He’s the omnipotent son of a heavenly father, raised by humble Earth parents to show us the benefits of clean living. Not even death has stopped this savior, who hears cries for help from all over the world. Superman is Jesus, right?
Pfft! Hardly! As an infant he was sent away from his family to save his life, and grew up to fight tyranny and oppression. Superman is Moses.
Sorry, but I’m not buying either one. If Superman were Jesus, the point of his mission would be to “save” people to Krypton. Likewise, if he were Moses, he’d have been sent away to escape a tyrannical ruler’s edict (which sounds like JJ Abrams’ Superman movie); and Jor-El would be the source both of his powers and the laws he’d hand down. Christ and Moses taught the word of God — and his steadfast morality notwithstanding, Superman has never been a preacher.
In fact, while many DC heroes are representatives of other cultures, they aren’t charged with enlightening the rest of the world through Atlantean, Oan, or Martian philosophies. Only Wonder Woman has that mission, plus a set of Biblically-reminiscent traits backing it up. If any DC character could be compared to Jesus or Moses, Diana might just have the strongest case.
This category provides Superman’s closest Biblical parallel. Like Jesus, he was sent to Earth “from above,” and like Moses, he was sent away from his parents to save his life. Unlike the Biblical figures’ parents, though, Jor-El and Lara died shortly thereafter. In fact, where Jor-El and Jonathan Kent are credited as important influences on Superman, the Biblical figures’ mothers get more play in their sons’ respective stories than any other parent but God Himself. Moses’ mother Jochebed puts the baby basket in the Nile, and Pharoah’s daughter finds it. Mary’s role isn’t limited to the Nativity, since she continues to appear in the accounts of Jesus’ adult ministry, while Joseph fades into the background.
Although Diana has no foster parent (I’m not counting Julia Kapatelis), Hippolyta is certainly a more active mother (shut your mouth! … sorry) than either of Superman’s. Moreover, her maternity is a result of her faith, in keeping with Biblical mothers like Sarah (mother of Isaac), Hannah (Samuel), and Elizabeth (John the Baptist).
Seeing Jesus in Superman necessarily means seeing God in Jor-El; but Jor-El and Krypton are long gone. By contrast, until very recently, Diana’s deities were constant sources of inspiration. In Wonder Woman vol. 2 #1 (by George Perez and Greg Potter), Athena’s first words to the Amazons include the following:
You are a chosen race — born to lead humanity in the ways of virtue — the way of Gaea! Through you all men shall know us better — and worship us always! Therefore does Athena grant you wisdom, that you may be guided by the light of truth and justice!
It is significant that the Amazons hear this in an Earthly paradise into which they have just been “reborn” from the Cavern of Souls. Eventually, the Amazons will be cast out of this Eden, having failed in their mission by allowing themselves to be enslaved by Heracles. As penance, the goddesses will send them to Themyscira to guard an “unspeakable evil.” This explains the Amazons’ rededication to their original mission and, besides the obvious Garden of Eden parallel, also seems rather Old Testament-ish generally.
There are other similarities between Amazonian history (at least post-Crisis on Infinite Earths) and Biblical history. The brothers Jacob and Esau, who reconciled after an estrangement, are considered the fathers of the Israelites and Edomites, respectively. Likewise, after the Amazons defeat Heracles, the sisters Hippolyte and Antiope split up — Hippolyte taking some Amazons to Themyscira, and Antiope’s followers ending up in the Middle East — and the groups are not reunited for centuries. The Biblical judge/prophetess/warrior Deborah (Judges Chapters 4-5) might also have felt at home in Themyscira.
Moses and Jesus both worked against the interests of those in power. Moses sought to free his people from Egyptian slavery, and Jesus found himself up against both religious and secular authorities. Although Superman started out as a more radical social reformer, he has since become strongly identified with the establishment; whereas Wonder Woman’s mission has been consistently rooted in elevating the status of women worldwide. While this hasn’t necessarily put her in direct conflict with the patriarchal powers-that-be, it is at least an indirect challenge. Greg Rucka emphasized the political nature of Diana’s mission, putting her through the 24-hour news cycle and the trials of attack politics in the context of promoting her book of Amazonian teachings. (I’m not quite saying Diana’s book was her Ten Commandments, but again, Clark/Superman writes mostly news reports, not philosophy.)
