Thinking About How to “Read” Epics Like Milton & Dante

Approaching epics like those by Milton and Dante with thinking, scan-reading, thinking, spot-reading, thinking, and more thinking …


June 4, 2010 – I was just thinking about books I had wanted to get around to reading someday – Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, and Dante’s Divine Comedy. Wonder what it was about them that caused them to be considered to be “great” and “classic” and “timeless”?  Psychological insight at individual level like Dostoevsky?  Psych/social insight like Toltstoy’s War and Peace? Illuminating spiritual/physical interpretations or perspectives or views or evoked experience — of spiritual/physical plane experience including inherited prior ideas, beliefs, reports, and writings — like Swedenborg or like Richard Bach or like Werner Erhard or Socrates, Buddha, Hesse, Nietzsche, Lao-Tse, or Confucius?

Well, let’s make a start and see what we can still see …


in the old days, i’d quick or slow read the paragraph or two in the P section of the Encyclopedia Britannica III Micropedia for Paradise Lost, and the paragraph or two in the M section for Milton, maybe follow a few of the dozen or two references from Micropedia into pages and sections of pages of Macropedia, walk about 3 feet and pull the Milton volume (that would have the usual excellent tight concise interesting relevant 1-2 page author bio by Mortimer Adler and also the full text of Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained) from the Mortimer Adler Great Books collection that came with Britannica III in the 70’s and 80’s and 90’s when I was buying them and giving them away and buying them again, then either open to anywhere to get a sense of the structure and style, or maybe to dedication or table of contents or illustrations list.  By then something would have drawn me into reading a passage or two carefully to get a particular point or continue getting a sense of the work.  If Durant’s Story of Civilization or Story of Philosophy indexes (indices?) had “Milton” or “Paradise Lost”, I’d see what ol’ Will had to say on the subject.  At each step, a review of what I’d learned so far and what it probably meant for the work as a whole.  From there, maybe into the context of the life and times of Milton, or back into Paradise Lost itself for another bite.  Something I didn’t use a lot, but could have was Mortimer Adler’s remarkable Syntopicon , which indexed all the great books together on topics.

but, today, i don’t happen to have those physical volumes readily available.  and, even if i did, i wonder if i would still do that vs. go right to today’s electronic versions — google, wikipedia, and the like.  i’ll think about that later.  thinking about milton right now.  and what’s here now is — duh doo di doo! — drum roll, professor, if you please — wikipedia … maybe we’ll also get the project gutenberg full text.  later for that too.  for now, wikipedia forparadise lost

– ironic.  milton wrote most of what was apparently a massive poem while blind

– uses references from various religions.  that’s promising.

– tries to make sense out of trinity and other dogma.  if he found a way to do that without going around in logical circles not anchored in experience, good on him.  but it’s been a recipe for exporting one’s own confusion for many a major and minor theologian.  it’s possible that circumstances past, present, and likely future gave rise to perceptions among practical men of good will (mostly men in those time frames) that decisions on conceptualizing reported experience of interesting individuals were necessary whether those concepts made sense either individually or taken together.  still, i’ve always made a point of being open to having new insights that allow progress in reconciling own observation and experience with inherited concept and reported experience.  that’s been a good policy that’s brought benefits even recently.  one lifetime’s really not enough for some things.

– milton’s paradise lost said to be great since it’s voluminous, in a type of verse/poetry, and was one of the best examples of use of the English language at the time.  also since it apparently builds in christianity and pagan greco roman stuff.  all good.  the potential downside is that, if that’s the total reason for paradise lost being “great” and “classic”, we may not be destined to find a timeless correct experiential / psychological / existential / philosophical / spiritual view at its core.  let’s look for more clues.  i know of people who looked for ways to finesse the christian and other concepts into a condition that would allow for timeless reality plus likely future utility to be embraced and supported.  if milton seems to have succeeded in doing that for the state of the people and language of his time, then he was not only great as a wordsmith but also great as a, what, man/woman/guy/gal, philosopher, person, human, prophet, poet, spirit, angel, saint, all-around good guy, and so forth. : )

here’s the wikipedia paragraph i’ve been working from so far:

“The poem concerns the Christian story of the Fall of Man: the temptation of Adam and Eve by the fallen angelSatanand their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Milton’s purpose, stated in Book I, is to “justify the ways of God to men”[2] and elucidate the conflict between God’s eternal foresight and free will.

“Milton incorporates Paganism, classical Greek references, and Christianity within the poem. It deals with diverse topics from marriagepolitics(Milton was politically active during the time of the English Civil War), and monarchy, and grapples with many difficult theological issues, including fatepredestination, the Trinity, and the introduction of sin and death into the world, as well as angelsfallen angelsSatan, and the war in heaven. Milton draws on his knowledge of languages, and diverse sources — primarily Genesis, much of the New Testament, thedeuterocanonicalBook of Enoch, and other parts of the Old Testament. Milton’s epic is generally considered one of the greatest literary works in the English language.”

– hmm … there may not have been a paradise regained by milton.  thought there was.  maybe by somebody else?

– no, hold the phone, there is a paradise regained by milton too.  wikipedia:

– ok paradise lost published in 1667 in 10 parts, and reorganized it into 12 parts and republished in 1774.  in between, he wrote and published paradise regained in 1671.  all in england.

– It seems Milton was a prominent and public man which means he was a practical man, which means — even if, in his heart (and head), he had arrived to heretical views outside mainstream christianity (some variety or combination of humanism, atheism, pagan, magic, sorcery, shaman, wic, satan, masonism, etc) — he would be interested in doing persuasive conceptual back flips to present his world view in a way that was palatable (i.e., wouldn’t get him killed), persuasive, and useful in leading the world he knew forward.  that’s if he was great, not only as a word smith, but in the second sense we described above (poet laureate, epic poet, spiritual visionary, etc).  And, of course, since he needed to be persuasive, not only to the future he would help create, but also to contemporaries who were either actually or potentially like-minded, we’ll learn a lot, not only about milton, but about his times, from the conceptual and persuasion strategy he employs, if any.  : )  I’m assuming there will be an intelligent strategy, that he’s not only a word smith, since his name has been so prominent for so long.  But one never knows.

There are quite a few works of theologians as well as “received” writings — some highest in ranking — whose words can be sampled nicely to make persuasive — even eloquent — valid and very useful individual points, points which can also be used in combination for some pretty good systems for living, even though those words and works overall are incoherent, confused, logically circular, and not anchored in any experience I have been able to imagine.  Perfection, however, was never necessary for progress, so a lot of this very powerfully useful flawed theology served a lot of people well enough for a long time, but needed adjustment in modern times.

As to Milton, we’ll see …

In this respect of being a public practical man, Milton would be like Emanuel Swedenborg who was undoubtedly the real McCoy in terms of spiritual man, but who also had practical government administrative duties something along the lines of bureaucrat in bureau of mines or something AND he lived and worked in a protestant lutheran christian world.  that’s another thing i’d hoped to do — to go back to the shelves of swedenborg writings and see what he tried to do and how he tried to do it as a genuinely spiritual guy working at re-interpreting the entire bible from Genesis through Revelations in terms of his own experience (which is my impression of what he did in all those books)

This brings, what’s his name? … The xxx Letters … C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters. Lewis was interesting in that, whatever his actual view, he tried, as far as I know, two very different strategies for conveying it.  One is sort of Jesus-like in his lion figure in the Chronicles of Narnia. The other is 180 degrees from the other direction, satan-like idea, in The Screwtape Letters. That was another interesting question I wanted to return to — who and what was CS Lewis really in his heart of hearts?

So, as to Milton, now putting self in his shoes in mid-1660s with something in his mind to share.  Probably partly worked out, partly to be worked out in the process of writing.  Overall conceptual / theoretical / theological / metaphorical / spiritual view probably clear though before he started Paradise Lost.  Probably had the most important points of the full cycle of Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained mostly worked out in his head from a lifetime of reading, thinking, writing, thinking, talking, and thinking.  He would start thinking he could just write it and find, countless times, that he needed to go and reread, rethink, and fact check during the process of writing.  That’s how writing  things like this goes.

