Thursday 9 May 2024

Dracula and the Bible

One Saturday, our rabbi pointed out how much Bram Stoker had relied on the Bible when writing his famous vampire novel, Dracula. At this time of year there are some rather mysterious Biblical readings about what to do if you have a skin disease, or if your house has dry rot, or if your yarn is infested with clothes moths. There are various methods for combating these creeping plagues: scrape your walls, wash your yarn, go into isolation. It is easy to see symbolism in these instructions – plagues can take the form of insidious ideas, or corrupt business practices. Marx himself saw capitalists as vampires, sucking the blood of the working classes (Das Kapital, 1867-94).

Leviticus 13:45 Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ 46 As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.

In Dracula (1897), the virtuous Mina Harker is bitten by the evil Count, and feels herself turning into a vampire. Dr Van Helsing and her friends try to protect her by various means including the touch of a consecrated Host to her forehead – but it burns her.

The echo of the scream had not ceased to ring on the air when there came the reaction, and she sank on her knees on the floor in an agony of abasement. Pulling her beautiful hair over her face, as the leper of old his mantle, she wailed out: “Unclean! Unclean! Even the Almighty shuns my polluted flesh! I must bear this mark of shame upon my forehead until the Judgment Day.”

Are there other Biblical parallels?

In 2 Kings 5, the Prophet Elisha heals an Aramaean King, Naaman, of leprosy and refuses payment. Naaman answers: If you won’t take it, please have someone give me as much dirt as a pair of mules can carry. From now on I will sacrifice to the Lord alone. I will not offer any burnt offering or sacrifice to any other gods. (NIV. He takes the earth home so that he can set up an altar to the Israelites' deity.)

Jonathan Harker, while a prisoner of the Count at his castle in Transylvania, discovers where the evil aristocrat sleeps – in a vault full of coffins and wooden boxes: There, in one of the great boxes, of which there were fifty in all, on a pile of newly dug earth, lay the Count! He was either dead or asleep, I could not say which...

When Dracula takes a ship to England he is loaded aboard in a box full of earth from Transylvania. He Count has a minion in England – a mental patient called Renfield given to chanting “The blood is the life! The blood is the life!”

Leviticus 17:10 Any Israelite or any alien living among them who eats any blood – I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from his people. 11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life. 12 Therefore I say to the Israelites, "None of you may eat blood, nor may an alien living among you eat blood."

You can read the whole story of Dracula here. And the entire Bible is here.

The Turin Shroud


The Holy Shroud of Turin was “discovered” in 1354, when it was exhibited in a new church in Lirey, a French village, says Wikipedia. It purports to be the imprint of Christ’s dead body on his shroud, but it was “denounced as a forgery by the bishop of Troyes in 1389”.

Is it a fake? Or is it a miracle, an “image made without hands”? These were popular during iconoclast periods, when those in charge took the ten commandments seriously. Exodus 20:4  You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. (New International Version)

A story is told that as Jesus carried his cross to the place of execution, a woman called Veronica lent him her veil to wipe his face. Later, she found the image of his face imprinted on the veil. Various “veils of St Veronica” have been venerated. Surely it’s only a coincidence that her name translates as “true image”?

The shroud was long thought to be a piece of cloth bearing some dirty marks in the shape of a man’s body, with the faint image of a face. It was not often exhibited, and was hard to study. But in 1898, when Secondo Pia produced the first photographs of the object, he was stunned to find that the negative image of the face showed the moving and lifelike image of a man.


A miracle? Let's look at some art from the 14th century.

“Man Of Sorrows” Tirol Austria 14th/15th Century

Fragment of a Christ from a Pieta, 14th century (ca. 1320-1340)

Edward the Black Prince, Kings Lynn

Gothic sculpture was naturalistic and refined. Men were often shown with fashionable hairstyles such as a chin-length bob with curled ends, and forked beards (see the Black Prince, above).

Could the image on the shroud result from blood, sweat and dirt from a corpse transferring to the fabric? Cover your face with something to simulate dirt – darkish makeup would do. Press a white cloth to your features. Peel it off and lay it flat. It will not look like the face on the shroud – it would look more like the Mask of Agamemnon. (Was the sheet of gold pressed onto his dead visage?)

I imagine the artist of the shroud looking at his model – human or carved – and reasoning: “The forehead, nose, chin and cheekbones stand out the most.” So he paints them onto the linen (red ochre and vermilion have been found). Now he puts in the eyelids, lower lip, moustache and beard. The rest of the face is sketched in more faintly. Take note of that chin-length bob and forked beard. And if it was Christ's shroud, preserved for the imprint of his features, where was it between 33CE and the mid-14th century?

My take? It’s a work of art – and a very good one. It's not often that a degree in Medieval Art History comes in useful.