Sunday, April 22, 2012

Judas as Jinn: Final Paper

Judas as Jinn

                “It's all part 'n parcel of the whole genie gig: Phenomenal cosmic powers! Eeeetibity living space!”(John Musker, Aladdin). Throughout the reading of Lilith’s Brood by Octavia E. Butler I couldn’t help but noticing the similarities between Jodahs and the Genie of the Lamp from Aladdin. Through further investigation of Arabic genie mythology I found that Jodahs was almost an exact reflection of these beliefs. Because these tales were so connected to the Islamic belief and the Qur’an, I was led to believe that Jodahs himself could be seen as a faith-based figure, which could lead to a further explanation of Jodahs’ position as the correction to the human-contradiction.

            Genies, also known as Jinn are found all through Arabic folklore. Their representation is highly reflective of the relationship between Jodahs and his humans.

“The ability of the jinn to copulate with humans – they are almost satyr-like in their sexual appetite in some popular anecdotes – is recognized in the Qur’an, where the maidens of paradise are described as untouched by humans or jinn.”(Neguin Yavari, Jinn).

 As we saw throughout Lilith’s Brood Oankali and Oankali constructs had an insatiable desire for all humans.

“It’s a good thing your people don’t eat meat. If you did, the way you talk about us, our flavor and your hunger and your need to taste us, I think you would eat us instead of fiddling with our genes.”(Butler, 680).

This desire is a reaction of the Oankali to the “human condition” along with the humans’ tendency for cancer. It seems that their only reason for continually overlooking the “human contradiction” is that it is equally as horrible as it is sexy to the Oankali. The novel describes the attachment between the Oankali and its mates as “Literal, physical addiction to another person…”(Butler, 679). This complete need for one another surpasses any typical form of desire, going into the realms of “satyr-like” merely because of the idea of complete physical addiction. It seems that the most notable parallel between this folklore and the novel is this extreme physical bond.

We also see similarities between the human backlash in Lilith’s Brood and Arabic mythology between Jinn and humans.

“Marriage with jinn was forbidden by most classical exegetes, both Sunni and Shi’i, on the grounds that God has commanded humans to marry with their own kind.”(Neguin Yavari, Jinn).

Like the humans of Lilith’s Brood the humans of folklore also saw a disagreeing factor to copulation with non-humans. In their eyes, the act of marriage with the jinn is such a sin that God saw the necessity of decreeing it off-limits. The humans of Lilith’s Brood also were extremely mistrustful of marriage with the Oankali and then went to great lengths to preserve human-only relations. This resulted in extreme deformation within their tribe, and shortened life spans. These humans too spread folklore about the Oankali “demons” and what would happen to them should they choose to mate with a non-human.

Other connections between the two include the incapability of touch in both folklore and Lilith’s Brood.

“In that community female jinn also frequent the sexual fantatsies of young men as ephemeral beauties who are objects of arousal but disappear before any physical contact with them. Jinn as agents of sexual desire prevail in Muslim communities, although rarely.”(Neguin Yavari, Jinn).

In some folklore, Jinn are capable to flitting between entities in order to create sexual feelings in humans, or in order to have sexual relations(Islam, Arabs, and the Intelligent World of Jinn, 108).The absence of contact within this branch of folklore is also reflected in Butler’s writing. The Oankali constructs have sexual relations with the humans through chemical stimulations within their bodies, not through actual touch. Furthermore, once two humans have bonded with their Oankali or construct mate they are incapable of touch between one another. They are “physically” capable of touching one another; however the pleasure or comfort they may have once found in physical interaction is now uncomfortable.

After having accepted that Jodahs truly is based on this jinn folklore, examination of Arabian Nights, the pinnacle of genie folklore (and the basis of Disney’s Aladdin), seemed absolutely necessary. In Arabian Nights there was an outlandish amount of sexual desire between humans and genies, with the love theme dominant above all.           

The Nights, this monumental literary material, undoubtedly overflows with the most outlandish and stunning stories on the theme of love between jinn and humans. It is the most prolific and the most ingenious popular source… The daily life of humans in love with supernatural beings constantly combines the unfamiliar with the historical and the social. It is a realm where pure logic is of no avail for here and there, past and present, human and alien persistently fuse to create a perplexing reality.”(Islam, Arabs, and the Intelligent World of the Jinn, 109).

This love theme is clearly present in Lilith’s Brood. Also present in Arabian Nights is the presence of the Qur’an’s influence. Though they may not abide by all laws of the Qur’an such as the prohibition of sexual relations between the Jinn and humans, it is clear that the influence remains portraying them as supernatural beings with extreme physical relationships despite their prohibition.

