Religious and mythological references in Battlestar Galactica
Common to both
Some of the elements of the two Battlestar Galactica science-fiction television series created by Glen A. Larson seem to be derived from Mormon or Latter-day Saint (LDS) beliefs. For example, in both series the planet Kobol is the ancient and distant homeworld of the human race. According to Jana Riess, author of What Would Buffy Do?, Kobol as an anagram of Kolob is only one of many plot points borrowed from Mormonism by Larson. In Mormonism, Kolob is the star or planet nearest to the throne of God. Another Mormon reference in the show is the Colonial governing body the Quorum of Twelve, analogous to the similarly named Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the LDS Church.
It has also been suggested that the basic plot is a retelling of Virgil's Aeneid, a Roman epic poem describing how Aeneas, after the Fall of Troy, leads the survivors on a journey and eventually founds Rome. A more obvious source, however, is the story of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt, and subsequent wanderings before entering the promised land. This story holds particular resonance for Mormons as they, too, wandered for quite a while before they found a homeland in Utah.
The "Lords of Kobol" are sacred figures in both series. They are treated as elders or patriarchs in the original series, while in the new series they are versions of the Twelve Olympians. In both series, Humankind is polytheistic, believing in multiple gods similar to those in Greek mythology. Humans are the creations of the gods called the Lords of Kobol. The twelve colonies are named after the astrological signs of the Greek zodiac; for example, Scorpia (Scorpio), Caprica (Capricorn), and Aquaria (Aquarius). Several of the characters in the series have names or call signs corresponding to significant characters in Greek mythology, including Apollo, Athena, and Cassiopeia.
It is also speculated that the "twelve planets" with their analogous astrological signs derive from biblical references to the 12 tribes of Israel and the lost 13th tribe that will eventually be found, a belief important to Mormons and in some other Christian faiths. The history of the expulsion of the tribes from their home worlds parallels the time of the tribes of Israel in the Sinai desert: in search of a new promised land, and the Mormon expulsions from Illinois and Missouri. However, although the music from the series created by Bear McCreary draws deeply from Middle Eastern and North African musical styles and instruments, and so would seem to support the above, it may also be argued that the music draws on the caravan cultures of that same region (e.g. Bedouins, &c.), and has little or no relation to Israel's 12 tribes.
In the original series, Adama is a religious leader as much as a military one, and frequently studies scripture and makes pronouncements based on his faith. Several deleted scenes show him leading people in prayer. In the reimagined series, Roslin starts out as a strictly secular leader who becomes an increasingly religious figure as the series progresses, and often sought the guidance of a priestess.
Finally, both series function as something of a political allegory. The Original Series made obvious allusions to the dangers of Detente, specifically in Experiment in Terra and twice in Saga of a Star World, with the robotic Cylons functioning as an obvious allegory for Communism. By Ronald D. Moore's own admission, his series started out as an allegory for fears of religious-based terrorism.
Referring to marriage as "sealing" is another Mormon element used in the original series. There is also a common book of worship known as "The Book of the Word". In Season 1 Ep. 7 "The Long Patrol" Starbuck is imprisoned in a jail consisting of inmates born and raised within it held accountable for and named for the crimes of their ancestors. These ancestors are referred to as "Original Sinners" deriving their family names from this "original sin" as with the Christian theological concept. While on Kobol, Adama speaks in a monologue about the various cities, and mentions that "Eden was the greatest of them, and the first to fall".
The Cylons had no religion.
During the diaspora from the 12 colonies, and subsequent search for the mythical planet Earth (the thirteenth colony), the human survivors find out that the holy scriptures are at least partially true and that Kobol is a cursed planet where, due to the humans leaving, blood will be shed, due in part to the practice of human sacrifice for the gods. Time is perceived in classical Indian and Greek fashion of cycles (in contrast to the Jewish and Christian concepts of linear time, though the Mormon idea of attaining 'divine grace,' and becoming a deity and receiving one's own world and Humanity does fit); the major running theme is All of this has happened before and all of this will happen again or Eternal recurrence. The presence of religious figures known as oracles, distinct in role from priests, calls up the image of ancient Greek oracles, such as the famous oracle of Pythia. In the reimagined series, a part of the Sacred Scrolls is named the Book of Pythia, named after the priestess presiding over the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi. It is also referred to as a "Gospel" by Mr. Gaeta. Overall, the religion of the humans resembles most closely that of Greek Stoicism.
