Sunday, July 5, 2009

Is Lost's nemesis of Jacob really Esau?

Well this is mildly interesting. It's a link to a pdf file that talks about passages in the Bible referring to Jacob & Esau. It is not intended for Lost fans, necessarily. However, looking at this information in light of the end of season five of Lost is.. educational. Now, please understand I am not a zealous Christian who wants to use your interest in Lost to convert you to Christianity. Far from it. In fact in recent years I've been questioning my own belief in Christianity or Deism as a whole, but I digress. Rest assured my interest in this context is in understanding the permutations of Lost mythology. I have no interest in the destination of your soul, beyond my hope that you end up wherever you want to be.

I'm no bible scholar by any stretch of the imagination, but I was raised a southern Baptist so I know my way around the book even though I don't put as much stock in it as I did when I was seven. For purposes of Lost though, it's an interesting resource. I don't know the details to the religious proclivities of the masterminds behind Lost. I have read somewhere that J. J. Abrams is Jewish, but I could be wrong. I am relatively certain that the people behind Lost would agree with me that the events depicted in the Bible are still The Greatest Story Ever Told. Whether you personally find it to be fact or fiction or an interpretive combination of the two, it's hard to dismiss just how intricate and mind-blowing the story itself is.

In the above mentioned pdf file, and I'll try to summarize in case that link disappears by the time you see this, it talks about 1 Peter verses 3:15-16. You may notice that 315 was the number of the Ajira flight in season five of Lost, and that 15 & 16 are two of "the numbers" made famous in Lost season one. I am not blind to that coincidence, but I'm trying not to freak out over it. Since 2004 I have seen the numbers 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42 pretty much everywhere.
Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction
In as nice a way as he can, Peter is trying to tell readers that sometimes Paul says stuff that others will misinterpret. Does this sound like someone familliar in the tv series Lost? Peter also points out that unstable and ignorant people sometimes distort Paul's words. I accept that I can be defined in this context as unstable and ignorant. As I said before, I'm no bible scholar. Also, I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder when it comes to Paul.

Personally, even when I was a diehard Bible thumping Jesus freak, I had difficulties with Paul. For example, he said nice things about the Roman empire and how you should give unto Caesar's that which is Caesar's and give unto God that which is God. Of course he wrote this while in a Roman prison, so I'd probably say that too. Paul also said very mean-spirited things about homosexuals, and while I personally don't understand why gay people do what they do, I certainly don't go around condemning them to hell. However, that's just what Paul did on multiple occasions. He condemned people a lot, for all sorts of things, and I don't think that was his job. I would go so far as to say the man was no saint, but I think the Roman Catholic Church disagrees with me on that score. Some modern day gay bashers are reinforced by what they see in Paul's letters. Because of Paul's words, some have taken it upon themselves to do horrible things to homosexuals, from just teasing to downright murder. So yeah, I'm a little "unstable" when it comes to Paul. That's a nice way of saying I'm very angry with him. How my (perhaps ex?) fellow Christians treat homosexuals (and others who disagree with them) can be led straight back to what Paul teaches. That is one of the things that has caused me to fall just short of denouncing Christianity. Jesus talked about doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, but many Christians put Paul's words ahead of Jesus'.

I digress. Please forgive me. As I said before, I have no interest in converting you to Christianity. Believe whatever works for you.

Recently I came across a Lost Poll at Dark UFO that asked the question: Should fans of ABCTV's Lost stop calling Jacob's nemesis "Esau"? My gut said to vote Yes on this one because there's no canonical corroboration for the name. It's a hypothetical guess based on Judeo-Christian dogma. In the bible there was Jacob and there was Esau. In the New Testament there's a passage written by Paul in Romans chapter nine where Paul writes that God loved Jacob but hated Esau. It's possible this is where Lost's writers got Jacob's name, and if that's the case then it only makes sense that his nemesis would be named Esau.

Again it should be pointed out that in 1 Peter verses 3:15-16, Peter warns us that some things Paul writes can be easily misinterpreted.

I didn't vote yes, because unlike Paul I don't think people should be told what they can and can't do, at least with regards to insignificant things like this. I do go around asking human beings to stop killing each other or destroying one another's property, but nobody listens to me anyway.

