Northrop Frye and Michael Dolzani
Copyright © 1982, 2013, Victoria University
TEACHERS GUIDE: Lecture 23
THE LANGUAGE OF PROCLAMATION: STYLE AND RHYTHM IN THE BIBLE, Part 1
The King James translation of the Bible emphasizes a certain rhythm of authority that is one aspect of the Bible's language, a tendency to command without qualification or explanation; and it is in part this emphasis that gives the AV its celebrated simplicity. But the Bible's rhetoric is of a special kind that scholars call kerygma, proclamation, which suggests that the nature of its spiritual authority is different from the authority of a law or a military command. When one of the Ten Commandments says, 'Kill not', the legal parts of the Mosaic Code respond with provisions about when it is permissible, if not desirable, to kill after all. But we are left with the feeling that the original unconditional command may be referring to a more genuinely human world than the one we live in. Jesus' commentary on the Ten Commandments in the Sermon on the Mount in fact emphasizes a positive element in them, rather than the negative and legal element. Thus, legalism and the gospel are really two aspects or attitudes toward the same verbal formulation.
Program Lecture Outline: Key Facts
- The simplicity for which the King James translation is praised is not the lucid simplicity of continuous prose, but the oracular simplicity of authority. It speaks in the tone of divine authority itself, which is one of unqualified command.
- The style of the Bible is a rhetorical style, therefore; but its rhetoric is of a special kind that scholars call kerygma, proclamation.
- As in Amos 7:16, this rhetoric is one of unconditional authority; yet that authority has two possible levels. For example, the Ten Commandments say, 'Kill not'; yet the Mosaic Code provides all sorts of legal qualifications which imply that under certain conditions killing is not only allowed but actually obligatory.
- We may well be left with a residual feeling that the original unqualified command is pointing to a very different kind of world altogether, a more genuinely human world like that of Blake's Auguries of Innocence, in which killing actually has no place.
- The Sermon on the Mount, which is in large part a commentary on the Ten Commandments, distinguishes the Commandments even further from a code of law by restating them in a positive formulation, in which 'Kill not' becomes an enthusiasm for human life.
- Thus, it becomes clear that the negative authority of legalism and the positive spiritual authority of the gospel are really two aspects of the same verbal formulation, two attitudes towards the same text.
Biblical Passages Cited
Amos 7:16-17. Amos urged to prophesy elsewhere, and his response: the unconditional rhetoric of the prophet.
Deuteronomy 5. The Ten Commandments.
Matthew 5. The Sermon on the Mount.
The Teacher's Perspective
As we enter upon a discussion of the gospel in this program and the next, we are confronted with the question of the Bible's spiritual authority. Locating the source of that authority is obviously of some importance, and there is a good reason for taking up so much of our examination of the gospel as a phase of revelation with a discussion of style and language. For most versions of Christianity, spiritual authority comes through the Bible from an external source: from the mediating institution of the Church or from the historical events that the Biblical narrative is pointing to. Standing in turn behind both the Church and the events of history is the ultimate external authority of God himself. Though popular Protestantism certainly emphasizes the supreme importance of the Bible, the importance for it is still only as 'proof' of a historical reality which is the real source of authority. The problem with this setup, in any of its theological variations, is that it requires the presence of an external God 'out there' somewhere at the beginning of the chain of authority; and according to all normal criteria of logic and evidence as demanded by our descriptive phase of language, such a God can only be a falsehood. That is, God as an object in the human field of consciousness is always a false god, an idol: he is not 'there', not even in the sense in which, say, nonvisible radiation is 'there' in the physical world. Therefore, we seem to be driven back to the Bible itself as the source of a revelation whose authority is an aspect of its own language.
This seems at first like a terribly paradoxical idea: if God cannot be 'out there' as some potentially-locatable object, how can he be 'inside' the Bible like some genie in a bottle? The answer is that God is neither inside nor outside the Bible- those are merely two faces of the same subject-object dichotomy that Biblical revelation is trying to get past- God is identified with the Bible. In a way that cannot be really expressed in descriptive or conceptual language, but only in the metaphor of the Word, God is the Bible, as what Blake called the Divine Vision.
