authority over them, with both Rachel and Leah using their handmaids to increase the population of the Tribes of Israel (Genesis 30). Gilead incorporates Genesis almost literally into their laws and designates handmaids to all commanders and their barren wives so they can raise a child of their own. Once a month on a handmaid’s fertile days, they are forced to partake in a highly ritualized ceremony to be “seeded” by the commander while his wife constrains the handmaid’s arms between her legs. However, unlike Bilhah, who has no voice over the matter, June the protagonist and handmaid to Commander Fred and his wife Serena is given a voice to describe the horrific ‘Ceremony’. Through June, the viewers confirm themselves that this monthly ceremony which is propagandized as a holy event, is a justification of gang rape that is ignored and encouraged in Gilead as it is normalized in the Bible. First, the selected handmaids are brainwashed at the Rachel and Leah Centre by Aunt Lydia and other Aunts to indoctrinate handmaids in accepting their fates justified by the Bible. Secondly, prior to the rape of the handmaids, their respective commander reads a verse from Genesis 30:4 reminding them that the act is a religious practice, silencing the rights of the handmaids and any questions concerning consent. The scene highlights encouragement of ‘rape culture’ within Gilead, but it also reflects on our own societal values and norms on the concept of consent and sexual violence.

The Handmaids Tale 205 Main.jpg
A scene in Gilead

The rituals of the ‘Ceremony’, accentuates on the existence of patriarchy and misogyny within the Bible. By reading Genesis 30:4 before the act, Gilead blames the decreasing rate of birth rates on women rather than considering the infertility of men. This supports Schulte’s claims that a woman’s primary value in the biblical texts is her fertility (20). From analyzing the rape of Dinah in Genesis 34, one can find underlying misogynistic and patriarchal biblical laws around a woman’s virginity and as per its impact on our ‘rape culture’. The story of Dinah marginalizes Dinah’s experience as a rape victim by first, simplifying the act as “he took her and raped her” (Genesis 34:2). Secondly, by falling in love with Dinah after and demanding her as his wife to his father Hamor (Genesis 34:3-4). In addition, the men in the story talk of the rape as if Dinah had been “defiled” (Genesis 34:5,13,27) and resultantly agree to trade Dinah to her rapist in exchange for the women of Hivite (Genesis 34:15-16). The rapist Shechem’s excitement is demonstrated as he was “delighted with Jacob’s daughter” (Genesis 34:19), addressing Dinah as only “Jacob’s daughter” after he had raped her and forced her into marriage. And lastly, Jacob’s anger towards his sons Simeon and Levi for avenging their sister and putting their land in danger invokes a sexist response where they refer to Dinah as a “prostitute” (Genesis 34:30-31). In the whole chapter, Dinah is voiceless and her presence is only acknowledged by the male members of the two families. Schulte further points out that the ‘victim’ in the Bible isn’t the person who was sexually violated but the male family members who will suffer financial loss due to the loss of her virginity (7). This alludes to the notion that raping a virgin daughter is equivalent of robbing something of monetary value from her father or her brothers. This idea of monetary possession does not only apply to daughters but also wives of a man as the Decalogue lists wives amongst houses and animals of man’s possession, treating women as male property (13).

Fred Waterford, a central figure in Gilead’s society

This underlying patriarchy is also applied in our social hegemony, as reflected in an extremist form of Gilead as well. The men are hierarchically superior to women as they are referred to as ‘Guardians of the Faith’ or ‘Commanders of the Faithful’ while women are categorized by their class, sexuality, and fertility into ‘Econowives’, ‘Handmaids’, ‘Marthas’ or ‘Unwomen’. Women have also been stripped off any ownership, rights, and jobs they previously possessed in order to meet the standards of Gilead. As previously stated, their values as women lie solely on their marriage and fertility. They are forbidden to read even the scriptures and are forced to learn and practice house maintenance as we see Serena spending her time. Serena is happily forced into her mere role as a supportive housewife but as Commander Cushing threatens their safety after the terrorist attack in the Red Centre, she takes charge and files a report framing Cushing as a traitor. She does this with the help of June, who was an editor in her former life before Gilead took over with the two women successfully eliminate Cushing as a threat. However, once Fred found out after his discharge, Serena is whipped to ‘discipline’ her for taking charge and acting by herself, shocking both June and Serena. This scene is reflective of the Whore of Babylon with her scarlet beast in Revelation 17, as her existence, power and authority contest the stability of the patriarchal culture (Blythe et al. 53). Serena had been ‘disciplined’ for her act of breaching male masculinity as she acted as an equal to her husband rather than being beneath him and within his care. The Bible enforces gender hierarchy from the beginning of the creation as Eve was created of Adam’s flesh to be his companion, therefore she is part of him and he holds ownership over her (84). Eve’s sole existence was to accommodate Adam, placing all women below men. By generating gender-specific stereotypes that associated women with negativity and evil, it rationalized the gender-biased treatment of women through misogyny.

