(RNS) Archaic prayers, hidden keys and secret religious orders -- such are the elements of the latest episode of the USA Network’s biblical conspiracy action series “Dig.”
Add in a modern re-enactment of one of the most harrowing stories in the Hebrew Bible, and the result is a swirling, baffling stew of religious themes and imagery.
This is your spoiler alert! Read on if you are up to date on "Dig" or a glutton for punishment.
“It’s all about the End of Days, the Second Coming, Armageddon, the Rapture,” Debbie (Lauren Ambrose) says in what is the clearest explanation by any character of what is going on in “Dig” to date. “In order to bring about the Second Coming, the Temple in Jerusalem needs to be rebuilt.”
Here’s a quick summary of some of the religion references in this week’s episode:
Gregory Donaldson, an inmate in a mental institution suffering from “Jerusalem syndrome” (see below), is seen writing this name in the dust of a windowsill.
In Hebrew, Jehoshaphat means “Yahweh judges.” The Valley of Jehoshaphat is the place Yahweh -- the unpronounceable Hebrew word for God -- will gather the people and “sit to judge all the nations on every side." As if that weren't scary enough, the Valley of Jehoshaphat is sometimes called the “valley of destruction.” The characters in "Dig" have already been to the field of Armageddon; if they end up in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, it's not going to be for a party.
Jerusalem syndrome is a real mental illness sparked by a heightened sense of religious excitement some tourists experience in the Holy Land. Sufferers say they hear voices, claim to be the Messiah or self-inflict crucifixion-style nail marks on their hands and feet. Jerusalem Syndrome may explain why Donaldson carved a strange symbol on his chest -- a kind of T inside a box -- that pops up repeatedly on the show.
“Order of Moriah”
Peter Connelly (Jason Isaacs) wants to know what's up with the secret “Order of Moriah.” A big clue is that Mount Moriah is where the Bible says Solomon built the Jewish Temple -- the one the apparent bad guys want to rebuild.
Today, Mount Moriah is better known as the Temple Mount, and it is topped not by a Jewish temple, but by the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, two of Islam’s most sacred sites. It is the most hotly contested piece of land in the world.
More important, Mount Moriah is the site of the “Foundation Stone,” the rock where Abraham tied his son Isaac in the biblical story of the binding of Isaac. Muslims believe the same stone is the one from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
"Then he withheld Abraham's hand"
"God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to teach him obedience," says a "Dig" character known as the Essene. "But then he withheld Abraham’s hand to teach him about love."
In the Genesis story, God asks Abraham to make a "burnt offering" of his son at Mount Moriah. Abraham ties Isaac to the altar before he is stopped by an angel who says, "'Now I know that thou art a God-fearing man, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son."
Jews, Christians and Muslims see the story as a parable of true faith, of the covenant between God and the Jewish people, among many other things. In "Dig," the Essene re-enacts this story and takes the role of Abraham as he threatens to sacrifice a tied-up Avram (Guy Selnik), but, as Abraham did for Isaac, the Essene lets Avram go.
Well of Souls
Josh (Zen McGrath) says he's been taught that every star represents a soul that lives in the "Well of Souls" under the Temple in Jerusalem. "Is that a lie too?" he asks.
Yes and no, Josh. There really is a "Well of Souls" under the Temple Mount. It is a cavelike chamber under the Foundation Stone, and Muslims go down a staircase to pray there. But it also refers to a depression in the cave's floor that some believe is hollow and leads to a chamber under all of the buildings on Temple Mount.
Jewish tradition dating to the Middle Ages states that the Well of Souls covers a great abyss that holds all the waters of Noah's flood. Islamic tradition says the Well of Souls covers the center of the world and that all the waters of Paradise run underneath it.
That's where two characters are standing at the end of this episode -- and why they can hear the Muslim call to prayer coming from above their heads.
As to whether the Well of Souls actually contains any souls, that's above this reporter's pay grade.
YS/MG END WINSTON