Indigenous Helpers and Renegade Invaders: Ambivalent Characters in Biblical and Cinematic Conquest Narratives

  • Author(s): L. Daniel Hawk
  • When: 2016-10
  • Where: Journal of Religion & Film
  • This article compares the role of ambiguous character types in the national narratives of biblical Israel and modern America, two nations that ground their identities in myths of conquest. The types embody the tensions and ambivalence conquest myths generate by combining the invader/indigenous binary in complementary ways. The Indigenous Helper assists the invaders and signifies the land’s acquiescence to conquest. The Renegade Invader identifies with the indigenous peoples and manifests anxiety about the threat of indigenous difference. A discussion of these types in the book of Joshua, through the stories of Rahab and Achan, establishes a point of reference by which to view the use of corresponding characters in three films that attempt to invert the American conquest narrative: Little Big Man, Dances with Wolves, and Avatar. The three films overturn the conquest plot but also evoke motifs that affirm national identity. This comparison of literary and cinematic narrations reveals the contested and fluid character of national narratives.

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