Student spotlight #14: A Saviour from the East

Today’s essay continues our theme of contemporary messiahs, or super saviours, which we’ve explored over the past few days. What makes this one a little different though is that the super saviour figure appears in a Japanese animated fantasy film, Princess Mononoke (more details here), rather than the more typical Western superhero brand. The author of this fab essay is Isabelle Steinman, who hails from sunny Hawke’s Bay. Isabelle is studying a Bachelor of Arts and Science conjoint, majoring in mathematics, physics, and philosophy. She hopes to carry on to do postgraduate study and likes the idea of working in academia one day. She took our Bible and Pop Culture class because, although an atheist, she has always been interested in religion, particularly religious art and architecture, and is fascinated by the impact that religion has on everybody’s lives, regardless of their personal beliefs.

Although I’ve never seen Princess Mononoke myself, Isabelle’s essay has made me want to watch it – so, whether or not you are familiar with this film, I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading what she has to say.
Ashitaka
Ashitaka

Princess Mononoke– a Story of Gods, Demons and a Cursed Messiah

Isabelle Steinmann

mononokeMessiahs are everywhere in pop-culture. Characterised by a selfless passion for justice, a black and white moral code, extraordinary powers and an outsider status they maintain a strong connection with divinity or spirituality whilst remaining human. (Reinhartz, 2009). These Christ figures appear not only in Western culture but also in the East as is demonstrated in Hayao Miyazaki’s 1997 animated film, Princess Mononoke.

 After being cursed while killing a demon that was attacking his tribe, Ashitaka is forced to cut his hair, leave his people and journey far to the West in order to meet his fate. He arrives in a land caught in a struggle between the humans of Irontown and the gods of the forest. As he is able to move between the warring sides, he befriends both San, the ‘daughter’ of the wolf god Moro, and Lady Eboshi, the mistress of Irontown. Ashitaka possesses many Christ-like qualities. He is set apart from other characters by his unusual ways and his extraordinary strength and he is driven by a commitment to justice for which he eventually sacrifices himself and is resurrected.

Throughout the film, Ashitaka ‘otherness’ is emphasised. His unusual origins and extraordinary strengths distinguish him from other characters. Often referred to as ‘stranger’ or ‘outsider’ (Miyazaki, 1997), it is clear that the other characters do not see him as one of them. Ashitaka comes from the marginalised Emishi tribe that was believed to have been eradicated hundreds of years earlier. Separated from the culture that was advancing towards a technological future, the Emishi people are portrayed as the ‘guardians of ancient wisdoms of the forest’ (Bigelow, 2009). Unlike the other humans in the film, Ashitaka grew up with a strong connection with and respect for the natural world. We see this when Ashitaka saves two men of Irontown, carrying them home through the ‘forbidden forest’ (Miyazaki, 1997). While the men are terrified of the ethereal kodama (tree spirits), Ashitaka trusts the spirits to guide them through the forest saying that they are ‘a sign this forest is healthy’ (Miyazaki, 1997). Ashitaka’s unusual origins give him a different perspective to other characters in the film. He is not worried about wealth or power but has a deep-seated interest in nature and the preservation of life.

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Ashitaka is also separated from other characters by his incredible, but still very human, strengths. The nature with which he returns the men to Irontown grants him a mixed reception. While the townspeople are grateful that their men are alive, they do not wholly trust this strange man who managed to travel through the taboo forest with two badly injured men; it is something they would not have dreamed possible. Ashitaka’s strength and fighting abilities seem almost unnatural to the other characters. ‘You fight like a demon’ (Miyazaki, 1997), one character tells Ashitaka. This emphasises both the magnitude and nature of Ashitaka’s powers. His strength, determination and archery skills, while god-like in measure, are human powers in essence. Ashitaka is only human and he does suffer under human hardships. This is important as, in order to be a relatable, and therefore successful, messiah he must have ‘the same limitations and weaknesses as an ‘ordinary’ and finite human being’ (Deacy, 1999).

Despite his humanity, it is still through a screen of suspicion that the other characters respect Ashitaka for his strengths. Mysterious, powerful, and therefore potentially dangerous, Ashitaka must be ‘othered’. It is this outsider status, which is common for messiah figures (Kozlovic, 2004), that allows Ashitaka to move between worlds and act in a messianic role. Messiahs, as semi-holy figures, must represent desirable values whilst being set apart from the rest of us. They are figures that we should aspire to be like. Human, and familiar enough to be relatable while being separate enough to revere.

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Ashitaka’s incredible strength is balanced by his incredible love and respect for life. He is driven by a desire for peace and committed to his beliefs in justice. When these two values come into conflict, Ashitaka suffers. He wants to end violence but often must use violence to do so. When we first meet Ashitaka, he is protecting his people from a terrible demon. The creature seethes with writhing, black worms but even so Ashitaka first tries to reason with it. ‘Calm your fury, oh mighty lord’ (Miyazaki, 1997), he pleads. However, when the beast threatens some villagers, Ashitaka is forced to take decisive action, killing the demon with his bow and arrow. Ashitaka knows what is right but he still struggles to enforce it. He wants to protect the innocent and fight for the weak or ashikta 2marginalised but it pains him to take life and he does this only when there is no other option. We see this again when Ashitaka reflects on killing two samurai who were brutally attacking another village. ‘I was wrong to fight in that village’, he says, ‘two men are dead because of me’ (Miyazaki, 1997). Although he knows his actions were justified and that his skills gave him a unique power to help the defenceless villagers, he still feels a ‘reluctance to use those skills to do harm’ (Kraemer, 2016). Ashitaka’s complex moral code separates him from classic messiah figures. He does not rationalise the violence he uses but instead feels the weight of every life he takes. He is cursed not only with the mark on his arm but also by the guilt of the violence he must use.

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Ashitaka’s desires are different from all other characters in the film resulting in him not taking a side in the conflict. It is not any particular victory that he wants but an end to violence. When questioned what it is that he desires, he says ‘What I want is for the humans and the forest to live in peace’ (Miyazaki, 1997). The other characters see the forest and the town as completely divided, different and unable to mix. But Ashitaka does see not the division between them. To him, all life is simply sacred. No matter what you must ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mark 12:31). When San and Eboshi become involved in a vicious fight, Ashitaka intervenes and delivers a stirring sermon. His curse manifests itself as black, swirling tendrils as he shouts to the shocked and terrified crowd, ‘This is what hatred looks like! This is what it does when it catches hold of you! (Miyazaki, 1997). Ashitaka fight is not against against humans or gods but against hatred and it is his ‘willingness to meet violence with love’ (Kraemer, 2016) that is his greatest weapon.

