Nightmares with the Bible

Nightmares with the Bible: The Good Book and Cinematic Demons. Horror and Scripture 2. Lanham, MD: Lexington/Fortress Academic.ISBN: 978-1-9787-0318-6

“The writing is exceptional and the interpretations of films in relation to biblical material are generally beyond contention. I had great fun with the book while learning much. The author’s reading of cinematic texts will make for interesting classroom debate and within the larger scholarly community.”—anonymous peer reviewer

“Revisiting the religious demonology of his Holy Horror: The Bible and Fear in Movies (2018), Wiggins descends on a dark trajectory in Nightmares with the Bible, a fulfillment of William Rockett’s downward transcendence. Opting for the portrayal of demons from the texts of popular culture rather than departments of theology and looking into the abyss, Wiggins writes with insight, readable historical scholarship, humor, and a flair for igniting the imagination of the reader. Using reception history, Wiggins demonstrates how a biblically illiterate population absorbs its understanding of the demonic primarily through movies (e.g., The Exorcist, The Conjuring). He traces demonic origins back to Mesopotamia and the Jewish apocrypha through the medieval era. He then explores the shadowy fragments of evil creatures, possession, witches, female victims, and other things that go bump in the soul, as they are manifested through and in cinematic culture. To quote Leonard Cohen’s ‘Anthem,’ there is a ‘crack in everything / that’s how the light gets in.’ Wiggins illumines the darkness with piercing light and panache in this lucid, delightful, and fascinating book, but one not to be read after midnight. Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers.”― Choice

“Wiggins brings together the careful attention of a trained biblical scholar with the delight of an unabashed fan to take his readers on journey through some of the darkest spaces in their religious worlds. A pleasure to read, and another fine example illustrating how horror cinema not only helps us explore those religious worlds, but reminds us how closely our faith and our fears are related.”—Douglas E. Cowan, University of Waterloo

“In Nightmares with the Bible, Steve A. Wiggins invites us to peer into the Bible’s dark corners and to follow its demons from the pages of the Good Book to the movie theater.  From the first murmurings of demons in the ancient Near East to classics such as The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby to Paranormal Activity and other contemporary demon films, Wiggins unpacks the significance of demons, the gender politics of possession, and the manifold ways the Bible haunts us even today. The book is smart, analytical, wide-ranging, and hard to shake – not unlike demons themselves. A diabolical delight for horror lovers, scholars, and casual movie viewers alike.”—Rhiannon Graybill, Rhodes College

“Scholars who study popular culture typically know nothing of Biblical studies.  Most scholars who delve into Ugaritic texts and pseudoepigrapha won’t even admit to having seen a horror movie.  Steve Wiggins is a rare scholar who walks in both worlds.  Finally there is a book that allows the reader to understand how the demonic has evolved across millennia in a way that is smart, accessible, and complete.”—Joseph P. Laycock, Texas State University

“Perhaps we live in evil times, but Wiggins is always determined to make the best of it. Talk of demons is prevalent on the U.S. national stage, so Wiggins explores the timely topic by using the evidence of their activity in popular movies. He walks his readers down the dark and winding path of demonic forces in a variety of world traditions before settling in to focus on the Bible. He pays attention to the way that women are often at the center of this site of disorder. This well-researched, but pointedly non-academic, book helps readers identify demons and sort out possession and what they may have heard from history and Hollywood. Wiggins helps readers track the demonic in the Hebrew Bible, Second Temple Period, New Testament, Middle Ages, before showing how they jumped straight into our modern world. Comedies, Oscar-contenders, and big box office draws all prove good places to find demons doing what they do, and they offer Wiggins plenty of opportunities to show that the nightmares have real insights on our confusing world. This book is a valuable companion to students of U.S. fears.” —Elizabeth Rae Coody, Morningside College

“The book passes directly from the discussion of the medieval era into examining modern films. This part is the most satisfying and also the most problematic. It is satisfying because this is where Wiggins’ passion shows most, and because it convincingly shows the presence of a vital and active modern Christian oral tradition. The real-life exploits of Ed and Lorraine Warren are the source for two of the film franchises discussed (Amityville Horror and the Conjuring). The author’s discussion of the distance between their real lives and their portrayal in film is powerful and effective.”—Michael Bertrand, Reading Religion

Demons.  During the writing of Holy Horror, the chapter that most impacted me was the one on possession movies.  Having been raised never to question the Devil or demons, I harbored no doubts.  Seminary, however, changed that.  Set off on the scientific exploration of religion, I’d come to see them as arcane entities mired in superstitious antiquity.  My own views on them had moved firmly to the mythological.  When I first saw The Exorcist (I was in my 40s) I didn’t find it that scary.  There were no such things as demons.

Over time my certainty waned a little.  Like Socrates, I begin to see that the more you learn the less you know.  Reading more and more sources, it became clear that easy answers weren’t so easy.  Educated, rational adults recorded events that aren’t easily explained.  We all know implicitly that when we step out the door our behavior changes.  We become what we want others to see us as being.  In our own home, though, things can be quite different.  Publicly we can be skeptical.  The books I read, in addition to suggesting the very real danger of demons, emphasized that they are, for the most part, a behind the closed door phenomenon.

Let’s see what’s upstairs…

About the book

At the same time, I’d begun a sequel to Holy Horror.  It started off as a consideration of sequels to possession movies.  Then the editors of the new Horror and Scripture series contacted me and asked if I would consider contributing.  A little backstory: I began a discussion with Kelly Murphy of Central Michigan University about starting a new section at the American Academy of Religion annual meeting.  We’d discussed monsters before.  Since I don’t have an academic post, Kelly ran with the idea.  She contacted Joseph Laycock at Texas State University and the three of us put an initial proposal together that was eventually approved for the 2017 meeting.  It was renewed for the 2018 meeting and again in 2019.  Meanwhile Fortress Academic and Lexington presses announced a new series, Horror and Scripture, edited by Kelly Murphy and Brandon Grafius of the Ecumenical Theological Seminary.  As soon as I learned of it, I began putting these two ideas, sequels and demons, together into a single proposal.  After telling my wife about a strange dream I’d had (is it any wonder?) she said “Nightmares with Bibles?”  That immediately struck me as a great title.  (It also tells you what kinds of dreams I have.)

DSCN4907
Kind of looks like a nightmare, or poor photography.

Demons in History and Film

Taking seriously the idea that popular media reflects actual views of religion in real time, this book probes the concept of demons.  The first half is an historical breakdown of the topic beginning with ancient Mesopotamia and taking it up through the Early Modern Period.  Then movies take over.

About these demons: they are of the Judeo-Christo-Islamic variety.  Of the three religions, Christianity has been the main explorer of demons.  They exist in various forms in cultures throughout the world, in many different religions.  What becomes clear, however, is that their origins are somewhat complicated.  Tracing them through the western world makes the most sense.  Then the second half of the book analyzes horror films that feature demons.  As with Holy Horror, it doesn’t strive to be comprehensive.  There are far too many movies with demons to try that.

Nightmares with the Bible can be ordered from Lexington/Fortress Academic, Amazon, or Bookshop.org.

This will cause nightmares!

My other books:

A Reassessment of Asherah (1993)

Weathering the Psalms (2014)

Holy Horror (2018)

The Wicker Man (2023)