"Ill-matching words and deeds long past": Englished Hebrew and "the readmission of the Jews" in Paradise Lost.
We find, that as soon as King Charles was murther'd, the Jews Petition'd the Council of War to endeavour a Repeal of that Act of Parliament which had been made against them. Upon which, one Official remarked, "A Project never so seasonable, and necessary, as now!"--D'Blossiers Tovey, Anglia Judaica; or the History and Antiquities of the Jews in England, 1738 (2)
It appears then on record that the first secret crime of the refractory angels was punning: they fell rapidly after that.--Walter Savage Landor, Imaginary Conversations (3) **********
In 1649, the year Charles I was deposed and executed, Anne Curtyn was sent to New Prison at Clerkenwell "for being a professed Jew and causing children to be circumcised." (4) The charges, apparently brought against her for emulating Old Testament rituals, were subsequently dropped because it turned out that she was a Christian, albeit a follower of the radical Puritan, John Traske. Seven years before Oliver Cromwell presided over the "readmision of the Jews," Curtyn's troubles pointed to something of an identity crisis that Shakespeare's Portia might have expressed as, "which is the Christian here, and which the Jew?" Indeed, the presence of what Inge Leimberg has called "the Jewish remnant" (5) in England during the first half of the seventeenth century was so strongly felt that the term "readmission" hardly does justice to the moment when Jews were finally permitted to occupy the same space as their legacy. (6) Furthermore, it seems clear that the symbolic systems relied upon to distinguish one's religious, cultural, and national identity from another's were not fully legible. Curtyn's imprisonment represents, perhaps, an instance when the authorities felt compelled to arrest and confine the meaning of what it was to be an English Christian. (7) In the particular case of Anglo-Jewish relations, the ability to make such distinctions was greatly complicated by the fact that, as David S. Katz notes, "The only Jews of most people's acquaintance were biblical figures, literary characters, and entirely imaginary, and it may be that this lack of personal contact with such an extraordinary people facilitated their readmission." (8) Begun in the years when discussion of the Jewish presence in England finally culminated in the Whitehall Conference--during which one person wrote in his diary, "Now were the Jews admitted" (9)--Milton's Paradise Lost may be viewed as a comparable (if spectacularly more ambitious) effort by an authority to identify and define oppositionally what it was to be English and Christian. (10)
Recently scholars have taken an intense interest in what Israel, the Jews, and the Hebrew Bible meant to the England of Milton and his contemporaries. Elizabeth Sauer, for example, contends that "England subsumed the culture and tradition of ancient Israel in its providential history, the culmination of which was for millenarians, as for the early Christians, a temporal regnum Christi. ... Contemporary history was in turn read through biblical history as well as through debates about present-day Jews, whose proposed readmission became 'the most searching tolerationist dilemma' of this period." (11) With regard to Milton's specific role in this nationalist reading project, Sauer argues that
England achieved its literary embodiment in the imaginatively constructed nations of Spenser and Shakespeare. The nation's main prophet, however, was Milton, whose writings best exhibit the early modern preoccupation with the intersecting identities of ancient Israel and early modern England. ... The migration (and metempsychosis) of the Hebraic as elect status is unmistakable in Milton's writings. (12)
Similarly, Achsah Guibbory has recently observed that, "Like many of his contemporaries, Milton turned to the Hebrew Bible to understand England's present turbulent situation, finding that the history of the ancient Israelites (as the 'first' people of God) spoke to contemporary English experience. While Milton's invocation of biblical Israelite history is well known, (13) it has not been closely examined for what it can tell us about Christian/Jewish relations." (14) Yet Guibbory also qualifies this observation, noting, "Milton, despite an early millenarian strain, was curiously silent on the issue of readmission. Although as secretary of foreign tongues to the Council of State he could hardly have been unaware of the controversy over readmission, he recorded in his writing no comments that directly reveal his stance." (15) Jeffrey S. Shoulson also stresses caution with regard to locating Milton's work in the context of mid-seventeenth-century English preoccupation with the Jews:
Milton's statements about the Jews--biblical, but especially the Jews of more recent history--are notoriously elliptical and succinct. ... Indeed, when one considers the many factors converging in and around Milton from 1640 until his death in 1674, it is remarkable how little this famously verbose poet and polemicist had to say about the religious toleration of Jews (pro or contra), the question of officially readmitting Jews to England, the matter of the conversion of the Jews (in either a millenarian or non-millenarian framework), or the restoration of the Jews to the Holy Land. (16)
Shoulson is certainly right to emphasize Milton's curious silence on contemporary Jewish issues, especially in his many prose tracts; yet elsewhere, Shoulson has brilliantly analyzed Paradise Lost as a midrashic poem in which Milton sets up a number of significant parallels between what he perceives to be the failings of the English Reformation and the Jewish Diaspora in the post-Temple period. (17)
In this essay, I want to follow Shoulson's important lead by reading Paradise Lost as a poem that re-inscribes the Hebrew Bible in terms of mid-seventeenth English concerns. Specifically, I look briefly at naming and chronology in books 3 and 7 in order to suggest that although Milton is oddly reluctant to write about contemporary Jewish issues, his great English epic in some sense parallels and restages the Jews' "readmission." (18) If, as Herbert Marks astutely observes, "it is Hebrew itself, the language of Scripture, that returns to haunt the text of Milton's poem," (19) it is also true that this return is consistent with the historical moment midway through the writing of Paradise Lost when the Jews returned--or rather, were licensed to return--to an England that had never ceased to be haunted by them. While I have no desire to follow in the footsteps of the officers who arrested Anne Curtyn, I will try to identify some of the Jewish/Hebrew ghosts that clamor at the gates of Milton's paradise and, on occasion, wander inside.
I want to begin by turning briefly to the first of two biblical accounts of creation in Genesis. The fourth and central day of the seven-day creation narrative details the coming into being of a heavenly body, the name of which is now homophonous with the English word for male offspring. I refrain from giving this name here for a reason that will become apparent shortly. The terse, well-known account of this day's events in the 1611 Authorized Version of the Holy Scriptures Milton would have known well is as follows:
14 And God said, "Let there be lights (k) in the firmament of the heaven, to (1) separate the day from the night, and let them bee for (m) signes and seasons, and for dayes and yeeres. 15 And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light vpon the earth: and it was so. 16 And God then made two (n) great lights: the greater light (o) to rule the day, & the lesser light to rule the night: he made also the starres. 17 And God set them in the firmament of heaven, to shine vpon the earth. 18 And to rule in the day, & in the night, and to separate the Light from the darkenesse: and God saw that it was good. 19 So the Evening and the Morning were the fourth day.
(k) By the lights he meaneth the Sunne, the moone, and the starres.
(l) Which is the artificial day, from the Sonne rising to the going down.
(m) Of things appertaining to naturall and politicall orders and seasons.
(n) To wit, the Sunne and the moone: and here he speaketh as man iudgeth by his eye: for else the Moone is lesse then the planet Saturne.
(o) To give it sufficient light, as instruments appointed for the time, to serve to marts vse.