            Because of these connections to the Qur’an it is hard to overlook all the religious implications it entails. It is necessary to understand the pre-Islamic ideas that created the Qur’an.

“In pre-Islam, a jinni who loved a woman or a jinniyah who loved a man would take on a human form, and sometimes an animal form… It was alleged these spiritual entities would always follow the human they loved, whether the latter was aware of their presence or not.”(Islam, Arabs, and the Intelligent World of Jinn, 103).

This extreme love plagues all theories of Jinn folklore; there are also tales of the sexual relations between these Jinn and humans in the Islamic faith.

“The idea jinn embody a human form when they fall in love with a human, of either sex, persisted in Islam… Despite an authorized prohibition against marriages between jinn and humans, as mentioned in the writings of Muslim jurists, it was believed these claimed unions continued to take place in Islam… Religious experts had to provide a juridical and theological status to this progeny. “(Islam, Arabs, and the Intelligent World of Jinn, 105)

The views of the Qur’an are also implicated in this statement. Just how does the Qur’an view these creatures?  There is a very distinct story of jinn along with a ‘creation story’ of humans within the Qur’an.

“He created man of clay like the potter’s,/And the Jinn did He create of smokeless fire.”(Ayat 14-15).

Though nowhere within Lilith’s Brood is it stated that Jodahs is made of fire, Jodahs is a construct child. Where jinn of the Qur’an come from the loins of an angel and a human; Jodahs is born of an alien race and the human race. Because of this fact, the Oankali race as a whole cannot be seen as a genie, though all previous examples could be applied to the race as a whole. Perhaps Octavia Butler’s reason for this was to present the Oankali constructs as a type of final evolution into this “genie” state which further questions the success or failure of Jodahs in this position.

            The implication of fire is interesting beyond the angelic/human composition. As we have discussed in class, Butler was highly influenced by Herman Melville who was also was extremely interested in mythology and the presence of fire. In Melville’s Moby Dick we saw Ahab reflecting on Prometheus’ fire in discussion with the creation of his robot which is to be viewed as a perfect being.

“Hold; while Prometheus is about it, I’ll order a complete man after a desirable pattern. Imprimis, fifty feet high in his socks; then, chest modeled after the Thames Tunnel; then, legs with roots to ‘em, to stay in one place; then, arms three feet through the wrist; no eart at all, brass forehead, and about a quarter of an acre of fine brains; and let me see – shall I order eyes to see outwards? No, but put a sky-light on top of his head to illuminate inwards. There, take the order, and away.”(Melville, 512).

This robot is constructed so that information pours in, but is not chosen by the robot. Here we see a robot with massive dimensions, superior in every way. Ahab intends this robot to be the replacement of human beings. The eerie connection here is the similarities of intent. Both are seeking a ‘perfect’ race or being; Ahab with the perfect man and the Oankali creating a more perfect race by combining two with the best characteristics of both races. However, the perfect robot is never created for Ahab and his search for being ‘God-like’ leads him to his imminent downfall. The same could possibly be said for the Oankali. They are playing a ‘God-like’ position, attempting to create a superior being by playing the role of God themselves. It seems that despite their intentions of creating a superior race they are only running headlong into their own downfall.

            If Jodahs truly is a religious-based character then it is hard to miss the connection of Jodahs and the biblical Judas Iscariot. Because Butler is so influenced by Herman Melville, it is hard to overlook the similarities of their naming processes. “Call me Ishmael.”(Melville, 1): one of the most famous lines within any literary work. This too is an influential name within Biblical terms. Because Ishmael’s name is significant within the terms of Moby Dick and Butler is so influenced by Melville, the names and Biblical implications of such within Lilith’s Brood must also be of significance.

Judas Iscariot biblically is known as the Apostle who betrayed Jesus Christ for money leading to Jesus’ crucifixion.

“And Satan entered into Judas, who was surnamed Iscariot, one of the twelve. And he went, and discoursed with the chief priests and the magistrates, how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and covenanted to give him money. And he promised. And he sought opportunity to betray him in the absence of the multitude.”(Luke 22:3-6)

Jodahs also should be viewed as a figure of betrayal within the Christian viewpoint. However, as we have already noted Judahs is already being contextualized within the Islamic viewpoint. There, Judas Iscariot plays a marginally different role. Here, we see Judas Iscariot being crucified by the unbelievers in place of Jesus. This belief comes from the following text from the Qur’an.

“And because of [the Jews] saying: We slew the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, Allah’s messenger – they slew him not nor crucified him, but it appeared so unto them; and lo! Those who disagree concerning it are in doubt thereof; they have no knowledge thereof save pursuit of a conjecture; they slew him not for certain. But Allah took him up Himself. Allah was ever Mighty.”(S. 4:157-158).

