Opinion on using bible contents in a fantasy story

editing_for_authors
Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

Sinuka

Registered
Joined
Dec 20, 2020
Messages
21
Reaction score
2
Location
Germany
Hello everyone.

I could use some help, feedback or advice on a moral question that tortures me.
I have been working on a story for a manga in which I refer to bible passages which I incorporate into my story. I don't pervert or make fun of these passages but make them part of a fantasy world dealing with people being possessed by the Seven Deadly Sins and their virtues.
As an example: The whole "possessed by a sin" part is based on a bible passage in which Jesus drives seven demons out of Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9). In my story, those demons then travel separately around the world looking for new hosts who will give them their bodies to share in exchange for their powers.
With my further writing more of those elements appeared and I love my story, however I am insecure:

Could it be seen wrong or inappropriate if I take those biblic moments and put them into a "modern sequel"?

Thank you in advance for your honesty.
 

Woollybear

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Nov 27, 2017
Messages
4,518
Reaction score
791
Location
USA
Well, some biblical books, in my understanding, come from other stories or are related to other stories. Like the flood story. It's been told in other ways that predate the assemblage of the Bible.

Also, there are gospels that aren't included in the Bible.

Your question seems like the sort of question you need to answer for yourself. I'm agnostic most days, and your usage of the Bible wouldn't offend me. But I suspect my view on the Bible is radically different to a fundamentalist Christian's view. In your shoes, I might avoid problems with offending potential readers by finding analogous writings that are technically not Biblical. The Gospels of Mary and Philip, other creation myths, and so on.
 

lizmonster

Possibly A Mermaid Queen
Absolute Sage
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 5, 2012
Messages
7,826
Reaction score
2,079
Location
Massachusetts
Website
elizabethbonesteel.com
There will always be people who think what you're writing is wrong or inappropriate.

Yes, you'll offend some people. Only you can decide if that's worth it.
 

InkFinger

Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 15, 2020
Messages
1,064
Reaction score
79
I use religious texts all the time. Feel free to do what works. It's always wise to be respectful of the source material, but you should not be swayed by that.
 

Chris P

Likes metaphors mixed, not stirred
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Nov 4, 2009
Messages
18,778
Reaction score
2,381
Location
Vienna, VA
There are lots of "depends" here. Does your story take place on Earth, at a time and place the characters would be familiar with Bible passages? It would seem odd to me as a reader if direct quotes were used in a non-Earth fantasy world, or at a wierd time.

Ideas, however, are pretty universal and wouldn't look strange anywhere.

If you do use Bible quotes, keep in mind some translations are under copyright, while others are not.
 

Sinuka

Registered
Joined
Dec 20, 2020
Messages
21
Reaction score
2
Location
Germany
Thanks everyone for the quick answers! It helped me a lot!

I love my story a lot and I really want people to read it. It is definitely true that it might upset religious people but I think it is worth it.

@Chris P:
Yes, the story takes place in a today, earthly setting however in a made-up, modern city with supernatural protagonists. The people are as familiar with the Bible as a real city would be. Some more in detail, some less.

Can you recommend a way to definitely check which translations are under copyright? And if the quote is copyrighted, does that mean that I can't quote it literally but maybe rephrase it? Or are there other ways I could solve that? The biblic part I mentioned above is absolute vital to the whole story base.
 
Last edited:

Chris P

Likes metaphors mixed, not stirred
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Nov 4, 2009
Messages
18,778
Reaction score
2,381
Location
Vienna, VA
Thanks everyone for the quick answers! It helped me a lot!

I love my story a lot and I really want people to read it. It is definitely true that it might upset religious people but I think it is worth it.

@Chris P:
Yes, the story takes place in a today, earthly setting however in a made-up, modern city with supernatural protagonists. The people are as familiar with the Bible as a real city would be. Some more in detail, some less.

Can you recommend a way to definitely check which translations are under copyright? And if the quote is copyrighted, does that mean that I can't quote it literally but maybe rephrase it? Or are there other ways I could solve that? The biblic part I mentioned above is absolute vital to the whole story base.

