Moses and the Man of Steel

From the burning bush to a burning building, there's always a call for help!

Posted Sep 28, 2014

In our daily experiences, we have been socialized to state things as accurately as possible while learning to discard intuition, fantasy and faith--in our language, thoughts, and deeds. We lose, then, a quality that is still characteristic of an indomitable human spirit. In moving beyond the complexities of science that dominated the 19th and 20th centuries, creating social products in which we act toward things based upon the meaning they have for us states our human condition much more directly. Keeping our external world secure and tolerable means responding with our moral and spiritual traditions.     

The family tree of heroism extends back to our early ancestors, our Greek tales, prophets of the Judeo-Christian traditions, folktales, and our pop-culture. Consider, for example, the Iliad, the Odyssey, Jason and the Argonauts, Noah, John the Baptist, The Lone Ranger or Superman--all of them symbolic, socio-cultural representations throughout recorded human history.

Of particular significance are parallels between Moses and Superman as "America's Prophets." They both have promoted American ideals for centuries. From Herman Melville to Woodrow Wilson, Roosevelt, and Brigham Young, Moses and Superman have provided a narrative for escaping oppression.

One influential use of Moses in pro-American propaganda was through the comic book hero Superman. Siegel and Schuster, submitting Action Comics #1 under the pseudonym of Bernard J. Kenton, were Jewish kids channeling their religious anxieties through comic books. Borrowing from Greek mythology, Arthurian legend, science fiction, and Edgar Rice Burroughs, principal themes are drawn from the Old Testament with a backstory almost point by point:

* Moses was born into a world where people faced annihilation;

* Baby Moses is put into a small basket and floated down the Nile by his mother;

* Moses is rescued by a daughter of the pharaoh; 

* Moses is raised in an alien environment where he must conceal his true identity;

* Moses receives a calling from God to use his powers to liberate his people from tyranny;

In a study by Bruce Feiler (2009), he reports that Superman's name reflects his creators' biblical knowledge. Moses is the leader of Israel or Yisra-el in Hebrew---translated as "one who strives with God." El was a common name for God in the ancient Near East and appears in the Bible like Elohim and El Shaddai. Kal-El, in the Superman comic book, means "swift god" in Hebrew.

The mythology of Superman and the Bible story of Moses provides a symbolic gesture of strength and independence that holds a particular meaning for us. It's rooted in the existential idea of embracing one's destiny and overcoming obstacles through endurance. We all need general convictions that give meaning to our life and enable us to find a place for ourselves in the larger universe. We can all withstand the most incredible hardships when we are convinced that those hardships make sense and are worthwhile endeavors.

With authenticity to our callings and gifts, we bring distinctive strengths into the service of others. For Moses, it was God---for Superman it was Jor-El. As we dig deep into our own past, it's not just the time and events that shape us, but the callings from which we listen---and follow! 

Copyright © by Brian A. Kinnaird

Brian A. Kinnaird, Ph.D. is a former law enforcement officer and current criminal justice professor. He is active as an author, trainer, & speaker and can be contacted at brian.kinnaird@gmail.com

References and Recommended Reading:

Feiler, B. (2009). America's Prophet. William Marrow, (1 ed.).