This problem of locating God in relation to the Bible strongly resembles what is probably the most debated topic in current literary criticism, the locating of 'meaning' relation to a text, summed up by the title of a recent book on the subject: Is There a Text in This Class? In other words, is the text the printed marks on the page, the meaning in the reader's head, or something other than either of these? The teacher may even throw this question open to the class as regards the Bible, just to see what they can come up with. Any number of complications can be slyly introduced: if the Bible is the printed text, which version is the real Bible? If the Bible is the meaning in the reader's mind, how do we avoid an infinity of private interpretations? One does not want neat answers to searching questions: nevertheless, one thing that does seem to emerge from all this is the feeling that if the redeemed can become 'lively stones' in the apocalyptic Jerusalem, for example, they could also become the living words whose indwelling presence or meaning is God himself. This metaphorical fusion of the Creator, his Word and his creatures is distinct from pantheism, which implies an absolute immanence that merely reverses the absolute transcendence most theologies cling to because it retains an external guarantee for authority. Pantheism, the idea that everything is God, received a popular treatment a few years back in Robert Heinlein's science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land. Its popularity with the Manson clan unfortunately demonstrated that if a transcendent God can be used to rationalize institutional authority, an immanent God can be used to rationalize anarchist terrorism.
And yet, perhaps the dichotomy of external and internal authority is another false duality to be transcended. External authority turns God into a king issuing commands from a throne; but though God is said in the Bible to be a king, he obviously has to be a metaphorical one; as we saw in program 6, spiritual kingship is founded upon the identification of the king and his people in the royal metaphor, and so is the opposite of kingship as an historical institution founded to some degree at least upon arbitrary compulsion. Still, if we throw out the idea of God as an external disciplinarian, we must fall back on something better than our own equally arbitrary and corrupted wills. If we try to imagine what the authority or will of God is really like, then, we have to imagine an authority which compels sheerly by the force of its truth and imaginative power, an authority that is liberating rather than repressive, impersonal and yet with its basis in the individual. The only thing like this that we know of is the free authority of the arts and sciences: this is one theme in Prof. Frye's article 'The Problem of Spiritual Authority in the Nineteenth Century', collected in his book The Stubborn Structure.
It does not necessarily follow that one needs formal education to understand the Word of God. Shaw's St. Joan is a brilliant example of someone who knows where the source of spiritual energy is and how to tap it, without even being able to read. The authority Joan obeys comes to her through her visions: that is to say, through her powerful faculty of imagination; and because she is so selflessly open to it, she is able to go about liberating and inspiring, performing miracles very much as Jesus himself did: by casting out the evil spirits of selfishness, anxiety and doubt. Not even martyrdom can stop her: she comes back in the Epilogue to haunt us with her example. She is poor and uneducated like the apostles, or like the carpenter's son himself for that matter, but her unblinkered intelligence can always confound the merely learned.
The kind of knowledge imparted by descriptive language usually requires formal training to some extent, as with physics, say, or economics. The language of the Bible makes what is for most of us a much greater demand: that we respond to its mythical and metaphorical content like a child, with a spontaneous and uninhibited imagination to which all things are possible. Where the normal language of authority is contractive, in a punning sense that includes both legalism and a shrinking of the field of human action, the Bible's rhetoric is exhorting or commanding us to widen our vision, to expand our imagination as energetically as we can, to throw our creative powers against the anxieties that cripple us. We are so used to thinking of authority as negative and forbidding, that a positive command to live as fully as we are capable seems dangerously unlike authority at all. But it only seems easy to people who have never tried to obey it: to struggle against the death of the soul, which is what the Bible truly means by hell, involves resisting the tendency of hardship and anxiety to numb the imagination, a tendency whose traditional name is sin. This in turn requires the change of heart that the AV calls 'repentance', metanoia: see The Great Code, p. 130.
In a way, the meaning of this program is contained in the title of The Great Code itself. The teacher might ask the class what they think Blake meant by calling the Bible the 'great code of art'. If they seem puzzled, they can be offered this clue: Blake's meaning turns on a pun contained in the word 'code'. If this still seems mysterious, the teacher might explain that a code can be either a legal document or the key to a secret message. What Blake means is that the Bible replaces the one meaning with the other, legalism with the key to an imaginative revelation. It may not be a work of art itself, but it informs the arts with its vision and thus provides them with that free authority we have been speaking of. Similarly, works of art are not Bibles--what is implied is not 'the religion of art'--but they can be individual recreations of the Bible's divine revelation. The relation is something like that of an inexhaustible theme to an infinite number of possible variations.
- Biblical Passages
See Question 3 below.
- Corresponding Passages in The Great Code
Chapter I. Language I.
p. 27-30. Rhetoric and kerygma.
Chapter Five. Typology II.
p. 129-35. Gospel.
Chapter Eight. Language II.
p. 207-20. Style and rhythm in the Bible.
'The Problem of Spiritual Authority in the Nineteenth Century', Northrop Frye, in The Stubborn Structure: Essays on Criticism and Society, Cornell University Press, 1970.