So he’s wanting this two-volume view to work as an integration of Old Testament Bible, New Testament Bible, and classical Greek and Roman ethical/humanist/pagan influences.

No indication he was trying also to integrate Persian/Zoroastrian, Sufi, Islam, Isis/Osiris, Tao, Confucius, Shinto, Hindu, Veda, Buddha … who did I leave out? … Wicca, Satan, Goddess, Black Magic, White Magick, Golden Dawn, Sorcery, Santeria (wasn’t around yet probably), Juju/Voodoo/Hoodoo) … Easier task then than today.

By the way.  Reminder.  This is all guess work.  Pre-reading as the English Language Arts (ELA) teachers teach.  : )  True, though.

So, I’m thinking, before Milton writes a word of either Paradise Lost or Paradise Regained , he has the main elements of the image /view / vision he wants the world to have from him already worked out.  A view he wants people to share with him and to use together in the future in order to have more clarity within, between, and among themselves.

The wikipedia article on Paradise Regained seems to suggest he will associate the “re-gaining” with the New Testament events and what comes after them.  If so, that would make him more of a Christian poet, novelist, and theologian.

At this point, I wish I had my Will Durant Story of Civilization volumes.  They go from pre-history through age of Napolean (1815), so one of them would almost certainly have a nice section on Milton in the 1600’s.  Durant would give context of Milton’s life, other thinkers at the time, summary of his works, his own reactions, and reactions of other thinkers.  You can tell a LOT about one writer if you read what other writers say about her — summarizing her, citing her, quoting her, agreeing/disagreeing with her, praising/criticizing her.   At this point, I’d like to know if and which Christian thinkers and leaders think of Milton, what Voltaire thought of him in 1700s, what Nietzsche thought of him in 1880’s, Jewish views of his work, and such.  Not to let them tell me how to think about Milton.  Can’t do that anyway.  That group I just listed disagree on everything beyond sun comes up in the morning.

Or, at this point, just start reading some more.

Or just think and guess …

Those are always the three options for what to do in the present/next moment … read the work itself, read what others have written about the author or the work or the context of the times, or just think (review, repeat, confirm, associate info, burn in info as in intend to remember basic anchoring facts, synthesize, reorganize in mind or maybe on paper) about the info acquired so far …

Which of the three to do next, in what sequence, for how long?  It’s a judgement call based partly on what you want to know or think you should know.  Like most things, becomes more clear, easier, faster, and more effective with thoughtfully observed trial and error (aka “practice” , “experience”).

So guessing … i might guess wrong … doesn’t matter … guessing engages the mind more fully in the subject …

guessing … let’s see …. apparently, according to the two wiki article intro paragraphs, milton deals with Satan, Adam, Eve, Old Testament and New Testament figures, Jesus, named angels, not sure who else, directly as characters …

Paradise …

regained …

Paradise regained … I know what Madonna would mean by that in mid-1980s and beyond … I know that the Age of Aquarius crowd and Woodstock crowd would mean by that in the 1960’s and beyond … and maybe the wic / pagan / goddess/ faltskog / isis-osiris groups …

Paradise regained … but for Milton in the 1600’s in a Church of England / Episcopal / Presbyterian Protestant Christian parliamentary monarchical political and social environment in England, with a LOT of Roman Catholicism on the European Continent in Portugal and Spain and France and maybe more, a LOT of Lutheran Protestantism also on the Euro continent and in the Scandinavian countries, and a LOT of Orthodox Christianity in Eastern Europe …

I wonder if he was seeking peace among the various Christianities?  or Judeo-Christianties?  or among those and any humanist renaissance pagan greek/roman classical influences … doubt, at this point, with the info so far, he was intending anything beyond that to islamic or asian synthesis or integration …

Still guessing … at what he intended … at what situation Milton may have been seeing, and what result he wanted, in the 1660’s …

maybe he just wanted to express himself …

maybe he just wanted to write a great poem, a great classic …

but often somebody wants also to make some sort of progress/difference … plus Milton was prominent public man involved in politics … upper class … noblesse oblige …

if he only referenced Biblical things, that would suggest one type of personal experience, perspective, and objectives … that he included classical greek and roman suggests he felt the church influence alone was both not enough and too much … that he included the Biblical with the classical suggests he wanted the freethinking values of the renaissance and classical greek/roman progress in science, history, philosophy, ethics, politics, rhetoric, and arts without throwing away what was good and useful about judeo-christianity … AND he didn’t see anything or anybody anywhere around at the time getting that done, including the Bible itself and all its interpreters, all the greek and roman classics and all their classicist fans …

that last paragraph may well be the answer to what he intended …

paradise regained … selling in a more liberal and comprehensive version of Christianity that also includes the renaissance freethinking classical greek and roman thinking and culture, including the more liberal pagan sexual attitudes, and doing it by indicating that adopting this interpretation of New Testament Christianity is, in effect, “regaining” the Old Testament Biblical Paradise in our (his) time.

Makes me think also now of Walt Whitman who had some sort of tie to Swedenborg … leave that for later … that’s a distraction from this nice conclusion that’s emerging here …

So that’s my guess.  Selling in a liberal interpretation of Christianity that included the best and downplayed the worst of Christian influence, included all the best thinking and cultural values of renaissance classical greek and roman culture (including a liberalizing step toward pagan social and sexual values), and did it by bemoaning the loss of Old Testament Biblical idyllic Paradise (Garden of Eden from Book of Genesis) and giving the interpretation that Paradise is regained with a better-understood and more liberal interpretation of the New Testament Christian message — all sold in with lovely attractive poetic wordsmanship within a tale that goes from Adam and Eve in the Old Testament Garden to Jesus and his followers in the new garden of modern Miltonian Christian life.

That’s my guess and I’m sticking to it!  At least until a fact arrives that says it’s all a bunch of BS.  : )

As I think about this guess, it seems reasonable.  What I’ve described in my guess is the culture of most of the countries of the modern “western world.”  Christian-influenced secular culture and laws.  In every country, there are continuing struggles over religious purism and religious pluralism with the primary power consensus in the christian-influenced secular middle.  All the countries in the “western world” are all based solidly in a story of classical Greece, Rome, Renaissance, Christianity, Reformation of Christianity, and democracy.  Most or all of them got there from a point in time (the so-called Dark Ages or Middle Ages) where there was a combination of stifling monarchy and Roman Catholic Church, followed by renaissance and democratic influence and freethinking.  Something must have helped consolidate Christian influence and renaissance classical Greek/Roman influence and set the stage for continuing lessening of monarchical and continued increase in democratic forms.  At this point, no other thinker is coming to mind who created a synthesis of Christian and Greek/Roman influence in a huge artful manner.  Voltaire wouldn’t include the church.  Well, maybe Swedenborg.  But that’s Swedish language, not English.  Maybe Da Vinci?  Not sure Da Vinci’s religion … michelangelo … they painted christian stuff, but was that due to belief or patronage …

Anyway, Milton doesn’t have to be the only one to have contributed to the firm establishment of a secular Christianity — one heavily influenced by Greek/Roman/Renaissance thinking and values.  But I’m betting at this point that’s what Milton intended and that’s how he’s viewed by people who are expert in these things.

June 5/6

well, having thought about it a bit, might as well have a look, “page” through it, to get a sense of it

Project Gutenberg – not bad, but the next one, Dartmouth, is the right choice

Paradise Lost –

Paradise Regained –

First observation was it seemed the Project Gutenberg volunteers maybe didn’t put in spaces between verses and maybe left out some punctuation and maybe mis-spelled “taste” right away as “tast”.  So I thought maybe should look for another version that had more accurate formatting.  But, when got to the Dartmouth version, it looked and spelled and punctuated the same.  So I noticed over the years the term, “blank verse”, but never knew what it was.  I think that’s what we’re seeing here.  Yes, it’s verse, but not necessarily with stanzas like most poems we see.

