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The anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion is rife with Christian symbolism, Biblical allegory, and strong evangelical imagery.

However, there are lots of different sects of Christianity -- from Eastern Orthodox, to Catholicism, to the many Protestant groups, as well as groups that are considered to be more "fringe," or who mix Christian doctrine with aboriginal religious practices. Many of these sects are unique and have imagery and interpretations unique to them.

I don't want to rehash the multitude of Usenet discourses on the meanings of the symbolism. Instead, I'm curious: is the symbolism consistent in its application as a specific sect of Christianity would interpret it? More succinctly: is it at all clear the Evangelion imagery is associated with one specific sect of Christianity, and if so which is it?

I'm not Christian nor was I raised in that faith, so inclusion of screencaptures / stills would help illustrate and are requested.

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    Central to all those fringe versions of Christianity is Christ. Evangelion has everything to with angels, apocalypse, beginnings, and seeds of life. Aside from the lance, which does not really fit with anything else, you are looking at Jewish mysticism more than anything. Dec 8, 2012 at 20:43
  • This does not ask about a scifi aspect but requires expertise in Christian symbolism, so it might be better suited on christianity.se and is at best borderline on-topic here but I'd rather tend towards it being off-topic.
    – bitmask
    Dec 8, 2012 at 23:44
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    @bitmask I disagree. I'm asking about the nature of the use of symbolism in a specifically science fiction work. If that type of analysis isn't welcome here, then maybe we need to rethink its scope and purpose.
    – user11165
    Dec 9, 2012 at 7:24
  • As per your edits, the best fitting overall sect is a branch of Jewish Mysticism, likely put together around 400AD. It's not "Christian", but if you look back far enough into the Apogriphal books you can find its roots. Dec 12, 2012 at 3:38

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According to Evangelion's assistant director Kazuya Tsurumaki:

There are a lot of giant robot shows in Japan, and we did want our story to have a religious theme to help distinguish us. Because Christianity is an uncommon religion in Japan we thought it would be mysterious. None of the staff who worked on Eva are Christians. There is no actual Christian meaning to the show, we just thought the visual symbols of Christianity look cool. If we had known the show would get distributed in the US and Europe we might have rethought that choice.

So it's consistent and meaningful only inasmuch as it probably all derives from a small set of books which whoever was in charge of "dig up some Christian imagery" found most impressive.

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  • While this is a good evidence-based answer, just because they may have accidentally chosen one type of Christian archetype, wouldn't stop that from being a choice. Just a random choice. Remember, the meaning in art is provided by the observer, not the creator.
    – DampeS8N
    Dec 7, 2012 at 14:44
  • @DampeS8N You're referring to Death of the Author!
    – user11165
    Dec 8, 2012 at 15:52
  • @Kasuchiko It holds up. Only in the case where the observer has done a lot of research before-hand would outside the material information color the observer's interpretation of the piece. Eva is intended to be viewed as an Anime, so it is valid to take it for what it is.
    – DampeS8N
    Dec 9, 2012 at 7:47
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The imagery is generic in nature, there is no specific sect whose images of the Christian apparatus and personages referenced in Evangelion are the same. There are, however, sects you can exclude based on two core relics present in Evangelion.

Crosses: the crosses chosen for Evangelion are the typical type, which actually serves to exclude a variety of sects and orders that favor less traditional shapes. So our mythical sect here is probably not Anglican, Episcopalian, Gnostic, Rosicrucian, Macedonian Orthodox or so on. The crosses have a shorter top portion than the sides, which is typical of early Christian art, the more uniform version of the cross is a more modern invention.

Spear of Longinus: This, IIRC, only appears in John's gospel. Nowhere is it depicted like it is in the show as having two points. The inclusion of this at all would seem to point towards older versions of Christianity, as the importance of this artifact is downplayed to the point of obscurity in most modern churches. I doubt the average American Protestant would even know what it is, while almost all observant Catholics should still be familiar with it. I wouldn't be surprised to find large numbers of Protestants don't even know that Jesus was stabbed with a spear, let alone the name of it.

After doing a little more research, the name Longinus being used for the spear would date after the formation of the Catholic Church, probably around 750 CE. "Holy Lance"/"Holy Spear" were already popular names for weapons in Japan, so the altered name still doesn't suggest it must be a post-catholic sect. The name could simply have not shown up until then and Evangelion presumes the name is correct, so giving it the name made it distinct.

These taken together strongly point towards an early form of Christianity, probably pre-Catholic, as there are literally no references to any of the ceremony of Catholicism in Evangelion.

I should also mention that this fits the theme of the show. They are trying to represent a purist form of the concepts in Christianity, so it makes sense to use and refer to very old, earliest possible, versions of that religion.

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  • also missing are (IIRC) references to cult of the saints & virgin Mary, which are, also, more modern additions to the religion (though still really old).
    – riffraff
    Dec 7, 2012 at 23:12
  • As someone who was raised Catholic, I never knew it under the name "Spear of Longinus". It was always the "Holy Spear" or "Spear of Destiny", for some reason...
    – Izkata
    Dec 8, 2012 at 0:54
  • @Izkata "Holy Spear" is probably the most common English name for the spear. If I understand correctly, "Spear of Longinus" or more commonly "Lance of Longinus" are more popular in other languages. Also, they sainted the guy. I always found that peculiar.
    – DampeS8N
    Dec 8, 2012 at 3:52
  • I've always heard "Spear of Destiny" in pop culture. First I've heard of the term "Holy Spear."
    – user1027
    Dec 8, 2012 at 4:10
  • Maybe I was exposed to Eva quite young, or simply grew up around a lot of Catholics -- I've only ever heard it referred to as the Spear of Longinus, and I always knew what it was.
    – user11165
    Dec 8, 2012 at 16:00
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The answer is: No

The big red flag is the exclusion of Christ. The Christ-figure is a very common literary device. Simply having a Christ-figure does not associate it with a sect of Christianity. Prometheus the titan can be considered a Christ figure, but he will never be tied to any particular sect of Christianity.