(Gen. 1:14-19) (20)
The notes that accompany this passage are certainly of great interest, and we shall consider them below. For now, however, what is immediately striking about this passage is that the story of the creation of the heavenly lights is actually told twice: the first version, which stages God's performance, ends with the comment, "and it was so"; the second version, which describes that performance, ends with a comparable bit of commentary, "and God saw that it was good." The second telling is a kind of translation of the first in which the essential details of the account, the creation of the lights and their concomitant functions are retold with greater specificity. "Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven" and "let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven" are recast in the second account as "And God then made two great lights" and "And God set them in the firmament of the sky," while their functions are repeated with even greater frequency: to the functions listed in the first version, "to separate the day from the night," let them bee for signes and seasons, and for dayes and yeeres," and "to give light vpon the earth," the second version adds "the greater light to rule the day, & the lesser light to rule the night," "to shine vpon the earth," "to rule in the day, & in the night," and "to separate the Light from the darkenesse." The second version gives four specific references to function, as compared to the three of the first, and it introduces the notion of governance in the process.
The retelling of this story in Paradise Lost shows Milton to be a careful reader:
Again the almighty spake: Let there be lights High in the expanse of heaven to divide The day from night; and let them be for signs, For seasons, and for days, and circling years, And let them be for lights as I ordain Their office in the firmament of heaven To give light on the earth; and it was so. And God made two great lights, great for their use To man, the greater to have rule by day, The less by night altern: and made the stars, And set them in the firmament of heaven To illuminate the earth, and rule the day In their vicissitude, and rule the night, And light from darkness to divide. God saw, Surveying his great work, that it was good. (7.339-54)
Milton maintains the bi-partite structure of the original, dividing the account into two and making use of the same narrative device, "and it was so," to signal the end of the first and to make way for the second. With the exception of the phrase, "Surveying his great work," the Miltonic version ends with the same commentary, "God saw ... that it was good." Milton also retains the same number of ontological and functional references to the heavenly lights examined above. In fact, except for the substitution of " ... as I ordain / Their office in the firmament of heaven" in lines 343-44 for the biblical "expanse of the sky," the most stunning innovation on Milton's part is the addition of the anthropic attribution, " ... great for their use / To man ... " in lines 346-47. The appearance of this specification suggests that the context in which the Miltonic story is told influences its content. The differences between the biblical and Miltonic contexts are significant: in the former, God directly communicates the Torah to Moses, a man who has already been initiated during the burning bush episode into the peculiarities of God's presence and speech; in the latter, one of God's angels tells the story to a couple who know practically nothing--a point that is specifically reinforced in the case of heavenly lights when Adam asks about the workings of the cosmos in book 8. These differences can be re-stated in the following way: the biblical God communicates his creation story to a knowledgeable representative of the Hebrew people who have already chosen to follow the deity, whereas the Miltonic account has God's representative relate the creation story to a couple who know nothing, have made no choices, and represent no one--not even themselves, for they are not yet self-conscious.
The reader who is familiar with the corresponding biblical passage might expect some version of the following refrain to signal that the work of the heavens is complete and that God will now turn his attention to the business of creating life: "So the Evening and the Morning were the fourth day" (Gen. 1:19). That expectation will be frustrated for 22 lines because what appears instead is a third version of the fourth day's events, a version which deviates radically from the source material in its very first line: "For of celestial bodies first the sun" (354). (21) At first glance, Milton's innovation here seems to be generated by the same expository motives that compel a commentator in the 1611 Authorized Version to write, "By the lights he meaneth the Sunne, the moone, and the starres" and "To wit, the Sunne and the moone." It is certainly possible that Milton's expository gesture was inspired by previous biblical commentaries, and yet I would suggest that there is much more at stake in the Miltonic innovation. The moment that Milton departs from the source he is relying on and begins to write his own account, he crosses the linguistic and theological boundaries that were put in place by the original. (22) In the biblical account of creation, the sun remains stubbornly unnamed. In fact, the first use of the Hebrew word for the heavenly body that Milton is so quick to call "the sun," hashemesh, does not appear until Genesis 15:12: "As the sun [hashemesh] was setting [labo], Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him." (23) Here then, as Abram is about to receive his first vision of God and the promise of a covenant and a change of name, the name of the heavenly light appears. It is, nevertheless, a setting sun; for the first reference to a rising sun the reader has to read on until Genesis 19:23: "By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun [hashemesh] had risen [yatsa'] over the land. Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah--from the Lord out of the heavens." If, as these passages considered together seem to suggest, the first named appearances of the sun correspond inversely to the beginning (setting sun) and end (rising sun) of a people's relationship with God--Abram's promised descendants versus Sodom and Gomorrah's doomed inhabitants--there may be a significant linguistic, textual, and theological reasoning at work in such a correspondence. The first syllable of the word for sun in Hebrew, shemesh, is the Hebrew word for name, shem, and the Hebrew word for Heaven, shamayim, is phonically similar to a hypothetical masculine plural form of the same root, which, if it occurred, would mean "frames." (24) Furthermore, the name of Noah's first-born son and the father of the line that will lead to Abram is also Shem, and his principal task is to repopulate the earth after God has ended his first relationship with humankind. (25) Here the name of the first son, not the sun, is Shem or name.
Whether theology preceded phonic similarity is impossible to determine, but the theological and religious implications of this bit of wordplay are important because tradition holds that Moses received the Torah in the same moment that he received the Ten Commandments. In the context of the second and third of these commandments, the biblical creation narrative's resistance to naming the sun takes on great significance. (26) The second commandment begins, "You shall not make yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven [shamayim] above ... (Exod. 20:4). That this law was instituted in opposition to the practice of sun worship becomes evident in the Bible's account of the reign of Josiah: "And he [Josiah] deposed the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places at the cities of Judah and round about Jerusalem; those also who burned incense to Ba'al, to the sun [hashemesh], and the moon, and the constellations, and to all the host of the heavens [hashamayim]" (2 Kings 23:5). Furthermore, one Mesopotamian deity who the writers of the account of creation under consideration here may have seen as competing for the attention of the Hebrews--and therefore hoped to marginalize--was Shamash, the patron god of the sun and Justice. (27) At the outset of a two-hundred-line Akkadian hymn to Shamash, the deity is praised in terms that could have been used to depict the unnamed light in the fourth day of creation:
Illuminator of all, the whole of heaven, Who makes light the d[arkness for mankind] above and below, Shamash, illuminator of all, the whole of heaven, Who makes light the dark [ness for mankind a]bove and below. (28)
The third commandment, which begins "You shall not misuse the name [shem] of the Lord your God ... " (Exod.20:7), reinforces the prohibition against worshipping or even naming the sun because the name of God in a number of Biblical passages--2 Samuel 6:2, Psalm 5:12, Job 1:21, and Leviticus 24:11 are a few examples--is hashem. In other words, the name of God is literally "The Name," a word used to identify the deity that became the standard usage for reading aloud God's name in the early rabbinic period. Moreover, this wordplay sheds some light on the Tower of Babel episode wherein those who attempt to build a tower say, "Come, let us build ourselves a city with a tower that reaches to the heavens [shamayim] so that we may make a name [shem] for ourselves ... " (Gen. 11:4). One of the meanings of shem in biblical Hebrew, a meaning that is still present in the contemporary English idiom, "to make a name for oneself," is "fame" or "renown." Curiously, these words appear in book 3 of Paradise Lost in the passage leading up to a reference to the tower of Babel: "Both all things vain, and all who in vain things / Build their fond hopes of glory or lasting fame" (448-49), and
With many a vain exploit, though then renowned: The builders next of Babel on the plain Of Sennaar, and still with vain design New Babels, had they wherewithal, would build. (465-68)
What is surprising here, though, is Milton's apparent reluctance directly to make the biblical connection between building and naming that intertextually resonates in all of these passages. This reluctance, I would suggest, can be accounted for by the fact that some 40 lines earlier Milton makes naming, or rather, a name, the central preoccupation of Paradise Lost: "Hail, Son of God, Saviour of men, thy name / Shall be the copious matter of my song" (412-13). Only in book 12, after at least a dozen allusions to the tower of Babel tale and many more references to building, does Milton finally provide a complete version of the original: "Of brick, and of that stuff they cast to build / A city and tower, whose top may reach to heaven / And get themselves a name, lest far dispersed" (12.43-45). Even here, however, Milton's anxiety over naming comes to the surface. Instead of ending the tale with the inhabitants of Babel's fears of being "scattered over the face of the earth" (Gen. 11:4), he immediately introduces the more metaphorical senses of the Hebrew word for "name" in the very next lines: " ... lest far dispersed / In foreign lands their memory be lost / Regardless whether good or evil fame" (45-47). The object lesson to be learned in Milton's version seems not to be grounded in the idolatrous intertextual resonances with the Ten Commandments in the original, but in the Satanic intertext of Paradise Lost itself.
