Is “Nero” in the new Star Trek movie an intentional Christian allegory?
By Jay Rogers
Published May 2009
If you haven’t seen Star Trek XI, you need to drop everything and go out and spend $10 (or whatever it costs in your town to see a movie these days) and see it. Not only is it the best Star Trek movie by far, but it will be the biggest movie of the year and shockingly, despite all the hype, it is much better than expected. I could go on and repeat all the critical drivel about how it will revive the franchise, how great is Chris Pine’s portrayal of Captain James T. Kirk, blah, blah, blah, but I won’t.
I am thinking that the “Nero” character in the new Star Trek movie is an intentional Christian allegory.
The “mythology” of a science fiction or fantasy series, whether it is The X-Files, Star Wars or Dune, works on several levels. There is the “back story” of a series, which enables the audience suspend ignorance and disbelief about the characters and their world. In The X-Files, Fox Mulder is obsessed with UFOs because he wants to believe that his younger sister’s disappearance when they were children is due to an alien abduction. It is what drives him to believe that “the truth is out there.” In Star Wars, the audience is asked from the beginning to understand that this is a mythological setting, for the story takes place, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away …” And thus we are willing to accept that there can be no reference to the world we are from. In Star Wars the impossibility of faster than light travel is explained by the existence of “hyper-space” – another dimension where those nagging laws of Einstein’s do not interfere. In Dune, the entire mythology revolves around the production of spice on the desert world of Arrakis or Dune, which not only makes interstellar travel possible, but drives the entire culture of the galaxy as well.
Science fiction and fantasy writers also draw upon mythic symbolism and universal archetypes. They capture the audience’s sense of wonder appealing to a deeper level of emotion and spiritual awareness. Therefore, George Lucas became an avid follower of Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero With a Thousand Faces, and self-consciously used these symbols and stories in each of the Star Wars movies. Ursula K. LeGuin, author of The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness, wrote what she called not science fiction but “thought experiments” relying on Jungian psychology and Eastern symbolism found in the Tao Te Ching. Frank Herbert, author of Dune, drew from biblical messianic prophecy tinged with ancient mythology and Arabic sounding words suggesting the religion of Islam. Other fantasy authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis used Christian symbolism, although Tolkien claimed he hated the very idea of allegory and had no such intentions.
The original series of Star Trek was no stranger to allegory, mythology and dense symbolism. However, Christianity is the most common mythic reference. (Here I use the word “myth” in it’s proper literary sense.) One example is Episode 44 of Star Trek: The Original Series, entitled “Bread and Circuses,” a story about a planet whose leader has imitated the culture of the Roman Empire, but with 1960s technology. In the episode, the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise encounters a persecuted minority known as “sun worshipers” who help McCoy and Spock escape certain death in the gladiator arena.
MCCOY: Captain, I see on your report Flavius was killed. I am sorry. I liked that huge sun worshiper.
SPOCK: I wish we could have examined that belief of his more closely. It seems illogical for a sun worshiper to develop a philosophy of total brotherhood. Sun worship is usually a primitive superstition religion.
UHURA: I’m afraid you have it all wrong, Mister Spock, all of you. I’ve been monitoring some of their old-style radio waves, the empire spokesman trying to ridicule their religion. But he couldn’t. Don’t you understand? It’s not the sun up in the sky. It’s the Son of God.
KIRK: Caesar and Christ. They had them both. And the word is spreading only now.
MCCOY: A philosophy of total love and total brotherhood.
SPOCK: It will replace their imperial Rome, but it will happen in their twentieth century.
KIRK: Wouldn’t it be something to watch, to be a part of? To see it happen all over again? Mister Chekov, take us out of orbit. Ahead warp factor one.
CHEKOV: Aye, sir.
A scene from “Bread and Circuses”
When I was a child I liked Mr. Spock and I even had a Vulcan haircut for a while, but I became a more serious fan of the show once I realized that each episode was a social commentary on one of the many issues during the turbulent 1960s. I was chagrined to realize when I visited Russia and Ukraine eleven times in the 1990s that the show never caught on in Europe or even in the post-Soviet Union. It made no sense at first, since the average Russian school child knew more about the American space program than we did and the whole society idolized its cosmonauts. They loved The X-Files and Star Wars, so why not Star Trek?
