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Pop goes the Bible

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As the King James Bible celebrates its 400th anniversary, Stylist investigates the history and influence of the most famous book of all time on popular culture, fashion and art.

HALLELUJAH, LEONARD COHEN

Written in 1984, and later covered by artists including Jeff Buckley, KD Lang and Alexandra Burke, hit song Hallelujah apparently took two years to write. It explores a failed relationship using biblical references, including the harp King David’s played for God, Delilah who cut off all of Samson’s hair (“She tied you to her kitchen chair, she broke your throne and she cut your hair”) and the immaculate conception of Mary.

THE GOLDEN CALF, DAMIEN HIRST

The bad boy artist’s controversial 2008 sculpture is assumed by many to be a caustic comment on the fickle art world. It is based on the biblical tale of the golden calf, made by the Isrealites in the desert as they waited for Moses to descend from Mount Sinai with the 10 Commandments, and is a warning against worshipping false idols. The calf has 18ct gold hooves and horns and stands in a gold-plated formaldehyde-filled tank.

THE LIFE OF PI, YANN MARTEL

The beautifully lyrical novel, winner of the 2001 Booker Prize, is believed to be inspired by the story of Noah’s Ark. In it Pi Patel, the son of a zookeeper, is crossing the ocean from India to Japan on a cargo ship, when it sinks. He is marooned on a lifeboat for 200 days and nights with no-one but a hyena, an orangutan and a man-eating tiger for company.

MONIQUE LHUILLIER S/S 2011

The red carpet designer used the Garden of Eden as the inspiration for her latest collection. Featuring bright apple red pencil skirts, white organza blouses, ‘halo like’ skirts and spring pastels, alongside bronze reptile and leaf prints in antique gold, the biblical nods are clear. Expect a very highfashion take on the Bible to be adorning Hollywood A-listers over the coming months.

THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, CS LEWIS

The books of the Narnia series, including 1950’s The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, and 1955’s The Magician’s Nephew, are largely viewed as biblical allegories. Aslan represents the Christ figure (who dies and is reborn), and the ‘creation’ of Narnia from the void is a retelling of Genesis. Look out for references to ‘sons of Adam’ and ‘daughters of Eve’, and the evil White Witch, representing temptation as she waves Turkish Delight at Edmund.

VIVA LA VIDA, COLDPLAY

Coldplay’s huge 2008 hit is littered with biblical references, including, “pillars of sand” – a reference to the parable Jesus gives about the man who built his house on sand – and “pillars of salt” (Lot’s wife was turned into one when she looked back after escaping Sodom disobeying the orders of an angel). There is also Saint Peter, (“I know Saint Peter won’t call my name,” sings Martin) and John the Baptist, whose head was demanded on a silver platter by Herod’s stepdaughter Salome.

THE LION KING

There is more to the much-loved 1994 Disney cartoon than meets the eye. It was loosely inspired by the story of Joseph; replicated in the scenes where lion cub Simba returns to his family and isn’t recognised. And like Moses, Simba is a prince who is exiled after being accused of murder, returning to his homeland to free his people from an evil ruler. Until Finding Nemo, The Lion King was the highest grossing animated feature film of all time.

THOR

“Biblical stories: deadly sibling rivalry, parents at war with children, the isolation of the royal circle.” were an influence on this new retelling of a Norse warrior story said director Kenneth Branagh.

THE DA VINCI CODE, DAN BROWN

The enormously successful novel is based on the idea that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had a family, a fact that has been kept a closely guarded secret by a top secret cabal. Despite severe criticism on religious, historical and literary grounds, it’s sold over 60 million copies, and was turned into the 2006 film with Tom Hanks. In reality, there is no evidence that Jesus married.

THE FINAL TESTAMENT, JAMES FREY

The new novel by the controversial author imagines a ‘third book’ of the Bible. Set in the present, and telling the story of a messiah who arrives in the form of a man called Ben Zion. Frey says he wanted “to explore what it would be like if the Messiah were really here, walking around the city, how would that person live, what would he be like?”

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