Whoosh! Issue 31 - April 1999


Blessed Are The Greek:
Christian Symbolism In Xena: Warrior Princess




Other Christian Symbols


Crucifixion

Hey, this is kinda fun! Let's do it again next season!

Gabrielle gets a seat with a view in THE DELIVERER.


[28] One of the most meaningful symbols to Christians is the cross. Jesus' death on the cross was the ultimate sacrifice. He gave His life to save mankind from the stain of sin. In Xena: Warrior Princess, we see crucifixion as the nasty means of killing that it was. Apparently, the Persians were the first people known to practice crucifixion. Alexander the Great and his generals brought it back to the Mediterranean world, to Egypt, and to Carthage. The Romans learned the practice from the Carthaginians and rapidly developed a very high degree of efficiency and skill at it. By the end of the first century B.C.E., the Romans adopted crucifixion as an official punishment for non-Romans for certain limited transgressions. They were especially fond of this method of execution which was said to be an excruciatingly painful and lengthy way to die. It often took two or three days for the victim to succumb. The breaking of the victim's legs was actually an act of mercy designed to hasten death and shorten their suffering. Despite it being a common method of execution for thieves and murderers, crucifixion is still somehow horrifying, perhaps because of the Christian image of Christ on the cross.

[29] Crucifixion is seen quite frequently in Xena: Warrior Princess. In THE GAUNTLET (H12/112), Xena's troops are seen to have crucified the resisting villagers. Xena herself is crucified in DESTINY (36/212) by the duplicitous Julius Caesar, and her afterlife vision of M'Lila, presumably in Tartarus, has her attached to a cross once more. In THE DELIVERER (50/304) it is Gabrielle and Khrafstar who are put on crosses. The alternate Xena, the Conqueror in ARMAGEDDON NOW II (H73/414) clearly favors this form of execution. In THE BITTER SUITE (58/312), Xena again returns to the cross.

[30] In season four's in ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE (69,70/401,402), we returned to the image of crucifixion, this time in the form of a recurring vision of the death for Xena and Gabrielle. Here we see them dressed in rags being nailed to their crosses, as Jesus was. The more usual method of attachment was by rope. Nails were used as well for some criminals, but nails through the hands alone would probably have been insufficient to support the body weight and would have torn through the flesh in the hands. Some versions of Jesus' crucifixion relate that the nails would have gone through his wrists, or it may have been he was tied at the wrists and nails went through his hands.

[31] Xena awakens from this vision with the nail holes on her hands, which, in the story, emphasize that her vision was or will be a true event. However, the marks are strongly suggestive of the so called "stigmata", the wounds of Jesus that appear unexplained and spontaneously on some holy people or saints. They are said to be symbolic of goodness. While considered by many to be a hoax or something of hysterical origin, there still remains some mystery around the numerous cases reported over the years from St. Francis of Assisi in the thirteenth century up to twentieth century stigmatics like Padre Pio.


Resurrection

[32] Jesus rising from the dead is the most crucial part of the New Testament. His rising from the dead and, later, his ascension to heaven are central to Christian belief, and there are accounts of these events in all four of the Bible's Gospels. Resurrection of the body is a distinctly God-like thing. Jesus also had the power to bring people back from the dead, ie. Lazarus (John 11:1-40) and Jairus' daughter (Mark 5:22-43). Defeating death is a feat many have been anxious to achieve.

[33] In Xena: Warrior Princess, there are several examples of resurrection. The most memorable is Xena's return from the dead in THE QUEST (37/213). In that case, the mythological device of Ambrosia, food of the gods, is the cause, rather than divine power or favor. Returns from apparent deaths are more frequent. Gabrielle appeared to die in SACRIFICE II (68/322) and, indeed, her survival has not been fully explained yet. Her near death experience in IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE? (24/124) can be explained medically, as can Xena's apparent death from tolmic poisoning in THE GREATER GOOD (21/121).

