Aphrodite’s Child’s 666: Revelation Allusion

The theme of the Apocalypse is abundant in the fields of literature, film, and music. The end times pervade our modern culture as deeply as Christianity does; the human race seems to have a fascination with the end of itself, whether it be violent or passive. As I sought a topic for my Revelation allusion, I turned to the popular culture I had been immersed in. What I found was nestled away in my music collection; for this week’s blog, I chose to write about an album produced by the psychedelic/progressive art rock band Aphrodite’s Child entitled 666.

666’s cover

This controversial, nearly blasphemous album was released in 1972, only to be highly censored and banned from radio play (Vangelis Lyrics). This entire album is a musical adaptation of the Book of Revelation, with song titles such as Seven Bowls, Babylon, The Beast, The Battle of the Locusts, and Seven Trumpets. I figured I would break down two songs from the twenty-four track album.

Track four on the first cd is entitled “The Four Horsemen,” most obviously a reference to the four horsemen in Revelation 6. The lyrics mention the lamb (Jesus) opening the first four seals and the corresponding horseman to each seal.

The lyrics from the first verse, “I saw the first horse / The horseman held a bow,” references Rev 6:2 or, “And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow…”

The next verse mentions, “I saw the second horse / the horseman held his sword,” which is an obvious reference to Rev 6:4, “And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider…was given a great sword.”

The third verse’s lyrics include “I saw the third horse / The horseman had a balance,” referencing Rev 6:5, “…and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand…”

The final and fourth verse references Rev 6:8, “…and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death….given authority…with pestilence…” which the song interprets as “I saw the fourth horse / The horseman was the pest.”

The final lyrical interpretation of Revelation worth mentioning is a direct statement of each horseman in the chorus: “The leading horse is white / the second horse is red / the third one is a black / the last one is a green.” Obviously, in Revelation, each horse’s colour is listed, being white, red and black; traditionally, the final horseman, Death, is known for his pale horse, which can be translated from pale to a ghastly, sickly green.

 

Track six on the first cd, entitled “The Seventh Seal”, references the latter portion of Revelation 6, or verses 9-17. It features the lamb again (Jesus) as opening seals five, six and seven, and the consequences that correspond with each seal.

The first verse focuses on the fifth seal. The lamb opens them, and “We saw the souls / we saw the martyrs / we heard them crying / we heard them shouting / they were dressed in white / they’d been told to wait.” This first part of lyrics mentions white robed martyrs that had been told to wait even though they cried. Revelation 6:9-11 covers this imagery perfectly as it describes “the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God…each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer…” as they had “cried out with a loud voice.”

The second verse describes the various physical aspects that will come with the sixth seal. It describes a black sun, a red moon, falling stars, a trembling earth, and a population seeking refuge from hunger and thirst. Revelation 6:12-17 is the basis for this imagery: “There was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth…everyone, slave and free, hid themselves…calling to the mountains and rocks…‘hide us from the…wrath of the Lamb…’”

 

The final reference to point out about Revelation that Aphrodite’s Child used for this album is the title, 666. Known as the mark of the beast, the number 666 is listed in Revelation 13:18, “This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.” This exact quote can be found on the interior design of the vinyl album’s sleeve. In addition, at the very bottom of the quote, in parentheses, the actual book of Revelation is cited by its alternate name: The Apocalypse of John.

Interior Sleeve

The more one listens to this album, the more one realizes how fascinating the book of Revelation truly is. Its imagery is so easily translatable to any medium, and it leaves a lasting impression upon its observer. Aphrodite’s Child did a fantastic job of capturing the spirit of Revelation, and one would not be able to understand the entirety of the album without having read Revelation first.

The Angels of Revelation

For this week’s blog, I chose a topic near to my heart. As a Catholic, growing up involved a great deal of theology, learning doctrine, dogma, and traditions and being steeped in a specific culture. One of my favourite aspects of that culture was learning about the winged, divine beings that were said to live in heaven, sometimes making special trips to Earth to guide humanity as it fell victim to evil’s pressures.

In Revelation, the word angel (or its plural form) is stated seventy-six times. With only twenty-two chapters in the entire book, the average amount of times “angel” appears in each chapter ranks at 3. So what are these creatures? What is their purpose? Do angels of a ranking system? Who are any of the angels mentioned in Revelation? I searched for these answers.

My first thought was to define an angel and state the creature’s purpose. I found that Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all recognize angels as spiritual beings (Chabad.org), created from light (About.com) and considered intelligent, obedient ministers of God’s will (Catholic Online). The imagery of wings and appearing in the form of a man seems to be anthropological traits given by authors to help humankind understand angels. The word ‘angel’ comes from the Greek word ‘angelos’, meaning messenger; this also translates similarly in Hebrew, as the word for angel is ‘malak’ or messenger (Catholic Online). So these divine beings are extensions of God’s will. Throughout Revelation, God has them perform various tasks from blowing trumpets to breaking seals to guiding the speaker around in the vision to visit various scenes such as the beast rising from the sea (Rev 13:1) or the woman giving birth (Rev 12:1-6).