With that structure, I thought it might not be very readable, but, when I dived in, it wasn’t too bad.  A lot of specialized knowledge of Bible events and people, as well as alternate eloquent ways of referring to them, are needed.  Fortunately, the Dartmouth version below is an annotated edition (edition with lots of notes explaining what all the terms mean).

Dartmouth University online reading room

– annotated version

– fabulous annotations – click on what looks like a link and the annotation for that word of phrase shows up in the little box at the bottom of the page.  VERY nice.

Paradise Lost

Paradise Regained

Jumping around for a first sampling of it.

Noticed Paradise Lost starts with a section, “the argument” … i’ll go back and see how he positions it.  also there’s a dartmouth annotation on “the argument”

In beginning of Paradise Regained, gets very devout Christian very quickly with expressions like “Son of God” for Jesus of Nazareth, and “Great Proclaimer” for John the Baptist, and celebration of Jesus’ “victory” over Satan in the desert.  I shouldn’t be surprised.  I’m not.  So, sure, it’s a retelling of the Bible very much including New Testament events.

Not sure how long it will hold me if it’s just an eloquent retelling of Biblical events by a devout literalist believer (vs. also some sort of interesting psych, spiritual, chris/greek/roman synthesis), but it’s early yet.  Even if it’s just an eloquent retelling of the stories, I’m still interested to see roughly how much emphasis the various parts of the Old and New Testament content got in his two books.  I can get that from scanning.   Maybe the eloquence itself will grab me.  Voltaire’s letters did that a long time ago, but there was also issues of the day content.  Melville’s did.  Shakespeare didn’t years ago but probably would today.  Not sure if the verse format will hold me.  Is the eloquence there and then useful as influence and input for today?  Not sure.  It’s still taught at Dartmouth, and Dartmouth’s not a religious university.  Wonder if the department that makes these annotated editions available is Theology Dept or English Deparment?  We’ll see.

June 6/7

looking over the Dartmouth version of Paradise Lost – has 12 books, so it’s the revision, not the 10-book first version.  that makes sense.

ok, each of the 12 books has a “the argument” introduction/summary section.  they’re pretty short.  probably good to just read those as a next step.

jumped to “the argument” for book 12 first.  ok, Michael, the angel — he’s no doubt the angel I heard of in my youth as “Michael, the Archangel.”  In this final book of this classic, Michael talks to Adam in the Garden of Eden about events to come that sound like the stories told about Jesus in the New Testament of the Bible.  Adam seems ok with what he hears.  Meanwhile, Eve’s been sleeping and dreaming nice dreams.  Then Michael with fiery sword leads them out of the Garden and cherubim guard the Garden.  Abraham is mentioned.  Ok.

Clicking on “contents” link, noticing this Dartmouth University site has lots of Milton’s works.  Pretty generous of Dartmouth and Thomas H. Luxon to make this high quality presentation available to the public for free online.  Many thanks to both!  Ok and this next link answers whether it’s a university English or Theology department hosting this site.  Answer: English.  Tom Luxon is a professor of English at Dartmouth.

moving to book 11’s “the argument”.  Ok, this is interesting.  In addition to Milton’s “the argument” summary of each book at the top of the page, there’s Dartmouth’s “introduction” [to the annotations for each of the 12 books] in the little annotations window at the bottom of the screen.  For book 12, Professor Luxon and his students tells us that C. S. Lewis in the 1900’s very much didn’t like Milton’s 11th and 12th books as silly future talk.  Makes me wonder if maybe the first 10 books were considered useful by the brilliant Lewis or just less bad than books 11 and 12.  : )   One step at a time.  Correction: Prof Luxon’s and team don’t put “introduction” annotations at top of all books, just for Milton’s Introduction, and books 1, 7, and 11.  That’s fine.

So, Milton, at end of Paradise Lost, has, in chapters 11 and 12, have Michael and the incubi being sent to Paradise.  Michael holds hands with Adam and Eve and walks them out the gate followed by a flaming sword.   The incubi stay behind to guard the Garden.

Makes me wonder if the Bible’s book of Genesis has some or all of those details.  Did Milton invent some of the colorful details or just express them in his own way?

Let’s see what chapters and verses contain the Paradise story in Genesis in the Bible … google hits …

“The Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden – Genesis Ch. 1:26 thru Genesis Ch. 3:24″

“Genesis 4 and 5 give the story of Adam and Eve’s family after they leave the garden: three children are named, Cain, Abel and Seth, with other children …”

So Adam and Eve story is part of Genesis chapter 1, all of chapter 2, and all or part of chapter 3.  I just checked and 3:24 is all of Book of Genesis Chapter 3.  That’s of how many chapters?  ok, i just checked Bible Gateway .com … … and the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament has 50 chapters.  The Old Testament has 38 more “books”.  The New Testament then has 27 “books” (4 gospels, acts, epistles/letters, book of revelations).  What’s the point?  Milton’s Paradise Lost is making a very large statement on the basis of fairly small part of the Bible.

Milton’s interpretation appears to be that a series of communications between God and Adam were fulfilled by the events in the life of Jesus.

Which is interesting emphasis since it jumps over a LOT of Bible to do that.    Apparently, Noah’s flood and Abraham are mentioned, but there’s not an emphasis on Moses and the laws given to him and Aaron in the Torah (the first five books of Bible, sometimes called the Pentateuch), not an emphasis on the histories of judges and kings from after Moses through Babylonian Captivity, and no emphasis on David or Solomon, or on the 4 major and dozen minor prophets, all of which come after the story of Adam and Eve and before the stories about Jesus and his followers.

Which I’m pretty sure is not unusual for a Christian — especially Roman Catholic and maybe Christian Orthodox — pattern of emphasis on various parts of the Bible.  (I have the impression that devout Protestant Christians tend to actually read both the New and Old Testaments of the Bible, the devout Roman Catholic and Christian Orthodox tend to read and hear their religion’s interpretations of the Bible.  Roman Catholicism, for example, has a reference volume called the “catholic catechism” that selects a lot of quotes from the Bible, plus quotes from other places, plus facts of history and policy and church decisions, and explains them in a Catholic context and way.

The catechism idea makes sense since, having worked at reading the Bible, it’s clear to me it contains a LOT of stories and principles, many of them conflict, and all of it took place thousands of years ago.  I’m not critical of reading the Bible directly and thinking for oneself.  But that’s impractical for all but a few people to do in enough depth to create a synthesis for current modern use.  So the catechism idea, as a baseline recommendation from the Catholic leaders, is a good idea.

I had a lot of Bible story, characters, principles, etc in my mind from childhood in a catholic environment.  A catholic kid hears and reads simplified versions of the stories in children’s books and hears Bible excerpts during readings and sermons in Sunday masses.  More of that in Catholic school (my first through third grades) and/or the CCD program (my 4th and 5th grades) for Catholic kids who go to public schools.

When I first read the Bible for myself in the roughly 1993-1997 time frame, in my early to mid 40’s, (in 93 I was doing a bit of sunday school teaching to a very small group; in 97, i decided to “get my arms around” the Bible as a whole and devoted a few months to doing it efficiently and systematically),  I wanted to discuss what I was reading with some friends who were lifelong devout Catholics and was surprised to be told they don’t read the Bible very much.  Their lives were always full with church and belief and religious intention and prayer, all of which was based in the Bible, but, unlike conservative Protestant Christians, they didn’t actually read the big family Bible much, even the “Douay” Catholic vs. “King James” or “NIV” or other Protestant versions of the Bible.

How does one go about reading The Bible?  Not a trivial question.  Not a trivial project.

To develop a strategy for reading the Bible, I got the sequence of titles of the 66 or so books straight in my head and memory, then scanned all of the books, then read over a monarch notes/cliff notes type of little paperback summaries book to get a picture of the rough sequence of content in my head/memory.   That, to me, is also “reading”, by the way.