You're welcome. Try googling "public domain bible translations." Most of the ones I know of are in the older style of thees and thous, but that doesn't mean there aren't newer ones under creative commons licenses. Biblegateway.com provides the text of many translations, and if public domain they are likely also online elsewhere. As for paraphrasing, I'd hate to say go for (I am not an intellectual property lawyer) but usually that's okay.

As for offending, write what you need to write. I'm a practicing Christian, and it takes a lot to offend me.
 

frimble3

Heckuva good sport
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 7, 2006
Messages
8,495
Reaction score
1,116
Location
west coast, canada
As far as using the Biblical 'seven deadly sins', I once saw pictures of a miniature dollhouse representing the seven deadly sins in a flop-house, one room at a time. There was a guy lolling slothfully on a bed in one room, lust in another, the kitchen represented gluttony, etc.

I don't recall any objections, and miniature people are fairly conservative in their tastes.
 

AW Admin

Herder of Hamsters
Staff member
Super Moderator
Moderator
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 19, 2008
Messages
17,668
Reaction score
4,330
Location
On the Server
Website
www.digitalmedievalist.com
This is a pretty common way to use Christian texts.

It's old. Milton did it. Augustine did it. Anonymous did it many many times when they wrote the Medieval Mystery or cycle plays. See Langland's Piers the Ploughman.

See also Ship of Fools. Pilgrim's Progress.
 

Chris P

Likes metaphors mixed, not stirred
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Nov 4, 2009
Messages
18,778
Reaction score
2,381
Location
Vienna, VA
I feel like I should send you to my twitterpage

Lol. I love the cups of sheep.

Sinuka: I still believe you should write what you need to write to tell the story in the way you want it told, but I had a thought about the "offending" discussion. Having run in religious circles my whole life (that THAT however you want to! The company I keep, or the never-ending quest! :)) there are two "offenses" that religious people might ("might"; not "will") take. There is the pearl-clutching, fainting-at-the-very-mention outrage over irreverence, heresy and blasphemy (by whatever definition they are using), and then there is the idea of "spiritual error": where a spiritual assertion you might make in a book is not supported by, or goes contrary to, some part of the Bible. These folks are not offended or outraged or writing gravely concerned letters to school boards to ban books, but do argue "That's not how it is based on II Fundamentalists 3:16." They will, however, let you know, let their friends know, and mention as much on Amazon reviews. But these folks are going to do that no matter what you write.
 

Muxy001

Muxy001
Registered
Joined
Nov 23, 2020
Messages
13
Reaction score
0
Location
Australia
Website
michaelmuxworthy.com
I face a very similar situation.

I've justified my "actions" (in my own mind anyway) by treating the subject matter respectfully ... and without an agenda.

Still, even within members of my family of beta readers, I've raised a few eyebrows.

Good luck!
 

starrystorm

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 9, 2018
Messages
2,458
Reaction score
170
Hello everyone.

I could use some help, feedback or advice on a moral question that tortures me.
I have been working on a story for a manga in which I refer to bible passages which I incorporate into my story. I don't pervert or make fun of these passages but make them part of a fantasy world dealing with people being possessed by the Seven Deadly Sins and their virtues.
As an example: The whole "possessed by a sin" part is based on a bible passage in which Jesus drives seven demons out of Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9). In my story, those demons then travel separately around the world looking for new hosts who will give them their bodies to share in exchange for their powers.
With my further writing more of those elements appeared and I love my story, however I am insecure:

Could it be seen wrong or inappropriate if I take those biblic moments and put them into a "modern sequel"?

Thank you in advance for your honesty.

Sounds a lot like the move Shazam in which the bad guys are the seven deadly sins.
 

Chris P

Likes metaphors mixed, not stirred
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Nov 4, 2009
Messages
18,778
Reaction score
2,381
Location
Vienna, VA
For what it's worth, the Seven Deadlies are not mentioned as such in the Bible, but date from the Fourth Century or so. Much of what we think of as Christian thought and mythology arises later, such as the Nine Circles of Hell, or Veronica wiping the face of Jesus, even if these stories and teachings are prefigured in the Bible and/or are borrowed from other faith traditions. St Francis's Canticle of the Sun (brother sun, sister moon) sounds very pagan to me. As mentioned elsewhere in the thread, even many biblical traditions are borrowed from other traditions or reflect actual events also recorded by others allowing for the oral tradition "telephone" game across centuries, distances, and translations.
 

