Promotional image for Netflix's Lucifer

Culturally shaped biblical narratives through time: How Lucifer can inform a reading of Genesis

“It is very right for us that we should praise with words the guardian of the heavens, the glorious king of hosts, should love him in our minds.”(Anlezark, 3)


The above quote functions as a thesis statement for Anlezark’s translation of Old Testament Narratives, as an absolute reverence for god pervades the text from the very start. Following the opening, the writer gives praise to God in the form of adjectives and titles accompanying his name throughout the narratives. Many times does one see the author refer to him as: 


“high King of the Heavens”(5), “The mighty one”(7) “the Lord, dear to all”(9), “the creator of angels, the giver of life”(11), “the ruler of victories”(11), “Life’s guardian”(13), “The Powerful prince”(65), “source of light”(69) and several others. 


For the author of Old Testament Narratives, it is imperative that the reader associate the name of God with power, high rule, life, and benevolence. As he is benevolent, it would follow that serving under him would bring good and joy — paradise. The author writes of the fallen angel:

“He should have performed the Lord’s praise, should have cherished his joys in the heavens, and should have thanked his lord for the reward that he bestowed on him in that light — then he would have allowed him to rule for a long time”(21)

That being the case, challenging God had brought the devil “a worse outcome for himself”(21). Adam and Eve, too, were deprived of their paradise for disobeying the command of God(71). So Genesis A and B establishes the arrangement that places God as the highest being, and those who do not follow the word of “life’s guardian” are met with punishment.


Let us, consumers of media, now consider a more contemporary work.


The 2016 Netflix tv drama “Lucifer”, starring actor and singer Tom Ellis, depicts god as a manipulative father who toys with the emotions of his creations, people and celestials alike, and raises the age old question of how evil can coexist with a “benevolent” god.  This show uses hip, modern and emotional versions of classical biblical figures such as Eve, Cain, Lucifer, Uriel and Azriel against the familiar backdrop of Los Angeles to poke and prod the classical biblical narratives. This premise means that concepts such as faith, the benevolence of God, the meaning of good and evil, justice, pain, and the enforcement of morality are grappled with in a 21st century entertainment driven medium.  This leads to the portrayal of Lucifer as the protagonist and god as the manipulative all powerful antagonist. This treatment of  Lucifer as the protagonist, it could be argued, stems from a changing public morality, the sex positive outlook of the show, for example, is characteristic of modern attitudes towards human sexuality, the character of Lucifer is canonically bisexual, the pursuit of enjoyment and pleasure in historically scandalous ways is not discouraged. Lucifer’s arrogance and envy which do shape his actions and relationships throughout the show are viewed as flaws and hindrances however they do not render him evil, which reflects a personal growth oriented 21st century mindset. The only actions consistently regarded as evil throughout the show are those which cause immense pain to others, mainly murder. Having Lucifer as the protagonist of the show naturally places god in the role of the antagonist, the one who is consistently responsible for the undue punishment of Lucifer and the continued evil actions of the human race, but to what extent is the perception of an evil god unique to poppy 21st century entertainment?


Genesis in some ways functions similarly for a medieval audience. It too was once an innovative transfer of ancient biblical themes into a modern format (“old English alliterative verse”),  but a difference in public morality and value systems generates an entirely different narrative — as already described. The fall of Lucifer in Genesis B is written to show the fallen angel’s excessive arrogance and ungratefulness in the face of benevolent promise, serving in many ways as cautionary for the medieval audience and reflects an attempt to impress a public morality based on a fear of the wrath of God. 


However, despite the constant reverence for God consistent throughout the work many of God’s actions can still be read as manipulative — a perspective that is brought from “Lucifer”. Firstly, in the case of Cain and Abel, “they both brought a sacrifice to the Lord. The prince of angels, king of all things, beheld Abel’s offering with his eyes — Cain’s oblations he would not look at”(73). God expressed favoritism, and without any clear reason why, though precedence indicated following his word would win his favor, as all men are created in the image of God. It is rather an inconsistent action, and one that drove Cain to murder and gave God reason to exile him and punish his kinsman via flood. Though one could argue it was Cain’s decision to murder Abel, the possibility would not have come to be if God did not manufacture the inequality between the brothers without reason. 


The punishment of Adam and Eve, too, can be questioned after a closer reading of the text. Adam and Eve ate the fruit of death despite the command of God, and so “the Lord, dear to all” decided they were deserving of punishment. They, however, ate the fruit because they were convinced they were carrying out the will of God, “[Eve] thought that she was securing the favor of the king of heaven…she offered the man such signs and promised good faith”(55). The devil was punished for showing insolence. Adam and Eve, however, only worshipped God and wished to be in his good will. They still loved him, and were deceived into disobeying him, and yet God still cast them out of paradise as he did cast Lucifer from heaven. It did not matter that the two humans still had love for God in their hearts; what matters is that they did wrong by him. This puts into question the substance of this faith — is it the love for God that makes a follower or a follower of directions? 


The creation of the tree of death itself, and its placement in paradise, can be viewed as a manipulative act. He created Adam and Eve to follow him, yet he gave them the opportunity to disobey him in the tree of death. His creations had already betrayed him, twice — the malignant spirits and the fallen angels — both without any clear temptation presented to them. Their insolence came from within. Now, here are the humans, who were made weaker than celestial beings, the author even writing “Eve, the woman’s weak intellect”(51) and God makes it easier for them to fall astray from holiness by creating the tree of death. It is as if God wanted them to make their mistake, or knew they would. For what reason did God create the tree of death? One might argue it was a test of faith. Adam and Eve, however, as previously explained, still loved God and did not eat the fruit of death with maliciousness, and yet they were still punished. So it could not have been of faith, for they were still faithful to him. This suggests God created the tree of death, the flaw in paradise, as a means to exile them from hence. They would have enjoyed the fruits of paradise if they had not eaten the fruit of death, but they would not have been able to eat it if it were not planted there by “our maker”. 


Still, another can argue that this is not sufficient evidence to state, absolutely, that God is a manipulative one. Even if that were the case, it is enough to suggest as such and drive the thought, and this is in contrast to the text’s absolute assertion that God is absolutely good — what is supposed to be a reflection of the audience’s attitude. Can God be absolutely good if there is room for doubt within the very text that asserts that statement? 


The superimposition of the characterization of God as manipulative, from the contemporary work of media “Lucifer”, onto the text Old Testament Narratives presents evidence of a shift in attitude of how an individual, or more particularly an authority, is judged and held responsible. The text holds God as the highest good, the highest being, and so his word is absolute and his actions are infallible, as evidenced by the author’s consistent praise. So he is judged by his position, or his status. The show’s characterization of God suggests a shift to judgement by actions — individuals are held accountable for their actions, which is why Lucifer claims his father is manipulative, and why this argument can be seen and made within the text. In sum, the audience of Genesis A and B were expected to judge an authority by their virtue as an authority, while our contemporaries are capable of holding an authority accountable by their actions. 


Side note: The theme of witnessing as a form of alienation and punishment throughout Lucifer, while not indicative of a cultural shift in morality,  also merits some thought. In a more religious society, perhaps in the cultural climate of Genesis A and B, the witnessing of proof of the divine would likely not have sparked the madness, self doubt and societal alienation that Lucifer’s victims face upon witnessing his “true appearance”. The divorce of the divine from 21st century every day life is evident in Lucifer’s use of witnessing of the divine as punishment, rendering victims madmen instead of respected profits.

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