The Tyranny of Heaven: Milton's Rejection of God as King

The Tyranny of Heaven: Milton's Rejection of God as King

The Tyranny of Heaven: Milton's Rejection of God as King

The Tyranny of Heaven: Milton's Rejection of God as King


The Tyranny of Heaven argues for a new way of reading the figure of Milton's God, contending that Milton rejects kings on earth and in heaven. Though Milton portrays God as a king in Paradise Lost, he does this neither to endorse kingship nor to recommend a monarchical model of deity. Instead, he recommends the Son, who in Paradise Regained rejects external rule as the model of politics and theology for Milton's "fit audience though few." The portrait of God in Paradise Lost serves as a scathing critique of the English people and its slow but steady backsliding into the political habits of a nation long used to living under the yoke of kingship, a nation that maintained throughout its brief period of liberty the image of God as a heavenly king, and finally welcomed with open arms the return of a human king.


There are some people, however, who … assert that God is,
in himself, the cause and author of sin…. If I should attempt
to refute them, it would be like inventing a long argument
to prove that God is not the Devil.

—John Milton, De Doctrina Christiana


HISTORY IS LITTERED WITH THE CORPSES OF GODS. AS ERAS AND peoples rise and fall, wax and wane, the gods who once roamed secure and unchallenged in their worshippers' heavens and earth fade and die. Some become fossils—objects of excavation, analysis, and study raised from the earth to shed light on lost epochs.

Homeric gods once breathed boisterous life; these deities' passions for sex, war, revenge, love, loyalty, friendship, and power radiate from practically every page of the Iliad and the Odyssey. But Zeus is dead, a cadaver whose earthly appearances are now limited to literature classes, low-budget Ray Harryhausen films, and high-budget Disney cartoons.

Likewise the Annunaki—the collective gods of such Mesopotamian epics as Atrahasis and the Enuma Elish—were vibrant and lively, animated in their jealousy, often petty in their resentments. Yet where once the victory of Marduk over Tiamat was enthusiastically celebrated in annual rituals designed to renew the cosmos, the Annunaki now are obscure relics lifted gently from the grave of a barely remembered past. Perhaps not surprisingly, there are no modern musicals, whether live or animated, about Marduk.

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