Each category of angel

So amongst beings of light, I knew there to be a hierarchy according to orthodox or traditional beliefs of nine orders of angels which are further divided into three ranks. Most people have heard of cherubs, archangels, and maybe seraphs, but other ranks of celestial being exist. The highest are closest to the Holy Trinity (God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit) and reside in the throne room of heaven; this hierarchy is comprised of the seraphim, cherubim, and the thrones. The second hierarchy is comprised of the dominions, virtues, and powers. The final and lowest hierarchy of angels are the principalities, archangels, and angels. All of the celestial orders are lumped together under the term ‘angel’ by most people (The Holy Angels). Each have their own specific tasks to do, from being the mediator between God and humanity to doling out justice or from maintaining the physical universe to teaching and guiding humanity (Angelology). In Revelation, it is obvious that certain types of angels are delegated to different tasks.

In fact, some of the angels mentioned have specific phrases which could lead to the possible identification of exactly which of the angels is being mentioned. Only one angel is mentioned by name, Michael. Michael, or the one who is like God, is considered the most powerful of all angels, the general of the heavenly army, and is to be the conqueror of Satan (Angels 101). In fact, Michael battled Lucifer during the war in heaven when he and other angels rebelled against God. In Revelation, Michael and his army will defeat Lucifer again during the end times (Angels About). In chapter 20 of Revelation, it is implied that the angel who binds Satan for a thousand years and casts him into the pit will be Michael.

the Seven Powerful Archangels in the throne room

Other angels to be noticed and whom I wanted to identify included: the angel sent to John to tell him to write Revelation, the seven angels of the churches in chapters 2 and 3, the seven angels of the trumpet, the four angels at the corners of the earth, the angel with the incense, and the angel who made John eat a scroll in chapter 10. My Catholic background gave me a head start on learning the identities of these angels. The traditional announcer of God is Gabriel, so it could be a possibility that the angel sent to John at the beginning of Revelation is Gabriel. The seven angels of the churches could be literal angels, but could also be symbolic of the church leaders that guided the Christians in that area (Bible Hub). The seven angels of the trumpets are seven angels “who stand before God” (Rev 8:2); these are seven throne room archangels. Their names are Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Chamuel, Jophiel, and Raguel (Angelfocus). The four angels at the four corners of the earth are included within the throne room archangels, and are traditionally considered to be the best-known of the archangels, which are Michael, Raphael, Gabriel and Uriel (The Hebrew Cornerstone). The angel with the incense, though not named in modern translations, is said to be Raguel according to early manuscripts of Revelation that scholars have discovered (Angels About). The final angel I chose to identify was that from chapter 10. Most of the sources I found stated that this angel’s identity is actually Jesus because of the “angel’s” authority and his coming “robed in a cloud” like Jesus’ coming in Revelation 1:7 (Lamb & Lion, Bible Gateway, Ray Stedman.org, Bible Info). From context clues throughout Revelation and connections with traditional religious culture, many of the angels mentioned in the book can be identified by name.

So overall, I answered my questions. Angels are divine beings of light, extensions of God’s will, and have many purposes that serve both God and humanity, fighting evil, and spreading the light of what is good. Each angel may be ranked according to a hierarchy system, further delegating what purpose they serve. Finally, the angels of Revelation can be identified both in name and in rank. Angels, a topic deeply steeped in cultural tradition for me, are more complicated than most people would have thought.

Roman Greed: Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Bithynia

After reading through 1 Peter to 3 John, I noticed several places listed, particularly in the opening lines of chapter 1 of 1 Peter:

“To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia…”

I knew these places to be Roman provinces. We have read about the Romans and inferred their cultural influence on the early Christians and on the Jewish people throughout the New Testament; there is even an epistle dedicated to the Romans! But what we have never really discussed exactly is the historical significance of the Roman Empire as it expanded its territories throughout the known world and its affect upon these areas in the terms of Christianity. I sought an answer to a few questions. What is a province? Why would Rome choose these areas? Why are they important to the early Christian church underneath Roman rule?

Firstly, I wanted to define a province. The first definition given by Merriam-Webster literally includes the Roman Empire in its definition of province: “a country or region brought under the control of the ancient Roman government”. The next definition clarified a province as “an administrative district”, which implied that breaking parts of the Empire into provinces meant administrative ease of government for the Romans. Each province was ruled by a governor who was responsible for maintaining financial stability by collecting taxes, maintaining infrastructure by supervising building projects and overseeing major cities’ accounts, maintaining justice by acting as supreme judge, and maintaining order by commanding the Roman legions stationed in the territory (UNRV History). These provinces served as a funnel of money, trade, people, and ideas into and out of Rome.

