The simple pun on the catchphrase “may the force be with you” has undoubtedly resulted in “May the Fourth be with you”, which in turn makes it apt for May 4th, celebrated by many science fiction aficionados as the Star Wars Day. Now while it may just be apocryphal, but author Alan Arnold suggests that the phrase was also used in a front page advertising in London Evening News, when Margaret Thatcher won the election in 1979 and the message read – “May the Fourth Be With You, Maggie. Congratulations.” However beyond the political and film history of 20th century, the sequential set of words in the phrase has had its origins in Biblical works, possibly starting from the Book of Ruth (part of the Ketuvim of the Hebrew Bible).
One particular sentence from the scroll reads (Ruth 2:4) –
And behold, Bo′az came from Bethlehem; and he said to the reapers, ‘The Lord be with you!’ And they answered, ‘The Lord bless you.
Author Christopher Carstens mentioned in his book Mystical Body, Mystical Voice: Encountering Christ in the Words of the Mass –
greeting…is the greeting of the landowner Boaz to his harvesters….It is a greeting to those who gather their daily bread by working in the field, a greeting to pilgrims like Ruth living off the land as they pass through. It was used by the Hebrews on everyday occasions to express good wishes in the Lord.
Interestingly enough, a passage from the Book of Chronicles that concludes the history-oriented literary segment of the Old Testament, reads (2 Chronicles 15:1-2) –
The Spirit of God came upon Azari′ah the son of Oded, and he went out to meet Asa, and said to him, ‘Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: The Lord is with you, while you are with him’
Now on the actual historical side of affairs, the early Christians carried forth this legacy from the Levant, and the phrase was possibly used in everyday greetings and in context of Mass. Moreover, there are larger variants of the phrase, as could be comprehended from the letters of Saint Paul, who lived during circa mid 1st century AD. In 2 Corinthians (which is considered as one of the genuine letters composed by Paul), a passage reads (2 Corinthians 13:14) –
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Once again reverting to the course of history, the phrase didn’t lose its shine even after late medieval religious movements like the Reformation. In fact, the Protestants continued on with the tradition of their Catholic adversaries, and thus the utterance made its way into the Anglican and Lutheran liturgies. To that end, George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, himself was raised as a Methodist. This in turn certainly alludes to the possibility when a young Lucas latched on to the phrase uttered during Christian services. In that regard, Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz mentioned in the book How Star Wars Conquered the Universe how the popular-culture fueled catchphrase is intentionally evocative of the ancient parlance with its origin in the Biblical works.