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Wal-Mart Tests Bible Action Figures

HARRISBURG, Pa. (RNS)– Jesus and Moses were sold out, but you could still head to the checkout counter with Mary, Noah, David and a ferocious-looking Samson, packaged with Delilah in hot pink.
The world of posable action figures has traditionally belonged to hulking heroes such as Spider-Man and He-Man. But this latest crop — heroes and heroines from the Bible, on local Wal-Mart shelves since mid-August — are a testament to central Pennsylvania’s proclivity for religion and Wal-Mart’s marketing savvy.Esther_100.jpg
Wal-Mart chose to test-market biblical action figures in its Carlisle, York, Lebanon, Swatara and Silver Spring township stores, displaying them with the preschool and stuffed animal aisle — not the Bratz and Barbie Beach Glam dolls aisle.
Given the area’s conservative impulses, the dolls should be a natural fit.
“Central Pennsylvania is conservative religious turf,” said Doug Jacobsen, religion professor at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa. “This is Bible Belt.”
So far, the dolls have generated a measure of revulsion at the idea of Jesus and She-Hulk tumbled together in the toy box, and hope that the toys will help children absorb the stories of their faith.
“That’s how children learn, by playing with things. They begin to own the story,” said Coleen Cotton, director of children’s ministry at Carlisle Evangelical Free Church.
Others had more fixed feelings.
“My concern is kids are going to equate them with other action figures,” said Jane Beachy of Carlisle Brethren in Christ Church.
“Superheroes aren’t true. Jesus is true.”
Americans spend billions of dollars each year on Christian products, though the Internet and big-box retailers like Wal-Mart are absorbing more and more of the market growth. That growth has shuttered some local Christian bookstores, and some who sold similar actions figures saw sleepy sales.
Wal-Mart said it studied the concentration of churches around its stores and their previous sales of faith-based products to select 425 stores nationwide — most of them in the South — for test markets.Noah_action175.jpg
Together, they represent about 13 percent of all Wal-Marts.
Wal-Mart does not discuss sales of individual products, but David Socha, CEO of manufacturer One2believe in Valencia, Calif., said the early word from a few stores sounded promising.
Target also will test-market the figures on its Web site,, starting next month, a One2believe spokesman said.
In some ways, though, Wal-Mart is a totally different world for biblical action figures, said Anne Borden, assistant professor of sociology at Morehouse College in Atlanta.
Mass merchandising opens them to “multiple interpretations,” she said. While some people view the dolls as creative tools for religious training, others might see kitsch or gag gifts.
“Once something is put out there, we don’t know what the audience is going to do with it,” Borden said.
Socha, who calls himself an “evangelical Catholic,” says he’s fighting a “battle for the toy box.” Too many toys these days seem to encourage promiscuity and violence, he said.
The One2believe line includes 13-inch Spirit Warrior Samsons and Goliaths ($19.97 apiece with little story books). Socha said violence is found in “true stories from the Bible, and there are tremendous lessons there.”
Most of the toys are 12-inch figures that talk at the push of a button in their backs. (“With God all things are possible,” says Mary, among other things.) They cost $14.97.
There also are smaller Tales of Glory sets (Samson, Delilah and a little pillar like the one Samson dislodges in the Old Testament story) for $6.97.
Focus on the Family, Samaritan’s Purse and other prominent evangelical groups have endorsed the toys.
Jacobsen, from Messiah College, said the biblical toys find their obvious market among evangelicals, who have a long history of adapting pop culture to their purposes.
Years ago, it was marrying drinking tunes with pious new lyrics to create hymns, Jacobsen said. Now it’s action figures from the Bible.
The Rev. Martin Odom at Bethel Village African Methodist Episcopal Church in Harrisburg had not seen the toys, but he liked the idea in general “as long as they’re done in a culturally sensitive way.”
“The Bible is pretty clear that Jesus was a person of color — not an African-American but not Caucasian,” he said. The Wal-Mart Jesus has long, straight dark hair and dark eyes, and there’s a hint of olive in his skin color.
Mary Warner writes for the Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Copyright 2007 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

  • Gina

    wow, anything to make a buck. it makes me sick. i sure wouldnt buy these things for kids if i had any (i certainly wont buy them for my nephew)

  • Henrietta22

    Fun, fun, fun, the collectors are out there right now buying them up for future sales of their own. I would buy my children these if they wanted them, but I would also understand ahead of time that Virgin Mary would probably be forced into Barbie clothes, and vis versa, and Jesus would probably end up in Kens, or anything else wearing doll clothes. I hope the conservative parents won’t go ballistic when this happens, after all, children are just that, children.

