[Milton-L] Re prelaps seasons: when is a question a good one?

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Sat Jan 9 11:15:25 EST 2010


There's quite a bit that needs to be considered about the trees.  Both are
together in the middle of the Garden -- so that the choice between "life"
and between "knowledge of good and evil" is the central concern of an
innocent paradise.  The tree of life was not forbidden, so that should Adam
and Eve desire to eat the unforbidden fruit of the tree of life, they would
have to at least consider the possibility of choosing knowledge of good and
evil before doing so because they both stood together.  The dialog and
detail that Milton adds to the creation account would probably not have been
considered by him to be contradictory to it, but rather serving the purpose
of a kind of Christian midrash -- filling in gaps, answering questions,
solving theological problems, advocating one theological tradition among
others, interpretation, exegesis, making explicit the moral and ethical
ramifications of the Genesis account in a way applicable to his own context,
etc.

There's no point in talking about a "contradiction" between Milton and
Genesis, as we all engage in all those activities when we read the Genesis
account -- which was very short and hardly enough material by itself for an
epic anyhow.   If Milton wanted to write a 10-12 book epic poem, he'd need
to fill in a lot of gaps.  It only makes sense to talk about Milton's
interpretation of Genesis vs. those of other traditions, including our own,
even if by that we only mean our own reading of Genesis.

Biblical exegesis was psychologized from the earliest days -- from at least
Origen forward -- with the introduction of the Socratic tradition into
Christian theology.  In Plato's dialogs, human beings are a synthesis of
body, soul, and spirit.  Being so, our personalities can be oriented toward
the body, toward the soul, or toward the spirit.  Diotima in the Symposium
argues that a bodily oriented person seeks immortality through procreation,
a soul oriented person seeks immortality through the development of the soul
and institutions that encourage that development, and a spiritually oriented
person is oriented toward God alone.  Origen in On First Principles suggests
that our orientation guides our exegesis -- a bodily oriented person reads
only the literal sense of Scripture, the soul oriented person has a higher
reading (later associated with the ethical or moral), and the spiritually
oriented person sees the highest truths in Scripture.  By Dante's day the
latter was divided into anagogical (knowledge of the states of the human
soul) and allegorical (knowledge of spiritual realities).  Milton is working
in a long tradition in his psychologization of the Biblical text too.

Jim R
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