Asia, Bithynia, Pontus, Cappadocia, and Galatia

Secondly, I wanted to know why Rome would choose these areas as provinces. Obviously, expansion of territory by a country has historically been for a specific reason, usually beneficial to the invading country; normally expansion is for trade, to eliminate border skirmishes, and to further prosper a country. In other words, greed of government expands territory. Rome was no stranger to this greed. Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, and Bithynia are in the same area, Asia, which is now modern Turkey. Pontus was the northern coast along the Black Sea (UNRV History) with Bithynia to its west, often joined as a single province (Britannica). Galatia and Cappadocia were further inland, to the south (UNRV History). These areas were perfect for trade and commerce needed by the Romans; the lands were known to have fertile land (Bible Hub), deal in slaves (Ancient History), or be on the sea as in the case of Pontus.

Beneath Roman rule, the early Christian church managed to form, flourish, and establish itself as the next global religion. Pontus had a well-established church system by the year 100 CE (New Advent), and because of its location, was a perfect springboard for launching Christianity into the Middle East including Armenia, modern Syria, Iraq and Iran. The sometimes-attached-sometimes-separate Bithynia also has its place in the early Christian Hall of Fame; one of its major cities, Nicaea, was the birthplace of the Christian profession of faith, the Nicene Creed, in 325 CE (Nicene Creed). Galatia was one of the first areas to have a Gentile Christian community form, as the religion set up shop a mere couple of decades after the death of Christ (Daily Bible Study); the epistle written to the people of this church became known as the “Magna Carta of Christian liberty” as it solidified the Protestant argument during the Reformation (Hermeneutics). Cappadocia became a stronghold and safe haven for persecuted Christians during the Byzantine era; the people of various Cappadocian cities began tunneling underground caves together to form cities with every amenity necessary to live while in hiding (Cappadocia, Turkey). Each of these Roman provinces proved influential and important to the development, sustainment, and success of the Christian Church.

In conclusion, a province is a territory ruled by a larger, more powerful country, in this case Rome. Rome chose to expand into these areas for the lucrative trade possibilities, while Christianity spread further and established a basis for the growth of the religion.

Who are the people listed in Romans 16?

As I was reading in the latter half of Romans, reaching the end of the book brought about an interesting chapter. Chapter 16 struck me as rather odd; there was a giant list of names, thirty four to be exact, and an actual declaration of who wrote the letter in verse 22:

“I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord.”

The text mentioned that this list of personal greetings were to people in Rome, several of which were partners of Paul for the early Christian ministry. This last chapter serves as an acknowledgement of the importance of the “little people” of the early church, but I wanted to know more. Who was Tertius? Did any of these people hold office in the early church? Why were the women mentioned? I hoped my research would bring to light the answers I sought.

Tertius

The first question I tackled was Tertius. Declared a saint by the Orthodox Catholic Church, he is credited with being the amanuensis of Paul who transcribed Romans. “Amanu-what?” I asked myself, incredulous at not understanding this Latin-based word. The word amanuensis means “one employed to write from dictation or to copy a manuscript” (Merriam-Webster), or in other words, a glorified and trusted scribe. This position was often a profession, and guaranteed flawless grammar, legibility, and easy access to the best writing supplies (Christianity Today). The influence of a professional scribe could be enormous; Tertius had the ability to alter anything Paul said, reword or edit grammar, and perhaps even change the style of Paul’s message; though speculation, I would say that could account for any possible discrepancies between Romans and any other Pauline letter when it came to using style or form as evidence of authorship. Tertius’ personal life is obscured by the cloud of history, and bibliographical information on him was scarce. Conjecture lists him as a Roman Christian living in Corinth due to his Roman origins of nomenclature (Bible History), while historical documentation places him as the second bishop of Iconium (Orthodox Church in America), in Galatia or modern Turkey.

