What are biblical allusions

"Become immortal" - perceive and interpret religious motifs in advertising

For some time now, advertising marketing agents have been working with various allusions to Christian traditions and religious symbols. For lessons, the didactic attraction of dealing with the relevant advertisements consists of two factors: On the one hand, the alienation of religious motifs offers opportunities for deciphering and dealing with the original texts. At the same time, the students are enabled to recognize religious traces and traditions in different cultural contexts and learn to differentiate between interpretation and meaning. In addition, corresponding advertisements always have a high motivational value.

In addition, the material is exemplary: the advertisements are an example of the 'religious furnishing of our cultural landscape'. They make it clear that Christian content, symbols and / or rituals still have a positive connotation. Their use by agents of consumer society gives indications of people's needs for salvation, redemption and meaning. At the same time, the playful and often cheeky handling of religious motifs in advertising shows the distance and ability of society to distance itself from religion. Corresponding advertising moves within this ambivalence by “passing on religious and Christian motifs and elements, but at the same time transforming and alienating them.” 1

"If students today encounter significantly more religious topics, allusions and set pieces in the mass culture that surrounds them every day than through contact with the classic mediators of religion, then a life-world-oriented religious education must increasingly include these areas in their reflection." Meaning is a religious pedagogy that ties in with the life worlds of the pupils, challenged to develop a so-called “scanner view”, to identify appropriate situations and to make them a subject of study in the classroom.

Didactically, the teaching construction of corresponding requirement situations seems particularly productive here. The term “requirement situation” “assumes the general experience that every person sees himself or herself exposed to different tasks throughout his life, for which he must have acquired specific abilities and skills in a targeted and systematic manner - not just by means of implicit, incidental learning . ”3 Here there is a close connection to the concept of competence in Lower Saxony's core curricula.4 In relation to the topic, this means: In order to be able to perceive and interpret religion in advertisements in the print media in everyday life, appropriate abilities and skills must be initiated and practiced in the classroom.

It is interesting that - in addition to other religious allusions - passion and resurrection motifs are used relatively often in advertising. The motifs are presented very directly as a quotation, as an alienation or rather subliminally and barely perceptible. The aim of advertising, namely to arouse positive images and associations and thus create a positive connection to the product, is the basis of all efforts here too.

The fact that the advertisements are open to interpretation corresponds to a multitude of motives for interpreting the death of Jesus in theology. The scandal of the cross largely defies theoretical description through conceptual language. The New Testament therefore speaks of Jesus' death and its meaning of salvation in comparisons, images, metaphors and symbols. However, these interpretive patterns do not go smoothly into one another. In this context, Wilfried Härle names four metaphors for the salvific meaning of the death of Jesus Christ5: the atonement, reconciliation, ransom and substitution. It is interesting that Paul, too, does not commit himself to one motive for interpretation in his letters, but rather always makes new attempts at interpretation

For religious education, it shows the first indications of didactic points of contact. These are confirmed by the results of the empirical study presented by Tobias Ziegler in 2006, which asks about the christologies of young people.7 Without going into the individual results here, it can be summarized that the analyzes by Ziegler an astonishing variety of interpretations, questions and Bringing young people's priorities to light. According to Ziegler, the range of interpretations given by young people refers to the “great influence” of individual life-history references. However, these are rarely discussed in class. Many of the young people questioned said that they did not have enough space in class to deal with critical questions about Jesus.

If these results are taken seriously, the teachers are challenged to initiate open teaching processes that focus on the individual patterns of interpretation of Jesus' death on the cross and the questions of the young people. The interpretive categories familiar to theology are known to young people, because the motives of sacrifice and redemption often play a major role in their lifeworld. Scenes of sacrifice and redemption are indispensable in films and in fantasy literature.8 However, these motifs are not related to christological issues. A didactic chance of working with the following advertisements could, however, lie in their bridging function between young people's worlds, their theologies and academic theology. Without a doubt, its greatest didactic potential lies in its openness to interpretation. At the same time, they show that Christian religious symbols are used in mass media.

The teaching work with the advertisements is linked to the following content-related competencies of the core curricula for the subject Protestant religion for the secondary school and the secondary school in Lower Saxony. For the double year 9/10 it says:

  • The students tell the story of the Passion and Easter and explain the death and resurrection of Jesus as the central content of the Christian faith.
  • The students discuss the belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and its effect among the disciples and Christians to this day. 9

In the examples, both content-related competencies contribute to initiating the following process-related competencies:

  • Show religious traces and traditions in the living environment (M 1).
  • Explain religious motifs in texts as well as aesthetic-artistic and media forms of expression (M2).10

The tasks below the pictures serve to trigger learning activities in the students that lead to the development of desired skills and knowledge. The tasks depend on skills already acquired in the classroom. The questions and impulses added after the notes on the material indicate possibilities of a teaching approach. Finally, possible ideas for further work are named, which can be implemented depending on the lesson planning.