  • recovering ex-Pentecostal

    I wonder if one of the actin figures will be …
    (wait for it) …

  • pagansister

    These are toys, no different than any other toys. Are they any worse or better than other actions figures? Not in my opinion.
    I find it interesting that the creators of these figures know just what the Virgin looked like, or Paul or Noah or any of the other charactors from the bible. Really happy to hear that Jesus isn’t blond and blue eyed…and really, really white…”hint of olive” to his skin.
    recovering ex-Pentecostal: GODzilla ? Good one!

  • Joey

    I never really got the kind of “religious kitsch” things that evangelicals are into myself…don’t know how I feel about this.
    God bless.

  • D Webb

    I’m all for it. Walmart is going to continue to sell merchandise of some sort, and I would much rather see action figures based on Biblical characters on the shelves than another half naked doll.

  • pagansister

    D. Webb:
    Being kids, it won’t take long for some of the religious figures to be “half naked ” too! Little ones like to dress and undress their dolls.

  • Anonymous

    Children learn through play. This would be the first time their selling biblically related toys: hasn’t anyone else had a toy Ark?

  • Henrietta22

    Now that you mention it, yes ,our children had toy arks. When they were small gas stations in CA gave Ark animals away at every fill-up, two alike to every cellophane package! We had Ark animals like you couldn’t believe. An order blank was inside each package so you could send away for a large plastic ark at a nominal price, and also receive Noah and his wife. It was fun seeing what they received each time. Yes, we got a few duplicates, so in some cases their were four or more of each animal!

  • pallet777

    kids learn by playing. don’t be extreamist,nay-sayers

  • jestrfyl

    Once again, the designers of these figures play right along with the “caucasian” models for these figures. There might be some value if they actually represented someone for that era and region. But these simply perpetuate the Eiuro-centric foolisness.
    These arent the first “action figures (“They are NOT dolls, man!”) from the Bible. Christian books stores have had stuff like this for a while. But ENUF of the cute Noah & animal pals, or Jesus & his flock, or The Whole Armor of God costume set. When are we going to get some REAL Biblical action figures, like, say, Hosea and Gomar, or the Bride and Groom set from the Song of Solomon (put them on the offical light up stand and they repeat portions form the Song, like “Your two breasts are like two fawns” or “turn my beloved and be like a gazelle or a young stag on the hill”), or a talking Amos doll (pull the string and he shouts, “You whores of Bashon!” and “I accept no bull from your house”), or David and Bathsheba (with different outfits, one taking a bath, the other pregnant) or for that matter David’s little bed warmer, AbiSHAG. Also we could get Apocryphal with Bel & the Dragon or even better, Judith and Holofernes (with tent peg and detachable head) Now THOSE are some interesting figures for all you obcessive complusive collectors.

  • nnmns

    “Superheroes aren’t true. Jesus is true.”
    Well, nobody at the time bothered to write about his purported miracles, and that’s hard to account for if they had actually happened. So the miracles are almost certainly not true; testimonies by people trying to found a religion certainly aren’t convincing.
    Whether the person Jesus existed seems to be in doubt.
    So, no, Spider Man is newer but is probably just as real as, at least, the mythical Jesus.
    But yes the Jesus doll should be as collectible as any other.

  • amethyst

    “Superheroes aren’t true. Jesus is true.”
    Maybe so. But how many kids play that this doll is Dad and this one is Mom? Or not specifically their parents, but parents in general? That’s a more realistic situation than Superman. Children intermix fantasy and reality all the time. Even if Jesus is wearing Ken’s speedo and Mary in Barbie’s wedding dress, children will still act out things they’ve been taught or experienced.

  • Windsors Child

    There are documents other than the Bible that do make reference to Jesus. Writing in AD 93, The Jewish historiam Flavius Josephus mentioned Jesus. He is also referenced in the Babylonian Talmud which was written over the period of AD 70-200. Roman Emperor Trajan received a letter from Pliny the Younger in AD 100 which mentions Christ. He is also mentioned in the Annals of Taticus (AD 115-117) and in Suetonius’ “Life of Claudius” and in his “Life of Nero.
    The Discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1949 also supported the Old Testament prophecies that indicated Christ would be born in Bethlehem and that He would suffer and die. These prophecies are found primarily in the O.T. book of Isaiah, and in other O.T. books as well. The Dead Sea Scrolls include these prophecies. The scrolls have been dated to 300 BC. That’s 300 years before the birth of Christ.
    Skeptics have also claimed that David the King of Israel never existed. But in 1993 archeologists found a stone with the inscriptions “House of David” and “King of Israel.” Time magazine wrote in 1995 that “the skeptic’s claim that David never existed is now hard to defend.”
    A person can say that he does not believe Jesus was God as He claimed to be, but to say that Jesus never existed one has to ignore a lot of evidence to the contrary.
    As for the toys mentioned here, I have no problem with these. They may help educate kids on the stories of the Bible. I personally believe one does not have a complete education if he is ignorant of the stories of the Bible, stories which have helped shape culture and civilization for many centuries.