My purpose here in briefly surveying some of the phonic and possibly--at one time--semantic associations between the words shem, shemesh, Shamash, shemoth, and shamayim is merely to suggest that the curious reluctance on the part of the writers/redactors of the Genesis account to give the name of the heavenly light may have once had important theological implications for a community of readers/believers who were struggling to construct the foundations of their beliefs in opposition to prior or even competing religious practices in which sun-worship was central. I am not, however, suggesting that this group of phonically similar words constitutes an established theological tradition with which Milton would have been familiar. Nevertheless, if we return to book 7 of Paradise Lost with this constellation of words in mind, then Milton's version of the fourth day, the version that begins on line 354 with the naming of the sun, reads something like a user's manual for idolatry. (29) First the sun, then the moon (356), then finally a constellation--"Dawn, and the Pleiades before him danced" (374)--get named. But the point is not to accuse Milton of idolatry; rather, my goal here is to begin to account for the presence in Milton's version of the fourth day of that which was left out of the biblical tale. The first thing to notice is in fact the first thing. In naming the heavenly lights, Milton places them in a hierarchy and endows their creation with a chronology of appearance that is conspicuously absent from the original. Where the Bible seems to resist hierarchy and chronology by asserting that all lights were created in the same moment--"Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven'--Milton writes, "first the sun" (354) and then two lines later, "then formed the moon" (356). When Genesis does differentiate between these two lights ("And god then made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, & the lesser light to rule the night"), it does so only in terms of size. While the commonly translated words "greater" and "lesser" carry qualitative as well as quantitative connotations in English, the Hebrew used in this passage does not. It merely says big light, hamma'or hagadol, and small light, hamma'or haqqaton.
In other words, Milton's version of the fourth day differs from the original creation narrative in two important ways: first, Milton's version (like the commentary that appears in the 1611 Authorized Version) names what remained unnamed in the Hebrew text, inadvertently revivifying the residue of an idolatrous religious practice that was excluded from the biblical version; second, Milton's account imposes an order on the events of the fourth day of creation and, in doing so, it violates the representation of simultaneity that the original attempts to express. The question raised by all of this seems apparent: What did Milton have in mind when he decided to add a third version of the fourth day of creation to the original two that he closely reproduced prior to his own? Or, to ask a second question--it is actually still the same question--from the perspective that Stanley Fish's important early work on Milton demands: what does the reader have in mind when he or she is confronted with this passage in Paradise Lost? The most obvious answer is that both Milton and his reader have the hierarchy of heaven in book 3 in mind when the hierarchy of the heavens is first introduced in the passage under consideration here.
It may be helpful to get a closer look at exactly what Milton and his reader carry with them on the journey from book 3 to this passage. To facilitate this process, I offer in note 30 a brief concordance that lists the key words from the 32 lines of Milton's version that also appear in book 3. (30) With at least one word--and in many cases two or three--per line of the creation narrative also appearing in book 3, the continuity between the two sections is considerable. And Milton seems to have been at work on establishing the link between them from the very first line of each. Book 3 begins "Hail holy light, offspring of heaven first-born." The reference to "light" connects this opening to the first and fourth days of creation in both Genesis and Paradise Lost. Furthermore, Milton's use of the phrase "first-born" in the first line of book 3 converges with his use of the phrase "first the sun" in the first line of his version of the fourth day. The "first-born" is, of course, the first son--the name of which, as Milton informs us later in book 3, is the main subject of Paradise Lost itself: "Hail, Son of God, Saviour of men, thy name / Shall be the copious matter of my song" (412-13). Indeed, this is literally true, as the word "son" constitutes the first three letters of the word "song." But at the beginning of book 3 Milton does not name the son. Instead, he uses a phrase--"off-spring of heaven first-born"--that immediately requires him to provide an alternative expression in the second line: "Or of the eternal co-eternal beam." In other words, Milton, who was so quick to impose a chronology on the birth of the sun, can't decide if the son is first-born or co-eternal, even if his use of the phrase "first-born"--implying a sequence of births--is contradicted some eighty lines later in the phrase (this time spoken by God), "Only begotten Son ..." (80). Therefore, Milton's use of the word "first" with reference to the birth of the son greatly resembles his problematic use of it in the phrase "first the sun": in both cases "first" imposes chronology where an expression of simultaneity would be more accurate, appropriate, and logical. Perhaps a comparable use of chronology is related to the other "copious matter"--"man's first disobedience"--named in the first line of what Milton himself claims is the first of its kind: "... my adventurous song ... pursues / things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme" (11, 15-16). (31)
One of the most striking things about the problem of chronology that has begun to emerge here is that it can be traced back to the biblical story of creation. The first day of creation is not called the "first day" in Hebrew. Rather, it is referred to as day one, yom 'echad. Rashi, a well-known rabbinic commentator on the Bible writes:
According to the style of the rest of this passage, Scripture should have written "first day," since in the case of the other days the ordinal number is given-second, third, fourth, etc. Why, then, is an exception made here? The explanation in the Midrash is that it is because God was then the only being in existence. (And the term "first" in reference to any existence other than God would be wrong.) (32)
Whether Milton himself was familiar with this bit of commentary seems beside the point, though comparable questions have haunted many a scholar who come to Paradise Lost with some knowledge of Jewish thought. (33) What seems more interesting is that by Rashi's standards Milton got it wrong in his version of day one: "Thus was the first day even and morn" (7.252). (34) A literal translation of the phrase that acknowledged the biblical passage's theological priorities would have read, "Thus was day one even and morn." Such a translation, however, could not accommodate Milton's notion of Christ as the co-eternal beam, that is--pace Rashi--that God was not "the only being in existence." Furthermore, as if in direct contradiction to the prohibition offered in the Midrash, Milton labels the light of day one "first of things" (244). This suggests that once again he has the first line of book 3, "Hail holy light, offspring of heaven first-born," as much in mind as the biblical account. And he misrepresents it twice more in the final line of his second version of day one's events, "Both when first evening was, and when first morn," because the original Hebrew merely says "evening" ('erev) and "morning" (boqer). Now all of this would be a minor point were it not for the fact that the word "first" and its concomitant of chronology are invoked in two crucial misrepresentations that occur within the poem, and in both cases, these misrepresentations facilitate one of the poem's central concerns: "man's first disobedience." And a third chronological misrepresentation, this time aimed at the reader, pertains to the structure of Paradise Lost itself.