Finally, I realized that most Europeans disdained Star Trek as a crass expression of the American notion of Manifest Destiny. Not only would we take over the world, but an American styled “United Federation of Planets” would one day colonize space. Note that the crew of the Enterprise is multicultural and multi-ethnic, but the captain is predictably American. They hated that.
In the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan stepped up nuclear arms production in an attempt to win the cold war, William Shatner’s character appeared in the lyrics to a song, “99 Red Balloons,” by a one-hit-wonder German group, Nena, in a wry screed against the idea that a nuclear war is winnable.
Ninety-nine knights of the air
Ride super-high-tech jet fighters
Everyone’s a super hero
Everyone’s a Captain Kirk
With orders to identify
To clarify, and classify
Scramble in the summer sky
As ninety-nine red balloons go by
But I digress.
A few years ago, I produced a preterist video commentary on Revelation 13 featuring Dr. Kenneth Gentry called The Beast of Revelation: Identified. Copies are always available on our website.
The preterist view of Revelation sees most of the events taking place in the first century since John was writing to seven churches in Asia Minor. In contrast to the preterist view, there are three other hermeneutic approaches to the book of Revelation.
Futurism is the most common “end-times view” of our day. According to the futurist, the book of Revelation is yet to be fulfilled. The locust plagues of Revelation 9 might be interpreted to be Cobra helicopters attacking modern day Israel. The Beast of Revelation 13 is a future world dictator.
Historicism is a view that states that the prophecies of the book of Revelation was fulfilled sometime in history, but not in the first century or in the future. The black plague of the Middle Ages might be interpreted to be one of the plagues brought by the four horsemen of Revelation 6. The pope at the time of Martin Luther is thought to be the Beast of Revelation 13.
Idealism is the spiritualist approach to Bible prophecy. This view states that the prophecies of Revelation are not to be taken literally, but have a general symbolic application in all history. The heavenly battle of Revelation 12 is thought to describe the ongoing battle between good and evil in the spiritual realm. The Beast of Revelation 13 might be any ruler in history who persecutes the church.
I find the preterist view to be most compelling because it has Caesar Nero as the Beast of Revelation 13. In fact, when we understand the historical background of the New Testament, we can see a lot of historical parallels in John’s vision to events that took place in the first century.
In Revelation 12 particularly, we see the figure of the Christ child who is persecuted by the dragon.
Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born. She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne. Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days. And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him (Revelation 12:1-9).
From a preterist point of view, this speaks of Israel, the Christ child, and the Church. Israel, the Old Covenant church, gives birth to the Christ child. But as soon as this happens, Satan, symbolized by the dragon, leads a war against Christ attempting to kill him through the Roman Empire’s military rulers. The first instance of this was the attempted murder of the Christ child by King Herod the Great.
Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men … Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene” (Matthew 2:16-23).
After this occurs, Christ is finally crucified under the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate. He is resurrected from the dead, however, and is caught up to God’s throne. There He now rules the nations with a rod of iron. In the meantime, Satan is enraged with “the seed of the woman,” the church, and persecutes her through the Emperor Nero.
Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child. But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent. So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood. But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ (Revelation 12: 13-17).
In Revelation 13 and 17, the “beast from the sea” and his number, “six hundred sixty-six,” is a symbol and cryptogram for Caesar Nero. This “Beast” has his power and authority to persecute the church from the dragon, the devil. The judgments on the “land” of the Jewish people are recounted in Revelation 18 and 19 leading up to the demolition of the Temple.
I cannot delve into a full-blown exposition of a difficult and controversial text here. I recommend if you want to know more about the preterist view that you check out the DVD, The Beast of Revelation: Identified, or one of Ken Gentry’s or David Chilton’s excellent books on the subject. It’s an interpretation that has had a minority following in church history, but is gaining ground among academics who see the frequent error of end-times hysteria in our culture.
