Supernatural Syriac

Supernatural Syriac September 8, 2014

I’ve had the TV show Supernatural on my radar as something I should watch at least since 2009, when a student pointed out to me that a Mandaean amulet got a mention on the show. Today I was nearby when someone was watching an episode, and I did a double take when I saw Syriac writing on the screen! The episode, I learned, is called “Are you there God? It’s me, Dean Winchester.” And I soon found a clip of the relevant scene:

It didn’t take too much investigation to figure out that the prototype for the page of a manuscript displayed on the screen was something available in the public domain online – MS 577 from the Schøyen Collection, a picture of which is available on Wikipedia:


They used the text from these pages, although not all the precise marginal drawings, by the look of it. The text is liturgical hymns, which is not what the episode was about.

But it does sound like Supernatural is a show I would be interested in. Are there any blog readers who watch or have watched Supernatural? Do you recommend it?

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  • Cindy

    I’m a minister and I LOVE the show. While it might not be perfect theology (if there is such a thing), it tackles questions a lot of other shows avoid. I wrote about it a while ago on my blog.

  • VorJack

    Jason Colavito had a quick breakdown of some of the show’s themes. The show has come under a LOT of criticism for its treatment of race and gender.

    • Zyzzyva

      Yeah, this ^^^. The show is entertaining in a boys-own-adventure pg-rated-horror sort of way, but if you’re the kind of person who likes looking at theme it has issues. Big issues.

      The season six big bad is a woman named “Eve” who shoots monsters out of her magic vagina.

      • Derrick

        Well, technically, Eve was only a symptom of the other big bads from that season. She only came out of the woodwork because of the experiments being performed on her creations.

    • MadGastronomer

      As in: Every single woman who appears more than a couple of time has something horrible happen to her. Generally, she dies in a really nasty way. I think that girlfriend one of the boys lived with for a bit while the other one was off being dead survived, but some bad things went down before they split up.

  • Joey Richard

    You should watch supernatural. I know you are a doctor who fan and supernatural and doctor who are my two favorite shows. Supernatural is definitely worth watching.

  • $120619225

    I highly recommend it, but if you start with Season 1 it might take a while to get to the part that would really interest you. At first it’s a monster/ghost of the week show, but somewhere around the middle of Season 2 it starts getting better, and when the angels show up it’s like WTF just happened.

    In addition to the sorts of problems mentioned by VorJack and Zyzzyva, it also gets a little repetitive. I can’t even remember how many times both Sam and Dean have had to go to hell/get out of hell/stop working with demons. Still, though, it doesn’t take itself too seriously like the X-Files did. There are a lot of episodes that are just goofy fun and way meta, if you’re into that sort of thing. It’s on Netflix and makes for excellent binging.

    • Al Petterson

      Yah, I forgot to mention it does have a fair bit of goofiness. I’m not someone who normally likes horror movies – they leaven it with enough… other stuff that it’s fun, and not just depressing. They tend to add a nod and wink when you need it: big, nasty, world-shaking things happen, but it doesn’t ever take itself completely seriously.

  • Aureliano_Buendia

    I was pointed this way from Fred Clarke’s Slacktivist blog. I’ve watched up into season 9 of Supernatural, and I’ve enjoyed it in a vague, unfulfilled way. I think I keep expecting plot twists, deeper meanings, or psychological illusions and when everything runs exactly like a normal person would expect I just feel a bit disappointed.

    The best parts are the two attractive leads (three, if you include a certain trench-coated fellow) and the soundtrack (lots of great rock). The story is somewhat silly, increasingly so after season 5. Some people might like that, but I felt it was a jarring change. It picks up steam again after season 7.

    It’s not nearly as scary as, say, American Horror Story; not as well-written as Buffy; not as edge-of-your-seat as GoT. But the two leads seem to be good actors and play off each other quite well. The show doesn’t take itself seriously at all some times, and gives shout-outs to fans quite often.

    I guess I can sum it up as enjoyable, but I can’t pinpoint why. It certainly isn’t bad.

    • $120619225

      “The best parts are the two attractive leads (three, if you include a certain trench-coated fellow)”

      Four, if you include a certain grizzly old hunter. And given the amount of excellent Sam/Dean available, I’m really disappointed there’s no Bobby/Castiel.