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Ashitaka’s image as a messiah figure is cemented in the other-worldliness of his resurrection and in his sacrifice. Miyazaki is careful in the way he portrays Ashitaka in these scenes. Although they are rich with godly powers, Ashitaka’s humanity is emphasised. As a messiah figure, Ashitaka is human touched by divinity. He is not a divine being himself but he is influenced by the gods and demons that are present in his life. This is epitomised in his resurrection. After Ashitaka is shot, San takes his lifeless body to a sacred island in the middle of the forest. She places a small plant above his head, a life to take in return for his. After she leaves, we see the forest spirit approach and revive Ashitaka in a strange, dream-like sequence. During the day, the god, who duty is to ‘give life and take life away’ (Miyazaki, 1997,) takes the form of a deer like creature with many antlers and humanoid face. We see flowers and plants bud, bloom, wilt and die under the creature’s feet as it walks. The forest spirit looks upon Ashitaka and the plant as the leaves of the plant wither and drop. In the morning, Ashitaka’s bullet wound is healed but the cursed mark remains. Although Ashitaka undergoes what is definitely a divine resurrection, it is not any divinity of his own that saves him but his pure heart. It is the forest spirit who, deeming Ashitaka worthy of resurrecting, saves him thus ensuring Ashitaka remains fully human.

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In the stunning climax to the film, Ashitaka sacrifices himself to atone for humanity’s wrongdoings. Eboshi and the other humans have shot off and taken the forest spirit’s head. The ghostly shell of its body spews out deadly black liquid and long arms which search for its head. Ashitaka catches the carriers of the head and demand they give it to him to return before everything is destroyed. ‘Human hands must return it!’ (Miyazaki, 1997) He shouts. Humanity as a whole has sinned, they have turned their back on nature and committed the ultimate atrocity; killing the ‘very heart of the forest’ (Miyazaki, 1997). Messiah figures feel a duty to ‘take on the sinfulness of those around them’ (Kozlovic, 2004). Ashitaka must, therefore, act as a representative of humanity and sacrifice himself for their transgressions.

PM7As he and San hold up the head for the god, they become covered with cursed marks. They are sure of their deaths but stand strong and true. With their sacrifice, they save not only themselves but all living things as a wash of new life spreads over the ruined land. Ashitaka not only possesses many of the characteristics of a messiah figure, his life and death also mirrors that of Christ in many ways. Just as Christ’s death gave humanity ‘forgiveness of sins’ (Ephesians 1:7), Ashitaka’s sacrifice saved the world. His resurrection and sacrifice mark him as a clear messiah figure.

PM8Messiah figures in film are used as symbols to exemplify the characteristics and values that filmmakers want to promote (Deacy, 1999). In Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki teaches us a respect for life, as he said in a 2004 interview ‘We should treasure everything because there is a kind of life to everything’. He uses Ashitaka to convey a message of peace and environmentalism. Although Princess Mononoke is not explicitly religious, it does draw from Shinto mythology and beliefs and reflects many of the tenets of Western religion. Shinto faith ‘stresses relation and connectedness’ (Bigelow, 2009). This is an important theme that develops through the film as the characters realise relationships they were not previously aware of. In one of the last scenes, one of the townspeople comments ‘I didn’t know the forest spirit made the flowers grow’ (Miyazaki, 1997). As Christ literally gave a blind man sight (John 9:11), Ashitaka metaphorically opens the peoples’ eyes to the interdependent relationship between the town and the humans (Kraemer 2016). Although Miyazaki’s messiah may be more implicit than those typically found in Western culture, the ideals he teaches of love, peace and respect are essentially the same.

PM9In conclusion, Ashitaka acts as a messiah figure to spread a message of peace. Miyazaki sets Ashitaka apart from other characters with Shis strange customs and extraordinary powers to make him able to move between warring sides. He is not the fully-assured messiah we see all too often in the West, but a saviour racked with guilt and uncertainty about how should carry out his mission without just creating more violence. Like Christ, He is fully committed to his beliefs and ready to sacrifice himself for them. In Princess Mononoke, Ashitaka not only learns to ‘see with eyes unclouded by hate’ (Miyazaki, 1997) but also teaches us to do the same.

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Bibliography

All Biblical references are from the New International Version

Miyazaki, Hayao. 1997. Princess Mononoke. film. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Produced by Studio Ghibli. Toho.

Bigelow, Susan J. 2009. “Technologies of Perception: Miyazaki in Theory and Practice.” Animation: an interdisciplinary journal 4 (1): 55-75.

Deacy, Christopher R. 1999. “Screen Christologies: An evaluation of the role of Christ-figures in film.” Journal of Contemporary Religion 14 (3): 325-337.

Kozlovic, Anton Karl. 2004. “The Structural Characteristics of the Cinematic Christ-figure.” Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 8.

Kraemer, Christine Hoff. 2016. “Between the Worlds: Liminality and Self-Sacrfice in Princess Mononoke.” Journal of Religion and Film 8 (2).

Reinhartz, Adele. 2009. “Jesus and Christ figures.” In The Routledge Companion of Religion and Film, edited by John Lyden, 420-439. Taylor and Francis.

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Student Spotlight #12: Harry Potter – GenZ Messiah

Carrying on our conversation around the pop culture figure of the ‘super-saviour’, today’s essay tackles one of the most popular figures to be identified as a modern messiah: Harry Potter. The author of this most fabulous essay is Saiyami Mehta, who is an Indian-born NZ student who has just completed her third year of study here at the University of Auckland. Saiyami is majoring in Geography and History, and plans to continue towards a PhD in environmental degradation and indigenous community involvement. She opted to do our Bible and Popular Culture course because she was intrigued to learn more about the Bible’s significance as a cultural text within contemporary contexts.

