Evangelion is a work that leaves itself open to interpretation, for only through interpretation is one able to glean some of its most rewarding aspects. The involvement of religion is one of these.
It is impossible to watch Eva and overlook the presence of some form of underlying religious rhythm. From the very opening credits, this is made clear to the audience. The first image we see is that of the ancient symbol for Lucifer. As it fades away into the distance, it is replaced by the representation of the Tree of Life. Moments later, after we have seen forms of the two primary antiheroes, Shinji and Misato, the ancient emblem of the Kabbalah, another form of the Tree of Life, scrolls over the screen. Of course, one must recognize both the symbols and their relationship to what follows if one is to make any connection between them and the series.
Lucifer, as is common knowledge in the Judeo-Christian paradigm, is the Angel who rebelled against God and was forced out of Heaven by God's seven Archangels, and fell to become the lord and master of Hell. If one looks closely at Lucifer's emblem, one can see that the center is the very face of many of Evangelion's Angels. Some believe this is a sign that perhaps the Angels within Eva are from Hell, rather than Heaven-sent. It is rather the case that it establishes the Angels as truly originating from Heaven because if Lucifer, once an Angel, also wore this mask, then would not his fellow Angels perhaps also carry this marking?
Within Evangelion, the Japanese word that is interpreted as "Angel" is "shito." While this may be translated as "Angel," perhaps a closer definition is "apostle" or "disciple." This makes an equally strong connection with Western religions: the names given the Angels are derivations of some of the twelve Apostles and seven Archangels. For example, Gaghiel, the sixth Angel to attack, is certainly derived from Gabriel, an Archangel. When one stops to think that the names of the Angels are in katakana, and therefore foreign words in Japanese and subject to slight change in pronunciation in order to be assimilated, the leap between names is made all the easier.
Now that they have been named and recognized, why then are there seventeen Angels represented instead of the full count of Apostles and Archangels? The seventeen ordeals spring from the Dead Sea Scrolls. These convoluted prophecies do speak of seventeen trials that mankind must endure and overcome in order to gain eternal salvation as a whole. Each trial is to occur in progression, one at a time, with each being more difficult than the previous. This then explains why the Angels do not attack Tokyo-3 en masse, and also why each becomes more difficult to defeat then the prior one. Each must be defeated in a different manner, and new lessons are learned after each battle is won. The Scrolls themselves are mentioned many times by both the leaders of Nerv and by Keel Lorenz, the leader of Seele, and its predictions are at the heart of this name-dropping.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are the most overtly referenced religious materials, but they are not the only religious work referenced. The second form of the Tree of Life shown in the introduction is from the Book of Splendor, or in its original Hebrew, Zohar. The Zohar is the text which most fully articulates Kabbalah, or "received tradition." This tradition is a form of Jewish mysticism, encompassing the concepts of the golem, the migration of souls, and the ideologies of mankind's creation.
The second form of the Tree of Life that we witness is in fact both a creation and a symbol of Kabbalah. This practice believes that creation is in an imperfect state. "God has created all things, so how can evil exist?" one might ask. A Kabbalist would respond that God has created man separate from God. That which was once one is now two. Evil comes from that act of separation, referred to as the "cutting of the shoots." In order for separation to exist, there must be something dividing the two, thought of as a shell surrounding us, keeping us separate. These klippah, or shells, are the evil surrounding and infiltrating mankind. The Kabbalah's Tree of Life contains ten vessels, kelim in Hebrew. These vessels contain sephiroth, ten of the Hebrew alphabet's characters, which are the recipients of life, each having a different meaning to represent. One of the Kabbalah's most important teachings is that because creation is in an imperfect state, each person has a role in the restoration of perfection (Low).
These are some of Evangelion's overriding themes. The "Human Instrumentality Project" is Seele's attempt to force the next, and final, step in the evolution of mankind. Keel Lorenz has deciphered the Dead Sea Scrolls and knows that in order for humanity to achieve this, the seventeen trials must be begun. In the abduction of Adam, from whom all Angels are derived, Lorenz knows that this will begin. He has the other talismans that will begin the Third Impact already in his possession, the Lance of Longinus and Lilith. These artifacts are interesting because they are also steeped in religion. The Lance of Longinus, or Spear of Destiny as it is sometimes referred to, is actually the spear with which Longinus, a Roman soldier, stabbed Jesus while he was on the Cross. Many legends portray the spear as having the ability to dominate and lead mankind. Lilith is the Angel whom we see within Nerv's Central Dogma, its core. Lilith is Adam's first wife, who ran away from him and gave birth to mankind. Keel Lorenz himself may be the Wandering Jew, the soldier who spit on Christ and was then cursed to walk the earth until the Apocalypse. This would explain how he came into possession of the Lance and his knowledge of the Scrolls.
This knowledge goes hand in glove with Kabbalah, which in turn reveals the purpose of the "Human Instrumentality Project." Within Evangelion, the last step in mankind's evolution is the removal of the divisions between man and man, man and heaven, and man and God. It is true that Nerv seems to be attempting to prevent the Third Impact because it will destroy mankind, but this is not entirely true. There are three possible outcomes of the Third Impact: the first is where it simply does not occur, the second is where the Angels initiate it and mankind is destroyed, and the third is where humanity initiates it and evolves into a higher existence. This last possibility is the outcome that Keel Lorenz desires because it is only in this outcome that he is finally allowed peace and forgiveness.
The Kabbalah is intrinsic to this outcome because it describes the problems at the root of Evangelion. The characters are so totally alone that the only way in which they may be relieved of their loneliness is through complete complementation of one another. The barriers between their minds must be forcibly broken down so as to allow the joy that they so desire. In Evangelion, as in Kabbalah, only evil comes from separation from each other. The Dead Sea Scrolls tell us that we must gain eternal salvation as a whole, and so only as a people will we return to Heaven. The Third Impact, creating a human Angel, allows the characters of Evangelion, indeed the world of Evangelion, to return to Heaven and know peace as one being of eternal joy.