The following is taken from one of Ellie Clayton’s Post in William Blake: Religion and Psychology. It sets forth a number of ways that Blake understood the Bible and used it in his poetry.
We have often spoken of the distinctive way in which Blake read, studied and interpreted the Bible. Northrup Frey who was an ordained minister of the United Church of Canada before he became primarily a literary critic, shows in this passage from Fearful Symmetry (page 370) how he and Blake were able to read the Bible according to the light which was given to them:
“The career of Jesus is visualized in the gospels as a recreation or epitome of the story of Israel. He comes of the seed of “David” that is, he is the new Orc or Luvah. A “father” who did not begat him, named Joseph, leads him to “Egypt,” Herod’s slaughter of the innocents being in counterpoint to the earlier Passover story. Returning from Egypt,he grows up and is baptized in the Jordan, corresponding to the crossing of the Red Sea; then he wanders forty days in the wilderness as the Israelites wandered forty years, resisting all the temptations the Israelites fell prey to, including at least one not presented as such in the earlier vision, the miraculous provision of bread. He emerges from the wilderness, gathers twelve followers, appears on a mountain with Moses and Elijah, enters and cleanses the Temple, and is finally lifted up like the brazen serpent in the harlot Jerusalem he came to redeem. In the mean time he raised up a new civilization through the power of the unlearned and oppressed people who were most receptive to his teaching.The new historical cycle is symbolized in Blake by Lazarus of Bethany and the Lazarus of the parable, and who is, like Samson, a vision of Orc suggesting the larger contours of Albion, whose resurrection may not be far off. Thus the “life” of Jesus presented in the Gospels is really a visionary drama based on the earlier vision of Jehovah, worked out not, in terms of historical accuracy or evidence but purely as a clarification of the prophetic visions of the Messiah.”
Blake’s Poem ‘Milton’, PLATE 24 , (Erdman p.120)
“When Jesus raisd Lazarus from the Grave I stood & saw
Lazarus who is the Vehicular Body of Albion the Redeemd
Arise into the Covering Cherub who is the Spectre of Albion
By martyrdoms to suffer: to watch over the Sleeping Body.
Upon his Rock beneath his Tomb. I saw the Covering Cherub (Ezekiel 28:12-19)
Divide Four-fold into Four Churches when Lazarus arose
Paul, Constantine, Charlemaine, Luther;”
(You might say that Blake is being less than complimentary to the four epochs of what became known as the Church.)
Here is an earlier post on Albion and Lazarus.
Blake created his own ‘visionary dramas’ to present his prophetic visions of the Messiah which he was convinced could reveal the contours of a New Age.
[skipping some redundancies]
Come, let us return to the Lord;
for he has torn, that he may heal us;
he has stricken, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up
that we may live before him.
What shall I do with you, oh Ephraim? [in northern monarchy of Israel]
What shall I do with you, oh Judah? [southern kingdom, centered on Jerusalem & Temple]
Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes early away.
Therefore I have hewn you by the prophets;
I have slain you by the words of my mouth;
and my judgement goes forth as the light
for I desire steadfast love, not sacrifice;
the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings.
They made kings, but not through Me;
they set up princes, but without my knowledge.
With their silver and gold they made idols
for their own destruction.
I have spurned your ‘calf’ [depiction of Yahwey as a bull], oh Samaria!
(My anger burns against them.
How long will it be till they are pure in Israel?)
A workman made it;
it is not God.
The days of punishment have come;
the days of recompense have come;
Israel shall know it.
The prophet is a fool;
the man of the Spirit is mad
because of your great iniquity
and great hatred.
The prophet is the watchman of Ephraim,
the people of my God,
yet a fowler’s snare is on all his ways,
and hatred in the Temple of his God.
They have deeply corrupted themselves
as in the days of Gibeah;
He will remember their iniquity;
He will punish their sins.
[More about this soon….]
People have known, for a long time now, about optimal methods of raising and teaching children. Probably there are “primitive” peoples who’ve forgotten more than we’ve learned about that, but it’s clear enough what kind of conditions to provide, if you want a warm and loving relationship with your kids.
And God doesn’t do it that way!
There’s this people, the Jews– chosen to help establish a loving relationship between God and human beings. Some of this people, the prophets– were chosen to announce the meaning of historical events, to give God’s reasons and intentions in instigating such events.
Pronouncing doom on nations and rulers… has always been part of the role. But by the time of Hosea, the news is all bad. The people, their rulers, and their priests are all misbehaving. God intends to destroy both Jewish kingdoms: Israel first and Judah later. One prophet after another is saying the same, in chapter after chapter, book after book.