The first thing that surprises Eve in her encounter with the serpent is that it can talk, the second is that it can make sense when it talks: (35)
What may this mean? Language of man pronounced By tongue of brute, and human sense expressed? The first at least of these I thought denied To beasts ... (553-56)
When the serpent responds, he reverses Eve's ordering of these two abilities and presents them in a chronological sequence that is more likely:
Sated at length, ere long I might perceive Strange alteration in me to degree Of reason in my inward powers, and speech Wanted not long ... (598-601)
Reason, according to the serpent, came first, then language--but Eve can't seem to keep it straight. As she debates whether to eat the fruit she muses to herself that the first thing obtained by the serpent from eating the forbidden fruit was not reason but speech:
... best of fruits Though kept from man, and worthy to be admired, Whose taste, too long forborne, at first assay Gave elocution to the mute, and taught The tongue not made for speech to speak thy praise. (745-49)
With three references to language--"elocution," "speech," and "speak'--but not a single mention of reason, it seems that Eve is not thinking about what the serpent told her but remembering what she first said to the serpent. And when she does finally turn to the subject of reason, " ... he hath eaten and lives / And knows, and speaks, and reasons, and discerns" (764-65), the triple reference--"knows," "reasons," and "discerns'--once again echoes not what the serpent said so much as it copies the triplicate structure of her musings on language five lines earlier. In short, Milton's Eve seems to find herself in the same position as Milton himself when he writes a third version of the fourth day that seems to be based primarily on the hierarchy of heaven in book 3 rather than on the Genesis account. Both are taken more with their own words than with those to which they are supposedly responding.
Eve's difficulties with the use of "first" get passed on to Adam shortly after she returns to him with the forbidden fruit, for the word figures significantly in his effort to convince himself that all is not lost. Having heard Eve's brief explanation as to why her act will not have the fatal consequences they had expected,
... the serpent wise, Or not restrained as we, or not obeying, Hath eaten of the fruit, and is become, Not dead ... (867-70)
Adam appropriates her reasoning and makes the chronological sequence of the serpent and Eve's consumption central to his argument:
Perhaps thou shall not die, perhaps the fact Is not so heinous now, foretasted fruit, Profaned first by the serpent, by him first Made common and unhallowed ere our taste. (928-31)
Here, employing four references to chronology--"foretasted," "profaned first," "first made common," and "ere our taste"--Adam begins to assuage the anxieties his partner's act has raised in him and moves toward a well-reasoned decision to join Eve in her disobedience. All of this would suggest that Adam is a rather shrewd and careful logician even in the midst of what is a grave and dangerous situation--except for two small problems. First of all, the chronology he has so heavily depended on is wholly his own invention. Eve does in fact relate the serpent's consumption of the fruit first, but at no point in her story does she actually indicate that the serpent was the first to taste the forbidden fruit. Instead, she merely tells Adam that the serpent "Hath eaten of the fruit" and that " ... I / Also have tasted, and have also found / The effects to correspond ... " (873-75). We know that the serpent said that he had eaten the fruit first, because we have overheard Eve's conversation with the serpent; but Adam has not. All Adam has to go on is what Eve tells him, which means that all Adam really knows at this moment is that Eve and the serpent have both tasted the fruit and that the results of this tasting have been comparable. In the context of what Eve says, the word "also" can only mean in addition to; for the sequential meaning that Adam gives it, that of "second" or "next," the origin of this reading can once again be traced back to an earlier segment of Paradise Lost where Eve tells Adam of her dream. Here, referring not to the serpent but to "One shaped and winged like one of those from heaven" (5.55), Eve says of the angel, " ... he paused not, but with venturous arm / He plucked, he tasted ... " (65-66). This is the only moment--and it is only a moment in a dream--that anyone besides Eve in either the Genesis account or Paradise Lost eats the forbidden fruit. Thus, the second problem with Adam's attempt to make light of what has transpired by appealing to chronology--"Profaned first by the serpent, by him first"--is simply that he is wrong. Every reader of Paradise Lost knows at this point that what Adam knows is based on misinformation. Eve is the first to transgress the law of the forbidden fruit, and what makes this misinformation possible is Milton's decision to deviate from the biblical account by separating Adam and Eve at the moment of transgression. As the Bible tells it, " So the woman, (seeing that the tree was good for meate, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to bee desired to get knowledge) tooke of the fruit thereof, and did eate, and gave also (gain) to her husband with her (immah), and he did care" (3:6). Here the word "also" can be given the Adamic sequential interpretation noted earlier because in Genesis Eve is the first to taste the fruit, and Adam is the second. Milton's Adam, then, like Eve before him, is plagued by the same difficulty with chronology as Milton himself is when he begins his version of the fourth day with "first the sun" and identifies the son of God as "first-born." Adam interprets Eve's account chronologically when no such chronology was presented, and Milton imposes a sequence on the biblical simultaneous creation of heavenly lights, when no such sequence was presented; Adam identifies Eve as the second one to taste the forbidden fruit, when (as far as he knows) she is the first one to have done so at that point, and Milton identifies God's son as "first-born"--implying other sons when he is later referred to as "only begotten Son."
A larger problem of chronology, one that results from the kind of choices that Milton made in arranging the poem's narrative events, confronts the reader. As Fish has noticed, "In the opening lines of book 1, chronology and sequence are suggested at once in what is almost a plot line. ..." (36) The reader who still has this suggestion of "chronology and sequence" in mind when he or she arrives at the beginning of the poem's action in line 56--"... round he throws his baleful eyes"--might logically expect Satan's awakening in hell to be the chronological beginning of the poem. The logical--or chronological--reader is, of course, greatly mistaken because Paradise Lost's first chronological event doesn't actually appear until halfway through book 5. (37) And what happens on this first day, what constitutes this first chronological event, is not heaven's first birth, but its only birth: "This day I have begot whom I declare / My only son . . " (5.603-4). Between the "first born" of book 3 and the "only son" of book 5 stands the irreconcilable difference between an implied sequentiality and a stated singularity--neither of which can accommodate the notion of simultaneity expressed in the other reference to that birth, "of the eternal co-eternal beam."