Saiyami has written a stellar essay here, focusing on J.K. Rowling’s novel series, so I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Harry opening image

The trials and tribulations of ‘The Boy who Lived’: Harry Potter’s GenZ struggle with his messiah complex

Saiyami Mehta

The dichotomy between good and evil has been a pervasive aspect of literature for eons. The Bible itself constantly addresses the age-old difficulty of differentiating one from the other, imploring mankind to “be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil (Proverbs 3:7).” It is this persistent struggle between the two that in antiquity led to a requirement in humanity for a powerful emissary – a messiah, or saviour figure – that would lead them to political or earthly salvation. The crucifixion of Jesus however, led to a transformation in the status of a messiah as becoming a bringer of redemption. Originating from the Hebrew word mashiach, meaning “anointed or chosen one”, the term has consistently been used as a template for saviour-figures in pop culture texts. None however, have melded into the twenty-first century messiah-mould (as characterised by the American monomyth) as fluidly as Harry Potter. This essay addresses the unusual origins, eventual desire for vengeance, and resistance to temptations of The Boy Who Lived as he, often unwillingly, took up the mantle of super-savior in the wizarding world to face Lord Voldemort. Alongside this, there are parallels drawn between the characters and events of the Harry Potter books with the biblical books of Genesis and Exodus.

harry vs voldemort
Harry and Voldemort

Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces led the discussion on the archetypal storyline for heroic exploits in time-honoured tales during the late 1940s, and till date sets the scene for the plot of any cultural texts’ heroes. The Campbellian monomyth asserts that the hero travels from his own world into one of otherworldly facets, encounters dark forces that require resistance, emerges victorious and returns as a super-saviour figure for his people (Lawrence and Jewett 2002, p.5). This structure vaguely fits the template for the Harry Potter books, but the relationship between the protagonist and antagonist, Lord Voldemort, is far more complex than what is established in the classical monomyth, and represents the values of the more contemporary American version. Harry’s origins for example, are shown to be tied very early on in the books with Voldemort, resulting in his orphan (and thus unusual) status. Similarities between the Bible and Harry Potter are consistently displayed in the text and movies, particularly with the presence of temptations.

(c) Manchester City Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
John Spencer, Eve Tempted (1877)

The Book of Genesis discusses the Garden of Eden, and how Adam and Eve, despite being warned, ate from the Tree of Knowledge, spurred on by the serpent, and as a result, “the eyes of both were opened (Genesis 3:1-7)”, meaning that they became aware of themselves and as such, incurred the displeasure of God. Temptations are frequently presented in front of Harry, often with Voldemort as the instigator. In The Philosopher’s Stone, Voldemort (through Quirrell) tempts Harry with promises of resurrecting his parents in exchange for the stone, asserting that “there is no good and evil. There is only power, and those too weak to seek it” (p.211). Harry, unlike Eve, rejects the temptation, thus establishing himself from the first book as a protagonist who willingly renounces mortal enticements for the greater good.

phoenixThat is not to say that Harry possessed the otherworldly level of renouncing his desires as other messianic characters like Jesus. Certainly, it can be argued that in many instances, Harry put his own desires over the well-being of others or himself, such as his period of visions regarding the Department of Mysteries in The Order of the Phoenix, where ultimately the combination of curiosity and urgency to save Sirius Black led to the latter’s death. Nevertheless, the overarching understanding of a messiah is that the trials and tribulations they face often hurt yet strengthened them for the ultimate task of fighting the ultimate evil (Neal 2007, p.108). The Bible habitually dwelt on this crucial aspect of a messiah’s character development, stating that the sufferer must “consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance (James 1:2-4).”

The eventual development of Harry’s messianic status is further cemented however, gobletthrough his continued renouncements of temptations in later books, such as in The Goblet of Fire when he gives his prize winnings to the Weasley twins (pp.635-6). Nothing could further cement his messianic quality of being above worldly desires however, than the statement Griphook makes vis-à-vis Harry’s character: “If there was a wizard of whom I would believe that they did not seek personal gain, it would be you, Harry Potter” (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, p.394). This serves to show why Harry Potter can be granted the messianic status in the wizarding world.

The construct of social hierarchy provided a considerable support for how the wizarding world and Harry interacted. The creation of followers is a predominant aspect of a messiah figure, but in the case of Harry, the undertaking of the role as leader appeared to have persistently chafed. Interestingly, the decision to refuse the proverbial ‘call to greatness’ was made well before Harry had any capabilities to answer. When Sybil Trelawney prophesied that a child born at the end of July would be able to defeat the Dark Lord (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,p.741), Harry’s parents went into hiding until they were slain, which again hints at the digression taken by this messiah from the traditional path to greatness (Lytle 2013, p.29). This act of resistance of the title of leader remains a constant attribute hallowsof Harry’s innate nature, but by the final confrontation with Voldemort, Harry displays his messianic qualities by accepting that it has to be him. The gradual development of followers for Harry Potter provides further evidence of his messianic status in the wizarding world. This didn’t derive out of any quasi-divine powers on part of the protagonist; Harry’s entire existence indicated to many who studied or came into contact with him that here was someone who could bring about change. Ari Armstrong argues that it is Harry’s determination to keep his friends (and eventual followers) safe in all situations that ultimately generates faith in him amongst his peers (Armstrong 2011, p.52).

The Book of Exodus provides a similar account of Moses, who was disturbed by the treatment of his fellow Jews at the hands of the Egyptians, and began to lead them to the promised land, albeit unwillingly. Many parallels can be drawn between Moses and Harry, specifically their disinclination at becoming any sort of leader. Moses almost ceaselessly restates to God his inability to convince the Jews (Exodus 4:10-13; Exodus 6:9-12). Hermione has to explain to Harry why he is needed to start Dumbledore’s Army: “Harry, don’t you see? This… is exactly why we need you. We need to know what it’s really like facing him… facing Voldemort” (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, p.293). Harry’s courage is what eventually helps his followers and himself to gather and put their energies into following through with the plans constructed by Harry and Dumbledore, even if they don’t always see the benefits. Alongside this however, is the method by which Harry produced support for his cause during times of adversity.

In the Order of the Phoenix, Harry secretly gives an interview to Rita Skeeter about stoneVoldemort, inciting many, like Seamus Finnigan to conclude that “he believes him” (500-514). The American monomyth explains that the followers of the super-savior often consist of women who require a white dominant male to lead them, but the Harry Potter saga steps away from this idea and combine the formidable power and intelligence of many female followers of Harry (Lawrence and Jewett 2002, p.8). Both Ginny and Hermione prove time and time again both their loyalties to Harry and their own talents. Ginny stands up for him in the second book against Draco Malfoy, while Hermione has frequently aided the Chosen One with notes from classes. The overall argument therefore can be made that while the messianic figure of Harry Potter generated considerable support, despite his reluctance, there was not as much of a depiction of him as a sole leader, all pervasive and powerful, but rather a well-chosen hero who had followers that provided him with advice.