Waterford taking June to a harem


The Jezebel scene of The Handmaid’s Tale mirrors the virgin/whore binaries as per the classification of women in the Bible. The ‘good’ women are sanctioned within Gilead, fulfilling the roles of Wives, Handmaids, and Marthas, whereas outside Gilead exists only the corrupted and ‘bad’ women of Jezebels and Unwomen. During Fred and June’s affair, Fred ‘splurges’ June with a gold dress that is not in blue, red, nor earthy tones as women of Gilead dress and dresses her up to take her outside Gilead to a secret brothel for the ‘Son of Jacobs’. June reunites with her friend Moira who had escaped Gilead at the beginning of her reformation, and was now living as a Jezebel in order to stay alive. However, despite human trafficking and sexual slavery, Jezebels are presented with a sense of freedom and liberation. Moira also explains most of Jezebels consist of educated females refusing to live sanctioned lives within Gilead, holding onto their freedom and individual autonomy. This brothel scene appears conflicting to all of Gilead’s values of holiness and pristine life as the Decalogue forbids adultery. It also accentuates societal binaries of women by requiring them to stay pure by valuing women’s virginity. This makes women feel worthless and dirty if they are no longer virgins before marriage, which in turn fuels the ‘rape culture’. This disassociation with the act of sexual intercourse forces unrealistic expectations of purity onto women as the men reimagine a sexual fantasy of pure submissiveness (Blythe et al 53).

Moira and June

From analyzing The Handmaid’s Tale in relation to the Hebrew and the Christian Bible, one can understand the fundamental values of patriarchy and misogyny. Women are treated as commodities of the patriarchal society as we see with Bilhah, Dinah, and June in order to retain power structures of male masculinity. The submissiveness of women below men is consistently ingrained within the Bible’s passages while Gilead is a modern example of misusing the Bible as a cultural prop to justify hatred and sexual violence.



Blyth, Caroline., et al., editors. Rape Culture, Gender Violence, & Religion. Palgrave Macmillan, 2018

Joseph, Alison. “The Handmaid’s Tale as a Legitimate Reading of Genesis?.” The Shiloh Project: Rape culture, religion, and the Bible, 2017,

Keener, Craig S. “The Bible & Rape.” Journal of Christian Nursing, vol. 13, no. 2, 1996, pp. 29-31. Ovid,

Nagouse, Emma. “Handmaids and Jezebels: Anaesthetising The Language of Sexual Violence.” The Shiloh Project: Rape culture, religion, and the Bible, 2017,

Schulte, Leah Rediger. “Defining Rape.” The Absence of God in Biblical Rape Narratives. Augsburg Fortress, Publishers, 2017. JSTOR,


Spotlighting Student Work #15: Prophetic Fashion

Tonight we’re hearing from Liz Olney, with an essay discussing Netflix re-boot Queer Eye. Here’s some background about Liz.

I’m from Auckland (more specifically from the Shore – born and raised haha!). I am currently studying for a law-arts conjoint (LLB/BA), majoring in sociology and criminology, which I am enjoying. I would like to go into law and see where that takes me. I took the Bible in Pop Culture course because it had VERY good reviews online and it sounded very interesting – I’ve always been quite curious about religious beliefs as I haven’t had too much direct exposure to them myself.

Let’s have a look at the essay!



Queer Eye for the Prophetic Guy

Liz Olney

Netflix’s 2018 show ‘Queer Eye’ has been a smash hit, winning the Emmy for ‘Outstanding Structured Reality Program’. Its five stars (Jonathan van Ness, Tan France, Karamo Brown, Antoni Porowski, and Bobby Berk) have shot to fame with their charisma, humour, and honesty. These five men (dubbed the ‘Fab Five’) transform people’s lives every episode and, whilst doing so, raise awareness of many important social issues. In this essay I will explain how the Fab Five embody three of Marcus Borg’s definitions of biblical prophets: they disturb our sense of normalcy, emerge from a situation of oppression by elites, and have a passion for social justice (2001).