“You just wait til your Father gets home!” For years!
And then God does it. First Israel, then (about 100 years later) Judah falls.
So, to establish a loving relationship– God first orders His people to do things they can’t/won’t/aren’t-about-to do. Then He threatens them for their failure. Then He has them murdered, robbed, enslaved and carried away wholesale by more powerful nations. But after they’ve suffered enough, He plans to relent.
This isn’t even what you’d call “strict father morality”; it looks downright abusive!
And does it work? In some odd way, it does. It produces a nation with many sincere and intensely devoted worshipers.
But when Jesus is born, centuries after their return, the Jews still haven’t eliminated oppression and corruption from their rulers, their Temple hierarchy, their major landowners. Idolatrous foreigners are still taking their goods, lording it over them, treating their religion with contempt.
At this point, Jesus explains– that God is not an abusive tyrant, but a loving and nurturant parent. Toward everybody.
They should stop plotting rebellion. They’d tried that with the Maccabees, and even though it “worked” it still hadn’t produce the kind of results that they, or God, intended.
Instead, they should treat everyone with disinterested, loving benevolence; this is how God behaves. They should adopt a radically humane, egalitarian and nonjudgmental interpretation of Torah (similar to Hillel’s, which eventually did become the prevailing approach.)
If they could do that, God could make their lives blessed.
And if they could not– ~’Are you ever going to wish you had!’ Jerusalem would be besieged, the Temple destroyed as it had been before. Some decades later, on the exact same calender day the Babylonians had done so– the Romans took the city, plundered, murdered and enslaved, destroyed the Temple.
And by then, Jesus’ followers were becoming a sect of their own, on the way to forming “Christianity.” Many of these people, also, have formed intensely loving relationships with God.
And many of them, also, have continued to imagine God as if He were an abusively-strict father, more concerned with obedience than with mutual love.
The reasons for this have far more to do with human beings, than with God. But that’s a subject for later…
Forrest’s post on Two Moralities is honest, straightforward, poetic, and creative in the extreme. The discipline he’s undergone in conducting this blog has led to new revelations.
I led the group for a large space of time, and became inactive in favor of other interests (see My Posts). My experience was similar to Forrest’s present circumstances, but with some difference.
With my wife, Ellie, we’ve taught (or led) Bible classes in many Friends’ Meetings over many years, and my interest has somewhat waned. For a long time I believed
1. That the Bible is poetry–every word of it. Poetry is the highest form of truth.
2. The quality of the Bible changed through the centuries in accordance with the evolution of consciousness of the Bible people.
3. Consciousness reached a peak with the birth of Jesus, the Son of God.
4. The Bible is not all the Word. The Word comes forth from our mouths today like it did for Isaiah and Hosea. In effect Jesus is the Word, and to the degree we’re led by Him we too speak the Word. (For me that realization somewhat relativized the Bible.
5. This blog has been a sacred endeavor. It began some ten years ago and has been followed faithfully by various people at various times. Sooner or later it will be laid down, like every other (sacred or profane) activity. We have every reason to be thankful and praise God for it.
After long musing on George Lakoff… I have concluded:
There are two moralities in the Bible: one good, and one evil.
Well-meaning people can support either or (probably) both. And feel they are merely standing for everything good and true and right; that’s why it makes sense to call both of them “moralities,” or ‘concepts of morality.’
And the Bible speaks with both voices. Not only can “the Devil quote Scripture;” he wrote a big chunk of it!
Also, as James Kugel says in How to Read the Bible, people have long read the Bible as God’s guide to how He wants us to live.
Now the Bible is truly a fun book! But very few of us would be slogging through the gnarly bits if we didn’t agree that God, in some sense, has provided this anthology to help us sort out what’s what, Who’s Who, and where the little ‘You are here’ mark ought to go…
But it’s a book written by human beings, with all the dirty fingerprints this implies. Interpreters can ignore these, bring out wonderful meanings via the belief that everything in there is meaningful and true… but the conjectures and fudge-factors this requires grow like Pinocchio’s nose, like the epicycles of Medieval astronomy, like modern “Skeptics'” efforts to deny the power of Spirit.
Everything on this Earth is divinely created, can speak to us at any moment, whether from a Bible or a children’s book. So we are constantly needing to practice discernment: ‘What Light can I find in this?’ vs ‘What interpretations of this might mislead me?’
Two moralities. In the world, people assert: “God says this!” vs “God says that”; and in the Bible it is much the same. We might argue texts for some very long time.
But it cannot be denied, that Jesus is condemned and ultimately killed, by a coalition of the pious and the powerful. And it is Jesus whom God vindicates.