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Journal of the Bible and its Reception

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Great Code or Great Codex? Northop Frye, William Blake, and Construals of the Bible

Eric Ziolkowski
Published Online: 2014-06-06 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jbr-2014-0002

Abstract

This article reconsiders Northrop Frye’s classic study of the Bible and literature, The Great Code (1982), in order to question whether his application of that titular phrase might not significantly distort the meaning the phrase must have borne for its coiner, William Blake. My contention is that Blake’s engraving of the Laocoön, in which the “Great Code” aphorism appears, is itself a code of sorts, but not in Frye’s sense of a key to be used to unlock the meanings of works of art and literature – or to unlock anything else, for that matter. Nothing in the Laocoön, or in any of Blake’s other works, suggests that this was what Blake meant by “code.” Nor do any of the connotations the term bore in English usage in Blake’s time suggest such a meaning. My suggestion is that, far from promoting the Bible as a forward-functioning key by which to decipher the mythology of post-biblical literature, Blake’s Laocoön is a work fixated upon its own complex, synthesizing reception of the biblical and classical past, a tradition of strong creative misprisions about whose all-powerful influence Frye’s own work betrays an unmistakable anxiety in Harold Bloom’s sense of the phrase.

Keywords: Bible; Christianity; literature; Northop Frye; William Blake

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About the article

Corresponding author: Eric Ziolkowski, Lafayette College – Religious Studies, Easton, Pennsylvania 18042, USA, e-mail:


Published Online: 2014-06-06

Published in Print: 2014-06-01


Valentine Cunningham, “Bible Reading and/after Theory,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Reception History of the Bible, eds. Michael Lieb, Emma Mason, and Jonathan Roberts, consultant ed. Christopher Rowland (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 659.

Robert Denham, “Pity the Northrop Frye Scholar,” in David Rampton, ed., Northrop Frye: New Directions From Old (Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2009), 21.

Imre Salusinszky, ed., Criticism in Society: Interviews with Jacques Derrida, Northrop Frye, Harold Bloom [etc.] (New York: Methuen, 1987), 58, 62. In this assessment, Bloom seems practically to echo Michael Fixler’s allusion to Frye’s “stature as the most powerfully original and honored literary critic in the English-speaking world” (“Myth and History,” Commentary 74 [August 1982]: 76–80; here 76. Bloom later tempered his own opinion, after Frye’s death. See Bloom’s “Foreword” to the 2000 reissue of Anatomy; cited by Denham, “Pity the Northrop Frye Scholar,” 21.

Jonathan Roberts, “Introduction” to The Oxford Handbook of the Reception History of the Bible, 3.

Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception, 30 prospective volumes, ed. Dale C. Allison et al. (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2009–). To date, nine volumes have appeared.

Fazlur Rahman, Islam [1966], 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 30.

See “Word, n. and int. 10.b,” OED Online, March 2013, Oxford University Press: http://0-www.oed.com.libcat.lafayette.edu/view/Entry/230192?rskey=taqfj5&result=1 (Accessed May 1, 2013).

However, the term biblia does not occur at 2 Macc 2:13, let alone in reference to such “books,” as this term appears to have been read into that verse by Karel van der Toorn, Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007), 237.

Udo Schnelle, “Bible. I. Concept,” RPP 2:1.

Udo Schnelle, “Bible. I. Concept,” RPP 2:1.

“Bible, n., Etymology,” OED Online. See Origen, Joannem 5.4, ed. Lomm. I. 168.

See, e.g., Schnelle, “Bible. 1. Concept,” 1, who cites Chrysostom, Hom. In Col 9:1, PG 62:361. However, the claim that Chrysostom was the first to use βιβλία “in the special sense of ‘the Bible’” is rejected by Eberhard Nestle, “The First English Example of ‘Biblia’,” The Expository Times 15 (October 1903–September 1904): 565–66.

Gustavus Becker, Catalogi bibliothecarum antique (Bonn: Max. Cohen, 1885), 42: “biblia Vulfadi.”

“Bible, n., Etymology,” OED Online.

Jerome, Epistula 5.2.4 (CSEL 54: 21–23). Van der Toorn, Scribal Culture, 236, 353n.11 cites this passage as well as De viribus illustribus 75 (PL 23:683C), where Jerome speaks of Pamphilus’ love of “bibliotheca divina [the divine library].” With regard to the latter passage, however, the fact that Jerome immediately proceeds to illustrate that love by mentioning that Pamphilus transcribed by hand a large portion of Origen’s writings suggests that Jerome was not using the term bibliotheca to denote the Bible.

