Yahweh, Satan, and Lost

At the end of the last season of Lost, the viewer is (finally!) given a glimpse of the island’s foundational mythology. On a beach we see the island’s two deities — Jacob and “Smokey” (for want of a better name) — watching a ship bring new souls to their world. The relationship between Jacob and Smokey seems cordial at first but we soon see that beneath their surface bonhomie, conflict burns:  Smokey tells Jacob that one day he will find a “loophole” which will allow him to kill Jacob. Cue Lost intro scroll.

The scene reminds me a lot of the one in the book of Job where “the satan” conferences with Yahweh about the state of the world. Satan (let’s give him a proper name even though the Hebrew text doesn’t) is clearly subordinate to Yahweh and in some sense in his employ. If we follow some scholars who see a Persian milieu in the narrative of Job then in Satan we have one of the king’s roving eyes, a royal spy tasked with the job of looking for rebellion in the empire. There seems to be some friction in the relationship with Yahweh and Satan in this story, but Satan’s subordination is beyond doubt.

Similarly, Smokey (in his smokey form) seems to do Jacob’s bidding in a way reminiscent of Job’s Satan and also, as one commenter at Kulturblog put it, of a genie. We see that Smokey “tests” the souls on the island and destroys the unworthy. That he is not happy with this life is clear from the conversation on the beach, and his rebellion against it is the main focus of the current and final season. In this he mirrors the fall of Lucifer, from divinely appointed “satan” to wicked devil and enemy of God. His task now is to kill Jacob/Yahweh, something at least partially accomplished. He claims to want to leave the island but if the parallel holds true, this will mean not only leaving Jacob’s hated employ but also usurping his power.

As for Jacob, the writers of Lost have made him 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.

There are other parallels: Jacob’s death has Jesus-like sacrificial undertones and his search for the “candidates” reminds me — and here we enter Mormon territory — of God’s desire for the apotheosis of humans, with Jack the reluctant hero finally groping his way towards exaltation. We can only guess how this might end but I think there’s a chance it might lead us into an anti-religious, humanistic utopia — both Smokey and Jacob die and the humans take control of the island, finally putting to an end the petty squabbles of the old gods.

Comments

  1. Oh how I wish I knew more of the story in Job so I could contribute something useful. Perhaps it will suffice to say that I love Lost and I love toiling with all the religious undertones and metaphor within. And I could definitely see it ending by going towards a Utopian non-religious society, or it could go entirely the other way and show the Divine rewards for those who remained faithful.

    I find the development of Locke’s character very interesting and an important part of the metaphor. Here we have a diligent survivor, who, for the most part, has been up to good things, persevered through trials, and helped others on the island survive. But seasons pass and he becomes obsessed with the idea of protecting the island and leading the people, so he moves the island and tries to get everyone to come back, all because the suggestions of these shady characters. I hope I’m not stating the all-too-obvious here but I feel like he’s been built as an example of how the adversary will lead us astray by letting us think we’re doing good and convincing us that those promptings are coming from a good source.

    Or it’s just a TV show and my mormon-ness reads into it too much =) Thanks for posting this!

  2. Whoa whoa whoa!!!!

    Some of us are still catching up on Season 5!!! Now I can’t come to BCC till this post is safely half-way down the page….

  3. The best current show on television, hands down.

  4. Aaron Brown says:

    Never seen the show.

  5. Yes, the Yahweh / Satan metaphor is certainly right out there for us all to see, and in some scenes it’s blaring right down our throats, but I think you’re right, Ronan; I foresee the endgame as something more humanist, where the Losties take control of their own destinies without the help of an omniscient, seemingly free-will proponent such as Jacob or the ever-present, and malevolent cunning conman, Smokie.

    As many Lost fans have posited, the flash side-ways worlds of LA X, could very well be the world the 815-ers live in without the interference of Jacob in their lives, and as we can already notice, they seem to be working through their problems and finding their own paths of redemption just fine.

  6. Glad you agree, meems. Lost as anti-religious parable? Time to organise a boycott!

  7. I’ll boycott Lost right after this season is over!

  8. Re #2:
    Guess we should’ve added a Spoiler Alert somewhere on here!

    I hope you’ll be caught up enough to discuss the end of the show when it happens!

  9. Mephibosheth says:

    I liked the book version of “Lost” better, when it was called Dianetics.

  10. Sterling Fluharty says:

    Interesting parallels. But for me Benjamin Linus is the greatest villain I have ever loved. And I am still waiting to see if Jacob has the power of resurrection.

    Do we really know that the sideways flashes are for real, or are they just another extension of Hurley’s imagination? ;-)

    And with Widmore back on the island, you ain’t seen anything yet.

  11. Great stuff, Ronan. It’s about time this blog took a look at the most spiritual, philosophical, even poetic, show that television has produced in recent years.

    I just have a few points to make. The essential natures of Jacob and The Man in Black have yet to be revealed. For example, I think it is premature to apply the label deity to either of these characters. Though they clearly possess what one can only describe as supernatural powers, they seem to behave more like shamans or magicians (a la Shakespeare’s banished Prospero or Goethe’s pitiable Mephistopheles) who attract and manipulate their followers in a grand Manichean duel. Jacob has been alternately called “a great man,” “a leader,” and “the closest thing I ever had to a father,” but never the “god” of the Island. In fact, if there is anything worthy of the label deity, displaying all the distant, organic majesty of a pantheistic world, it is the Island itself. The Man in Black has been referred to as a “monster,” “a security system,” “someone bad,” and “once a man like you.” Far from being a tool in the hands of the Almighty, The Man in Black inspires genuine fear in Jacob, and seems to severely disrupt his plans. So, while there are obvious parallels with Yahweh and Satan, these two characters represent the morally ambiguous gods of the Greeks more than they betoken the omnipotence of Hebraic monotheism.