[34] Hope and Callisto present slightly different cases. Hope is poisoned by Gabrielle in MATERNAL INSTINCTS (57/311), yet she makes a return in the Hercules episodes ARMAGEDDON NOW (H72,73/413,414). She also appears to die, once again at Gabrielle's hand, in SACRIFICE II (68/322), yet again she returns. Her next "death" is at the hands of her son, the Destroyer, in A FAMILY AFFAIR (71/402). Will she return from this one?

[35] Callisto is another one who seems hard to kill. She first died, sinking into the quicksand, in RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205), but she tricked her way back to life in INTIMATE STRANGER (31/207). The Hercules episode, SURPRISE (H49/312) had her returning thanks to Hera, and she became an immortal after eating an apple from the tree of life. After eating ambrosia, she became a god, but once again she appeared to die. She and Velasca were trapped in a lava flow by Xena at the end of A NECESSARY EVIL (38/214). MATERNAL INSTINCTS (57/311) saw her return once more, freed perhaps with the help of Hope or Dahak. By SACRIFICE I (67/321), an unsatisfied, unfulfilled Callisto is anxious for her own death. Presumably her demise in SACRIFICE II (68/322) will really be the end of Callisto, but in the Xenaverse, anything could happen!

[36] There are a few other assorted resurrections. The villagers in THE RECKONING (06/106) are reluctantly brought back by Ares. King Sisyphus cheats death in DEATH IN CHAINS (09/109), and he returns from it in TEN LITTLE WARLORDS (32/208). Marcus returns from the dead in MORTAL BELOVED (16/116). BEEN THERE, DONE THAT (48/302) has more returns from the dead than any other episode to date, but they can probably be discounted as symbolic!


Martyrdom

[37] The attempts to kill some characters in Xena: Warrior Princess are reminiscent of some of the deaths of Christian martyrs. Pandora is about to be hanged in CRADLE OF HOPE (04/104). Leah is to be burnt at the stake on WARRIOR...PRIESTESS...TRAMP (55/309). Xena is almost stoned to death in SINS OF THE PAST (01/101). Several characters have almost been beheaded: Joxer in FOR HIM THE BELL TOLLS (40/216), David and Gabrielle in GIANT KILLER (27/203), and Flora in THE BLACK WOLF (11/111). St. Stephen, the first Biblical Christian martyr, was stoned. St. Paul and others were beheaded. Xena's Priestess Leah looked very like St. Joan of Arc who was burnt at the stake, which was a popular method of execution in the last few hundred years.


Forgiveness

[38] In the episode FORGIVEN (60/314), we see people receiving forgiveness after being anointed. This is a mixture of a number of different Christian practices. The Roman Catholic sacrament of reconciliation or confession is one that springs to mind. This sacrament involves acknowledgment of and repentance for sins committed. The priest, acting in the place of God, absolves the penitent of their sins.

[39] The actions of the priest in this episode are very similar to the sacrament of Confirmation in the Roman Catholic and other Christian churches. He anoints with water poured from the Urn of Apollo while saying a special blessing. In the sacrament of Confirmation, Chrism, a mixture of olive oil and balsam that has been blessed, is used. Anointing is a practice of many religions, and it signifies a blessing from God.

[40] Interestingly, near the end of the episode, the priest in FORGIVEN (60/314) also blesses a very sick looking man who wheezes painfully as he stands. This brings to mind the anointing with Chrism that takes place when receiving the Sacrament of the Sick, or the Last Rights as it used to be known. This special blessing is one given to people who may be close to death to prepare them and give their soul peace.


The Fish

Eeeewwwww!

Not everyone likes fish and fishing.


[41] The most popular of in-jokes in Xena: Warrior Princess are all of the references to fish or fishing. Fishing is a favorite hobby of both producer Robert Tapert and his wife, Lucy Lawless. Fishing is integral to ALTARED STATES (19/119), A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215), THE PRICE (44/220), THE QUILL IS MIGHTIER... (56/310), and FINS, FEMMES AND GEMS (64/318) to name a few.

