In The Great Code: The Bible and Literature, Chapter Four is entitled typology. This was a great discovery for me; in large part it unlocked the secret of Blake's use of the Bible (and of every other poet's use of it for that matter). Once you outgrow the naive notion of 'Biblical inerrancy' and the idea that every word of it is historically true, you are to some degree on your own. I long ago settled on the awareness that:
1. 'every word of the Bible is poetry' (you may certainly debate that if you wish)
2 'poetry is the highest form of truth."
Truth is in the mind of the believer. Our belief is a function of our psyche, and everyone's psyche is unique (unless you believe that we're all lemmings). So what does the Bible mean? Not history! History is subjective; everyone chooses his own history. Poetry is subjective in a more creative way; to a large degree it's a function of your experience (and mine - very different). What it boils down to is that one man's truth may (appear to) be another man's lie.
Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Plate 8, (E 37)
"Every thing possible to be believ'd is an image of truth."
Poetry doesn't claim to be the whole complete exclusive truth; it's not rigid; it's allusive. One of the most important truths about the Bible (and all subsequent literature) is that it uses typology.
In a few words the type is the earliest occurrence (of an idea); psychologists may call it an archetype. Subsequent occurrences Frye calls antitypes:
Type: Moses delivered the Israelites from bondage in Egypt.
Antitype: Jesus delivered human beings from slavery to sin.
Antitype: Lincoln delivered black people from slaves of their southern 'owners'.
Antitype: Pope John delivered Catholics from outmoded legalities like the Latin Mass.
The type and all subsequent antitypes are incomplete. Hence there must and will be more.
Type: Elijah used a stony altar, flooded with water, and then fire to finish off the 450 prophets of Baal (1st Kings, 18:19).
Antitype: Jesus used stone jars, full of water, which became wine to bring Spirit to a wedding party (John 2).
|British MuseumIllustrations to Young's Night Thoughts|
Many events in the Bible have multiple occurrences. Many Old Testament events recur in the New Testament; some of them reoccur in later parts of the Old Testament.
The New Testament writers found O.T. types for many events in the O.T.: Psalm 22 practically describes the Crucifixion. N.T. writers often quoted O.T. sources. What happened in the N.T. a was a realized form of something foreshadowed in the O.T. For instance Christian baptism became the antitype of the saving of mankind from the flood of Noah.
In Romans 1:17 Paul wrote "the just shall live by faith", making Habbakuk 2:4 the type of his antitype.
Blake adopted this kind of typology for his own verbal creations; he frequently quoted Holy Scripture, and more often used it allusively. All this boils down to the simple fact that his poetry found its main source in the Bible. As for Blake, so for Milton, so for Shakespeare and for the other handful of sources that he mentioned in his letter to Flaxman.
Letters, to Flaxman, (E 707)
"Now my lot in the Heavens is this; Milton lovd me in childhood & shewd me his face Ezra came with Isaiah the Prophet, but Shakespeare in riper years gave me his hand Paracelsus & Behmen appeard to me. terrors appeard in the Heavens above"
Here's an assignment for a Blake student:
You need these two resources: Complete Works and a Complete Bible.
Now read Blake (wherever you're interested, pick out a key word, go to your Bible, select Search and put your 'Blake word' in the search window. You may find 'a Blake type' and a 'Bible antitype.'
You may also find types and antitypes by searching the Complete Works with a word from the Bible.
Frye devoted two chapters of The Great Code to typology. An advanced Blake student might do well to absorb them as well as he can.
This may be hard to believe, but someone said that in Western culture all discourse, religious, secular, atheist, or a foul-mouthed sailor are using antitypes to the King James Bible. That's worth thinking about.
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