[In this essay J.H. analyzes the extent of religious allusions and parallels in Frank Herbert’s Dune.]
Frank Herbert’s Dune, while set in the far future, is reminiscent of an ancient society. Feudalism, tenuous alliances, and religion are all key parts of this society. Religion, more than any other, is evident as the most influential part of shaping the world. The majority of the story focusses on the journey of Paul Atreides, who is a messianic figure. The history of the world of Dune as well as its plot contain religious allusions and parallels which cement Paul’s identity as a messiah.
The beginning of these parallels starts with the dawn of space travel. The book itself states that space travel is a parallel to Genesis, from the Bible. “Increase and multiply, and fill the universe, and subdue it, and rule over all manner of strange beasts and living creatures in the infinite airs, on the infinite earths and beneath them” (Herbert 502). The novel states that this is a new beginning for humanity. This is not the only parallel from the Book of Genesis. Later in this world’s history an event known as the Butlerian Jihad occurs. This war began when it became evident that artificial intelligence posed a threat to humanity. The world was then, through this war, cleansed of artificial intelligence. The Butlerian Jihad is not merely a convenient plot point to maintain a feudalistic society, it is similar to the Great Flood, from the Book of Genesis. In both, the world is cleansed of its impurities and civilization has a chance to start over.
An important faction in the plot of Dune is the Fremen, a group of desert wanderers. The history of this people is another parallel to the Bible. The Fremen identify their homeworld as a planet called Poritrin. Though they originated on Poritrin, this planet fell under imperial control. The Fremen (at that time known as the Zensunni, also a reference to two religious beliefs) were captured and forced to resettle on a number of planets until they reached Arrakis, also known as Dune. This forced resettlement is a parallel to the forced migration of the Jews to Babylon, where they lived in exile. Though the Fremen never return to their home, as the Jews did, they are treated as slaves and exiled from their home. The Fremen do not only parallel Judaism. A blend of religions can be found in their culture. The Fremen celebrate Ramadhan, a muslim observance in the real world.


The choice of setting in Dune is, as could be expected, a deliberate choice. Arrakis is an arid desert planet, so dry that crying is considered a waste of water. The desert setting mimics the desert beginnings of some religions. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all began in the Middle-East and are the religions alluded to most often. It was a desert in which Jesus underwent trials to resist Satan, and it is a desert in which Paul Atreides undergoes trials and becomes a messiah. The parallel to the Middle-East is made stronger by the heavy presence of Arabic in the Fremen language. The Fremen word for sandworm, Shai-Hulud, can be translated from Arabic to mean “a thing of eternity.” Paul’s name among the Fremen is Muad’dib, which comes from an Arabic word meaning teacher.
When Paul first arrives on Dune it is because his father, a duke, was commissioned by the Imperium to take control of the planet. He is immediately identified by the natives of Arrakis to be the Lisan al-Gaib, or the “voice of the outer world.” Their beliefs hold that their messiah should come from beyond their world. In the Jewish belief the messiah is to be the son of God, if this is so their messiah would also come from beyond their world. Lisan al-Gaib also has a literal translation from Arabic, “speaker of that which is not revealed.” Islamic teachings state that God alone knows what is in the future. Both of these interpretations further bolster the argument that Paul is truly a messiah.
As previously mentioned, Arrakis is under imperial rule. In the time of Jesus the Jews were under the rule of an empire, the Romans. Yet another parallel between Paul and Jesus. One reason why Jesus was successful was that his followers believed he would lead to liberation from the Romans. The Fremen follow Paul because they believe he will liberate them from the Imperium. A line from the book draws out this parallel. “When religion and politics ride in the same cart, when that cart is driven by a holy man, nothing can stand in their path” (508). Both Jesus and Paul gain success through religious and political goals.
The history of this world leading up to Paul Atreides’ arrival on Dune is a parallel to the history of the world leading up to the birth of Jesus. The setting and language bolster his identity as a messiah. The aims and identities of Paul are also parallels to a messianic figure. Everything leads to the conclusion the Paul Atreides is the messiah of the Fremen, and the one who will liberate them.
(J.H. 2016)