My curiousity trickled from Bishop Tertius to the thirty-four other names listed in Chapter 16. Were any of these people bishops? Research told me yes, that twenty of the thirty-four names listed were bishops (St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church), members of a group known as the “seventy apostles”; these men were chosen by the twelve original apostles of Jesus, and were sent out to preach the gospel. This included: Andronicus, Ampliatus, Urbanus, Stachys, Apelles, Aristobulus, Herodion, Narcissus, Rufus, Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Hermas, Philologus, Lucius, Jason, Sosipater, Gaius, Erastus, and Quartus.

the 70 Apostles

Over half of the names were accounted for, listed as early church leaders and influential missionaries that spread throughout the Roman Empire. A mere fourteen names remained. For some, the text answered who these people were. Epaenetus was the first convert in Asia Minor, obviously holding an important place in the early church. Junia was a female member of Paul’s family and a fellow prisoner of Rome. Phoebe is listed as a servant at the church established by Paul in Cenchreae, a Corinthian port (Biblehub). Prisca (often translated as Priscilla) and Aquila were a married couple, most likely tentmakers, who led a church in Ephesus (The Apostle Paul’s View of Women Leaders). The others, Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis, were also women that held important positions in the church, suffering the same trials as the men who worked to spread the Christian message (New Life). Nereus is attributed to a member of Junia’s household (Bible History), while Patrobas is believed to be a member of the then current emperor’s household (Bible Apps). The only names that I couldn’t find a historical background for were Timothy and Olympas, the final two of the full list of thirty-four significant figures in the history of the early church as influenced by Paul.

Paul’s Journeys throughout the Empire

Paul’s letter, Romans, mentions the early church’s government with a list of names and salutations for each person, giving equal enthusiasm to both the men and women. Tertius himself includes a salutation for the early church, completing the greeting of Romans. I had found the answers to my questions; I knew who these people were, why they were listed at the close of Romans, and the identity of Tertius.

 

The Spread of Christianity after Stephen

This week I chose to do my blog on the significance of the death of Stephen, the first recorded martyr of the early Christian church, because he had been my favourite saint when I was growing up. I was raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, and had always been fascinated with the martyrs; an image of young Stephen, eyes upraised and hands folded with a group of men lobbing stones at him, had been imprinted upon my mind when looking through a book of saints. For those who are unclear, the Catholic Church defines a saint as “persons who were eminent for holiness who distinguish themselves by heroic virtue during life and whom the Church honors as saints either by her ordinary universal teaching authority or by a solemn definition called canonization,” (Catholic Culture) while a martyr is defined as “a person who chooses to suffer, even to die, rather than renounce his or her faith or Christian principles.” (Catholic Culture) One who is martyred is automatically a saint in the Catholic Church.

Stephen

In our text, the story of Stephen is a hero story; he is moving about the people, performing miracles and preaching about Jesus, despite the opposition of many conservatives in the area. Those who opposed Stephen even went as far as to ‘set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.’ ” (The Literary Study Bible, Acts 6:14) In the following chapter, Stephen delivers a history of the Jews, from Abraham through Moses. He chastises the people he is preaching to, which only further enrages them. The boiling point for the large crowd around Stephen is his declaration of his vision of Jesus, in Acts 7:55-56:

“But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ ”

Infuriated, the people rushed Stephen and stoned him. What I found interesting was his later mention in Chapter 11 as the cause of persecution of Christians that led to the spread of the Church into Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch. I wanted to know if the historical spread of the Church matched the biblical account.

Stephen’s martyrdom is placed around 34 CE (All About Following Jesus), and this dispersion could be placed from around 30 CE to 313 CE as various Roman emperors offically persecute the fledgling Church (National Geographic). The fear instilled from persecution would be enough to drive any Jew or Christian from their home, seeking a new, peaceful place to live. Every Jewish Christian that fled would take their message to established Jewish communities and synagogues, whispering it to willing and open-minded ears. The entire book of Acts describes the spread of the Church, as various Christian disciples spread the message of Jesus, most famously Paul.

The trio of geographical locations cited in reference to Stephen, Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, are in today’s Lebanon and Syria, Cyprus and Turkey. These three are neighbors, making the trade of both commerce and ideas easy. It makes perfect sense that Christian Jews from Judaea, located just below Phoenicia, would flee northward, away from persecution. They wouldn’t flee to the south because Egypt and the Jews have a history of persecution (Moses, anyone?) as well.

The spread of Christianity into Syria and Lebanon can be attributed to Paul. His converstion was in 34 CE, the year of Stephen’s death. He moved through Phoenicia on his way to Antioch, and by the end of the first century, Christianity had spread through Edessa or Turkey, which containt Antioch. For the next six centuries, Christianity strengthened, grew and spread outwards throughout the Middle East. (EWTN)

The spread of Christianity into Cyprus is attributed to Barnabas and Mark, both apostles, in 46 CE (Orthodox Wiki). However, Paul may also be cited for Cyprus’ Christianization as his first miracle was performed on the island (Ring of Christ). Another striking source for Christianization is from Lazarus, the man Jesus raised from the dead; legend stated that after fleeing Bethany on account of death threats from the chief priests, apparently Lazarus ended up in Cyprus, and was later ordained by Barnabas and Paul to head the church in Cyprus. This was confirmed in 890 CE, when his grave was discovered (Ring of Christ).