The contemporary figure of Harry Potter provided its generation with a figure that certainly showed messianic characteristics, but not one that attached itself completely to the template of the American monomyth. The trials and tribulations of The Boy who Lived served to show both Harry and his friends the fruits of resisting temptations, and this was a key aspect of his depiction as a messiah for the wizarding world. The fact that an eleven-year-old orphan was capable of putting aside hopes, even false ones, about meeting his lost parents in order to do what was right showed that while he may not have chosen to be raised on a pedestal and followed as a leader, it was this reluctance and keen sense of equality with his followers that perhaps made Harry Potter an effective messiah of a cultural text.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

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

Armstrong, Ari. “Religion in Harry Potter – Do J. K. Rowling’s novels promote religion or undermine it?”. Skeptic Magazine Volume 17 Issue 1, December 2011.

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

Lytle, Amy. “Defense Against the Dark Arts: Harry Potter and the Allegory for Evil.” Honours Thesis, Regis University, 2013.

Neal, Connie, W. Wizards, wardrobes and wookiees: Navigating good and evil in Harry Potter, Narnia and Star Wars. InterVarsity Press, 2007.

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.  London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1997.

Rowling. J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2000.

Rowling. J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2003.

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2007.

Student showcase #9: Superheroes and Supersaviours

One of the most popular subjects we cover in our Bible and Popular Culture course is the American Monomyth (Lawrence and Jewett 2002) – the hugely common trope of the ‘modern messiah’ or ‘supersaviour’ in popular culture. Over the next few days, we’ll share some student essays on this topic, which consider the messianic credentials of fictional figures in film and TV. Starting us off, we have a marvellous essay by Alicia Lou, who considers the character of Matt Murdock (aka superhero Daredevil) as a contemporary messiah. Alicia comes from Christchurch, but has lived in Auckland for over 10 years. She is studying a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts conjoint, majoring in Criminology and Politics. She hopes to eventually work in the legal profession or in foreign affairs. Alicia took our Bible and Popular Culture course because she is curious about the roles that religion plays in the world and everyday life.

So sit back and learn a bit more about salvific superheroes!

Daredevil

“Do you believe in the devil, Father?”

Matthew Murdock: Messiah, Anti-hero and the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen

Alicia Lou

In the Tanakh, the Messiah is the saviour who will defeat evil and lead their community into a new life (LaCocque, 2015). The Messiah is also closely associated with Jesus in the New Testament. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is a parallel to the secular Western hero in the American Monomyth- the tale of a hero who saves his community from evil. Matthew Murdock, present in Marvel’s Daredevil (2015-) and The Defenders (2017-), satisfies many features of both a Christ figure and a monomythic superhero. His mysterious origins, zeal for justice and self-sacrifice resemble that of a saviour. This essay will analyse how Matthew both fulfills and rejects the Messiah role by becoming an anti-hero who refuses to play by the book and operates according to his own paradigm.

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Matt Murdock as a child (Netflix)

Matthew is depicted as a Messiah figure through his mysterious origins and extraordinary powers. As a child, he suffered a chemical accident that led to his blindness. As a result, he developed heightened superhuman abilities that allow him to gain an awareness of his surroundings. In 1×11, Matthew referred to his senses as ‘God’s will.’ He believes that God made each and every person with a purpose; a reason for being. Similarly, in John 6:38, Jesus also states that he is here to do the will of God. This connects to Lawrence and Jewett’s idea that a hero is often ‘aided by fate’ (2002, 6).  Matthew sees this as a sign from God that he was destined to use his abilities for the greater good. As Jesus used his powers to heal people in Matthew 8, Matt also uses his senses to save innocent people from criminals.

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This is a distinctive feature of a Messiah; the willingness to protect others from harm.
This relates to the monomyth as being ‘a selfless hero’ is part of the criterion. Matthew is a selfless hero as he fights crime every night to save people, risking his life in doing so. Lawrence and Jewett state that the hero’s fist is often irresistible and that his body is incapable of suffering fatal injury (2002). We see that this is not true for Matthew as his body is often beaten and bruised. Matthew’s injuries are analogous to that of Jesus in his mission. In Isaiah 52:14, Jesus is stated to be “so disfigured beyond that of any human being.” Additionally, Matthew’s wounds bare a close resemblance to the ‘Five Holy Wounds’ that Jesus received from his crucifixion (Vogt, 2009). Time and time again, Matthew’s wounds continue to re-open and he comes close to death on several occasions. His suffering is greatly emphasised, which humanises his messianic qualities and gives his actions a more important purpose. Matthew’s refusal to give up until the threat is eliminated symbolises his selflessness and ability to put others before himself just as Jesus did. This similarity makes Matthew a perfect replacement for Christ in a secular age.

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Wilson Fisk, kingpin of Hell’s Kitchen (Netflix)

In the Monomyth, the hero has a redemptive task to accomplish. With Wilson Fisk and a criminal organisation named ‘The Hand’ as an outside evil, normal institutions like the police and the legal department are unable to contend with these threats (Jewett & Lawrence, 2002). Matthew recognises that Fisk is above the law and that ‘The Hand’ are not visible to the public, so he takes it upon himself to rid the evil and bring his enemies to justice. This is also a feature of a Messiah; being motivated by a zeal for justice. Matthew’s motivation comes from growing up in Hell’s Kitchen. It is the place where his dad was murdered, a city full of crime and vice since before he was born. Matthew has personally witnessed the oppression and injustice in Hell’s Kitchen, as a son, as a lawyer and as a crime-fighter at night. This injustice is what motivates Matthew to seek redemption for his home. He states that he “needs to be the man this city needs” (1×5). This is similar to Jesus in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 where he “will overthrow the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming.” Like Matthew, Jesus also witnessed inequity and corruption; he too was motivated to overthrow evil by his own zeal for justice.