Suggested Essay or Discussion Questions
- Does the idea of two levels of authority throw any light on the theory of civil disobedience?
- How is the relation of the gospel to legalism reflected in the Protestant idea of freedom of interpretation? What is the relation of Milton's radical Protestantism to his essay against censorship, Areopagitica? Discuss the idea of the Bible's authority in relation to his statement in that essay that a wise man will make better use of an idle pamphlet than a fool of Holy Scripture.
- Discuss the following Biblical passages, first from a legalistic perspective, then from the perspective of the gospel:
- From the Ten Commandments, Deuteronomy 5:9: 'for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation…' (Compare to Ezekiel 18).
- Ezekiel 20:25-26: 'Wherefore I gave them statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live; And I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire all that openeth the womb, that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am the Lord' (See The Great Code, p. 218).
- II Kings 2:23-25: Bears kill forty-two children who make fun of Elisha's bald head.
THE GOSPEL: REWRITING THE COMMANDMENTS, Part 2
Because the gospel throws its emphasis entirely on the state of mind rather the action, the attempt to make what might be immoral, like adultery, also illegal by passing laws against it results in the most fantastic tyranny. The gospel's conception is of a spiritual kingdom, which cannot be incorporated into legislation: the situation is the same at the end of Plato's Republic, where Socrates says that the just state could not exist, but that the wise man will live by its laws no matter what actual society he may find himself in. The implication is that the spiritual kingdom has dropped its connections with history and with a specific society and disappeared from the world of time and space. When Jesus says, 'The kingdom of heaven is entos hymon', he may mean 'within you' or 'among you', but those are subordinate meanings. What he means is that it is here, not there.
Program Lecture Outline: Key Facts
- Sin is immoral, not criminal or anti-social behavior, and the attempt to pass against it immediately the most fantastic tyranny. To legislate against adultery would produce, for example, the kind of legalism Shakespeare is depicting in Measure for Measure.
- The gospel is rooted in the state of mind of the individual, not in the social welfare: it is a spiritual kingdom, and cannot be incorporated into actual society by legislation.
- Similarly, in Plato's Republic, Socrates says that the just state could not possibly exist, but that the wise man will always live by its laws no matter what society he may actually live in.
- In the New Testament, the ideal images of garden, Promised Land, city and Temple, and so on, have become a spiritual kingdom that has dropped its connections with history and with a specific society and disappeared from the world of time and space.
- In the AV version of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says, 'The kingdom of heaven is within you'. The New English Bible is not happy with this and translates 'among you'. The first translation appeals to those who prefer psychological metaphors, the latter to those who want a social gospel. The Gospel of Thomas (Gnostic) even says that 'The kingdom of heaven is inside you and it is outside you'. But these are subordinate meanings for the phrase entos hymon: the central meaning is, it is here and not there.
Biblical Passages Cited
Luke 17:21. 'Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, Lo there! for, behold, the Kingdom of God is within you'.
The Teacher's Perspective
The legislation of morality is a hot issue, particularly in the democracies and perhaps most particularly in the United States. This is true because of the split between political and religious tradition in America, of which the doctrine of the separation of church and state is more an effect than a cause. The political tradition is a democratic concern for individual freedom that comes out of the Enlightenment; the religious tradition is predominantly the Protestantism of the Puritan and evangelical sects (we are speaking here only of a formative historical influence on cultural values). If one has someone like Milton in mind, with his defense of liberty, Commonwealth, divorce and freedom of the press, radical Protestantism and democracy might seem to fall together very naturally; the same is much more true of the Protestant affinities of Blake and the Romantics. But by the time Puritanism crossed over to America, it exemplified that tendency discussed in previous programs for a revolutionary tradition to flip over into the 'terrorism of an incorruptible society'. What America got was an intensely conservative theocratic Puritanism whose attempts to legislate morality injected a tendency into the culture that has never fully passed out of it; the students may be asked for examples here perhaps, which can include anything from 'blue laws' and censorship to Prohibition, from the 'one nation under God' that American schoolchildren repeat in their Pledge of Allegiance to the prayer-in-schools that they are not allowed to repeat right after it. But what happens when the law in question is not negative and prohibitive but designed to enforce a certain behavior? Then it is the conservative's turn to attack 'legalism', or what he often calls 'big government'. Is the Equal Amendment an attempt to legislate morality? Is affirmative action? It is easy to decry legalism, not so easy to decide sometimes how far legalism extends.
