Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Lost Bible...

The list of biblical connections on Lost grows longer by the season, and I recently realized why these references are so central to the show. I believe the Island's history parallels the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Not in the literal sense that this is actually the Garden of Eden, or that Aaron is really the Messiah. The links I have in mind are metaphorical, the way events in James Joyce's Ulysses implicitly and explicitly track those of Homer's Odyssey. Before exploring these biblical parallels further, however, let me briefly clarify my conception of the Island's prehistory.

Prehistory: Birth of a Deity

Some say the four-toed colossus symbolizes the next step in evolution. Others believe the missing toe refers to the Fourtoes' mastery of the physical forces via a hypothetical Theory of Everything ("TOE"). I see the implication to be that the Island was once home to an ancient civilization with advanced technology limited only by the laws of physics. These ancients built the Cerberus security system and augmented the Island's potential as a natural source of Casimir energy. They were wiped out when the Island's Vesuvius unexpectedly erupted, burying their civilization under ash and lava.

Fast forward to the shipwreck of the Black Rock. The sole survivor was a young psychic named Jacob whose abilities were enhanced by exposure to the Island. Jacob used his powers to tame Cerberus, which he adopted as his pet the way Walt did Vincent. When he died, Jacob discovered that death had no dominion on the Island. Even after his body withered away, his electromagnetic soul persisted, imprinting itself there like the Earth's magnetic field leaves its mark on cooling volcanic rock. When characters attribute agency to the Island, they generally mean the ghost of Jacob.

As a ghost, Jacob lost the ability to interact directly with the physical world. But he could still talk with the animals and control Cerberus to effectuate his will in limited ways. More importantly, freed from the limits of corporeal form, Jacob effortlessly transcended time and space to see future. The Island's energy field became an extension of his mind, allowing him to perform miracles like curing cancer and paralysis. Jacob began to think of himself a kind of god, but for all this power, he felt incomplete. Like an Old Testament deity, Jacob longed for worshipers to make him burnt offerings...

Old Testament: Adam and Eve
Like the Book of Genesis, the Island's history begins with Jacob's efforts at creation. He had long known how to reshape individual destinies to bring people to the Island. The problem was that the universe inevitably course corrected, killing them on arrival. The solution to this dilemma came when Jacob realized he could use Cerberus to reanimate the dead. In the 1950s or '60s, a promising young couple caught Jacob's eye of the Island. After they died there in some kind of plane crash or shipwreck, he resurrected them to be his Adam and Eve.

So who were they? My best guess remains Gerald and Karen DeGroot, though I'm pretty sure the writers have expressly rejected this scenario. The two could also be Horace and Olivia Godspeed, though we saw Horace die in the Barracks during the Purge. It's also possible Adam and Eve weren't scientists at all. One popular speculation is that they're Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, though I think the writers have ruled this out, as well. Whatever their identities, Adam and Eve soon adjusted to their miraculous new existence, forgetting their former selves.

Life in the Garden of Eden was initially groovy. Adam and Eve had few material needs, and the caves offered them ample shelter and water. Every Eden needs a snake, however, and our metaphorical serpent appeared shortly after the Cuban missile crisis in the form of Alvar Hanso. He marveled at the Island's miraculous properties and dreamed of exploiting them to embiggen us all. Hanso seduced Adam and Eve with promises that together they could save the world. Whether as scientists or test subjects, the couple played a critical role in the genesis of the Dharma Initiative.

Dharma began working with Hanso to engineer a new Messiah -- what I call the Dr. Manhattan Project. Jacob initially approved of these efforts, knowing that Dharma's psychic savior would share a strong connection with the Island. This Messiah would then operate as an extension of Jacob's disembodied mind, like the animals and Cerberus, translating his will into action. More broadly, the prospect of playing spiritual alchemist to all humanity appealed greatly to Jacob. He planned to build a metaphorical Temple of Solomon on the Island using the Messiah as his prophet.