People should be allowed to call the guy whatever they want. I call him Blackie. Not cuz I assume he's the bad guy, but because at the beginning of the series Locke talked to Walt in reference to backgammon about how there's always two sides: one white and one black. The costumers purposefully draped Jacob in light colors, and the casting directors chose a fair haired and light skinned man to play Jacob. This other guy has dark hair and is dark garbed, so I just call him Blackie until we get a better name. Again, I don't assume this means he's the villain necessarily. I think both Jacob and Blackie are the bad guys. They're players in a game that uses human beings as chess pieces. I'm not rooting for either of them.

The thing is, the writers of Lost purposefully kept us in the dark as to the name of The Man In Black. Probably because they wanted people like me to write blog posts about it, and they wanted people like you to read them, then write blog posts of your own about what you think it all means.

But getting back to the Bible itself, "where" you might ask "does Paul actually talk about Jacob and Esau anyway?" I'm glad you asked that question. It's in Romans Chapter nine. In the beginning of the chapter, Paul describes how not all who are born in Israel can be considered the descendants of Abraham. In case you don't know, Abraham is a big muckety muck in Judeo-Christian mythology. He's a descendant of Noah, and then Adam before him. Back in the Old Testament, birthright was still a powerful thing. Presumably some bloodlines of nobility can be traced back to biblical characters. At one time this was very important to people, before peasants realized that blue blood ran red.

Verses six through thirteen of Romans chapter nine look something like this:
6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,
and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”
This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.
For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.”
10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac,
though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—
she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”
As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
Now, where is Paul getting all this? The Old Testament. Keep in mind that when Paul was writing, Christianity wasn't really the worldwide firestorm religion that it is today. In fact, how we perceive Scientology today is pretty much how the Roman Empire felt about Christianity. They were whackos. Now, jews were people the romans could diplomatically bargain with, but Christians were rebellious upstarts who were still on fire with a burning need for power, because their martyr had recently been crucified, his disciples were being hunted down and incarcerated or otherwise crucified. If I remember correctly, Paul was in a roman prison when he wrote his letter to the Romans. So Christianity at the time of Paul's words was not widely accepted. It would be. A few centuries after Paul's death, Catholicism would overtake the Roman Empire and become what we now know today as The Roman Catholic Church. Roman emperors used to throw Christians to the lions - literally. For sport! Kinda makes you look at Scientology a little more wearily, doesn't it? I fear for humanity's future, if it ever starts taking "engrams" seriously.

Paul was going on what he knew in the Old Testament, which wasn't called the Old Testament back then cuz Paul was writing the New Testament and didn't even know that's what we were gonna call it. To Paul, the story of Abraham was still rather new and novel and exciting, because Paul used to be a roman guard. He converted to Christianity on the road to Damascus. He was one of the first Jesus Freaks. So to Paul, the story of Abraham was very much like how the story of Lost is to us now. Fascinating. New. Mentally challenging to try and understand. The primary difference is I don't think Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse expect us to bow before them and worship them like gods.

They probably wouldn't mind.. but I digress.

The story of Abraham takes up the bulk of the latter half of the Book of Genesis. I skipped that part as a kid cuz it got boring really fast after the flood, and the story about the old man threatening to sacrifice his own son cuz God wouldn't give him a goat? That's a mildly disturbing story to try to grasp at the age of seven.

Abraham had a lot of kids. Issac is essentially the father of the Hebrews. Ishmael is the father of Arabised Arabs. This is where Islam & Judaism part ways in the Old Testament, but essentially they're arguing over the same god. Ever hear of The Smothers Brothers? They always used to fuss over which son their mother liked best. That's pretty much how I see Issac & Ishmael. Issac was the son of Abraham and Sarah. Ishmael had a different mother, so Isaac & Ishmael are actually more like step-brothers. Christianity also seems to consider Ishmael a bastard child, but Islam begs to differ. It gets really catty from here on out between those two religions so let's just ignore that part.

Isaac was also the father of both Jacob and Esau. See where I'm going with this? Both Islam and Judaism talk about Issac as a great servant of God and the Father of the Israelites. Jacob was such a nice guy, muslims have nothing nasty to say about him in the Quran. His descendants tho are either ignored or ridiculed. Mostly ignored. Christianity seems to take the Jacob/Esau thing more seriously. Jacob and Esau were fraternal twins (not identical), born of Isaac and Rebecca. Jacob is also known as Israel, and is the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. Jacob made something of himself. Esau was by contrast, an asshole.

