Star Tract

Over the past few years my wife and I have been watching the episodes of Star Trek (original series; please, we are connoisseurs). As a religious child watching Star Trek I had noticed that some of the episodes had biblical titles or themes, but now that I’ve been watching them systematically, if not swiftly, I have noticed a general trend towards more biblical themes as the series goes on. I suspect most readers know that Star Trek had only three seasons. During the first season references to the Bible were a bit vague and indistinct. Episodes 23-25 (“A Taste of Armageddon,” “This Side of Paradise,” and “The Devil in the Dark”) make reference to biblical motifs in their titles, but nothing too explicit. Paradise and the Devil are, after all, in the public domain.

Season two stepped up the ante a bit. In “Who Mourns for Adonais?” the pagan god Apollo appeared, but in “The Apple” the Enterprise was transported back to Judeo-Christian themes in the paradise genre again. “Journey to Babel,” episode 10, brought a biblical place into the title, and “Bread and Circuses” (episode 25) famously put the crew into the world of the Roman Empire where the rebels were found to be sun worshippers. But no! Worshippers of the son of God, we learn. The move away from Apollo is complete, we have come back to a comfortable, Christian world.

The third and final season delved even further into the biblical repertoire. Once again, “The Paradise Syndrome” (episode 3) brings Heaven to the heavens, but episode 4 also has a biblical title “And the Children Shall Lead.” Episode 16, “The Mark of Gideon,” takes considerable thought to unpack the biblical parallel, and episode 19 is entitled “Requiem for Methuselah.” Paradise, obviously a favorite theme, returns in “The Way to Eden,” or episode 20. Each season goes boldly further than the one before.

Quite apart from the titles of episodes, Star Trek, despite the technology and unflinching logic of Mr. Spock, is an extremely biblically literate show. Even as the 1960s were fading into the 70s it was a safe assumption that watchers would pick up on the many biblical motifs and themes. Now when younger people mention Star Trek, they inevitably mean one of the various spin-off series that have grown from this original root. Biblical references are surely there, but like the times themselves, I suspect they aren’t nearly as overt as they were when I was a kid. For many even paradise has lost its shine.

3 thoughts on “Star Tract

  1. Having recently read a somewhat remarkable chapter on Biblical allusions in this somewhat unremarkable book called, “How to Read Literature Like a Professor”, I have to ask how much of your observation about Star Trek is explained by (i) the stories themselves being powerful, not just by themselves but also now having reverberated through our Anglophone culture for hundreds of years. (In that book, the writer confesses to not being a Bible scholar, ‘But even I can sometimes recognize a biblical allusion. I use something I think of as the “resonance test.” If I hear something going on in a text that seems to be beyond the scope of the story’s or poem’s immediate dimensions, if it resonates outside itself, I start looking for allusions to older and bigger texts’). And by (ii) the language of KJV being capable of a turn of phrase that is, I don’t know, iconic, titanic, astounding. The same book mentioned the ‘cup of trembling’ but Borges noted many others, like ‘Tower of Strength’ (that could have been translated more drably as ‘a firm stronghold’) or ‘Song of songs’ (much better than ‘the best song’). Even an unchurched viewer not conscious of the allusions can be appropriately moved by Star Trek ‘copying’ (in the Borgesian sense) Biblical stories across languages and media, and if that’s true, the Bible continues to do its job.

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    • Thank you for the thoughtful comment, Ahmed. I think what I was getting at was more the cultural allusions to the Bible being somewhat more prevalent in those days, although I don’t deny a resonance may be involved. I was thinking more of the ear that would be hearing it.

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