[42] The fish was symbolic to early Christians for a number of reasons. First, several of the original twelve disciples were fishermen near the sea of Galilee before Jesus called them to put down their nets and become "fishers of men". There was also the story of Jesus feeding of five thousand people with five loaves and two fishes (Matthew 14:17-21). Simon Peter found a coin in the mouth of a fish (Matthew 17:24-27). Jesus also ate fish with His disciples at the Sea of Galilee after His Resurrection (John 21:1-13.)

[43] The image of a fish was a sort of secret code for the persecuted Christians. A believer would draw half of the fish in the dirt and another Christian would complete the drawing, and in that way they communicated their shared faith. They would also scratch a fish symbol on the ground as a means of distinguishing friend from foe. The Greek name for fish was "ichthus", the first two letters of which were Jesus' initials. There was no letter "J" in Greek or Latin, so "I" was used in its place. The word itself was an acrostic for "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior". Even today, the fish is still seen as a Christian symbol.


Xena Characters


Xena

[44] As well as specific images, some of the characters in Xena: Warrior Princess can be compared to Christian figures. The central figure in The New Testament is, of course, Jesus. He is about thirty when He begins His mission. He is accompanied by a group of friends as He travels the countryside helping people, performing miracles, teaching, and spreading the word of God.

[45] Xena is, of course, the central character of Xena: Warrior Princess. She is about 30 (probably, as so many events in her life happened "about ten years ago"). She is also accompanied by a friend as she travels the land helping people. While she does not do a lot of teaching or spreading of the word of God, she does heal people. In the episode IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE? (24/124), Xena's medical skills are such that at one point she is proclaimed to be the god Asclepius (the god of medicine and healing) returned to Earth. Quite frequently we have seen Xena perform remarkable feats of healing, almost miraculous to a people ignorant of such medical practices.

[46] Also worth noting is the name "Xena". It is pronounced with a "Z" sound, but an "X" always seems more mysterious and interesting: Mr. X, The X-Files, etc. In Robert Weisbrot's Official Guide To The XenaVerse, executive producer Robert Tapert mentions how the name and spelling with an X was chosen: ".. anytime there is an X in the title, it gets people's interest." The letter "X" in the Greek alphabet is "chi". It is used as an abbreviation for the name "Christ", as in the word "X-mas".

[47] One of the most notable features of Xena's character is her dark past. She is now trying to atone for her past deeds. She is seen to have committed many heinous crimes and acts of violence and cruelty, but since her redemption by Hercules, she has vowed to atone. However, even Xena admits that she can never really make up for her actions and is destined for Tartarus when she dies. She carries a heavy burden upon her shoulders, and that dark past is never far away.

[48] On the other hand, Jesus was the epitome of goodness and light. He also had a mission though, and His mission was also a heavy burden to carry: He came to take away our sins. He was destined to die, and He knew this. The night before He died, He prayed to His Father in Heaven for help to accept what was to come. While He was always going to return to His Father in Heaven, He also had a shadow hanging over Him: a painful death and suffering for those friends and family who knew and loved Him.

[49] Xena's rejection by her mother and the attempt to stone her in SINS OF THE PAST (01/101) can be compared to the story of Jesus' rejection by the people of Nazareth in Luke 4:28-30. In Jesus' case, the people were angered by His preaching and wanted to throw Him from a cliff. Xena was unwelcome because of her deeds in leading the young men of Amphipolis to their deaths in the battle against Cortese and in her actions as a warlord.

[50] Xena could also be seen as the adulterous woman referred to in John 8:3-11. There was a crowd of people ready to stone a sinful woman, and Jesus stepped forward to stop them saying, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone" (John 8:7). While Gabrielle did not use this argument to save Xena, Xena's attempted stoning in SINS OF THE PAST (01/101) is similar, and the portrayal of Xena as someone who has sinned yet is redeemed is familiar. Indeed adultery is one of her many sins, although hardly the most serious of the warlord Xena.


Ares

My other leather is at the cleaners

God of War, God of Love, depends on the Xenaverse you're in.