  • NightLad

    Darn, and I thought I was going to bring up the whole “Caucasian” comment! Oh well. Kudos to those who’ve mentioned this funny/sad point.
    Indeed, I find it funny to consider who ‘white’ these dolls look. A blond Delilah in a hot-pink dress? Sheesh. Does Jesus come with a Surf Board? “Duuuuude, I’m like, totally going to heal that wicked back sunburn for you, man! Kewl!”
    While I don’t particularly care about the dolls themselves, I would personally have an issue with somebody trying to make my faith a part of pop-culture. When you market a faith by appealing to what’s ‘trendy’ and ‘cool’ at the moment, you also fuse it to the whims and downfalls of that trend. That’s just my own personal observation, and why I’d be chagrined at my faith becoming ‘cool,’ especially when marketed to children.

  • KLBA1

    Are these dolls anatomically correct? Maybe Abraham before and after the covenant? OUCH! Do you think they sell accessories– do Moses and Aaron come with stone tablets and a Golden Calf?
    As to miracles– Barbie has to have special powers (or a very good platic surgeon) to keep her outrageous figure for over 50 years ; )

  • jestrfyl

    I love your comment about Abe – the before and after could even come with a knife!
    Barbie as Mary, Mary Magdelene, or the “other” Mary – Triplets or one doll, three outfits? The marketing possibilities are endless.
    Abe and Isaac, with a knife, a ram, and some thorns – now THAT’S a good play time activity. Or Hagar and Ishamel, getting thrown out!
    I wantto know if these dolls, once the heads are removed and shorn indelicately, like all of my daughter’s Barbies, will they heal themselves, or do we need to buy the Elijah or Jesus miracle sets?

  • Penny

    i’m laughing so hard i can hardly type. you guys are hilarious. thank God HE has a sense of humor!!! and that He is real!

  • Frank B. Chavez III

    These are not the first action figures based on Biblical characters but they sure are tasteless — they look like rejects from the old He-Man and the Masters of the Universe line. I don’t have any objections to basing toys on Biblical characters but are authentic detailing and realistic proportions too much to ask?

  • Hypatia

    1. The citation from Josephus is probably a later forgery.
    2. The Babylonian Talmud does not support your argument since it is very late and it contains Jewish polemics against Jesus. (E.g., Jesus’ real father is a Roman Centurion named Pantera – this hardly helps your Jesus-as-a-god-man argument.)
    3. Have you actually read Pliny’s letter to Trajan? I am guessing you have not. He mentions problems he is having with “so-called Christians” – Pliny is in no way a contemporary or biographer of Jesus.
    4. Yep, Tacitus mentions Jesus – close to two generations after Jesus has died. Hardly significant.
    5. Please do some primary reading of Suetonius and read the secondary literature from actual Classicists. Then, come back and tell us how reliable (or not) Suetonius is.
    6. The DSS are completely and utterly irrelevant to the historicity of Jesus. Have you read them? Do you know what is contained in the DSS? Have you had any college-level classes in Second-Temple Judaism, Qumran, etc.?
    I have no problem with the idea that Jesus existed. I tend to believe that he did and was later heavily mythologized by his followers. In other words; a man, not God, not a God-man, not a superhero.

  • Henrietta22

    Windsors Child, thanks for posting about Jesus. I’ve sat in classes in the past two years with some very respected Professors, Emeritus, one from Loyola, and heard much of what you posted. I didn’t take notes, as sometimes that detracts from what I’m trying to listen and understand.

  • nnmns

    WC, I won’t respond about most of your “documentation” because Hypatia did and it sounds like she knows a lot more about it than I do. But if there’s any doubt about the reality of Jesus even as a man, and there is some, claiming he was born where the messiah was prophesied to be born is hardly a proof since where else would you place a mythical birth than where it would fulfill a prophecy?
    So it’s clear Jesus wasn’t doing those miracles and it’s not clear he even existed.

  • rosemary

    i may be a little young, but i don’t recall ever hearing or seeing any other bible action figures before now…….well, actually, i haven’t SEEN these, but you know what i mean…
    i tend to agree with the first poster, & with nightlad. talk about capitalism getting excessive in this country! it seems nothing is off limits when it comes to lining your pockets. & yes, i do think that it seems like your faith would become less meaningful as it gets trivialized by being integrated into pop culture like this.
    maybe some kids WILL learn something from them. but i think most kids will just think, wow, more toys.