Introversion

Pie aren't squared, pie are round!
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 17, 2013
Messages
5,128
Reaction score
748
Location
Massachusetts
Could it be seen wrong or inappropriate if I take those biblic moments and put them into a "modern sequel"?

As lizmonster said, it’s almost axiomatic that someone, somewhere, will take offense at anything you write. So, write what you want and are comfortable with.

Are you thinking of quoting directly with chapter & verse attributions? Or just repurposing some of the stories in it? Because I’ll be surprised if many of the latter weren’t repurposed by the Christian bible from older myths & legends. Everyone writing borrows from those who came before them. No shame in it. Ignore anyone who is outraged, is my advice.
 

Lakey

professional dilettante
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 20, 2017
Messages
1,344
Reaction score
463
Location
New England
I don't recall any objections, and miniature people are fairly conservative in their tastes.

Well, you can't blame them for being small-minded.

...I'll show myself out.

:e2coffee:
 

Roxxsmom

Beastly Fido
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 24, 2011
Messages
19,764
Reaction score
3,344
Location
Where faults collide
Website
doggedlywriting.blogspot.com
The so-called Seven Deadly sins come up in pop culture in everything from Captain Marvel (the old one I remember reading as a kid, anyway) to the creepy serial killer movie Seven from the nineties. Analogs come up in fantasy worlds too. I don't think your idea is likely to be offensive. Plus there are lots of modern era works, both fantasy and some considered more mainstream, that are prefaced on material from the Bible, or on premises based on Christian traditions that were not in the Bible themselves but are now associated with Biblical tradition (like the Seven Deadlies). Not to mention lots of spin offs and alternative takes on Biblical theology. And yes, even satires and work considered critical.

The Narnia books
A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels
The Da Vinci Code
The Stand
The Golden Compass
Good Omens
The Kushiel's Dart trilogy (based in an alternative Earth where Biblical events are altered and history unfolded differently).
Any of a slew of urban fantasies that have some aspect of Christian mythology or mysticism as a premise

Plus movies like Hellboy, Dogma and so on. And don't forget the play (later made into a TV series) Angels in America.

More ideas keep popping up as I sit here and type. It would be rather remarkable if there weren't endless works that embrace or explore aspects of Christianity, including some that spoof or are critical of it, given how important it has been in Western thought and history.

Plus, as AW Admin said up thread, there are plenty of much older and classic works as well.

It's certainly not off limits. Whether or not some people will be offended by your idea, I can't say. There might be, and that's not even necessarily bad. I think the pervasiveness and dominance of Christianity in western culture removes most of the concerns one might have when borrowing religious ideas or mythology lifted from a culture not one's own, particularly when that culture has historically been marginalized or misrepresented.
 

CathleenT

I write
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Aug 6, 2014
Messages
5,048
Reaction score
1,925
Location
Northern California
Okay, so cultural appropriation is a thing, right? And supposedly, it's a bad thing. At least that's what I've been hearing a LOT of at various places around the internet. Rowling got into trouble with it, and reading responses from Native Americans to her work, I can understand why.

Now apply this principle to religion. There's a world of difference between Narnia and The Golden Compass. One is reverent, the other is not--it's actively destructive to the religious elements it uses.

So, here's the acid test. If an actor has to actually be gay or black or a member of whatever cultural/ethnic group they're portraying, the same should hold true for religious themes. Not necessarily non-famous religious characters--my standard is a lot less strict than the Hollywood one currently in vogue. But overall themes, like when someone asks, "What's your book about?" If the answer includes Jesus, or an obviously Christian theme like the Beatitudes, then you should be a Christian. Mohammed...ditto Muslim. If you're basing your book on a Talmudic theme, you should be Jewish. That sort of thing.

