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The Descent of Master Chief into the Bowels of Halo


Although I was old enough to play Halo: Combat Evolved when it was first released in 2001, I never found the game appealing (except for its sleepover multiplayer features that was always refreshing and fun). It is now ~20 years later, and I finally finished the first game due to the fact that it was released on Steam as Halo: The Master Chief Collection. Basically, 343 Industries began porting and enhancing the Halo series onto the PC platform, and since it was being sold for a bargain price, I finally decided to play it. It didn't take long for me to be blown away by the Christian symbolism, evidently the type of which I would not have noticed when I was 13 years old, and possibly the reason why it didn't attract me when I was a young atheist.

To be blunt, if you're a reader of Michael Heiser's work on the Unseen Realm (and any of his follow-up books, like Reversing Hermon), the symbolism in this game will immediately jump out at you, especially as I have deliberately titled this blog post as: Master Chief's Descent into the Bowels of Halo. This should cause you to think about passages like 1 Peter 3:18-22, and early Christian depictions of the descent of Jesus into Hades.

Thus, as Heiser will point out in his work (in regards to his watershed moment that began his journey), the crux biblical verse that culminates the entire Halo story is amazingly this: "God takes his stand in the divine assembly; among the divine beings he renders judgment." (Psalms 82:1)

Yes! Halo (specifically the sequel Halo 2) literally starts with a high council judgement. But, more needs to be unraveled here in regards to the synopsis of the series as a whole. Let's start with the discussion that takes place in this high council (using the transcript from the developer's diary):

START CINEMATIC

Fade up, to see the broken remnants of the Alpha Halo; a Covenant assault carrier flies into view, and we track with it. A huge Covenant fleet has arrived at the wreckage of Halo, and with them a massive, incredibly complex hemisphere structure.

Text reads: "Covenant Holy City, High Charity Ninth Age of Reclamation"

Inside High Charity, Banshees swoop and join formation, and a huge crowd of Covenant soldiers gathers.

ELITE COMMANDER: "There was only one ship."

Inside the Covenant Council Chambers, a gold-armored Elite stands in front of a group of three Prophets, one of whom is present only by hologram.

PROPHET OF TRUTH: "One? Are you sure?"

ELITE COMMANDER: "Yes. They called it ... the Pillar of Autumn."

PROPHET OF MERCY: "Why was it not destroyed, with the rest of their fleet?"

ELITE COMMANDER: "It fled, as we set fire to their planet."

Reach burns under Covenant plasma bombardment; the Pillar of Autumn lifts from orbit and rockets away, attempting to escape the massive Covenant fleet.

ELITE COMMANDER: "But I followed with all the ships in my command. A Covenant cruiser arrives at Alpha Halo, slowing and joining the relatively small fleet gathered there."

PROPHET OF TRUTH: "When you first saw Halo, were you blinded by its majesty?"

ELITE COMMANDER: "Blinded?"

PROPHET OF REGRET: "Paralyzed? Dumbstruck?"

ELITE COMMANDER: "No."

PROPHET OF REGRET: "Yet the humans were able to evade your ships, land on the Sacred Ring, and desecrate it with their filthy footsteps?"

ELITE COMMANDER: "Noble Heirarchs ... surely you understand that once the parasite attacked..."

The Council members begin to shout.

PROPHET OF MERCY: "There will be order in this Council!"

PROPHET OF TRUTH: "You were right to focus your attention on the Flood, but this Demon, this 'Master Chief'..."

The far side of Alpha Halo explodes as the Pillar of Autumn's fusion drives go critical.

ELITE COMMANDER: "By the time I learned the Demon's intent, there was nothing I could do."

The Council becomes angry again, and we see the Brute Tartarus, chuckling to himself.

PROPHET OF REGRET (whispering): "Prophet of Truth, this has gone on long enough. Make an example of this bungler. The Council demands it."

PROPHET OF TRUTH: "You are one of our most cherished instruments. Long have you led your fleet with honor and distinction, but your inability to safeguard Halo ... was a colossal failure."

A Council member stands up from his seat.

COUNCIL PROPHET: "Nay, it was heresy!"

The room is filled with angry shouts.

ELITE COMMANDER: "I will continue my campaign against the humans."

PROPHET OF TRUTH: "No! You will not."

A pair of Brutes move to take the Elite Commander's arms; he stands up straight and makes to push them away. They back off.

PROPHET OF TRUTH: "Soon the Great Journey shall begin."

The Brutes escort the Elite Commander from the Council Chamber.

PROPHET OF TRUTH: "But when it does, the weight of your heresy will stay your feet, and you shall be left behind."

END CINEMATIC

So, what's the background story of Halo, in order to make sense of this high council judgement? The year is 2552. Humanity is at war with an alliance of different alien species known as the Covenant. The different species that make up the Covenant are bound together by the belief that they have been chosen as the instrument of the gods. Under the leadership of the Hierarchs, three self-proclaimed prophets named Truth, Mercy, and Regret, these aliens are driven to cleanse the universe of humanity in pursuit of some type of salvation that involves reaching a higher state of being. For the Covenant, ascension is reserved only for those who have been chosen. Because humans have not been promised salvation, they are seen as inferior and sinful creatures that are standing in the way of the divine destiny of the aliens. The object of their worship is an ancient space-faring civilization known as the Forerunners, who have left behind a number of mysterious buildings and space stations throughout the galaxy. The Covenant sees itself as the successor to the Forerunners, and they believe these structures were made for them specifically. The most significant of these are the massive ring-shaped installations with simulated natural environments on the inside referred to as Halos. The Covenant seeks to activate these Halos because they wrongfully believe this will send them on the "Great Journey" towards salvation. In truth, the Halo installations were built by the Forerunners to get rid of a parasitic alien species called the Flood. Since the only way to achieve that goal was to wipe out all sentient life in the galaxy in order to starve the Flood, the Halos were designed to do just that. The United Nations Space Command (UNSC) is mankind's last and only line of defense against the aliens.