Anne Rice, the recently converted Vampire horror fiction writer and author of a novel series, Christ the Lord, points out two important facts on preterism. A correct understanding of the biblical significance of the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD not only vanquishes crippling dispensationalism, but it also refutes the modernist conjecture that the New Testament was written late by non-eyewitnesses to Jesus.
When Jewish and Christian scholars begin to take this war seriously, when they begin to really study what happened during the terrible years of the siege of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple, and the revolts that continued in Palestine right up through Bar Kokhba, when they focus upon the persecution of Christians in Palestine by Jews; upon the civil war in Rome in the ‘60s which Kenneth L. Gentry so well describes in his work Before Jerusalem Fell; as well as the persecution of Jews in the Diaspora during this period – in sum, when all of this dark era is brought into the light of examination – Bible studies will change. Right now, scholars neglect or ignore the realities of this period. To some it seems a two-thousand-year-old embarrassment and I’m not sure I understand why. But I am convinced that the key to understanding the Gospels is that they were written before all this ever happened.
I understand the Star Trek XI movie as a prophetic landmark for the church pointing us toward a correct understanding of not just the book of Revelation, but of the entire New Testament. Let’s look at how perfectly the Star Trek mythology dovetails with the following biblical truths.
As any Trekkie can tell you, Spock’s sacrificial death and resurrection in Star Trek II and III cast him as the perfect Christ figure. Not only does he save the crew of the Enterprise, but he also saves the entire Federation of Planets from a doomsday machine called “Genesis.” The project is intended to create new inhabitable worlds in a few days or weeks out of barren planets. However, Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy sees it for what it really is.
[In the film, Star Trek II, Kirk, Spock and Bones have just viewed a proposal video for the Genesis Project]
MCCOY: Dear Lord, do you think we’re intelligent enough to … suppose … what if this thing were used where life already exists?
SPOCK: It would destroy such life in favor of its new matrix.
MCCOY: Its new matrix? Do you have any idea what you’re saying?
SPOCK: I was not attempting to evaluate its moral implications, Doctor. As a matter of cosmic history, it has always been easier to destroy than to create.
MCCOY: [Sarcastically] Not anymore. Now we can do both at the same time! According to myth, the earth was created in six days. Now watch out! Here comes Genesis. We’ll do it for you in six minutes!
In Star Trek II, subtitled The Wrath of Khan, a genetically engineered super-villain named Khan captures Genesis and intends on using it to conquer the galaxy. The parallels between the biblical Genesis story here are all too obvious. Man, in his pride, succumbs to the desire to be like God by creating worlds. Then his adversary, the devil or Khan, manipulates man’s error in an attempt to rule the galaxy.
Ironically, Spock not only defeats “Genesis” by giving his life for the Enterprise, thus enabling the crew to destroy Khan, but later a newly created Genesis planet becomes the resting place of Spock’s body. Unknown to the crew of the Enterprise, Spock cannot remain dead on a planet that creates life out of non-life. In Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, McCoy discovers that upon Spock’s death he has received Spock’s soul which was imparted to him upon his death through a mind meld – a Vulcan ritual of laying on of hands and transferring thoughts and emotions. Spock’s DNA is reassimilated on the Genesis planet well into this third installment and he is resurrected and reunited with the crew. The Christian allegory here is obvious.
Fast forward to Star Trek XI, a movie that is all the more satisfying because the background mythology of the series alluded to elsewhere is spelled out clearly. While the story line is comprehensible to the newbie, Star Trek fans will see references to the mythology of the series in every scene, which makes it enjoyable on a deeper level.
Spock has been working as an ambassador toward universal peace among the planets for many decades. He attempts unification between his home world, Vulcan, and their ancestral enemies the offshoot race of the Romulans. Many years after this (Vulcans live much longer than humans you must know, it’s part of the mythology) it is discovered that a giant supernova threatens to destroy a large part of the inhabitable galaxy. Equipped with a substance called “red matter,” Spock attempts to cause the supernova to collapse on itself transforming the stellar phenomenon into a black hole. In the process the Romulan home world is destroyed.