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Daredevil in action (Netflix)

Matthew differs from a biblical Messiah by rejecting the standard good and evil paradigm. In Matthew 5:21, Jesus states that one “shall not murder…whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” Matthew abides by this rule as his Catholic faith prevents him from taking a life. However, Matthew is no Saint. He operates on his own methodology, which is in “shades of gray rather than in black and white” (Jewett & Lawrence, 2002, 48). Matthew often breaks the law and resorts to violence to achieve his means. He is frequently punching and torturing people until they are bleeding and begging for mercy; behaving in ways that are not Christ-like. Lang and Trimble state that the hero often partakes in “some violent act that the rest of society is incapable of performing” (1988, 166). Although violence may seem extreme, it is deemed necessary because lives are often at stake and innocent people will die. Matthew may commit wrongdoings but his intentions are genuine, thus his violence is purified. This makes his violence morally DD fightingjustified because it fulfills a greater purpose (Arnaudo & Richards, 2013). Ultimately, this delineation between right and wrong, good and bad is sometimes a blur. This is evident in Matthew as his lawyer-half represents the good while ‘Daredevil’ represents his darker alter-ego. The two halves cause Matt’s understanding of justice and vengeance to become twisted that he cannot separate them. He can only operate to his own methodology; a middle-ground between what Matthew believes is right and wrong. Matt’s inability to adhere to a standard black-and-white paradigm makes him an anomaly compared to a typical Messiah.

Frank Castle, DD and Elektra Natchios
Frank Castle, Matt Murdock as Daredevil, Elektra Nachos (Netflix)

In the Monomyth, the hero must withstand temptation (Lawrence & Jewett, 2002). This also applies to a Messiah. In Matthew 4, Jesus was tempted by the Devil to use his powers. Eventually, “the devil left him,” which indicates that he overcame temptation. Matthew is also lured into temptation, but not in the conventional sense. Matthew has the temptation to kill. Frank Castle and Elektra Natchios are people who execute without remorse and are constantly tempting Matthew to kill. In 2×3, Frank urges Matthew to kill but Matt resists, stating that “I don’t kill anyone.” Matthew has a conflicted sense of self because he wants to succumb to this temptation but he knows that killing is wrong. Elektra appeals to his darker side by assuring him that “this is who you are, Matthew” (2×7). This is what Matthew is most afraid of; that he is a killer at heart and this makes him no better than the same criminals he condemns. It is this thought that conditions Matthew to renounce his temptations for most of the series.

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Elektra’s death (Netflix)

It is not until Elektra’s death that Matt finally breaks his code; to avenge her by killing the man who murdered her. Matthew sabotages the monomyth by letting the temptation to kill consume him. He proves not to be a traditional Christ figure, but an anti-Messiah who tries to do the right thing and does not always succeed. Yet, Matt does not completely reject the messianic role; he merely adapts it. Matthew’s violent nature and tendency to make mistakes attributes to a modernised Messiah figure that is imperfect and deeply flawed.

Matthew’s mission ends when he achieves redemption and recedes into obscurity (Lawrence & Jewett, 2002). As a Messiah figure, Matthew can only achieve redemption through self-sacrifice, which parallels to Christ’s atonement in the Christus Victor theory. DD3It states that Jesus’ death was a sacrifice to atone for the sins of others and to free humanity from evil (Noble, 2013). In Isaiah 53:5, Jesus was “pierced for our transgressions…and by his wounds we are healed.” Matthew realises that the only way he can prevent New York from being destroyed is to kill The Hand’s secret weapon: ‘The Black Sky,’ an ancient evil using Elektra’s body as a human vessel. He blames himself because if he had saved Elektra, the ‘Black Sky’ would not have been resurrected and lives would have been spared. This leads Matt to make the decision to stay behind as The Hand crumbles; to ensure that the evil is eradicated and to be with Elektra one last time. Matthew sacrifices himself to atone for the sins of humanity- the exploitation, injustice and barbarity residing in Hell’s Kitchen- and to atone for his own sins; the violence he inflicted, the evil he unleashed as ‘Daredevil’ and for allowing Elektra to die. Like Christ, Matt was a martyr for his faith. He was the sacrificial ‘lamb’ who took away the sins of the world (John 1:29). His death was the decisive victory that restored “the community to its paradisiacal condition” (Jewett & Lawrence, 2002, 6). In the end, Matthew is seen in a Church; bloody, barely moving but alive, signalling that he has been reborn. The sacrifice, death and resurrection of Matthew is directly akin to that of a biblical Messiah.

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Matthew resurrected after his sacrifice (Netflix)

Matthew Murdock adheres to the Monomyth through his mysterious origins, selflessness and redemptive mission. Although there are many parallels to Jesus, Matt is not a classic biblical Messiah. He rejects the standard black-and-white paradigm and is an anti-hero; a paradoxical Christ figure that chooses to create his own path. Matthew adapts the traditional Messiah into a popular Messiah by showing that a saviour does not have to be a perfect monomythic hero. Matthew is flawed, broken and human, which only makes him a more relevant and absolute Messiah in popular culture.

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Bibliography

All references to biblical texts are from the NIV.

Arnaudo, M. (2013). The Myth of the Superhero (J. Richards, Trans.). Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Goddard, D (Creator). (2015, April.10-present) Daredevil. New York, United States: Marvel Television, ABC Studios

LaCocque, A. (2015). Jesus the Messiah. In Jesus the Central Jew (pp. 15-42). Society of Biblical Literature.

Lang, J. S., & Trimble, P. (1988). Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? An Examination of the American Monomyth and the Comic Book Superhero. In Journal of Popular Culture (Vol. 22, No. 3, pp. 157-173).

Lawrence, J. S., & Jewett, R. (2002). The Myth of the American Superhero. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Noble, T. A. (2013). Christian Holiness and the Atonement. In Holy Trinity: Holy People (pp. 128-157). James Clarke & Co Ltd.

Petrie, D., & Ramirez, M. (2017, August. 18- present) The Defenders. New York, United States: Marvel Television, ABC Studios

Vogt, P. (2009). “Honor to the Side”: The Adoration of the Side Wound of Jesus in Eighteenth-Century Mordvian Piety. Journal of Moravian History, 83-106.

Student Showcase #6: The prophetic voice of Kendrick Lamar

Today’s student essay is another treat – like some of the other essays I’m sharing, it discusses the ways that certain contemporary figures appear to fulfill some of the same roles as the biblical prophets. Our author is Eddie Mataele, who is studying for a Bachelor of Arts here at the University of Auckland, majoring in Sociology with a minor in Pacific Studies. Eddie hails from Tonga, and currently lives in the Mangere district of Auckland. Once he completes his degree, he hopes to put it to good use working in the social and public sectors. Eddie took our Bible and Popular Culture course to meet his General Education requirements, and enjoyed the creative freedom offered by the assignments.