Firstly, the Fab Five disturb our sense of normalcy. As openly gay men, they do not shy away from discussing controversial topics. In fact, they arguably consider it to be their responsibility given the platform they have. For example, Brown (an African-American man) gets pulled over by a police officer while driving. This turns out to be a prank, but the concern on Brown’s face prior to his knowledge of this is prominent. This results in a dialogue between Brown and the police officer regarding the genuine fear black Americans experience when interacting with police officers. Brown elaborates: “My kid did not want to get his licence because he was scared he was going to get pulled over and shot by a cop” (Brown, 2018). This conversation was visibly difficult for both men, but it was productive and meaningful, with the two men shaking hands afterwards.

Queer Eye‘s crew at work

One of the main dominant discourses in society the Fab Five clearly aim to challenge is the toxic nature of masculinity.  Hegemonic masculinity describes the highly influential stereotype that men are the more powerful gender and that women should be subordinate to men (Connell, 2005). Toxic masculinity stems from this concept, with men feeling as though they have to be as ‘manly’ as possible, not care ‘too much’ about their appearance, and hide their emotions. Van Ness especially emphasises the importance of self-care. In every episode van Ness demonstrates various skincare routines, as well as giving each episode’s star a new haircut to make sure they look their best and feel confident. Van Ness himself frequently behaves in a feminine manner – he often wears dresses and high heels, has long, freely-hanging hair, and refers to himself as ‘she’. His behaviours help to remove the stigma around men dressing and acting like anything other than the archetypal masculine man. I believe both of these examples show how the Fab Five disturb normalcy: they actively tackle social issues that are frowned upon or rarely spoken of.


Jeremiah, a biblical prophet, also disturbed his society’s sense of normalcy, and was not afraid to speak out against dominant discourses. In Jeremiah 2:14-19, he refers to Israel as a “slave”, and “plunder”, before asking: “Have you not brought this upon yourself by forsaking the Lord your God, while he led you in the way?” At the time, it was commonly known that Israel was a wasteland, but Jeremiah took this further by actively blaming the people for this because of their “evil and bitter” behaviour. This message would have been initially disapproved of as most people would have thought this was unfair and inaccurate. Similarly, the Fab Five bravely represent several unpopular opinions. For example, their openness about their sexuality is often met with harsh judgment and offensive remarks, but they do not let this stop them from expressing the ideas they believe in. In this way, both Jeremiah and the Fab Five challenge dominant ideologies and disturb society’s sense of normalcy.

Secondly, ‘prophecy emerges from a situation of oppression by elites’ (Borg, 2001). Despite the positive shift in support of the LGBTQI+ community, there is no doubt that the LGBTQI+ community is still oppressed. There are many statistics that prove this. For example, 34% of American LGBTQI+ youths have been bullied at school, and 29% of American LGBTQI+ youths attempted suicide in 2014 – compared to 6% of heterosexual youths (CDC, 2015). The Fab Five often talk about the oppression they have experienced – for example, Berk shares how he was kicked out of his Church and his home when he came out as gay. He elaborates on what he was taught in his Church: “Gay people were bad, and they were paedophiles, and they were evil. So I spent every prayer meeting and every Sunday crying and begging God not to make me gay” (Berk, 2018). It is very obvious that Berk, as well the other members of the Fab Five were (and still are) oppressed as openly gay men, especially considering the public nature of their work. Therefore, they understand what it is like to be oppressed and stand up for people in similar situations so that hopefully, one day, these people will no longer have to experience what they went through.

Queer Eye star Tan France with guest Neal

This desire to help and protect groups affected by oppression resembles the biblical prophet Amos, who said: “…you cows of Bashan…who oppress the poor, who crush the needy…the Lord God has sworn by his holiness: the time is surely coming upon you” (Amos 4:1-2). This shows a fierce hatred towards the ‘elites’ that discriminate against people for reasons that cannot be helped. This statement is backed up by the introduction of God – if an authoritative figure such as God has said something, it must be true. While the Fab Five address different oppressed societies, it is clear that both parties aim to remove the barrier between the elite and the oppressed. Furthermore, while Queer Eye’s stars do not quote God to give their ideas weight, they have other strategies. The Fab Five use: an internationally acclaimed TV show; their own immense followings; and the support of other well-respected people (e.g. the other members of the Fab Five, famous celebrities, and political figures). Therefore, the Fab Five are able to deliver their message (to stop oppressing the weak) with impact, just like Amos.

