Monos o Iesous: The Transfiguration of the Bible in Jerusalem

 This essay is chapter 8 in Mark Trevor Smith, "All Nature is but Art": The Coincidence of Opposites in English Romantic Literature (Locust Hill Press, 1993)

The full meaning of the Incarnation is that the Incarnation is a dual and dialectical process whereby God empties Himself of Himself and becomes man and man empties himself of his historical particularity and his individual selfhood and becomes God: 'Therefore God becomes as we are, that we may be as he is.' . . . Spirit is this eternal movement of absolute self-negation. <1>

 Nestled in the waxing crescent of the moon at the top of plate 4 of Jerusalem appears the transliterated Greek inscription, "Monos o Iesous." Etched in white line against a black background, the phrase is linked by a star to the letter "J" in the title "JERUSALEM." A floating female figure, identified in by David Erdman as Jerusalem herself,<2> points to the words. Commonly translated as "Jesus only," the phrase holds a position that invites us to see it as a motto for the entire poem. Thomas Altizer assigns it even more importance: "the motto which Blake in fact gave Jerusalem, 'Jesus only,' is the key to the ultimate meaning of his vision as a whole." <3>

"Monos o Iesous," in its simultaneous allusions to two Bible scenes, the woman taken in adultery and the transfiguration, urges us toward two simultaneous perspectives on Jesus, his transcendence and his immanence, and, like Jerusalem itself and Blake's entire oeuvre, urges us to hold these two apparently mutually exclusive pictures in our mind simultaneously. Transcendence occurs primarily in the transfiguration, in which Jesus hovers above man.

Immanence occurs primarily in the forgiveness of the woman taken in adultery, by which Jesus fully enters into the world and accepts it in full participation in everyday life. Transfiguration and forgiveness fit together in a coincidence of opposites to exemplify and enact the contrary vision of Blake. Furthermore the two are inseparable because the transcendence of transfiguration is achieved through the immanence of forgiveness. Indeed, even though the two biblical incidents emphasize contrary aspects of divinity, each contains within it both transcendence and immanence. Each combines acceptance and rejection of the fallen world.

Thus this motto exemplifies Blake's solution to the problem of oppositions. Standing first in his most comprehensive completed project, his greatest poem, Jerusalem , "Monos o Iesous" embodies and introduces the simultaneous transcendence and immanence that is the essence of Blake's vision. In that coming together of transcendence and immanence all other oppositions interpenetrate. Jerusalem becomes the fulfillment of the theory of coincidentia oppositorum put forth by Nicolas Cusanus. Although there is no evidence that Blake ever read Cusanus, the similarities in their thought and the ways that Blake's Jerusalem fulfills the goals of Of Learned Ignorance make the juxtaposition worthwhile. <4> Just as Blake fulfills the Bible by taking it beyond its own limits, so he does with the coincidentia oppositorum of Cusanus. For Cusanus left the coincidence of opposites in a mystery: as learned as we might become, we must always remain ignorant. Alexander Pope maintained that mystery: in An Essay on Man we must submit and accept that, "Whatever is, is right." Samuel Taylor Coleridge tried to envisage the simultaneous existence of divine and human, but, as we have seen in his lines to Berengarius, he never could. Mary Shelley urged a double vision, with self-abnegation working against rampant egotism, but Frankenstein reveals mostly the gloomy failure of that struggle. Percy Bysshe Shelley pierced further into the mystery than any of those, but the triumph of Prometheus Unbound , which itself is stopped short by the mystery of imagelessness, receded before the problems of The Triumph of Life.

In all his work, William Blake struggled with the vicious circles epitomized in "The Mental Traveller." In Milton and The Four Zoas he made heroic efforts to come to terms with the coincidence of opposites. Only in Jerusalem did he fully succeed. "Monos o Iesous" is the emblem to that success.

The words "Monos" and "Iesous" occur together in only two passages in the Greek New Testament. In John 8:9, during the story of the woman taken in adultery, they occur almost exactly as in the heading on Jerusalem, allowing for orthographical errors: "Monos o Iesous." In the account of the transfiguration in Luke 9:36 the words, "Iesous Monos," occur. (The transfiguration accounts in Matthew and Mark do not use the word "monos.") Michael Tolley <5> credits W.H. Stevenson <6> with noting the two possible Bible references, but labels both as doubtful. Alicia Ostriker writes that both references have relevance to Jerusalem.<7> Joseph Wicksteed suggests that the words might refer to the transfiguration,<8> but in response Anne Mellor maintains that the occurrence of the exact words only in John makes that reference the more likely one.<9> Johnson and Grant<10> simply translate the Greek phrase, "'Jesus alone' (John 8:9)," thus implicitly preferring only the allusion to the woman taken in adultery. The two major texts of Blake, Erdman's and Keynes's, are silent on the subject.

There is no doubt that Blake was familiar with the Greek New Testament. Although he may be exaggerating, we need not doubt his essential claim in a letter to James Blake: "I read Greek as fluently as an Oxford scholar & the Testament is my chief master."<11> There is also no doubt that he was more than familiar with both the story of the woman taken in adultery and the story of the transfiguration. We have not only the general evidence of his thorough knowledge of the Bible but also the direct evidence of watercolor illustrations of both episodes.

The allusion to John 8:9 is unmistakable; the words are exact and the meaning is clear: the forgiveness that Jesus shows toward the woman taken in adultery, the same forgiveness that blossoms and flows between Joseph and Mary on plate 61 of Jerusalem, is one of the most obvious themes of the epic. For example, in the introduction on the plate preceding "Monos o Iesous" the poet declares, "the Spirit of Jesus is continual forgiveness of Sin."

