Jules Winnfield's Ezekiel Reference Explained
There's a guy named David Plotz over at Slate who has been blogging through the Bible -- an act of Internet-fueled obsessiveness of the sort that I admire greatly. (SF Chronicle profile on the project here.) This week, he got to the book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel 25:17 happens to be the verse cited by Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson's Pulp Fiction character) right before he and Vincent Vega killed the college boys who thought Marsellus Wallace looked like a bitch. (Well, they claimed they didn't think that, but then really -- why were they trying to fuck him like a bitch?) T-shirt available here.
Plotz's Slate excerpts: The Lord vows revenge against the Edomites, Moabites, Philistines, and Ammonites. Why is this chapter important in American pop-cultural history? I didn't know, either, but several readers gave me a heads-up. It's a key source for Pulp Fiction. Jules Winnfield, the hit man played by Samuel L. Jackson, quotes it as his motto... ...Not to be pedantic here, but I feel obliged to point out that most of quote is spurious. Only parts of the last two sentences actually come from Ezekiel.
Now here's the thing: That dialogue didn't directly come from the Bible, at least not in its entirety. And as for not being pedantic, don't give it a thought! Pedantry is what makes the Blogosphere go 'round.
Here's what Jules says: The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who in the name of charity and good will shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.
Here's the real Ezekiel 25:17, in multiple translations. For instance, in the King James Version: And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them.
The reason for the seeming discrepancy is that the Pulp monologue is directly adapted from the prologue to the American verison of the Sonny Chiba film Chiba the Bodyguard, which reads as follows: The path of the righteous man and defender is beset on all sides by the iniquity of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper, and the father of lost children. And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious anger, who poison and destroy my brothers; and they shall know that I am Chiba the Bodyguard when I lay my vengeance upon them! (Ezekiel 25:17). (See for yourself below.) Chiba is a Tarantino favorite, and it makes perfect sense that this is the sort of homage he would throw in to one of his most important movies as a nice touch. He just doesn't like to make things like that too obvious; QT wants his viewers to do their homework before being allowed to share in the enjoyment of the references.
Update, 2/15/07: Here's Mr. Plotz's response: First, some leftover business. Several Quentin Tarantino-loving readers defended him from the charge of biblical ignorance. They point out that although his Ezekiel passage from Pulp Fiction is biblically inaccurate, it is a faithful quotation from a '70s Japanese karate film (released in the United States as Chiba the Bodyguard). Tarantino mangled Ezekiel, but only because Chiba mangled it first.
I'm not sure I'd call it "mangled" -- I prefer "adapted."