That’s like, genuinely really heartwarming

Lastly, Queer Eye’s Fab Five have a passion for social justice. The very first episode begins with a montage of clips of the five men talking about how much featuring on the show means to them. France sums up the Fab Five’s intention perfectly by stating: “Our fight is for acceptance” (France, 2018). Brown further adds: “We’ve all got to come together in a way we can understand each other” (Brown, 2018). As previously discussed, the Fab Five speak out against the status quo when it comes to social issues, especially those that lead to oppression of certain groups in society. I believe these behaviours show the men’s strong passion for social justice – they are so passionate about getting a message out about what they believe is right. On the show, (amongst other things) they want the LGBTQI+ community to be accepted for who they are. However, the Fab Five fit this prophecy definition in their personal lives too – they use their fame as a platform to voice their opinions and influence millions of people. For example, Porowski used his Instagram account (which has 2.5 million followers) to announce publicly that he attended a pride parade in Canada with prominent political figures, including Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada (2018). Another example is the repetitive posting on Instagram by Brown and van Ness (who have 1.7 and 2.6 million followers respectively) encouraging people to vote. Brown posted a video with van Ness in October (shortly following the controversial appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court) where he said: “In this upcoming election you have to get out and vote…because your voice has power” (2018). I believe posts such as these clearly show the men’s desire for social justice. They want everyone to be treated equally and have their opinions heard, and they take their fame as an opportunity to get this message across.

Queer Eye frontman Jonathan Van Ness and chef Antoni Porowski

Again, the Fab Five resemble the biblical prophet Amos. Amos 5:23-24 states: “I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”. Clearly, Amos is a devout believer in social justice too. The quoted passage shows the belief that while people may have very rigid beliefs, nothing should be listened to except for what is right. This aligns with the idea the Fab Five present: social justice is crucial and should be aimed for. As previously discussed, the social issues presented by both parties differ greatly. Furthermore, it can be argued that Amos is specifically referring to the treatment of the poor, whereas the Fab Five refer to many different social issues, as well as simply presenting the overall message that everybody’s voices should be heard. However, one distinct similarity to Amos’ words is the use of colourful imagery. For example, in a post encouraging people to vote, van Ness states that “the light is coming” (2018). This invokes an emotional response, which further encourages people to listen to what is being said. Put simply, both Amos and the Fab Five’s goal to inspire social justice is obvious.

In conclusion, I have presented how Queer Eye’s Fab Five disturb society’s sense of normalcy, emerge from a situation of oppression (and represent those who are oppressed), and have a passion for social justice. Van Ness, France, Brown, Porowski, and Berk’s refreshing positivity and honesty has inspired many, which is why the show has been so successful. In the words of Terry Giles (2018): “the prophetic performer does not leave his audience as he found them”, and this is most definitely the case with the Fab Five.




All references to the biblical text are from the NRSV.

Borg, M. J. (2001). Reading the Bible again for the first time; taking the Bible seriously but not literally (1st ed.). San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Brown, K. [@karamobrown]. (2018, October 7). Today is a sad day…Our voices have power! [Instagram post]. Retrieved from

CDC: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Health. Retrieved from

Connell, R. W. (2005). Masculinities (2nd ed.). Berkeley, California: University of California.

Giles, T. (2018). Prophets as Performers. Retrieved from

Porowski, A. [@antoni]. (2018, August 29). A mayor…and… THIS guy. [Instagram post]. Retrieved from

Van Ness, J., France, T., Brown, K., Porowski, A., & Berk, B. (Performers). (2018, February 7). Queer Eye, [Television series]. United States of America: Netflix.

Van Ness, J. [@jvn]. (2018, September 28). 39 days to midterms…the light is coming. [Instagram post]. Retrieved from

Spotlighting Student Work #14: Gently Saving the Universe

This weekend’s essay is about the FAMOUS detective Dirk Gently. Our author is the one and only Katie Worthington. Here’s a bit about Katie.

I have just moved to Auckland this year from a small town up North called Waipu. I am currently studying a Bachelor of Arts majoring in sociology and media. I want to focus on gender and sexuality and their representation in the media. I loved taking THEOREL 101 as an elective paper this year. I was not planning on doing anything with theology as I did not grow up with any religious ties. However, after talking to the people at the open day, I was intrigued by the subject. This paper combined well with my majors as it looked at the culture industry and Bible representations in media.

Read on, and remember–everything is connected.

The Holistic Messiah? Dirk Gently and the American Monomyth

Katie Worthington

Dirk Gently.jpg

Crime shows often feature the American Monomyth where, through unique powers of deduction and group of loyal followers, an outside individual solves an impossible case. The television series, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (2016-2017), created by Max Landis, features the Messiah archetype through the character of Dirk Gently (Samuel Barnett) as he uses his powers of coincidence combined with faith in the universe to let individual aspects of a case, piece itself together. Lawrence and Shelton discuss the characteristics of a modern Messiah such as motivated by selfless zeal for justice, renouncement of sexuality, and the justification of violence (2002). The portrayal of Messiahs in television has evolved as each creator has added their spin on the Messiah archetype. Thus, Dirk’s character appears more relatable gaining empathy from a modern audience deviating from some Messiah traits. The Messiah figure is still relevant as they provide hope to the audience drawing on the human desire to be saved.