Less obvious, but equally unmistakable, is the allusion to Luke 9:36. As I shall show, both the words and the illustration on plate 4 clearly echo Luke's transfiguration scene. Furthermore, on plate 96 when Albion finally awakes from his sleep and sees the Jesus whom he has turned away from on plate 4, a scene of transfiguration, analogous to that in the Bible, is completed. Thus a transfiguration scene frames the whole of Jerusalem and informs its every plate.

At one hundred plates Jerusalem is Blake's longest illuminated work, and yet underlying its great philosophical and mythological complexity is a startlingly simple premise: the entire poem presents from a variety of perspectives the single act of Ablion's awakening to consciousness and his concomitant full individuation.<11a>

By reference to the two Bible stories, and to the transfiguration echoes in Jerusalem, and to the two watercolor illustrations by Blake on the subjects of the transfiguration and the woman taken in adultery, I shall show how Blake combines both stories together into a new relationship between the human and the divine which is explored and urged throughout the poem.

The story of the transfiguration as told in the gospel of Luke clearly emphasizes the replacement of the old law by the new and the majestic transcendence of the son of God:

he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering. And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: Who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which should accomplish at Jerusalem. But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him. And it came to pass, as they departed from him, Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias: not knowing what he said. While he thus spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud. And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. And when the voice was past, Jesus was found alone [monos ]. And they kept it close, and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen. (Luke 9:28-36) <12>

Terence Hoagwood notes that the both the text and the illustration on plate 4 are replete with contraries:

The first page of the first chapter of Jerusalem confronts the viewer with a vision of contraries before he begins to read the text. Right and left male, upward and downward sequences, and materialism (with its moral law) and spiritual rebirth are all set in clear contrast, before the poem even begins. <13>

Both the text and the illustration on plate 4 are strikingly analogous to the transfiguration scene in Luke. First, in the text, the poet begins by declaring that his subject is a "Sleep" and an "awaking" from that sleep. In Luke the apostles fall asleep while Jesus prays and do not wake until he is transfigured and engaged in conversation with the two prophets. Even when the apostles awaken from their sleep (a sleep, like Albion's throughout Jerusalem , which is evidence of their lack of understanding, of their turning away from vision), they still do not understand the situation. Peter wants to build three tabernacles instead of worshiping only Jesus. The apostles need the direct voice of God to change their way of thinking; they need to replace the old law of tabernacles with the new law of Jesus only. They are awakened from sleep, and a voice from above corrects and inspires them. Similarly, in Jerusalem, the Savior's voice, which is "over" the poet, calls for an awakening: "Awake! awake O sleeper of the land of shadows, wake! expand!" The voice then goes on to correct mistaken impressions: "I am not a God afar off, I am a brother and friend." The direct voice of Jesus insists on replacing old concepts with new. Just as the voice of God in Luke corrects the misunderstanding of the recently awoken apostles and inspires them to regard the proper vision of Jesus, so the voice of Jesus in Jerusalem corrects the sleeping Albion and inspires the poet toward imaginative Vision. And in both Luke and Jerusalem the voice which speaks to the few is understood to be speaking also to the many, to all readers of the text.

Once the closeness of the analogy has been noted, the differences become crucial. For even while Blake is imitating the story of the transfiguration, he rewrites it in his own terms. Blake the poet sees the source of his inspiring voice--"I see the Saviour over me"--while the apostles in Luke see only the cloud from which the voice of God broadcasts. The apostles do not see clearly and do not understand clearly, not only because they are sleepy but also because God is coy. In fact the God of the scene in Luke is little improvement over the Old Testament God who sheltered his face from view; the God who declares the supremacy of his son Jesus is still the unapproachable Yahweh of Moses. Not only can Blake see his dictating Saviour, but the voice itself promises a deeper unity with the poet, total interpenetration of the human and the divine: "Within your bosoms I reside, and you reside in me."

In the New Testament transfiguration story God is the supreme invisibility, distant and beclouded; the apostles are inferior sleepyheads who worship in the wrong way, far beneath their God. They must look up to see him and at best they see a cloud; even after they are corrected, their state of blind sleep has been raised only to a state of foggy obeisance. Blake re-interprets the story: in Jerusalem the Savior is visible and accessible; the poet, as well as all humanity, needs to wake up and see clearly what is possible beyond ordinary limits. As Jesus declares later in Jerusalem:

. . . I am the Resurrection & the Life.
I Die & pass the limits of possibility, as it appears
To individual perception. (62:18-20)

The Vision is thus made available at the beginning of the poem, but it is not until nearly the end that Albion does awaken. When he first has the opportunity on plate 4, he turns away and falls into sleep/death, as he declares his opposition to Jesus's vision:

Phantom of the over heated brain: shadow of immortailty!
Seeking to keep my soul a victim to thy Love!
. . .
By demonstration man alone can live, and not by faith.
. . . here will I build my Laws of Moral Virtue.

Hoagwood precisely notices the reversal that Blake has set up:

[Albion] has assembled the same principles and contexts that Christ had assembled above, but in reverse perspective; in this way, the text of plate 4 reproduces the patterns of contraries and reversal that characterize the preceding designs.<14>

In effect the whole of Jerusalem performs a transfiguration and finally breaks through the cloud of obfuscation in which Albion is trapped, blind to Vision as the apostles are blind to the true nature of Jesus. The poem is long and repetitive because the process meets recalcitrance, especially in the person of the Spectre.

But the deepest intricacies and most serious wit of Blake's conception here, important for the rest of Jerusalem and for all of Blake's notions of religion and art, lie in his new treatment of the middle term, Jesus. In Luke the voice of God in a cloud above speaks to the human apostles far below on the subject of the middle term, Jesus the mediator. However, Luke's Jesus does nothing active; in his glory he is a passive emblem of the power of God, merely an extension of the father. He remains distant, strikingly different from the humanity in which he supposedly partakes as a combination of man and God. And he is further separated from humanity in that the apostles do not tell anyone else about the miracle ("they kept it close"). This Jesus is to be worshipped in fear and mystery and secrecy, as if he were identical with the mysterious Jehovah of the Old Testament.