      • MadGastronomer

        Isn’t Bobby dead at the moment? I mean, not that that’s ever stopped fans, or even the show.

        • $120619225

          Dead but not forgotten. If there’s a deity who loves me he’ll be back for whatever season ends up being the last.

      • wendy

        Six, if you include Mark Sheppard and the Impala.

  • Al Petterson

    Fred over at slacktivist suggested some of us come over and give our impressions of the show. I don’t know if I’m qualified to say much about the verisimilitude of the theological issues it tackles, but I can tell you a bit of what to expect, without a lot of spoilers.

    It pretty clearly started out with the goal of doing a weekly horror movie. It’s got quite a bit of squick (as much as TV can reasonably show), so you’ll need to be able to deal with that.

    While it can be very dark, it’s got very funny moments, and great chemistry between the two brothers. (Example running gag: watch for them constantly impersonating federal officers and using names of famous rock musicians as aliases – even when they sometimes get caught doing it. (“I’m Agent Bonham. This is Agent Plant. We’re — ” “Whoa, like Zeppelin?”)) It will also once in a while play with the fourth wall in some very clever ways.

    Since it’s a horror movie, and it follows the Billy-Bob Briggs school of thought (anyone can die at any time, sex leads to death, etc.), but also has two main characters with conditional script immunity (who can only die once in a great while), the supporting cast and guest stars tend to fare … poorly. And it’s generally followed the easy/cheap path of making its female characters either slutty, evil, or dead – or, often, all three. (The long-term supporting characters it’s introduced have also tended to be white men, and that’s … not really necessary, and thus kind of unfortunately exclusionary). It’s been trying to improve this in later seasons but the basic problem of the premise hasn’t gone away.

    For its problems, though, it’s also really entertaining. I became pretty sold on the show in an early episode when the two brothers were investigating a supernatural monster up in the mountains, and argued over whether it was a sasquatch or a wendigo – without stopping to “as you know, Bob” to the audience about what those two legends were. They trusted the audience to keep up.

    It’s done a whole lot of demons, angels, heaven, hell, limbo, Enoch, possession, damnation, falling from grace, prophecy, last days, and all that stuff – all done in a gritty “God has left the building” sort of way. I don’t think of it as particularly deep; they generally take one theological/metaphysical idea and run with it as the season arc, and sometimes the idea is something with authentic theological implications but its application becomes somewhat Hollywood-superficial (and involves regular fire, explosions, blood, decapitations, and the usual horror-movie fare).

    It’s uneven, as others say here, but it’s overall entertaining enough to have kept me watching for ten years.

  • axelbeingcivil

    I watched Supernatural for a long while. I like the things it features, but it got a little frustrating with the angel malarky. Not the world’s greatest show, but fun.

  • (Here via Slacktivist)

    I watched several seasons of Supernatural, and found it a very mixed bag… especially if you’re a folklore and mythology buff. Their approach to those things ranges from, “Huh, that’s a different take, but it works okay in this context” (eg. La Llorona) to “What the…? Did they just draw a name out of a hat and then apply it to a monster-of-the-week they’d already written?!” (eg. the kitsune, or “the demon Sam Hane”).

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t insist on “pure” approaches to these subjects. But a reworking should at least show that the writers did enough research to have figured out what the core concept is.

    • Suburbanbanshee

      The demon Sam Hane (Samhain) comes from J. Michael Straczynski, when he was writing The Real Ghostbusters cartoon. (Sam Hain was a pumpkin-headed guy, natch.) JMS may have taken it from some of the more dubious pagan and/or fundamentalist Christian “pagan origins of Halloween” fake factoid material, or the factoid people may have gotten it from him.

      • Jonathan Bernier

        As with any mention of JMS, let me just point out that Babylon Five remains, next to Doctor Who, the best television show ever made, bar none.

  • Derrick

    It’s not a perfect show, but it’s definitely worth your time. It can be kind of silly, the race and gender issues pointed out below are an issue, and the show does get off to a rough start in season one. That being said, it’s also a lot of fun, and at times it presents a genuinely creative take on monsters and myths of both the familiar and unfamiliar varieties.