That smile can save me any time

Dirk inhabits a selfless zeal for justice; however, he could also be described as a reluctant Messiah. Lawrence and Shelton describe this as one of the critical features of a monomythic superhero (47). Jesus fought for those who had been cast out from society. Jesus associates himself with those facing hardships, such as in Mark 1:29-34 where he cures many who were either sick or demon possessed. Jesus placed others above himself which translates into the American Monomyth. The American Monomyth describes the commodification of a Christ character in order to make them relevant in modern society (Lawrence & Jewett, 21). Religion is treated as a product to sell to the masses giving into the capitalism and consumerism of western society (Forbes, 13). This commodification leads to the production of the messiah Archetype within pop culture. Dirk presents his own selfless zeal for justice as he puts himself in harm’s way in order to solve the case and return the time machine to Patrick Spring. Examples of this in season one is the death maze in episode four and the climax of the series in episode seven where he gets shot with a crossbow numerous times pushing him to the brink of death. This scene is an example of Dirk being willing to suffer, and also raises themes of resurrection, another critical element of a modern Messiah.

Fighting for justice and ruining shirts since 2016

While Dirk attempts to fight for justice for others, he can also be described as a reluctant Messiah. In episode two season one, Dirk reveals that he does not like following these cases but has to do them because it is the right thing. He tells Todd (Elijah Wood), “The cases I end up on if I do not solve them, no one does.” Dirk is aware of his situation and understands that he is working for an entity that is greater than himself. This highlights Dirk’s perseverance in helping Lydia and solving the murder of Patrick Spring. However, this description of the monomythic superhero is problematic as considers the world to either be good or evil (Lawrence & Jewett, 47). The American Monomyth oversimplifies the lines of good and evil to the point where the ‘good’ is the perspective told by the story. Jesus draws strict guidelines of morality in Matthew 5:17-48. These rules consider the world in black and white. Dirk, however, is not perfect. He unintentionally participates in several murders throughout the series as well as lies to his followers. However, since Dirk appears to be acting on behalf of fate, he is excused from these faults. In the perspective of the villains in the series, Gordon would be considered their Messiah, delivering them their justice. However, Landis creates the story from Dirk’s point of view as he eventually wins and his story gets told. This example demonstrates the problems behind a Messiah’s selfless zeal for justice as it depends on the perspective of the story. Dirk aims for justice for Lydia and Patrick, however, discards others in the process.

The awesomeness that is Dirk, Todd, and Farrah

Another aspect of a modern Messiah that Dirk possesses is his renouncement of sexuality. There is no mention of Jesus’ sexual experiences in the Bible. Throughout the entirety of season one, Dirk also has no love interest. In the second season, Dirk enters a relationship with The Beast. This emphasises Dirk’s asexuality as he is an unwilling boyfriend in the arrangement. The Beast, who resembles a fairy tale creature, treats Dirk as a pet. Eventually, he escapes from the highly uncomfortable situation. However, this characteristic does not only include the renouncement of sexuality but the resistance of temptations. Here, one may argue that Dirk is not a Messiah. Matthew 4:1-11 describes Jesus’ resistance of temptation through the example of fasting for 40 days in the desert. Here, the devil tempts him with food and power, however, Jesus declines. Dirk consistently gives into his temptations and impulses as this a key aspect of solving the case holistically. Consequently, this ‘flaw’ makes Dirk appear more relatable to the audience. Dirk explains his process of solving a case as “interconnectedness” and “coincidence” as “once hired [he] is intrinsically connected to the specific case [which he] will eventually solve.” The crank Dirk steals from the Spring mansion can be viewed as either impulse or intuition as it later becomes relevant to the case. His extraordinary powers appear when he follows his impulses appearing to give in to every temptation.


However, this is an element that has been created to make the character relatable and entertaining to modern audiences. Sjö describes the hegemonic masculinity portrayed through pop culture messiahs (179). Dirk strays away from this ideal through presenting his emotions making him appear to rush into temptations. This loss of control can be seen as a failure (Sjö, 180). Dirk’s emotional meltdowns not only ignites sympathy from the audience but also adds comedy to the show, drawing in the audience further. This could also be used to argue that Dirk does not embody a modern messiah as he fails to remain calm under pressure. But while he appears to be a clueless detective, Dirk does remain competent. For example, he breaks down in the death maze realising that his friend could die at any moment. This moment of empathy allows the audience to sympathise with the character thus investing in the pair’s survival. Dirk still can solve each room and successfully escape the maze. Dirk’s competence appears to be not of his choosing as it is a string of coincidences that help him solve the case. Dirk rebuts this himself when he states to Todd, “Just because you know you are playing a game doesn’t mean you don’t choose your moves.” Dirk also critique Todd’s “choices out of desperation” revealing he is much more in control than he first appears. Despite not being initially apparent, Dirk’s non-hegemonic portrayal of his masculinity still fits the mould of a modern Messiah as he remains competent throughout the series.