Mircea Eliade, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, trans. Willard R. Trask, 2nd ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 150. The comparison of the Bible to an encyclopedia is in Pastoureau’s view legitimate, given the admiration Jerome expressed for Pliny’s Natural History, and also the fact that Jerome searched that prototypical pagan Latin encyclopedia for information and commentary to apply in his interpretation of biblical passages where there was any question about animals, plants, and precious stones. In Pastoreau’s words, Jerome thus “establishes a solid and durable bond between the encyclopedic pagan learning and the holy scriptures [un lien solide et durable entre le savoir encyclopédique païenne et les textes sacrés]” (M. Pastoureau, L’Ours. Histoire d’un roi déchu [n.l.; Éditions du Seuil, 2007], 160. On Jerome’s reading of Pliny, see Arno Borst, Das Buch der Naturgeschichte: Plinius und seine Leser im Zeitalter des Pergaments (1994; 2nd, rev. ed., Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1995), 57–64. See also Neil Adkin, “A New Echo of Pliny the Younger in Jerome?,” Philologus 155, no. 1 (2011): 193–95.

Definitions quoted from the OED’s entries on “library” and “encyclopaedia/encyclopedia.”

Nestle, “The First English Example of ‘Biblia,’” 566. Cf. “Bible, n., Etymology,” OED Online, which states that Bibliotheca “continued in literary use for several centuries [past Jerome].”

Lyman Abbott, “Introduction” to Richard G. Moulton, John P. Peters, A. B. Bruce, et al., The Bible as Literature (New York: T. Y. Crowell, 1896), x, xi. In the first of these two quotations, Abbott seems to be echoing Frederic Myers, Catholic Thoughts on the Bible and Theology [“For Private Distribution Only”], 2 vols. [in 1] (Cambridge: C. J. Clay, 1841–48]), 1:3: “In fact the Bible is not so much a Book as it is a Library: by no means indeed an Encyclopaedia.”

J. H. Gardiner, The Bible as English Literature (New York: Charles Scribner, 1906), 2.

Northrop Frye, “An Enquiry into the Art Forms of Prose Fiction,” essay written as a college student (1935–39), Collected Works of Northrop Frye, 30 vols., ed. Robert D. Denham (Toronto/Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1996–2000), 3:391 (hereafter CW). Frye here defines “anatomy” as “a literary term ... applied to any presentation of history, philosophy, religion, economics, etc., which survives through its literary value” (390).

“Notebook 34” (ca. 1946–50), par. 82, Northrop Frye Fonds, Victoria University Library (hereafter NFF), CW 15:50.

The Return of Eden: Five Essays on Milton’s Epics (1965), CW 16:41. See also the discussion of the Bible in the section on “Specific Encyclopedic Forms,” in the fourth essay of Anatomy of Criticism, CW 22:295–97, 299.

The Book of J, trans. David Rosenberg, “interpreted by” Harold Bloom (New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1990), 12.

Frye, “Introduction” to The Great Code: The Bible and Literature (1982), CW 19:6.

Van der Toorn, Scribal Culture, 16. For van der Toorn’s full critique of the “library hypothesis,” see 236–44.

Robert J. Calkins, “The Cathedral as Text,” Humanities 16, no. 6 (November/December 1995): 35–9; here 35.