Then came the Fall. Jacob learned about Hanso's silent partners, Widmore and Paik, whose relationship with Alvar dated back to his days as an arms dealer. They had agreed to help fund Dharma but planned secretly to co-opt the Messiah for their own selfish ends. Stations like the Tempest, which is basically a nerve-gas production facility, are a legacy of this secret military-industrial aspect of Dharma. Jacob realized that Widmore and Paik intended to use the Island to enrich themselves and preserve the corrupt status quo, rather than reforming it.

Angered by this perversion of his dream, Jacob set about banishing Dharma from Eden. He resurrected a small army led by Richard Alpert, who was originally a crew member on the Black Rock, maybe even its first mate. Jacob used this army, along with the animals and Cerberus, to attack Dharma. But the designers of the Initiative had built its facilities to be secure. The Barracks were protected by a sonic fence, and most of the stations were located underground in concrete bunkers. Driving the scientists forth from the Island proved more difficult than Jacob expected.

The tide turned with Richard's discovery of Ben, who shares Miles's ability to see dead people. For the first time since dying, Jacob could speak directly with a living person. He manipulated Ben, playing on the boy's desire to be special, a trait Ben shares with Locke. Ben helped perpetrate the Purge and assumed leadership of Jacob's people. At some point, however, Ben began questioning Jacob's orders, leading the Others astray. This parallels Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, which warns that those who question God's love for them will face the Messiah's wrath.

New Testament: The Christian Resurrection
The Island's New Testament, which we're now seeing depicted on the show, commences with the Christian resurrection. If you haven't already, check out the Missing Pieces mobisode titled So It Begins. The action apparently takes place just before the opening shot of the series (i.e., Jack opening his eye in the jungle) and unfolds from the perspective of Vincent the dog. Before saying more, let me again urge those unfamiliar to watch the mobisode or to at least read the transcript. I promise you won't be sorry -- it's short and a total shocker.

Jacob resurrected Christian Shepard using Cerberus, just like Adam and Eve. The "work" that zombie Christian mentions is Jacob's messianic agenda. Jack was chosen for his skills as a doctor to help Claire give birth safely on the Island. Other survivors have work to do, too, most notably John Locke, whose job is to herald Aaron's arrival as the Island's Messiah. The New Testament parallel is to John the Baptist who recognized Jesus as the son of God. Emily Locke's lie about John being immaculately conceived is an ironic twist on John the Baptist's immaculate conception in the Bible.

Locke's lead role was originally meant for Ben (with Dr. Juliet as his co-star) but Ben's betrayal forced Jacob to recast. The reasons for Ben's rebellion are complex. Through their close relationship, he is privy to certain dark truths about Jacob not known by the Others. Ben knows, for example, that Jacob is the real man behind the curtain, manipulating the Island's powers to play Oz. Ben is so adept at the con precisely because he learned from a pro. One sign of this demystification is the disrespectful tone he takes with Jacob. It reminds me of Miles's frank talk to the poltergeist.

But that's not the only reason for Ben's betrayal -- he's also stalling for time. Jacob believes that the corrupt order maintained by military industrialists like Widmore and Paik is too firmly entrenched for reform. Jacob's plan is to sequester his Messiah along with a group of "good people" on the Island where they will await humanity's grim fate in safety. When the rest of civilization has collapsed, they will go forth and create a new and better world order. The Others are building that runway on Hydra island to accommodate the arrival of people on Jacob's List in anticipation of the end of the world.

The obvious biblical parallel is to Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, which prophecies the terrible rise of the Anti-Christ and his subsequent defeat by the returning Messiah. Jacob's List is most likely a nod to the 144000 descendants of Jacob who will be saved by God at the end of the world. The seven Numbers -- 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42, and their sum, 108 -- are another reference to Revelation, which is divided into seven parts with the number seven recurring frequently throughout the text. In that spirit, here are seven more connections between the Book of Revelation and Lost:

* Door in the Sky: Many, myself included, believe that Oceanic 815 passed through a wormhole in the sky before crashing on the Island. According to Revelation, the end of the world begins with "a door...opened in the sky."

* Alpha and Omega: The black and white stones Jack found in Adam and Eve's cave are a reference to Urim and Thummim, stones used by the ancient Israelites for divination. Adam and Eve probably used the stones to divine ghostly Jacob's wishes. But there's an interesting and important link to Revelation, as well. Urim and Thummim begin with the letters Aleph and Tau, which are the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet. This echoes one of the most famous lines in Revelation, where God declares that he is "the Alpha and the Omega," the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet.

