Biblical Allusions

biblical allusionjpgIn the western world, Christianity and the Bible are engrafted in our collective conscience. Most people—even non believers—know a bible story or two, which is why writers add depth and complexity with its timeless themes, stories, and iconic names.

The above photo is from the movie 300. At the end—warning: plot spoiler, King Leonidas dies and final scene shows his body position at his time of death, which really resembles that of a crucifixion. Was the screenwriter saying that Leonidas was Jesus? My guess is NO, but the position of his body does suggest that Leonidas sacrificed himself for his people. A second example is from Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. The old man carries his boat over his shoulder ( like a cross) uphill ( Calvary) at the end of the novel. There are a thousands  and thousands of examples of biblical allusions from literature and film. The more you know your Bible the easier they will be to find.

What: The Bible’s timeless portrayals of betrayal, sin, falls from grace, loss of innocence, and redemption are brought to life within its pages.

Why:  Writers allude to the Bible for many reasons. It may be to:
1. explain a theme, problem,  experience, or event
2. reinforce a theme, problem, or experience, or event
3. add irony
4. satirize
5. condemn
6. foreshadow
7. characterize a person or place

 

How: Here’s just a tiny sampling of symbolic or metaphoric examples of common biblical allusions.
  • names of either places and/or people
  • garden ( Paradise )
  • 7 days
  • one brother killing another
  • tree of life/ tree of knowledge of good and evil
  • serpents
  • plagues
  • flood
  • parting of waters
  • loaves of bread
  • no room at the inn
  • crucifixion
  • 40 days
  • escape from slavery
  • wandering in a desert
  • milk and honey
  • being tempted by Satan
  • carpenter occupation
  • 12 friends
  • a cock crowing 3 times
  • flaming bushes
  • last suppers

Christianity doesn’t have an exclusive on religious allusion! Read novels and poems from other countries/cultures and expect allusions to Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, etc and their corresponding holy scriptures. Of course, if the reader is unfamiliar with the religion they won’t be able to identify the religious allusion.

So before dismissing a character’s name or circumstance as coincidental, ask yourself why the author may have alluded to the Bible ( or other religious text). For example:
  • a character named Eve ( or a variant of ) may tempt a man and get kicked out of a metaphoric paradise
  • a man with 12 friends may be betrayed by one of them

What biblical allusion have you used, read, and/or seen?

Related links: Rock Your Writing, Symbols & More Symbols

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