Hollywood Bible #1: Pulp Fiction and Ezekiel 25:17

Okay, this is something new I wanted to try out on the blog. Let’s see how it goes.

The Bible is one of the foundational documents of western civilisation, and even though it’s not as widely read as it once was, you can still see its influence in culture. After all, it keeps cropping up in unlikely places, like metal albums and horror films. One of the most dramatic uses of a Bible quote in Hollywood is in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, where a passage from Ezekiel is used as both a hitman’s signature and a possible path for his redemption.

Of course, the main reason it’s dramatic is because it’s quoted by Samuel L. Jackson, who is possibly the coolest man on Earth, and therefore if he comes after you quoting the Bible you listen carefully. And then you run away, because he’s probably gonna shoot you.

At the risk of calling down his vengeance though, I should point out that he’s not quoting the Bible.

Oh, he says he’s reading Ezekiel 25:17, and in context I doubt anyone’s about to argue with him. But here’s what he says:

“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy My brothers. And you will know My name is the Lord when I lay My vengeance upon thee.”

But here’s what Ezekiel actually says:

“I will carry out great vengeance on them and punish them in my wrath. Then they will know that I am the LORD, when I take vengeance on them.’”

The reason for the discrepancy is obvious – Tarantino wanted Jackson to say something awesome and biblical and wrote something that sounded right but that also helped advance the plot of the film. Straight forward enough, but as this blog only really exists to poke around in the Bible, I thought it was worth looking at a little closer.

See, towards the end of the film, Jackson’s character, who’s had something of an epiphany, explains why he quotes the Bible. He confesses that, in the context of the pseudo-passage, he’s been “the tyranny of evil men”, but he’s now trying to be the shepherd.

Now that’s interesting, because shepherds, good and bad, are a theme in Ezekiel. Flick forward nine chapters in the actual Bible, and you’ll see that Ezekiel 34 is an extended attack on the bad shepherds – leaders of Israel who are leading their people astray. That’s the problem with Jackson’s speech – the people meant to be shepherds have been dropping the ball, leaving one person to take over, God himself. Hence the other famous passage about shepherds alluded to in Tarantino’s speech, Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing…even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil…“). In other words, when religious and political leaders drop the ball, God himself takes up the slack. And that’s why there’s an emphasis in John’s gospel on Jesus being, yep, the Good Shepherd. We can also cross reference that with the Parable of the Lost Sheep in Luke, which is a parable of redemption.

I guess this ties in to the other famous story refered to in Jackson’s speech – “For he is truly his brother’s keeper” echos “Am I my brother’s keeper?” from Genesis 4. Here it’s a dismissive thing – Cain’s stroppy response to God asking where Abel is (the answer is that Cain’s murdered his brother and God’s about to bust him). There’s a sense in which the murder is only a part of Cain’s crime – in one violent act, he’s also shattered the bonds of family and community as well. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Well, yes, you are, and you’ve screwed up. To show his divorce from society, Cain ends up as a “restless wanderer upon the earth.”

That’s why the more aspirational use of the phrase in Pulp Fiction sounds right – it echoes the idea of loving your neighbour, of going the extra mile, of healing the wounds inflected by Cain. Jackson’s character says he’s going to “walk the earth” like another Caine (the guy from the show Kung Fu). Hmm.

So there you go; the quote version of Ezekiel may not be real, but it has echoes of the actual Bible, some of which tie in with the wider plot of the film. And it reveals another truth, less important but nevertheless cool:

The Bible always sounds awesomes when it’s read by Samuel L. Jackson.

 

29 thoughts on “Hollywood Bible #1: Pulp Fiction and Ezekiel 25:17

  1. Thank-you for contextualizing the character of Jules for me–I’ve never yet seen that movie in its entirety. And I love the story of Ehud–it’s one of my favorites for some reason.