M 1: become immortal

The advertisement can be downloaded in good quality from the Internet address "http://www.skrapid.at/9657.html".


You made an appointment with a friend to set up a new group in Schüler-VZ. Your friend has set up a new wallpaper on his PC, which he presents to you.

Find out which motifs the picture uses and why a football club uses this picture to advertise itself. How do you feel about such a photo montage?

About the material

In the advertising poster “Become immortal”, the message of the cross and the jersey of the Rapid Wien football club are provocatively tense. The crucified Christ is replaced by the Rapid Vienna jersey in the photo montage. In contrast to other representations of the cross, people such as B. Maria in the picture. The crosses are not next to each other, but are arranged in a row one behind the other.

In contrast to the front cross, which is in the dark, there is light on the horizon at the foot of the two rear crosses.

The jersey attached to the cross moves slightly in the wind. It's the only sign of life on the poster. It is in stark contrast to the dead tree and the withered, desert earth. There seems to be an invisible connection between the tearing, light-flooded sky and the jersey on the cross. The light acts like a kind of impulse generator for the movement of the jersey. With this and the statement “Become immortal”, the picture takes up the Christian motif of redemption through the cross. Christ overcame the cross and redeemed people through his death. The cross stands as a symbol for liberation and the overcoming of suffering, burden, pain and despair and as such is a sign of hope par excellence.

In class, dealing with the advertising poster is dependent on working out Christian interpretations of the message of the cross. Without this basis, it is not possible to perceive the Christian context in which the advertisement is placed. The story of the Passion and Easter thus form the basis for dealing with the poster.

Sensitized in this way to religious traces in the world of young people, answers to questions such as B. "Why does an advertisement 'play' with the message of Christ's death on the cross and the associated salvation for all people?", "What does the image designed as an advertisement for a football club suggest?", "To what extent does the message of the poster apply?" "What is the difference to the Christian message of the cross?" Or "Why does advertising today use the Christian message of the cross and resurrection?" Your own judgment and your own opinion form the conclusion.

It is essential for the teaching work that the pupils first try to answer the questions related to the advertising poster alone or in small groups. The results achieved here outline the starting point for learning and provide important information for further lessons.
The questions and information printed below represent various options for teaching and learning and should be based on the initial learning situation.

Questions and impulses

  • First, describe your first impression of the picture.
  • Put yourself in the picture. Look around and write down your spontaneous thoughts.
    What mood does the photo montage convey?
  • Which objects are represented?
  • In what way are these objects arranged (foreground, center or background, image edge, etc.)?
  • Which topic or which content was chosen when designing the photo montage?
  • For more information about the sign, see the Gospels and the letters of the Apostle Paul. A biblical text is in the Gospel of Mark, chapters 15, 21-41.
  • Compare the picture with the biblical content. Where do you find similarities and where do you find differences?

Ideas for further work

  • Analysis of other screen backgrounds published on the Internet by the association "Rapid Wien".
  • Creation of a poster (collage) with an advertising message that relates to biblical content.
  • Pros and cons discussion on the use of biblical motifs in advertising.
  • Analysis of a video clip that uses biblical motifs.
  • Creation of advertising slogans that use biblical content to shape their message.
  • Creation of a mobile phone video clip that incorporates biblical content.

M 2: You won’t be sorry you listened to us

The advertisement can be downloaded in good quality from the Internet at “http://adsoftheworld.com/media/print/mccann_erickson_jesus”.


McCann-Erikson is an international agency network that offers advertising services.
A friend of yours becomes aware of an advertisement from the agency in a magazine. She asks you what the ad is trying to say. Answer the question.

About the material

The advertisement by the advertising agency McCann Erickson cleverly combines the persuasiveness of the cross as the basis for the spread of Christianity with the possibilities of success-oriented advertising. Three dark-clad men advise the customer Jesus. As in Christian iconography, Jesus is depicted with long hair.

The halo (nimbus) associates the divinity of Jesus as the light of the world and his holiness. The red cloth is reminiscent of the royal purple color and underlines its grandeur. Red is also used as a color for the devotees. The white robe is a sign of the unconditional truth of God, the symbol of chastity and sinlessness, as it is Christ's own. White averts evil and is therefore of particular importance in the context of advertising.

