Warning: Possible spoilers ahead for Netflix's The Messiah.
Is he the second coming of Christ or just a con man with an impressive social media following? It's the question at the forefront of the new Netflix series Messiah, streaming now, about a mysterious holy man in present-day Syria who appears to be able to perform miracles. The Jesus-like figure, played by Mehdi Dehbi, says he was sent to Earth by his father on a special mission. But, it's unclear whether what this man known as al-Masih says is scripture or just a bunch of lies. The same question should be asked of Messiah: is it based in any real religious texts?
While Messiah producer Mark Burnett has worked on based in fact religious stories before like the History channel miniseries The Bible, this thriller is only loosely based on that holy book. The apocalyptic Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, details the second coming of Jesus, who returns as the true king of the world, fulfilling God's promise to Abraham in Genesis. Though, earlier scripture warns that before the Messiah's return there will be a deception. "False messiahs and false prophets will arise," Matthew 24 states, "and they will perform signs and wonders so great as to deceive, if that were possible, even the elect."
After the debut of the show's trailer, though, some noticed a direct link between Messiah and the Qur'an. Specifically, the name al-Masih, which is a nod to Dajjal, "a false prophet in Islamic theology comparable to the Antichrist," according to the BBC. While al-Masih is Arabic for "the Messiah," it is also what Dajjal, which means "deceiver" in Arabic, calls himself when he comes to Earth.
In the Qur'an, Dajjal is believed to have come from Syria, where this show is set, leading some Muslim fans to wonder if the character will lose an eye in one of the episodes, too. (According to the Islamic holy book of Hadith, which contains the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, Dajjal is blind in one eye.) In response to the Dajjal theory, the official Netflix Twitter account wrote that "that's not actually the character's name."
In that same vein, Cindy Holland, vice president of original content for Netflix, said in a statement that this show is just "a fascinating series for viewers of every faith." Perhaps, another hint that the show isn't intended to be about a particular religious text, despite criticism that the show is "evil and anti-Islamic propaganda."
Instead, "Messiah challenges us to examine what we believe and why," the show's creator and writer Michael Petroni, who also wrote Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader, stated in early press materials. More recently, Petroni told AFP, "Yes it's provocative -- the show is provocative. But provocative isn't offensive."
The 10-episode series takes a provocative look at what it would be like if a real savior came to Earth today. It's likely an assumed prophet would be able to stir up quite a following, both on social media and IRL, and that's what worries CIA agent Eve Geller (The Path's Michelle Monaghan), who believes he's a scammer with ulterior motives. We'll have to wait and see if she's right or if there's something else at play here.