Accept the flow of the universe! And pink plasters!

Dirk does not intentionally initiate violence, however, those surrounding him perform violent acts which are justified contributing to a characteristic of a modern Messiah. Lawrence and Shelton state a significant aspect of the American Monomyth is the justification of violence, claiming their fictional world contain a clear moral consciousness (48). This contrasts Jesus’ campaign for non-violent actions. In Matthew 26:52, Jesus states “all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Dirk Gently does not personally inflict any violence on his enemies however his friends are justified in the murders they commit. Most notably, Bart (Fiona Dourif) is a holistic assassin, who throughout the series receives criticism for her “murder spree.” However, after each death, the victim’s background is revealed and we discover that they are often either murderers or kidnappers. Despite questioning within the series, the audience does not judge her because she kills, but instead focuses on whom she kills. Her violence is justified as these people present a physical manifestation of evil. This idea follows the strict guidelines of morality the television series can create. This fantasy fulfils people’s desires to simplify the world into good and evil, a place in which they live vicariously through the hero (Lawrence & Shelton, 48). The supporting characters display the moral ambiguities of the American Monomyth continuing to present Dirk as a modern Messiah.

Yeah that looks pretty morally ambiguous

Overall, Dirk Gently embodies characteristics of a modern Messiah. The American Monomyth modernises the Christ figure in order to sell them to a sympathetic audience. This archetype has consumed the film and television industries as audiences can relate to the characters in their simplified world. While Dirk is a reluctant Messiah, he has a selfless zeal for justice, renounces sexuality and the violence surrounding him is justified. Dirk’s story depicts suffering and facing temptations thus, making him a complex character for the audience to relate. The storyline follows that of the American Monomyth as his extraordinary powers solve unusual cases. Dirk expresses emotions deviating from the Messiah Archetype to gain empathy from the audience. This highlights the relevance of a Messiah figure in pop culture as it provides relief from the ordinary world. Despite this deviance, Dirk remains competent under pressure fulfilling requirements of the American Monomyth. Consequently, Dirk can be described as a modern Messiah in pop culture.

This is pretty much just the best image from the series. ❤



All references to the Biblical text are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Created by Max Landis, 2016-2017.

Forbes, B. D. “Introduction.” Religion and Popular Culture in America, edited by Forbes, B. D., Mahan, J. H., University of California Press, 2005, pp1-20.

Lawrence, J. S., Jewett, R.. “The American Monomyth in the New Century.” The Myth of the American Superhero, Grand Rapids, Michigan: W.B. Eerdmans, 2002, pp 3-48.

Sjö, S. “Postmodern Messiahs: the changing saviours of contemporary popular culture.” Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis, Vol. 21, 2009, Vol.21, pp.196-212.


Spotlighting Student Work #12: Doctor of a New Era

Today’s essay is brought to us by Kyla Palmer, and features the excellent Marvel superhero Doctor Strange. Here’s some background about Kyla.

I am from here in Auckland, out west in Waimauku, and I am currently studying medicinal chemistry. I am not entirely sure what I want to do at the end of my degree, but I am looking into post graduate studies and potentially going into research. This was one of my General Education papers, and I chose it because although I am a Christian and have spent a year at a Bible college, I thought it would be really cool to study how the Bible and some of its specific themes are portrayed in pop culture. 

I have really enjoyed how much THEOREL 101 has made me think about things in a different light, consider the way that people use the bible, and the implications that this can have on both our interpretation of it and also the way that society thinks about a whole range of issues. 

It has challenged me a lot because I am used to science papers where the answers are right and wrong, black and white – but this has helped broaden my horizons and think more deeply, so thank you very much for that! 

Enjoy the read!



A Strange New-Age Messiah?

