Religious Knowledge, Lecture 13

Blake's Behemoth and Leviathan

Blake's Behemoth and Leviathan

The complete Religious Knowledge class notes can be found in the Robert D. Denham library at the link above right.

Lecture 13. January 13, 1948

Ritual embodies the ceremonial aspects of the law.  The teaching of Jesus is a commentary on the law. He transforms the action to the understanding of the action; that is, myth explains the ritual.  In the conception of ritual you act according to the law.  In this aspect, sin is a positive act of breaking the law.  But for the Gospel, law is the foundation of the human act, not the super–structure.  Sin is the failure to transmute the law into human life.  All theories of law, justice and judgment are expressed by Jesus in spiritual terms.  The Gospel is not a new law.

The law supposes a judge and a person as prisoner.  The Last Judgment is usually seen as God “up there” with the people below as sheep and goats.  But the sheep and goats are not human, and Jesus does not judge; he casts out devils, and the swine go over the cliff into the “deep,” which is the Hebrew word “tome,” meaning nothingness.  The arena of the Last Judgment is the human soul.  God enters into the human soul and with His help we cast out the goats, the devils within us,

The apocalypse of personality is God’s descent into the human soul.  The Gospel does not bring peace, but a sword.  It discriminates and divides.  It brings the principle of absolute separation of good and bad in the world.  The sheep are the pure, those who have used their talents.  The bad are those who have not used their talents, but have buried them.

The myth of the Gospel is the explanation of ceremonial cleanliness.  The white sheep are separated from the black goats, the light from the dark, the human from the monstrous.  The image to sum up Jesus is the act of casting out devils, the forgiveness of sin.  The power of God descending into the human soul to cast out evil even as Jesus descended into the human and fallen world to cast out devils.  It happens in man.  It is the descent of divine power into man.  You cannot make a sheep out of a goat.  The sheep is a sheep no matter if it has strayed and been lost. Jesus will find the lost sheep.

Sin is the negative act which fundamentally does not exist since all action is positive and good.  The driving out of goats is driving “nothing” out to achieve the complete reality of unfallen man.  I know this sounds like a riddle, but play with it for a while . . . .

If casting out devils is the symbol of Jesus’ activity, then we see the relation between prophet and hero more clearly.  The prophet is the observer, the watcher, the interpreter of the hero’s action.  For the hero or king, what is the heroic act?

Fundamentally, it is the destruction of the powers of darkness.  The Gospel tells you the spiritual aspect of the physical act.  The religious experience is crystallized in the dragon-killing myth.

The Saviour withdraws man from the dragon so that he can see it is not alive after all.  The fairy tale of St. George and the dragon, or the Perseus and Andromache legend, are not just “stories.”  St. George is the symbol of the sun, of life, hence his colour is red.  The dragon and the old man are the same; winter, waste, sterility.  In medieval drama the old king is dressed up inside the dragon.  In most variations of this story there is a sinister old woman to balance off the young daughter.  In the same way, Perseus has to kill Medusa before he can get cracking on the dragon.


The power of darkness in the Bible is Leviathan, the dragon.  The Messiah is the dragon-killer.  The pure “nature” force in the dragon isn’t enough; the dragon is also an enemy.  In Ezekiel he is associated with the King of Tyre, a tyrant.  The hero’s army is of another tribe or nation or social group.  It can be an unrighteous nation of a city like Babylon or Tyre.  In Psalms 87 and 89, Leviathan is also called Rahab––“thou has broken Rahab in pieces.”

The dragon of folklore means the powers of chaos and waste.  The parable of “a certain young man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho” means he went down from the unfallen state to the fallen state because Rahab lives at Jericho.  Leviathan or Rahab means tyranny in some form.  The hero is fighting for liberty against tyranny.  It sounds phony, but it is something like that.  The activity of Jesus becomes the true form of the hero’s act; casting out devils equals the killing of the enemy of man.

Ezekiel 29: 3–4:

I am against thee, Pharaoh, King of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said, my river is mine own and I have made it for myself.

But I have put hooks into thy jaws and I will cause the fish of thy rivers to stick unto thy scales and I will bring thee out of the midst of they rivers and all the fish of thy rivers shall stick unto thy scales.

Chap. 32: 2 (of Pharaoh): “thou art as a whale in the sea.”

Psalm 74: 13–4:

Thou did not divide the sea by thy strength; thou brakest the heads of the dragon in the waters.

Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness.

Isaiah 27: 1:

In that day the Lord with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent; even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.

In the Gospels, leviathan is the sea monster; but God can control the sea.  The hauling of leviathan out of the sea is important to the fishing symbolism in the Gospel.  Jesus is the fisher or men.  The fish are not in the sea by accident.  Leviathan is the sea. When he is drawn out, the sea no longer exists, only rivers circulating freely.

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