NEW TESTAMENT EXEGESIS IN THE LIGHT OF
THE WORK OF WILLIAM BLAKE1
A fundamental part of critical exegesis has been the invocation of parallel material to illuminate, and to offer a standpoint from which one may be able to judge, the biblical text. That exercise is essentially an exercise in comparative literary study, though the parallels which tend to dominate the pages of the monographs and commentaries on the New Testament come from the world of antiquity. A moment's reflection would indicate the precarious nature of this enterprise which can often be based on the assumption that contemporaneity means relevance. But why should a text be given priority merely because it is contemporary with a biblical text when its subject-matter may have little or no resonance with it? It seems to me that affinity of subject-matter, even if the text dates from centuries later, may in certain circumstances afford us that critical perspective we seek. It is for this reason that I think that the extraordinary careers of Abulafia in the thirteenth century or Sabbatai Sevi in the seventeenth century, precisely because both of them claimed to be messiah, may shed light on the earlier, Christian, messianism in a way which few other texts or movements can.2 The same is true of the work of William Blake which is more likely to enable an understanding of Revelation or apocalyptic hermeneutics than many Jewish texts like the majority of the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Mishnah (contemporary as they are with the New Testament but of a rather different provenance and genre). My hope is that the keen critic of the New Testament to whom this volume is dedicated will accept
1 This is in large part the material used in the Ethel M. Wood Lecture, University
of London, March 1997. References to Blake's writings are taken from William
Blake. The Complete Writings (ed. G. Keynes; Oxford: OUP, 1972) (= K).
2 M. Idel, Messianic Mystics (New Haven: Yale University, 1998); G. Scholem,
Sabbatai Sevi (London: Routledge, Kegan & Paul, 1973), and the perceptive com-
ments of W.D. Davies in “From Schweitzer to Scholem”, in Jewish and Pauline Studies
(London: SPCK, 1984).