In the text of Jerusalem 4 the voice of Jesus above speaks to Albion and to the poet on the subject of divine-human love. In particular Albion is urged to repair the divisions with brothers, fathers, sons, nurses, sisters, and daughters--in other words to become fully human again. This advice is virtually identical to a method which Los will later declare on plate 91:

He who would see the Divinity must see him in his Children
One first, in friendship & love; then a Divine Family, & in the midst
Jesus will appear. (91:18-20)

But Albion must go through the horrors of eighty-seven more plates before he acts on that advice. Albion is further urged to repair divisions with his Emanation and with the Savior himself. Here the middle term which the voice from above explains is not an emblematic glistering mystery, but the very power of the divine human unity itself.

In Luke the apostles are told to conceive of the transcendent power in a new way; in Jerusalem Albion is told to see his own divine humanity in a new way. In Luke the figure of Jesus stands as an emblem of the relationship between man and God: God shines and man fears. Blake places before his reader an emblem of the divine creativity of human love in the form of his poem Jerusalem. Completely visible in its minute particulars, Jerusalem becomes the mediator, taking the place of Jesus in the analogy between the transfiguration and Jerusalem. If we can read Jerusalem (or, by implication, any work of art which appeals to the spiritual understanding) with expanded Vision, then we can participate in a transfiguration on a more intimate level than did Peter, John, and James. We can see the words and illustrations which are simultaneously fallen and Visionary; and we can see the Jesus who is both God and man. And that reading is itself a transfiguration.

It is ultimately a transfiguration that Blake is creating and displaying in Jerusalem, transfiguring the Bible, himself, and all of existence, through the power of creativity and urging us as readers to do likewise. The three terms of humanity, divinity, and mediator (who combines both) come together in a coincidence of transcendence and immanence. For the Jesus who hovers over the poet and the Jesus who is one with the poet are the same; in fact in Jerusalem the God who gives the word from Sinai and the Jesus who forgives sins are the same.

The message of the poet who claims to follow Jesus while he simultaneously usurps his position is that each individual must awaken from his mistaken worshiping. The only way to stop worshiping falsely is to recognize the creativity which is the presence of God in each man. Thus Blake does not urge us to give up a transcendent deity, but he does insist that the divine is as much immanent as it is transcendent. The useful distinction to make is not between transcendence and immanence, just as in plate 10 the useful distinction is not that of good and evil. Those contraries should both be fully embraced. The useful distinction is the one between creative individuality, which leads to total human and divine Vision, and secretive vengeance, which leads to chastity, warfare, and punishment.

Blake transfigures Jesus into a creative power more intimate than priestly separation and secrecy allow for. And to be more intimate Jesus must expand his role, just as he commands Albion and the poet to do ("awake, expand"). In fact Blake's Jesus, in the form of Blake's creativity, expands to fill all three roles in the transfiguration: God, intermediary, and human; thus the basic structure of the transfiguration scene is maintained even while it is subverted and denied. "Jesus only" takes on a transfigured meaning. Thus the transfiguration scene, the Bible, Blake, and perhaps the reader are transfigured into new Vision. To be the best possible readers of Jerusalem we must transfigure it by our own powers of creativity, just as it does to the Bible.

Like the text on plate 4, the illustration at the top of plate 4 is  strikingly similar to the transfiguration scene in Luke.   At the top of the plate are the words which must be heard ("Monos o Iesous"); in the middle is a cloud which simultaneously obscures and reveals; at the bottom are three figures whose vision is imperfect. On top of a mountain which contains the engraved text sit three figures, analogous to the apostles in the Bible account, who cannot see the words above them. The figure on the left gazes upward in the right direction, but his vision is obstructed by the cloud which envelopes the title "JERUSALEM." Even if he could see through the cloud, the crescent moon would cut off the word "Iesous" from his vision and leave "Monos" only. The figure on the right also gazes upward, but his line of sight is far off the mark. The middle figure appears to be restraining both men's attempts to see, and she stares straight at the reader as if to hypnotize him and becloud his vision. However, the line of her outstretched right arm (pointing to the reader's left) leads directly to a chain of three flying children who circumnavigate the cloud befogging "JERUSALEM." There might thus be a way indicated: go around. The children are lifted upward by the floating Jerusalem herself, who points directly to the essential words at the top of the plate, "Monos o Iesous."

Erdman says that the scene below the title on plate 4 is a misjudgment scene.<15> Both Bible references give us scenes of people misjudging and being set straight by a divine voice. Just as Peter, James, and John mistakenly want to erect temples to Moses, Elias, and Jesus, so the Albion figures under the sibyl's hands want to remain under her grasp. But the female figure above, like the female babe in "The Mental Traveller," has completely escaped the limits of the scene below. Just as the words of God in the transfiguration scene proclaim Jesus to be the beloved son and the Bible text proclaims him to be alone, so the words at the top of the page inform and correct the mistaken judgement below them. These words, which echo the descending words of Jesus etched in the plate below are soon denied by the Spectre who stands "over" Los (6:4 and illustration on plate 16) and provides the negative of the words of God and Jesus. But the wings of the Spectre in the illustration and his words are designed to hide the true light from the poet. When he looks up on plate 6 all he can see is the Spectre. When the left figure on plate 4 looks up, he sees the title "JERUSALEM" floating in the clouds, a few stars, and the word Monos. The word "Iesous," which Jerusalem can see clearly and to which she points, is hidden from the figure's view by the moon and the cloud.