In book 5, ch. 2 (entitled “Ceci tuera cela” [The one will kill the other]) of Victor Hugo’s novel Notre-Dame de Paris (1831), known in English as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the narrator submits that “humankind has two books, two registers, two testaments: stone-work and printing, the bible of stone and the bible of paper [la bible de pierre and la bible de papier]” (Notre-Dame de Paris, 2 vols. [in 1] [Paris: Jacques Vautrain, 1947], 1:184, translation mine hereafter), and that, “for the first six thousand years of the world, from the most immemorial pagoda of Hindostan up to the cathedral of Cologne, architecture was the great writing of humankind” (ibid., 1:174), though, the revolution of print brought about by Gutenberg has meant that “the printing press will be the death of the church [i.e., architecture][La presse tuera l’église]” (ibid., 1:172). For Hugo, the medieval cathedral was thus one of many structures around the world epitomizing architecture as, so to speak, a stone bible. In this formulation, the indefinite article is to be emphasized, in contrast to the definite article that stands out in the titular allusion to the Amiens cathedral in John Ruskin’s The Bible of Amiens (1884), in The Works of John Ruskin (“Library Edition”), 39 vols., ed. E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn (London: G. Allen/New York, Longmans, Green, 1903–12), vol. 33 (1908): 3–174. Ruskin singles out the famous cathedral of that northern French city as the stone Bible, a point exploited by Ruskin’s great French admirer, Marcel Proust, in his preface to his translation of Ruskin’s work, La Bible d’Amiens (1903):But it is time to arrive at what Ruskin refers to in particular as the Bible of Amiens, the West Porch. ‘Bible’ is taken here in the literal and not the figurative sense. This porch of Amiens is not merely a stone book, a stone Bible, in the vague sense in which Victor Hugo would have understood it: it is ‘the Bible’ in stone. (Quoted from M. Proust, On Reading Ruskin trans. and ed. Jean Autret, William Burford, and Phillip J. Wolfe [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987], 19).Further, echoing Hugo by claiming that “the teaching that men of the thirteenth century came to seek at the cathedral” seems now “written in ... a language no longer understood,” Proust credits Ruskin for the fact that “the stones of Amiens have acquired for me ... almost the grandeur the Bible had, when it was still the truth in the hearts of men and solemn beauty in their works” (ibid., 27).The notion of cathedral as a Bible-based encyclopedia in stone also had roots in the theories set forth by French art historian Adolphe Napoleon Didron in his Iconographie chrétienne (Paris: Imprimerie royale, 1843), and was further encouraged near the end of the century by two works that reference Didron: Joris-Karl Huysman’s novel La Cathédrale (Paris: P.V. Stock, 1898), one of whose characters (Durtal) says of Chartres: “It contains a translation of the Old and the New Testament; it also grafts upon the sacred scriptures the Apocrypha which discussed the Virgin and St. Joseph, the saints’ lives collected in the Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine, and the monographs of the Célicoles of the diocese of Chartres. It is an immense encyclopedia [dictionnaire] of medieval knowledge about God, the Virgin, and the elect” (ch. 9, 234); and art historian Émile Mâle’s L’Art religieux du XIIIe siècle en France: étude sur l’iconographie du moyen âge et sur ses sources d’inspiration (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1898), which equates the gothic cathedral with the Speculum maius (great mirror): the mirror of nature, of instruction, of morals, and of history.For discussion see André Vauchez, “The Cathedral,” in Pierre Nora, ed., Realms of Memory: The Construction of the French Past, vol. 2, ed. Lawrence D. Kritzman, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), esp. 60–63; ch. 5, “The Poetry of Architecture,” in Ronald R. Bernier, Monument, Moment, and Memory: Monet’s Cathedral in Fin de Siècle France (Lewisberg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 2007), esp. 81.

Not everyone agrees; see the second clause in the quotation from Myers in n. 19 above. Likewise, Anna Nilsén observes that there is little evidence to support the common assumption that medieval churches functioned as an illustrated Bible for the illiterate; see her Program och funktion i senmedeltida kalkmåleri [Program and Function in Late Medieval Church Painting] (Sw) (Stockholm: Almqvist och Wiksell, 1986), 510; cited by Tracey Sands in her article on Nordic Folklore in a volume I am editing on biblical reception in the world’s folkloric traditions, to be published by De Gruyter Press in Berlin.

Henry Ward Beecher, “Evolution and Revolution,” in Lyman Abbott and S. B. Halliday, Henry Ward Beecher: A Sketch of His Career (Hartford, Conn.: American Publishing, 1887), 569.

G. K. Chesterton, “March 11, 1933: The New Prudery,” in The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, vol. 36: The Illustrated London News (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011), 237.

Editors’ “Introduction,” EBR 1: xi. We, EBR’s editors, do qualify in the ensuing sentence: “Inasmuch as a complete accounting of the global history of their [i.e., the scriptures’] reception and influence over two millennia is impossible, EBR documents that history in ways that pragmatically account for the major themes and issues and provide the necessary guidance for further research” (ibid.).

Blake uses “&,” not “and,” here (The Complete Poetry & Prose of William Blake, rev. ed., ed. David V. Erdman, Commentary by Harold Bloom [Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor, 1982], 272 [pl. 2], 274; hereafter CPP).

