The Bible has had an unparalleled influence upon popular culture of every age since its inception. While some of its influence is blatant or glaringly obvious, some is much more subtle and understated. Regardless of the degree of influence, there is no denying that the Bible has impacted all mediums and genres within popular culture, spanning everything from songs to movies and all things in between. Within this blog post, I will extrapolate on three specific examples: Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Godspell.
In my first example, I will focus on an allusion to the Bible, wherein parallels can be drawn to Lily Potter being viewed as a Christ figure in the Harry Potter series. First of all, we must establish that an allusion is a reference to some other work of art, event, or so on (in this case, the Bible is the work which is being alluded to). Within the Harry Potter series, there exists a prophecy that the Dark Lord, Voldemort, can only be truly unparalleled in his power if he eliminates a threat to him: a child who is born, who will be the only one capable of bringing about his downfall. This child happens to be Harry Potter, son of Lily and James. When Voldemort came seeking the Potters, intent upon killing Harry to fulfill the prophecy, Harry’s mother, Lily, became a sacrificial figure almost reminiscent of Jesus in certain areas. She willingly gave her life in place of someone else’s (in her case, her son’s), and in doing so, provided salvation for him from certain death. Although we are given details about her sacrifice throughout the series, it becomes apparent that it was her selfless love that created the sanctity of that sacrifice and protected Harry. This allusion and parallel are further emphasized because in doing so, she provided Harry with a sort of redemption; her sacrifice meant that he was protected and became the only person to ever survive the Killing Curse. This allusion draws a heavy parallel to the way in which Jesus offered redemption and salvation to all those who believed in him; Lily was the only conduit through which Harry’s live could have been spared and he could have earned that salvation. The Bible has a clear influence here, if you choose to look closely enough; much of the theme of such sacrifice and love can be related back to the selfless sacrifice of Jesus within the Bible. I found several Youtube videos which illustrate this sacrifice. The first video embedded below is a brief clip of Voldemort’s attack on the Potters and Lily’s subsequent sacrifice for her son. The second video is a tribute created, using the audio book recording from the book, which extrapolates upon the event in greater detail.
I also found traces of Biblical influence within one of my favorite television series of all time, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There is an allusion to the Bible which can be found in the season finale of the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Prophecy Girl,” in which Buffy is presented as something of a Christ-like figure. As stated above, an allusion is a reference to another material or work of art; in this case, it is now Buffy which is alluding to certain themes and events in the Bible. Much like Jesus’ crucifixion bringing about salvation for believers, Buffy willingly goes to her death due to a prophecy that states she will die at the hands of the Master, an ancient and powerful vampire, if she fights him. Although she is initially resistant and fears the thought of dying, especially at such a young age, she eventually comes around to accept her fate. She knows that she must prevent the Master’s ascension, even if it results in her death, so she willingly goes to confront him and accepts her death. Much like the prophecy stated, she does die when the Master drains her blood and tosses her aside into a puddle. The pool of water into which she is thrown could further serve to be viewed as a baptismal font of sorts, as she is revived and rises again, stating that she feels “different.” In this way, she can be alluded to as a Christ figure, since she willingly sacrifices herself in order to bring about salvation for others and in the way she is resurrected. She is also shown as wearing a cross necklace throughout the episode, which serves to heighten the connection between the episode and the Biblical allusion it’s making. As evidenced with Harry Potter above, the Bible plays a large hand in these themes of sacrificial offerings in order to bring about salvation, as well as a subsequent resurrection. Once again, I located a Youtube video which further illustrates the demonstrated point. The video embedded below is a tribute to the episode “Prophecy Girl,” and it shows interspersed clips, allowing us to see the various transitions from her initial hesitance and fear of death, to her eventual acceptance, willing sacrifice, and subsequent resurrection.
As a thespian myself, I of course took a particular interest in finding Biblical references within theatrical productions. There are several shows which deal directly with the Bible or the life of Jesus in some way, such as Jesus Christ Superstar or Godspell. For this purpose, I found allusions within Godspell, particularly the 2011 Broadway revival with which I am most familiar. This musical does not tell the direct story of Jesus’ life; rather, it couches his teachings within the message and builds this community of believers through other means. The cast do things such as play charades with the audience in order to complete examples of Jesus’ parables or teachings, and wear badges or flowers to symbolize themselves as followers of the Jesus figure within the musical. The cast is often dressed as hippies or in casual street attire, and famous philosophers and their teachings – Socrates, Martin Luther, and Galileo, to name a few – are interwoven through the story to show the ways in which Jesus’ teachings have impacted thinking throughout the ages. In doing so, the musical presents this cast of followers while building a sense of love and community that seems in keeping with Jesus’ teachings, while alluding to the Biblical story of Jesus throughout. It even references Jesus’ crucifixion (which occurs towards the end of the show, although it is not done in a strictly Biblical reenactment, and there is no direct resurrection of Jesus) through lyrics such as “Not till that hour/Shall God’s whole will be done” in the song “Turn Back, O Man.” This is a very illuminating example of the Bible’s influence of pop culture, because this show would not even exist if not for the Bible; the very premise of the teachings and many characters within the show are drawn directly from the Bible, so its existence was crucial to Godspell ever being written and staged. The below videos offer more insight into the Bible’s influence on this show. The first video is a live performance of the aforementioned song “Turn Back, O Man,” in which we can see Biblical references in the lyrics. The second video contains an assortment of clips from the 2011 revival of the show, and it demonstrates some of the Biblical themes found throughout the musical.
The amount of Biblical references and influences which can be found in popular culture are truly innumerable. However, because all of these examples are interests which are near and dear to my heart, I found it particularly interesting to delve into these various mediums and explore the impact which the Bible had upon them.