A Romulan miner named “Nero” escapes death because he captains a vast starship apparently outfitted to drill, pulverize and process planetary matter and asteroids. He travels back into the past through this black hole. Nero resolves to eliminate the Federation by killing its greatest starship captain, James T. Kirk, before he could take command of the Enterprise. Kirk’s best friend, Spock, tries to undo the damage caused by Nero by following him through time. Arriving 25 years later than Nero due to the time distortion, Spock finds Nero is waiting for him. Rather than killing Spock, he imprisons him on an ice planet close to Vulcan. Spock is forced to watch the death of his own home world in this alternate universe. (Star Trek is no stranger to the time paradox theme as introduced in what is arguably the best episode, “City on the Edge of Forever.”) Nero then plans to use “red matter” to destroy the worlds that make up the Federation over 100 years prior to his own planet’s destruction in order to alter the future.
Star Trek XI’s theme becomes the “Wrath of Nero.” Or as the King James version of the Bible has it:
And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ (Revelation 12:17).
This war between the dragon and the woman becomes the mythic theme of Star Trek XI. In the plot of the film, there are several striking parallels. First, the elder Spock watches his mother killed and then he is forced to contend with the war of Nero against the Federation, the prime targets being the younger versions of Spock and Kirk.
It is important to understand here that the “woman” of Revelation 12 is not singularly Mary the Mother of God, but Israel and later “New Covenant Israel” or the church. In Revelation chapter 13, a new character is introduced, “a beast arose up out of the sea.” This is the Roman Caesar Nero who actually did kill the “seed of the woman,” the founders of the Christian church, in large numbers. The Roman historian Tacitus, writing in about 116 AD, records that Nero sought to use the Christians as the scapegoat for a great fire that consumed much of Rome on the night of July 18th, 64 AD:
But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed (Annals 15.44).
Writing about 20 years earlier (c. 96 AD), the Roman bishop Clement records that Peter and Paul were among the list of martyrs of his “own generation.” Clement is thought by many to be an eyewitness to the martyrdoms of the Apostles and other Christians in the arena under Nero from 64 to 67 AD.
But not to dwell upon ancient examples, let us come to the most recent spiritual heroes. Let us take the noble examples furnished in our own generation. Through envy and jealousy, the greatest and most righteous pillars [of the Church] have been persecuted and put to death. Let us set before our eyes the illustrious apostles. Peter, through unrighteous envy, endured not one or two, but numerous labors and when he had at length suffered martyrdom, departed to the place of glory due to him. Owing to envy, Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance, after being seven times thrown into captivity, compelled to flee, and stoned. After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects. Thus was he removed from the world, and went into the holy place, having proved himself a striking example of patience (1 Clement 5).
Star Trek’s villain Nero seeks first to punish Spock by destroying his home planet, but his family escapes except for his mother, an earth woman named Amanda. Spock is half Vulcan and half human and this too fits into the Christ myth that is developed throughout the Star Trek canon. Nero then seeks to kill “the remnant of the woman’s seed,” the young Spock and the crew of the Enterprise.
Likewise, Caesar Nero after proclaiming himself a god, was unable to countenance the existence of a growing Christian movement that placed a man from Palestine above his own authority. In his great wrath, Nero destroys the Apostles, but cannot destroy the church after three-and-a half years of bloody persecution. The Beast is said to “make war with the saints and to overcome them” (Rev. 13:7). He is said to conduct such blasphemous warfare for a specific period of time: 42 months (Rev. 13:5).
As a consequence, Nero commits suicide stabbing himself in the neck with his own sword. The Beast not only slays by the sword, but ultimately is to die of a sword wound. “He that leads into captivity shall go into captivity: he that kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints” (Rev.13:10). Finally, we see the Beast “cast into a lake of fire” at the end of John’s prophecy (Revelation 20:10). Star Trek’s Nero meets a similar end as he too dies in a conflagration.
As in any allegory, the weakness is found when we begin to stretch it too far. Obviously the time travel element and having two Spocks complicates “the seed of the woman” analogy a bit – or perhaps makes it more interesting. However, I have made it my purpose here to note the biblical parallels between Star Trek XI and the biblical story of the woman, the child, the dragon and the beast and to point out how the history of Nero can be understood to support the preterist interpretation of biblical prophecy.
Who is the dreaded beast of Revelation?
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