August 2, 2007


Harry Potter 7 Is Matthew 6: The young wizard may not have read the Bible, but someone else certainly did. (Dave Bruno, 8/02/2007, Christianity Today)

Albus Dumbledore quotes the Bible word-for-word in placing an inscription on the tomb of his mother and sister, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

Here's the full passage, Matthew 6:19-24:

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

"The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

"No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money."

Some readers point out that Harry and Hermione do not seem to know that the epitaph comes from the Bible. Rowling only makes it clear that Harry "did not understand what these words meant." At this point in Deathly Hallows, neither do readers. But I think Dumbledore knew the meaning of that verse quite well and put it there for a reason.

What would cause Dumbledore to choose this verse from the Sermon on the Mount for his family's grave? The circumstances surrounding the death of his sister help us understand. Dumbledore's greed (though cloaked with good intentions) for the most powerful of earthly treasures, the Deathly Hallows, ultimately led to his sister's death. Suffice it to say that Dumbledore's sister Ariana was one of the most tragic characters in the whole Harry Potter series. Her life was one of immeasurable hurt. And her need was the most basic need of those who are in pain. She needed love. Sacrificial love. Dumbledore failed her. He was incapable of fulfilling his duties to care for her while pursuing his ambitions for power. His failure which led to his sister's death helped Dumbledore to comprehend one of the other truths of Matthew 6, "No one can serve two masters" (Matthew 6:24). The pursuit of possessions of power, even for benevolent reasons, can ultimately only lead to death and ruin. As he puts it in his own words, Dumbledore understood that he, the most powerful wizard of his day, "Was not to be trusted with power."

Which only makes it all the stranger that Ms Rowling has failed -- at least through the first six books -- to require Harry to face the prelapsarian dilemma of mankind.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 2, 2007 8:33 PM

oj -- I don't understand your comment.

prelapsarian : characteristic of or belonging to the time or state before the fall of humankind

Are you equating Hogwarts or the wizarding world with Eden? Or were you hoping for a more Christlike end of Harry?

Posted by: Randall Voth at August 3, 2007 3:08 AM

No, I'm saying it is the ur-choice.

Posted by: oj at August 3, 2007 7:20 AM

"Rowling only makes it clear that Harry "did not understand what these words meant." At this point in Deathly Hallows, neither do readers."

How culturally ignorant do you have to be not to recognize those particular Bible verses?

Posted by: b at August 3, 2007 10:27 AM

I doubt if theology was the spark (or the fuel) that gave Rowling the story. She probably just applied the (semi-)Christian ideas afterwards, perhaps because it seemed fitting.

Harry did freely choose to walk into the Forest, knowing what he faced. That was probably choice enough. The 'going back' provided the opportunity for a happy ending, although his 'choice' was already settled. It would have been extremely out of place at that point for him to suddenly be thrust in the place of Adam and Eve. And Voldemort had nothing to offer, now did he? Don't forget, Harry didn't even have to be 'angry' at the end - he knew how the clash would go.

Posted by: jim hamlen at August 3, 2007 11:21 PM

Harry is an interesting character because he is an unusually good person, like Atticus Finch. He had too much love for other people to be tempted by Voldemort. He is not tempted by selfishness to the same degree as other people are: His internal character wouldn't allow it. There actually are people like this in the world, although they are certainly rare.

The series has characters who have been tempted by power, such as Snape and even Dumbledore. The seduction of power is throughly explored in these novels, and an existential crisis by Harry is unnecessary, particularly since two other major characters show their weaknesses in this area. Harry is saved from temptation because his love for his departed parents and for his friends is steadfast. Snape is saved for the good side by his love for Lily, and Dumbledore is awakened from his power fantasies by his love for his sister, although he occasionally backslides.

The importance of actions as opposed to abilities seems to me like a central theme of the books. Harry obviously chooses to be a good person and Voldemort chooses to be evil, even though both have similar upbringings. A very Christian concept.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at August 4, 2007 12:55 AM

An evangelical concept, not Christian. (1Pe 2:9)

Posted by: Randall Voth at August 4, 2007 2:32 AM

The notion that Harry isn't tempted makes him not human and not sympathetic.

Posted by: oj at August 4, 2007 6:05 AM

Of course it was theology that gave her the story--there's only one story--she may have had to flesh it out to herself as she went along.

Posted by: oj at August 4, 2007 6:07 AM

Wasn't Harry's 'temptation' to try to ignore his unique role as Voldemort's foil?

As much as he liked Hogwarts, there were times he wanted to flee the whole thing. And he didn't want to (continually) endanger his friends.

And, despite his bouts of anger towards Dumbledore, he really wanted to do right by him. In the end, though shocked by what he saw in the conversations between Dumbledore and Snape, he chose to follow Dumbledore's path.

Those struggles make him "real" enough to us.

Harry wasn't a little angel - the best people never are.

Posted by: jim hamlen at August 4, 2007 7:50 AM

While it's hardly fair to compare her to the more gifted writer and thinker, JRR Tolkien, it's notable that Frodo ultimately fails the test and the world is saved only by his having earlier shown mercy to Gollum.

Posted by: oj at August 4, 2007 9:24 AM

Yes, Frodo grew up from being a snotty little hobbit into a major character. Then he failed, only to be redeemed by his earlier mercy. Sam was more determined, but would he too have put the ring on, standing next to the lava? Probably not, but we don't know.

Dumbledore is somewhat reminiscent of Galadriel, in that he shrinks away and lets Harry do his 'duty'. One of the seeming weaknesses of the series is that Dumbledore never just kills Voldemort (although we find out why in the last few pages).

Posted by: jim hamlen at August 4, 2007 12:53 PM

He has his dilemma in spades and it's the whole plot of Book 7.

Posted by: Paula R. Robinson, MD at August 4, 2007 1:11 PM

Yes, we do know that he would have, as would each of us.

Posted by: oj at August 4, 2007 3:21 PM

jim hamlen:

Right, he has his moments, just not the kind of thing OJ is thinking of.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at August 4, 2007 3:28 PM


He's a different character type than most. That doesn't make him an unsympathetic character -- the books wouldn't have sold 4.7 gajillion copies if he were.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at August 4, 2007 3:34 PM

A good story teller can cover for a lot of weaknesses. Rowling is a very good storyteller. The tale just doesn't withstand much scrutiny.

Posted by: oj at August 4, 2007 6:54 PM


Well, we're obviously agreed that Rowling is a very good storyteller, but the contention that Harry is an unsympathetic character still makes no sense. You know as well as I do what the public reaction would have been if Rowling had killed him off.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at August 5, 2007 2:33 PM