Cf. Frye’s lecture of March 1979, “Reconsidering Levels of Meaning,” in which he describes Blake’s epithet as “a very haunting and suggestive phrase which I have been pondering for a great many years” (CW 25:316). In an interview of January 6, 1983, he says of the same phrase: “I am still exploring the implications of that single statement” (CW 24:684).

Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (1957), CW 22:256. Frye continues on that same page: “In the emblem an actual picture appears, and the poet-painter Blake, whose engraved lyrics are in the emblem tradition, has a role in the lyric analogous to that of the poet-composers Campion and Dowland on the musical side.”

Gananath Obeyesekere, “The Buddha’s Meditative Trance: Visionary Knowledge, Aphoristic Thinking, and Axial Age Rationality,” in Robert N. Bellah and Hans Joas, eds., The Axial Age and Its Consequences (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012), 136. Obeyesekere mentions Blake’s Laocoön in passing, together with the aphorisms of Friedrich Nietzsche, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and “the well-known enigmatic sayings of Zen masters,” as exemplifying “[t]he aphoristic mentality.”

As dated by Robert N. Essick and Joseph Viscomi in William Blake, Milton a Poem, and the Final Illuminated Works, Blakes Illuminated Books, vol. 5, edited with introductions and notes by Essick and Viscomi (Princeton: William Blake Trust / Princeton University Press, 1993), 229.

In Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake (1947), Frye alludes in passing to Blake’s expressed theory that the Laocoön group “originally portrayed ... Jehovah and the two limits of the fallen world, Satan and Adam; the strangling serpents again represent the Fall” (CW 14:145). In his essay “Blake’s Reading of the Book of Job” (1976), Frye notes that same theory, as well as Blake’s placement of “Malak Yahweh” and “Angel of the Divine Presence,” and the inscription “He repented that he had made Adam/... / & it grieved him at his heart,” around “Jehovah’s” head (CPP 273; CW 16:400). His “Notebook 27” (1985–January 1, 1986), par. 344, NFF (CW 5:61) includes the one-sentence non sequitur: “Hence Blake’s Laocoon [sic] assertions that prayer, fasting, sacrifices, etc., are aspects of creating art.”

See, e.g., Northrop Frye, The Critical Path (1971), CW 27:87–88, where, after quoting Blake’s expression, he comments simply that it “indicat[es] the context of [Blake’s] own work, and similarly literature is the ‘great code’ of concern.” In a number of interviews he simply quotes Blake’s expression without commenting on it; see those of April 15, 1981, CW 24:518; June 7, 8, and 10, 1988, CW 24:883.

The same point could be made just as vividly by quoting the narrator of Flannery O’Connor’s novel The Violent Bear It Away (1960), summarizing the education of fourteen-year-old, backwoods prophet-in-training, Francis Mason Tarwater: “His uncle had taught him Figures, Reading, Writing, and History beginning with Adam expelled from the Garden and going on down through the presidents to Herbert Hoover and on in speculation toward the Second Coming and the Day of Judgment” (Flannery O’Connor, The Violent Bear It Away [New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1960], 4).

Theodore T. Munger, “Christianity as Interpreted by Literature,” in The World’s Parliament of Religions: An Illustrated and Popular Story of the World’s First Parliament of Religions, held in Chicago in Connection with the Columbian Exposition of 1893, 2 vols., ed. John Henry Barrows (Chicago: The Parliament Publishing Company, 1893), 1:677–78, 680.

Richard G. Moulton, The Literary Study of the Bible: An Account of the Leading Forms of Literature Represented in the Sacred Writings, Intended for English Readers, revised and partly rewritten (Boston: D. C. Heath, 1895).

Moulton et al., The Bible as Literature; Irving Francis Wood and Elihu Grant, The Bible as Literature: An Introduction (New York: Abingdon Press, 1914); T. R. Henn, The Bible as Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970); John B. Gabel and Charles B. Wheeler, The Bible as Literature: An Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986). See also Gardiner, The Bible as English Literature.

Robert Alter and Frank Kermode, eds., The Literary Guide to the Bible (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987), 1, 2, and 3.

Northrop Frye, Words with Power: Being a Second Study of the Bible and Literature (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990).

