Religious Knowledge, Lecture 14


Lecture 14. January 20, 1948

The word ritual begins to expand its meaning.  It begins to focus on certain symbols, for example, the killing of the dragon by the hero.  This is the essential theme of the epic.  It is given symbolic expression in the life of Jesus who embodies the character of hero and king.  The theme of the epic takes place in the individual soul.  The antagonists must be interpreted in a certain ways as chaos, sterility, wasteland, sea; that is, the unorganized aspect of nature.  Leviathan in the Bible takes the form of cosmological and political enemy.

The so-called “laws of nature” are sub-human; they are indifferent to the human and the conscious.  God is not in nature.  The order and precision of the stars is still sub-human; there is no conscious purpose of human qualities.  Man’s religious impulse is that he cannot worship a god who is no better than he is.  God in nature is subconscious and sub-human.  In human society, as man lives in nature, human civilization is in the grip of nature.

Psalm 87 contrasts the heavenly city with the earthly one.  Revelation 11 has the symbolism of two cities, and of the city or the temple, as well as the emphasis upon accurate measurements.  The city of God has shape; it is bounded and finite.  There is emphasis upon the indefiniteness of the “outer court” which is our world.  The two witnesses are Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophet.  Verse 7: “the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit.”  Verse 8: the great city is the fallen city of Jerusalem, also called Sodom and Egypt.  (“And their bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.”)

Leviathan is that which binds man in the fallen state.  The earthly city is part of the body of Leviathan.  The doctrine of the two cities is the subject of St. Augustine’s book, and it also shows in the opposition of light and the power of darkness.  There is also the following contrast, in which the right‑hand side is the physical reflection of the spiritual side, as a type of parody.

Fertility                                                Sterility

Form                                                    Amorphousness

Light                                                    Dark

Human body(individual or social)       Monster

Hero (Christ)                                       Dragon

Freedom                                              Tyranny

Human                                                 Nature

Hero (dragon-killer)                          Leviathan

Heavenly City                                      Earthly City

Water of Life                                       Water of death

Tree of Life                                          Tree of death

Temple of God                                    Heathen temple

Only in a state of nature is the power of darkness seen as continuous and fertile.  In the natural cycle the serpent symbol has its tail in its mouth—the circular or cyclic vision.  Jesus lifts light out of darkness, not just for one turn of the wheel of fate and nature, but eternally.

Resurrection                Renewal

Regeneration               Generation

The aim of the Bible is to sharpen the antithesis between these two sides.  Eternally there is a gulf between them; that is, between the state of heaven and of hell.  In the natural world we tend to think of ourselves as individuals locked up in ourselves.  With the co-operative act we are aware that there is something in humanity that is connectable.  Man is either part of the body of Christ or he is swallowed up in Leviathan; that is, a complete individualist.  Each of us is involved in dragon-killing; we kill the dragon or we are swallowed by him.


Jonah is swallowed and coughed up in three days.  This is like Jesus’ descent into hell for three days.  In the drama of the Middle Ages, hell is Leviathan, and Jesus walks into the monster and then comes out.  In doing that he repeats the rhythm of the human soul.  We are all born within Leviathan, within the order of nature.  One sees it in the North American legend of the sun being swallowed up by a monster every night.

The Book of Jonah is a grim business; it just misses being sardonic.  Jonah goes through an archetypal experience that is like The Tempest, which takes place under the sea.  Jonah has gone into a world of chaos and comes out of it.  But the experience of a thing does not give you knowledge of it.  Jonah is not changed when he comes out.  (Israel went through the same experience without knowing what it was about: Egypt is the monster and Israel escapes through the dry land in the Red Sea.)

Jonah comes out still an agent of the Law.  He denounced Nineveh and is annoyed when the people repent.  He wanted the wrath of God to destroy the city.  He believed in prophecy as foretelling the future.  It failed in that, but it filled the other prophetic role.  Jonah gets coughed out of the whale as soon as he realizes he is in there.  Once you realize you are in hell you are no longer wholly there.

Jonah talks back to God. The humour of Jonah and the pattern is repeated in Job, which is also one of the greatest comedies of the world.  The suggestion is there of suffering, doubt, despair, but no tragedy.  It belongs to Shakespeare’s maturer comedies like The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale, not to King Lear or Macbeth. The mature comedies have a sardonic bite that is lacking in the earlier ones.  He has gone through the tragic phase of death and emerges with a comedy which takes tragedy in its stride.  There is tragedy within comedy.  Tragedy deals with the tragedy of suffering and death, while comedy hinges on the comedy of life, which includes death.

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