Superman: a pop figure of Moses
Since its inception, when Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster came up with the idea in 1933 while still in high school, Superman has drawn inspiration from both Jewish folk tales and the Torah.
In an interview he gave shortly after his book Hidden was published in 1998, American philosopher Mark C. Taylor once said that religion “is most interesting where it is least obvious”, and that “there is a religious dimension to all culture”.
Pop culture is certainly no exception. On the contrary, it is one of those places where religion can seem “the less obvious.“Most popular cultural manifestations are replete with explicit or implicit religious references, whether taken from scripture, oral tradition, or any other channel through which customs, beliefs, rituals, practices, conventions and histories could be preserved and transmitted. .
Superman is surely one of the most common symbols in American pop culture. And also, unsurprisingly, one of the most religious of all.Some performers understand Superman’s religious sub-texts as overtly Christian. For example, when Pa Kent (no first name provided for the “earthly” adoptive father of the “sent from heaven” Superman) tells the boy to hide his exceptional powers from others, some readers see some kind of parallel with that of Jesus. . “hidden” or “lost” years. Considering also that Superman’s mother’s name on this planet is “Mary,” the table seems set for a Christian reader of the beloved comic character.
As Dan W. Clanton Jr. explains in his article “The Origin (s) of Superman”, a comparison between Superman and the New Testament Christ is possible, but only to a certain extent. “By simplifying the gospels,” writes Clanton, “we could come away with an image of Christ as one who descends from heaven as a stranger but has both a human presence and appearance, who wishes to help humanity through his superhuman powers… and who has a human mother named Mary. However, Clanton cautions, “We shouldn’t make too many of these parallels; it lacks far too many details and plot points for a substantial connection.
In fact, Superman is more a Moses than a Christ figure.
Since its inception, when Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster came up with the idea in 1933 while they were still in high school, Superman drew inspiration from both Jewish folk tales and the Torah. Siegel and Shuster were both sons of European Jewish immigrants, and they surely relied heavily on their own tradition when they created their superhero.
On the one hand, Superman was loosely based on the famous popular Prague Golem tale, in which a human being is created by 16th century Rabbi Loew of Prague to defend the ghetto from anti-Semitic attacks. Superman, like the Golem, is said to be a sort of champion of the oppressed – only the Golem is made of clay (and his story ends in disaster) and Superman is the Steel man.
But Superman is, clearly enough, more of a metaphor for Moses. Clanton points out three basic similarities: (1) the “divine” nature of Superman’s last name (see more on Kal-El’s religious significance below); (2) the theme of immigration for survival; and (3) embracing a “dual identity” as an issue that must ultimately be resolved with a bold bet in favor of the oppressed.
Superman, like Moses, was born in dangerous times. Moses was born at a very specific time in Egyptian history when the Israelites were still a enslaved minority but their population was growing nonetheless. Fearing that they would not become more numerous and eventually become a threatening force capable of forging alliances with the enemies of Egypt, Pharaoh ordered that all the newborn Hebrew boys be killed, in order to reduce the population. The Hebrew mother of Moses, Jochebed, secretly hid him, putting him in a little basket (a kind of vessel) and sent him down the Nile, hoping that someone would find him, collect him, lift him up, and send him down. would keep safe. He is ultimately saved by the daughter of Pharaoh himself and grows up in an environment in which his true identity remains hidden. It is only much later that he discovers who he really is, finally using his “power” to free his people from tyranny.
Superman’s story mirrors that of Moses. He is also fired from certain death by his parents, who put him on a (spaceship) hoping someone would eventually find him and protect him from harm. Like Moses, he is raised in a foreign environment where he is forced to hide his true identity and is only allowed to reveal it to protect others from evil.
More interestingly, Superman’s real Kryptonian name, Kal-El, includes a common Near Eastern name for God, “El”. This name is presented in the Bible as incorporated into other names to denote God – “Elohim” (which can be translated, with certain licenses, as “the living god”) and “El-Shaddai” (translatable as “the whole -powerful “god”, “the god who is more than sufficient” or “the one who is sufficient in himself”). It is also part of other typically Hebrew names: Isra-El, Dani-El, Gabrie-El, etc. Superman’s Kryptonian name, when spelled in Hebrew, could be translated as “the voice of God” (a phrase often used to refer to prophets) or “the quick god”.
Always, Superman can be read as a religious figure, whether Jewish or Christian.. In both cases, the character always offers readers (and viewers) a story built around a fundamental existential bet: that of embrace one’s own authentic identity and place it at the selfless service of others.