The already-mentioned Antioch is obviously attributed to Paul in the mid 30s CE, and the estimated 45,000 Jews that lived in Antioch as well as Gentiles were given the message of Jesus. Barnabas followed a few years later, solidifying the church’s foundation in Antioch, which would eventually spready through Turkey (Silouan). However, a member of the first deacons from which Stephen originated, can also be cited as a source of Christianization for Antioch. This man is Nicolas, who later is attributed to the Gnostic Christian sect called Nicolaitanism (Bible Tools).

Most obviously, the spread of Christianity was swift after the martyrdom of Stephen. Through the work of many disciples including the famous Paul, the Christian church began spreading throughout the Roman Empire, solidifying itself as the next big religion, growing into what we know it as today.

Healing Mud: Jesus and Misty Day

As I was reading along in John, verse 6 from chapter 9 sparked my neurons to produce a vivid reminder of a particular character from a television show I had seen a few weeks earlier:

“Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “ Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.”

Obviously, a miracle performed by Jesus is described. Jesus heals a man from blindness by using mud. The character I thought of was Misty Day from the third season of American Horror Story, a swamp witch with significant parallels to Jesus Christ. For a little bit of background, American Horror Story is a television show produced by FX that focuses on individual horror tableaus for each season. Each season is self-contained, meaning that each has its own set of characters, setting and plotline. The third and most recent season was entitled Coven; it featured a prominent coven of witches that battled against a group of voodoo practicioners in New Orleans, Louisiana, taking place in the late 1800s as well as current time. The coven is run by a witch known as the “Supreme”, a witch born every generation that is the most powerful of all, and able to achieve the Seven Wonders of Witchcraft. These Seven Wonders include telekinesis (manipulating objects with one’s mind), transmutation (transporting physically from one area to another), divination, concilium (mind  control), pyrokinesis (controlled arson with one’s mind), vitalum vitalis/resurgence (reanimation of the dead), and descensum (spiritually descending and returning from hell). The current Supreme is dying, so the next must be found. The entire season follows the coven as they search for the next Supreme; murder, manipulation, and finally a test of the Seven Wonders makes the Supreme apparent.

One of the forerunners of the group is Misty Day who is introduced to the viewers as a beautiful, humble girl and member of a rural Pentecostal church. In the first episode, she brings a small bird back to life in the middle of a baptismal ceremony. Her fellow church members declare her a necromancer, drag her to a swamp, and burn her at the stake for her biblical crime. This is the first instance of her parallelism to Jesus; murdered for playing outside of the established religious community’s guidelines.

The second parallel is that she can resurrect the dead. This small bird isn’t the last of her resurgence gift being displayed. Misty resurrects two people from the dead over the course of the season; one is Kyle, a fraternity boy who falls in love with one of the witches, and the other is Myrtle, another powerful, older witch who had also been burnt at the stake.

The most significant parallel between Misty and Jesus, in terms of resurrection, would be the resurrection of herself after death. After being murdered by religious extremists for her abilities, she sinks into the swamp mud, and is shown being healed by the mud that encases her. The show later explains that Misty’s power of resurgence is what brought her back to life.

The other feature of Misty Day’s character that is similar to Jesus is her ability to heal, particularly with mud as evidenced by the above-mentioned verse from John. Misty uses the mud late in the season to coax a nearly dead plant back to life, practicing her gift of resurgence. But plants aren’t the only things healed by the mystical mud. Kyle’s resurrection was a mess; his body had been in parts from a bus accident caused by telekinesis, and sewn back together by two young witches who attempted a guilty resurrection spell. Misty Day arrives at the morgue where the necromantic trio are, and is deemed responsible for having the power to bring Kyle back to life. She then takes him back to her cabin in the bayou to nurse him back to health, as he is in a zombie-like, scarred state. Various episodes show her coating Kyle with mud, and when asked if the mud will really work, she is quoted in the second episode: “I know it will. This stuff is the shit. Literally. Louisiana swamp is full of Spanish moss and alligator dung. Amazing healing properties.” She also uses this mud concotion when healing Myrtle, whom she resurrected as well.

Misty Day has obvious similarities to Jesus as evidenced by her actions and traits throughout the third season of American Horror Story. Other characters recognize this quality, as Myrtle later compares Misty to Jesus: “She brought more people from the dead than Jesus Christ.” Between her murder for being abnormal to her religious community, her ability to heal through swamp mud, and her resurrection, Misty Day could be deemed a messianic type character.

Why is Anna the Prophetess significant?

In this week’s reading, I particularly focused on Anna, the prophetess from Chapter 2 in Luke.

“And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

I wondered why Anna was mentioned, with her short biography which included her geneology. Was the mention of Phanuel or the tribe of Asher significant? Why is this elderly sibyl significant?

