'The Handmaid’s Tale', including recent episode ‘Mary and Martha’, is filled with biblical references; here's a look at a few

'The Handmaid’s Tale', including recent episode ‘Mary and Martha’, is filled with biblical references; here's a look at a few

There are quite a few elements in the premiere episode of 'The Handmaid's Tale' season 3 which can be discussed, but we would like to bring your attention to the biblical references. This is a recurring theme since the first season of the show and in the book authored by Margaret Atwood as well. In fact, many fans of the book have even analyzed the text extensively to find some interesting biblical allusions. Here is a list of the most interesting and important ones. 

1. Handmaids of Gilead, a reference to Genesis 30:1-3

The handmaids in the dystopian tale are only a vessel that helps the top commanders procreate and produce heirs. A reference to this is made in the first of the three epigraphs in the book with the phrase, "Give me children or else I die". This is part of Genesis 30:1-3 where Rachel, who bears no child for Jacob envies her sister Leah and asks of Jacob, "Give me children, or else I die."

2. Marthas of Gilead, a reference to the Gospel of Luke 

Amanda Brugel plays the role of Martha Rita in 'The Handmaid's Tale' tv series. (Source: Hulu)

The regime of Gilead has divided the female population into Wives, Econowives, Marthas, Handmaids, Jezebels and Unwomen. And even the reference to Marthas who is the domestic help treated as servants in Gilead is from the Gospel of Luke. Martha is Mary's sister who opened her home to Jesus when he visited the village. 

3. Jezebels, a reference from the Old Testament (Kings I and II)

The prostitutes of Gilead live in a place called Jezebel which is a reference in the Old Testament. In the Book of Kings - 1 Kings 16:31, Jezebel is the Phoenician princess, the daughter of Ithobaal I, king of Tyre. She is also the wife of King Ahab who ruled the Kingdom of Israel. When she learned she would be murdered by General Jeju, she dressed up in finery before she was thrown over the balcony and eaten by the dogs. 

4. Loaves and Fishes, a reference to Matthew 14:13-21

The supermart in Gilead where Econowives, Marthas and sometimes the Handmaids shop for everyday groceries is called 'Loaves and Fishes' a reference to the Miracle of Loaves and Fishes in Matthew 14:13-21. The mart is washed in white and looks sterile from the inside, like rooms in a hospital. In season 3 of the show, Ofmathew and Ofjoseph even exchange information here. 


5. Gilead, a reference from the Old Testament (Genesis 31:21-22)

Gilead itself is a hark back to the mountainous region east of the Jordan River which is divided among the tribes Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh. It is originally a fertile, clean and peaceful place in Palestine but like the many other inferences, this has also been used by the regime of the new world  to show people they are trying to build a better place and they use religion as a businessman would - preach things that would only benefit the high commanders. 

6. Phrases of conversation

'The Handmaid's Tale' phrase 'Blessed be the Fight' replaces 'Blessed be the fruit' in season 3. (Source: Hulu)

In Gilead, women are banned from speaking to each other. All they are allowed to do is exchange phrases such as "Blessed be the Fruit". The response to this is usually "May the Lord Open". Both these phrases used by the Handmaids are a reference to the very foundation of Gilead. In the fifth book of the Old Testament, Deuteronomy (28), there is a reference to how when one obeys the Lord he will bless everything.


Gilead is, after all, a new state which was formed to change the world. These phrases can also be considered a reference to Luke 1:42 which is, "In a loud voice she exclaimed: 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!'" 

Of course, "Blessed be the fight" is the term that has replaced the term "Blessed be the fruit" in season 3 of 'The Handmaid's Tale'.

7. Clothing Store Lilies, a reference to Matthew 6:28

Not just the grocery store, the other stores also have names borrowed from the Bible. The clothing store "Lilies" is from Matthew 6:28. The phrase goes, "And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin." 

These references are, of course, bastardized in the show to suit the preferences of the high commanders and help them subdue the women enough to discipline then and readily serve the male populace of Gilead. 

Episode 4 of 'The Handmaid's Tale' airs June 12 on Hulu.


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