    • Ehud’s a great story! I’ll fully admit I love it because of the grotesque details, but I think there’s something deeper there about God doing something unexpected, which is a valuable lesson…

  2. Pingback: Blood Cries Out: Cain and Abel (Genesis 4) | The Left Hand of Ehud: Matt's Bible Blog

  3. Pingback: Hollywood Bible #2a: Raiders of the Lost Ark | The Left Hand of Ehud: Matt's Bible Blog

  4. Pingback: Hollywood Bible #2b: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade | The Left Hand of Ehud: Matt's Bible Blog

  5. ok i know the quote S.L.Jackson says is off however here is another possability he read a different bible, why whould i come upwith this craziness I walked into a bible store and there were 50 different translations of the bible that said sorta the same thing leaving me to think unless you read ancient aramaic or ancient hebrew you really don’t have any idea how good what you read in the bible is translated so stop busting S.L.Jackson on some nonsense

    • There are many translations and reinterpretations because the bible was created by man and the scriptures used were selected from many stories. If God wants you to know something, He is not going to leave it up to humans to translate his intentions in a book that has undergone a thousand changes. Many of these stories are probably BS and the fact that many other stories were left out of the Bible means the creators of it had an agenda . It is fine to share these stories but to try and pass them off as the word of the Lord is blasphemous. SLJ did not read from a different version of the bible. He read the lines he was told to by QT.

  6. Pingback: Final Jeopardy – 6/26/13 | holding shots

  7. What Ezekiel “actually said”, or rather what the original verse is (since Ezekiel is just a fictional character on an old scroll), would not contain any English words, on account that it was written in Hebrew. And, even in Hebrew, there were several versions of it going around, and the original is long lost.

    So it’s rather silly to start correcting someone on what the actual thing says, using an English translation made from a Greek translation, which in turn was made from severely modified copies of the original.

    • I actually study the ancient Hebrew texts and I can tell you that they have only one Hebrew version. I have translated many a verse also and they come out nearly identical to modern translations. And the Old Testament wasn’t translated to Greek right after Hebrew, that would be Latin and then to Germanic and old anglish.

  8. I’m just gonna say you are very ignorant there have been over 50 different bible versions made in like the last century. Other languages has multiple ways to say love and man other words. Also after translated the meaning then can be decided person to person. So to say someone else is wrong about what they believe the bible says when those verses have been translated so many different times is just ignorant. Don’t just pick up your King James Bible and think that’s the right one. Do you Speke Greek or Hebrew. Prob not and you have prob not read the original text and even that would be confusing that’s why there have been so many bibles. Also plz stop trying to pull stuff like Cain and Abel and Biblical stuff from the movie. People do it to much and you should watch the South Park episode scrottymcboogerballs. Really sounds stupid but it might educate a little more on ignorance like ur doing

    • Well if you think it’s an accurate quotation from some different text then how about you point out the one it is taken accurately from. To simply call someone ignorant without backing it up reflects more on you than the person you are trying to insult.

  9. I’m like the 5th person to tell u what u said was ignorant so I think u need to get more educated on subjects. Especially on the Bible because and ignorant “religious person” is the most dangerous person that can ever exists. I mean look at how many people judge people well I have a tattoo and it is Matthew 7. So all those gay haters and people who rage and tell people they are going to hell will be judged by God the same they did to others. Because Only God can judge and he asks us to forgive everyone in our lives or God won’t forgive our sins and we go to hell.

    • Look what else Matthew 7 says. Verse 20 “Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” From a person’s actions, you make a judgment about that person, good or bad. John 7:24 “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” Matthew 7:1 is the one of the most abused verses in Scripture. Just as dangerous as an ignorant religious person is a person who is Biblically ignorant. A study on judging and forgiveness would do all of us well. You don’t just walk around forgiving people for living in sin and completely contrary to the will of God. I haven’t classified certain things as sin, God has already done that. Christians aren’t to sit on their hands and ignore everything (James 5:20). Call sin for what it is, but it must be done out of love, not spite, which most cannot do, but should

  10. I love the fact that people say it is ignorant to correct misquoted scriptures. In doing so they make huge grammatical errors, and one guys argument was “watch South Park” LOL! I also find it funny that the people claiming 50 different translations probably have never even looked at any of them. It was an embellishment for the sake of a fictional film. Truth is absolute, scripture is truth. Unfortunate truth is offensive. But I think everyone can agree that the point of the movie quote was to add to the character, not to be a literal scriptural quote. No one is going to show Pulp Fiction in church or the mission field.

  11. Pingback: Odd Facts About Captain America- The Winter Soldier

  12. It’s not “inequities”.
    It’s “iniquities’.

    But every dumbaxx on the internet keeps repeating the same error over and over and over.

  13. Pingback: Samuel Jackson Still Remembers His Pulp Fiction Speech | chimesfreedom

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s