I found that Anna was the only female prophetess in the New Testament to be given a name, an honor that her husband is not granted within the verses above. This in itself mandates an importance to her mentioning within the text. Her interaction with Jesus and his family is to confirm the messianic prophecy and obviously spread the word that he had come (Biblical Archaeology).

I then explored Anna’s heritage. The man Phanuel was rarely mentioned in any sources, but the angel Phanuel had scores of documents and articles for me to search through. Phanuel, the angel, is considered the angel of repentance and hope, encouraging people to be forgiven of their sins (Angels & Miracles). His name also means “face of God”. He is listed as a possible fourth archangel in the Book of Enoch (Archangels-Bloggy), an influential yet apocryphal book to the Torah, and is considered the ruler of the Ophanim, or the “wheels” which guard the throne of heaven (Angels & Miracles). Perhaps the redactors knew to draw the conclusions between the redemptive angel and Anna, as a way to point out the nature of Christ’s message of forgiveness of sins, the pure hope that he gave some of the Jewish people, and that Jesus was the literal face of God.

A depiction of the Ophanim—-which wheel is Phanuel?!

The second listed point of Anna’s geneology is the tribe of Asher. Asher was the eighth son of Jacob and the second son of Zilpah (Judaism 101). According to Gematria or Hebrew numerology, eight symbolizes new beginnings while two denotes witnessing; together, the witnessing of a new beginning occurs (The Twelve Tribes of Israel). This is most definitely what Anna is doing at the time of these verses. She sees a youthful Jesus beginning his path as messiah, and dares to declare it, confirming the prophecies of the Old Testament. Historically, the tribe of Asher was truly loyal to David, going to war in his favour at the time of his coronation (Biblehub). Knowing that the messiah is of the Davidic lineage, it makes perfect sense that the prophetess would be an Asherite. The New Testament redactors are again pointing out the confirmation of Jesus as messiah according to Old Testament parallels.

Anna is significant because of her heritage and her duty as a prophetess. Her entire life has been spent dedicated to prayer, as denoted in the previously listed verses. She fasts, never leaving the temple, remaining in a holy state. Luke’s mention of this old woman is to not only confirm the Messiah’s identity, but to spread the redemption message as well.

Lucy, Daughter of the Devil as a New Testament Allusion

For this week’s blog, I chose to do an allusion pertaining to a certain story of temptation that transpires in the books Matthew, Mark, and Luke. After his baptism, Jesus wanders the desert of Judea in a strict fast for fourty days and nights. The devil pops up to tempt the meandering messiah. Mark is very short and to the point, merely stating that Jesus was “sent…out into the wilderness…being tempted by Satan” (Bible Gateway). The other two books provide a more detailed tale of Satan’s coaxing Jesus into damnation, listing each temptation.

Original Logo of Lucy, Daughter of the Devil

This story jogged my memory; a most hilarious show surfaced from deep within my mental phylacteries. The show I recalled was a computer-generated cartoon from Adult Swim that officially ran in 2007 (The Culture Shock). Created by Loren Bouchard, Lucy, Daughter of the Devil featured the devil as he tries to enlist the help of his daughter Lucy, most obviously the Antichrist, as he attempts a myriad of schemes to take over the world and kill off his opposition, Jesus. Each character is an exaggeration of stereotypical societal expectations. For example, Satan is bright red, with long pointed horns, and a perpetual, mischievous jokester. Lucy, who is avoiding her pre-determined fate as the Antichrist, is an aimless art school graduate with teensy little horns. She begins dating a local DJ named Jesus. Yes, I did just say that Jesus (pronounced hey-zeus), is a disc jockey. The comedy doesn’t stop with this trio, however. Other biblical and traditional Christian references run amok throughout the show, such as Judas, the DJ’s assistant, and three members of the Catholic clergy on a mission to kill the Antichrist.

The show’s fourth episode focuses particularly on the temptation of Christ. Brought to a modern setting of Burning Man (the famous week long event of art and community expression), Satan attempts to tempt DJ Jesus as he travels to the festival. Unbeknownst to the participants of the festival, a major prophecy is in play— if the DJ doesn’t arrive on time, a supernatural massacre will happen at Burning Man. Satan uses this prophecy to his advantage, and decides to tempt the DJ to make him late. He causes the unsuspecting Jesus’ car to crash along his way to Burning Man. The first biblical reference in this episode is a quote from Satan as he explains to his secretary, Becky the Devil’s Advocate, why he chose this particular plan: “Beck, everything doesn’t have to be about temptation, but sometimes it’s hard to resist.”