* Number of the Beast: Claire learns she is pregnant with Aaron "six...sixty six" seconds after taking the home pregnancy test. Revelation describes how a false Messiah -- the anti-Christ -- will appear bearing the mark 666. Thomas Plantard de Saint Claire is the current Grand Master of the Priory of Sion, which readers of the DaVinci Code will recall is devoted to protecting the blood line of Jesus. For a variety of esoteric reasons, Thomas Saint Claire is often cited as a likely candidate for the false prophet predicted by by Revelation. It's interesting, therefore, that Aaron's parents were Thomas and Claire.

* REV 4.3.02: This notation on the Blast Door Map almost certainly refers to a revision made on April 3, 2002 by the artist. It turns out, however, that the Book of Revelation, chapter 4, verse 3, line 2, is a passage of great significance to new age Gnostics, whose views combine Christianity and the various Dharmic faiths. These new age Gnostics believe that Revelation describes a spiritual evolution that will allow humanity to transcend the material limits of creation. They interpret the cited line as a reference to the "Lost Sun," a supramental consciousness that will guide this evolution.

* The Four Horsemen: Among the most infamous images of Revelation are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who represent War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death. Their appearance is typically interpreted as a prediction that the end of the world will be accompanied by world wars, disease, mass starvation, and other horrible means of death. This closely parallels Alvar Hanso's warning in the Sri Lanka film that humanity will soon extinguish itself by "nuclear fire, chemical and biological warfare, conventional warfare, pandemic, [or] over-population..."

* Abaddon: The introduction of a character named Matthew Abaddon is an explicit reference to Revelation 9:11, which identifies the King of the Locusts as "the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon."

* Raising the Dead: Ever wonder why Damon and Carlton keep joking about a Zombie Season? (Brains!) Revelation contains multiple references to raising the dead. One of the last events described is the resurrection of good and evil alike on judgment day. That actually brings me to my prediction for the final scene of Lost. I believe the Oceanic 6 will make it back to the Island and be greeted by everyone who has ever died on the show. Someone in the O6 (Jack?) will ask if they're alive or dead. One of their greeters (Jin?) will answer "we don't have to think like that anymore..."


lisa (lost pezhead) said...

whew! that was good!

Anonymous said...

Holy Cow!!!

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

interesting as always, bigmouth. on another note, someone washes up the shore tonight. i think it will be michael, dropped during the midnight chopper ride. who better to galvanize jack, etc., into hooking up with locke, etc.? my two cents before the show airs...

Anonymous said...

It's not Michael, it's that doctor on the ship that was treating Desmond. IT was leaked in Entertainment Weekly.

Synchromystic Librarian said...

revealing Revelations revelations, Jin getting the last line, priceless!

DJ said...

I don't know what to say! So complex... but so right! In a recent interview, TPTB even said, for relevant reading, "keep reading your Bible..." so you must be on to something here.

Hey hey, when you write your analysis of S04E09... don't forget to mention how Ben's right arm almost got sliced off due to his uhh teleportation! After all, Mark Wickmund -- or whatever alias he was using at the time -- lost his arm, and we all assume he played around with whatever toy Ben just used... looks like Ben didn't make the same mistake?

I'd say more, but my mind's still blown. They're finally revealing things. It's so intense. This was the one thing I felt I could point out and not end up sounding like a dufus later! :)

Alex said...

That was an excellent read - the episode filled with details, a secret room, teleportation, conrol of the smoke monster (ash all over Ben after he went to the room) etc.... that was pretty damn good too.

lil-beeyotch said...

Reading that got me almost as excited as I got when watching the 24th April Lost episode...seriously! Can I just say...its good to be back! :) Great job once again by the one and only BM! I swear we should like make a fansite on blogger for Big Mouth, truly fricking awesome :D

Bigmouth said...

Thanks to everyone for the kind words and to NY Magazine for the shout out!

Grant said...

Now that the show is over, what are your thoughts?