Tuesday, March 16, 2010

God vs. Satan, Jacob vs. Esau, Jacob vs. Smoky

There's a great post over at By Common Consent called "Yahweh, Satan, and Lost". The author (Ronan J. Head) notes a similarity between the beach scene with Jacob and his nemesis and the Biblical story of Job. In the story, God and Satan converse about how Job will be tested, and essentially make a wager about which side Job will eventually wind up on. [On a completely unrelated side note, I can't hear the name "Job" anymore without thinking of GOB on Arrested Development. Curses on you, funniest show ever made!] Satan believes that if everything Job cares about is taken away from him, he will give up on God. In the end, Job refuses to abandon God and remains faithful. In the LOST narrative, Jacob keeps bringing people to the Island, believing that they will make progress, whereas Smoky believes that it's all for nothing. This season is all about which side our characters will end up on. Will they pass the test and choose the good side, or get fed up with all they've been through and choose Smoky/Locke?

Interestingly, I've seen a lot of discussion about whether or not Jacob actually is on the good side, because he's done a lot of things that don't seem particularly benevolent. I've wondered the same thing, and I've decided that this confusion isn't really our fault because 1) we know by now that the writers love to fake us out and 2) our modern concept of God is extremely different than the one I think LOST's writers are referencing. We (and I'm using "we" in an extremely broad sense here) tend to see God as a kind of omniscient, smiling, wise grandfather. He loves everyone, is all-powerful, merciful, and answers our prayers. Yahweh, the God of the Hebrew Bible, is characterized completely differently.  He is incredibly demanding of his followers, requiring them to give up everything they hold dear. He acts violently out of vengeance and anger, wiping out thousands of lives on a whim. And at times he even seems less than all-powerful. To quote the aforementioned BCC post:
The writers of Lost have made [Jacob] remarkably Yahweh-like. At times he seems beneficent but also demands absolute loyalty and, from the perspective of the humans at least, he takes an indifferent view of human life. Many people have suffered and died to maintain his vision for the island (whatever that is). Richard’s loss of faith in the last episode was exactly like of that a believer ultimately crushed underneath God’s capriciousness.
On the flip side, Smoky/Man in Locke/Whatever You Want To Call Him rings true as the Satan archetype. He tempts characters by promising them knowledge, berating Jacob for keeping his followers "in the dark." He tells Sayid he can have "anything you ever wanted" and appeals to Ben's ego by telling him he should be the one running the Island. He coaxes Richard "Come with me, and I promise I will tell you everything." (I have to admit that after 5 1/2 seasons, I might fall for that one!) And when the smoke monster is on a rampage it greatly resembles a snake; it even hisses sometimes.

Another story that comes to mind is the story of Cain and Abel (when Dr. Linus writes "Elba" on the blackboard in last week's episode a lot of people recognized it as an anagram for "Abel.") Cain was the world's first murderer, and he killed his brother Abel because God accepted Abel's sacrifice, but not Cain's. There are numerous different interpretations* as to why Cain's offering wasn't accepted - that he didn't give the best of his crop, that he gave it grudgingly, or even that God didn't approve of cultivating crops but approved of hunting/gathering - but whatever the reason, Cain was angered by Abel's status before God and killed his brother. Cain is then cursed to wander the earth in exile for the rest of his days, but also protected from harm with an identifying mark. Smoky as Cain and Jacob as Abel works pretty well, but I can't help picturing Benjamin Linus saying "What about me?" and Jacob answering "What about you?" Ben had sacrificed everything, and still his offering was not acceptable.

Perhaps the most obvious Biblical story to look to is Jacob and Esau, the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah who started fighting each other in the womb. Esau was born first and Jacob came out holding onto Esau's leg, which gave him his name (Jacob means "leg-puller" or "supplanter", which makes me picture all kinds of unfortunate practical jokes during their childhood.) The narrator implies that Jacob was favored by his mother, but Esau was favored by his father (daddy issues abound). Eventually Rebekah helps Jacob pretend to be Esau in order to steal the birthright from his older brother. In LOST there is clearly much jockeying for power going on between Jacob and Smoky, and we've seen a few instances of Smoky pretending to be Jacob. Has Smoky been displaced in some way? Or has Jacob always had the upper hand?

We're getting close to the end - it's the final countdown [not GOB again!] Who will it be - Jacob or Smoky? Both? Or neither? I like the idea that the flashsideways are the result of individual characters making a deal with either Jacob or Smoky - those who choose Jacob are relatively happy in the sideways world, and those who choose Smoky remain unredeemed. Like the devil himself, he makes big promises, but rarely follows through.

*One tradition says that Cain killed Abel because he wanted Abel's intended wife...who was his twin sister. This version has the added bonus of concluding that "thus because of a woman was the first blood shed." Ahh, misogyny.


ballofyarn said...

I couldn't help but think about my interpretation of Cain and Able as I read this blog post.
I've come to understand that the reason for God not accepting good 'ol Cains sacrifice is because the sacrifice wasn't really for Him. Satan was the one that told Cain to offer it... In like manor, we know that Ben Linus never really "knew" Jacob, so who was he really sacrificing/following anyway? Just food for thought.

Chelsea said...

Great thought Karen! I had completely forgotten about the part of the story where Satan tells Cain to make the sacrifice (since it's unique to LDS theology and doesn't appear in most versions of the story). That certainly works well with the Lost narrative! Nice.

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