Satan trying to tempt DJ Jesus

The show doesn’t waste time belabouring the point. Five seconds after the credits, DJ Jesus explains that he has been walking for a long time in the desert, confirming that this episode is about the biblical story of the temptation of Christ. The next reference is immediate as Jesus replies to Satan’s questioning that he is indeed hungry: “I haven’t had food or water in fourty minutes”; this is a direct nod to the fourty days denoted in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In the Bible, upon noticing how hungry the wanderer was, Satan suggests that Jesus turn stones to bread. In Lucy, Satan offers Jesus some food as well— in the form of either teriyaki chicken or mangoes from beautiful women at a food court mirage. In both stories, Jesus rejects Satan’s offer.

The next scriptural connection is based more in Matthew, but may also connect to Luke’s description. These authors state that Satan led Jesus to “a very high mountain” or “a high place” and offered him many kingdoms and the “splendours” of the world. Jesus again turns the devil down. In Lucy, Satan attempts a similar plot. The “splendours” of the world is spun into a disc jockey’s dream; Satan tries to convince Jesus that he should take the offer of home electronics, as shiny big-screen televisions with extended warranties and surround system glisten into existence in the middle of a sandstorm. DJ Jesus again backs away from this temptation, denying the devil once again. Satan tries once more to cause the DJ to misstep in his mission of spreading love. He takes DJ Jesus to a brothel, Temptasia, which is upon a “small mountain slash hill” that can only be reached via an incline train. On the ride, Jesus tells Satan that they have differing opinions, and that is the end of things. This statement reinforces the biblical idea of rejection of temptation. The final allusion of the temptation of Christ is when Becky the Devil’s Advocate holds out the deed to Temptasia Mountain at the behest of the devil. This allusion is the very detail of Matthew and Luke in which Jesus turns down Satan on his offer of the world’s kingdoms.

Finally, after the DJ rejects the final offers of Satan, he tells the devil to “get behind him”, another Christian joke. The scene wraps up with DJ Jesus mentioning that if Satan really wanted to party, he should go to Burning Man, which is “like Sodom and Gomorrah”. Ironically tempted by this offer, Satan drives Jesus to the festival to relieve Judas from DJ-ing duties and to keep the deadly prophecy from being fulfilled. Manna rains down from the heavens above as DJ Jesus takes possession of the booth.

In conclusion, one cannot help but notice the funny connections that span from Lucy, Daughter of the Devil to the Bible. Each episode is eleven humourous minutes of biblical and Christian traditionalism in the form of well-written witticism.

What is the Jewish concept of hell?

Upon reading this week, I discovered a smattering of words in Matthew Chapter 5 that prompted a serious question. The chapter cites both a “hell of fire” and just plain, ol’ “hell”. I wondered if there was more than one hell, if there was a difference between these hells, or if these separate references were simply the same concept. What is the Jewish concept of hell? Is there a difference between the Jewish hell and the Christian hell? I discovered the answers to my questions via some fascinating research.

Hades, Sheol, Gehenna, and hell are words that are perpetually interchanged but have entirely different meanings, as I have learned reading through various blogs and Jewish doctrine sites. Olam Ha-Ba, Hebrew translation for “The World to Come”, is the name of the Jewish afterlife, a concept entirely non-dogmatic for its practitioners (Judaism 101). The entire concept is a matter of personal belief, to the point of the inclusion of resurrection and reincarnation. Judaism focuses on the life we live currently, rather than what happens after death. Regardless of being either traditional or progressive, it is entirely possible for a Jew to believe in innumerable theories of the afterlife. The concept of hell, in particular, varies in theoretical possibilities.

Firstly, hell can be commonly defined as a place of eternal punishment for the wrongdoings of one’s soul. In Judaism, this entire definition is torn to pieces and redesigned. The Jewish hell can be described as either Sheol or Gehenna; Sheol is a place of punishment while Gehenna is a place of damnation for souls (The Jewish Chronicle). These two places are entirely distinct from each other.

Sheol

Sheol, Hebrew for “pit”, “destruction”, or “abyss” (Jewish Encyclopedia), is the “present” hell, in which the lost souls go to await judgment—resulting in either Gehenna or resurrection (Berean Bible Society). Sheol is merely a temporary place for souls. It is not eternal, and both evil and good souls arrive in this spiritual waiting room post-life (Hell Part 2).  Sheol is unlike the Christian concept of hell, more like a deep, dark, shadowy netherworld, is commonly called the “Land of Forgetfulness” (My Jewish Learning). Sheol is flame-free, therefore not the “hell of fire” reference I found in Matthew. The dead are cut off from the living as well as the grace of the Protagonist, their existence a strange faint stain on the metaphysical plane. Every soul will go to Sheol, despite its bleak description. Another common translation of Sheol is Hades, and can also be described as being within the earth (Matthew 12:40). The geography of Sheol/Hades can be split in two halves. One section is for evil souls, while the other side is for the righteous souls waiting for resurrection.