Then I finally really read (“reading” in the usual use of the word) a lot of it to confirm/correct/elaborate the picture of the sequence of content.

the parts that provided history and the overall story the bible tells (genesis, exodus, joshua, judges, the 6 “histories” samuel/kings/chronicles) got careful attention and reflection.  reflection included a bit of comparing with progression of people, events, beliefs, and ideas in other religious groups and in other parts of the world, but a lot of that had been done in the 25 years before actually reading the Bible carefully in 97 or so and more came later; in 97, i kept focus on getting a reasonable basic reading done right before letting it go for other interests.

due to time constraints, large passages that were details of jewish laws at the time (a lot of that in leviticus, numbers, and deuteronomy), a lot of poetry (a lot of that in psalms, proverbs, and song of solomon), a lot of discussion of why God let things go bad for the norther and southern jewish kingdoms in the Ninevah and Babylonian Captivity stories (lamentations, jeremiah, ezekiel, and the dozen minor prophets) — these got scan and spot readings.  most of the focus was on the old testament I knew less about than the new testament I’d heard about in early life.

For New Testament, I scanned the 4 gospels for the basic storyline and for the miracle stories.  a lot of focus on the history of Jesus followers just after he died, the book called, the acts of the apostles, “acts”.  The many letters/epistles of Paul and others were theology essays that just didn’t hold my attention at the time.  I felt that church leaders had used quotes from these letters/epistles effectively as guideposts and good influences on large numbers of people over time (“faith, hope, charity, love”), but that they didn’t read well as theological logic.  I wasn’t and am not critical of them.  Why should Paul and James and Timothy, with their backgrounds, be producing logical syntheses of concept and experience to rival Spinoza, Camus, and others who came after them, or Socrates, Confucius, Buddha, or others who came before them.  My intention was someday to focus on the epistles/letters alone and extract their basic argument and analyze why they worked so well for so many people for so many years and also why their limitations gave rise to the need for adjustments of various kinds.  On the Book of Revelations:  Since it was my perception that “book of revelations” (the final book of the  New Testament and of the Bible) got so much attention, some calm and religious, but also a great deal hysterical, illogical, negative, and destructive (it’s the source of the ideas of “the anti-christ”, “the mark of the beast”, “666”, “the battle of armageddon”, “the end of the world”, “the last days”, “the judgement day”, the prophecies of many calamities, and more) and created such confusion, i spent some time getting clear on it’s context, structure, and content.  The upshot of investigating the Book of Revelations was (1) it’s a report of a vision of a man named John (not John the Baptist and not John the gospel writer, but a third John) on one of the Greek Islands in the Aegean Sea (Patmos) who lived in the first several decades after Jesus died, a time when Christians were being persecuted and were desperately hoping for the return of Jesus that Jesus had promised, (2) it’s full of symbolic stuff that came from John’s vision/dream (think of how things look and come and go rapidly in dreams), and, therefore, (3) makes no sense as the basis for so much attention, energy, worry, study, repeating, interpretation, and such.

Well, it may seem we’ve gone far afield from Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, but not really.  Understanding the role of Milton’s work in creating the world around us lies as much in what Milton was responding to — like the totality of what is and was in the Bible — as in what he actually wrote.

Well, I’m looking at King James English version of Genesis 3 and, in the final verses, there is, in fact, mention of a flaming sword, of cherubim (i guess that’s like incubus/incubi), and going out the gate.  No Michael there holding hands of Adam and Eve and walking them out that gate.  Important to recognize that’s English translation — made in the early 1600’s, by a committee appointed by English King James, who had a Christianity vs. Judaism agenda and a Church of England Protestant vs. Roman Catholic agenda — of ancient Hebrew original sources.

Reading that Genesis chapter 3 reminds me that, while, in total, the Bible has been used as the basis for a lot of good, it often makes no sense at all.  Not literally, of course (serpent, apple, tree of life, etc), but also doesn’t make much sense symbolically/allegorically/spiritually, at least to me.  Maybe Swedenborg was able to find a perspective or interpretation to make it work symbolically/spiritually.  Maybe that’s what Milton’s trying to do.

No angel Michael there in Bible is interesting.  I wonder why Milton decided to add him into Paradise Lost?

wikipedia:  “Michael is a given name that comes from the Hebrewמִיכָאֵל / מיכאל‎ (Mikha’el), meaning “Who is like God?” … “one of the archangels”

wikipedia:  Michael is mentioned by name in Book of Daniel and Book of Revelations.

Maybe by bringing Michael from Revelations, the last book of the Bible, a book that doesn’t make much sense, into the first book of the bible, Milton hopes to create an overall story/interpretation that does make sense at least symbolically/spiritually/experientially/psychologically?  When trying to make something make more sense, there can be two different audiences.  one is the already-persuaded who want to have a better way to explain to themselves and other already-persuaded people what they believe and why.  in other words, people want what they have accepted and chosen to believe to be something that makes sense to them, makes more sense to them, and they can be proud of.  the other audience is the as-yet-unpersuaded.  that second group is tougher.  the first group can be given things that sometimes ring true, sometimes make sense, and they’ll like it.  the second group needs stronger arguments and logic.  question is: which group did Milton’s work appeal to?  Were Paradise Lost and Regained considered great by Christians who already believed but who appreciated having an Adam and Eve story that read more clearly and intelligently than the one in their Bibles at home and in church?  Or was it considered great also by people who became persuaded to Christianity by Milton?  Or by non-christians who viewed Christianity with more respect since its literature worked better in the hands of Milton?   For my part, even reading so far only two or three  of the 12 “the argument” sections in Paradise Lost, I’m impressed with the beautiful imagery.   “up a high hill”  comes to mind.   image of Adam and Michael returning down the hill to waken Eve who’s been dreaming very nice dreams and Michael walking between Adam and Eve holding hands with them, escorting them out the gate … NONE of that’s in the Bible itself.  Milton made all of that up.  : )  And it’s great.  The Genesis version is very thin, not real clear, and kind of awkward.  Milton’s words and images, even in the “the argument” summaries, not yet into the voluminous verse, is a LOT more beautiful and clear than the King James  Genesis 3 I just read.  And since none of it’s literal, all of it’s symbolic leading (hopefully) to some valuable combination of spiritual or psychological or moral effect, I’m starting to like Milton already.  : )

I’ve been speculating on what Milton’s objectives might have been in writing Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained.   I just noticed that Professor Tom Luxon and his team have provided some info and their opinions about this:

June 8

Cordelia Zukerman and Thomas H. Luxon with quote from Milton: “In Book 2 of The Reason of Church Government, Milton declares his desire to write a great work that will serve to glorify England as earlier poets had glorified their native lands and cultures: “what the greatest and choycest wits of Athens, Rome, or modern Italy, and those Hebrews of old did for their country, I in my proportion with this over and above of being a Christian, might doe for mine” (RCG2).”

Luxon and Cordelia again:  “The hero is not the only epic tradition to be reconfigured in Paradise Lost; the poem also plays on readers’ expectations about epic form. Although it most resembles an epic,Paradise Lost contains elements of many other genres: there are elements of lyric poetry, including the pastoral mode, as in the descriptions of Paradise, the conversations between the unfallen Adam and Eve, and their joyful prayers to God in the Garden (PL4.589-735). There is an aubade (PL 5.136-208), a type of symposium (Raphael’s visit, PL 5-8), and examples of georgic verse (PL 4.618-335.209-199.205-225). There are also elements of tragedy, as in Book 9 when Milton, preparing his readers for the fall, writes, “I now must change / Those Notes to Tragic,” and continues throughout the book to employ tragic conventions, as when he apostrophizes Eve (PL 9.404-411) and describes the earth’s response to the eating of the fruit (PL 9.782-4 and 9.1000-4). Throughout the poem Milton makes use of soliloquy, another tragic convention. And even the ten-book structure of the 1667 edition, according to John Leonard, “might owe something to English tragedy, forming five dramatic acts of two books each” (Introduction to PL xi). In fact, Milton’s first attempts to write the story of man’s fall took the form of a tragedy that he later rejected in favor of epic. Scott Elledge writes that Milton favored tragedy because of its “affective and curative powers,” which are no less present in Paradise Lost than in his more formal tragedy, Samson Agonistes (Introduction to PL xxvi). As Barbara Lewalski writes, the incorporation of multiple genres into the poem invites us “to identify certain patterns and certain poems as subtexts for portions of Milton’s poem, and then to attend to the completion or transformation of those allusive patterns as the poem proceeds” (20).”

