Man of Steel: General Zod

There is a principle found in the occult that I believe has much in common with practices in biblical theology which I want to tell you about in order to enrich your understanding of General Zod, the primary villain of Man of Steel. Occasionally if you go to see a palmist or a fortune teller, you may hear the term “as above, so below.” When they refer to this, they are saying that the events in our lives correspond to events that are occurring in spiritual ways, or they correspond to events that are taking place elsewhere, in spiritual realms, with spiritual beings as the actors.

I have never heard a priest, rabbi, or any type of theologian actually say these words, “as above, so below,” but I have run into some methods that theologians use to interpret sacred scriptures that strike me as being very similar. In order to tell you about these, I am going to tell you about a villain much more ancient than General Zod. We will start talking about an ancient but unnamed king of Tyre.

So in the ancient world there were two cities north of Israel on the coast of the eastern Mediterranean Sea called Tyre and Sidon. They are located where the modern country of Lebanon sits today. These are the great cities of the ancient Phoenicians, a seafaring people who colonized most of the Islands in the Mediterranean and who would eventually become the Carthaginians, who were the opponents of the Romans in the famous “Punic Wars” (yes, this is where our word “punish” comes from) with their famous general Hannibal, who was the first military commander in the West to use war elephants.

In the Hebrew Bible there is a famous prophetic rant against one of the kings of Tyre from the first millennium BCE. While this may not seem very superheroish, I want to paste a bit of that rant here for you to read so we can go over it together.

Moreover, the word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord GOD: “You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle; and crafted in gold were your settings and your engravings. On the day that you were created they were prepared. You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you. In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned; so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I exposed you before kings, to feast their eyes on you. By the multitude of your iniquities, in the unrighteousness of your trade you profaned your sanctuaries; so I brought fire out from your midst; it consumed you, and I turned you to ashes on the earth in the sight of all who saw you. All who know you among the peoples are appalled at you; you have come to a dreadful end and shall be no more forever.”

Ezekiel 28:11-19

In the preceding verses in the book of Ezekiel about this Phoenician king of this ancient maritime trading city, we have a more or less standard condemnation of a proud and arrogant king who was doomed to destruction, but in this section we see a number of very strange turns of phrase. In the text quoted above, the king is said to originally have been a guardian cherub. In the Bible, a cherub is a particular race or species of angel. So this king was called an angel. Further, this king of Tyre was said to have been in the garden of Eden. There was no Tyre or king of Tyre in the garden of Eden. The only people in that garden were Adam, Eve, God, and the serpent who tempted Eve to eat the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. So this cherub, this angel, was in the garden of Eden, yet is being lambasted by the prophet of God. Further, he was said to be on the mountain of God, but on earth the mountain of God is Mount Sinai, which is somewhere in Egypt or Saudi Arabia, nowhere near the Phoenician city of Tyre. Perhaps there is a mountain of God in heaven that is being spoken about here. This cherub was created in splendorous beauty and walked among stones of fire. Not many earthly mountains have stones of fire. Okay, no earthly mountains have stones of fire. Again, it could be that we are talking about heavenly things and heavenly mountains.

From the above we see that we are no longer talking about an earthly king, but this tirade against a king of the Phoenician city of Tyre has transformed into a description of an ancient, beautiful, powerful lord of angels who because of pride has fallen and is being destroyed.

The Jewish rabbis have four ways of analyzing texts to find deeper meaning in them. The pshat meaning is simply the plain meaning. The drash meaning is the thematic meaning. The remez meaning is the hidden meaning. Finally, the sod meaning is the mystical meaning. It’s the remez meaning that we are using here. We notice little bits of text and words that are a somewhat out of place that constitute “hints” that there is some sort of allegorical or metaphorical meaning being described that is more important or deeper than the plain meaning.

So we have an utterance against a king of Tyre, an earthly lord, which ends up being an utterance against some sort of heavenly lord who has fallen and will be destroyed. Things going on in heaven correspond to things happening on earth. As above, so below. The same pattern applies to a heavenly event and an earthly one.

This text is one of the texts that is applied to Satan, the original angelic king who is now fallen and will be destroyed. There are a number of these. In fact, the word “Lucifer” was originally a title applied to the king of Babylon in the book of the prophet Isaiah that is also interpreted to metaphorically apply to Satan.

