Superman was inspired by Moses. You know the guy, he’s the one from the Bible that parted the sea fleeing the Egyptians and collected the Ten Commandments. Sure, the Bible certainly makes him out to be the all round good guy, freeing an enslaved people and acting as a moral compass for the rest of us, but how could he be considered a superhero? The last time I checked he didn’t perform any superhuman feats, well, apart from that sea thing, the plagues in Egypt, and a few others. Alright, they’re pretty special, but could he fly or stop a bullet? Nah, didn’t think so. So how is it that the man of steel, Superman, was inspired by Moses, a man from the Bible who is revered by Jews, Muslims and Christians alike? Believe it or not, he was born out of a bigoted 1930’s society.
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were a couple of Jewish friends from Cleveland. They often spent time together working on different stories for their high school paper. This formed the basis for both their friendship, and their creative future. But being creative was one thing, overcoming a closed minded culture that excluded individuals because they were misunderstood or slightly different was another thing all together.
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Living in the 1930’s, the two young men experienced a fair bit of discrimination, and all because they were Jewish. It didn’t matter that they were good story tellers, because Jews were excluded from most illustration work, as well as country clubs and colleges. The world really was against them. But one industry was more than willing to welcome them into the fold. That industry was the comic book industry. But even though Jews were accepted, they used the pseudonym “Bernard J. Kenton”, just to be on the safe side.
The pair began working on the ultimate superhero in 1934. It wasn’t until 1938 that Superman really took off. They were paid a total of $130 for the first 13 pages of the caped crusader by Detective Comics Inc, who placed him in their new magazine, Action Comics. By June of that year they had completely sold out, making Superman a smash hit. But the question remains, what makes Moses the inspiration for Superman?
If you look closely at both stories, you will notice more than a handful of parallels. Both Moses and Superman were saved from death as infants and were raised by foster parents. Not only that, but both of them were a mouth piece for the oppressed, and went on to save the day. For a couple of young and impressionable Jewish boys, Moses certainly seemed like the perfect model for a superhero.
It’s worth pointing out though that Siegel and Shuster themselves deny the link. It was suggested by Rabbi Simcha Weinstein and British novelist Howard Jacobson that the inspiration was Moses. While many connections certainly are there, there have been coincidences in other scenarios that are precisely that, coincidences. It could be a case of them subconsciously creating their super hero the way they did, and it might not be. A psychiatrist would have a field day with this one. The two creators themselves just said “having Superman drop out of the sky just seemed like a good idea.”