Most of the characteristics of early Puritanism, filtered of their New England regional associations and a certain intellectual cast, survive today in the various forms of evangelical populist Christianity: their effect is reflected in literature by such novels as William Faulkner's Light in August. In practice this popularizing has meant that conservative Christian intellectuals have sometimes been forced to find a place for themselves by returning to Catholicism or Anglo-Catholicism. The obvious example is T.S. Eliot, who retraced his Puritan roots back to England and the Anglican Church. Eliot's famous statement that he was royalist, Catholic and Classical means that he was returning to the idea of a State Church and rejecting the separation of church and state. The class may note his contempt in 'The Function of Criticism' for the 'doing as one likes' of Victorian liberalism.
The discussion of adultery in Prof. Frye's lecture fits into the present context by way of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. Adultery is not quite an example taken at random: it has always been something of a test case as regards the gospel, beginning right in the Gospels themselves with the story of the woman taken in adultery in John 8. Partly this is because adultery tends to get swept up into the Biblical polemic against 'harlotry' whose theological dimensions are indicated by the pun contained in the word 'faithless'. But it is also central because it focuses on the supreme dilemma of trying to legislate the form and expression of love. Most of the famous lovers of history, both real and fictional, have been at least implicitly adulterous, from Tristan and Isolde to Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca. The Paolo and Francesca episode in Dante's Inferno (Canto V), where the damned lovers tell Dante that they were reading the romance of Lancelot and Guinevere when they fell, proves how aware the Church was of the resistance to its authority to regulate the sexual instinct; and Dante's totally sublimated romance with Beatrice in an attempt to purify the same pattern and incorporate it into the Church. Without attempting sweeping pronouncements in a complicated area, we may summarize by saying that to the degree that marriage is conceived legalistically, love and romance will be termed adulterous, if only by sheer process of exclusion.
The problem of locating the spiritual kingdom should not be oversimplified either. It is a good guess that the New English Bible balks at locating it 'within' because it dislikes, and properly enough, the word's connotations of subjectivity: this is what Eliot is satirizing in the essay previously mentioned as the 'Inner Voice'. There is no convenient word to describe heaven as a state of mind of an individual which yet is not a subjective state. Likewise, there is no way to suggest that it is a state of oneness and communion without some of the social extrovertedness that clings to words like 'among'. Perhaps the RSV's 'in the midst of' manages to avoid being misleading, if only by trying to be noncommittal.
Locating hell is possibly a bit easier, as the history of humanity provides clues that make it difficult to miss. One notices the obsessive-compulsive aspect of Dante's hell, how people are condemned ritually to repeat certain actions, such as Ugolino's gnawing of his enemy's skull, in a way that reproduces certain symptoms of mental illness. Joseph Campbell's article on schizophrenia in his Myths to Live By, goes much further than this in demonstrating that the horrifying visions of a Hieronymus Bosch or the Tibetan Book of the Dead are virtually identical to those of the severer forms of psychosis. On external side, the fact that the history of humanity falls into the pattern of a gigantic compulsion neurosis when one stands back from it has not been lost upon philosophers Vico: and when one links the external and historical repetitions of Vico to the and psychological ones of Freud, one ends up with something like Finnegans Wake.
The teacher might at this point want to ballast Prof. Frye's lectures on gospel as a phase of revelation the weight of some facts about the individual Gospels and the contents of the New Testament. There are any number textbooks available that can provide such material with greater authority and more space than this guide allows, but it was that the teacher might find following thumbnail sketches useful quick reference.
Many students may not realize that Paul's writings are earlier than any of the Gospels. Paul was a Pharisee who had studied at the feet of the celebrated Rabbi Gamaliel, and his accepted writings are the first Christian documents we have. Which are his accepted writings is a question, however, whose answer has varied a great deal. The AV accepts fourteen epistles; the RSV thirteen by eliminating Hebrews, which has in fact been questioned nearly from the time it was written. Origen said resignedly that God only knows who wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews. Modern scholars also eliminate Titus and I and II Timothy, called the 'pastoral epistles'. Ephesians is often seriously questioned, and sometimes II Thessalonians and Colossians.
The Catholic Epistles
'Catholic' here means 'general' in the sense being addressed to the Church as a general audience, rather than to individual persons or congregations. The group includes Hebrews, James, Jude, and I and II Peter, which are not all that likely to have been written by Peter. Oddly enough, II Peter reproduces about nine-tenths of Jude.
I, II and III John and the Gospel of John. Practically no one believes that the Apostle John wrote all of these, in addition to the Book of Revelation; probably the majority do not believe that he wrote any of them. Most agree that the Fourth Gospel is the latest of the Gospels; the most popular guess at a date is around 90. It is the most controversial Gospel, and for many reasons. It omits about ninety per cent of the Synoptics and changes a lot of the remaining ten per cent. Jesus' career lasts several years instead of about one year, and oscillates several times between Galilee and Jerusalem. There are no parables, but instead a series of 'I am' metaphors, some of whose recurrent, especially of and darkness, has scholars to wonder about the influence of Gnosticism on the Gospel. The axis its structure is the tremendous story the raising of Lazarus, which is to it. (There is a Browning poem that this, 'An Epistle' to Karshish).