There is a parallel between the Twelve Colonies (named after the signs of the Zodiac) and the Twelve Tribes of Israel in the search for the promised land. The diaspora is as much a trial of faith for President Laura Roslin as was Moses's 40-year journey for him while it is a mere four year journey for Roslin. Roslin finds herself a reluctant prophetic figure whose visions help uncover the path to Earth and who will subsequently die as a result of her part in the diaspora, much like Moses.
The Wikipedia article on the Zodiac has this to say about the Twelve Tribes of Israel:
"The Babylonian zodiac also finds reflection in the Hebrew Bible. The name of the twelve signs are equivalent to the names in use today, except that the name of the Eagle seems to have been usually substituted for Scorpio. The arrangement of the twelve tribes of Israel around the Tabernacle (Book of Numbers, Chapter 2) corresponded to the order of the Zodiac; and four of the tribes represented the middle signs of each quarter: Judah was the Lion, Reuben the Man, Ephraim the Bull, and Dan the Eagle. Thomas Mann in Joseph and His Brothers takes the Blessing of Jacob as attributing characteristics of a sign of the zodiac to each tribe. The faces of the cherubim, in both Ezekiel and Revelation, are the middle signs of the four quarters of the Zodiac: the Lion is Leo; the Bull is Taurus; the Man is Aquarius; and the Eagle is Scorpio."
At the end of the Miniseries 2, during the memorial ceremony for the dead, the priestess recites the Hindu mantra "Asato mā sad gamaya" (Lead me from ignorance to truth), taken from the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 1.3.28. The words are
- Asato mā sad gamaya
- Tamaso mā jyotir gamaya
- Mṛtyormā amṛtam gamaya
- Aum śānti śānti śāntiḥ (Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 1.3.28)
- From ignorance, lead me to truth;
- From darkness, lead me to light;
- From death, lead me to immortality
- Aum peace, peace, peace
The opening theme song for seasons two, three, and four (1-4 in the UK) includes a famous Hindu mantra, the Gayatri Mantra, taken from the Rig Veda. The words are
bhûr bhuvah svah
tat savitur varenyam
bhargô devasya dhîmahi
dhiyô yô nah pracôdayât
which may be translated in various ways but may mean:
Earth, air, heavenMay it bring light to our paths."
We meditate upon the excellence
Of the radiant Sun
Another translation is:
O earth, atmosphere, heaven:So may he stimulate our prayers."
May we attain that excellent glory of Savitr the God:
In the re-imagined series, the Cylons are monotheistic in believing in one god, resembling a variation of the Neo-Platonic One. However, this god is not the creator. The Cylons look upon themselves as the children of mankind and see their human creators as intrinsically flawed and want to destroy them; thus the genocide at the beginning of the 2003 miniseries. This resembles the Gnostic or dualistic belief that material creation and its creator (the Demiurge) are evil and that true salvation comes from knowledge (Greek: gnosis) of a timeless God beyond creation. According to Gnostic Christian belief, the true God is manifest on earth through Christ. Gnostics hold that their views are consistent with their own reading of canonical scriptures; however true knowledge of God can only be perceived by a chosen few through special insight or secret instruction outside of canonical scripture.
Also the Gnostic idea that the true God is irremediably concealed from much of humanity resembles the Cylon view of the worthlessness of humanity as well as the low worth of the metallic centurion Cylon models whom most of the android Cylons treat as second-class citizens. (Indeed, this is one of the issues that causes a rift, late in the series, among the android Cylons, some of whom believe that the centurions should be recognized as equals.) Some Cylons (Six, for example) also seem to think that some humans (Gaius Baltar, primarily) can be saved; although the analogy breaks down at this point because Six expects Gaius to accept the one true God on the basis of faith rather than through special knowledge.
In some ways the Cylons share a few similarities with pre-diaspora Judaism. (Not to mention that the Cylon Basestar resembles the Star of David, when seen from above.) Models number one, four and five differ ideologically from models two, three, six and eight. In the episode The Ties That Bind, Cavil (an incarnation of model number one) states that "there is no afterlife" - a view held by the Sadducees. Finally, models one, four, and five follow their precepts literally in the same way that the Sadducees took the scriptures literally. The rival Cylon faction (made up of model numbers two, three, six and eight) share a different set of views. These Cylons believed that people have free will but that God also has foreknowledge of human destiny, a view of Pharisaical Judaism. The Cylons also took seriously the words of their hybrid, whom they saw as a prophet and looked to the child of Sharon & Karl Agathon as a Messianic figure in the same ways that the Pharisees heeded the words of their Prophets and looked for the coming of a Messiah. The Sadducees, however, only followed the strict writings of the Torah and paid little heed to the Prophets.
