Superman Mythology

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15 thoughts on “Superman Mythology

  1. Great article.

    I might be tempted to say that the idea of Superman intentionally includes elements of both Christ and Moses.

    You make some excellent points about the parallels between Moses and Superman. The basket / rocket and inability to stay with his mother and some other points are insightful. And Superman is raised by people who are of a very different culture.

    But at the end of the day Superman is not human. Moses tells Pharaoh to “Let my People go.” Part of the dichotomy of Superman’s life from the earliest comics is that he is not human. His invulnerability and other powers make him closer to Jesus than Moses who relies on the Power of God to pass through him.

    To be sure, Jesus proclaims His Identity while Superman has Clark Kent. And Superman’s powers are temporal so that he cannot perform true miracles like raising the dead {he does turn back time in the first Christopher Reeve movie} but that isn’t a miracle, just a rip off of Star Trek TOS. That sounds more like Moses.

    Perhaps Superman is an artistic expression of the Western mix of Judeo-Christian religion and Classical Philosophy and Science.

  2. But Jesus is human. The stories of him being inhuman, especially as a child, didn’t make the Christian Bible. When the early church set the canon, they excluded the stories of Jesus doing god-like things. They threw in–and therefore all Christians after them–with a human Jesus.

    It’s important to remember that the miracles he performed that we read about in the New Testament weren’t different from the miracles other charismatic Jewish rabblerousers were performing at the time. They weren’t designed to prove that Jesus had superpowers unavailable to mere humans, they were to show that he matched the Old Testament prophesies about who the Messiah would be.

    Remember, the temptation that Jesus faced in the wilderness was to be a god living among men and he denied that temptation. He didn’t just want to be human. He was human.

    Superman’s god-like qualities actually make him more similar to someone like Hercules than Jesus, and I’m sure that everyone who’s written Superman is well aware of Hercules.

    Thanks, though. I’m glad you like it.

  3. Aunt B.,

    Sorry for the anonymous posts. I don’t know why that happened.

    Hercules is an excellent analogy because he really isn’t divine until he dies.

  4. the Western mix of Judeo-Christian religion and Classical Philosophy and Science

    Mark, you don’t seem to be aware that when Superman was first dreamed up, there was no terminology of “Judeo-Christian religion.” On the contrary, Christians were quite clear, and quite vocal, that Christianity demonstrated a break from Judaism, and that there could be no commonality of culture among Christians and Jews unless Jews dropped Judaism. Think of the way many U.S. Christians today think of Islam and Muslims, and you have something of an idea of what it was like, except that the stereotype of the Jew was of a weak, cringing subverter, not of a violent, uncivilized overthrower.

    Now, imagine you are a Jewish kid in that situation trying to think up a superhero. You’re not going to be interested in playing with including Christian tropes. Hell, you are not even aware of the details of the Christian tropes that draw most from Jewish tropes, because you keep getting told that Christians have thrown all of your lousy shit away and have something better. But you are going to be aware of your outsider status, of the difficulties you have being accepted as really American, of the temptation and the danger of trying to lose your outsider identity. And your fantasy is going to be that you, the despised one, are secretly the hero, better and stronger than the people who keep trying to cast you out.

    Even today, the term “Judeo-Christian” (and the mindset that goes with it) is used primarily by Christians who are attempting to assert that Jews agree with them. Back then, they didn’t care whether Jews agreed with them or not.

  5. nm,

    I did not mean to suggest that the creators of Superman intentionally designed the character with certain Jewish and Christian characteristics. Rather I meant that to the extent that the idea of the hero in American culture has been shaped by Judeo-Christian themes, it is not at all surprising that the Superman myth would have elements familiar to Christians and Jews.

  6. So what you mean is that Christians recognize (and have, i some cases, appropriated) some Jewish themes of heroism? Because that’s all that I can figure “Judeo-Christian” to mean in this context.

  7. Yes. Just like Christianity appropriated philosophical themes from Jewish thought and from Graeco-Roman thought.

  8. Just Graeco-Roman. I was just observing on how Western Civilization can trace many themes and ideas back to various sources.

  9. I don’t think that there was any real disagreement. I could have been more specific in my initial comment.

  10. Well, we have a major disagreement, since I think that Superman is a Jewish hero, in whom Christians also recognize some elements that Christianity appropriated from Jewish tradition, and you think that Superman is a “Judeo-Christian” hero, since there isn’t anything specifically Jewish in Jewish tradition.

  11. OK. Of course your argument presumes that Judaism went 2000 years without being impacted by Christian ideas. I think the process of cultural change works in all directions. There is even some Islamic impact on both Jewish and Christian {not to mention the broader Western} ideas although much of that is Islamic thinking about classical Greek thought..

    I think Aunt B’s. post makes the point that there are elements that Christians and Jews can recognize in Superman. Is he more Moses than Christ? She makes a good argument for that point. But there are Christian elements that one could see in Superman too. And the writers were shooting for as broad an audience as possible,

  12. You probably have no trouble believing that Christianity has gone 1400 years without needing to adopt Islamic ideas about Jesus; why should you have trouble believing that Jews feel no particular compulsion to adopt Christian ideas about Moses? The fact that Christians can see a character with elements of Moses and bring in their own ideas about Jesus doesn’t bother me; the fact that Christians can’t see a character, written by Jews, with elements of Moses, and not accept that it is they, not the writers, bringing those ideas about Jesus to the party does bother me. And that, not “there are elements that Christians and Jews can recognize in Superman,” is IMO the point of B’s article.

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