The Gospel of Mark
Generally accepted still as the earliest of the three Gospels. An early bishop, Paphias, claimed that Mark, who is mentioned in Acts and the Pauline Epistles, wrote down what he remembered of Peter's teaching, but few scholars accept Mark's authorship. Mark establishes Synoptic pattern for Jesus' career a provincial Galilean ministry, an intervening to Jerusalem and a Jerusalem ministry climaxed by the Passion. The text ends at 16:8, before the Resurrection, in mid-sentence and on a conjunction, and a post-Resurrectional has been tacked on to it.
The Gospel of Matthew
Once again traditional attribution stems from the early Church Fathers, but it is not frequently accepted these days that the tax collector of Matthew 9:9 wrote the First Gospel; Mark 2:14 his name is not Matthew, Levi. The Synoptic problem arises in considering the relation of Matthew and Luke to Mark. Matthew reproduces some ninety per cent of Mark, 600 verses out of 661; Luke reproduces some 300; both reproduce them in the same order as Mark. The most commonly accepted hypothesis is that Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source. There are also 200-250 verses shared by Mathew and Luke but not found in Mark, having a common nature of teaching rather than narrative. Many scholars postulate a second common source called 'Q' (see transcripts for program 30 and The Great Code, p. 203); but see the to the Matthew volume the Anchor for a harsh criticism of this and other source theories by one of the greatest Biblical scholars of our time, William Foxwell Albright. Matthew is divided into five sections, each containing a narrative passage followed by teaching. It is further organized by the thickest web of allusions to the Old Testament by any Gospel; its interest in showing that the coming of Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament extends to its centerpiece, the Sermon on Mount its commentary on the Ten Commandments. In fact, the Mount itself is typological; Luke1s shorter version occurs on a plain.
The Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles
Probably not, as might be guessed by this point, written by the Luke mentioned in Acts, despite the first-person sections of that narrative. The attribution comes from an old introduction called the anti-Marcion prologue, and so does the tradition that Luke was a physician, a belief perhaps enhanced by Luke's emphasis on signs and wonders, including healings. If John is distinguished by its metaphors and Matthew by its parables, Luke is perhaps distinguished by its miracles. Luke is also said to be a universalist; he balances Matthew's interest in Jesus as the fulfillment of Jewish history with an interest in Christ as the savior of all men, and it is from him that we get the figure of the Good Samaritan. The Gospel is addressed to one perhaps-fictitious Theophilus ('lover of God'); structurally, it is distinctive in stretching out the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem (and providing it in the process with an itinerary that, if it were accurate, would have to be another of Jesus' miracles) to make room for a long section of teaching. The teacher might also want to say a little about the attempt of the 'form criticism' of Rudolf Bultmann and Martin Dibelius in the 1920's to get behind the Gospels to the pre-literary kernels of oral material out of which they allegedly grew.
- Biblical Passages
John 8. The woman taken in adultery.
- Corresponding Passages in The Great Code
Chapter Three. Metaphor I.
pp . 54-55. 'The kingdom of God is within you': translation of entos hymon.
Chapter Five. Typology II.
pp. 129-35. Gospel.
Suggested Essay or Discussion Questions
- Discuss D.M. Thomas' The White Hotel in relation to our theme in this program of locating the kingdom of God. (Students may note the White Hotel sections themselves as a failed subjective attempt on Lisa Erdman's part at a dream-paradise; the Babi Yar massacre section as an external and objective version of hell; and the attempt to suggest a nonsubjective heaven by symbolism in the final section). Where is the kingdom of God in this novel? When Lisa Erdman has a moment of perfect happiness connected with the smell of a tree and with the epiphany by which she understands and transcends her own illness, is she perhaps closer to an experience of the kingdom than in the interim-heaven of the final chapter? Is the possibility Thomas raises that some suffering might be nonsubjective suffering of one person for her entire race related to the royal metaphor?
- Compare Plato's vision of the martyrdom of the ideal teacher in the Apology and his vision of the unrealizable ideal state in the Ninth Book of the Republic with his blueprint for an actual state in the Laws. (The teacher may consult The Great Code, p. 132).
- Discuss Dylan Thomas' 'Vision and Prayer' in the context of this program's theme of metanoia, repentance or change of heart.