Blake's watercolor illustration of the transfiguration, painted as part of the Butts series of Bible illustrations, is built on a structure similar to that of the illustration on plate 4. Jesus stands glowing in the center, dividing most of the picture vertically in half. Below his feet crouch Peter, James, and John, who have accompanied Jesus up the mountain. The two in the bottom corners gaze up, as do two figures in Jerusalem 4, at the face of the transfigured Christ, while the third, directly under the feet of Jesus, hides his face in his sleeve. The two gazing up appear to have just awoken and the third seems still asleep. The round, almost petaled top of the sleeper's head becomes a pedestal for the feet of Jesus and provides a contrast with the glowing face of Jesus at the top of the illustration. The humbled posture of the three apostles makes them appear to be part of the mountain; in fact, since no part of the actual mountain is visible, they seem to be the mountain. Kneeling in symmetrical bows appear Moses on Jesus's right (our left) and Elijah on his left. Their hands in a position for prayer, they too gaze up piously at Jesus's face. Here Blake has altered the Bible account which reports that Moses and Elijah stood and spoke with Jesus but does not say that they worshipped him. Thus Blake makes his transfigured Jesus even more lordly, even more transcendent than does Luke.

The lower garments of Moses, Jesus, and Elijah curl sinuously away from their feet, making them appear almost to float in the air, and separating them from the lower apostles. But what is most interesting is Blake's addition of two bearded patriarchal faces, with large wings, hovering in the background, one on each side of Jesus's face, at a slightly lower level. The appearance of these two characters does not simply alter the biblical text, but also adds a completely new dimension to it. At first glance, in an orthodox reading of the painting--and the painting certainly lends itself to being read as straightforward praise of this exalted Jesus--these two figures are simply two angels of God presiding over the ceremony. No such angels are mentioned in any of the accounts of the transfiguration, but they could easily be a pictorial representation of the invisible God who speaks in the scene. Indeed the picture perhaps encourages us to read the three faces across the top as somehow forming a divine trinity, set off from humanity. The three humans in the design, relegated to the bottom level of the painting where they cringe in bafflement, form an earthy ground on which the exalted Savior can display himself. Thus we have three divine faces across the top and three human ones across the bottom, the middle human, however, being not a face at all but the top of a head which looks like a vegetated flower. Across the horizontal center of the picture the two patriarchs bow, their faces level with the waist of Jesus. At all three horizontal levels Blake may be mocking the orthodox reading of the transfiguration: on the grounds that it makes Jesus into a ghostly unapproachable deity with no humanity, on the grounds that it causes prophets to humble themselves, and on the grounds that it denigrates men into footstools. However, despite the possible mockery, the watercolor retains a dignity and a splendor which cannot be dismissed by simply seeing the picture as ironic. The mockery may be there, but the majesty certainly is. A similar doubleness is useful in interpreting Blake's most famous painting: the godly Urizen bending from the clouds to measure or create the world with his compasses. Blakeans in the know usually read that picture ironically, but surely the transcendent majesty of the god remains, no matter what mockery exists.

The transfiguration and the woman taken in adultery present opposing views of Jesus. In the transfiguration, Jesus is separated from man, left alone as the only Son of God. In the story of the woman taken in adultery, Jesus lowers himself both physically and spiritually, as he implies that none of us is free of sin:

And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone [monos], and the woman standing in the midst.  When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more. (John 8:3-11)

The Jesus who humbles himself into the pains of the world and the Jesus who speaks to Blake and to Albion and to us all is the Jesus of the forgiveness of the woman taken in adultery. Blake's watercolor of this scene provides a sharp contrast to the image of Jesus presented in the illustration of the transfiguration. As with the transfiguration, it is useful to divide the illustration into three sections, this time from right to left instead of top to bottom. On the right stands the accused woman, dressed in a flowing white robe against a dark background. Barefoot, her hands bound behind her back, she inclines her head to read what Jesus is writing in the sand with his finger. Her hair falls, but although he is bending more than she is, his hair does not fall. Also barefoot and wearing a white robe similar to the woman's, Jesus bends his back into a rounded arch to reach the ground. The curve of his back is an ironic echo of the arched doorway which appears behind him at the top of the picture through which seven accusers shoulder each other in their haste to escape. As with the middle figure at the bottom of the watercolor of the transfiguration, we do not see their faces. To emphasize immanence instead of transcendence, whereas in the illustration to the transfiguration the face of Jesus is the highest thing in the picture, here it is the lowest of the nine heads in the picture. It is in fact level with the genitals of the woman, and pointing straight toward them as if to emphasize the forgiveness of her particular sin.

Along the bottom of the illustration are featured from left to right the bare right foot of Jesus, his hand writing on the ground, and the bare left foot of the woman. Alternating with these three bare extremities are two dark sandaled fleeing feet of two of the accusers. Thus, despite the obvious separations between woman and Jesus, between accusers and two main figures, the feet and hands on the ground form an alternating pattern of unity, just as does the lesson of Jesus's injunction to cast the first stone.

Of course the Jesus who writes in the sand (we never know what he writes) is an echo of the Blake who engraves with his pen the words and pictures of Jerusalem . <16> The pointing finger implicitly contrasts with the pointing fingers of the accusers on plate 93 and echoes the finger of the female figure on plate 4. In all cases the contrast is made clear. The pointing fingers of Jesus, Jerusalem, and the engraving tool of Blake all point in alternative directions to the old law, punishment, and sleepy failure to see.

The old law called for the execution of an adulteress (see Lev. 20:10), but the new law of Jesus does not allow for such easy separation of the sinner and the righteous. The scribes and the Pharisees see the situation in very clear terms: the woman is an adulteress and must be punished according to the law.

As a totality, the self is by definition always a complexio oppositorum, and the more consciousness insists on its own luminous nature and lays claim to moral authority, the more the self will appear as something dark and menacing. <17>

They have been trying, in the chapter of John preceding this incident, to discredit Jesus and the belief that he was the Messiah. They fully expect him to pardon the woman and thereby expose himself to arrest for breaking the law of Moses. If instead he does condemn her, then they have trapped him into being just as vindictive as they are. But Jesus knows how to break the law without really breaking it. <18> At first he writes on the ground, as if he does not hear the accusers. Biblical scholars are not much help in trying to guess what Jesus might have written, but in any case it is clear that his writing is not even the kind of response the scribes and Pharisees expect.

