A look at Halo’s Arbiter through a religious lens, by Pat Davet.
The saga of the first Halo Trilogy is one of gaming’s all-time greatest stories. It’s a battle of humanity against a religious crusade of aliens. Such a plot could run the risk of being a mindless shooter, but impeccable writing by Bungie has cemented Halo as a classic. It’s a story of one species against several united species. What makes Halo incredible is the depth that we explore the alien Covenant. Our guide through their world is The Arbiter, a disgraced alien general who has serious doubts about his faith.
The definition for the word Arbiter is “one who judges,” which fits the religious significance of the rank in the time of the Covenant. The title of Arbiter was reserved for the greatest warrior-rulers of the Sangheili, or the elites.
In effect, the ancient Arbiters were practically autocrats, who wielded untold authority and influence due to their superior combat capabilities. They are comparable to the Pharisees in Biblical times.
The rank of Arbiter is held in high esteem and possesses some degree of military command, due to their skill often being used to keep the Covenant from fracturing. The Arbiter during the Halo saga failed to defeat the Master Chief, or player character, in the first game. As a result, his rulers send him on a suicide mission.
The Arbiter’s ritual humiliation, ordered by the Hierarchs and carried out by Tartarus, is visually evocative of the crucifixion of Jesus. It culminates with the Tartarus stabbing the Arbiter with a brand of the Mark of Shame, similar to how Jesus was stabbed with the Lance of Longinus. His old life effectively “dead”, he is then figuratively resurrected as “the Arbiter”. Just as Jesus passed through Hell, the Arbiter passes through the Gravemind’s lair in the pit underneath the Library. The Arbiter then returns and saves the other Elites, just as Jesus brought a message of truth to humanity. Through these experiences, we play as the Arbiter. We see the world as he does. His doubt and eventual rejection of the Covenant is mirrors the story of Jesus Christ, who also had his own doubts. He brings greater truth to his people, even though it caused him great pain.