At the start of the story, the war is not going well for humanity. The technologically superior Covenant is able to keep up a relentless onslaught, spurred on by the promise of eternal salvation and under threat of exclusion from the Great Journey, and every rare human victory is a very costly one. Thus, after suffering a crushing defeat on the planet Reach, the crew of a human ship called the UNSC Pillar of Autumn uses navigation data from the Forerunners to escape. The data turns out to be coordinates to a Halo installation. Moments later, a Covenant ship follows, and another battle ensues. In an attempt to keep the ship's artificial intelligence, Cortana, out of enemy hands, an elite soldier code-named John-117, also known as the Master Chief, is woken up from cryogenic stasis to fight off the Covenant and give the crew a chance to evacuate before boarding the last available escape pod himself. Master Chief and Cortana must then work to reunite the scattered groups of human survivors on the surface, and save the ship's captain, Jacob Keyes, who is being held by the Covenant aboard their cruiser. After saving the captain and learning the installation is called Halo by the Covenant, Cortana hacks into the alien's communications and finds out that the aliens believe the installation is sacred, and that it is an immensely powerful weapon. It falls to Master Chief and Cortana to keep the Covenant from using Halo to wipe out the human race. It does not take long for them to find the control room, but when they get there, Cortana picks up new Covenant communications that reveal something is very wrong. While exploring the Halo installation, the Covenant found something they should not have, and the captain is about to make the situation far worse. Master Chief then goes to find Keyes, while Cortana stays behind to find out what she can about Halo.

Upon arrival at the captain's last known location, Master Chief discovers that Keyes accidentally released the Flood, which was sealed away underground. This allows the parasite to consume UNSC personnel and Covenant forces alike, and turn them into mindless husks that are hostile to both sides. As he returns to the surface, Master Chief is suddenly drafted by the installation’s artificial intelligence (AI) monitor, nicknamed 343 Guilty Spark, to retrieve a key so that they can activate Halo's defenses and get rid of the parasite. After retrieving the key, Master Chief is transported back to the control room. Just as he is about to turn the key, Cortana stops him and tells him the truth. Instead of destroying the Flood, Halo will wipe out their food (all sentient life in the galaxy). Master Chief and Cortana eventually manage to destroy Halo, escape, and return to Earth to tell UNSC high command of their discovery. As Master Chief is being awarded a medal for his service, a small Covenant fleet suddenly arrives and begins to invade earth. UNSC forces are able to fend off the aliens, and when the Covenant tries to retreat, Master Chief decides to follow them. When they arrive at their destination, it turns out the aliens have found another Halo. As Master Chief and Cortana again try to stop both the Covenant and the installation's own AI from activating this Halo, they discover it is only one of seven such devices and that they can all be activated at once using another Forerunner station called the Ark. It now becomes a race against time to keep them from activating the Ark and wiping out all sentient life in the galaxy.

Biblical Imagery in Halo

Now that you have read the synopsis of Halo's story, references to the bible (as well as other Christian symbolism) will become quite obvious.

1. The Title

The name of the game itself is taken from the Aureole, the golden disc used in medieval Christian art to represent Jesus, angels, and saints, which in English is called a Halo or Nimbus.

2. The Music

Another clear-cut reference is its musical score. Give it a listen:

It starts with Gregorian chanting, and lasts for ~30 seconds before switching to cyberpunk techno beats and electric guitars. This juxtaposition of medieval devotional singing and digital music is a confirmation of the religion/science narrative of our day, where the two genres actually go well together, as a musical counterargument.

3. The Covenant

In the scriptures we see that there are many biblical covenants, or sacred agreements between God and his followers. Only the covenant of Noah is applied to all humans (Genesis 9:8–10, 14–16). However, the old covenant was made only for the Israelites through Moses (Genesis 15:18, 17:21; Exodus 2:24; Joshua 1:2–3, 21:43). But, for Christians, Jesus has now provided the final universal new covenant, where regardless of race, gender, and status, you can now become a "child of God" through him.

Thus, it's possible that the developers of Halo used this word not only to indicate the religious nature of the alien alliance, but also to highlight the way the aliens see themselves as superior over humans. The Covenant believes the Halo installations were built for them by the Forerunners, and only by activating the rings can they fulfill their destiny.

Furthermore, since it's a science fiction game, Halo naturally features spaceships, and those used by the Covenant are often named after Christian concepts, such as Truth and Reconciliation. The same goes for Covenant vehicles available in the game. Specifically, Seraph fighters are named after specific biblical beings (known as the seraphim) that are supposed to accompany God in heaven (Isaiah 6:2–3; Revelation 4:8).

4. The Ark

In the game, the Ark is the central control hub for the Halo installations, capable of activating all of them at once. This is a reference to Noah's Ark. In other words, the Halos were built to eradicate the Flood by wiping out all life, in order to starve the parasites to death. The result is that this will ultimately save the galaxy, because it gets a chance to start over. This mirrors the story in Genesis, where God decides to destroy all life on earth to rid it of sin and begin anew (Genesis 6:13, 17, 7:10–12, 17–24; 8:1–2). Only the chosen may survive, and the ark saves them from the flood.

Another perspective is that it's a reference to the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the Ten Commandments. On top of that it was also a powerful weapon, since it was used by the Israelites to bring down the