Then when Jesus speaks, his answer is even more unexpected: he confronts the accusers with their own nature as sinners. The self-righteous have projected all their feelings of guilt and sin on to another person, a kind of scapegoat (an honored tradition in Mosaic law). Similarly, when we as readers turn to Blake, he does not speak to us in the ways we might expect; his forms are asyntactical and idiosyncratic, his illustrations puzzling and impossible. His morality is not moralistic. He confronts us with our own accusations, or more exactly he confronts our selfhoods and forces them to turn tail and run. "Each Man is in his Spectres power / Untill the arrival of that Hour / When his humanity awake / And cast his Spectre into the Lake" <19> The accusers in Blake's illustration scatter just like the self- righteous selfhood scatters when confronted with the identity between itself and a sinner. Throughout Jerusalem Blake calls Jesus "the friend of sinners" and forces the reader to confront his own sinfulness.

Both the transfiguration and the story of the woman taken in adultery insist that we see existence in a new way: transcendent in the first story, immanent in the second. "Monos o Iesous," in making these two opposites coincide, insists that we confront Blake's Christian art.

The essence of Christianity, and therefore of the Bible from a Christian point of view, is also its most fundamental paradox: the coincidence of divine and human in Jesus Christ. As we have seen in Cusanus and Coleridge, that coincidence is also central to their conceptions of existence. All the rest hangs from that basic belief. The essence of the Bible, from the Creation through Yahweh's covenant with Israel, from the birth of Jesus through the letters of Paul, from Eden through the new Jerusalem, is the intersection of the divine and the human, the temporal and the eternal. The essence of Blake is the imaginative Vision which sees the eternal and the temporal whole, without sacrificing either one: Eternity in a moment, Infinity in a flower.

In a Christian reading of the Bible, the coming of Jesus in the New Testament is the fulfillment of the relationship between man and God in the Old Testament. At the same time the new law destroys and removes the old. From that perspective an analogy with the two parts of the Bible itself can be helpful in understanding the use of the Bible in Jerusalem: Jerusalem stands in relation to the Bible as the New Testament stands to the Old. To most Christians, following the teachings of Paul, the New Testament removes the burden of the old law; it destroys the law, replaces it. At the same time, most of those same Christians, following the teachings of the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews, see the New Testament as the fulfillment of the Old. Just as Jesus comes both to fulfill the law as the promised Messiah and to overturn it as the Son of God with a whole new plan of salvation, so Blake comes both to fulfill the Bible and to overturn it. As Margaret Bottrall succinctly puts the case: "Blake called himself a christian; his commentators point out that he was a heretic; both are speaking the truth." <20> Altizer gives this paradox its ultimate formulation; he calls Blake "the first Christian atheist. <21>

The New Testament breaks the limits of the Old Testament by extending them to their logical conclusions, by changing their terms, and by analogizing them into something higher, all the while respecting them as the foundation and the necessary prologue to Christianity. Blake uses several variations of these techniques: he extends the limits of the Bible when he rewrites the story of Joseph and Mary; he redefines Jerusalem, Canaan, Reuben, and a whole host of biblical places and persons; and he transfigures the nature of Jesus; all the while honoring the Bible as the ultimate model of the kind of art he is undertaking. Just as the New Testament includes the Old, so Blake's Jerusalem includes the Bible. <22>

From the Christian point of view, the Old Testament anticipates the New in that its history leads up to the New, in that its typology is a shadow of the New, and in that its morality is a dimmer version of that of the New. <23> From Blake's point of view, the Bible anticipates the artist/Christian in that it contains the entire context of time and space in which the artist lives and works, in that its language is often allegorical of spiritual situations, and in that its morality must be transcended.

In short, Blake imitates the Bible by treating it in the same way that the New Testament treats the Old: fulfilling and reversing. The paradox is unmistakable: to fulfill is to reverse; to reverse is to fulfill.

Thus in the New Testament stories of the transfiguration and the woman taken in adultery, and in Blake's watercolor paintings of the two scenes, we receive two very different pictures of Jesus. In the transfiguration he is transcendent, unapproachable, and (as exaggerated in Blake's illustration), susceptible only to worship and the humiliated adoration of humanity. In the woman taken in adultery he is forgiving, proud to the self-righteous, humble to the sinner, and the writer who sets men and women free from the tyranny of their spectre- accusers. It is appropriate that Blake should introduce the title page of Jerusalem with a motto that recalls both these incidents, and indeed turns them into one, or makes it impossible for us to separate them from each other. One Jesus comes to uphold transcendence, to inherit his place from the Old Testament God. The other comes to overturn the rigidities of the law, to become fully human. The Jesus of the New Testament does both; so does the Jesus of Blake; and so does Blake himself in his rewriting of the Bible. Like Jesus, he cannot be fully understood if either aspect is denied: he both carries on the tradition of the Bible and overturns it. As on plate 99 the two principles embrace--the God who disperses law (in this case the new law of Jesus) and the human (the sexually sinning female). And so the transcendent unapproachable God and the indwelling human Jesus are one.