The chronology that characterizes both the first son and "first the sun" appears to be similarly problematic, and the difficulty it presents can be glimpsed in other passages of Paradise Lost where Milton employs expressions of chronology, especially the word "first." What remains to be examined is whether Paradise Lost reveals a comparable difficulty between naming the son, the "copious matter" of the poem, naming the sun, the Miltonic innovation of Paradise Lost's fourth day, and not naming the sun, the copious matter of the Genesis creation narrative and, perhaps, of the Hebrew Bible itself.
The linguistic history of the words "son" and "sun" shows them to have been on a collision course toward homophony, with the disappearance of the feminine ending "ne" from the old English sunne representing an important stage in the process? (38) By the sixteenth century, not only had the phonetic and orthographic shape of the word changed, but so had its gender. As such, as sun began to sound more like son, it began to be more like son as well? (39) George Herbert acknowledged this transition by praising England's mother tongue for the sonic identity of the two words: "How neatly doe we give one onely name / To parents issue and the sunnes bright starre." (40) Moreover, if we recall the commentary that appears in the 1611 Authorized Version of the fourth day cited earlier, than it becomes clear that not only had the two words become sonically identical, but also that even orthography could not be counted on to distinguish them. In the first note on the identity of the heavenly light, the commentator writes, "By the lights he meaneth the Sunne, the moone, and the starres." In the very next note, he writes, "Which is the artificial day, from the Sonne rising to the going down." (41) If the writer is referring here to Christ, then the pairing of "Sunne" and "Sonne" in two successive lines greatly anticipates some of the Miltonic innovations that concern me here. If the writer is referring to the sun, then the pairing of the same word spelled differently in two successive lines suggests just how interchangeable the two terms had become by the seventeenth century. All of which is to say that both Christian theology and the history of English seem to have conspired to enable Milton to be confident that the words "son" and "sun" would have at least three things in common: light, gender, and sound.
Viewed from this perspective, Paradise Lost begins to resemble a snapshot of a certain stage in the ongoing development of the English language that captures a recently stabilized homophony and points to a specific notion in Christian theology that may have abetted this particular phonetic convergence. Indeed, this convergence seems to have been a long time in the making, for as Robin Lane Fox observes, "Tertullian complained that the Christians were misunderstood because they turned to the east and prayed at dawn. Pagans sometimes believed that they [Christians] were worshipping the sun." (42) Moreover, the homophony that connects the words "son" and "sun" in Paradise Lost also points to a rather startling set of parallels between the English of Milton's great poem and the Hebrew of the biblical creation story. To establish the most basic of these parallels it is necessary to recall that the Hebrew word for "sun" is shemesh, and that it shares a root syllable with the word for "name," shem. Thus, between the name of the heavenly light and the word "name" itself is a phonic similarity that is comparable to the shared phonetic character of the English words "son" and "sun." Furthermore, the theologically sanctioned pronunciation of the name of God--whose biblical Hebrew name, YHWH, is simply a form of the Hebrew copula--is hashem, which means that the name of God is literally "The Name." Therefore, the linguistic and theological relation in biblical Hebrew between the word for "heavenly light," the word for "name," and the word used for the name of God is akin to the linguistic and theological relation in the English of Paradise Lost between the word for "male offspring," the word for "heavenly light" and the theologically ordained status of Christ--often associated in Paradise Lost and the New Testament with the word "light"--as the son of God. From the name of God to the son of God, what join the two pairs of words in Hebrew (shemesh/shem) and English (son/sun), respectively, are the concepts of naming and of light. As I asserted earlier, it was perhaps the theology invested in the relation of the word for "heavenly light," the name of God, and the concept of naming that may have prohibited the Hebrew word for "sun" from being used in the Genesis account of the fourth day of creation. This prohibition enables the Bible to distinguish its theological priorities from those of contemporary religious practices in which the word for "heavenly light" and the concept of god merged in the form of sun worship, and it remains in effect until a "setting sun" appears in Genesis 15:12: "As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him." Here the Bible establishes a link between the previously unnamed sun, now named but setting, and the beginning of a new and different kind of relationship between a new God and the descendants of Abram. Thus, the name of the sun appears only so that the sun can disappear just as the stage is being set for Abram to receive a name change which, in the very linguistic essence of the new letter h, celebrates the name of the new God, YHWH. (43) The Bible succinctly depicts the link between the new name and the new relationship: "Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations" (Gen. 17:4-5). From the eternal father to a potential father a bond is formalized through the passing on of a letter, a primordial version of the relationship that Jacques Lacan would refer to as "the name of the father."
Returning to the opening lines of book 3, the first of the poem's so-called heavenly cycle, the intertext of Paradise Lost and the Hebrew Bible begins to emerge. Here is Milton's initial rendering of the hierarchy of heaven:
Hail holy light, offspring of heaven first-born, Or of the eternal co-eternal beam May I express thee unblamed? since God is light, And never but in unapproached light Dwelt from eternity, dwelt then in thee, Bright effluence of bright essence increate. Or hear'st thou rather pure ethereal stream, Whose fountan who shall tell? before the sun, Before the heavens thou wert ... (1-9)
One thing to notice is Milton's use of the word "sun" in line 8 to establish a chronology of appearances that can be paraphrased as first the son and then the sun. The differences between this account of heaven and the one given of the heavens in book 7 would therefore seem to be constituted by the differences between singular and plural in the case of the word "heaven" and a revised chronology that alters the phrase in book 7, "first the sun," to "first the son"--an alteration that could only be represented orthographically. (44) Unfortunately, the weave of this comparative analysis begins to unravel when the orthographic element is introduced because, curiously enough, the word "son" is not used. Instead, Milton chooses "offspring" as the noun to represent heaven's first-born, a word that is as vague about gender as "heavenly light" is about which astronomical body it refers to. After the first line, however, "offspring" is never used again in the remaining 741 lines of book 3. (45)
At this point, it should be clear that the relation between the account of heaven in Paradise Lost and that of the heavens in Genesis is one of inversion: in Genesis the name of God appears, but the word--phonically similar to naming--for "heavenly light" does not; in Paradise Lost the name of the heavenly light does appear, but the word--phonically identical with that name--for God's male offspring does not. This suggests that Hebrew homophony has been supplanted by English homophony as an exclusionary force, and for this reason Milton has no difficulty placing the words "God" (3) and "sun" (8) so close together.
As was the case with "sun" in Genesis, the seemingly prohibited word "son" does finally make an appearance: " . . on his right / The radiant image of his glory sat, / His only son . . ." (62-64) Here, the "setting" sun has already "sat," and what follows immediately after the word "son" appears is identical to what follows the appearance of the "setting sun" in Genesis: the first stage of a new relationship between God and man. In Paradise Lost this new relationship is signaled by introducing the means by which the son of God will briefly play the role of son of man, Adam and Eve: "His only son; on earth he first beheld / Our two first parents..." (64-65). The first-born son sees the first parents for the first time, and it won't be long before the son, like Abraham, will be compelled to undergo a change to formalize the new relationship--a change that is also, perhaps, ultimately reducible to a single letter: from heavenly light to earthly flesh; from sun to son. Or, as Milton tells it, "Their nature also to thy nature join; / And be thyself man among men on earth, / Made flesh, when time shall be, of virgin seed" (282-84). Abram becomes Abraham, the light becomes flesh, and in the process, the patriarch's wife will become fertile, while the son will be born to a virgin. And in both the biblical and the Miltonic transformation, the main issue is, in fact, the promise of issue. Abraham will become the father of a multitude of sons, whereas the son will restore these sons to the Father: "As in him [Adam] perish all men, so in thee / As from a second root shall be restored / As many as are restored, without thee none" (287-89).