So, for all Kendrick Lamar fans out there (and everyone else too), sit back and enjoy the prophetic potential of this most fascinating musician.

kendrick brooklyn

Wickedness or Weakness? The Prophetic Role of Kendrick Duckworth Lamar

Eddie Mataele

Music can be used as a refuge from the cruel and haunting realities of life. On the other hand, it can also be a powerful platform for an artist to describe and express these realities into a stimulating, euphoric, and somewhat controversial masterpiece. Kendrick (Duckworth) Lamar (born June 17, 1987) is an African-American rapper, songwriter, and recipient of seven Grammy awards; whose music has conveyed his innocence, triumphs, trauma, and tragedies while growing up in the notoriously dangerous streets of Compton, Los Angeles. The dominant themes found in majority of his music catalogue is his critique of oppressive social structures, violence of gang culture, and his connection with God (Graham, 2017). Kendrick Lamar produced music that defends the rights of disenfranchised communities in USA and uplifts the voices of troubled youths, while openly conveying his personal experience with God, fame, wealth, poverty, violence, pride, fear, and more (Faraji, 2016). Similarly, ancient prophets found in the Bible also share these features.

According to Marcus J. Borg (2001), prophets are an ally of social justice, challenge the status-quo, empowers oppressed people, and protects the hope of a brighter future. The clear difference between ancient prophets outlined in the Bible and Kendrick Lamar is the cultural context/setting they are situated in. However, Kendrick shares similar biblical prophetic behaviour with ancient prophets such as Jeremiah, in that both figures openly voices their condemnation against the injustices caused by those in power (Fischer, 2015). Subsequently, this essay will aim to deliver a comprehensive analysis which supports the belief that Kendrick Lamar is a biblical prophet.

A key element of a biblical prophet outlined by Borg (2001) is their passion for social justice and serving the interests of the oppressed and disenfranchised communities. Specifically, Borg mentions the concept of “prophetic energizing”, which revolves around a prophet communicating with the oppressed, utilizing language that promotes hope , defends their identity, and rejoices in creating a brighter future (Borg, 2001). The prophet Isaiah declared messages of prophetic energizing to encourage Jewish people to believe in justice, hope, and God when they were exiled from Jerusalem and Judah by Babylonians in 586 BCE by using uplifting language:

“For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace. The mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands”

(Isaiah 55: 12)

south-park-kendrick-lamar-humble-00 These are some other aspects of the biblical prophets (and biblical texts more widely) which resonate with the music and impact of Kendrick Lamar, albeit in a darker and more aggressive manner. This is illustrated in his album “To Pimp A Butterfly” where he addresses issues suffered mainly by African-Americans. In alright”, Kendrick aggressively attacks white supremacy and police brutality while simultaneously glorifying the importance of developing strength from these struggles and express his faith in God. In short, he encourages his audience to find hope in the struggles they face, as it gives meaning to their inner-strength:

Hard times like, God! / Bad trips like, Yeah! / Nazareth, I’m f**ked up/ Homie, you f**ked up/ But if God got us, then we gon’ be alright”

The song also highlights the frustration and pain Black people in America are accustomed to because of the injustices committed by the police disproportionately killing unarmed African-Americans:

“Wouldn’t you know/ We been hurt, been down before/ N*gg*, when our pride was low/ Lookin’ at the world like, ‘Where do we go? / N*gg*, and we hate po-po, wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho’/ N*gg*, I’m at the preacher’s door/ My knees getting’ weak, and my gun might blow/ But we gon’ be alright”

kendrickKendrick creatively describes the historical and relentless pain of being Black in America as severely debilitating. However, he counters it by claiming it will not erase the hope of self-empowerment and fighting for social justice which he expresses by continuously shouting “we gon’ be alright”. The impact of this song and its powerful lyrics has transcended music and entered the domain of social and political activism. Black Lives Matter activists draw strength and solidarity by chanting the lyrics we gon’ be alright during their peaceful protests against police brutality. Kendrick’s live performance of the song angered highly conservative and narrow-minded FOX News presenters who argued that a music genre (Hip Hop/Rap) has created more damage than racism among young African-Americans (Media Matters, 2015). Kendrick was thus effective in challenging the status-quo upheld by dominant systems of power, which regularly silence dissident voices of the oppressed (Faraji, 2016). Ultimately, the song “alright” was one of many in this album which advocated for social justice and served as a source from which African-Americans could draw strength, hope and unity.

kendricklamarhumble-1493061968-compressed

Marcus Borg (2001) also suggested that biblical prophets are representatives of God or individuals who know God. This is not implying that biblical prophets are divine individuals, but rather indicates that prophets are individuals who believe in God’s teachings and deliver these teachings in a distinctive and influential manner (Borg, 2001). These too are features of a biblical prophet personified by Kendrick Lamar. His most recent album “DAMN.” comprehensively expresses his fears about his potential to be led to damnation (condemned by God to eternally suffer in Hell); to overcome this fear, he must first acknowledge it (Yoh, 2017). This is highlighted in the lyrics of his song “FEAR”:

“I’m talkin’ fear, fear of losin’ loyalty from pride/ ‘cause my DNA won’t let me involve in the light of God/ I’m talkin’ fear, fear that love ain’t livin’ here no more/ I’m talkin’ fear, fear that it’s wickedness or weakness”

Moreover, Kendrick references the commandments and statues written in the book of Deuteronomy 28, and delivered to the Israelites by the prototypical prophet Moses. Through these references, Kendrick ponders whether his previous acts of disobedience stemmed from his own wickedness or inner weakness (Yoh, 2017). From living in a gang-infested city ripe with violence and drugs, family members who were pimps and gang bangers, to suffering deep mental and spiritual stress due to his riches and fame, Kendrick’s world was filled with madness and chaos.

These experiences could drive a person towards a path of destruction. Kendrick likens his own suffering in this chaotic world to the curse bestowed upon Israelites, outlined in Deuteronomy 28. This suggests he believes it is in his (self-proclaimed Israelite) DNA to flourish in temptation and sin (Yoh, 2017). However, he overcomes the fears of succumbing to a destructive future by acknowledging his fears and trusting God’s wisdom. His greatest fear is that he could lose all his financial, social, and spiritual riches due to basking in earthly pleasures and not fearing God (Yoh, 2017). Less focus is placed on the joy of God and more emphasis is awarded to the fear of God. Consequently, he implies that people should fear God because the blessings bestowed upon them can also be swiftly removed from their lives by God.