Gehenna

However, Gehenna, Greek for “lake of fire” (Berean Bible Society), is considered the “final” hell, or the place we most commonly think of when referencing hell. This lake of hell was designed for Satan and the fallen angels to be tormented eternally, and is entirely free of humans at this time. I say “at this time” because according to Revelation, the lake of fire will be filled with evil humans at the time of the true Messiah’s resurrection (Berean Bible Society). In addition to their souls, the actual human bodies will enter Gehenna as well. Gehenna is described as a torturous punishment, full of fire and brimstone, similar to the Christian hell. Another theory suggests that a soul must reexamine his or her life, and then repent for any wrongdoings. This concept of hell is the permanent, here-for-all-eternity, place of punishment.

In conclusion, I discovered that there was a difference between the Christian hell and the Jewish hell, as well as the hell of Judaism being conceptually diverse. Sheol and Gehenna, two separate hells, are distinct and individualistic. The reason for a soul’s existence in shadowy Sheol involves a waiting period for the good, or temporary torment for the evil. The reason for existing in fiery Gehenna is pure, eternal torture after the Messianic age. Either way, hell is a matter of opinion for those prescribed to a Hebrew slant.

Morality & Punishment

As I sought inspiration for this week’s allusion, I put on a record in the hopes of stirring up biblical imagery from music. My record of choice was Electric Ladyland by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, released in 1968. As the album spun towards its end, the track “All Along the Watchtower” brought the proper inspiration to the mental surface.

Bob Dylan

Jimi Hendrix’s album

The song was originally written by Bob Dylan, and has quite a few references to the Bible that require an intimate knowledge with the text. The lyrics are as follows:

“There must be some kind of way out of here,”
Said the joker to the thief,
“There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief.
Business men – they drink my wine
Plowmen dig my earth
None will level on the wine
Nobody of it is worth.”

“No reason to get excited,”
The thief – he kindly spoke,
“There are many here among us
Who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I we’ve been through that
And this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now
The hour’s getting late.”

All along the watchtower
Princes kept the view
While all the women came
And went bare-foot servants too
Outside in the cold distance
A wild cat did growl
Two riders were approaching
And the wind began to howl, hey.

In particular, the lines “All along the watchtower/Princes kept the view” have a direct correlation to the Bible. Isaiah 21:5-9 has the exact imagery used in this song:

“Prepare the table, watch in the watchtower, eat, drink: arise ye princes, and prepare the shield. For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth. And he saw a chariot with a couple of horsemen, a chariot of asses, and a chariot of camels; and he hearkened diligently with much heed. …And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen. And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground.”

As we know, Isaiah focused on the wickedness of idolatry that had been inspired by Babylon. Idolatry had plagued the Israelites all throughout Deuteronimistic History which resulted in one thing—punishment. These verses warn the people of the Protagonist that Babylon will fall and that all of the Babylonian gods will be destroyed; in essence, this warning is to stop the punishment of Babylon from including the Israelites. Like the biblical verses, the song is suggesting that people need to be aware of idolatrous thinking; however in the lyrics, I do not think idolatry is necessarily in the religious sense, but in the sense of morality. The song is suggesting that people should take a stance morally and to be aware of the dangers that exist before they are punished like those who have morally fallen before them.

Four Horsemen

In addition, the biblical verses mention two horsemen, or as the song so eloquently puts it, “two riders” that “were approaching”. To me, these riders were most obviously foreshadowing to other riders referenced in the Bible. The ones I think of are from Revelations, as the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. The first two riders in the Bible are the White Horseman, who traditionally represents conquest/evil/the Antichrist and the Red Horseman who represents war. I believe the song is suggesting that if the listeners fail to heed the song’s warning about their moral stances, that evil and war shall come to decimate them. At the time period of this song, this explanation would make perfect sense; America was embroiled in the middle of the Vietnam War, and Dylan is purposefully pointing out the dangers that lack of public morality has caused. The beginning of the song had also introduced an apocalyptic warning theme with the lines: “So let us not talk falsely now/The hour’s getting late.” These lines support the apocalyptic theme by stating that time is running out, suggesting an end to the time the public has to take a moral stance against evil and war.

Without knowing these biblical verses, the listener would have a hard time deciphering the true meaning of Dylan’s complex song. Dylan used this imagery to support his anti-war and anti-evil message that encouraged the public to be brave enough to have a moral stance. In conclusion, both Dylan and Isaiah’s messages hold true; proper morality should keep us from punishment. As a support to this warning, I quote Malcom X, a man from the same era as Dylan:

“A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.”