13 Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?”
14 And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” 15 Moreover God said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.’
Who is Eli and What is He Up to?
While I have to say that I enjoyed The Book of Eli, there is one thing that ruined the movie for me: It’s humanistic and universalist interpretation of religion in general, and by implication Christianity. In the movie, Eli, played by Denzel Washington, is the only man on post-nuclear-war earth with a copy of the King James Bible. He believes he has been sent on a mission to travel to an undisclosed location in the West. Eli’s travels make up the majority of the film, and we see him fighting human scavengers and street thugs that kill travelers and steal their things (e.g. the basic necessities that nuclear war have made scarce – water, food, etc), until he meets his arch-nemesis (played by Gary Oldman) who offers him political, spiritual, and economic power if he would just give Oldman the book. Eli refuses, gets hunted down by the enemy, dies (sorta), and is resurrected (sorta), and finally makes it to where he was initially going: West, far West, to Alcatraz prison, which has now become a fortified fortress of literary works and a publishing house from which all of civilization will begin to grow anew.
The film draws heavily from Scripture, so heavily in fact that one is almost tempted to think that this film has anything to do with the Bible – especially because Eli is protecting the Bible. But it doesn’t. You see, when Eli is relating his story to another character in the film, he doesn’t say that “God” has sent him on his mission. He says, rather, that he “heard a voice.” This isn’t surprising to me. I mean, after all, we are talking about a major Hollywood film. But the pieces start to fall together only in the end of the movie, after Eli has lost the hard copy of the Bible he had, yet successfully reached Alcatraz prison, recited the entire Bible to the great librarian/scribe and they have printed a slew of Bibles.
The great librarian/scribe places the Bible on a bookshelf between some Jewish writings and the Quran.
Why? Because the Bible is important in The Book of Eli, but no more important than the Quran or Jewish writings. There are some who would try to interpret Eli as a Christian, but is this the case? Maybe that was the intended purpose of the scriptwriter(s), but what I see in Eli is a religious man who has deep respect for the Bible and feels compelled to bring it out West, but definitely not a Christian martyr for the faith. The central point of the movie, therefore, is not the Bible – it is the idea that you and I are the ones who create and/or destroy culture, politics, the arts and, yes, religion. We are the focal point of The Book of Eli – not the book. “God” is not only contained in the pages of the Bible, but in other religions as well.
To summarize: The movie implicitly teaches that our knowledge of God is incomplete without the Bible, not that our knowledge of God is dependent upon the Bible (let alone the Bible alone).
What is more, this implicit teaching shows up in how Eli handles the Bible. As I watched the movie, I thought to myself: “Why does he keep the Bible wrapped in cloth, unwrap it, and kiss it before putting it away again (which involves wrapping it up and putting it back in his bag)? Why won’t he let his companion touch it?”
And it dawned on me:
That is how Muslims handle the Quran.
And that, I think, is the intended purpose in having Eli handle the Bible as he does; by treating the Bible as Muslims treat the Quran, in addition to praying to a nameless “lord” prior to eating his food, Eli is showing us the supposed similarities between Christianity and Judaism and Islam.
This is the syncretistic/universalistic interpretation of “all religions worship the same ‘god'” that is becoming more and more the dominant theme in our culture and, unfortunately, the church (as I’ve written about here and here). Eli is not a Christian, but the hero of syncretistic religionists. He is a man who reads the Bible, treats it like the Quran, and dresses like a Buddhist (just prior to being buried on Alcatraz Island, he is shown wearing a white (color of mourning) oriental style garment).
Who Sent Eli?
Eli makes it clear that he was sent by a voice. But whose voice was it? We can assume it was supposed to be “God”‘s voice, but the movie is here purposefully ambiguous. Eli’s god is not the God of the Bible, but the god of men and women who make no distinction between the True and Living God of the Bible, and the false gods of other religions. Eli’s god is the product of human tradition, experience, and cannot be fully revealed in just the Bible.
Unlike Moses when he faced Pharaoh, when Eli is approached about the mission he is on, he says nothing of the God of the Bible.
But what more can you expect from Hollywood?