KLThe story of Job shares a few similarities with the story told by Kendrick Lamar. Job was a wealthy family man who was a staunchly obedient follower of God’s teachings but suffered unbelievable cruelty in the face of servitude, because God wanted to discredit Satan’s claim that Job is good only because God rewards him (Crook, 1959). Thus, Job was subjected to unbelievable suffering and pain. However, Job found meaning instead of despair in those dark moments. He gained humility, a refined perspective of God’s grace and a deep fear of God. At the end, God rewarded Job by restoring double of what he lost, which promotes the critical message that fearing God and trusting his wisdom will result in righteousness and salvation (Crook, 1959). Thus, Kendrick recognises the blessings he enjoys now were delivered by God and he fears that God can also take it all away because of his inner-weakness/wickedness.

In conclusion, Kendrick Lamar confronts his fears in order to overcome it and through this process he develops a deeper connection to God. In saying this, he also promotes the message of giving hope to yourself in times of tragedy and injustice, as it will develop greater inner-strength and self-empowerment. His music provoked intense solidarity among African-Americans protesting cruel injustices imposed on their community which reflects a core element of a biblical prophet suggested by Borg (2001). Moreover, he utilises his influence and power as a famous artist to convey his experiences with God and the influence it has had on him. Kendrick Lamar’s storytelling in his music empowers the narratives of the oppressed, fights systemic injustice, and expresses his deep belief and fear of God. Thus, he aligns with these aspects of a biblical prophet emphasised by Marcus Borg (2001).

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Kendrick Lamar in the video to ‘alright’

References

Borg, M. J. (2001). Reading the prophets again. In M. J. Borg (Ed.), Reading the Bible again for the first time: taking the Bible seriously but not literally (pp. 111-144). San Francisco: Harper San Francisco.

Crook, M. B. (1959). The Cruel God: Job’s search for the meaning of suffering. Boston: Beacon Press.

Faraji, S. (2016). Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy performance points to a simple truth: #Black lives matter when Africa matters . Africology: The journal of pan African studies, 3-6.

Fischer, G. (2015). Is there a Shalom, or not? Jeremiah, a prophet for South Africa. Old Testament Essays, 351-370.

Graham, N. (2017). What slaves we are: narrative, trauma, and power in Kendrick Lamar’s roots. Transition, 123-132.

Lamar, K. (2015). Kendrick Lamar Alright. Retrieved from Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-48u_uWMHY

Media Matters. (2015). Fox’s Geraldo Rivera: “Hip-Hop Has Done More Damage To Young African-Americans Than Racism In Recent Years”. Retrieved October 13, 2017, from https://www.mediamatters.org/video/2015/06/29/foxs-geraldo-rivera-hip-hop-has-done-more-damag/204195

Piffin, B. (2015). Police harassment leads to crowd singing Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright”. Retrieved from Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUC_DOhfzwQ

Yoh. (2017). ‘DAMN.’ Decoded: Kendrick Lamar’s Album is About Breaking the Curse of Disobedience. Retrieved October 13, 2017, from http://djbooth.net/news/entry/2017-04-14-kendrick-lamar-damn-decoded

References from the Bible are taken from the New Internationl Version

Student Showcase #5: Delilah Royale

Yesterday, we featured a fabulous essay by Katherine Sherliker on Delilah’s implicit cultural afterlife in Criminal Minds. Today, Anuja Mitra continues this theme by considering another implicit afterlife for Delilah, this time the character of Vesper Lynd in James Bond movie, Casino Royale (2006). Anuja describes herself as a “more-or-less native Aucklander” going into her fourth year of a Law and Bachelor of Arts conjoint degree here at the University of Auckland. She took the Bible in Popular Culture course because it allowed her to look at pop culture through a different lens – and to write a fun essay! It’s certainly a wonderful essay, so hope you enjoy.

The Curse of a Complicated Woman: Delilah’s Pop Culture Afterlives

By Anuja Mitra

Vesper Lynd: I’m afraid I’m a complicated woman.

James Bond: That is something to be afraid of.

Casino Royale (2006)

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Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale (MGM 2006)

The name of the biblical character Delilah immediately evokes a disreputable and traitorous woman, yet her appearance in Judges 16 is shrouded in ambiguity. The films Samson and Delilah (1949; dir. Cecil B. DeMille) and Casino Royale (2006; dir. Martin Campbell) both feature a Delilah figure, addressing gaps in Judges 16 concerning Delilah’s characterisation, her relationship with Samson, and her motives for betraying him. Looking at the worlds within and behind the texts, these films afford us insight into attitudes towards women as well new perspectives on the biblical text.

Judges 16 is silent on Delilah’s core traits, such as her family, personality and national origins. She ostensibly lacks a family, though is able to own her own house (Exum 1996, p.181). Delilah is similarly unattached in Samson and Delilah, with no husband or “master”. This independence makes her a femme fatale; a fatally irresistible woman who leads men to their downfall. The film highlights her irresistibility: Where little can be determined about the manner of the biblical Delilah, the personality of DeMille’s Delilah is rooted in her sexuality. Our first shot of her languidly eating plums is a picture of dangerous decadence, and this overt sexuality is compounded by her exoticism. Judges 16 leaves Delilah’s ethnicity ambiguous, never detailing whether she is a Philistine or an Israelite. In DeMille, Delilah is a Philistine courtesan whose foreignness makes her all the more beguiling for Samson. As a femme fatale who weaponises her sexuality, Delilah represents fears surrounding women’s emancipation in 1940s America (Blyth 2017, p.138). Her foreign status also plays upon post-war ethnic anxieties (ibid., p.126). There is nothing in Judges 16 to suggest DeMille’s rendering of Delilah as a “‘scheming little dame’” (cited in ibid., p.123), but by painting her as such, the film implies that a headstrong woman is nothing but trouble.

Lynd and Bond
James Bond and Vesper Lynd (MGM)

Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale is characterised differently. While Samson meets Delilah in the Valley of Sorek (Judges 16:4), the boundary between the land of the Philistines and that of the Israelites, Bond meets Vesper on the train; a similarly liminal space where she appears cloaked in inscrutability. Vesper’s mystery and beauty characterise her as a femme fatale, yet she is not framed as negatively as DeMille’s Delilah. The film emphasises her intelligence as she wittily challenges Bond’s arrogance. Vesper is also courageous, saving Bond’s life twice and finally accepting her death. We are encouraged to admire Vesper for qualities that are condemned in Samson and Delilah, such as confidence and resourcefulness. This perhaps reflects the changed social context between the mid-twentieth and twenty-first centuries. With the increased prominence of feminism, women’s independence is now applauded more than criticised. The positive portrayal of Vesper illuminates Judges 16 by drawing attention to positive aspects of Delilah’s character, like her determination and bravery (Smith 1997, p.46). It displays how misogyny can cause us to judge her harshly instead of acknowledging that she may have personality traits worthy of praise.

