Foundational post

Here is the document (moderately revised) that inspired the Zombie Bible Commentary.  The Scriptural references will be further developed in later posts, but for now, it is enough to say that Biblical exegesis from the perspective of the zombie enthusiasts has long been ignored.

Preface: I am a fan of zombie movies.  No, not all of them, but on the whole the genre is under appreciated.  I believe that because of the increase of gore (which is a bit much even for me, and I like horror movies) the social messages of the films are often missed.  Yes, that’s right, there is a sizable chunk of zombie literature that actually does have a social message.  Dawn of the Dead, which takes place almost entirely in a mall with the undead on the outside, contains a message about fetishized consumption.  Not only are the survivors held up inside, but the zombies are gathered on all sides (waiting for the survivors and making the symbolism of the mall as the 20th century cathedral complete).  Inside, the survivors gorge themselves on the fruit of the mall allowing themselves to be functionally ignorant of their impending destruction.  Likewise, Land of the Dead contains satirical looks at how segments of American society interact with each other.  As a third and final example, the book World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War is an interesting look at how different people (individuals and collectives) respond to unprecedented societal collapse and the threat of extinction.  There are others, just go look for them.

I mention all of this to justify a little bit the following.  As it is known among my friends and family that I like zombie literature, I was recently challenged to find instances of zombies in the Bible.  Therefore…

Disclaimer: The following is meant to be entertainment only.  If you anticipate that this will offend you, I recommend that you do not read it.  There were two rules for the challenge: I was not allowed to use 1) Jesus or 2) Lazarus.

—-

In response to the challenge, “Are there zombies in the Bible?” I have decided to classify my examples into three classes: 1) allusions, 2) potential instances, and 3) full blown zombies.  Before I continue with them, though, I feel that we need a working definition of ‘zombie’.  The traditional understanding of zombie is that it is an undead being.  How the person died is irrelevant, the key element is that the natural laws of death are no longer hard and fast and the dead are becoming re-animated.  It is then more usually focused on an undead person who kills others in order to feed on them after which the victim is either dead or becomes a zombie.  More recently, zombies have been understood in a viral sense.  These are what I like to call “functional” zombies that are increasingly referred to as the “infected.”  World War Z and the film 28 Days Later both fall into this classification.  Here it is a virus that infects a normal human being so that they are relentlessly violent to the uninfected so that the victims are either infected (spreading the virus) or killed in the process.  For the purposes of this exploration, I am going to be pretty liberal and include zombie in any sense.  After all, their being no actual examples means that we are free to not limit ourselves to what counts and what doesn’t.

Class 1: Allusions to Zombie-like qualities

The first classification is for Biblical passages that refer to things that allude to conditions that sound as though they could take place in a zombie apocalypse like scenario.  The first example is in Genesis 4.  In this chapter Cain murders his brother Abel.  After the murder, God and Cain have this conversation:

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, ”I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. (vv9-10, ESV)

Cain had already killed Abel in a field.  Yet, we read two things.  The first is that he does not know where his brother is and the second is that his brother’s blood is crying out.  Now, the traditional reading is that Cain is being flippantly obstinate and that God is speaking in metaphor.  However, a zombie enthusiast could see here that his brother’s body was somehow reanimated, moved so that Cain could not find it any more, and that God was hearing the awful cries of the undead.

For the other example of a Class 1 reading, we have to go to the other end of the Bible, all the way to Revelation.  In the midst of the description of the Fifth Trumpet we read:

And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them. (Rev 9:6, ESV)

There are a range of traditional interpretations of this long section ranging from a spiritualized one about the dangers of evil to the soul to that of an army from the East bringing destruction.  Again, though, the zombie enthusiast will offer a different one.  Going back to the classic understanding of zombie-ism, that the rules of death are suspended and that rather than dying, one becomes undead, this passage seems to be alluding to the suspension of the normal laws of nature in which death no longer applies for a time.

Class 2: Potential Instances of Zombie-ism

In this class, I will offer three examples of potential zombies in the Bible.  The first is in the end of Job.  Specifically, “He had also seven sons and three daughters” (42:7, ESV).  What does this have to do with zombies?  Well, the subsequent text includes the description of Job naming his three daughters but not his sons.  In the first chapter of Job, we get the description of his sons and daughters’ death.  The traditional reading is that these children at the end are ten new ones.  For the zombie enthusiast, the fact that he does not name his sons is because they already had names and that these mentioned are the re-animated sons who were killed in chapter 1!

The second example, again, comes from Revelation.  In chapter 13, the beast of the sea is described.  The description of this beast includes the verse:

“One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast” (v3, ESV).

The so-called plain reading would be that this beast was wounded and healed, obviously.  However, the zombie interpretation is that the reason the whole earth marveled is because the wound really was a mortal one and the beast existed in an undead state.  Besides, people are healed all the time.

Okay, the third example is the best and most profound of Class 2.  I direct you to Jonah 2.  This is Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the fish.  Specifically, I’d like to call attention to these verses:

out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
and you heard my voice. (v2b, ESV)

at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the pit,
O LORD my God. (v6, ESV)

This “psalm of thanksgiving” as just about any commentary will tell you, is a typical example of Old Testament poetry that interrupts the narrative prose.  If there was such a thing as a Zombie Bible Commentary, though, it would most likely suggest that not only did Jonah actually die in the belly of the fish, but that this is a first person account of a person dying and becoming a zombie.  The only reason this is in Class 2 is because Jonah was such a high functioning zombie that there is still room for doubt whereas there is none in Class 3.

Class 3: Full Blown Zombies

This class is reserved for the clearest of Biblical examples of zombies.  The first example is from the prophecies of Zechariah and sounds like it could be a description from the latest zombie horror flick:

And this shall be the plague with which the LORD will strike all the peoples that wage war against Jerusalem: their flesh will rot while they are still standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths. . . And a plague like this plague shall fall on the horses, the mules, the camels, the donkeys, and whatever beasts may be in those camps.  (vv12, 15, ESV)

Not only is this a description of a full blown zombie apocalypse, it sufficiently includes all living things in the plague.  This is a good reminder that zombie-ism is not an exclusively human problem, but one that poses a threat to all living things (cf. World War Z).

The final example is also the clearest.  It needs no introduction:

The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised (Matt 27:52).

This is the best example because it is not dismissible by even the most traditional of zombie enthusiasts.  Here, the dead are rising literally out of their tombs.

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