Kyla Palmer

We all need a hero, someone to look to for meaning and purpose. As secularisation increases, more people are turning away from religion (Statistics New Zealand, 2014), yet still have a sense of needing something greater than themselves, a hope in the midst of despair. Lawrence & Jewett (2002) comment on “supersaviour”/messiah figures in pop culture as “a replacement for the Christ Figure, whose credibility was eroded by scientific rationalism.” Although they may be a replacement, the figures we see and the values and abilities they have still “reflect a hope for divine, redemptive powers that science has never eradicated from the popular mind” (p. 7). Filmmakers draw upon this implicit human need of a saviour, and create characters that portray many of these ideals. This trope is referred to as the American Monomyth, the overarching story centering around the protagonist who is “…distinguished by disguised origins, pure motivations, a redemptive task, and extraordinary powers” (Lawrence & Jewett, 2002, p. 47). In this essay I will show how Dr Strange fits traditional monomythic standards, albeit in a flawed way. I will also explain how the film exemplifies a shift in the monomyth coinciding with current changes in the attitudes and beliefs of society today.

Doctor Strange as he appears in the older comic series

The American Monomyth is based on biblical messiahs – human political or military leaders in the Old Testament, chosen by God to defeat earthly enemies (1 Sam 16:1-13). The New Testament messiah was Jesus, chosen by God to bring spiritual, rather than physical salvation (Eph 6:12). Often the monomyth centres around physical salvation from an earthly enemy, however in the case of Dr Strange, the enemy is both physical and spiritual, evidenced by the focus on supernatural powers, other realms of reality, and death. Dormammu resides in the Dark Dimension and claims to have power over death, providing “life everlasting” (Feige & Derrickson, 2016). These dark powers come to earth and battle against Dr Strange in different dimensions. Through the common spiritual type of enemy being faced, we can see a link between Dr Strange and the New Testament messiah, Jesus. Although not strictly part of the monomyth, this can help frame Strange as having aspects of his character that can be compared to biblical messiahs in both the Old and New Testaments.

Concept art for Dormammu by Jerad Marantz

One of the main features of the traditional American monomyth is that the messiah is “vaguely defined as from ‘above’ or ‘beyond’… thus they are in the world, but not of the world” (Kozlovic, 2004, [30]). Dr Strange poses a contrast to this trope, he comes from normal beginnings and is 100% human, with failings and vulnerabilities. In this sense he does not fit with this aspect of the traditional monomyth. However, Sjö (2009) notes that changing worldviews move away from higher deities, resulting in “a mostly human messiah, who becomes a saviour through his own struggles” (p. 182). After a car crash off a cliff, Dr Strange damages his hands beyond repair, and when modern medicine fails, seeks other methods. Upon reaching Kamar-Taj, he learns to use powers which can be harnessed for good or evil.


Through his struggle he “meet[s] his destiny and become[s] who he was meant to be” (Sjö, 2009, p. 178). Mordo tells Strange that “what you just did takes more than a good memory. You were born for the mystic arts” (Feige & Derrickson, 2016). Thus Strange is not just talented, but seems to have a propensity for magic that surpasses other humans. The postmodern definition of a character becoming a saviour is represented by Dr Strange and exemplifies how cultural changes affect in film and media. However I argue that although this aspect fits a more contemporary monomyth, Dr Strange still encompasses traditional monomythic ideas, showing a period of transition in film, rather than the final result of postmodern change. One reason for this is because in addition to Strange developing his powers and reaching his potential through his own struggles, he is also anointed in the sense of a biblical messiah.

Dr Strange and the Cloak of Levitation

In the Old Testament, messiah translates to ‘anointed one’ – at their inauguration Kings and priests were anointed with oil (Porter, 2007). At one of the key defining moments in Dr Strange’s character development, the cloak of levitation saves him from death, therefore choosing him… ‘the cloak of levitation chose you?’ (Feige & Derrickson, 2016). The moment the relic chose Strange represents his ‘anointing’ as the people’s messiah. The anointing of Strange not only links back to the anointing of kings and priests in the Old Testament, it also reflects that of Jesus at his baptism (Matt 3:13- 17). The contrast between Jesus and Dr Strange is also seen in that Jesus had disguised origins, born of a virgin in a humble and unassuming place – a stable (Luke 1:26-38). The origins of his life and resurrection after death show that Jesus was both human and divine, which contrasts with the humanity of Dr Strange. These aspects show how the way in which Dr Strange fulfils the unusual origins contrasts with biblical messiahs, yet meets postmodern and traditional monomyth requirements.

Dr Strange and Dormammu in the Dark Dimension

Another aspect of the American Monomyth is that the super-saviour “withstands all temptations” (Lawrence & Jewett, 2002, p. 47). Dr Strange is fully human, and so just as we face temptations daily, Strange is tempted by career success, relationships, and victory over death. Kaecilius tempts Dr Strange in a way that emulates Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. He speaks to Dr Strange about the Dark Dimension, attempting to recruit him by playing on human weakness; “humanity longs for the eternal, time is what enslaves us” (Feige & Derrickson, 2016). He tells Strange that if he draws power from the Dark Dimension he can escape death and live forever. Just as Jesus refused to yield to temptations in Luke 4:1- 13 (food, water, and power over all the earth), Dr Strange refuses to succumb to the allure of eternal life, instead fighting for what he knows is right. The temptation that Dr Strange faces and his response to it shows that he fulfils the monomyth aspect of withstanding temptation.

