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.

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.”

What is the significance of Ezekiel’s hairy ways?

As I have read through the Old Testament, I have had a tendency to notice verses relating to hair. This week’s hirsute verse comes from Ezekiel 5:1-6:

“And you, O son of man, take a sharp sword. Use it as a barber’s razor and pass it over your head and your beard. Then take balances for weighing and divide the hair. A third part you shall burn in the fire in the midst of the city, when the days of the siege are completed. And a third part you shall take and strike with the sword after them. And you shall take from these a small number and bind them in the skirts of your robe. And of these again you shall take some and cast them into the midst of the fire and burn them in the fire. From there a fire will come out into all the house of Israel.”

I wished to know the significance of Ezekiel cutting his hair and beard. What was the meaning of the parting the hair into thirds, and using them in symbolic rituals? Do these rituals have any significance for the Israelites? Is there a significance to thirds or the number three in Judaism?

Ezekiel divvying up his hair.

Ezekiel was a priest, and instructed as such, he followed Levitical laws absolutely, especially in terms of hygiene. One of these laws governs the way a priest trims his hair and beard. Shaving his head and face likens Ezekiel to a pagan priest, making his bald status humiliating and degrading (Bible Study Tools). Ezekiel’s hair signifies the people of Israel, and by removing it, symbolizes the Protagonist’s utter desertion of His people (Sacred Texts). Using a sword lends a violent tint to the action, reminding the Israelites that the Protagonist’s judgement is to be violent and sharp as a sword. It also reminds the people that this weapon is capable of execution; as a people, the Israelites feared eradication by other nations, and Ezekiel’s removal of hair with a sword only drove this point home most compellingly.

Gimel -> justification of punishment

The next step Ezekiel takes with his depilatory results is to split the hairs into three distinct piles for there separate and symbolic rituals. The number three has significance in Judaism, particularly in the study of numbers or gematria. Gematria has  specific correlations from Hebrew lettering to numbers. The number three, in particular, symbolizes gimel; this word is derived from the Hebrew gemul, meaning “justified payment” or “giving reward as well as punishment”. In addition, this symbolizes the constant progression of the Jewish person (The Hebrew Letters). Ezekiel’s three piles of hair symbolize the rightful punishment of the Israelites by the Protagonist. In addition, the punishment of the Israelites forces them back to the path of the Protagonist, a progression forward from their idolatrous ways. The actions done with the hair is what will happen to the Israelites. This idea is perpetuated in further along in Ezekiel 5:12:

“A third part of you shall die of pestilence and be consumed with famine in your midst; a third part shall fall by the swords all around you; and a third part I will scatter to all the winds and will unsheathe the sword after them.”

This verse confirms the actions that Ezekiel takes with his hair. He first burns a pile in the middle of the city of Jerusalem, to show that it has been consumed by famine and pestilence during the siege. The second portion was to be struck with a sword; more literally, the Israelites were to die from warfare.The third remaining part was to be scattered on the wind. This literally meant that the Israelites were to disperse throughout the lands. They were to be constantly chased by the sword or violence, and the Israelites would live out their days in captivity. A small select bit of hair was to be plucked and kept from this pile, safely stored in the skirts of Ezekiel’s robe. This little dusting of hair represents the Jews that are to survive the Protagonist’s punishment (Ezekiel Commentary). This message of destruction bringing redemption is yet another example of the continuity of the message of Deuteronimistic history.

Ezekiel isn’t the only one who cuts his hair to save his people…

As I have learned from my research, Ezekiel’s bizarre actions concerning a pantomime of burnt, cut, and discarded hair truly relate to the divine punishment doled out by the Protagonist. Such simple imagery portrayed Ezekiel’s prophecy for the Israelites clearly enough to allow a small group (the saved hairs) to survive the divine judgement that was the continuation of Deuteronomistic history.

Why does an offhand comment about baldness condemn forty-two youths to death?

Just as I was deciding to write on Elijah’s fiery exit from this earth in chapter two of Kings II, I noted at the end of said chapter that Elijah’s prophetic successor, Elisha, lashes out rather vengefully against some youths from Bethel in verses 23 through 25:

“He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.”

 

What struck me first about these verses was the absolute calmness in which Elisha handled the situation. It takes a cool character to curse some mocking kids to be mauled to death by bears and then mosey on about his day as if nothing happened.  Why was their insult so terrible? What was significant about Elisha’s baldness that made the youths’ offense punishable by death? Why was the punishment death by bear mauling? Did the Protagonist really wipe out three and a half dozen children over Elisha’s battered ego?

Stained glass, yet still bald, Elisha.

I started with the prophet himself, Elisha. The previous prophet, Elijah, and his heir, Elisha, had been traveling through Israel, turning the people back to the Protagonist and away from idolatry. Immediately after the fiery whirlwind of chariots and angels that sweep his teacher into the heavens, Elisha must take up the mantle of prophet of Israel and continue on with the duty of mediator between the Protagonist and His people. Throughout Kings II, the Protagonist obviously favours Elisha as he fulfills his prophetic responsibilities by performing miracles and helping Israel win battles against Syria.

