By Princess O’Nika Auguste
Xena: Warrior Princess is a fantasy/historical fiction action and adventure show that aired on television from 1995 to 2001. Xena is a spinoff of Hercules the Legendary Journeys. Xena and Hercules both are based on Greek mythology although they divulged into other forms of mythology and history including Christian mythology and Christian Theology, Xena more so than Hercules. In the two last seasons of Xena, the show goes deeper into Christian mythology and theology with characters like Livia/Eve, Eli, the archangel Michael, concepts of hell and heaven, and the concept of Eli’s God becoming the one true God. I would like to take a moment to say despite I myself being a Christian, I absolutely despised the Christian mythology on the show especially in season 6. What Xena the Warrior Princess did throughout seasons 5 and 6 was engage in a process of signifying and scripturalization.
Signifying and scripturalization takes place in many forms in our culture, through music, art, media, television and many other forms of entertainment. Although many of these productions claim to not have any religious affiliation, they cannot help being influenced by the religion of the culture. More often than not sacred texts or scriptures are used in the signifying process. What is signifying? According to Henry Louis Gates Jr, signifying is when you are alluding, implying or insinuating. When you signify you understand that meanings are adaptable and changeable. Scripturlization according to Lynne Darden’s interpretation of Grey Gundaker’s work is “The re-contextualization of sacred text. The term is derived from the understanding that sacred text and community cannot be separated from its scriptures. It is through the process of scripturlization that the formation, deformation and reformation of community are possible.”
Christianity, the major religion in the West, has constantly played a prominent role in Hollywood even though they would like to deny it. As a result there are many biblical allusions in Hollywood’s movies and television series. Many television shows and songs are influenced by the Christian message such as The Matrix, Supernatural, and even Scandal. Sometimes Hollywood uses these biblical allusions to critique Christianity but other times to say that the values of Christianity have been there all along, and no matter the culture, Christ-like characters will be there. Sometimes Hollywood says we all the same. As stated before, there is a great deal of signifying and scripturalization in Xena, although the television series takes place in a mythologized version of ancient Greece. The series travels around the mythologized world of the time, such as the land of the Norse (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland), North Africa, Rome, Japan, Chin (China) and many other lands including ancient Palestine where the main characters meet David and King Saul. Before I get into the ways the series signifies and scripturalizes, I will give a background of the show.
Xena was an evil warlord princess who was redeemed by Hercules after she tried to kill him numerous of times. After Hercules redeemed her, she went on to have her own adventures by doing right and helping people mostly to absolve her guilt from her evil past. Redemption is the key theme throughout the series and whether or not she can be absolved or forgiven for her evil sins. Xena usually credits her saving experience to Hercules and her partner Gabrielle, who she says keeps her on that the path of being good. In this way, I see some signifying and scripturalization—Hercules the good and merciful and all powerful person who could have punished her, instead shows mercy. When she asks why he didn’t kill her, he tells her, “Killing doesn’t make you a warrior, and I think you know that.” He tells her this in the Hercules episode “The Gauntlet.” Hercules, who has the influence and power, can be signified as both “God” and Jesus in the series. Christ was a half god (so to speak)—his mother was mortal and God was his father. Hercules, is a half god who journeys around ancient Greece saving, redeeming people, and giving evil people second chances as well as helping the poor, women, orphans, widows, homeless and etc. In essence, Hercules in this show is the Christ type of character—God and human intervening in the lives of humanity.
Jesus, likewise, traveled around ancient Palestine doing the same thing that Hercules did. The only difference was that Jesus could raise the dead and heal the sick. Hercules saved and redeemed Xena. He basically told her to go and sin anymore. As he did on the show, he asked her if everything was over after they joined forces and defeated her army. Him asking this question was his way of making sure that he no longer had to fight her. Gabrielle, a village girl and an amazon princess, is Xena’s friend, although there is innuendo that they were lovers and that depends on who you ask (In my opinion, they are best friends, and I am still hoping if a movie is done that Xena ends up with either Hercules or Ares or if she must end up with a woman, Lao Mao). Gabrielle is another Jesus-like character. She keeps Xena on the straight and narrow. Holding on to Gabrielle’s goodness keeps her on the path of good. We hold on to Jesus’ goodness to keep us on the straight and narrow of a sinless life.
“Selfless, pure Love is the only divine perfection we have in this world. It is the greatest power one can possess.”―Eli in “The Ides of March”
Xena, the Warrior Princess is filled with signifying and scripturalization. In the second of half of season four, they meet a man with powers called Eli who has not yet come into those powers. Eli is the Avatar of the God of the Ultimate Way. Eli is the Jesus-like figure going around healing people and speaking of peace. At the end of season four, Xena and Gabrielle are crucified by the Romans. Eli is grief stricken. Joxer and Amarice, Xena’s friends, get Gabrielle and Xena’s bodies, while Eli goes into prayer. After he has prayed to his god, he raises Xena and Gabrielle from the dead. This story is very similar to that of the Lazarus story. Jesus’ friend Lazarus dies and Jesus is grief stricken; however, he goes into prayer and then raises his friend from the dead. Eli talks about a new world order coming, a time without the gods, a time where there will be peace. Jesus also talks about a new world order, a new kingdom. Jesus says he is the Son of God, and Eli says his god is greater than the Greek gods. Jesus angered the Romans Eli angered the Greek gods (although I believe they were more afraid than angry). Ares the god of war killed Eli (I was personally glad he did. I was tired of Eli and this way of love and wanted show to go back to its original concept of season 1 to 3) and Pontius Pilate ordered Jesus crucified. Both Eli and Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to their disciples. Both Jesus and Eli were challenging systems. Eli challenged the oppressive reign of the Greek gods (although not all the Greek gods were oppressive) and Jesus the oppressive reign of the Romans. Eli is Aramaic/Hebrew for “my God.” Both Eli and Jesus ascend to heaven.