McMullen:  There are enough exceptions (Zukerman and Luxon call them “reconfigurations”) to past typical characteristics of various genres/forms that the answer becomes simple: consider Milton’s Paradise works to be their own category.  Like Ciccone, Stefani, Cosby, and other great artists.

That long Luxon and Zukerman passage is a great learning opportunity.   Some passages are dense with new and useful good stuff.  For me, there are maybe a dozen concise expressions that are new, are pretty much defined by context, make sense and match previously-unverbalized intuition and experience, and, after I go over them a few times to let them sink in, will be welcome additions to my inventory of readily-at-hand expressions.  And, since these two professors are both (1) acknowledged experts and (2) experts who think and write clearly (not every expert is worth spending time on … there are a lot of dumb experts … educated idiots as one of my uncles likes to say … experts who export their own confusion as I think it’s Eli Goldratt likes to say) … I personally find that passage, and some of the paragraphs around it on the page, worth lingering with now or coming back to later, in order to get a fast big first step forward in having a useful conceptual model to think from for this knowledge area that I think might be called some combination of epics, epic poetry, epic novels, or, as in the case of Practical Magic, epic saga … The Epic Science Fiction Saga of The Great Spiritual World War III … complete with Frank Capra stars, silver shoes, main character, and such … memory lane …

So let’s mine the nuggets …

One biggie that jumped out at me was: “Scott Elledge writes that Milton favored tragedy because of its “affective and curative powers,” ”  Not completely new since there’s that idea that movies and other media are, what’s the word … cathartic … causing catharsis … which, without looking it up, i think means something like cleansing in the sense of cleansing stuck emotions and other aspects of experience at least temporarily … movies do that … vacations do that … partying all night does that … but i thought it was interesting that Milton apparently thought tragedy, apparently more than other genres, has “affective and curative powers” … i had my idea of rewriting tragic operas, plays, and movies like  La Traviata, Carmen, Camelot, and Camille to have healthier endings … but this comment is making me consider that the tragedies may be healthier than I thought … maybe they give the opportunity to live the literary tragedy, “hit bottom”, and grieve — all vicariously — and gain the benefits of perspective, maturity, and deepened sense of self without the need to have actual tragedy happen in each life … maybe, probably, it was always so with the shakespearean and other tragedies … occurred to me yesterday that, maybe, if I’d hung in there in younger years with Shakespearean tragedies, vs. not being interested and captured enough by them to really read and live them, I’d have been to some degree more mature earlier … hard to say … i’m happy with the path my natural interests took me on … but, if I were doing it again, I’d work a little harder to get to that point where “working at being interested” morphed into “actually being naturally interested” due to something found in it or some shift in me about it when it comes to the great psychological tragedies of Shakespeare (Hamlet, Macbeth, and the others) … same for getting earlier readings of the great russian novels that i took more seriously later in life, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy … no regrets about that … other useful and interesting things got the earlier time and attention … Shakespeare and Dostoevsky weren’t going to go away … they’d be there when I got around to them …

The same went  (and still goes) for Milton …

Another nugget from the Luxon passages:  didn’t know soliloquy was considered to be an element only of tragedy … would have thought someone thinking out loud for an extended moment could be in any genre … i’ll note what Luxon and friend are saying, but not necessarily agree that what epic literature experts seem to take for granted is necessary right or that it’s the clearest way to think about it for non-experts … this odd comment is based on my view that the better technical expert elite priesthood jargons/vocabularies/terminologies/lexicons are those that require the least insider careful explanations to understand and use by people new to the knowledge area … more often than not, my contribution to an area has been to create a new and simpler starting point image or point of experience plus vocabulary plus examples for the area that expresses the advanced insights of the experts in terms and images that allow newbies to go right to the heart and quickly access/”see” enough of the expert stuff to be all-of-a-sudden interested in having fun dealing with the tangle of learned/expert info in the area … sometimes a field actually needs off-putting terms to get the right distinctions … in those cases, my new little view and vocab gets added and used for intro (like the Feynman lectures on physics) vs. replacing the prior … all of this in my own little world of my own thinking and sharing with my pals … ; )

june 8/9

it seems so far like Milton with Paradise Lost and Pardise Regained was attempting to (1) write something in English by an Englishman that would make England proud, (2) write a great epic poem, (3) position himself as among history’s great epic poets, (4) retell the Adam and Eve story very well, (5) express his own Christianity well, and (6) make a contribution to Christian thought and literature that would make Christians more confident, knowledgeable, and proud.  my best guess so far … without having read much of it yet …

that may sound like all the possible objectives but it isn’t.  he could also have been seeking to give English people a view of their national/ethnic origins and past as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey did for the Greeks, as Virgil’s Aeneid did for Rome, as various versions of the King Arthur tradition have done for England, as the Old Testament of the Bibledoes for Jews, as Old and New Testament Bible do for Christians, as Mahabharata and Ramayana do for Hindus, andPractical Magic would have done for the sci fi wb4all world.

If Milton had intended this, he might have decided to write yet another version — an epic poetic version — of the King Arthur legends.

Thoughts to develop here: Arthur after Norman invasion?  What/who before Norman King invaders from Normandy, the Angles and Saxons?  Is Beowulf the epic for the pre-Norman Angles and Saxons?  Is that why Beowulf, with story line in Denmark is considered an epic for the British, if I have that right?  … the name Christopher Marlowe comes to mind … did he write epic poems/narratives/tales?  … of Arthur?  …

One could say Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained are stories of origin and past, sort of, but origin ofmankind not of English national/ethnic and not really possible histories like Homer’s and Virgil’s and some other epics that have plausible events mixed with divine communication, activity, and intervention (Zeus and Greek gods in Homer, Roman gods in Virgil, Krishna in Bhagavad Gita part of Mahabharata, God and angels and saints in history parts of Genesis and other parts of Bible).

Another thought to develop: … tales of Greece and Rome and Renaissance and Reformation and American Revolution do for Americans, Beowulf may have done for somebody (for England and the English? … for Denmark and the Danes or all the Norse/Scandinavians? … i never got clear about Beowulf …)

Can’t be sure yet, but, so far, I’d guess that another objective Milton so far does not seem to be addressing or accomplishing is … what Swedenborg did … come back later and verbalize what i think he probably did …

In order to assess Milton’s contribution to the telling and/or understanding of the Paradise story in the Bible, this might be a good point to go directly to the “Adam and Eve in and out of Paradise” part of the text of the Book of Genesis in the Bible and try to make and take some combination of literal, symbolic, spiritual, psychological, social, or moral sense out of and from it.  I’ve done this two or three times before, but not for quite a long while, so, for me, it will be finding some familiar things, recalling some prior interpretations and possibilities, and — if it goes like most other re-readings of things — result in some fun new discoveries.

So we’re dealing with Genesis 1:26 – 3:14.  I always go to an English version, always to the King James English version.