Apparently, Elisha is also bald. Baldness in the Bible is specifically mentioned in Leviticus 13:40-41, stating that a man is still clean after becoming bald (Belgravia Centre). Being a man of some notoriety now, Elisha was probably like most bald men—quite sensitive about his hairless head.  The chapter noting Elisha’s baldness does not state how he became bald. His lack of hair could be attributed to anything from male-pattern baldness to having been scorched off by the flames of Elijah’s ascension, or perhaps even shaved off to symbolize the beginning of his role as prophet, similarly to how Nazarenes shaved their heads to re-consecrate themselves after defilement in Numbers 6.

Upon further research, I found that baldness was considered a disgrace by non-Jewish cultures, a very obvious symbol of personal deterioration in either hygiene or spirituality that brought on the punishment of hair loss (Bible.org).  I inferred that the insult of “baldhead” was of a most malicious nature, and that the youths were implying that Elisha was beneath them. The case of Elisha was the exact opposite of what the youths implied; he was literally on a mission from the Protagonist as he traveled through Bethel, and then on to Mount Carmel and Samaria.

The other part of this insult was more harmful than mocking Elisha’s baldness. The youths suggest that Elisha “go up”, definitely a reference to what had happened earlier in the chapter to Elijah. The youths were suggesting that Elisha ascend, truly meaning that they wanted the prophet gone in the terrifying way of Elijah’s departing the world. These wounding words directly spat in the face of the Protagonist, proposing that Elisha should not carry on with the duties of his position. The youths of Bethel are purposely setting themselves against the Protagonist’s spokesperson (Professor Obvious). In essence, if one mocks the spokesman, one mocks the Protagonist.

The prophet swiftly addressed the two-part insult, rather calmly, as he cursed the “boys”. To remedy the upset feeling the word ‘boys’ evoked, I dug further into research to know if the translation had muddied the truest meaning of this verse. I found that I was correct; “boys” did not indicate the little children harmlessly mocking an older man that had initially come to mind. The original Hebrew phrase neurim qetannim actually translates to young lads or men, meaning that this group of youths was anywhere from twelve to thirty years old (Christian Thinktank). In addition, some basic logic helped me to realize how large of a group Elisha faced. The verse states that forty-two of the boys were killed. Forty-two of the group, as if that is an inconsequential number, makes me think that this gang the prophet was confronted by was a great deal larger and more hostile than the Bible verses seem to let on. In a tense situation between one man and a mob of angry youths, Elisha’s reaction of ferocity now seems to be the proportionate use of force. Violence only begets more violence in this chapter, as was righteously so, as Elisha was expected to continue on in the role of the Protagonist’s prophet.

 

Finally, I delved into the actual punishment provided by the curse: the two she-bears mauling the youths for their mockery. The bear, in many cultures, symbolizes ultimate power (Universe of Symbolism).  In fact, the Bible mentions bears quite a few times as reference to someone’s power. For example, David kills a bear with his bare hands in I Samuel 17:34-37; this verse is what convinces Saul to allow David to fight Goliath, and in turn, become the next hero of Israel (Bible Study Tools).  Female bears are specifically pointed out as well in II Samuel 17:8, Proverbs 17:12, and Hosea 13:8 (Bible Study Tools), as their fury when robbed of their offspring is unparalleled. A medieval rabbi, known as Radak, included in his biblical commentary that “a bear’s offspring is born with a thick amniotic sack and it takes much care, toil and difficulty to bring it in to this world; more so than any other animal. So much so, that when a bear loses a cub it experiences greater anguish and loss” (Mi Yodeda). Applying this quote to the story of Elisha, the Protagonist can be seen as a literal mother bear, and to threaten Elisha is to threaten the Protagonist’s plan for His people. The Protagonist’s rage is so great that the curse plays out in literal detail.

Levitical Extremism in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

cover of the book

For our allusion this week, I chose to cover the first book of the Millennium Series by Stieg Larsson, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”. Known especially for its dark, feisty heroine, Lisbeth Salander, the book takes place in Sweden in the early 2000s. The plot focuses around Lisbeth and Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative journalist who had recently been convicted of libel, as they investigate the 35 year old disappearance of a young girl from a prominent family, the Vangers. Her uncle believes that she has been murdered by a member of the Vanger family because she disappeared during a family party. However, the deeper the detective duo digs, they discover a darker secret connected to the Vanger family—a string of brutally gruesome murders.

  

 (Rooney Mara from the American film on the left versus Noomi Rapace

from the Swedish film on the right: Who is the better Lisbeth?)