Actual, central Christian doctrine involves acceptance of sins/imperfection and acknowledging a need to ascend. This can be only done through acceptance of a perfect redeemer, who has died and in doing so redeemed the world. This is not the central theme of Evangelion. Evangelion is the struggle between two apocalypses, between two seeds of life. It's a struggle between the Lilian race and the Angelic race (paralleled with the scruggle between children of Eve and Lilith, man and demon). This is the predominant theme, the Judean-mysic study of angels and demons, which has very little to do with Christianity.

Everything in the series alludes to the 2nd book of Enoch, and the 1st Book of Adam and Eve. Both of which I believe are Apocryphal. It is interesting to note, both these books are extreme pre-history, and don't really have anything to do with Christianity.

Basically, the part that they borrowed from is this: (From Evangelion Wikia: http://evangelion.wikia.com/wiki/Adam)

The name "Adam" comes from the first man of the Book of Genesis. Much as the Biblical Eve was created from Adam's body, Project E created the Evangelions "from Adam's flesh" via cloning.

The second book of Enoch refers to Adam as the Second Angel.[citation needed] In NGE, Adam is the First Angel, and Lilith, not Adam, is the Second Angel. However, all humans descend from the Second Angel, whether Adam in Enoch, or Lilith in Evangelion.

Adam is referred to in The Book of Adam and Eve as "The Bright Angel". It may not be a coincidence that Adam appears as a Giant of Light in the series. Similarly, Adam is said to have stretched from "The Earth to the Firmament (Sky)", which may be referenced by the show in that Adam's wings spread to the upper atmosphere during Second Impact.

The lance is the only thing that may have a little do with with Christianity, but it doesn't fit in the story at all, as the Lance is only Holy because it shed the blood of Christ. It has nothing to do with angels, or Lilith, or anything pre-humanity.

If anything, I would say that most of the allusions are primarily based on Jewish mysticism and folklore, not Christianity.

EDIT

While many people may claim there to be a Christ-figure in Rei or even Shinji, or even Toji... I can see where this can be construed, but I don't consider it to be Christian symbolism. The "Christ figure" is a common plot device, and it consists of someone being a "perfect sacrifice", whose death somehow causes other characters to redeem themselves who find themselves unworthy of the sacrifice of this perfect person. However, I don't believe this has much to do with any particular sect of Christianity, and nearly every religion and every facet of storytelling has some kind of Christ-figure. It is only coined "Christ figure" because Christ is the perfect example. A perfect person, God himself, sacrificing himself, for unworthy people.

There are countless other examples. Prometheus (the titan), Phineas (A Separate Piece), and even Enkindu (Epic of Gilgamesh). These are all allusions, but don't constitute a share of imagery or doctrine.

Children, and the relationship between a child and their parents is perhaps a stronger theme, but again, I don't believe it is strictly linked to anything Christian. It is a re-used plot device in circles everywhere. The idea that once an adult, one loses some ability or virtue. There are more Jewish examples of children being more worthy of glory and power than those elder than there are strictly Christian examples.

This is not specific to any sect of Christianity, or even Christianity in itself.

EDIT 2

Can the asker refine the question a bit? I am taking Evangelion as a whole, and finding the best link to a particular religion.

In my opinion, having an incomplete "Christ-figure", and showing crosses, does not steer the plot driving themes of the show away from Jewish mysticism.

The stories of two angels being sent to Earth (Adam and Lilith) is a far cry from Christian doctrine, but is found in some apocryphal books.

Showing any particular character (Lilith in this case) being crucified, in my opinion, does not link to any particular Christian message.

BUT
If the asker just wants a list, of every piece of symbolism in Evangelion, each one linked to the most appropriate religion or family of religions or mysticisms, then let me know so I can delete this answer. I have no interest in making a list.

This answer is only correct in summation. The overlying, plot driving, theme is not Christian. But yes, there are cross pictures and lances of Longinus (yes there are more than one in Evangelion).

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  • This is a good answer regarding the literal symbolism (much better than the others), but it misses the thematic symbolism cocnerning sacrifice and the parent/child relationship, which are central to Christianity but not Judaism.
    – user1030
    Dec 8, 2012 at 21:39
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    @JoeWreschnig While I see your point, I don't consider the Christ figure (Rei) to be a very strong example at all. Shinji even worse. You can squeeze a "Christ figure" out of almost any story, it is a very popular theme. It doesn't fit very well here. I'll add an explanation to my answer. Dec 8, 2012 at 23:03
  • And the crosses, other than Christianity, where would the crosses and crucifixion motifs in the show come from?
    – DampeS8N
    Dec 9, 2012 at 7:50
  • @DampeS8N Crosses and the crucifixion motif are "visible". But they don't play the same thing something trying to expound upon Christianity would. It's just a visual. You see a cross, and you make a connection. Think of where the crucifixion motif shows up. On Lilith. Lilith is shown "crucified". The Evangelion origin of mankind is shown crucified. Cricifixion of Lilith isn't prominent in any religion. Like the lance, the cross motif is used for impact, it makes people think of a "Holy Death", but doesn't necessarily aid the major plot elements of Evangelion. Dec 9, 2012 at 14:00
  • Per your request, I'll clarify: I want to look at the series as a whole and see if there is a strong link to a particular denomination of Christianity.
    – user11165
    Dec 11, 2012 at 22:30

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