First from memory:  let’s see what my takeaway is from prior visits … God, creates man, rib, woman, happy, tree … but, interestingly, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil … apples, don’t eat the apples, ok, serpent persuades eve, eve persuades adam, eat the apples … again, of the tree of knowledge of good and evil … God angry, banishes eve and adam from garden … bible goes on with adam and eve’s children and descendents …

so, as history, man created from dust and woman from a rib, doesn’t completely match up with darwin’s evolutionary theories, but that ground’s been covered a lot … : )  but that’s a convenient perspective of modern times, when the story was invented, it was useful to have an answer to “where did man and woman come from, mommy?” …

as morality, if we ignore some details and some practical issues, it’s simple:  adam and eve disobeyed God so they were punished by being banished from paradise.  ok.  good lesson.  let’s do what God commands.  makes sense … a practical issue is: how do we figure out what God’s commands are? … another issue is:  one man and woman disobey once and paradise is gone forever for everybody? … that’s a bit unclear as moral system for we children of eve and adam … why are we banned too and how do we get paradise back? … probably why Milton worked out a Regained idea … there’s also an important detail that throws a big wrench into the simler interpretation: why would God say, “don’t eat apple of knowledge of (learn about) good and evil”? … and why banish man and woman for learning about good and evil?  some interpretations I’ve seen take what I think is a practical approach and just ignore this point and leave the lesson as obey God’s commands, don’t sin, do good … which gives psychological support of legend, myth, and epic to doing what your group agrees is “good” … western democracies then have debates among religious conservatives, religious liberals, and non-religious over what’s the evolving consensus “good” “bad” “allowed” “not allowed” “under what circumstances” … giving rise to secular laws and cultures evolving … again that’s ignoring that the apple was from the tree of knowledge of good and evil …

as spiritual experiential symbols:  if we don’t want to ignore that part of the story … well, one of the experiential states sought and delivered via “eastern” thought and disciplines, zen, Buddha, tao, hesse, pirsig, Alan Watts, est, esalen, TM, fritz perls, leary, kesey, 60’s thinking, is a baseline “non judgmental” state of experience within which conscious choice of judgments can be made (vs. being stuck in unconscious judgments.  Sounds like a small point.  It’s actually one the most important points that exist in a life.  If one’s lived only in the judgmental state, one doesn’t necessarily know there’s an alternative.).  Anyway, my own thought, beginning in the 90’s, was this idea leads to one of the most promising possibilities for interpretating the adam and eve story without ignoring the “apple of tree of knowledge of good and evil” detail …

my bias has always been to try to find a way for the religious and secular classics to be right before being willing to arrive at the conclusion they are wrong … i’ve been willing to conclude they’re wrong, but i prefer to assume first, for quite a while, that it’s i who am not yet understanding, rather than to conclude too soon something classic and respected is wrong … the best point is when i arrive to the point where I can see why it was right for certain people at a certain point of time, and also see which parts continue to be valid for now and likely future

… can’t say whether that’s what the ancient hebrew story makers intended.  a related thought: nietzsche wrote beyond good and evil , with a different intent, though i would say there’s some overlap … might come back and make that difference and overlap point more clear …

ok, let’s set three browser tabs, one each for Genesis chapter 1, 2, and 3:

Genesis Chapter 1

Genesis Chapter 2

“9And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”  Genesis 2:9

so there were lots of plants, trees, and animals, but there were two special trees — the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Genesis Chapter 3

5For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

6And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

7And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

8And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.

9And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?

10And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.

11And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?

12And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.

13And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.

14And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:

15And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

16Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

17And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;

18Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;

19In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

20And Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.

21Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.

22And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:

23Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.

24So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

So Adam and Eve are in trouble for eating an apple from tree of knowledge of good and evil, which opens their eyes, which makes them like gods, which allows them to see that they’re naked and in need of fig leaves, and God is worried they might next eat from the tree of life and live forever.

The INSTANT we start to get VERY involved in being VERY PARTICULAR about interpreting specific words, it is ESSENTIAL to remember that …

– Adam and Eve and God did not speak English

– At the time of the first man and woman, there was not only no English yet, but no language

– Some wise Hebrew genius who understood as much as anybody in his time about the world, history, himself, and people created this story while thinking in an ancient version that eventually became Hebrew

– People who knew this man remembered the story and told and retold this story across the generations

– Somebody or several somebodies wrote down the version they heard and have been telling

– Hundreds, probably thousands of years later, a Christian named Jerome wrote a Latin version ( Saint Jerome lived 347 – 420 CE)

– Over a century later, England’s King James created a committee of people with his same political and reformation Christian attitudes to write an English version published in 1611

– Those are the words we’re reading today in 2010.

– Meanwhile, when I was growing up, I was taught that everything in the Bible was God’s word, written through people.  That’s a theory that can seem to work if you really want it to:  you just assume that, at each stage of collection and translation of source materials, God was working through inspired people to get the words to be exactly as God wanted them to be in English.

Even in adult life, through most of my almost 58 years, I wasn’t completely hostile to some parts of that idea since I felt that intuition, ideas, the muse concept, and other such ideas might be reflections of a connection each person’s spirit had with a “God” in the sense of a RalphWaldoEmerson/Allah/Tao non-anthropomorphic creator/principle/energy idea, and/or the sense of the RichardBachQuanta shared creation idea, and/or my own 6 Billion+++ FrankCapraStars verbalization/image that merged the BachQuanta idea with my own idea of a spectrum from physical plane through astral/spiritual self though closer and closer link to source where everyone’s source meets everybody else’s, with caballah substantive emanation, est and sliding doors choice of reality, old and new testament red sea parting, water/wine/loaves/fishes/smoothedWaters, and miracles in general as events beyond traditional physics which simply required better physics.

The one little problem that arises with any strict or loose form of the “direct divine dictation of the bible’s exact words in English” idea is when there are several versions in English, Douay for Catholics, King James for some Protestants, New International Version for other Protestants, and quite a few more.  When they differ, which are God’s intended words for English and which aren’t?

When I was very young and was told that the Bible’s words were all literally correct because it was God’s words written through God-guided hands, I said what all very young people say when an adult’s assertion or answer sounds good enough for the moment (or maybe forever):

“Oh.  Ok.  Can I go outside and play now?”

In later years, without making a huge fuss about it with people I loved and respected and had learned a lot of good things from, I took note that there were many versions of Bibles, in many languages, all translated from various Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew source materials, almost all of which had been written by people on the basis of what they remembered or had heard years, decades, or centuries after the events — and from that perspective took the specific words seriously, but gave a lot of thought to the many reasons other than direct divine dictation that they might be what they were.

– What’s the point?  Yes, study the words carefully.  The King James committee of translators did when they were (1) doing their best to try to figure out what the creators of their Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, and Latin source materials and the subjects of those materials were intending, (2) each committee member trying to add his own slant, attitude, belief, or agenda, and (3) discussing, arguing, agreeing, disagreeing, voting, and otherwise doing what committees do with any subject, sometimes taking the time to get something right, sometimes moving on due to deadlines, and sometimes compromising on some things to get other things, taking into consideration potential accolades from some people and potential criticisms from other groups, and, through it all, deferring to the most powerful people on the committee for the final result in English.

With that gentle reminder for perspective, we can go back to looking carefully at the words of Genesis 1:26 – 3:24.

These are not very long passages.  Milton would undoubtedly have had them all memorized.

I wonder how the dates of Milton’s life and the dates of English-language Bibles compare:

The King James committee publish their landmark English version in 1611.  Milton lived from 1608 to 1674.  He first published Pardise Lost in 1667, Paradise Regained in 1671, and re-organized and re-published Paradise Lost in 1674.

The other early English translation was the Catholic Douay version.  Checking the wikipedia link below … publishing dates ranging from late 1500’s into early 1600s, with re-writes later.   Looks like this Catholic Douay version was an attempt to stop or slow the Reformation in England, the English Christian Kings breaking away from the Roman Catholic Church.  Seems clear that, since there was no Bible in English, and since the one that appeared in late 1500’s was specifically trying to stop England from doing what it was doing, King James decided a better English translation was needed.  So, again, which version — Douay or King James — was God’s true words coming through God-led hands into the 16th and 17th century version of the English language?

When Milton was a young man, having a Bible available in English — instead of only in Latin — was something fairly new for the English-speaking world.  He was a 3-year old child when the Douay and King James versions were both available and were competing for the minds and souls — and memberships and support — of England’s Christians.  His two Paradise epics were published during the last 7 years of his 66-year life.