[51] Xena's main tormentor is Ares, a dark, bearded man who constantly offers her an easy way out if she will follow him. Jesus also was tempted, and the temptation in the desert before He began His ministry featured the devil, often portrayed as a dark-bearded man. The devil tried to get Jesus to prove Himself by changing stones into bread (Matthew 4:2-9). Indeed the portrayal of Ares in Xena: Warrior Princess has often been quite devil-like. He is a tormentor and tempter. We rarely see him helping people because he is out for his own glory. He relishes bloodshed and wars. While he is not the pure evil of Hope and Dahak, Ares has the capacity to be evil. Indeed his alliance with Hope and Dahak in SACRIFICE (67,68/321,322) puts him "in bed" with a devil, literally in Hope's case.


Gabrielle

[52] Betrayal by a close friend is another thing Xena and Jesus have in common. Jesus' betrayal was by one of His closest friends. Judas Iscariot was one of the twelve apostles, but he became disillusioned with Jesus' way and wanted Him to be more assertive. He did not hate Jesus, and he suffered such guilt over the death of Christ that he hanged himself. The act of betrayal though is what he is remembered for, and the traitor's kiss to identify Jesus to the Roman guards was using a gesture of love and friendship to condemn Jesus to a painful death.

[53] One of the times Xena was closest to death was in THE DEBT (52,53/306,307), when Gabrielle, her most trusted friend, betrayed her. This betrayal was also not because of hate. Originally she claimed to be trying to prevent Xena from committing cold blooded murder, but in FORGET ME NOT (63/317), it was revealed that jealously was her primary motivation. She was jealous because Xena was so quick to leave her and all they had shared to go to help another. Gabrielle's motives were actually less pure than Judas' in many ways.


Eli

I can never get that Vulcan greeting thing right!

Eli as Jesus figure in DEVI and THE WAY.


[54] The character of Eli seen in DEVI (82/414) and THE WAY (84/416) is one who can also be compared to Jesus Christ. Eli is initially little more that a street magician, but he has a deeper mission, and, as we find out more about him, we discover that he has remarkable powers. In DEVI he casts out evil spirits from his assistant inadvertently, and then at the end, from Gabrielle. Jesus also cast out demons, as seen in Luke 9:37-43 (although this is not a demon like the one possessing Gabrielle, but more like a case of epilepsy, to be honest).

[55] In THE WAY (84/416), a father brings a sick child to him and he heals her. This is very much like the story of Jesus healing Jairus' daughter (Luke 8:49-56), although she was reported to have just died before Jesus healed her. The father and sick daughter combination are identical, however.

[56] Crowds of people follow Eli around wanting his help, yet Eli refuses to let them fight in his name. This brings to mind the story in Luke 22:50-52 when Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and one of the disciples cut off the ear of the high priest's slave. Jesus healed him and stopped the fighting by giving Himself up. The popularity of Eli mirrors that of Jesus as seen throughout the New Testament accounts of Jesus' ministry. For instance, the story of the feeding of the five thousand indicates that many people followed Jesus to hear him speak.

[57] Eli reveals to Gabrielle that The Truth is that we must have reverence for life, and his message is one of peace and love. Eli's reference to The Truth (and he emphasizes that it is a proper name; The Truth rather than a truth), recalls that phrase in John 8:32 , "the truth will make you free", or "I am the way, and the truth, and the life...." from John 14:6. Indeed Eli's message of non-violence and turning the other cheek is very like the verse in Luke 6:29 where Jesus says that if someone strikes you, you should turn and offer them the other cheek.

[58] Later in THE WAY, the demon god Indrajit attempts to entice him into an alliance. This mirrors the efforts by the devil to tempt Jesus in Matthew 4:2-9.

[59] When Eli leaves Xena and Gabrielle, it is to continue his work in his own land. There has been some speculation that he may be Jewish - with a name like Eli and slightly Hasidic-looking side locks. When he speaks of returning home, he may be referring to Palestine.