Here, the traitor then dies in place of Jesus after the betrayal. This allows us to interpret Judas as either the traitor or the traitor turned hero. Either way, it is imperative that we allow these religious perspectives enhance our view of his character.

            Though we may see this almost critical of Christianity, I feel that in terms of Lilith’s Brood we are to see Christianity and Islamic beliefs in conjunction with one another. Aside from the presence of Judas Iscariot it may not be quite as clear as to how Christianity and Islam do come together here. As we know, Lilith’s first husband is a Nigerian man. This should not be taken as an insignificant detail. Nigeria itself is split between Christianity and Islam as well. Lilith’s first son is also given a Nigerian name. Lilith, then, could easily carry both traditions with her. As Lilith’s son, it is not hard to imagine that Jodahs could be both the connection between the Oankali and the humans and between Christianity and Islam.

            All of these combined ideas seem to point to an obvious failure of Jodahs as the correction of the human contradiction: that reason being that a religious figure as a solution would be outrageous to the Oankali. The Oankali have no use for religion, they are highly intellectual creatures who see all things in terms of genetics. Throughout the novel even in light of these intellectually superior creatures, humans continue to remain faithful. By placing so many faith-based contexts into Jodahs’ character it implies that rather than being the bridge between Oankali and human he is much more human than any of the Oankali could ever comprehend, because religion and faith are entirely incomprehensible to them. Though the Oankali may not even comprehend the idea of a God, they are attempting to play the role of God by making a figure that is akin to Ahab’s robot. Though the race may be, in the eyes of the Oankali, a perfect one, it is doomed to fail and take the Oankali with it for attempting to be like God.

            Further proof of this failure is proven within Amira El-Zein’s Islam, Arabs, and the Intelligent World of the Jinn.

“The hierarchical Islamic view of the cosmos entails the imaginal realm just above our terrestrial domain impinges unswervingly on us and interferes in our lives in a subtle and hidden manner… Chapter 55 of the Qur’an, entitled al-Rahman (the All Merciful), embodies at the best the correspondence between humans and jinn. Throughout this chapter, written in the dual form to address its message to both jinn and humans, the following sentence is repeated ad infinitum, like a forewarning to jinn and humans: “O which of your Lord’s bounties will you [humans] and you [jinn] deny?”

Jinn are addressed in the Qur’an as nations endowed with rational faculties. Jinn and humans have mental faculties that allow them to access knowledge, perceive truth, and distinguish them from all other living beings in the universe. These two intelligent species are described as discerning the Word of God through reasoning, while the rest of Creation grasps it instinctively”(El-Zein, 13).

These paragraphs do two interesting things. Primarily, it shows that the Qur’an sees both jinn and humans as intelligently similar. They are beings who are viewed the same with the same commands and consequences for their actions. However, beyond this the jinn are part of a hierarchical cosmos. By being equally a part of this cosmos as the humans, the jinn are also hierarchical. Therefore, as a correction to the “human contradiction”, Jodahs is a complete failure, because he too encapsulates the hierarchical tendencies of the humans and the cosmos. This presence entirely refutes the idea that Jodahs could possibly be the correction, if he too holds tis major part of the “human contradiction.”

            Jodahs as a jinn figure and a religious figure is incapable of being a correction to the “human contradiction.” Aside from religious figures being strictly from human nature, jinn too are connection to religious beliefs. These religious beliefs show jinn and humans being of the same nature, and in connection, equally as hierarchical and intelligent; meaning that the jinn also hold the “human contradiction”. Jodahs cannot be a resolution to an issue that he encompasses.


Butler, Octavia E. Lilith's Brood. New York: Aspect/Warner, 2000. Print.

Drieskens, Barbara. Living with Djinns: Understanding and Dealing with the Invisible in Cairo. London: Saqi, 2008. Print.

El-Zein, Amira. Islam, Arabs, and the Intelligent World of the Jinn. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse UP, 2009. Print.

“Genie.” The Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology. Rosemary Ellen Guiley. New York: Facts on File, 2009. 94-95. Web. 24 March. 2012.

Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. Print.

"Jinn." Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. London: Chambers Harrap, 2009. Credo Reference. Web. 26 March 2012

“Jinn - Crystalinks." Crystalinks Home Page. Web. 27 Mar. 2012. <>.

“Judas Iscariot.” CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA:. Web. 17 Apr. 2012.

Meeks, Wayne A., and Jouette M. Bassler. The HarperCollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1993. Print.

“Yavari, Neguin. “Jinn.” Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender. Ed. Fedwa Malti-Douglas. Vol. 3. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 809-811. Web. 24 Mar. 2012.

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