    And let’s not consign the show’s finale to the dustbin of humanism or the follies of Utopia by making culture-war-like distinctions between the religious and the anti-religious. What have we seen so far on LOST that would suggest such a simple framework? The government of the Island as carried out by Jacob and The Man in Black need not be viewed as religious in the traditional Biblical sense, with all the familiar trappings of morality, ritual, and worship. Rather, I would argue that the interaction between the Island, its caretakers, and the human debris constantly swept ashore, has a much more naturalistic, pagan feel to it, where power relationships and raw fidelity, as opposed to moral codes, rule the day. Whoever earns the role of guardian of the Island will continue to protect the sanctity and mystery thereof, and, following in the ancient pattern, immediately set out to find their own replacement.

  12. Way to bust through writer’s block, RJH.

  13. >the omnipotence of Hebraic monotheism.

    Ah, but Jacob and Smokey represent something earlier than Hebraic monotheism, a time when God appears to some readers to be neither omnipotent nor alone in the divine cosmos.

  14. >The Man in Black inspires genuine fear in Jacob, and seems to severely disrupt his plans.

    I don’t think it was always so.

  15. I see the Job story as part of the ancient Semitic belief of a divine council of Gods. El Elyon is the Head God with 70 divine sons. Yahweh is assigned Israel as his kingdom. Other divine sons are given other lands/kingdoms. These contest one another for primacy.
    Satan is literally “Adversary”, not necessarily the Satan/demon we now think of. He was a prime son contesting/challenging Yahweh over the land of Israel. He does not see himself as subordinate to Yahweh (just as in Abraham 3 or Moses 4, we see Satan seeing himself as an equal, seeking to overthrow Christ and God).

  16. rameumpton,
    I think the development of “Satan” does indeed include a subordinate stage. On this, see my paper (with Jeff Bradshaw) forthcoming in Element.

  17. Ronan #13

    “Ah, but Jacob and Smokey represent something earlier than Hebraic monotheism, a time when God appears to some readers to be neither omnipotent nor alone in the divine cosmos.”

    That’s my main contention: that they’re not omnipotent, nor alone. Instead of framing the Island as “something earlier than Hebraic monotheism,” I would argue that the Island lies completely outside Hebraic monotheism; by virtue of its isolation the Island was never penetrated by it.

  18. I’ve never seen it either Aaron. We can be pals.

  19. It might be the best show on television – I just keep wondering if we’re being taken for a crazy ride. I want to see if there’s a way for this to all come together or if there’s going to be a thousand loose ends.

  20. Aaron Brown says:

    Tracy, everybody raves about this show, but I remain unmoved. You and I need to keep telling each other we are way cooler than everybody else. And even if we forget, it won’t matter, cause it’s still true.

  21. And Aaron, IIRC, you and are the only souls in the “meh” boat regarding The Princess Bride… Perhaps we are the same person!

  22. I can’t tell you how happy this post makes me. Is it Tuesday yet?

  23. I watched this show at the beginning of this season for the first time. Since catching up seems hopeless, I decided to just go back to ignoring it. Posts like this make it sound intriguing, but I just can’t muster the desire to get involved in it. I mean, if all of you have watched all those seasons and still don’t really know what’s going on, can it really be worth it?

  24. Ronan,

    I notice that you don’t discuss the strong evidence of Egyptian theology/mythology.

  25. MCQ (23.),
    The firm I work for was representing a client who had ties to the production company for Lost, and my boss actually had a conversation with the main “people” behind the show (I’m being intentionally vague) about a year ago. In that conversation, they candidly told him there was absolutely no “plot” to speak of going forward–they were simply making it up as it goes based on ratings, popularity of characters, etc…

    While I suppose this sort of thing happens in lots (if not all) of shows, it seemed especially poignant for a show which has such a confusing and convoluted plot that so many people are dedicated to unraveling.

  26. Only confusing to thick people, Bozzo.

  27. Interesting post. I wonder if Jacob and Smokey sought/will seek replacements for themselves, and that the show ends with Jack and Sawyer sitting on the beach, one saying to the other “you don’t know how much I want to kill you.”

    But I like your humanistic ending better – we’ll see!

  28. Thank you for giving me a clue as to what the heck might be going on in this show.

  29. Only confusing to thick people, Bozzo.

    Lead me, guide me, RJH.

  30. #25

    I sincerely hope not, or barring that I hope they are able to use their well tuned talent of writing themselves out of a corner to make it appear that they’ve known where its headed all along. My worst fear for the show is that it will end the way Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica did. Take years and years of buildup and throw it away in the last hour. I’m still pissed about that ending and it taints the enjoyment of that show from the miniseries up until the 2nd half of the finale.

  31. Lock is the demiurge from Greek myth

  32. I have been a devoted viewer of lost for all of the seasons up to last week. I am completely repelled by the injection of the devil on the island. It’s a sad day when one of the most popular shows around the world will come down to revealing insights about hell and the devil. The writers have said all along that there was a logical, realistic, non-dream, easily-explained, not sci-fi explanation to everything. I hope they overcome the devil-theory and explain it all that is unrelated to hell.

  33. There’s no way it’ll end as bad as BSG. Plus this season has been fantastic. Unlike the last two BSG seasons. (Come on – the writing was on the wall early that BSG wouldn’t wrap up satisfactorily)

    Miranda, they said no Sci-Fi explanation but it was pretty clear from the beginning there was a fantasy explanation. I mean the main “borrowing” for the show is Shakespeare’s The Tempest. (Although as Forbidden Planet shows one can turn that into Sci-Fi) But I don’t think not-Locke or Jacob are the devil.

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