Certain key passages of Paradise Lost inversely parallel passages in Genesis, and this inversion seems to have been made possible partly because a particular bit of wordplay in Hebrew made its way into English, albeit somewhat transformed. Where the word for "heavenly light" doesn't appear in Genesis, it appears in Paradise Lost; where the word for "male offspring" does not appear at the beginning of the heavenly cycle, the word for "heavenly light" does; and when the word "son" is first used in book 3, it appears in a context that greatly resembles the one in which the word "sun" is first used in Genesis. Furthermore, in both Genesis and Paradise Lost, the respective pairings of son/sun and shem/shemesh seem to come out of a larger theological tradition to which the two works are deeply committed.
Given all that has been said above about naming, it should come as no surprise that the son's name does not receive any attention until midway through book 12: "But Joshua whom the gentiles Jesus call" (310). Twice within the same line, that name which this poem has so closely guarded is offered. The chronology of the offering tells the story of a translation: first, the name in Hebrew, then in English. But this story has already been told a few times with reference to chronology and a few times with regard to naming the sun. What remains to be seen is how this son's name merges for the last time with the naming of the sun. Adam and Eve have disobeyed and fallen, and God's relation with man has been temporarily interrupted. When the word "son" first appeared, the promise of a new relationship with God was made. Now, for the time being, all is lost. The sun has risen and is moving in the sky toward noon when Paradise will be forsaken. In this moment, the name of the son is finally given, a moment not unlike the one in Genesis 19:23 where "the sun had risen over the land" when all was lost for Sodom and Gomorrah.
In his 1738 history of the Jews in England, D'Blossiers Tovey sums up English attitudes towards the Jews--between the reign of Henry VIII and the years when Milton would have only recently begun writing poetry--in the following way:
Not one of those good natur'd Minsters of our succeeding Princes, who were known to bring about any Thing that cou'd be ask'd of them for Gold, gave any Encouragement to the Jews to attempt a Return into that Country, from whence they had so solemnly been banish'd by Parliament, at the request of all the people. (46)
As for the years when Milton would have been working on and ultimately finishing Paradise Lost, Tovey paints a very different picture of Anglo-Jewish relations:
But when once they observ'd the Fulness of Time was come, when England was to be punish'd for all her Transgressions, when a Sword more dreadful than that of Famine, or Pestilence, was to be unsheath'd against Her, and Wild, Frantick, Enthusiasm was permitted, by Providence, to break down Her Fences, and set aside Her Laws, They thought that then, if ever, was the proper Time to endeavour their [the Jews'] REESTABLISHMENT. (47)
In 1665, as Milton prepared to send off his great English epic to the printer, many of his contemporaries must have hoped and believed it was finally the son's--not the sun's--turn to rise.
Texas A & M University
(1) (Stanford U. Press, 1999), p. 9.
(2) (New York: Burt Franklin, 1967), p. 259.
3) The Complete Works of Walter Savage Landor, ed. T. Earle Welby, 16 vols (London: Chapman and Hall, 1927-36), 5:258.
(4) Quoted in James Shapiro, Shakespeare and the Jews (Columbia U. Press, 1996), p. 25. Shapiro suggestively argues that questions concerning Jewish identity in early modern England serve as the matrix for larger issues of race, gender, and nationalism in the period.
(5) "The Letter Lost in George Herbert's 'The Jews,'" SP 90 (1993): 298-321; 298.
(6) David S. Katz depicts this presence as follows: "Anyone familiar with the sermon and pamphlet literature, and even the highly biblical wash over the language of the period, has already noticed the frequency with which the Jews intruded into discussions of all varieties." Philo-semitism and the Readmission of the Jews to England, 1603-1655 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), p. 8. See also John King, Milton and Religious Controversy (Cambridge U. Press, 2000). King observes that, "Many Christians identified the wandering Hebrews with the invisible church" (45).
(7) The year 1649 was also when Parliament passed the Licensing Order or Bradshaw Press Act requiring all printed matter to be licensed. On Milton's licensing activities see, Abbe Blum, "The Author's Authority: Areopagitica and the Labour of Licensing" in Re-Membering Milton: Essays on the Texts and Traditions, ed. Mary Nyquist and Margaret W. Ferguson (New York: Methuen, 1987), pp. 74-96.
(8) The Jews in the History of England 1485-1850 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), p. 108.
(9) Quoted in Katz, Philosemitism, p. 213.
(10) In Areopagitica, published in November of 1644, Milton himself makes a connection-albeit a punning one--between meaning and prison when he writes, "I deny not, but that it is of greatest concernment in the Church and Commonwealth, to have a vigilant eye how Bookes demeane themselves well as men; and thereafter to confine, imprison, and do sharpest justice on them as malefactors." The Works of John Milton, 18 vols. (Columbia U. Press, 1931-40), 4:297.
(11) "Milton's Peculiar Nation," in "Milton and the Jews," ed. Douglas A. Brooks, unpublished typescript, p. 3.
(12) Sauer, "Milton's," typescript p. 3-4.
(13) See especially Christopher Hill, The English Bible and the Seventeenth-century Revolution (New York: Penguin, 1993), though Hill does not focus exclusively on the Old Testament or discuss what uses of Jewish history suggest about attitudes towards Jews. Jason Rosenblatt, Torah and Law in Paradise Lost (Princeton U. Press, 1994), and Shoulson, Milton and the Rabbis, focus on post-biblical (rabbinic) rather than biblical material. Dayton Haskin, Milton's Burden of Interpretation (U. of Pennsylvania Press, 1994),discusses the Protestant "experimental reading of the Bible which sought to fit biblical "places" to experience.
(14) "England, Israel, and the Jews in Milton's Prose, 1649-1660," in "Milton and the Jews," p. 1.
(16) "'Some Wond'rous Call': Milton and the Philo-Semites," in "Milton and the Jews," pp. 16-17.
(17) Milton and the Rabbis: Hebraism, Hellenism, and Christianity (Columbia U. Press, 2001).
(18) There has been a considerable amount of scholarly work done on Milton's use of names in Paradise Lost. However, the essay that comes closest to my interests here is Herbert Marks, "The Blotted Book" in ReMembering Milton, pp. 211-33.
(19) Ibid., p. 227.
(20) The Holy Bible, Conteyning, the Old Testament, and the New ... (London: Printed by Robert Barker, 1611) [STC: 2216]; With the exception of a few orthographic differences, the Authorized Version s translation of this passage is identical to the that of the 1560 Geneva Bible and that of the 1530 Tyndale translation of the Penteteuch. The 1611 commentaries on this passage are--with the exception of a few orthographic variants---identical to the ones that appear in the Geneva Bible. The Tyndale translation has no commentaries on this passage.
