'The Handmaid's Tale': Biblical References in a Non-Biblical Series

Updated on July 19, 2019
revmjm profile image

Margaret Minnicks has been an online writer for many years. She writes about various things, including celebrities and entertainment.

"The Handmaid's Tale"
"The Handmaid's Tale" | Source

Not A Religious Series

The Handmaid's Tale is a popular series based on Margaret Atwood's book by the same name that was published in 1985. The series premiered on Hulu on April 26, 2017, and is now in its third season.

The term handmaid is used for a female servant who serves her mistress. A handmaid is a woman who helps out the wife in the household. The name of the book and the series is based on Genesis 16:1–16 and Genesis 21:8–21. Sarah had a handmaid named Hagar that was a gift to her from Pharaoh. When Sarah did not have children in her old age, she told Hagar to sleep with her husband Abraham to produce a child for them. Hagar did as she was told and had a son named Ishmael. Later, God opened Sarah's womb and she had her own child that was named Isaac.

Hagar was not the only handmaid identified in the book of Genesis. Zilpah was Leah's handmaid and Bilhah was Rachel's handmaid. In each of those cases, the wives allowed their handmaids to bear children for them.

References to Biblical Places

The setting of The Handmaid's Tale is a place in the future known as the Republic of Gilead that used to be the United States. Gilead is mentioned in the Bible as a place of testimony.in Genesis 31:25. It is a peaceful and fertile place in Palestine. Later in the Old Testament, the prophet describes Gilead as a city of evil men with sins of every kind (Hosea 6:8).

When the handmaids eat lunch, they listen to a recording of the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5:3-12. It is to remind them that they will be blessed when they are silent, poor, meek, merciful and mournful.

Places where the handmaids shop have biblical references.

  • "Milk and Honey" is a reference to the description of Canaan, also known as the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey
  • "All Flesh" is the name of a butcher shop based on Isaiah 40:5 about all humanity or all people.
  • "Loaves and Fishes" is a biblical reference to Jesus feeding the multitude with only bread and fish, according to Matthew 15:32-39.
  • "Lilies" is a clothing store based on Matthew 6:28.

Aunt Lydia
Aunt Lydia | Source

Biblical Names of People

Lydia is the name of a woman in Acts 16 that is described as a seller of purple dye in the city of Thyatira. Lydia worshiped God and followed the teachings of Paul. Aunt Lydia is in charge of all the handmaids in the series.

Elizabeth in the Bible is the wife of Zechariah who had a baby in her old age. In the series, Aunt Elizabeth works closely with Aunt Lydia at the Red Center with the women having babies.

Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden and were banished from there. Eden Spencer was a young girl in Season 2 who committed adultery with Guardian Isaac. They were punished by being drowned to death in a swimming pool because of their infidelity.

Isaac in the Bible was the long-awaited son of Abraham and Sarah. Isaac was a Guardian assigned to the Waterford house only in Season 2. He was drowned along with Eden for their sin according to the law in Gilead.

Luke in the series is the husband of June. Luke is one of the four gospel writers and the only physician and Gentile writer of the entire Bible.

Hannah is June and Luke's daughter who is now in the hands of Serena. In the Bible, Hannah prayed to have a male child and God answered her prayer.

Commander Joseph Lawrence is the head of the house where June is now assigned. Joseph in the Old Testament was the son whose brothers sold into slavery. Joseph in the New Testament is the husband of Mary and the earthly father of Jesus.

Mark Tuello began in Season 2. He is the mysterious stranger who Serena encountered in Canada. Mark, like Luke, is one of the four gospel writers. There are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the Bible. John is the only one missing in the series.

Commander Matthew Calhoun started in Season 3. Matthew is the third gospel writer mentioned in The Handmaid's Tale.

Dan was only in Season 2. He was Emily's boss at the university where she worked. In the Bible, Dan is one of the twelve sons of Jacob. That means a tribe is named after him.

Commander Joseph Lawrence
Commander Joseph Lawrence | Source

Biblical Titles

Handmaid itself is a biblical reference and so are a lot of other titles in the series. They include the following.

  • Commander of the Faithful are the top men who make up the ruling class with plenty of authority.
  • Eyes of the Lord are the secret police all around Gilead who work undercover to catch people who violate the laws of the land.
  • Angels of the Apocalypse are soldiers who fight to protect Gilead.
  • Guardian of the Faith do routine policing and perform insignificant duties.
  • Handmaids are servants of the commander's wives.
  • Marthas are the older women who serve and take care of the houses in the Republic of Gilead. Their name is based on the story that Martha was the one who served Jesus when He visited her and Mary.
  • Jezebels are women who are forced to become prostitutes and entertainers. Their name comes from evil Jezebel in 1 and 2 Kings in the Old Testament.

One of the sayings in Gilead
One of the sayings in Gilead | Source

Biblical Sayings

There are many biblical symbols and specific laws in The Handmaid's Tale. Several sayings from the Bible are recited throughout the series. Many of the times, they are out of context. Unless people know the Bible, they will probably not recognize the quote and surely they will not know it is out of context.

In Gilead, a set of biblical phrases are permitted in conversations.

  • "Praise be."
  • "Blessed is the fruit."
  • "May the Lord open."


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, reelrundown.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)