Whoosh! Issue 31 - April 1999

ANACHRONISM BE D*MNED:
A XWP HISTORIOGRAPHY
PART V:
BIBLICAL REFERENCES IN XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS

IAXS project #129
By Carolyn Bremer
Content copyright © 1999 held by author
Edition copyright © 1999 held by Whoosh!
2647 words



Introduction (01-03)
Abraham and the Ancient Hebrews (04-12)
Moses and the Ten Commandments (13-16)
The Ark of the Covenant (17-18)
David and Goliath (19-25)
Other XWP References (26-28)
Conclusion (29-30)
Bibliography
Biography



Anachronism Be D*mned:
A XWP Historiography
Part V: Biblical References in Xena: Warrior Princess



Man, these new action figures can really run!


XENA takes a whack at the Goliath story.



Introduction

[1] Several episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess (XWP) touch on stories from the Jewish and Christian religious traditions. Three episodes specifically draw heavily upon specific codified narratives as their source. As most other referenced aspects of XWP, the episode's relationship to the original chronicle is veiled. Otherwise, a certain warrior princess would not have the title role.

[2] The three episodes, ALTARED STATES (19/119), GIANT KILLER (27/203), and A THE ROYAL COUPLE OF THIEVES (17/117), are fundamentally based on stories from the Jewish Holy Scripture called the Torah (which was later adapted in part by the Christians and called the "Old Testament" of the Bible). ALTARED STATES tells of Abraham and his son Isaac. David slays Goliath in GIANT KILLER, and Goliath is mentioned again in A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215) in reference to this episode. In A THE ROYAL COUPLE OF THIEVES, Xena and Autolycus retrieve the Ark of the Covenant. Several other episodes incorporate references in a less pervasive manner. They include the Rift Arc, CRADLE OF HOPE (04/104), and A SOLSTICE CAROL (33/209).

[3] This article discusses these sacred stories in so far as they relate to the episodes involved. I have not gone in depth into the biographies and histories but instead have kept to the main events which pertain to the XWP episodes.


Abraham And The Ancient Hebrews

[4] Abraham is the founder of the Hebrew people. He is revered as the first Patriarch by four world monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the Baha'i Faith. These religions believe that God called upon Abraham to found a new nation in Canaan. Abraham also received a covenant from God telling him that his seed would inherit the land.

[5] The Torah tells that Abraham lived in Ur, Mesopotamia, with his wife, Sarah. At the age of 75, he heeded a call from God to take his wife, nephew Lot, and others to Canaan. Although he had been unable to sire children previously, in Canaan he fathered Ishmael by his wife's servant Hagar and, some fourteen years later, Isaac by Sarah herself.

[6] We can only speculate about the exact placement Canaan. Scholars believe it sometimes refers to both Palestine and Syria, and sometimes to the entire land west of the Jordan River. Under King David, Canaan became Israel.

[7] In Canaan, according to the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Torah), God called upon Abraham to sacrifice his legitimate son, Isaac, as a test of faith. (Ishmael was to be the sacrifice in the Koran). Ultimately, Abraham was not required to fulfill the request, though he was prepared to do so and thus proved his faith. "And he said, 'Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me'" (Genesis 22:12). Early Christians used this story as an example of faith and obedience while the narrative is found in discussions of the mercy of God in the Jewish tradition.

Early stand-ins for the QUEST 'kiss' scene


Father saying goodbye to son.


[8] ALTARED STATES (19/119) is the first episode to introduce the phrase "the one true god" to the Xenaverse. This episode retells the story of God asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac/Ishmael as a test of Abraham's faith. In ALTARED STATES, the names of the main characters bear a phonetic resemblance to the originals. Abraham becomes Anteus, Isaac becomes Ikus, and Ishmael becomes Maell. Anteus believes that his God told him to sacrifice Ikus, when, in fact, we learn it was the ambitious Maell who made the demand through an improvised ancient megaphone. At the end of the episode, the voice of God apparently speaks. With that final twist, the episode retains aspects of the original test of faith that imbued Abraham's story. Anteus and Ikus both proved their faith to their God in ALTARED STATES.

[9] Twentieth century archaeological finds support the biblical biography of Abraham. Shortly after World War I, digs uncovered source documents dating back to around 2,000 BCE. Many of these came from Tell al-Mugayyar, about 200 miles southeast of Baghdad. Tell al-Mugayyar, or Mughair, is probably the ancient city of Ur Kasdim. Thousands of tablets were unearthed at the royal palace of Mari on the Euphrates. These tablets describe an exodus from Ur and also mention the cave of Machpelah where Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried. Notably, "Hapiru" (Hebrews) and "Banu Yamina" (Benjaminites) are mentioned in the tablets, providing sources external to the Bible that such names were in use. Originally the term Hapiru indicated a class hired laborers (Encyclopedia Britannica Online "Canaan").