(21) Actually, this is the second instance of Milton's inability to resist naming the heavenly light. The first appears in his version of the first day. Here the light, while still not the sun, certainly seems to behave like the sun in Milton's depiction: "... and from her native east / To journey through the airy gloom began. / Sphered in a radiant cloud, for yet the sun / was not ..." (245-48). There is, of course, no sun-like behavior attributed to the light created during the first day in the original.
(22) Important studies of Milton's use of the Bible include James H. Sims, The Bible in Milton's Epics (U. of Florida Press, 1962); J.M. Evans, Paradise Lost and the Genesis Tradition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968); Austin C. Dobbins, Milton and the Book of Revelation: The Heavenly Cycle (U. of Alabama Press, 1975); Dayton Haskin, Milton's Burden of Interpretation (U. of Pennsylvania Press, 1994); and Jason Rosenblatt, Torah and Law in Paradise Lost, (Princeton U. Press, 1994). Haskin's and Rosenblatt's studies come closest to my interests here.
(23) All citations of the Hebrew are from Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1967-77). Most likely, Milton relied on the Buxtorf Rabbinic Bible, or the Biblia Sacra, which was published by Johannes Buxtorf the elder--the pre-eminent seventeenth-century scholar of biblical Hebrew--in Hebrew with Latin notes and an extended Latin essay on the system of Hebrew vowels. The Buxtorf was the sixth printed rabbinic Bible, and it contains the Old Testament in Hebrew with Aramaic versions and the commentaries of Rashi, Abraham Ibn Ezra, David Kimchi, and others. We know that Milton owned a copy of the Buxtorf because he wrote a letter in 1625 to his tutor Thomas Young thanking him for giving him one as a gift. There is a great deal of disagreement about how much Hebrew Milton knew. For my purposes here such debates are of little consequence because what primarily concerns me in this essay--the Hebrew Bible's reluctance to name the sun in the fourth day of creation--is, as I've suggested above, faithfully translated (and even commented upon) in the 1611 Authorized Version and the 1560 Geneva Bible. The 1530 Tyndale Pentateuch translates the passage faithfully, in terms of not naming the sun, but does not include a commentary.
(24) I say hypothetical masculine plural form here because in fact the plural form of shem is shemoth, oth being the feminine plural marker. For example, when Adam gives names to the animals, the word for names is shemoth. There is no linguistic evidence that shem and shamayim are etymologically related, but I am tempted to speculate that their phonic similarity points to a complex originary relationship that has long since been obscured. Indeed, I suspect that in an early form of Hebrew the word for name (shem) and the word for heavens (shamayim) were semantically associated. It is not difficult to imagine the significance of an association between God's name, names, heaven, and the sun. A cult that worshipped the sun would have given the deity responsibility for the existence of life and probably language as well, an attribution that seems to have been retained in the Tower of Babel story when God punishes the idolaters by giving them different languages. A similar relationship between the sun and language can be glimpsed in several Egyptian and Greek myths and more specifically in Plato's Phaedrus. It is probably a comparable pre-Hebraic mythic relationship between the sun, naming and the origins of language that Genesis is attempting to critique when it bestows on Adam the power to name what God has created.
(25) For a discussion of Hebrew in the context of the Tower of Babel story that is rather different in its aims from the argument I am pursuing here, see Stanley Fish, Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost (U. of California Press, 1967), pp. 113-23.
(26) King makes a related point about the golden calf episode (Exodus 32:6) (Milton, p. 163).
(27) See Jean Bottero, Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia, trans. Teresa Lavender Fagan (U. of Chicago Press, 2001), p. 33.
(28) Quoted in Ibid.
(29) Achsah Guibbory argues that Comus and Milton's political pamphlets are driven by his "obsession with idolatry' Ceremony and Community from Herbert to Milton: Literature, Religion, and Cultural Conflict in Seventeenth-Century England (Cambridge U. Press, 1998), pp. 147-152.
(30) Bk.7 Bk. 3 first 354 1 sun 354 8 celestial 354 51 sphere 355 416 framed 355 395 mould 356 708 moon 356 459 ethereal 356 7 stars 357 61 globose 357 418 heaven 358 60 light 359 2 cloudy 360 5 shrine 360 379 orb 361 25 receive 361 106 beams 363 2 palace 363 505 fountain 364 8 repairing 365 678 golden 365 337 planet 366 481 gilds 366 551 reflection 367 428 peculiar 368 183 glorious 370 159 lamp 370 22 regent 371 690 horizon 371 560 round 371 555 rays 372 24 longitude 373 576 road 373 421 danced 373 566 dawn 374 24 sweet 375 367 face 377 140 distance 379 566 shines 380 52 Feign 381 318 hemisphere 384 725 adorned 384 550 luminaries 385 576 glad 386 650 crowned 386 365
(31) Milton seems to have had a similar difficulty with chronology at other points in his writing career. His translation of Martin Bucer's De Regno Christi represents a particularly striking example. In the first edition of The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce Milton relied on the earlier work of Grotius to provide a precedent for his thinking on the subject of divorce; in the second edition, however, Paulus Fagius was referred to. Three months after the second edition was published, Milton apparently discovered "that Martin Bucer had written much concerning divorce" (Works, 4:13, italics reversed). He rushed to get a redacted translation of De Regno Christi into print. As such, what was actually written some 90 years before Milton's Doctrine was translated and published afterwards so that it could provide a historically prior affirmation of Milton's controversial position on divorce.
(32) Rashi, Commentaries on the Pentateuch, trans. Chaim Pearl (New York: W. W. Norton, 1970), p 32.
(33) Cheryl H. Fresch, for example, describes the debate in the following way: "Scholars frequently question Milton's ability as a Hebraist. The conclusions reached by Harris Francis Fletcher, the first major researcher of Milton's Hebrew studies, continue to be scrutinized. Kitty Cohen opened her study of Milton's Hebraism (The Throne and the Chariot, 1975) by agreeing with Fletcher's major conclusions: 'The question of Milton's knowledge of Hebrew and use of Buxtorf's Rabbinical Bible is no longer controversial....He certainly was a Hebraist in the old sense, that is, a Hebrew scholar.' More recently, however, Leonard Mendelsohn has been able to reach a different conclusion: 'Although some of his material was ultimately from rabbinic sources, Milton did not, and in all likelihood could not, read the rabbinic commentators,'" "The Hebraic Influence upon the Creation of Eve in Paradise," Milton Studies 13 (1979): 181-99; 181. See also Fresch, "'As the Rabbines Expound': Milton, Genesis, and the Rabbis," Milton Studies 4 (1981): 59-79. Jason Rosenblatt, Torah and Law in Paradise Lost, has persuasively demonstrated that Milton was familiar with Jewish learning and rabbinic thought.
(34) Milton was of course vehement about the importance of reading scripture in the original Hebrew. He writes, for example, "Sundayes also and every evening may be now understandingly spent in the highest matters of Theology, and Church History ancient and modern: and ere this time the Hebrew tongue at a set hour might have been gain'd, that the Scriptures may be now read in their own original; where to it would be no impossibility to add the Chaldey, and the Syrian Dialect." ("Of Education," Works, 4:285). If this were not the case, it could be argued that the King James Bible, published in 1611, was solely accountable for Milton's use of the word "first" instead of "one." The King James version of this line is, "And the evening and the morning were the first day."
