Good Omens and the Bible #CFP

Good Omens and the Bible #CFP July 10, 2019

Meredith Warren is the perfect person to spearhead an academic project about Good Omens and the Bible. I spoke with Meredith recently about her latest book, Food and Transformation in Ancient Mediterranean Literature, which is about hierophagy or “sacred eating” as depicted in literature from ancient Greece, ancient Judaism, and early Christianity. I’m looking forward to releasing that podcast at some point in the second season of the ReligionProf podcast, probably closer to AAR/SBL in November at which the book will be available.

If you’re not sure what the connection is between Good Omens and eating, take a look at this article exploring the significance of food and angelic eating in the show:

Good Omens and Transformational Eating

And now, here’s the call for papers for the volume:

Good Omens is a novel by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, since developed into a TV series on AmazonPrime. We welcome scholarly examinations of any aspect of Good Omens (book and/or TV series) related to interdisciplinary biblical studies, including non-canonical texts, Jewish or Christian theologies, race, gender, sexuality, midrash, folkloric approaches to angels and demons, representations of God, etc.

The volume will be published in the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies series by Sheffield Phoenix Press and will be peer reviewed. Proposed abstracts should be submitted by 1 August and should be no more than 300 words long. Completed essays of 5-6000 words should be submitted for peer-review by 1 February 2020.

Please address all queries to Dr Meredith Warren at m.j.warren@sheffield.ac.uk

Also related to this topic:

The Omen, Good Omens, and Why Neil Gaiman is Not the Antichrist

I don’t have a chance this time

Good Omens: Fast Friends at the End Times

Good Omens: Dear Fundamentalist Christians, Don’t Like a TV Program? Don’t Watch It

And in case you missed it, there was hilariously a petition to Netflix to cancel the show – which was never on Netflix, and was already over by that point!

I haven’t read the novel, but the TV show Good Omens begins with narration by God, who explains how Archbishop Usher was almost exactly right about the date of creation. Hopefully that is enough to clue most viewers in to the fact that the story is satire. But I think it nonetheless has some profound theological insights to offer.

From the very first episode there is mention of a “Great Plan” which is said to be ineffable. That proves to be a central point later on. We also have discussion between an angel and demon who become best friends over the course of the story. The angel gave away his flaming sword to Adam and Eve. The demon, who was the tempting snake in the garden (played hilariously by David Tennant with reptilian eyes), says that it would be funny if the angel did wrong thing and the demon the right thing. “A demon can get into a lot of trouble for doing the right thing,” he remarks.

Another major feature in the story is the book The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch. Hers is the only completely accurate collection of prophecies ever to be written, but they are often vague and only intelligible with hindsight. But she foresaw that the time in which the main story is set would be the time in which the Antichrist would appear. The Antichrist turns out in many ways to be as crucial a character as Aziraphale and Crowwley, the angel and demon, and the story explores the interesting perennial question of nature vs. nurture. The arrival of the Antichrist requires that he be substituted for a baby that has just been born, without the parents’ knowledge. The aim is that he grow up as the son of an American diplomat. But in the hospital run by satanic nuns where all this is organized to take place, a mix-up occurs.

In connection with the theme of Meredith Warren’s book and the podcast we recorded, Aziraphale eats sushi, while Gabriel says he wouldn’t sully his temple with that base matter. This accurately reflects the perspective of many ancient authors about what angels should and shouldn’t do, although I’m not sure whether Neil Gaiman knew this.

For those interested in music, there is also a moment in the first episode when Crowwley asks how many first-class composers they have in heaven. He mentions that Mozart, Beethoven, and all the Bachs are in hell. Once again one wonders whether this reflects a lack of knowledge of Johann Sebastian Bach’s faith, or is pronouncing it inadequate based on an awareness of his life.

In episode 2, Crowley mentions (not for the last time) that he didn’t mean to fall, he just hung out with the wrong crowd. More satire is offered, as War (one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse) arrives and oversees an incident in which human political leaders kill one another over the question of which of them gets to sign a peace agreement first. There are potentially profound remarks, such as “Evil always contains the seeds of its own destruction,” and thought-provoking ones such as “Angels aren’t occult. We’re ethereal.” Aziraphale owns a used bookshop, and in it he has copy of John of Patmos’ scroll. Looking at it again, he discovers that 666 is a phone number, leading him to the misplaced Antichrist.