Though Sweden was officially neutral during World War II, the Vanger family was connected to the Nazi party, and its anti-Semitic ideas leached into the younger generation, including Harriet’s father, Gottfried, and her brother, Martin. In addition, the Vanger family owns one of the wealthiest corporations in the country, for which both Gottfried and Martin travel to work. Gottfried sexually abused both of his children, introducing Martin to a taste for violence towards women. Both men then started to murder together, but in a most peculiar fashion. Every girl was brutally killed according to a verse found in the book Leviticus; in addition, every girl had a name of Jewish origin. Lisbeth and Mikael had found this information within Harriet’s journal, listing the names along with numbers. At first thought to be phone numbers, and next dates, the two struggled to put together what the possible significance of the list could be to Harriet. The information they worked with looked as such:

Magda—32016

Sara—32109

R.J. —30112

R.L.—32027

            Mari—32018  (213)

How were these two sleuths supposed to decipher such a code from the depressed, twisted mind of an abused young woman? Typically, the Swedish population lacks a belief in God, though many religions have a following in the country. The book addresses this by having every character in the book seemingly atheist, except for two women, Harriet Vanger and Mikael Blomkvist’s daughter Pernilla. Both of these women are religious, therefore quite familiar with the Bible’s contents. As every other character seems to lack an intimate knowledge of this holy book, these two characters are the key to solving the mysteries of the identities of the serial killers as well as the disappearance of Harriet. During a visit with her father, Pernilla notices the list of names and states that quotes on his wall are “gloomy and neurotic” (317).  Mikael is nonplussed until he finds a Bible to look up the verses. What he finds is staggering.

 

(Michael Nyqvist in the 2009 Swedish film v. Daniel Craig in the 2011 American film: Who does Mikael ‘Kalle’ Blomkvist better?)

The phrase, Magda—32016, translates to 3:20:16, or Leviticus (the third book of the Bible), chapter 20, verse 16 which states: “If a woman approaches any beast and lies with it, you shall kill the woman and the beast; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them.”

Sara—32109 translates to Leviticus 21:9, or: “And the daughter of any priest, if she profanes herself by playing the harlot, profanes her father; she shall be burned with fire.”

R.J. —30112, in turn, translates to Leviticus 1:12, or: “And he shall cut it into pieces, with its head and its fat, and the priest shall lay them in order upon the wood that is on the fire upon the altar.”

R.L.—32027, is found to be Leviticus 20:27, which states: “A man or a woman who is a medium or a wizard shall be put to death; they shall be stoned with stones, their blood shall be upon them.”

And finally, Mari—32018, is decoded as Leviticus 20:18, or: “If a man lies with a woman having her sickness [period], and uncovers her nakedness, he has made naked her fountain, and she has uncovered the fountain of her blood; both of them shall be cut off from among their people.”

Each of these phrases is connected to a murder that one of the Vanger men committed during Harriet’s teenage years. Lisbeth Salander is the one who tracks down each murder from the surrounding towns closest to the Vanger family residence. Each murder that occurred coincided with a business meeting at which Gottfried or Martin Vanger was present. The killers were never caught because the murders were never connected due to the lack of an obvious pattern, which our two investigators linked with Leviticus.

Lisbeth discovered that each girl was killed exactly in accordance to Leviticus. The first murder was of Rebecka Jacobsson, listed as R.J., in which she was killed by having her head placed on smouldering coals—Leviticus 1:12. Next was Mari Holmberg, a prostitute who was strangled with a sanitary napkin—Leviticus 20:18. Third was Rakel Lundel, listed as R.L., had a hobby of reading tarot cards and palms, which got her stoned as she was tied to her laundry-drying frame—Leviticus 20:27. After Rakel was Magda Lovisa, a farmer’s wife who “approached” animals daily, brutally tortured and killed in a horse stall—Leviticus 20:16. The fifth murder was Sara, the daughter of one pastor and the wife of another, was found strangled and her apartment set ablaze—Leviticus 21:9. The victims on Harriet’s list were the first of many, as Lisbeth discovers three other possible murders from around the same time, with each one dealing with a verse from Leviticus.

Each woman’s name was of Hebrew origin. Rebecka equated Rebecca. Mari is the Swedish spelling for Mary. Rakel, when Anglicized, become Rachel. Sara needs no explanation. Madga is paired with another one of the later cases, Lena, as both names are short for Magdalena, a name taken from Mary Magdalene. Another to mention is Lea, or Leah in the Bible. The final victim was named Liv, meaning to live, which can also be traced to the name Eva, or Eve. These names of Jewish heritage made these women targets to the serial killing pair of Vanger men. Their “crimes” that led to them being victims were obviously warped perceptions of the fanatically tainted biblical knowledge of the killers.

 

(photograph of Harriet Vanger from the American film adaptation)

Harriet knew her father and brother were murdering women across the country according to their extreme anti-Semitic and violent tendencies. Because she knew this, she was targeted with harsher abuse by her father, Gottfried. In an instance of desperate self-defence, Harriet killed her father and had to flee Sweden to avoid anyone suspecting her involvement with his death. This is why she disappeared so suddenly from the family gathering—she wasn’t missing, she relocated to avoid any criminal implications. The biblical samples of Leviticus within “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” are most obviously an allusion because the truth of Harriet’s disappearance would never have been revealed without having the familiarity of the book’s verses.