There are many ways in which Man of Steel exemplifies essential characteristics of the canon of the Superman mythos, and there are many ways in which it innovates within that canon. It is no surprise to anyone at this point that Man of Steel incorporates many images and concepts of religion into the Superman mythos, whether they read this book or not. Film directors are very often experts in the matter of lore, whether it may be that they are film buffs themselves, knowing all there is to know from their colleagues and predecessors of their genre, or perhaps they are familiar with more ancient forms of art and literature as well as religion and philosophy that they use to expand and deepen the subject matter of their films.
Not having met Zack Snyder, I have not had the opportunity to ask him where he got the idea for this or that scene or concept that I have found within his films. The matter of where Man of Steel’s ideas come from is further complicated when we understand that movies are the products of hundreds of people, so we don’t really know which of the things that we see came from Zack’s mind originally, or from his writers and cinematographers who contribute their own creative input. There have been cases where a given concept that I have seen appears to be a theological idea so advanced that many theologians are not aware of their significance. This would be the case in the instance of “the codex” in Man of Steel.
In the movie, eugenics and population control caused Krypton to retreat from mastering the universe, turning in on itself to consume itself in collapse. Kal-El (Superman) is sent to earth in common with the Superman mythos in general, but in Man of Steel, he is sent with the personal genetic, biological blueprint for every Kryptonian there ever was or will be written into his genes and body. Not only is this idea something I have never encountered in the greater canon of Superman, but this idea is so pregnant with philosophical and theological meaning that it is positively dripping with it.
Superman containing all Kryptonians in himself is a pretty advanced concept, so in order to explain it, I’m going to have to give a fairly exhaustive monolog that it going to seem like it is coming a bit out of left field. I am going to have to start with some issues of language.
So to begin with, in Hebrew the words for a “god” and for an “angel” are used rather interchangeably, and what the Bible refers to as an angel is basically the same kind of being as a god in other religions. A god is a personal being, like us, but higher and more powerful than we are, from some other kind of world that is beyond ours. But for all of this higher power, gods are still fundamentally like us. They live within the universe, or within the multiverse. They exist within created reality. A god is actually something very different from what we mean when we say “God” (with a capital G). God, with the capital G, even when not used at the beginning of a sentence, is infinite, beyond space and time, beyond being in any one place at one time, and is not directly comprehensible or observable. God can only be comprehended or observed by the effect that he has on the creation. But, as mentioned previously, a god is a higher being that exists within created reality. This is basically what angels are.
Now for another interesting fact from language. In Hebrew, the word for God is a plural. We know it refers to a singular thing, though, because everything around it in the sentence is singular. And not only is it plural, but it is the plural for the word for a god. That’s right, the word “God” (with the capital G) in the Hebrew is actually the word “gods.” But again, we know this plural word is singular because the pronouns and verbal forms around it are singular. So then, to talk about God like you would in Hebrew would produce a sentence like: “I am always happy when gods comes to me because he makes good things happen in my life.” Now if we were talking about plural gods, the sentence would be “I am always happy when gods come to me because they make good things happen in my life.” Notice no “s” on “come” and “make” and “they” instead of “he.” This is how we know that the word for God is a plural word referring to a single being.
Scholars have offered a mind-boggling amount of conjecture about why this is the case. I am going to offer some of my own. Imagine if you will Abraham, the first monotheist of the world’s religions, having a vision of some type of angelic being, a god, who appeared to him and had a conversation with him. He runs home and tells his wife he had a conversation with this being, saying that he had spoken to some god. His wife asks him, “which one? Zeus? Mercury? Enkidu? Vishnu? Saturn? Enlil? Which one of the many gods did you see?” To Abraham, this question is, first, one that he doesn’t know the answer to, but second, an irrelevant question because exactly which god he was speaking to doesn’t matter, since the various gods are all representatives of and synchronized with one ultimate being beyond space and time who is not directly comprehensible except by analogy and by observation of his effect on the creation – God (with a capital G). So when she asks him the question, he just responds, “gods. Gods came to see me, and he spoke to me, and I am going to tell you what gods said.”
Yes, this is a conjectural tale about Abraham designed to give some insight as to how monotheism came to be described, and how God may have come to be described by a plural word. The key here is Abraham’s understanding that the various gods out there are all representatives of or manifestations of God.