Episode 3 focuses much of its attention on flashbacks to earlier moments in history. Noah’s flood is just aimed at locals, we are told, as the Almighty is not upset with the Chinese, native Americans, or Australians. When Crowley observes that killing kids seems more like the sort of thing that his lot should do, Aziraphale insists that “You can’t judge the Almighty.” With a wink and a nod to a young-earth creationist conundrum, one of the unicorns runs away before the rain begins. If there is a scene that seems anticlimactic, it is the crucifixion scene. It is not long before eating features prominently again: oysters, crepes, brioche, and pears. There is also reference to a picnic and then dining at the Ritz. We also learn that holy water destroys demons completely, which will be significant later on.

In episode 4 Aziraphale is told to “lose the gut” (he has gone soft eating human food). There is also an appearance of the Megiddo archaeological site (Armageddon) and reference to the Metatron. In episode 5 the flaming sword returns, suggesting that Aziraphale’s kindness and generosity was a good thing in the long term.

Episode 6 brings the story to its climax, and returns to the idea that the Great Plan is ineffable. The problem is that both angels and demons are sure they know what that plan is nonetheless, and are working towards the final battle based on that assumption. Adam, the young Antichrist, had been getting carried away with his power and a desire to reboot the Earth, but has a change of heart. He is told that he is better than heaven or hell incarnate: he is “human incarnate.” Ultimately Satan shows up, and rather strikingly refers to Adam as his rebellious son. This is perhaps one of the most profound moments in the show, since rebelliousness on the part of the “angelically inclined” features regularly in Christian literature, whereas the possibility of demons or the Antichrist rebelling against their tendency and preferring to do something good is rarely considered in a similar way. Adam tells Satan, “You’re not my dad, you never were.” The angelic and demonic best friends muse, “What if the Almighty planned it all along? Wouldn’t put it past her.” One of them also tells the other, “You don’t have a side anymore. Neither of us do.” That is perhaps the most crucial theme of the show, the idea that an angel and a demon forging a friendship can save the world when polarized opposition leads to conflict, war, and destruction.

The final scene with Adam the Antichrist sees him disobeying his (human) mother and leaving the garden where he has been grounded, eating an apple after he does so. There is a nice fake-out that Aziraphel and Crowley engage in. And there is the suggestion that the big conflict will not be heaven vs. hell, but heaven and hell against humanity will be the big one.

At the end, it is time to leave the garden. A perfectly apt question closes the exploration of the theme: “Tempt you to a bit of lunch?” But the show leaves us with an overall question to ponder: isn’t hope and ultimately salvation dependent on those of us who might be inclined to be enemies instead forging friendships that cross whatever category boundaries might otherwise separate us? Angel and demon, antichrist and kid, witchhunter and witch, etc.

Being willing to eat together is often crucial to that process.

Have you read or watched Good Omens? What are your thoughts on its theological vision?

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • John MacDonald

    My comment disappeared?

    • John MacDonald

      I was just quoting from a popular movie. Not sure why the comment was removed?

  • Dr Meredith J C Warren

    Thanks for the shout-out, James! 🙂

    • Thanks for making this volume happen! This is sure to be fantastic!

    • John MacDonald

      Thanks to Dr Meredith Warren and Dr. McGrath for recommending the series. I really enjoyed it!

      I just finished the first season with episode 6. Great existential (existentia) ruler/societal commentary in that episode when, starting around 18:38, Beelzebub says to Adam Young:

      ‘When it’s over, you’re going to get to rule the world. Don’t you want to rule the world?

      To which Adam Young replied:

      “It’s hard enough to think of things for Pepper, Wensley, and Brian to do all the time so they don’t get bored. I’ve got all the world I want.”

      Isn’t this an insightful summary of one of the fundamental things the rulers of a socierty ultimately need to foster: distracting people from boredom? When I used to blog at Palpatine’s way I talked a lot about the fundamental problem of boredom silently lurking under human life as modern addiction to novelty, which can be coaxed to the surface when the novelty drug/satiety is disconnected, such as the anxiousness produced by cabin fever, and the fidgeting in a child’s time out. Nietzsche and Heidegger make this a central issue, which I outline in a short blog post here: http://palpatinesway.blogspot.com/2019/07/the-heart-of-heideggers-nietzsche.html

      One of my favorite quotes about boredom comes from existential Psychiatrist Medard Boss, who wrote at Zollikon that:

      “Medard Boss: Our patients force us to see the human being in his essential ground because the modem neuroses of boredom and meaninglessness can no longer be drowned out by glossing over or covering up particular symptoms of illness. If one treats those symptoms only, then another symptom will emerge again and again … They no longer see meaning in their life and … they have become intolerably bored.”

      This raises the question if this generation is in part defined by being plugged in to social media ….