Much of Blake's teaching works the same way as the teaching of Jesus with the accusers of the woman taken in adultery. Certainly the Bible story can be read as a simple moral lesson: don't judge others. But the accusers (and of course the woman herself) experience something quite different from a platitude. They can not take refuge in the complacent generalizations that readers can sometimes sink into. Instead of being told the lesson that we can infer from the story, that no one is free of sin, they are confronted directly with that knowledge and with the eyes of Jesus and the woman. And the moment of knowledge and recognition conflicts with the action that the accusers are in the middle of taking. Stones mentally poised above their heads, they hear the words of Jesus (and presumably read the ones he writes on the ground, ironically lost to us in the written transmission of the gospel): accusation of other and accusation of self clash within them. Trying to trap Jesus in the paradoxes of the Law, they find themselves trapped in the paradoxes of a larger, more inclusive law, the law of the coincidentia oppositorum, the law of the illogical unity of mutually exclusive forces, the coming together of the centrifugal transfiguration, thrusting God out from man, and the centripetal forgiveness of the woman taken in adultery, joining God with man. Unable to respond physically, unable to respond logically, unable to respond spiritually, they run away. Similarly, Blake's text again and again forces us to see the opposing factions within ourselves, because they are displayed so vigorously in his poetry. Most readers therefore run away, either by refusing to read him at all or by pigeon-holing his message into a platitude.

The reader of Blake who does not run away can not contemplate the text in comfortable, smug, self-righteous tranquility, as he might Alexander Pope or even the Bible. Instead he has to confront the Eternity of Blake's minute particulars with every sweep of the eyes across the words. Blake's simultaneous imitation and rejection of all experience, and of the Bible in particular, teach us a new way to read and a new way to live, a way that demands awareness of how our ordinary understanding distorts everything from religion to sex, from sight to philosophy.

Whichever side of a question a reader is on, for example in the matter of sexuality and the body (horrible trap or imaginative release) or unity and individuality (one body in Albion or unique individuals) or the nature of the Bible (priestly restrictions or poetic freedom), Blake seems to agree with it in one place and disagree with it in another. That kind of dialectical tension, which exists throughout Jerusalem, is most epigrammatically embodied particularly in the phrase "Monos o Iesous." If we as readers can enter the paradoxes instead of fleeing them, we can find a way to transfigure the self- righteous, logical, sophisticated stones we want to throw, just as the resurrection of Jesus transforms the stony tomb.

As Jasper Hopkins explains the logic of Nicolas Cusanus: God's being is uniquely beyond all actual and conceptual differentiation, so that it cannot be truly and nonmetaphorically characterized by any predicate whose meaning is drawn from human experience. <24>

Like Cusanus, Blake leaps above ordinary human experience; that leap is embodied in the transfiguration. At the same time Blake plunges deeply into human experience: to deny the existence of adultery is to be non-human. By a leap of imagination, not only adultery but the whole law of Moses, and the whole law of Non- Contradiction, can be re-imagined. Thus a gesture that is completely strange to human experience--Jesus's answer to the scribes and Pharisees--turns out to embody the depths of human experience, where the human encounters and coincides with the divine. Pope's "To err is human, to forgive divine' receives its ultimate formulation when Blake combines the transfiguration and the story of the woman taken in adultery.

In describing the dialectical method of Mesiter Eckhart, Huston Smith gives us a close analogy to Blake's method:

in his preaching and writing, Eckhart keeps us perpetually swinging from one pole to the other; he will not let us rest in either. To rest in one and forget the other is to lose hold of the truth, which is essentially paradoxical. God is everything, yet nothing; distinct from creation, yet indistinct from it. . . . Having made a statement, Eckhart will often go on to deny it; but the truth lies neither in the affirmation nor in the denial, but in the tug-of-war between the two. <25>

Smith explains well the dynamic disequilibrium of such a dialectical method; add to that formula an absolute unity of total comprehension, just as sure as that of Alexander Pope, and you have Blake. According to Smith, the purpose of paradox in Eckhart and in Zen is to "bring the normal human intellect to the awareness of its own limitations, and thus open it up to the possibility of a higher kind of knowing." <26> While absolutely true of the learned ignorance of Cusanus and of Pope, this statement gives us only half of Blake. For in Cusanus and Pope we are to mistrust our own abilities, our own capacities for larger vision: we can never attain it, but can only acknowledge its existence. In Blake we fully participate in that higher Vision, as he takes the traditional formulae of the mystics as far as they can go:

What is Eckhart's concept of Christ? It is of one in whom God and Man are made one. What is his concept of Man? It is of a being capable of becoming one with God. Eckhart is really only developing the ancient formula of Irenaeus and Athanasius: God became Man so that Man might become God.  <27>

In the transfiguration, Jesus reveals that his physical body can become God and that therefore the spiritual God must have already become a physical body. In the story of the woman taken in adultery, Jesus reveals that the physical woman can not be separated from man nor from God. Any work of art is a disaster, a sin resulting from the fall, just like the sin of the woman taken in adultery. But at the same time Blake's art insists that this continuous falling away is, as in Christianity the bases of forgiveness and therefore of resurrection and of transfiguration.

Jesus's confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees over the guilt and punishment of the woman taken in adultery reverses and collapses ordinary modes of being. The simultaneous contradictory meanings enact the resurrection paradox, which is contained in the motto "Monos o Iesous." The combination of forgiveness, which confronts and accepts sin, and transfiguration, which lifts God/Jesus in His most transcendent form above humanity, brings along with it not a loss of humanity, but a sacrificing of divinity--which the ultimate coincidences of opposites contained in Christianity express in the Incarnation and the Crucifixion. The dialectic of contradictions in words helps us get there, noy only by encouraging us to seek beyond words, which is the vision of Shelley and of Cusanus, but by embodying in words the very coincidenctia oppositorum that is the basis of existence. The final vision is not bound by time or space; therefore langugage is inadequate to interpret it and can only enact it.

Albion's vision of Jesus is a fulfillment of the transfiguration scene which was thwarted on plate 4, where Albion refused to hear and see Jesus. Albion refused to see the combination of immanence and transcendence that the poet embraces.