So, going back to the Adam and Eve story in Genesis, if we ignore the specifics of the two forbidden trees, it’s relatively easy to explain the story and use it for moral guidance.  Just say the lesson is:  “Obey God” which becomes interpreted as, “be and do good,” which means whatever it means to each individual or group and supports them in supporting themselves and each other in being and doing good.  Which is good.

It’s my opinion that that’s how the adam adn eve story and the rest of the Bible and the rest of Christianity worked over the centuries.  Groups of people agreeing on what’s being and doing good.  Where different groups of Christians disagreed, or Christians and non-Christians disagreed, they agreed to disagree and kept their own company (conservative Protestants in Colorado, liberation Catholics in Latin America, congregational Protestants in New England region of US, Southern Baptists in the south US, black protestant denominations all over the US, French Catholics in French Canada, lots of non-Hispanic European ethnic Irish Italian Polish Catholics in their parish communities all over the US, etc).

Each group and individual picked the parts of the Bible that sounded right to them, inspired them, comforted them, resonated with them — and almost nobody noticed or really cared that a close careful analysis of each part of the Bible would raise questions like the question in Genesis about why it was so bad for Eve and Adam — whether you view them as named individuals or, as the Hebrew words imply, as symbols for all men and all women — to eat fruit from a tree that was knowledge of good and evil? that would open their eyes?  that would make them more like God?  and why was it so important for God to get Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden before they would get around to eating fruit from a tree of life?  And why was the banishment and further punishment made so severe and also binding on the children and descendants of Adam and Eve?

Despite questions like those that arise from considering all the written words, the Bible and Christianity have been forces creating a lot of good in the world.  What does that mean?

I guess when it comes to epic stories created by brilliant ancient hebrews that are either correctly- or incorrectly-translated, and either correctly- or incorrectly-interpreted, and either completely- or only partially-employed, by christians or by people influenced by christianity — perfection is not necessary for progress.

Which is also the case for all the other areas of life.

Thus spake McMullen.

So that’s the story Milton had in mind when he undertook near the end of his life to write Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained.

I think Will Durant would be enjoying this.

June 9/10

Since Genesis 1:26 – 3:24 is so short, I’m going to begin by reading it again.  I wouldn’t necessarily do that if it weren’t so short.

Update:  Once I got into Genesis 1, something caught my attention right away and I never got past the very first part of the story of the creation.  I decided that I’ll now deal with Genesis from the beginning, Genesis 1:1 (chapter 1 verse 1), and work through to 3:24.

I’m glad I did that.

Another update:  In the next paragraph, I make a mistake of equating “firmament” with “land” that makes a lot of the next several pages of argument wrong.  If you don’t want to live through that, skip down with a half-dozen or so PgDn keys to, “Ok, as Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum say in the movie, Independence Day, let’s try it again without the Oops!”

There’s still some good stuff in here despite the mistake.  Also, the mistake illustrates the trial-and-error process often involved in thinking.  Some may find that useful.  I did when Eli Goldratt seemed to be wasting everybody’s time once during an overseas conference, and seemed to have come to the conference unprepared to present or lead it, when he decided to have everybody watch and work with him on solving a problem he hadn’t solved yet.  At first, I was swayed by the opinion of most attendees that Eli was wasting our time by not being prepared to show us the answer, but I quickly realized that what he was showing us was much more important than the answer to one question, the solution to one problem.  He was sharing with us, showing us, teaching us, role-modelling for us, the process — including the dead-ends, frustrations, progress, partial solutions, setbacks, and deflected/ignored social/peer pressures — he uses to create, virtually without failure or exception, brilliant genius elegant solutions to important complex problems.  Not that my little screw-up on not remembering right away that “firmament” is the poetic word in English for the night sky full of stars is as good an example as Eli’s was in summer 1990, but I’ll leave it anyway.  Skip over it if you like.

In the creation story, I noticed something new, but that makes sense.  The words say there was only a void — an idea that has made it into general view of the story — but, interestingly, it also contradicts itself by saying there were waters with a surface in this “void.” It goes on to say that the land (firmament) was created by God within these waters.  The resulting world view is interesting.  The earth we know — land, seas, lakes, sea bottoms, and lake bottoms ALL on top of the original (presumably deep) waters of the original “void.”

Yeah, I know.  I’m easily entertained.  It’s been that way for a long time.  Dictionaries, telephone directories, all available footnotes, and so on.  ; )

In other words, (1) two contradictory statements about the initial condition, “void” and “void with waters with spirit of God above the surface”, (2) a view of Earth that it’s flat, (3) a view of the flat Earth that has waters both above the land/firmament AND, beneath the visible land and beneath the muddy and sandy “bottoms” of the lakes and seas, more water, not molten lava core.  Makes sense.  This story was created in ancient times — before there were the kinds of ships, and the kinds of voyages, that could allow the kind of seafaring, that could give rise to sailing “over the horizon”, which is what’s needed to allow perceptive sailing folk and other people, to conceptualize Earth as round vs. the “obvious” flat.

Here in the creation story in Genesis is another indication of the famous and useful historical fact that everybody (very reasonably) believed the Earth was flat.  It’s useful, along with Kepler/Copernicus, and along with the old hag/young girl picture, for illustrating changes in views of reality.  It’s useful, along with Kepler/Copernicus, for illustrating the idea of “simpler concepts with greater explanatory and predictive power.”

The ancients saw water at beaches, seas, lakes, ponds, and rivers — AND — got fresh drinking WATER OUT OF THE GROUND from the ground water, in desert and non-desert areas alike, via their wells! — AND — found the muddy “bottom” or sand when swimming in lakes and ponds and bays and at beaches.  It would be (and this is very charming!) perfectly reasonable for the most observant and scientific-minded of the ancients to conclude that (1) earth is flat and that (2) under all the land they live on, and under all the land at the bottom of bodies of water, was MUCH MUCH MORE WATER!  And that the water under the dry land and sea bottoms was there as part of the “void” before God created any land/firmament.  Great!  Can’t fault them for incorrect conclusions even if we shift from a symbolic reading to literal reading.  They didn’t have the benefit of the extra information we have about (1) sailors and landlubbers during the ages of exploration seeing ships from land, and land from ships, seeming to disappear under/beyond the horizon and (2) volcanoes with lava to make them consider that, not only ground water for wells was down there under the land, but also hot liquid stuff that cooled down into rocks!

So a reasonable mind in ancient times proposes a theory that space or void sort of existed (in English “space” is very much like “void” and one wonders what Hebrew word was used in the source writings vs. what sequence of ancient Hebrew vs. very old Hebrew vs. old Hebrew vs. pretty recent Hebrew — for what I mean here, consider the VERYdifferent English or English-like language of Beowulf writing times (somewhere in 8th thru 11th centuries), Chaucer (1343 – 1400), Shakespeare (1564-1616), King James Bible (1611), 18th century, Dickens (1812–1870),  other 19th century England vs. American English, 20th century England vs. Australia vs. America vs. Texas English, etc.  Real different.

Hmm … that was an interesting and useful quick wikipedia dates lookup riff, but, as I think about this void vs. water vs. land view of reality, it’s not real likely mistakes were made in passing along the story or in translation.  The pictures in these words are pretty tangible and clear.

Imagine ourselves neanderthal without language.  Could still “see” “void” (nothing) or “space” (nothing again).  Could still see “void” and “space” with a lot of water in it with a surface.

Can see it as well then as now, which means we’re stepping beyond the limits of physics and other logic.  In other words, we can’t fault the ancients for creating the contradiction of “what was there before there was something?”  or “what was there before the universe started?”   You can ask Stephen Hawkings or any of the best minds of modern science and there are only concepts with wide-ranging utility, not concepts that definitively and fully answer “what was there at the beginning, before the beginning”, etc.  There’s a point where, even today, the best minds have to walk away from the dilemma, the contradition.  Point is: although it makes no sense that the ancients said “void” AND “waters with a surface”, it’s no criticism or shame for them, because modern man can’t do any better with that “beginnings” dilemma.