Northrop Frye, “Pistis and Mythos,” notes from a talk given at the annual convention of the Learned Societies of Canada, McGill University, June 1, 1972, CW 4:9, emphasis mine. In an interview of March 18, 1982, Frye states explicitly that the notion of “the Bible as literature ... is not really what I’m after, nor what I think Blake meant [in calling the Bible ‘the Great Code of Art’]” (CW 24:547). In another interview, of September 16–17, 1982, he pronounces it “nonsense” to interpret Blake’s “Great Code” aphorism as suggesting “that the Bible is a work of art itself” (CW 24:652). Cf. his interview of September 20, 1982, where he reiterates that Blake’s aphorism “mean[s] that the Bible is not in itself a work of art but that it contained endless ideas and suggestions for people who were working in the arts” (CW 24:658).

“History and Myth in the Bible,” lecture to the English Institute in New York, September 1, 1975, CW 4:20.

Frye continues: “Similar frameworks have been provided for other cultures by other sacred books: if one is attempting a serious study of Islamic literature, one has to begin with the Koran as a piece of literature” (CW 4:22). As provocative as this last suggestion seems in the light of the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie for his novel The Satanic Verses fourteen years later, Frye missed the opportunity to acknowledge here the Qur’ān’s capacity as the central vehicle of biblical reception in Muslim culture.

The Great Code, CW 19:10.

See A. C. Hamilton’s review (of Frye’s The Great Code), “The Bible as Key to All Art,” Whig-Standard Magazine (Kingston, ON), May 1, 1982, 18–9; here 18: “… by [his book’s title, Frye] meant that [the Bible] provides the imaginative key to understanding all art”; Frank Kermode, “The Universe of Myth,” New Republic 186/23 (June 9, 1982): 30–3; here 31: “... so [biblical] typology is the key to almost everything. Not surprisingly, Frye is able to say with confidence that he knows of no other book that covers the same ground as this one [i.e., the Bible]”; Fixler (n. 3 above), 76: “Frye sees the Bible as a key to the design-making impulses of the human imagination and to language as a generative process”; Susan Einbinder, “Alter vs. Frye: Which Bible?,” Prooftexts 4, no. 3 (September 1984): 301–8; here 302: “[Frye’s] generalized study sees in the Bible, ultimately, the key to the mythological and poetry structures it bequeathed to the Western world, and which they syncretized to their Hellenistic counterparts”; Lynn Poland, “The Secret Gospel of Northrop Frye,” Journal of Religion 64, no. 4 (October 1984): 513–19; here 513: “But in keeping with the full Blakean title, the volume also reads the Christian Bible as the code, or perhaps key to the code, of Western culture”; Robert Detweiler and David Jasper, eds., Religion and Literature: A Reader (Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox, 2000), 14: “For [Frye], the Bible is the key to understanding Western literature and culture”; Michael Dolzani, “Introduction,” Northrop Frye’s Notebooks on Romance, CW 15: xxxix: “The study of anagogy begins with the Bible, because it is what Blake called ‘the great code’ of art, the key to the universal symbolism of the order of words, and this is true whether or not one ‘believes in’ the Bible”; Ernest Rubinstein, Religion and the Muse: The Vexed Relation between Religion and Western Literature (Albany: State University of New York, 2007), 99: “Frye wished to uncover the biblical themes that held what he believed the key to unlocking the structure Western literature.”

Harold Bloom, “‘Before Moses Was, I Am’: The Original and the Belated Testaments,” in idem, ed., The Bible: Modern Critical Views (New York: Chelsea House, 1987), 293.

I make this suggestion in neither a facetious nor a hypercritical manner. Allusions to Frazer’s theories and writings crop up throughout Frye’s writings. In the mid-1940s, he already acknowledged that “for ten years I’ve been befogged & bemused by a lot of intuitions derived from Spengler & Frazer” (Notebook 42a), par. 26, CW 15:11. He later acknowledged Frazer’s influence on his writing of his Blake monograph; see Frye’s preface to the 1962 Beacon Press edition of Fearful Symmetry, CW 14:419. On Frazer’s influence on some of Frye’s writings on Shakespeare, see Troni Y. Grande and Garry Sherbert’s introduction to CW 28: xli–xliii. Most significantly for our purposes, Frye was of course well familiar with Frazer’s famous theory of sympathetic magic. For Frye’s own discussions of sympathetic magic, see, aside from the crucial passage cited in our next note below, those in his student paper, “The Concept of Sacrifice” (written in 1935 at Emmanuel College), CW 3:123–24, 127, 130, 135; “Notebook 21” (1969/71–1976), par. 523, CW 13:237; “Notebook 11d” (1991), par. 44, CW 13:279; and The Great Code, CW 19:173–74, where he also references Frazer more than once (CW 19:53, 111). In his lecture “Creation and Recreation” (1979–80), he recalls being “amused,” upon looking over some of his own early reviews, “to see how preoccupied I had been then with … Spengler and Frazer, who haunted me constantly, though I was well aware all the time I was studying them that they were rather stupid men and often slovenly scholars [!]. But I found them, or rather their central visions, unforgettable” (CW 4:39).