[10] The Ancient Hebrews, farmers and herdsmen, experienced God as an actual presence in their daily lives. The God of Israel was known as YHWH (pronounced in modern times as Yahweh). Their doctrine of ultimate destiny, or "eschatology", is God's promise of a homeland.

[11] Because much of their faith rests on the ownership of land which they needed to defend, their people had many warrior-like qualities and in fact, they sometimes referred to God as "The Warrior" outside of scriptures. When the ancient Hebrews traveled, they were organized along military lines with a priest tribe, the Levites, entrusted with their sacred objects.

[12] They also organized themselves around laws of both civic and moral bents. The Ten Commandments are part of their ethical obligations.


Moses And The Ten Commandments

[13] When Moses was born, all Hebrew males in Egypt carried a death sentence. To escape this, Moses' parents sent him down a river (presumably the Nile) in a reed basket. Pharaoh's daughter rescued him from the river, so Moses grew up in an Egyptian court. After killing an Egyptian for beating a Hebrew, he fled to Midian on the Sinai Peninsula.

[14] There, on sacred ground, he encountered a burning bush and heard the voice of God. He was told to deliver the Hebrews from Egypt where they were being kept as slaves. He and his brother Aaron told the Egyptian Pharaoh (whom many believe to have been Ramses), to "let my people go". The Pharaoh, of course, refused.

[15] When the Hebrews tried to leave Egypt, they were pursued by Egyptian soldiers. According to the Torah, the Hebrews were allowed to cross the Red Sea when God parted the waters. The Pharaoh's troops were caught when the corridor disappeared. "But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea (Exodus 14:16). (Note: Apparently, it was a later Jewish tradition to interpret the name of this body of water as the "Red Sea" when seems to be the "Sea of Reeds", a reference to papyrus which grew abundantly in the marshes at the mouth of the Nile and elsewhere in the northeastern corner of Egypt.)

[16] The Hebrews reached Mt. Sinai and encountered a terrible storm, in which YHWH again showed Himself to Moses. Moses pledged his obedience to YHWH and was rewarded with the Decalogue, or The Ten Commandments. These were given to him on stone tablets, which he carried down the mountain to his people. It was then up to Moses to interpret the commandments and to initiate a way to atone for breaking a commandment. Many of the rituals of Judaism can be traced back to Moses' deeds.


The Ark Of The Covenant

It says here with a satellite dish, you can get 255 channels


XENA meets INDIANA JONES.


[17] The Ark is a wooden chest in which were kept the stone tablets given to Moses by God. The Ark was carried with the Hebrews who wandered in the wilderness and occasionally taken into battle. Finally, King David took it to Tabernacle in Jerusalem. King Solomon placed the Ark in the Holy of Holies, the most sacred area of the Temple of Jerusalem. Only on the most solemn day of the religious year, Yom Kippur, was the Ark viewed, and then only by the high priest. Pompey entered the Holy of Holies in 63 BCE, violating its sanctity. The final fate of the Ark is unknown.

[18] In A THE ROYAL COUPLE OF THIEVES (17/117), Xena is asked to retrieve a chest stolen from people who once helped her when she was wounded long ago. She explains to Autolycus that the chest contains the world's most powerful weapon and that she needs his help to steal it back for its rightful owners. Along the way, they discover the chest is marked with this warning: "Don't fear the truth. Face it. For to turn away from truth is death". Xena uses this information to save the good guys later when the chest is opened and a lighting effect kills one of the warlord-bad-guys. Xena quotes from the markings: "Don't fear the truth. Face it", and tells Autolycus and Gabrielle not to run. It works. Xena pulls a tablet from the chest. Autolycus reads from it, "Thou shall not covet. Thou shall not steal". Clearly, these are the Ten Commandments, and the chest is the Ark of the Covenant.


David And Goliath

[19] David, the second Israelite King, united Israel and established its capital as Jerusalem. He is regarded as an ideal King, one who was promised an eternal dynasty by God.

[20] He was born in Bethlehem and lived his younger years on the frontiers of Judah, banding together refugees to protect the locals from outlaws and thugs. He made many politically astute decisions, and though he toiled on the outskirts of the law, he was regarded highly by the Judaean elders.

[21] He was first asked to become King of Judah and later, after a series of internal struggles in Saul's monarchy, to become King of Israel as a whole. It was then that he conquered Jerusalem and moved the center of religious and political activity there.