On another page, we discussed concepts of the Earth being formed from some gas and dust that went flying out of the swirling dust and gas of the Sun, that cooled as it got further away from the Sun out in cold space, became a spinning ball with heavier metals and rocks staying molten in the core, with a crust for land, gases from it all as atmosphere about the crust, some condensing into waters of lakes and rivers and seas, and all of that in the context of the question: is the global warming thing happening because the atmosphere has carbon emission problems, or because heat from thick molten core is steadily coming through thin surface crust, OR because the expanding outgoing ellipse of revolution around the sun has passed an inflection point and it’s become a slowly contracting ellipse drawing the earth now closer to the sun?  With conclusion being, maybe all three with the only controllable one being the maybe tipping point factor of emissions.  Anyway, that all sounds like we know a lot, right?  Problem is, it starts with the assumption that the Sun as a swirling ball of gases existed.  Where did that swirling ball of burning gases come from?  Where did all the other suns/stars come from?  Wherever and however they got there, what was there before they were there?  What’s beyond the edge of the universe?  Same dilemma.  Same limit to analysis using our usual concepts of physical dimensions and cause and effect.

Point:  same as earlier.  Although I’m sort of VERY analytical, logical, and science-minded, I’m still not complaining about the creator of the Genesis creation story giving us this bullshit contradiction of “it all starts with a void” AND “it all starts with a void that had a lot of water in it”.

Could still “see” in imagination a layer of land being created and put in with a relatively thin, thin as in depth of the lakes and seaside waters they swim to the bottoms of, layer of water on top of the land.  the land would have broad and pointy bumps on it to form the land they live on.  and underneath all the land they see above and below water is MORE WATER, the original water of limitless depth that was part of the void.

It works.  Only thing one needs to do then is what we still have to do now even with our better info about spherical earth, molten core, sun, moon, rotation/revolution, is to imagine a true void as an empty 3 dimensions, or a true void without dimensions, or a void with a lot of water in it.  Some things we still can’t do better than they could do back then, like even imagine the outer edge of the universe, the place where the universe stops.  Ever try to do that?  Try it.  : )

That tells me this part of the story was created by a very smart somebody who did a very good job with the information available at the time.

Ok.  Guess we beat that horse to death.  Like I said, I’m easily entertained.

Some duplication and repetition in today’s stuff.  Oh well.  Don’t think any of it’s wrong.

What’s next?

Ok, was going to quickly read through Genesis 1:1 through 3:24 and get on with Paradise Lost, but had a little fun allowing myself to get usefully side-tracked.

Let’s try it again.  On your mark, get set, Genesis 1:1 …

Oops … genesis 3:8 …  firmament was Heaven?  might have made a mistake here.  actually, you know what?  i’m now remembering “firmament” is not “firm” like “earth”.  “firmament” is an English word for the sky and stars.  checking this …

The Firmament is the usual English translation of the Hebrew “raqiya`” (pronounced /raki’ja/ in English) meaning an extended solid surface or dome, considered to be a hemisphere above the ground[1] in many Near Eastern cosmologies. – wikipedia

Ok, this site, makes it clear this issue of interpreting the English word, “firmament” and it’s Hebrew predecessor word, is the subject of a lot of debate.

I don’t think I want to get tied up too much more in this part of it.  Except to say I think what I wrote above about the earth and sea bottoms and such is wrong.  King James Version Genesis (KJV Genesis) seems to make a distinction which separates “firmament” and “dry land” so my equating “firmament” and “earth/land” seems wrong.

Reading a few verses further into Genesis 1 …

6And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.

7And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.

Ok, that’s what happened.  I had only read as far as verses 6 and 7 when I took off on the soliloquy about the ancients thinking water from wells in the ground meant lots of water under the earth.  : )  brilliant.  I could blame it on my bad eyes, but that would be saying I’m not just stupid.  : )

8And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

That’s when I knew I was in trouble.  firmament = Heaven = Uh oh

9And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.

Yep.  Dead wrong.  Firmament = heaven which does not = dry land

10And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.

Ka-boom!  dry land = Earth, not firmament = Earth.  Often reflecting on one word, phrase, expression works well.  Sometimes scanning/reading around first works better.  Scanning first and coming back to some piece works a lot.  No guarantees.  You think, do what you do, get what you get, think, adjust, do something else, think, repeat repeat repeat.  It’s all good.   In this case, reading just a few more verses would have locked in distinctions among “firmament”, “heaven”, “earth”, and “dry land” as used by the King James committee of Bible translator/writers.  But so what?  It’s clear now.

11And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.

12And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

13And the evening and the morning were the third day.

Verses 11, 12, and 13 not relevant to this earth-shaking discussion.

14And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:

Verse 14 interesting as it gives ancients’ view of night and day in absence of knowledge yet of earth rotating daily and revolving around sun annually.  Giving an early answer to, “How come light comes and goes, Mommy?”  “Oh, well, remember, Dear, when I said God put lights in the firmament to divide the day from the night?”  “Oh, right.  Ok.  Can I go outside and play now?”  : )  Interesting also the lights in sky for “signs.”  That’s a big deal.  Pre-astronomy, almost anything in the sky likely to be interpreted as a divine “sign.”  And the perceptive pattern-recognizing cause-and-effect-minded ancients noticing that noticing some number of night/day light transitions, and probably length of day changes, matched their observation of when it was cold (winter), temperate, hot (summer), temperate again, cold (winter) again, etc.  We take all these things for granted.  There was a time when somebody had to notice them for the first time and tell everybody else about them.

15And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.

16And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.

17And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,

Verses 16 and 17.  Firmament and stars.  Given the huge influence of the language of the King James Bible in the English-speaking world (not all speakers of English realize how much of our everyday expression comes from the KJV), it wouldn’t surprise me if this discussion of stars and use of the word, firmament, is where the poetic use of the word, firmament, comes from.

18And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.

19And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

20And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.

Verse 20 is interesting.  Fowl, birds, flying above the earth (as expected), but also flying in the firmament of heaven.  Logical error or conflict?  Or invitation to symbolic interpretation of some kind.  As Dutch was wont to say: Whom knows? ; )

Ok, my equating firmament and earth is definitely wrong in Genesis.

One side issue is the Hebrew word for firmament does mean “firm” and that’s not because, like me, they were trying to deal with firm dry land of earth, but because they viewed the sky as a fixed firm celestial sphere in the way that I learned in Navy celestial navigation.  This is another side issue, but interesting.  If you look up at the night sky, as the ancients did, as all navigating sailors have, the sky looks like the inside of a modern Planetarium, like a sphere with dots on it all at equal distances from Earth.  That’s the model that works for nagivating using the stars, celestial navigation.  In reality, we know that some of the stars are closer BY A LOT of light years and some are further away BY A LOT of light years.  But, standing or sailing on the surface of the earth or sea, it looks like they are all the same distance on the inside of a spherical domed ceiling.  That dome moves as the days and seasons change throughout the year, so it’s not “firm” in that sense, but the relative position of the Big Dipper compared to the Polaris North Star and the Little Dipper and Ursa the Bear constellations of stars are fixed “firm” all year.  So the Hebrews used a term that implies “firm” fixed and the word used in the King James English translation is “firmament.”  But I was wrong when I assumed too early in the chapter “firm” was “earth” because, in just a few verses, the King James version makes it clear “dry land” is formed under the “firmament” and the “dry land” was called “earth”.

Next page

Ok, the first try at “next page” didn’t work.  As Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum say in the movie, Independence Day, let’s try it again without the Oops! (i.e., Next Page)

Ok, this time without the oops!

Not really.

Oops is an integral part of the process of thinking, learning, understanding, developing high-quality answers to interesting high-quality questions, and developing simple and practical solutions to important and complex practical problems.  Oops are not to be sought after, but not to be overly concerned about either.

Anyway, here we go …

Next page


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