      • Gary

        I think you’ve hit on a huge problem with our society. Just like the Roman Games in the Coliseum, you now have the general populous obsessed with WiFi X-rated violence, sex, delivered directly to their lap over an IPhone, instead of watching lions tear people apart, they get to watch sex, violence, and perversion, at their instant fingers request, under the guise of freedom of the Internet. May we all pay the ultimate price for the Ultimate Circus Experience! And multiply the number of psychopaths in our society! Thumbs Up. Or Thumbs Down. Your children are watching the ultimate experience. No one is bored now.

        • John MacDonald

          I always find it interesting when popular culture tries to express the phenomena of human existence in terms of addiction, such as the Robert Palmer song which frames love in this way: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lwmLAlEVcWM

          • John MacDonald

            Boy George and Culture Club also sing in Karma Chameleon that:

            And you used to be so sweet I heard you say
            That my love was an addiction

          • Gary

            I seem to remember, vaguely from a long time ago, you were infatuated with Alanis Morissette, being Canadian. Seems like Jagged Little Pill would fit nicely.

          • John MacDonald

            Yes, and one of my favorite Philosophical lines, which comes from one of her songs “All I really want,” is:


            “Why are you so petrified of silence?
            Here can you handle this?
            Did you think about your bills, you ex, your deadlines
            Or when you think you’re going to die?
            Or did you long for the next distraction?”

            The best treatment of the existential problem of boredom I have seen in popular culture comes from the Star Trek Voyager episode with the Q continuum Philosopher Quinn who petitions to be allowed to commit suicide because the tedium of having to live forever after having been everything and done everything countless times is unbearable.

        • John MacDonald

          The first season ends on the theme of Adam Young and boredom too. Adam is being punished, stuck in the Garden (his parent’s back yard) bored with nothing to do. So, he wants his Hell Hound to run away, so he would have reason to escape the Garden and chase him down, which the Hell Hound does, so Adam escapes the boredom of the Garden. It’s an interesting thematic play on the concept of the first Adam in the garden of Eden!

          • John MacDonald

            One last thought: The boredom of Adam Young at the end of episode 6 in the Garden illustrates some important theological/existential points. One is the ultimate tedium of life, which Ecclesiastes talks about (nothing new under the sun). It raises the question of how long Adam and Eve would have been satisfied in the Garden had Eve never been tempted.

            James said:

            The final scene with Adam the Antichrist sees him disobeying his (human) mother and leaving the garden where he has been grounded, eating an apple after he does so.

            Adam didn’t really disobey, but rather found a way to do what he wanted (leave the garden) in a way that his parents would have approved of (to get the dog), putting responsibility on the dog, much like blaming the snake for Adam and Eve disobeying.

            So, Adam Young found a way to get away with breaking the rules. But does this mean he did something wrong? I don’t think so, because Adam Young in the boring garden episode illustrates a theological point beyond Good and Evil about boredom and the nature of human conduct:

            “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop; idle lips are his mouthpiece. (Proverbs 16:27 – loosely translated).”

          • John MacDonald

            St. Jerome wrote in the late 14th century: fac et aliquid operis, ut semper te diabolus inveniat occupatum, or “engage in some occupation, so that the devil may always find you busy.” This saying was later repeated by Chaucer in the Canterbury Tales, which was probably the source of its popularity.

  • John MacDonald

    Yay, my comment reappeared! I also like this Quote from The Devil’s Advocate (1997) on whether Satan can win in the end:

    Kevin Lomax : In the Bible you lose. We’re destined to lose dad.

    Satan: Well consider the source son.

  • John MacDonald

    I’m watching the episodes on Amazon Prime, and I just finished episode three. One question I have is why the angelic/demonic beings are having such a hard time finding the Anti-Christ child when he has an aura so massive that it can be seen from space? I’m enjoying it!

    • Great question!

      • John MacDonald

        If the Hell Hound could find the Anti-Christ boy so easily, why couldn’t the angels or demons? Inquiring minds want to know! lol

      • John MacDonald

        I can’t believe I didn’t see the show until after the deadline for the CFP abstracts were due on August 1st! I have so many ideas about the show that I think would make a great essay. I sent an Email to Dr. Warren to see if I can still submit an abstract even though it is past the deadline. I wish so much that I could just get one essay into a peer reviewed journal that I could share with my family and friends. Oh well, I’ll keep trying! As Homer Simpson says, trying is the first step to failure – lol.

  • John MacDonald

    Very grateful to James for alerting me to “Good Omens.”. After a lot of time and effort and near misses, I finally published an article! It’s online at The Popular Culture and Theology website on the topic of “Good Omens, Evil, and Boredom:” https://popularcultureandtheology.com/2019/11/11/good-evil-and-boredom-in-good-omens/ . I can finally cross “publishing an article” off of my bucket list. Yay, it’s back to reading just for fun!