Vesper 3
Vesper Lynd (MGM)

An second gap in the biblical text is Delilah’s feelings for Samson. We know that Samson loved Delilah (Judges 16:4), but are unsure whether Delilah loved Samson. This ambiguity is erased in Samson and Delilah. Delilah is madly in love with Samson, insisting, “I’d kill to keep you. You’re the only thing in the world I want.” Delilah’s passion drives the film, and it is suggested that she never truly stops loving Samson. She hesitates betraying him, at first refusing to discover the secret of his strength because she would hate to be “armed with a weapon” against him. Even after she captures Samson, she insists that the Philistines do not physically harm him. Overall, Samson and Delilah frames Delilah’s story as a romantic epic, portraying Samson and Delilah as doomed lovers in a sexual relationship. This heightens the sexual connotations in Judges 16 of Delilah making Samson sleep on her lap (Judges 16:19). It also interprets Delilah’s remark that Samson would tell her his secret if he really loved her (Judges 16:15) as not mere emotional manipulation. Rather, her desire to know his secret may genuinely be driven by her passion for him and desire to win his trust. This is hinted by how she does not immediately call the Philistines when he tells her truth, unlike in Judges 16. Delilah’s unwavering love for Samson in the film potentially lends her a sympathetic edge, yet it also makes her look worse in the light of her betrayal.

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Vesper Lynd and James Bond (MGM 2006)

Vesper’s feelings are also made clear in Casino Royale. She implies that she reciprocates Bond’s feelings for her, nursing him back to health after their dangerous mission and accompanying him on a romantic holiday. Yet when Bond explicitly tells her that he loves her, her reaction is unreadable. Later, however, her love is confirmed when she kisses his hand to apologise before submitting to her death. Whether Delilah loved Samson powerfully influences our assessment of her character and the depth of her betrayal. In DeMille, Delilah seems condemned because she loved Samson, suggesting that is more heinous to betray a loved one than a stranger. There is possibly a gendered element to this attitude, as a man abandoning a woman may not be considered as deplorable since men are assumed to hold the power in a heterosexual relationship. Women, meanwhile, are expected to be more submissive and accept the love of a man regardless of whether she reciprocates it. Yet thinking of Delilah as in love with Samson can also make her a tragic figure where she deceives Samson unwillingly. In Vesper’s case, she seems reluctant to admit that she loves Bond for fear of hurting both him and herself when she must betray him.

A final gap in Judges 16 is Delilah’s motive for betraying Samson. Various reasons for her betrayal have been proposed, including avarice, national loyalty and vengeance (Exum 1996, p.199). The clearest motive alluded to by Judges 16 is the eleven hundred pieces of silver Delilah is promised (Judges 16:5). In Samson and Delilah, however, this motive is eclipsed by her main goal: Revenge on Samson for leaving her. She tells the Saran that she wishes to punish Samson for the death of her family, but it is obvious that when she actually captures him it is because she believes he is abandoning her for Miriam. She confirms this when she declares, “no man leaves Delilah.” Delilah betraying Samson out of poisonous jealousy imposes a new layer of meaning on Judges 16, in which there is no other female character (and it is unclear whether Delilah loves Samson in the first place). This perpetuates ideas of women as motivated by possessiveness and competition with other women, and reinforces the femme fatale’s volatility: She may love a man one moment and leave him for dead the next.

Vesper gif

Vesper’s reasons for betraying Bond are strikingly different, and give us a glimpse into an alternative way of interpreting Delilah’s story. If Delilah were a Philistine, her tricking of Samson may be a patriotic act, causing her people to regard her as heroic (Klein 2003, p.28). Vesper’s motives can also be considered heroic, as it is revealed that she was only working for the enemy because they had threatened to kill her boyfriend if she did not cooperate. She attempts to resist her inevitable betrayal, seemingly commenting on her own plight when she tells Bond, “you’ve got a choice…just because you’ve done something doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it.” Ultimately, Vesper is portrayed as a tragic heroine. Her arc suggests a vulnerable dimension to the femme fatale and to Delilah in Judges 16. A woman living alone in her historical period, Delilah was socially and politically vulnerable (Brenner 1999, p.111) and may have been unable to refuse the Philistine lords’ request. If she used her sexuality to trap Samson, it was because this was the only power her gender afforded to her (Smith 1997, p.46). Betraying Samson would have provided her with social and economic security, helping her rise from a position of relative powerlessness (ibid., p.55). A vulnerable reading of Delilah gives us a less blameworthy portrait of her, challenging us to the see the story through her perspective rather than a patriarchal lens.

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Vesper Lynd (MGM 2006)

Despite appearing only briefly in the Bible, Delilah enjoys a rich legacy in popular culture. The frustrating ambiguities in her story have been filled by artistic works in differing ways: While Samson and Delilah paints her as a sensual and dangerous femme fatale, Casino Royale’s Delilah figure is a feisty and likeable heroine with a tragic fate. Examining the worlds within these texts, we can explore the filmmakers’ creative discretion in how they depict Delilah, while the world behind the texts shows us how these depictions were influenced by certain gender discourses. Overall, the shifting representations of Delilah reveal how she is moulded and remoulded based on the cultural understandings of different eras (Clanton 2009, p.65). This is arguably not only the reason for her power but the power of the Bible itself, as popular culture keeps its tales worthy of revisiting over and over.

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Vesper Lynd and James Bond (MGM 2006)

 

Bibliography

All biblical references are from the New Revised Standard Version.

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

Brenner, Athalya. Feminist Companion to Judges. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999.

Clanton, Dan. Daring, Disreputable, and Devout: Interpreting the Bible’s Women in the Arts and Music. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2009.

Exum, Cheryl J. “Samson and Delilah in Film”. In The Bible in Motion: A Handbook of the Bible and its Reception in Film, edited by Rhonda Burnette-Bletsch, 83-100. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2016.

Exum, Cheryl J. Plotted, Shot, and Painted: Cultural Representations of Biblical Women. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996.

Klein, Lillian. From Deborah to Esther: Sexual Politics in the Hebrew Bible. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2003.

Smith, Carol. “Samson and Delilah: A Parable of Power?” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 22, no. 76 (1997): 45-57.

Weiner, Robert, B. Lynn Whitfield and Jack Becker, eds. James Bond in World and Popular Culture: The Films are Not Enough. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011.