Quoted from a paper entitled “The Relation of Religion to the Art Forms of Music and Drama” which Frye wrote in 1936 as a seminarian at Emmanuel College, in the University of Toronto; CW 3:330.

James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion [1st ed., 1890; 2nd ed., rev., expanded, 1900; 3rd ed., rev., 1906–15], abridged ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1922), 14.

Frye, “Introduction” to The Great Code, CW 19:12.

In his interview of January 6, 1983, Frye speaks of his “examination of the role of the Great Code [i.e., the Bible]: of how it has created us, and of how we go on creating, and recreating it” (CW 24:684).

A Latin Dictionary, founded on Andrews’ Edition of Freund’s Latin Dictionary, rev., enlarged, and rewritten by Charlton T. Lewis (1879; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), 303, s.v. “Caudex.”

“Code, n., 1.b,” OED Online. Cf. Hans Kurath and Sherman M. Kuhn, eds., Middle English Dictionary, 16 vols. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1952–2001), 2:364, s.v., “Code”: “(a) A systematic compilation of laws, esp. those of the Roman Empire; (b) the main body of a will.”

The Dispatches of Field Marshall the Duke of Wellington, During His Various Campaigns […] from 1799 to 1818, vol. 4 (London: John Murray, 1837), 21

“Code, n., 3.b,” OED Online: “1875 W. S. Jevons Money (1878) 166 Maritime codes of signals....1880 Brit. Postal Guide 241 Code telegrams are those composed of words, the context of which has no intelligible meaning....1884 Pall Mall Gaz. 12 Sept. 5/1 Telegraph companies had to face ... the extension of the use of code words.”

“Code, Compounds, C.2,” OED Online, emphasis mine. OED cites three quotations that illustrate the history of this usage of the term: “1884 Electrician XIV. 62/1 This firm recommends the use of the ‘ABC Telegraphic Code Book’.... 1908 Westm. Gaz. 15 Oct. 4/2 The Royal Automobile Club proposes…to establish a law unto itself, with its own code-books of rules, morals, and punishments.... 1964 Y. Bar-Hillel Lang. & Information xvi. 279 A short signal sequence ... to be decoded at the receiving end with the help of a code-book.”

Pierre Bourdieu, La distinction: critique sociale du jugement (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1979), 11; Eng.: Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, trans. Richard Nice (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984), 2.

Robert Lowth, “Introduction” to Isaiah: A New Translation, with a Preliminary Dissertation, and Notes Critical, Philological and Explanatory (1778; 2nd ed., London: Printed by J. Nichols, for J. Dodsley, and T. Cadell, 1779), lv (emphasis mine).

John C. Villalobos, “A Possible Source for William Blake’s ‘The Great Code of Art’,” English Language Notes 26, no. 1 (September 1988): 36–40; here 39.

Nathan Bailey et al., Dictionarium britannicum: or, A more compleat universal etymological dictionary than any extant [...] [1730], 2nd ed. (London: T. Cox, 1736), [n.p.] s.v. “code.”

Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language, 2 vols., 6th ed. (1755; London: Printed for J. F. and C. Rivington et al., 1785), 1:406.

Nehemiah Grew, Cosmologia sacra, or, A discourse of the universe as it is the creature and kingdom of God chiefly written to demonstrate the truth and excellency of the Bible, which contains the laws of his kingdom in this lower world (London : Printed for W. Rogers, S. Smith and B. Walford, 1701), bk. 4 [title], 133.