[60] Is Eli supposed to be Jesus? After all the Bible tells us nothing of what Jesus did between the ages of about 13 and 30. It is hard to believe he would travel to India and work as a street conjuror, however, especially as Jesus seemed quite aware of who He was and who His Father was at the age of 13. Instead, he sounds more like the character Simon Magus, who appears in Acts 8:9-24. He is a magician and is described as having amazed a nation! While initially, he claimed to be great and attempted to buy the power of the Holy Spirit from the disciples, he eventually converted and joined them.


Other Assorted Examples of Christian Symbolism


A SOLSTICE CAROL

[61] The light-hearted Christmas episode A SOLSTICE CAROL (33/209) features a number of very deliberate Christmas symbols and one or two Christian symbols. The most overt is Gabrielle supplying a donkey for a couple clearly meant to be Joseph and Mary. There is a star shining brightly in the sky above them as the young couple and their newborn baby journey, presumably, to Egypt or back to Nazareth as the baby has already been born. The young man calls the woman "dear", or perhaps "Dia", the Gaelic word for God. The character of Senticles is obviously a St. Nicholas or a Santa Claus type, with his propensity for sliding down chimneys, the "ho-ho-ho", the beard, the red coat, the toy-making, and the present-bringing. His name is also homophonous with "Santa Claus". In the same week that A SOLSTICE CAROL was aired, the Hercules episode, A STAR TO GUIDE THEM (H46/309) has Iolaus as one of the wise men!


FINS, FEMMES AND GEMS

Rare outtake of Renee in JAWS

Gabrielle as Lady of the Lake.


[62] One of Gabrielle's many names for herself in this amusing episode is "Our Lady Gabrielle", which could be seen as jokingly blasphemous or yet another parallel to the Christian faith. "Our Lady" is one of the more popular titles for Mary, the Mother of Jesus.


Love and Redemption

[63] Jesus' main message to people was one of love. He taught of love and forgiveness and how no one was beyond redemption and that God loves us all. This message of love is also a central one for Xena: Warrior Princess. In the episode CALLISTO (22/122), Gabrielle says, "There is only one way to end the cycle of hatred, and that's through love". In ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE II (70/402), the new Amazon holy word is revealed to be "Love", and it is that love which enables Xena to defeat the evil Alti. In THE DEBT (52,53/306,307), when Gabrielle comments that the story has so much hatred, Xena corrects her, "No, it's about love". In THE WAY (84/416), Gabrielle realizes that her way is the way of love, that most difficult of paths which Eli tells her about. She endeavors to try to follow it, although Eli warns her she may fail many times. Time and again we see this theme of love and forgiveness come up in the series.

[64] Above all else, Xena's attempts to atone and make reparation for her past misdeeds is the recurring theme. She has a past so full of murder and mayhem that making her a hero was a big departure for a TV series. Here is someone who can hardly have been more sinful, yet she is our hero, the message being that even the most wicked can turn their lives around. As Xena tells Tara in FORGIVEN (60/314), "You are what you do. You can re-invent yourself every day".

[65] There is hope for us all.


Conclusion

[66] The more I examined this subject, the more interesting I found it. I am sure many of you will think of more examples I have missed, or you might disagree with my interpretation of the symbols, but for me it is yet another facet to this fascinating series.



Biography

Catherine O'Grady Catherine O'Grady
Catherine O'Grady is a primary school teacher in Coventry, England. A boring evening just over a year ago led to a chance viewing of THE GREATER GOOD (21/121), and an addiction was born. A keen movie buff and guitarist, Cath spends most of her free time working on her Xena web page or e-mailing friends around the world.
Favorite episode: THE DEBT I & II (52-53/306-307), THE BITTER SUITE (58/312), THE QUEST (37/213), THE GREATER GOOD (21/121)
Favorite line: Meg as Xena: "I need your sword in my service RIGHT NOW!" WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP (30/206); Lao Ma: "You've been dead a long time Xena, I'm offering you a chance to live". THE DEBT II (53/307)
First episode seen: THE GREATER GOOD (21/121)
Least favorite episode: FOR HIM THE BELL TOLLS (40/216)


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