The broken hands of Strange after his crash

Sacrifice is an important aspect of the American Monomyth and appears in many messiah-figures, including Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins, Katniss Everdeen and Thor (Kozlovic, 2000). The motivation for this sacrifice is commonly a zeal for justice; the hero longs to see evil conquered and good prevail. Jesus Christ is this perfect saviour figure in the bible, who gave his life so that death would be destroyed (Mark 10:45, John 20). He wanted his Father’s will to be done so that evil would be overcome (John 17:4). Dr Strange does make sacrifices, but he is not a perfect saviour figure as he initially does not want to have anything to do with helping the greater good. Instead, he endeavours to further his abilities so that he can heal his hands and become a doctor again, “I’m out, I came here to heal my hands, not to fight in some mystical war” (Feige & Derrickson, 2016). Thus, at the beginning of his journey to becoming a true messiah, Strange is not a “selfless servant who impassively gives his life for others and the zealous crusader who destroys evil” (Lawrence & Jewett, 2002, p. 6). This changes as he talks to Christine Palmer, “You said losing my hands didn’t have to be the end. That it could be a beginning” (Feige & Derrickson, 2016). We see that this transition to sacrificial behaviour has become more complete as Strange speaks to Dormammu in the Dark Dimension and is prepared to face pain and dying for all eternity so that others can live.

Dormammu: Then you will spend eternity dying!

Dr. Strange: Yes, but everyone on Earth will live.

Dormammu: But you will suffer!

Dr. Strange: Pain’s an old friend.

(Feige & Derrickson, 2016).

Strange goes from initially only caring for himself and what would benefit him, to making choices based on the survival of the universe. The change in his attitudes signifies his transition from just another talented human, to a saviour and messiah figure. Although there are similarities between the sacrificial behaviour of Strange and Jesus as messiahs, there is a key difference. Consistency. Jesus remained the same, assured of his calling and his identity. Strange, however, undergoes a journey of not only saving the universe, but also of discovering himself.

Overall, Dr Strange has proved to display many of the characteristics of a messiah figure. He is anointed, chosen for the redemptive task of saving the universe. He also resists temptations and makes sacrifices for the greater good of his community, regardless of the cost to himself as he loses his old way of life so that others may live without fear. Although Strange is chosen, we still see a struggle and a change in his attitudes from self-service to that of true justice. This progression shows a shift in the traditional monomyth from a divinely righteous figure to a ‘postmodern’ messiah that understands struggles and uses them to become a saviour through their own strength. For these reasons I can conclude that Dr Strange is a true representation of our cultural change, and he is our Strange New-Age Messiah.

Doctor Strange as he appears in the modern comics, looking all spiritual and messiah-y



All References to the Biblical Text are from the NIV.

Feige, K. (Prod.), & Derrickson, S. (Dir.). (2016). Dr Strange [DVD]. USA: Marvel Studios.

Kozlovic, A. K. (2000). ‘The Bible is Alive and Well and Living in Popular Films!’: A Survey of Some Western Cinematic Transfigurations of Holy Writ. Australian Religion Studies Review, 13(1), 56-71.

Kozlovic, A. K. (2004). The Structural Characteristics of the Cinematic Christ-figure. Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, 8(1). Retrieved from

Lawrence, S. L., & Jewett, R. (2002). The Myth of the American Superhero. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

McAteer, J. (2016). Fighting Scientism with the Occult in Doctor Strange. Retrieved from

Overstreet, J. (2016). The Broken Hands of Doctor Strange: What Marvel’s lastest hero movie teaches us about engaging suffering. Retrieved from only/broken-hands-of-doctor-strange.html

Porter, S. E. (2007) Introduction: The Messiah in the Old and New Testaments. In Porter, S. E. (Ed.), The Messiah in the Old and New Testaments (2007, pp. 1-7). Retrieved from

Sjö, S. (2009). Postmodern Messiahs: The Changing Saviours of Contemporary Popular Culture. Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis, 21(1), 196-212. doi:

Statistics New Zealand. (2014) People reporting no religion continues to increase. [Summary of 2001, 2006, 2013 census data]. Retrieved from reports/quickstats-culture-identity/religion.aspx

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 #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].