I would like to add that although both Eli and Jesus speak of peace coming into the world, there was no peace after the death of the major Olympian gods and there was no peace after Jesus died. In fact, Xena’s world was still very dark and the Roman brutality became worse for the Jews. I believe that we cannot deny that as the show evolves especially in the latter half of season four and later in seasons five and six strong similarities are drawn between Eli and Christ. The similarities are obvious for those of us who are Christian and who watched the show. For example, his teachings of non-violence, his powers of raising the dead which can be seen in “Fallen Angel,” his casting out of demons seen in “Devi,” and the Christian fish symbol which is seen in “Seeds of Faith,” as well as “Eve” and “Heart of Darkness.”
Another way the series has scripturalized the Christian story is the story of the “Immaculate Conception.” The show scripturalized this story line twice in its delivery. Both Gabrielle and Xena got pregnant by the hand of an angel or a god without having sex. Xena, a few months after she was resurrected by Eli, found that she was pregnant, and she knew that she had not had sex in a while. Gabrielle thought it was either Hercules or Ares the god of war, two of the male loves of her life (I would have rather that because it would have made the Twilight of the Gods more interesting). Xena’s baby, Eve, was conceived by an Immaculate Conception. The angel Calisto announces it to her. Mary, likewise, had Gabriel the angel announce that she was carrying baby Jesus. Both Eve and Jesus were said at the time of their birth to bring greatness to the world. Eve was said to bring about the twilight of the gods and bring a new world order. Jesus was said to be great and that he would inaugurate God’s kingdom. Both Eve’s and Jesus’s greatness was told by divine beings—Jesus by the angel Gabriel and Eve by the fates.
Another way the show signifies and scripturalizes is that Eve is not only a Christ figure, but she is also a Paul figure. Paul never met Jesus, and Eve never met Eli; however, Paul persecuted the followers of Jesus and Eve as Livia persecuted the Elijians. Paul met Jesus during his Damascus experience and Eve met Eli when she was having her visions. Eve converted to the way of Eli and Paul converted to the way of Christ. Eve spread the message of Eli, and Paul spread the message of Jesus. There is a conversation between Eli and Gabrielle that signifies and scripturlizes the conversation in Matthew 18:21-22,
Gabrielle: “What is the truth?”
Eli: “So you really wanna know?”
Eli: “It’s life. We must revere it wherever we find it. To bring peace to this world, I have to teach mankind a reverence for life.”
Gabrielle: “So, if someone were to walk up to you and knock you down…”
Eli: “Then I’d get up.”
Gabrielle: “But if they knocked you down again?”
Eli: “Then I’d get up again, if I could. But under no circumstances would I fight back. If I did, I would simply be perpetuating the cycle of violence that has ravaged the earth for centuries. That cycle has to be broken, Gabrielle, and the truth is that it can only be done through non-violence.
Why did the creators and artists of the show choose to signify and scripturalize the show? I believe that they wanted to show a bigger picture that everything is not all what it seems. They can tap into some larger source of understanding and develop or establish cross-cultural meanings for the presenter and the viewer. There are universal appreciations of good and evil, right and wrong and how people can be supported or hampered by either. The bigger picture I believe that the creators and authors did by signifying and scripturlization is that Christ and the Christian story is bigger than Christianity. That the noton of good and evil is just not a Christian story. That the story of redemption and saving is not a Christian story but a universal story no matter your culture and that although we are both good and bad, all of us are worth saving. All of us have some Christ characteristics in us. The creators used the Christian story and Christ-like figures to say that there is always this oppression you must fight whether it be the Greek gods or the Romans and the religious leaders that you must lead your people into freedom no matter your course in life.
Princess O’Nika Auguste is from the island of St.Lucia. She has a BA in English from Grambling State University, a Masters of Divinity from the Interdenominational Theological Center/Gammon Theological Seminary and a Masters of Theological Studies in Biblical Studies from Claremont School of Theology. She has contributed articles to EEWC:Christian Feminism Today, including “Some Thoughts on Modesty,” “Being Womanish is Not Bad,” “Reclaiming Your Story: Mary Magdalene and Lady Gaga’s Judas and Was Esther a PostColonial Feminist?” Princess is a huge lover of history and mythology, and she is a fan of fantasy and scfi whether that be books, movies, or television shows. Her favorite shows are Lucifer, the Charmed reboot, Once Upon a Time, and Shadow Hunters. She is still a fan of 90s scfi fantasy shows Xena: Warrior Princess, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Angel.You can follow her on Twitter @princesso24.
Jr., Henry Louis Gates. The Signifying Monkey: a Theory of African American Literary Criticism. 25 ed. publication place: Oxford University Press, 2014.