At the risk of belaboring the point, it seems almost necessary to both their purposes for Christ and Diana to have been at odds with the status quo at one point or another. Because of her involvement in politics and the stated underpinnings of her mission, it is easy to see how Wonder Woman could find herself pilloried for her beliefs. Indeed, while Diana’s execution of Maxwell Lord was an extreme example of this, and led to her exile, those events are also at least superficially similar to Moses’ flight from Egypt after killing an Egyptian who was abusing a Hebrew. However, it is almost antithetical to Superman’s portrayal for the public (or a vocal faction thereof) to turn against him in the way that the crowd demanded that Christ be crucified and Barabbas released. Superman did exile himself into space after killing three apparently-irredeemable Phantom Zone murderers, but the circumstances were hardly as public as Diana’s, and resulted in no public condemnation. Superman’s self-imposed exile in Kingdom Come might be closer, but I’m not counting Elseworlds here.
Death and Resurrection
Although Jesus, Superman, and Wonder Woman have all returned from the dead, they each did so for different purposes. Jesus’ death was the defining event of Christianity, and effectively marked the end of his face-to-face ministry. Superman’s death was, at best, the springboard for a Big Comics Event. Diana’s was likewise temporary, but instead of disappearing from her title for a few months, she “ascended into Heaven,” becoming the Olympian Goddess of Truth while her mother went adventuring as Wonder Woman. Therefore, Diana’s death added another level to her mission, making her divine at least for a little while.
As you might expect, such a transformation is not unprecedented in Greek mythology. Upon his death, Heracles became a god (or, as Wikipedia puts it, the mortal part of him was burned away). Still, her deification continued to serve … the gods’ purposes, I guess, if not her original mission to Patriarch’s World. Superman just got a mullet.
Like Jesus, Diana’s mission was an inclusive one, seeking to spread the good news to anyone who would listen. As Themysciran ambassador, Diana helped reintegrate the Amazons with the rest of the world, bringing delegations to Themyscira and Amazons to the U.S. Again, this reflects the fact that (until recently) the Amazon culture was still thriving. Such an outreach will obviously never be part of Superman’s mission, because he represents a lost civilization. (Never mind the post-Crisis motif of a cold, logical Kryptonian culture wanting to enslave the Earth.) With Amazons Attack on the horizon, though, Diana’s sisters may be interested in a more radical form of evangelism.
And about the bondage…
Honestly, I think the character has moved past this part of her history. Still, if you want to be complete, there is probably an argument to be made that many religions require some relinquishment of one’s self-governance. I’m sure that if you get to that point, there are at least some superficial similarities. I mean, there aren’t women roping each other from kanga-back in the world’s religious texts, as far as I know, but like I say, the argument can probably be made.
In a way, this whole exercise isn’t quite fair to Superman. It’s a little unsettling to argue that the creation of two Jewish teenagers has been transformed slowly into a Christian icon and infused with a Christian background. If religion’s going to be a part of Superman at all, DC’s old dodge of making Superman Jewish and Clark Methodist isn’t a bad compromise. Accordingly, it’s a lot easier to show Diana praying to Athena or swearing by Hera. (Superman only swears by Rao infrequently these days.) Unfair though it may be, that reinforces Diana’s spiritual grounding and suggests that Superman is motivated by a more vague sense of social responsibility that neither wholly embraces nor rejects a particular religion.
Ironically, though, Diana’s mission still doesn’t promote much more than a secular philosophy. She isn’t so much “winning souls for Zeus” (or is it still Athena?) as she is arguing on behalf of that particular Amazonian blend of compassion and combat. Nevertheless, at least her advocacy has real roots in a quasi-mythological tradition with Biblical echoes; and I do think she’s more of a Biblical-type spiritual leader than Superman (who, again ironically, looks more and more like a classical-mythology hero).
Now, of course, she’s a combination of Lynda Carter and the white-suit era, with a secret identity who works for SHIEL– uh, the Department Of Metahuman Affairs. I don’t expect this status quo to last very long — perhaps not even past the end of Amazons Attack — but even when the ambassador/emissary gig returns, I doubt DC will embrace Diana’s evangelical aspects. Maybe Diana doesn’t get Superman’s Jesus/Moses analysis because she’s not the same gender. Maybe her costume makes it difficult for such analysis to be taken seriously, or maybe all the Marston/Peter psycho-sexual baggage gets in the way. Maybe the express connection to Greek mythology disqualifies her from any Judeo-Christian comparisons.
Maybe I am full of skata.
Or maybe I’m not looking in the right place. Depending on which version of her origin is valid this week, Donna Troy had foster parents – boy, did she ever! – and she’s been dead too….