For example, book 4, ch. 1 of ibid. is entitled: “Of the INTEGRITY of the Hebrew Code” (133). Consider also, e.g., book 4, ch. 1, §2, 133: “I’ll begin with the Writings of the Hebrew Code”; book 4, ch. 1, §6, 136: “... Translations, which were made of the Hebrew Code” (cf. “... a Translation ... made of the Entire Hebrew Canon” [book 4, ch. 1, §8, 136]); book 4, ch. 1, §11, 137: “And that the Translation made by the 72 Elders, took in the whole Hebrew Code, is also certain”; book 4, ch. 1, §12, 138: “And that there were Copies both of this Translation, and of the Hebrew Code, in the Library of Cleopatra, is acknowledg’d by all”; book 4, ch. 1, §13, 138: “Then having learned the Hebrew tongue, and procured a Copy of the Hebrew Code, [Origen] added two more columns; in one, the Hebrew Text and Letters; in the other, the same Text, in Greek Letters: and this he called Hexapla”; book 4, ch. 1, §15, 139: “And between these two Codes, the Alexandrian and the Vatican, there is a great Accord” (here he is using “Codes” to connote two “manuscripts,” “volumes,” or “editions” of the LXX); book 4, ch. 1, §18, 140: “The Agreement of all which Translations aforesaid, both one with another, and with the Hebrew Code; may suffice to satisfie us of the Integrity hereof. That is to say, that the Sacred Canon, which Ezra and the Prophets, his Contemporaries, left to the Jews, was the same with that we now enjoy.”

William Paley, A View of the Evidences of Christianity. In Three Parts, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (London: R. Faulder, 1794), vol. 1, pt. 1, ch. 9, sec. 3, §3, 243.

Ibid., vol. 1, pt. 1, ch. 9, sec. 3, §7, 245.

Thomas Jefferson, to John Adams, from Monticello, October 12, 1813; quoted by Douglas E. Lurton in his foreword to The Jefferson Bible, “compiled by Thomas Jefferson” (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1940), vii.

Cf., several lines earlier: “Rolling volumes of grey…:/For Urizen unclaspd [sic] his Book…” (Europe, pl. 12, 64).

Cf. Bloom’s commentary, CPP 905.

See, e.g., E. P. Thompson, Witness against the Beast: William Blake and the Moral Law (New York: New Press, 1993), 18–19: What must … be insisted upon is the ubiquity and centrality of antinomian tenets to Blake’s thinking, to this writing and to his painting”; Christopher Rowland, “Antinomianism, Atonement and Life in the Divine Body: Blake and Paul,” in idem, Blake and the Bible (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2010), 200: “[Blake] is part of a long tradition of ambivalence about assent to a written code and the preference for the indwelling Spirit as a source of theological [and, we might add, aesthetical] insight.” In one instance, it is worth noting, Rowland does ascribe to Blake the notion of the Bible as a “codebook,” but, quite oppositely from Frye, he does so to specify precisely an aspect of the Bible that Blake deplored. Blake’s The First Book of Urizen (1794), writes Rowland, “is a direct attack on the biblical Genesis ... because [Genesis] laid the foundation for considering the whole Bible to be a codebook to distinguish good from evil, the sacred from the profane, and it was a key text in modeling divine monarchy which was emulated by kings and priest on earth, a system that Blake despised” (102, emphasis mine).

Blake, Letter of April 12 1827 to George Cumberland, CPP 784.

Blake, “Proverbs of Hell,” line 25, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, pl. 8, CPP 36.

Blake, “A Memorable Fancy,” The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, pl. 24, CPP 44.

Blake, Jerusalem (1804), ch. 2, pl. 31[35], line 11, CPP 177.

This of course is not to gainsay that the Laocoön, taken as a whole, constitutes a work of art.

Erik McCarthy, “William Blake’s Laocoön: The Genealogy of a Form,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Kansas, 2007, 18.

See Johann Joachim Winckelmann, Gedanken über die Nachahmung der Grieschiechen Werke in der Malerey und Bilderkunst (Dresden: Walther, 1756).

Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. xix.

Marina Belozerskaya, “Laocoön,” The Oxford Companion to Western Art. Oxford Art Online, Oxford University Press, accessed February 10, 2013, http://0-www.oxfordartonline.com.libcat.lafayette.edu/subscriber/article/opr/t118/e1417.


Citation Information: Journal of the Bible and its Reception, Volume 1, Issue 1, Pages 3–28, ISSN (Online) 2329-4434, ISSN (Print) 2329-440X, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jbr-2014-0002.

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