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Biblical Hebrew and Greek in English Letters. The importance of biblical literacy in the world of English literature. Why the Bible?.

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biblical hebrew and greek in english letters

Biblical Hebrew and Greek in English Letters

The importance of biblical literacy in the world of English literature.

slide3

Biblical literature is undoubtedly a formative aspect of English literature. For example, one can hardly understand the African American story without a strong grasp of the Exodus: Moses, Pharaoh and the Jordan river stand as archetypal images for the African American experience, both in the oral and written subcultures of the people (not unlike the oral and written law of the Hebrew people).

The English Canon’s echoes of biblical themes and phrasing (i.e. valley of the shadow of death) are undeniable, and ought to, therefore, be studied as a means of understanding the connotated dimensions of of English prose and poesy.

paradise lost

Paradise Lost

Though the entirety of the epic poem is centered explicitly around biblical themes, we will consider a passage to illustrate that more than a general understanding of Bible stories is necessary to understand what Milton is singing.

paradise lost john milton
Paradise LostJohn Milton

No one would argue that biblical literacy wouldn’t help the comprehension and appreciation of a text such as Paradise Lost. But, what kind of tangible difference does Biblical knowledge make?

book i lines 17 26
Book ILines 17-26

And chiefly thou, O Spirit, that dost prefer

Before all temples th’ upright heart and pure,

Instruct me, for thou know’st; thou from the first

Wastpresent, and, with mighty wings outspread,

Dove-like sat’st brooding on the vast

Abyss, And mad’st it pregnant: what in me is dark

Illumine, what is low raise and support;

That, to the height of this great argument

may assert Eternal Providence,

And justify the ways of God to men.

slide7

And chiefly thou, O Spirit, that dost prefer

Before all temples th’ upright heart and pure

1Cor. 6.19 What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?

slide8

Instruct me, for thou know’st; thou from the first

Wast present, and, with mighty wings outspread,

Dove-like  sat’st brooding on the vast

Abyss, and mad’st it pregnant:  what in me is dark

Illumine, what is low raise and support;

(Matt. 3.16) And Jesus, when he was baptized, … he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:

(Gen. 1.2) And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

(Gen. 1.3) And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. (Gen. 1.9)And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.

slide9

While many, not all, of the biblical illusions were show in the previous slides there are still some that have yet to be exposed. For the sake of time we will only discuss one other.

The question remains: Why did Milton say of the Holy Ghost “Dove-like sat’st brooding on the vast / Abyss, and mad’st it pregnant”?

slide10

t¶Ea◊wMˆy™AmDÚvAht¶EaMy¡IhølTaaâ∂rD;bty™IvaérV;b :X®r`DaDhy∞EnVÚp_lAoJKRväOj◊w …wh$ObÎw ‹…wh‚Oth¶Dt◊yDhX®r#DaDh◊w[:Mˆy`D;mAhy¶EnVÚp_lAotRp™RjårVmMy$IhølTaAj…wêr◊w] MwóøhVt:rwáøa_yIh◊y`Awrwóøay∞Ih◊yMy™IhølTarRmañø¥yÅw

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the[Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.]

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

slide11

:Mˆy`D;mAhy¶EnVÚp_lAo [tRp™RjårVm] My$IhølTaAj…wêr◊w

Spirit of God [moved] upon the face of the waters.

Milton knew his Hebrew.

The Strong’s Concordance explains that the Hebrew root from which “moved” comes is:

7363. PAj∂rrachaph, raw-khaf´; a primitive root; to brood; by implication, to be relaxed:—flutter, move, shake.

biblical literacy is necessary

Biblical Literacy is Necessary

As we can see, more than a terse knowledge of Bible stories is necessary to understand the poesy of Milton. The examples are just about endless. For a more nuanced reading of literature, canonical and contemporary, one ought take her/his biblical studies seriously.