The advertisement shows a consulting situation in an advertising agency. It's about finding a logo. The agency's consultants make three proposals that are presented to the client Jesus. A pensive Jesus points to the circle graphic, indicating his preferences. The circle stands as a symbol for unity, for the absolute, perfect and thus the divine. A counselor standing opposite suggests the graphic with the cross as a logo to Jesus. Viewers of the ad know that the message of the cross has been very persuasive to many for 2000 years. This indicates that the competence for the success of the customer Jesus lies on the part of the advertising agency. The writing "McCann: You won’t be sorry you listened to us" underlines this message.

Methodically, the question under the advertisement represents the starting point for dealing with the material. In order to answer this, it is necessary to examine the advertisement as closely as possible. After the description of the portrayed by the students, the first attempts at interpretation follow. During this phase, what the students say should not be guided by the teacher. Afterwards, questions from the students about advertising are collected. What has been learned so far and thus the starting point for learning become clear. They form the basis for the following lessons.

To what extent a more in-depth elaboration of the messages of the cross is necessary for the Christian faith and for Christians, or whether this step can be omitted based on the knowledge of the students from the previous lesson, results from the students' questions. Depending on the learning group, the teacher should provide further information on the meaning of the colors, characters, etc. selected in the display. The aim of the lesson is that the pupils contribute their own interpretations of the cross, get to know the Christian messages of the cross, know about the persuasiveness of this message for people for 2000 years and thus be able to interpret the advertising appropriately.

The pupils then have to answer in writing the question under the picture. Finally, the results are to be discussed in the learning group.

The questions and impulses printed below represent various options for teaching. They are to be oriented towards the initial learning situation.

Questions and impulses

  • First, describe your first impression of the ad.
  • Which people and objects are shown?
  • How are the people dressed, what do their gestures express?
  • Imagine if you could ask the creators responsible for the ad something. What questions do you have?
  • What content is the focus of advertising?
  • The advertisement refers to a central Christian symbol. Which is it?
  • What do you think of this sign, and how is it related in the Bible?
  • You can find more details about the Christian sign in the Gospels and in the letters of the Apostle Paul. A biblical text is in the Gospel of Mark, chapters 15, 21-41.
  • Make assumptions about the intent of the advertisement. How does it relate to the biblical text?
  • Think about what speaks in favor of advertising this way and what speaks against it.
  • Answer the friend's question. Formulate your own statement.

Ideas for further work

  • Re-enactment of the advertisement as a still image (What do the people in the still image think? What do they feel? What do they want to do next?)
  • Re-enacting the advertising as part of a role play.
  • Production of collages for the message of the cross of Jesus.
  • Compose an SMS on the central message of the cross.
  • Collecting other advertisements that contain religious motifs.
  • Make assumptions about why advertising uses religious motifs.
  • Clarification in which contexts the sign of the cross is used today by whom. Considerations about the motives.
  • Collecting arguments on the subject of “Pros and Cons: Religious Motifs in Advertising”. Staging of a panel discussion in the class



  1. Buschmann, G .: Religious quotations and allusions in print advertising - an empirical finding. In: Forum School Foundation. 5/2006, 27.
  2. Buschmann, G., loc. Cit., 24.
  3. Obst, G .: Competence-oriented teaching and learning in religious education. Göttingen 2008. 136.
  4. See e.g. E.g. Lower Saxony Ministry of Culture: Core curriculum for junior high school grades 5-10. Hannover 2009. 5: "Competencies include knowledge, abilities and skills, but also readiness, attitudes and attitudes that students must have in order to be able to cope with challenging situations."
  5. Cf.: Härle, W .: "... died for our sins" - the salvific meaning of the death of Jesus Christ. 8. http://www.w-haerle.de/ Died for our sin.pdf (21.01.2011)
  6. Cf.: Dressler, B .: Good Friday is a cumbersome holiday from a Protestant point of view. In: Loccumer Pelikan 1/2004, 8.
  7. Cf.: Ziegler, T .: Jesus as “unapproachable superman” or “best friend”? - Elementary approaches of young people to Christology as a challenge for religious education and theology. Neukirchen-Vluyn 2006.
  8. Cf. Kraft, F .: "Died for our sins?" - Christological approaches by young people. In: Loccumer Pelikan 2/2007, 63.
  9. Lower Saxony Ministry of Culture: Core curriculum for junior high school grades 5-10. Hanover 2009, 24.
  10. Lower Saxony Ministry of Culture: Core curriculum for junior high school grades 5-10. Hanover 2009, 18.