Now then, there is another concept from religion that we will want to talk about before we relate all of this back to Superman. It’s the idea that the gods, or angels (remember, these words refer to the same kind of being), have a leader. A king or a captain of sorts. This is very clear from a verse in the biblical book of Joshua:
When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” 14 And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” 15 And the commander of the LORD’S army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.Joshua 5:13-15
Now in the Bible, there are multiple places where God is seen as walking around, talking to people, and otherwise behaving as a god, a higher being that exists within the creation. God walked around in the garden of Eden. God appeared to Abraham with two angels (two gods) and sat and talked with him while the two angels (two gods) went to get his nephew Lot. Abraham’s son Jacob actually got into a wrestling match with God. In the book of Job, God is sitting on a throne talking with angels, having a contest with Satan, who himself is a fallen god. The overwhelming majority of these descriptions are in historical narratives. There is no linguistic reason to consider them poetic imagery. The Bible is actually talking about God walking around talking with people, wrestling with them, etc. However, it is also quite clear that God is beyond space and time and being in any one place. I usually show this to people to convey that fact:
Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.Jeremiah 23:24
So thus far we have presented two ideas from language and religion. There is the idea that God is a single being with a plural name, and then there is the idea of an angelic king, a king of the gods as it were, who represents the incomprehensible infinity that is God. These ideas can be supplemented with the idea of the Adam Kadmon from the Kabbalah.
The Kabbalists have an understanding that the created reality, the universe or multiverse, is a giant Mendelbrot set. If you’re not familiar with a Mendelbrot set, you’ll have to Google it. I’m not writing an encyclopedia here. But in a nutshell, everything contains fractal images of itself. The Adam Kadmon, translated roughly as “the primordial man” is a supposed human built out of the attributes of the Kabbalist “tree of life” who is essentially the blueprint pattern that the universe is formed according to. The Adam Kadmon is the personal being who contains the entirety of the universe within him.
Finally, within the New Testament there is also the idea that a personal being contains others within himself. To explain it, I want to say a couple of things about the New Testament in order to introduce the concept. Heretofore, everything we have spoken about here is a uniquely Jewish idea. The New Testament was written by eight people, seven of whom are Jews. However, they were, in general, writing to gentiles or to mixed groups of Jews and gentiles. Only the Gospel of Matthew and the Letter to the Hebrews were written by Jews to Jews. Because of this, how “Jewish” the New Testament is is hotly debated among theologians. But it is in precisely one of those two books, the most Jewish of the New Testament writings, the Letter to the Hebrews, in the seventh chapter, where we find the idea that an ancestor actually contains his descendants. There it is said that the ancient priest Melchizedek is a preeminent authority because Abraham honored him, and the entire Jewish priesthood, from the tribe of Levi, defers to Melchizedek because Levi was contained within his great grandfather Abraham, who honored Melchizedek.
All of these ideas, the idea that God is a single being with a plural name representing the sum total of heavenly beings, the idea of a divine king of the gods or king of the angels who represents the incomprehensible one God, the Adam Kadmon idea of a man who contains the creation within him as fractal patterns, and finally the idea that the Jewish priesthood was contained within Abraham, are all very well represented by an infinitely strong and powerful superhero from Krypton who contains the complete pattern for all Kryptonians within himself. Kryptonians represent the angels, or the gods, and Superman represents a kind of king of the gods, a kind of Adam Kadmon who contains all things within himself.
I do not know where this notion of Superman containing all Kryptonians came from. I do not know where Zack Snyder or his writers and filmmaking team got this idea from. I wish I did.
It is my hope that this chapter contains the most esoteric philosophy that you will be exposed to in reading this book. It relies on the understanding of linguistics of an ancient and strange language. One of the most difficult languages a human can learn, in fact. Even modern Israelis, for whom modern Hebrew is their native language, have difficulty understanding this ancient form of the tongue. This chapter also draws on esoteric concepts from Kabbalah and mathematics, and sees a commonality of thinking with certain strands of the New Testament. I hope it will be the most difficult chapter to try to wrap your head around.
I had to introduce these concepts, though, to do what I could to present to you just how unique and advanced the notion of Superman containing all Kryptonians within himself actually is. This isn’t just some cute idea for casual moviegoers. It actually ties the superman mythos to some of the most profound theological concepts there are.
To sum things up, within Jewish philosophical thinking the idea of a personal being containing other personal beings has appeared in a great variety of contexts, with many of these contexts pointing to an absolute representative of the divine. And lo and behold, this extremely advanced and diverse concept from Jewish philosophy, even including the New Testament revered by Christians throughout the world, has turned up in Man of Steel.