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Superman: Was he a Jew or a Christian?

Superman: The High Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero by Larry Tye, Random House, 2012, ISBN 978-1-58836-918-5;  409 pages including appendices and bibliography, $27.

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO — Was Superman Jewish or Christian?  Author Larry Tye lays out the claims for each religion in his history detailing the character, his history as a business asset, and the many times creative teams changed him or his back story to appeal to changing tastes over more than 70 years since

His creators, Jerry Siegel the writer, and Joseph Shuster, the illustrator, were both Jewish, but there was more to it than that.

His name on the planet Krypton was the Hebrew sounding Kal-El, with El being a name for God.  Kal sounds a bit like Kol, so perhaps Superman was intended to be the voice of God.  Certainly what he stood for “truth, justice and the American way” comported with words from the Mishnah: “The world endures on three things: justice, truth and peace.”

In some ways, Superman was a lot like Moses.  His parents, knowing he would be otherwise doomed, put him into a vessel to go alone to his fate.  Moses was put in a basket, Superman in a rocket. Both babies were subsequently raised in foreign cultures–Moses by the Pharaoh’s daughter, Superman by Ma and Pa Kent.

Siegel wrote his tale in the 1930s, when Jewish children were being placed on kindertransports to save them from the Nazis.   And, notes author Tye, when a name ends in “man,” you can bet the bearer is either Jewish, or a superhero or both.

In Kabbalistic terms, the explosion that blew apart the planet Krypton can be compared to the shattering of a vessel from which the Divine light emanates.

But Christians have good claims on Superman as well.  For them Kal-El means something beyond God, perhaps a son. They note that his adoptive mother’s original name was Mary–the same name as the mother of Jesus.  The blanket in which he was wrapped can be compared to the swaddling clothes of Jesus.  Supposedly, in the language of Krypton, Kal-El mean “Star Child,” which could be a reference to the bright star of Bethlehem.

Superman’s Fortress of Solitude rises like a cathedral.  The name Krypton is Greek for “hidden,” which is the way Christian Scriptures describe the Kingdom of God.

And Superman’s arch enemy is Lex Luthor, whose name sounds a lot like “Lucifer.”

His cape spreads like the wings of an angel.  He landed in Middle America, part of the Christian heartland.

Superman passed through many hands, most of them Jewish.   One of his later story editors was Julie Schwartz, who drawing on his Jewish heritage, had Superman fight against a galactic golem, created by Lex Luthor.

Tye meticulously researched Superman’s career in comic books, radio shows, television shows, movies, and diverse merchandise, explaining how sometimes these various media told contradictory stories about Superman, which sometimes left die-hard fans frustrated. But each new generation had a Superman with whom they could identify and idol-worship.

Tye will be in San Diego to participate in the July 12-15 Comic-Con, and while he is here he is scheduled to speak–and autograph books– at various Jewish venues in the county.  He’ll be at Temple Solel Friday evening, July 13; at Tifereth Israel Synagogue at 12:30 p.m, Saturday, July 14, and at the Lawrence Family JCC, 7 p.m., Sunday, July 15.

For any fan of Superman–and, really, isn’t almost everybody? — this is an informative book that brings you up to date on a man who is over 70 years old, but never seems to age past his late 20’s.

*

Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.   He may be contacted at [email protected]

 

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Copyright 2012 San Diego Jewish World

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  1. […] what about Jewish characters? This publication’s editor, Don Harrison, has already written a good article about the Jewishness of Superman based on the book by Larry […]


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