Hidden Perspectives

Bringing the Bible Out of the Closet

Orange is the New Bible week, Day 5: 7 ways Orange is the New Black is like the Bible

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A version complete with Gifs can be found at Jo Merrygold’s tumblr.

1. The most well-known and familiar characters are not the only interesting ones

While it may be hard going to ignore Adam and Eve, Mary, Joseph and Jesus, or even Noah and David, but are they the only interesting biblical characters

Just as in Orange is the New Black, it is sometimes the initially out of focus or otherwise overlooked characters which demand a closer look. Who would be closest to a biblical Miss Claudette, Janae Watson or Yoga Jones?

Perhaps Jael in Judges, Lot’s unnamed wife in Genesis or the Widow of Nain in Luke shed light on the underlying situations in the stories that we often pretend to ignore.

2. It’s all about the hair, and how you wear it

Sophia Burset may be the queen of Litchfield’s salon but her work doesn’t stop after she’s pampered her fellow inmates.

She offers the prisoners a chance to find and reaffirm their identities, there is no chat about where so and so is going holiday here but she still reveals who the prisoners really are and who they’re meant to be. It’s all about the hair in the Hebrew Bible too, think hairy Esau, and his gender queering brother, Jacob. And who can forget Samson? The powerful leader whose hair removal, like that of the brutal attack on Sophia in season three, means a loss of not just identity but of self – only regained once their hair is back in place.

3. Hero or villain – you can hardly tell by their behaviour

In prison there are no good guys and bad guys, angels and demons. OITNB shows us the grey areas of prison life. Prison staff, like Sam Healy, Natalie Figueroa, John Bennet and Joe Caputo, cross back and forth. Who is really the one imprisoned? And who can forget the case of ‘Pornstache’ Mendez, who literally goes from one side of the bars to the other?

Biblical heroes aren’t always so great either, King David is quite frankly a terrible Dad, Noah gets drunk and commits acts of incest, and Moses is a murderer. Safe to say there are blurred lines wherever we stand.

4. You can’t place enough value on food

Whether it is Chang’s illicit oranges or carefully crafted meals made from commissary supplies, the hunt for the mythical chicken, Norma’s face appearing in a piece of toast, wars about noodles or access to the kitchen, the increased demand for kosher food, or a yoghurt given to those in the right tribe, food and the search for it is ever present in the prison world of OITNB. Healy tries to bribe Chapman with a doughnut while Red exerts her control and self-identity through the food she serves the other inmates.

It is a preoccupation, and one evident in the Bible throughout both Old and New Testaments. From the selection and consumption of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, via manna from heaven and the hospitality of Lady Wisdom in Proverbs, through to discussions of food rules and purity, to the feeding of the 5000, last supper and Revelation’s edible scrolls, food underpins so many of the biblical narratives and the subsequent religious practices. Are you hungry for more?

5.Racial tribes are policed: you know whether you’re an insider or not

Do you want to be in my gang? Well, the tribes are clear in OITNB and Chapman is mocked and ridiculed for even attempting to transgress these inimitable boundaries. …those boundaries

Chapman can’t watch tv with the black girls, have showers with the Latina’s, eat with the ‘Golden Girls’. Rarely do outsiders find a way in, and if they do, like SoSo in season three, it often follows tragedy. This is the same in the biblical texts, there is always a group ganging up on the other, telling them they’re right, telling them who can and can’t join in. Like in OITNB these lines are crossed and attempted to be redrawn, like in Ezra and Nehemiah, the story of Ruth, and even the policing of behavior in the New Testament Epistles.

6. Rape is far more common than we like to admit

OITNB does not shy away from the difficult topics especially when it comes to depictions of sexual violence and rape. Who can give consent? What about Daya and her complex relationships with both Bennet and Pornstache.

The portrayal of Pennsatucky’s storyline in season three led to great discussion and praise for OITNB’s portrayal of rape. It highlighted that sexual violence is ever present, and the long lasting effects it can have. We can’t ignore that rape and sexual violence is in the Bible too, however much people try to tell us otherwise. David’s rape of Bathsheba, the abuse by Lot of his daughters (did it really happen the other way round?!), the pimping out of wives by Abraham and Isaac, amongst others shows us the extent to which consent is often assumed, rather than given.

7. While the men may think they’re in charge, it’s the women who really run the thing.

Don’t ignore us, we’re still here – and we want our voices heard. Abraham has to listen to Sarah, because God says so. Jesus is put in his place by an unnamed woman who calls him out for being a racist, and Rebekah orchestrates a plot for her younger son to usurp the elder’s place in the family heirarchy. Time and time again the Bible shows us these powerful women, getting things done, and changing the world as they know it.

Think how much Red can control Healy, the relationship between Fischer and Caputo, and Daya’s manipulation of Bennett after she becomes pregnant.

Hell, the arrival of a new female counsellor messes with Healy’s confidence entirely. These authoritarian figures in their uniforms, with their weapons may think they’re in charge – but the more we look at it, the more we realise the women have it all under control.

Thanks to everyone who came along to the research symposium today and supported the ongoing #OITNBible project. Don’t forget to support the Together Women charity, in all the invaluable work they do.

A version complete with Gifs can be found at Jo Merrygold’s tumblr.


Author: Hidden Perspectives

A research project within the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies (SIIBS) at The University of Sheffield.

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