Another parallel with antiquity is that the Cylon hybrids and their utterances bear many resemblances to the Twelve Sibyls of the Ancient World and the Sibylline oracles. Mediæval Christians believed that these oracles prophesied the coming of the Messiah and Christianity.
Finally, the Cylon attempts to mate with humans is a physical attempt at realizing something like the Apostle Paul's allegorical discource about Gentiles "Grafting themselves on to" God's salvation for the Jews, as seen in Romans 11:17
Life and Death
In the re-imagined series, the Cylons don't have a childhood or die - they reincarnate with their mind born into a new adult body, joining the collective culture where there is no room for individuality. But the few Cylons who have experienced deep love or great pain develop feelings and stand out from the collective and become more integrated with their corporeal bodies. A copy of a Number 6, named Gina, was tortured and abused on the Battlestar Pegasus in the second season. She tried to escape reincarnation by ending her life permanently, similar to the Hindu or Buddhist belief of ending the cycle of the material birth and rebirth.
In the re-imagined series, the last name Thrace refers to a region that includes part of Greece, Bulgaria and European Turkey. In Greek mythology this region provided a number of Greek kings (including Lycurgus, Phineus and Orpheus's father) and was known for its mercenaries. Colonial Warriors (Galactica's Viper pilots) wear a patch on the right shoulder of their flight jackets somewhat similar to the Sri Chakra, a yantra. Her nickname, Starbuck, is a character of Moby-Dick (see Sharon Valerii).
Saul Tigh (originally called Paul prior to production, but changed due to legal issues) persecuted the Cylons, but later discovered that he was himself a Cylon. Similarly, Saul of Tarsus (later called Paul), persecuted the Christians. Then, when Jesus Christ appeared to him on the road to Damascus he became temporarily blinded, and decided to become a follower of Christ.
Dr. Gaius Baltar (Count Baltar in the original series) shares his first name with one of the disciples of Paul of Tarsus, mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. The Book of Acts also mentions an "Apollo" (the callsign for Lee Adama) as another disciple of Paul. Gaius was also the praenomen of Gaius Julius Caesar. In Episode Daybreak part 1 his father is named Julius.
Sharon Valerii (an incarnation of Cylon model Number Eight) shares her last name with an ancient Roman Family, the Valerii (plural of Valerius), many of whose members are buried under St. Peter's Basilica. Her nickname, Boomer, is a character of Moby-Dick (see Kara Thrace).
Karl & Sharon Agathon share their last name with a tragic poet from ancient Greece. Furthermore, in Ancient Greek ἀγαθός (agathos) means someone who is good, virtuous and honest.
Galen Tyrol shares his first name with the prominent Roman physician and philosopher of Greek origin, Galen of Pergamum, whose theories dominated western medical science for more than a millennium.
Anastasia Dualla shares her first name with an early Christian martyr, St. Anastasia.
The word helo (Karl Agathon's callsign) is the Greek word for thorn.
The Commanding Officer of Battlestar Galactica, William Adama, gets his last name from Adam, the first man created in the Bible. "Adama" is also the Hebrew word for Earth, as well as Diamond, Ground, Dirt, or Indestructible (Adamant, Diamant, Diamond).
President Adar in both series is named after the sixth month of the Hebrew calendar.
The original pitch for the show (in the late 1960s) was called "Adam's Ark", which was subsequently renamed "Battlestar Galactica". Larson's first concept was to retell various biblical stories in a futuristic, space-faring setting.
Religious Terms and Expressions
"So say we all" has been used as the ending of a communal prayer in the re-imagined series, much as Amen is used at the end of prayers in many faiths. Amen has been used in the show as well, though on rare occasion.
In the episode Kobol's Last Gleaming the humans stranded on Kobol recite a prayer containing the phrase "vale of tears", which is a line taken from one of the Catholic Marian antiphons, the Salve Regina. The phrase is often rendered in modern English as "valley of tears".
When Kara Thrace first interrogates Leoben on Galactica, Leoben's quote is, "What is the most basic Article of Faith?" Articles of Faith are statements of belief by various religions.
- What Would Buffy Do? by Jana Riess
- Book of Abraham 3:2
- Higgins, Charlotte (2009-02-24). "Battlestar Galactica revealed as the new Virgil's Aeneid". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2010-05-22.
- Cushman, Robert E. "Greek and Christian Views of Time." The Journal of Religion 33 (1953): 254-265.
- Battlestar Galactica (2003)/Season 1 Soundtrack - The TV IV
- Article on the Sadducees in JewishEncyclopedia.com
- Saul Tigh - Battlestar Wiki