Satan is the ultimate villain of Abrahamic religion, and he has various analogs in all of the religions of the world. And while some form of Satan has been found in religions all over the wrold, this method developed by the rabbis to find where he is being talked about is not unique to Judaism. Hindus understand that Krishna symbolically represents Vishnu, and Vishnu symbolically represents Brahman, which is the Hindu equivalent of God in the Abrahamic religions. These layers of metaphors, literary patterns, and symbols is called “typology” in Christian theological circles, but again, Christians are not the only ones who use it. It was invented by the Jews and is a common feature of world religion.

Concerning Man of Steel, we have talked about how the destruction of Krypton represents both the sundering of heaven as well as the fall of man. As above, so below. Now we want to look at General Zod and see what this character, the ultimate villain of the movie, the ultimate opponent of Superman, the superbeing who contains all of the Kryptonians within himself, has to say about the grand villain of human and divine imagination: Satan.

So General Zod in the Superman mythos is a Kryptonian military leader who tries to save Krypton by rebelling against the leadership at a point at which it is too late to save the planet. He is exiled with his followers into a “phantom zone,” which bears an eerie resemblance to a kind of “outer darkness” or “hell” spoken of in religion.

In Richard Donner’s Superman II starring Christopher Reeve, Zod is one of three evil kryptonians along with Ursa and Non, forming a kind of a dark Trinity of sorts. Christian theologians do whisper of a dark Trinity in their ivory towers: the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. But Man of Steel avoids any kind of Trinity presentation here. The main female kryptonian is now Faora, and she is just a member of an entire crew of fallen, exiled Kryptonians without particularly significant roles. Zack Snyder will bring in a Trinity concept when he gives us the three motherboxes in subsequent movies, though they make no appearance in Man of Steel.

In the movie we are discussing, Zod has a plan to make the earth like Krypton, destroying humanity in the process. Our discussion of this plan warrants its own chapter, however. Here we will only say that as a part of his plan to resurrect Krypton, he intends to use the codex contained in Superman’s body to resurrect the Kryptonians and then recommence the process of eugenics, social control, and rejection of exploring and mastering the universe that destroyed Krypton in the first place. That is, he isn’t really any kind of savior of the Kryptonians, as he is just going to do what brought it to ruin to begin with, so in effect he is really only the destroyer of humanity.

So we have this story of Superman, who himself is an analog of an angelic superbeing, or a Messianic superbeing in some religious traditions, and General Zod is his primary opponent, making him a kind of an analog to Satan, the principle opponent to the divine in the religious stories of the world. For the most part, however, the religious renditions of the opponent of the divine throughout the scriptures and commentaries of the world’s theologians don’t have much to say about why Satan opposes God, but in Man of Steel we have a picture of an enemy to Superman who really thinks that he is doing whats right for Kryptonians. In other words, we have a vaillain with a fully-developed ideology. I wish more theologians would think more about what Satan has going on, and what his ideology is. This would make them better prepared to think about and provide answers about where he went wrong.

So in the movie, Zod’s solution is to bring back Kryptonian society and do the very things that destroyed it. According to Zod, we must still be perfect, and we must still accept imposed roles given to us by predetermined bloodlines and issues of genetics.

This is not unlike another detail that comes from the ideas we inherit from religious tradition: the Devil. The name “Satan” in Hebrew means “enemy” or “opponent,” but this figure has acquired many names during his history. He is also called “the Devil,” and this name is a mixture of Hebrew and Greek. In Greek, the root of the word “diaballo” came to denote the term for a prosecuting attorney in the ancient world. Hebrew has a certain interplay between the letter “b” and “v,” so that the word diabel ultimately became “devil” in English. Because of this connection to an ancient prosecutor, the name “devil” is normally understood to mean “the accuser.” That is to say, for thousands and thousands of years, and long before Man of Steel hit theaters, Satan, or the Devil, became connected to the idea that you must be perfect in order to succeed, and that God will not love you until you are better than you are. The Devil is your accuser.

We can thank Man of Steel for telling audiences that a fixation on perfect behavior, for putting trust into eugenics programs and pre-assigned social roles, so that only certain people are worthy of life, is actually the mantra of the villain. This idea is actually what ripped heaven to pieces, and it is not the message of the divine, which is that all are loved infinitely.

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