[22] The story of David and Goliath occurs during a war between the Philistines and King Saul. The Bible tells that among the Philistine army is the giant Goliath who so terrified the Israelite soldiers that no one dared face him save young David. He managed to defeat the giant with the simple weapon of a slingshot and stones. When the Philistines saw their giant defeated, they ran from the battle, leaving the Israelites victorious because of David's brave actions.

[23] Unlike the other episodes discussed thus far, GIANT KILLER (27/203) makes no effort to veil its connections with the biblical story. In fact, the episode is about David of the Israelites meeting Goliath, who represents the Philistines on the battle field. Perhaps it is a less successful episode because it does not rely on imagery and symbolism but rather on the retelling of a very familiar story. As the analysts for Whoosh! have already pointed out, the plot suffers when the outcome is predetermined. Carmen Carter wrote, "... mixing fictional and Biblical/historical characters is by its very nature a contrived situation"

[24] In GIANT KILLER (27/203), we have the two main characters, David and Goliath, who will square off in the end with David emerging as the victor. Certain details remain unchanged in the transformation to a fictional story, though one occurs in an incorrect chronology. Jonathan, King Saul's son and David's best friend, is killed prior to the David's battle with Goliath in the XWP episode. This incident actually occurred much later in David's lifetime, after David had been taken into King Saul's court, had an attempt on his life instigated by a jealous King Saul, left the court, and, as an outlaw, evaded King Saul. Throughout this, Jonathan remained a loyal friend, even warning David of Saul's plan of murder. "And Jonathan said to David, 'Go in peace, forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, The Lord be between me and thee, and between my seed and thy seed for ever.' And he arose and departed: and Jonathan went into the city" (1 Samuel 20:42).

[25] Other aspects are added to the episode and cannot help but tweak the story. David and Gabrielle make goo-goo eyes until David's fiancee enters the room. Xena is given a chance to kill Goliath, but she cannot according to the overarching plot: that is what David does. Instead, an oddly machinated conversation with "friend" Goliath takes place. Such out-of-place concoctions in GIANT KILLER (27/203) jar our sensibilities.


Other XWP References

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... oh, sorry,
wrong scroll


Sentacles' day job was being a law clerk.


[26] Less pervasive references include the final scene of A SOLSTICE CAROL (33/209) in which an implied Mary and Joseph make an appearance. Gabrielle gives them Tobias the donkey, so we see a common Christian image of Joseph leading the donkey Mary is riding. In another episode, CRADLE OF HOPE (04/104), the baby is rescued from a river much as Moses was. This same image of a child on the river in a basket occurs at the close of GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305).

[27] In fact, the Rift Arc interweaves several biblical references, most set in opposition to the stories they allude to. In THE DELIVERER (50/304), the "one God" is at first assumed to be that of the Israelites, before we learn of Dahak. Gabrielle is raped and impregnated by a god, though. In stark contrast to the story of the Virgin Mary, Gabrielle is forced to lose her blood-innocence and her "virginity" in order to trigger the event.

[28] GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305) includes a birthing scene in a stable which continues the parallel references to Christian imagery, but this time an evil girl child is born, not a divine boy. In GABRIELLE'S HOPE, however, the scene in the stable is filmed with unusual perspectives such as wide angle lenses, and unnatural lighting. The animals are shown to react wildly to the proceedings. Though the parallel to the birth of Christ is evident, it is also clear that this act is quite different. There are many aspects of GABRIELLE'S HOPE that carry Christian symbology.


Conclusion

[29] Symbolism is a powerful tool, and XWP wisely takes advantage of a rich pool of images and meanings in religious history. When the device of symbolic meaning is removed from a story, as it was by the clumsy handling of fictional and biblical/historical threads, the depth of meaning is reduced.

[30] Still, I think we will continue to see several allusions to biblical stories. For the most part, XWP has used them quite successfully, both in the sense of retaining their original meaning or in the sense of using them as a contrapuntal device. These symbols have the potential to imbue layer upon layer of meaning in a story, a worthy goal so rarely seen in other television series but which abounds in XWP.


Bibliography

The main reference for this article was Britannica Online. Various articles cited include "Canaan", The History of Judaism", "Abraham", "Moses", "David", and "Ark of the Covenant".

Bible Quotes from The Deluxe Multimedia Bible, c. 1996, COSMI Inc., Rancho Dominguez, CA, King James Old Testament.



Biography

Carolyn Bremer Carolyn Bremer
Carolyn Bremer is a composer of issue-oriented, experimental and political music, and head of the composition program at the University of Oklahoma.
Favorite episode: A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215)
Favorite line: Picking just one out of the plethora of deserving candidates is utterly impossible.
First episode seen: A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215)
Least favorite episode: FOR HIM THE BELL TOLLS (40/216) And I'm really hoping that doesn't get bumped out of the bottom spot by a fourth season Joxer bumble.

Return to Top Return to Index