Milton and Scriptural Tradition: The Bible into Poetry

By James H. Sims; Leland Ryken | Go to book overview

The Council Scenes in Paradise Lost

Sister M. Christopher Pecheux

The existence of classical precedents for the council scenes in Paradise Lost has long been taken for granted.1 Since Milton so often combined classical elements with scriptural, an inquiry into specific scriptural influences seems appropriate. The present study will examine the tradition of the divine council in the Old Testament and indicate some ways in which this tradition enriched Paradise Lost.

At first glance it might seem that the idea of a divine council would be entirely foreign to Hebrew monotheistic thought; yet the concept is stated or implied in a number of Old Testament passages. Probably the best-known example is found in the prologue to the book of Job: "Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them" (1:6).2Most exegetes see the same idea behind certain plurals in Genesis, such as "Let us make man in our image" (1:26) and "Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language" (11:7).

____________________
1

Olin H. Moore, "The Infernal Council," Modern Philology 16 ( 1918): 169-93; Mason Hammond, "Concilia Deorum from Homer through Milton," Studies in Philology 30 ( 1933): 1-16; and Francis Blessington, "Paradise Lost" and the Classical Epic ( Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979), esp. pp. 1-2, 14, 75, have dealt specifically with this topic.

2
In addition to the examples from the Bible that will be cited in the essay, other relevant passages are Gen. 3:22, Ps. 89:5, 2 Chron. 18:18-21, and Ezek. 13:9. The concept of the Council of Yahweh has attracted a fair amount of attention from exegetes during the past forty years. A lucid survey of the subject can be found in G. Ernest Wright, The Old Testament Against Its Environment ( London: SCM Press, 1950), pp. 30-41. See also H. Wheeler Robinson, Inspiration and Revelation in the Old Testament ( Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1946), pp. 166-70, and his article "The Council of Yahweh," Journal of Theological Studies 45 ( 1944): 151-57; Frank M. Cross Jr., "The Council of Yahweh in Second Isaiah," Journal of Near

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