When I say Jacob was also known as Israel, I mean Jacob was renamed Israel by an angel that descended from heaven with a big wand and went 'twang' on Jacob's head. So Jacob was named Israel which meant at the time "struggler with God" which is another way of saying "Superman's Pal."

Esau means "hairy" in hebrew. He's also sometimes called "Edon" which means "red." He was all red and hairy when they pulled him out of the womb, and the name stuck. Esau got the short end of the stick for pretty much his entire life. He'd never read the book "How To Win Friends and Influence People" and it sounds like he was an ugly curr so I doubt the book woulda done him any good. Esau's the bad apple. He's the "evil twin" and not even God liked him very much.

But this is where the story of Esau and Jacob breaks down for me. Jacob is the favored son. Esau was the black sheep. When the two were grown up, Esau was down on his luck and fell on hard times. He begged his brother Jacob for some red lentil stew cuz he was starving. Jacob gave him food in return for his birthright. Now, let's look at this carefully. Jacob, the good guy, only offered to save his brother's life from starvation IF his brother would denounce his rightful heir to the throne of Isaac. He tricked his brother out of being the father of Israel.

Now one can argue that Jacob was doing what was right for his father's people - for his own people. Because you take one look at Esau and even thoughhe's the first born you can't imagine this creepazoid leading the Israelites into a prosperous future. However, Judeo-Christianity is founded on two brothers who are treating each other worse than Bart and Lisa Simpson ever did.

Jacob's supposed to be the good guy. Esau is supposed to be the bad guy. Frankly, I can't tell the difference. Can you? The good guy woulda fed his brother, and figured out what was wrong with his brother so he could help him be a better person.That's if you're a good guy. Jacob's not a good guy. He's human just like everybody else. He makes mistakes. He's jealous that his brother can be all ugly and stupid and still claim rightful heir to the throne, so he starves his own brother and tricks him into giving up his own birthright. Now Esau is homeless, penniless, has no future prospects, and can't even really call Jacob his brother. Jacob gets everything. Esau gets nothing. Jacob is remembered for being the father of a nation. Esau is remembered for being red and hairy and stupid.

So IF Blackie is Esau, one could understand why he'd look at Jacob and ask him, "do you know how much I want to kill you?" Who wouldn't? Jacob's as much of an asshole as Esau. However, this is all speculation. There's no conclusive proof in the Lost television show that the final season is going to boil down to two jewish brothers arguing over who deserves the best bahmitzvah. If it does, I may find myself switching the channel, because quite frankly I've had my fill of Judeo-Christian mythology for one lifetime.


lmonteros said...

Zach, I think it might be helpful to your readers to correct a few things. It was Jesus who said to give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's (Mark 12:17). Paul was not overly fond of the Roman Empire--he was a Pharisee, not a Roman guard--but he knew how to use his Roman citizenship to his advantage.

Regarding homosexuality, the quote from I Peter about misunderstanding Paul is apropos. Paul was most likely condemning pedophilia and/or sexual acts used in pagan worship. This was was and remains anathema to the vast majority of people in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions.

While many Christians do use these few references to condemn homosexuality, it does not mean Paul did. There was simply not, at the time, understanding of sexual orientation we have today. My church, and many others, welcome GLBT folks and support the right to ordination and marriage of GLBT persons.

As to how all this relates to "Lost"--well, I suppose it doesn't. I can be pretty annoying when it comes to "Lost" theories, but I am trying to suspend speculation regarding the smoke monster and just let the story unfold.

Maybe it's Jesus and Jacob is his brother James, who became the head of the church in Jerusalem. Same name, the one Hebrew and the other the English translation.

ZachsMind said...

Okay that is just all kinds of creepy.

I distinctly remember reading that Paul said "give unto Caesar that which is Caesar, give unto God that which is God." It was in the book of Romans. I even remember the color of the room I was in when I read it. Now I've confirmed what you're saying Imonteros that it's in Mark. There's also variations in Matthew 22:21 and Luke 20:25 but I can't find it in Romans anywhere. For twenty years I've attributed that to Paul. My subjective reality is perpetually getting corrected.

I readily admit that I'm no bible scholar, and no one should take anything I say at face value without researching for themselves and double checking my wild claims to occasional coherence. Thank you Imonteros for calling me out and not letting me get away with being stupid. =)