(35) There is an interesting bit of Hebrew wordplay at the center of the story of the serpent that, to my knowledge, remains unexamined in Milton scholarship. The serpent is first described as "subtle," 'arum, a word, which, in Hebrew is linked to the word "naked," "arummim, used in the preceding line of the text to describe man and woman: "And the man and his wife were both naked [ 'arummim] and were not ashamed" (Gen. 2:25). The word appears three more times, each time with increasingly serious and ominous connotations: "... and they knew that they were naked ..." (Gen. 3:7); "... I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked" (Gen. 3.10); "... Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" (Gen. 3:11). Within a very brief section, the text provides five uses of the word "naked," and the progression of associations of each is remarkable: (1) not ashamed; (2) subtle or crafty; (3) ashamed; (4) afraid; (5) disobedience. Moreover, the serpent was one of the chief symbols of the Baal religion, a fact that is referred to in the following passage: "And [Hezekiah] broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days, the people of Israel had burned incense to it; it was called Nehushtan" (2 Kings 18:4). This suggests that at least one of the intended meanings of the garden story was a statement against competing religious ideologies, a meaning not unlike the one communicated by the unnamed sun in the creation narrative.
(36) Fish, Surprised, p. 39. What I am arguing about chronology here goes against one of Fish's more significant claims. Whereas I have been attempting to show the ways in which Milton misuses chronology, especially by imposing a sequence on the simultaneity of the Genesis account of the heavenly lights, Fish sees Milton deliberately imposing simultaneity on chronology. For example, he writes, "Milton does convince us that the world of his poem is a static one which 'slights chronology in favor of a folded structure which continually returns upon itself, or a spiral that circles about a single center.' The question I would ask is how does he so convince us? His insistence on simultaneity is easily documented. How many times do we see Christ ascend, after the war in Heaven, after the passion, after Harrowing Hell, after giving Satan his death wound, after the creation, after the final conflagration, at the day of final judgment? How many times do our first parents fall, and how many times are they accorded grace? The answer to all these questions is, 'many times' or is it all the time (at each point of time) or perhaps at one, and the same, time" (30-31).
(37) Although it is outside the confines of the present essay to pursue a lengthy discussion of the structure of Paradise Lost, I would speculate here that Milton's decision to begin the poem not at the chronological beginning with Christ's birth and exaltation, but instead with Satan in hell can be traced to an architectural metaphorics of Satan that was current in his time. Joseph Ben Israel, for example--writing in 1653--states in his The Converted Jew; or the Substance of the Declaration and Confession which Was Made in the Publique Meeting House at Hexham, "There is not a design in the world, but either Satan hath a main hand in the laying of the foundation and chief corner-stone of it ..." (p. 1). Whatever the actual chronological sequence of the poem may be, the first image of Paradise Lost's worldly design, that of Satan lying in the fires of hell, would seem to be a literalization of Israel's architectural notion of Satan. In other words, Milton's Satan is literally the bottom or foundation of Paradise Lost, while God, who begins the poem's chronological sequence by initiating the exaltation of his son, is the "great architect" (8.72).
(38) The OED writes of this change: "In conformity with the gender of OE, sunne, the feminine pronoun was used until the 16th c. in referring to the sun; since then the masculine has been commonly used, without necessarily implying personification."
(39) It is interesting to note that in the Greek of Homer and the Tragedians the word for "light" (phoos [accent on first o]) and the word for "man" (phoos [accent on second o]) are very similar phonically. On the inadequacy of ancient writing systems to represent such minor accentual--yet phonemic--distinctions, see D. Gary Miller Ancient Scripts and Phonological Knowledge (Philadelphia: John Benjamin, 1994) p. xii. As such, there was once a homophonic relation between "light" and "man" in ancient Greek akin to the one of "sun" and "son in English The Christianization of English semantics seems to be at work in the linguistic history of the word "beam," which is an alternative reference to the son of God in Milton's phrase "eternal co-eternal beam." Having begun its existence in OE with its meaning taken from the German, Baum, the word was eventually used for the "holy rood" and is now most commonly used with reference to sunlight or light. In other words, the meaning of beam changed from "tree" to "the cross of the son of God"--who is referred to as "the light"--to "sunlight": or, from the son of light to the light of the sun. As such, it would seem that OE beam was moving semantically from "son" to "sun" precisely at the same time that the OE sunne was moving--both phonetically and in terms of gender--in the direction of "son." In its entry for "beam" the OED seems uncharacteristically puzzled over the transmutations the word has undergone: "It remains uncertain whether the original was 'tree' as a kind of plant or 'tree' as a wooden stem, stock, or post: OE has both meanings, but that of (growing) 'tree,' the regular sense in the continental langs., is (exc. in a few compound names) lost in mod. Eng., where the word has received many transferred applications, among which that of beam of light, sun-beam, is remarkable." Interestingly, King observes that "Medieval and early modern poems often call the Cross a 'tree'" (Milton, p. 157).
(40) "The Sonne," 5-6.
(41) Interestingly, the 1560 Geneva Bible has "sunne" rather than "sonne": "Which is ye artificial day, fro the sunne rising to the going downe." The Geneva Bible: A Facsimile of the 1560 Edition (U. of Wisconsin Press, 1969), sig. a.i. Early modern orthography is, of course, notoriously unstable. Nevertheless, in copying the commentary from the Geneva, someone (a member of the translation committee, a printer, a compositor) involved in the production of the Authorized Version changed "sunne" to "sunne." A reader has underlined the "u" in pen in the edition from which the facsimile I am using was made.
(42) Pagans and Christians (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 1986), p. 168.
(43) I am referring here to an obscure Rabbinic tradition in the commentary on the transformation of Abraham's name. The addition of the letter "H" is interpreted as symbolizing linguistically the covenant between the name of Abraham and the name of God, YHWH, which uses the letter H twice. Abraham's wife gets the other H in God's name when she becomes Sarah. Thus the rather miraculous onset of their fertility after their orthographic transformation suggests a close link in the text between names and sons as well as names and suns. See also King, Milton, p. 115.
(44) If the singular form of "heaven" were literally translated into Hebrew, the resulting word would be something approximating sham, a word that actually never appears because "heaven," shamayim, always occurs in its plural form. Nevertheless, this hypothetical word, sham, would be homophonically and orthographically very similar to the word for name, shem, and The Name of God, hashem, because vowels were unmarked in the original biblical Hebrew. I suspect that sham and shem were once the same word, and that this is why the plural form is the only one used.
(45) Milton could have relied on the gender ambiguity of "offspring" to simplify line 464: "Hither of ill-joined sons and daughters born."
(46) Tovey, Anglia, p.259.
(47) Ibid.: typographic emphasis in original. I am grateful to David Scott Kastan and Margaret Ezell for reading an early draft of this essay. A subsequent draft benefited greatly from careful readings by William Kupersmith. I am very grateful for his comments and suggestions for revision.
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|Author:||Brooks, Douglas A.|
|Article Type:||Critical Essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2002|
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