Milton and Scriptural Tradition: The Bible into Poetry

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

Creation in Reverse: The Book of Job and Paradise Lost

Harold Fisch

The echoes from Job found in the early books of Paradise Lost have a significance far greater than their frequency would lead us to suppose. They have a controlling function comparable to that of the cluster of images and references relating the Fall of the Angels and the Fall of Man to the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, which I pointed out some years ago.1

It will be best to start not with Milton but with the Book of Job, viewing it from the angle that would have suggested itself, I believe, to the author of Paradise Lost. Milton had a strong feeling for Job as a literary model for drama or brief epic--this is evidenced in Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes. He also undoubtedly responded to it as theodicy. But in writing Paradise Lost, Milton was surely more aware of Job as a great Creation- poem. This is an aspect of the book not always fully appreciated by readers today.2 Nevertheless, such a reading is part of an ancient and continuing exegetical tradition as well as being natural to any reader sensitive to the great lyrical passages describing the primeval order of Nature, such as 26:7-13, 28:1-11, 36:26-33, 37:3-16, and 38:4 to 39:30. In the latter passage, God's overwhelming question out of the whirlwind--"Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?"--is followed by a

____________________
1
. "Hebraic Style and Motifs in Paradise Lost," in Language and Style in Milton, ed. R. D. Emma and John T. Shawcross ( New York: Ungar, 1967), pp. 46-51; further developed by John T. Shawcross in "Paradise Lost and the Theme of Exodus," Milton Studies 2 ( 1970): 3-26.
2
.Recently, however, John J. Miles has argued for the importance of the theme of world-creation in Job ( "Gagging on Job, or the Comedy of Religious Exhaustion," in Studies in Job, Semeia 7 [ University of Montana, 1977]: 79).

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