  • Forestwalkerjoe

    Some are worried about what children will do with them.. but we forget.. children are not plug and play items.. you don’t just LET EM alone with any thing.. you must GUIDE THEM.. i have heard it described as such ” Children are ANGEL FACED SIN IN SHOES! at first, i was offended by this..but it is Biblically sound and so very true. You must work out of sin nature and children must be guided. So, teach them respect.. guide them.. i would rather guide them with bible characters than neo ANTI CHRIST or Buddhist Warrior Ninjas or warlocks and wizards like H Potter.
    I have seen a new movement among the young teens.. kids wanting to be LIKE Joseph, Esther, Gideon or the new Nazarite movement.. shave your head.. fast from wine,grapes of any sort and or meat , in consecration to GOD.. like BIBLE CHARACTERS in the Old Testament. AIM HIGH>. Pray before GOD.. Teach the kids to follow models that are HOLY.. i think that is Great.. and money is always made.. no matter where.. rather it come to the righteous than the vile, any day.

  • Chris

    Why are some of you even reading things on belief net anyway. If you do not believe why is it even of interest to you?

  • nnmns

    ” Children are ANGEL FACED SIN IN SHOES!”
    How are you supposed to think objectively about a child when you are occupied with their “sin”? Religion can have some really bad effects.
    And yes, I’ll admit it’s tough to think objectively about one’s child anyway, but thinking like that puts in another layer of difficulty.

  • jestrfyl

    “Children are ANGEL FACED SIN IN SHOES!”
    Your theology collapsed in on itself with that one line. The rest of your comments are simply more of the same. This is corrupt, corroded, and colliding with common decency and sense. The article is about toys, not some warped version of original sin.
    And by the way, does non-angel faced sin go barefoot?
    If so, then I lieave you with this blessing:
    “No Shoes, No shirt, No problem” – from the Prophet Kenny Chesney

  • Windsors Child

    Just for the record, I have read the materials I mentioned in my earlier post, i.e. Josephus, Pliny, etc. I am well aware there are problems connected to these references. I did not cite them as proof of anything. I cited them only to suggest that there are possible evidences for the existence of Jesus outside the Bible. Critics have to deal with these possible evidences, which they usually do by explaining them away.
    I also know that some of these references are negative toward Christ and Christianity. To me that seems to suggest their veracity, since most of them come from Roman sources, and the Romans regarded the Jews in general and the Christians in particular as annoying, thus the references in these items to the “superstition” of the Christians.
    But you put words in my mouth when you suggest I cited these as proofs of the existence of Jesus. To a person of faith, the Bible stands on its own and does not need other sources. I know some of you have a hard time with that statement, but whether you believe it or not, I do. And, for me, that is sufficient.
    But I did want all to know I am familiar with the references cited.

  • jestrfyl

    Windsor’s Child
    I am simply impressed that you found a way to get Pliny & Josephus mentioned in the same context as Wal-mart!

  • Al R.

    Wow! After reading some of the postings on this article I am surprised. If you don’t believe in God or Jesus Christ why are you even responding to an aricle which talks about actionfigures made in the image of Biblical characters? Why do you even care if someone else believes and would rather not see the dolls made? To me it is just an organized attempt to try and prove Christianity as false, which you can’t do. It is interesting every time a quote is given by someone which doesn’t support your belief that Christ didn’t exsist and or that He was not the Son of God, right away it is false and that it was the mechanation of His followers.
    I know someone will say, Christianity has been proven false by such and such a person and by this or that. Which is pure bull. I am not going to argue the fact the Christ exsisted and that indeed He was and still is the Son of the Living God. Your inability to accept this doesn’t make it any less real to me or anybody else who has posted a response to this article as the the reality of the person and more importantly His Divinity. A day will come whether you believe it will or not where you will be forced to recind your position, and at that time it may be too late. Oh well, that is the beauty of our agency in life we choose and then we find out if our choice was correct. Good luck, you’ll need it.

  • Betty

    Everybody has the gift of choice. Like the new product, or don’t. Buy it, or don’t. Believe in Jesus as the Son of God, or don’t. Those of us who do believe have a choice to decide if we want religious toys for our children or not. I think it’s a great idea! I am happy to hear that a story book comes along with the figure. I hope the manufacturer makes these figures in “good taste.” Clothes don’t have to be removable, figures don’t have to be anatomically correct because the bodies should be clothed. All of the stories of the Bible don’t have to be told to the little kids, and parents don’t have to buy the ones that they don’t want to explain to their children. However, the parents should be able to teach their children correct stories from the Bible (or any other scriptures) as they see fit. I think the figures are a great way to teach the children. We have always had pictures and flannel boards, figures are even better! As for mixing the religious toys with others, TEACH THE CHILDREN RESPECT FOR RELIGIOUS ITEMS! Toys don’t teach, parents and teachers teach!

  • Drew

    Is it me or do we see a total mesomorphic steroid projected image of the biblical figure here? How stupid.

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