But why? Simple fairness and accuracy. Lots of language has undergone change so people will be less unintentionally offensive. And if you use a famous religious character, then minefields abound. It's a a lot easier to see when you take a non-Christian example. I wouldn't use Mohammed (the Muslim prophet) as a character in anything. I'm not a believer in that faith. It would be sooo easy just to think, "Oh, Christianity is close enough. And I don't actually want to be offensive. I've studied it. That should be good enough." And then in my ignorance, I could write something that would genuinely be offensive to millions of people. Apart from the bleak career prospects that would accompany such a move, that's not why I started writing. I wanted to lift people up.

And okay, you may not share that motivation, but being destructive to what people hold most sacred is hardly a praiseworthy endeavor, IMO.

I don't know all the references that AW Admin listed, but I do know that Milton, St. Augustine, and Bunyan were very Christian, as was Lewis. And there's a world of difference between their wildly disparate works and The Golden Compass series, a difference that's at the very core of the story.

OP, and AW at large in this instance, St. Mary Magdalene is a saint who has been revered by Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Christians for centuries. People, including me, pray to her. (Not worship--I don't want to go down that rabbit hole, but we do speak to and petition her.) So, as a character, she--and her circumstances--have the weight of both history and faith.

Would it be okay to write a story in which Martin Luther King, Jr. acts in ways that the real man wouldn't have? He's a cultural icon, a source of continuing inspiration to many.

And so is Mary Magdalene.

So, I'd say to go ahead and write your story. Speaking as a devout Catholic, I don't think people really care what you do with demons. They're really not our thing. But leave St. Mary Magdalene out of it, please. It's an easy enough change to make. Also, please leave out Jesus and any Church rites of exorcism. And quoting our sacred scripture out of context to support a new narrative is inherently disrespectful, IMO. This is my faith, and it means the world to me.
 
Last edited:

AW Admin

Herder of Hamsters
Staff member
Super Moderator
Moderator
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 19, 2008
Messages
17,668
Reaction score
4,330
Location
On the Server
Website
www.digitalmedievalist.com
I don't know all the references that AW Admin listed, but I do know that Milton, St. Augustine, and Bunyan were very Christian, as was Lewis. And there's a world of difference between their wildly disparate works and The Golden Compass series, a difference that's at the very core of the story.

OP, and AW at large in this instance, St. Mary Magdalene is a saint who has been revered by Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Christians for centuries. People, including me, pray to her. (Not worship--I don't want to go down that rabbit hole, but we do speak to and petition her.) So, as a character, she--and her circumstances--have the weight of both history and faith.

This is a specious argument. If you are an Orthodox Jew the entire New Testament is, at best, problematical. If you are a Roman Catholic, your Bible is strikingly different from the Bibles of a Protestant, a Russian Orthodox, and a Greek Orthodox; this is because they each canonized different manuscript traditions.

Pilgrim's Progress, while a Protestant literary classic, is heretical if you're Catholic. So is Milton's Paradise Lost; both contain fairly substantial heresies. St Augustine (there are two, by the way) invented a fair amount of what he wrote out of whole cloth; it was extra Biblical.

Protestantism, just for the emphasis on faith alone instead of works, is technically heresy, to a Catholic.

Much of what people think is doctrine about St. Mary Magdalene is in fact, extra Biblical. Some of it was invented out of whole cloth, some of it was conflating later non-Canon gospels with the Canon. And there's confusion as later commentaries conflated various Marys in the Bible (Mary was even in the 500 years before the birth of Christ one of the most common names for women). And then there's the excluded Gospel of Mary, to further confuse the issue. Moreover, the depiction of the Magdalene in psot Gregory and now, is very very different from her depiction today. Hugely so.

The Seven Deadly sins, as noted upthread, are not Biblical at all; they're exegetical commentary. And there are multiple versions of them, depending on which list you use. (The order also varies.).

And yes, of course, any religion should be treated with respect, just like any culture. That's actually the key; be respectful, but that also means having an awareness of the source material you are using.

Which is the reason the OP started this thread.
 

B.D. Skunkworks

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 19, 2019
Messages
62
Reaction score
20
Age
34
Location
Philly
Me, personally, I'm all for it. Adopting biblical quotes and content in fiction is certainly nothing new or original (which is exactly why Neon Genesis Evangelion is my bible). My own WIP was heavily influenced by biblical and spiritual stories. None of them are quoted directly, but I incorporate copious amounts of symbolism and similes.