As Jesus does in Luke with Moses and Elijah, so there Jesus and Albion converse "as Man with Man" (96:6). While Albion is asking questions about the nature of self-sacrifice, the two are covered by a cloud: :"the Covering Cherub coming on in darkness / Overshadowd them:" (96:17-18). The Covering Cherub is the equivalent here of the cloud which overshadows the transfiguration scene in Luke. And just as that cloud removes Jesus from the apostles, so here it removes Jesus, in the form of Los, from Albion: "the Cloud over-shadowing divided them asunder" (96:29). But unlike the apostles (Luke 9:34), who misunderstand the situation and fear for themselves :

Albion stood in terror: not for himself but for his Friend
Divine, & Self was lost in the contemplation of faith
And wonder at the Divine Mercy. (96:30-32)

Albion has experienced the transfiguration, has awoken, realizes what he has been doing, and knows what now must be done.

Do I sleep amidst danger to Friends! O my Cities & Counties
Do you sleep! rouze up. rouze up. Eternal death is abroad
. . .
Awake! Awake Jerusalem! O lovely Emanation of Albion
Awake and overspread all Nations as in Ancient Time
For lo! the Night of Death is past and the Eternal Day
Appears upon our Hills: Awake Jerusalem, and come away.

Having learned the lesson of self-annihilation (as in Jesus's birth), he stops trying to save himself by hiding in death, and gives himself up completely:

. . . Albion . . . threw himself in the Furnaces of affliction
All was a Vision, all a Dream: the Furnaces became
Fountains of Living Waters flowing from the Humanity Divine.

Just as forgiveness brought flowing waters out of Mary's agony, so sacrifice of Self leads to the joy of "living fountains of waters" (cf. Revelation 7:17), in a combination of forgiveness and transfiguration.

The final Vision has removed the doubt and despair which blocked such an awareness. A renewed humanity still creates space and time, same kind of world viewed differently, renewed, but now they are created through imagination and not through fear and separation (98:30-31). Even death still exists:

. . . & the all tremendous unfathomable Non Ens
Of Death was seen inregenerations terrific or complacent varying
According to the subject of discourse & every Word & Every Character
Was Human according to the Expansion or Contraction, the Translucence or
Opakeness of Nervous fibres such was the variation of Time & Space
Which vary according as the Organs of Perception vary & they walked
To & fro in Eternity as One Man reflecting each in each & clearly seen
And seeing: according to fitness & order. (98:33-40)

This is exactly the same world which has appeared throughout Jerusalem, but now we see it from the perspective of eternal Vision instead of fallen vision. The Eye altering alters all. The opaqueness of Satan and the sensual contraction of Reuben still exist in this apocalypse, but when seen with eternal Vision they are shorn of their terrors.

The One Man in eternity has already spoken on plate 4:

I am not a God afar off, I am a brother and friend;
Within your bosoms I reside, and you reside in me:
Lo! we are One; forgiving all Evil; Not seeking recompense!
Ye are my members O ye sleepers of Beulah, land of shades!

Since they were spoken at the beginning of the poem, these echoes of Jeremiah 23:23, John 17:23, and John 15:4 do not suddenly appear at the end of Jerusalem ; they could have been heard by Albion the first time. From this point of view, all the errors and terrors of Jerusalem have been simply a sleep. Like the apostles at the transfiguration, Albion needs but to awaken to see Jesus. But even though this fundamental safety net exists, the death and the agony are no less real, for man's fallen vision creates for him a life in which Jesus does not exist, for if Jesus were there, he would not die. Or, more exactly, with the present of Jesus fully recognized, every death becomes a resurrection.

Transfiguration is a particularly apt word for Blake's art, even though he never used the word himself. For just as the copperplate artist exactly shapes his figures with engraving and etching, so Blake delineates his figures exactly, so that when they are reversed, they become completely other even while remaining essentially what they were. <28> In spiritual terms, the doubts and despairs are burned away so that all of existence stands clear. And the same existence that was so full of agony and separation is perceived to be eternity itself:

All Human Forms identified even Tree Metal Earth & Stone. all
Human Forms identified, living going forth & returning wearied
Into the Planetary lives of Years Months Days & Hours reposing
And then Awaking into his Bosom in the Life of Immortality.

Even death itself, when perceived with eternal Vision, is reversed into larger life.

The transfiguration that Blake works on the Bible is based on a method of presenting oppositions and then transforming them, much as happens at the transfiguration of Jesus. "Monos o Iesous" combines apparently opposites qualities of Jesus which must be seen as simultaneous, even while mutually contradictory. In alluding to both these passages Blake puts us on notice that we are about to receive a new revelation. Blake thus puts himself in the line of and indeed in the place of the prophets and of Jesus himself in offering us a new voice which, addressed to Christian, Jew, and Deist, will offer us new ways to live as human souls.


Notes to Chapter 8: Monos o Iesous

1. Thomas J.J. 74-75.

2. Illuminated Blake, p. 283.

3. Altizer, p. 73.

4. When the connection between Blake and Cusanus first occurred to me in 1979, I could find no one else who had made the connection. I was therefore delighted to see the 1980 publication of Symbol and Truth in Blake's Myth, by Leopold Damrosch, who devotes several pages to the similarities. His most useful overall statement emphasizes how fundamental the coincidentia oppositorum is to both Blake and Cusanus:

Like Blake, Cusanus stresses the coincidentia oppositorum and the supra-rational vision or Nous that apprehends their harmonious union in the Infinite. Now, the reconciliation of opposites was commonplace in the eighteenth century; as E. R. Wasserman has shown, concordia discors is the fundamental principle of Denham's Cooper Hill and Pope's Windsor Forest. [Subtler Language , chapters 3-4)) But these poets postulated a God above and beyond the sublunary realm who harmonized opposites by manipulating them in a larger whole, the lights and shadows of a grand design. Cusanus, like Blake in his 'marriage' of heaven and hell, sought a vital union of opposites in the ultimate order of things, not a reconciliation controlled, as it were, from above. For Cusanus the ultimate order is God, 'because He is Himself the Absolute Ground, in which all otherness (alteritas) is unity, and all diversity is identity.' By the time of the prophetic books, Blake too invested Jesus, in however heterodox a manner, with the same status of ultimate ground of diversity-in-identity. (p. 21)

5. Michael Tolley, "William Blake's Use of the Bible," Dissertation, University of London, 1974), p. 367.

6. The Poems of William Blake (NY: Longman, 1989), p. 630.

7. William Blake: The Complete Poems (NY: Penguin, 1977), p. 997.

8. Joseph Wicksteed, William Blake's Jerusalem: A Commentary (London: Trianon, n.d.), pp. 117-18.

9. Anne Mellor, Blake's Human Face Divine (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1974), pp. 292-93.

10. Blake's Poetry and Designs (NY: Norton, 1979), p. 313.

11. 30 January 1803, E727.

11a. Behrendt, Reading, p. 165.

12. The same story is told in Matthew 17 and Mark 9, without the word "Monos" next to "Iesous" and with the significant omission of the apostles' falling asleep.

13. Prophecy and the Philosophy of Mind: Traditions of Blake and

Shelley (Univ. of Alabama, 1985), p. 73.

14. Hoagwood, p. 78.

15. Illuminated Blake, p. 284.

16. Compare this observation by W. J. T. Mitchel:

his choices of unusual subjects (Newton inscribing his mathematical diagrams, . . . Christ writing on the ground to confound the scribes and pharisees) suggest that the moment of inscription tended to stand out for him as a principal subject for illustration in any narrative. ("Visible," p. 64)

17. Carl Jung, Answer to Job, trans. R.F.C. Hull (1958; rpt. Princeton, 1973), p. 81.

18. Compare this stunning and hilarious outburst from the Devil in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:

if Jesus Christ is the greatest man, you ought to love him in the greatest degree; now hear how he has given his sanction to the law of ten commandments: did he not mock at the sabbath . . . [other examples] I tell you, no virtue can exist without breaking these ten commandments: Jesus was all virtue, and acted from impulse: not from rules. (E43)

19. Jerusalem 37, mirror writing in illumination.

20. The Divine Image, p. 9.

21. Altizer, p. xi.

22. I do not subscribe to the theories of the "anxiety of influence" as proposed by Harold Bloom in, for example, The Anxiety of Influence (NY: OUP, 1973). Joseph Anthony Wittreich, Jr., writing specifically of Blake's relationship to Milton, counters Bloom's ideas: The notion that Blake suffered under the anxiety of influence, that he was obsessed by a drive to transcend Milton, even at the cost of misrepresenting and misinterpreting him, is antithetical not only to the spirit of Blake's rejoinder to Lavater but to the principle of art that Blake enunciates in A Descriptive Catalogue: 'To suppose that Art can go beyond the finest specimens of Art that are now in the world,' Blake says, 'is not knowing what Art is; it is being blind to the gifts of the spirit' (p. 535 [i.e., E535]). (Angel of Apocalypse, p. 250)

Furthermore, Bloom's theory is based on a metaphor of limited space: the strong poet must shoulder aside his predecessor because there is not enough space for both of them to occupy. Blake, however, does not assume a finite space which only one poet can occupy at a time. Instead, each artist-Christian, in the expression of his own Poetic Genius, is at once a unique individual and a manifestation of Eternity. The question of fighting for elbow room simply does not arise. The inextricability of fallen and eternal Vision is not a concession to fallen vision and its shrunken notions of space and time; it is rather a transfiguration of space and time into a larger understanding.

23. In her dissertation, William Blake's New Typology and the Revaluation of Prophecy in the Eighteenth Century (Emory University, 1979), Patricia Elizabeth Davis studies Europe, Milton , and the Job illustrations in the context of eighteenth-century interpretations of the Bible. According to Davis, "Blake invented a new typology, transforming his prophetic poems into primers for creative exegesis" (p. 2).  Basing her study on an idea of recta ratio , "which affirms that what a man knows depends upon what, as a moral being, he chooses to make himself" (p. 3), she compares Blake's progressive revelation through prophecy to the methods of his contemporaries, such as Calvin and Wesley.

Davis's dissertation is part of the effort to rectify "the paucity of background studies necessary for a pursuit of Blake's relationship to the biblical traditions available in his own time," which is lamented by Leslie Tennenbaum in Biblical Tradition in Blake's Early Prophecies (Princeton UP, 1982), p. x. Tannenbaum's book raises typology to a definition of Blake's art: "By defining Christ as the Imagination, Blake adopts as his subject the typological process itself" (p. 99).

Setting Blake's early prophecies within their contemporary biblical traditions, Tannenbaum sees them, especially The Book of Los, as containing "a prospect of the road leading to Jerusalem" (280) because they invert and parody but do nothing direct to "bring to a period the cyclical pattern" (p. 280) which the Bible would be without the Book of Revelation:

Through Los's forging of the sun in Asia and in The Book of Los, Blake reveals that he has begun to realize that the road to Eternity is the road that leads ahead, leading the Imagination further into the demon universe; it must continue to create the human illusion until this illusion has been embodied in all its variety at the same time that it becomes condensed into a single unifying image. Only then, as in Revelation, when the body oferror has been completely revealed, will the body of truth reappear, will the heavenly bride descend and meet the bridegroom, and will Blake simultaneously fulfil and annihilate the great code of art. (p. 281)

I am pleased to see that this final paragraph of Tannenbaum's book confirms my approach here.

24. Nicholas of Cusa's Dialectical Mysticism: Text, Translation, and Interpretive Study of De Visione Dei. 2nd rev ed. (Minneapolis: The Arthur J. Banning Press, 1988), p. 41.

25. Cyprian Smith, The Way of Paradox (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1987), p. 27.

26. Cyprian Smith, p. 27.

27. Cyprian Smith, p. 77.

28. For a fuller discussion of the reversals in Blake's physical act of producing his illuminated books, see previous chapter.