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Standing Firm: Jesus Christ, the Book of Job, and “Paradise Regained”

“Paradise Regained” takes place on an apparently smaller scale than its predecessor, Paradise Lost. However, Milton himself viewed it as an even greater achievement than that epic, and according to his nephew Edward Philips “could not hear [negative comparisons of the two] with patience . . . when related to him.”[1] The poet’s view of his latter-day effort as a worthy successor to Paradise Lost can best be explained in light of his view of the Book of Job as a “brief model” of an epic in its own right.[2] While the Biblical text that “Paradise Regained” most significantly draws upon for its plot is the Gospel of Luke, its form and genre are largely informed by Job, making it a minor epic of its own.

     Job‘s genre has historically been disputed, along with much else about it—authorship, characters’ motivations and morality, textual integrity.[3] However, Milton was of the opinion that it merited the classification as epic, ranking it alongside Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid in his writing on the subject.[4] Charles W. Jones writes that “Milton concurred with the usage of the seventeenth century in regarding heroic and epic as virtual synonyms”; the interpretation of Job as a heroic poem was common in Milton’s time.[5] According to this school of thought, Job is a heroic poem due primarily to its form—Jerome incorrectly identified the book as being written in hexameters, an error which persisted for hundreds of years.[6] Its content was also considered that of epic; many viewed it as a tale of heroism on the grandest scale in “which Job’s encounter with Satan is a heroic combat of cosmic significance involving an unparalleled hero.”[7] The Venerable Bede, centuries before Milton, made the comparison, classing Job’s actions with those of Virgil’s and Homer’s heroes.[8] Milton’s own conception of heroism as our faithfulness to God, “single [maintaining]/Against revolted multitudes the cause/Of truth,” aligns with this vision of Job as a hero despite his lack of conventionally heroic action.[9] With this view of the poem as heroic and thus epic in mind, Christ’s story parallels with Job’s heroism to make “Paradise Regained” another example of heroism functioning as epic.

     Christ, Satan, and the Father each address the parallels between the events of “Paradise Regained” and those occurring in the Book of Job. Speaking to Gabriel, the Father says he would think that Satan would be “Less overweening, since he failed in Job,/Whose constant perseverance overcame/Whate’er his cruel malice could invent.”[10] Satan himself tells Christ of how he “came among the Sons of God, when he/Gave up into my hands Uzzean Job,/To prove him, and illustrate his high worth.”[11] Christ subsequently turns this story against his foe, asking “What but thy malice moved thee to misdeem/Of righteous Job[?]”[12] The longest section that draws parallels with the story of Job is in the poem’s third book, in which Christ, debating glory with Satan, cites Job as an example of one whom through faithfulness to God found both earthly and heavenly renown.[13] Milton recognized the debt that his poem owed to Job and consciously encouraged the reader to notice the parallels between Job and Christ. Structurally, “Paradise Regained” has numerous similarities to Job, most notably in its opening. Where, after the brief description of Job’s prosperous life, we see the heavenly court and “the sons of God,” and the wager that Satan and the Father make,[14] “Paradise Regained” describes an infernal council between Satan and his fallen followers in which he decides to tempt their new foe.[15] The rest of the poem, following the Gospel of Luke rather than consisting purely of Milton’s invention, necessarily departs from being completely parallel to Job in its structure, but maintains a number of similarities in its events and themes.

     If we see Job as epic, “Job’s experience is treated as a reenactment of the first great event in man’s history, the temptation of Adam.”[16] Christ’s temptation in “Paradise Regained” also reflects that temptation. Satan explicitly states this in his council with the demons, saying, “the way found prosperous once/Induces best to hope of like success.”[17] The most obvious reflection of mankind’s fall in Satan’s temptation of Jesus is his use of “A table richly spread, in regal mode,/With dishes piled, and meats of noblest sort/And savour” to beguile his target into breaking his fast[18]—the narrator goes so far as to make a direct comparison, exclaiming “Alas! how simple, to these cates compared,/Was that crude apple that diverted Eve!”[19] Just as Job succeeds where his predecessors failed, refusing to “[b]laspheme God, and die,”[20] Jesus consistently refutes Satan’s temptation in “Paradise Regained.” In this regard, both Job and Jesus are multi-layered reflections; Job reflects forward as well as backward, prefiguring the Son just as he parallels Adam, while the Son reflects backward not only to Adam but to Job.

     In their dialogues, Satan and the Son parallel the philosophical dialogue between Job and his three friends. However, the tone of the dialogue in Milton’s poem is different than that of the Hebrew poem. In the Book of Job, there is no central antagonist after the initial framing story has transitioned into the bulk of the poetry; Satan simply vanishes. Job’s three friends, the antagonists of the following dialogue, cannot help but pale in comparison to the author of Job’s misfortune; their dialogue regarding the nature of God’s justice does not endanger Job spiritually or physically. There is a far greater sense of menace in Satan’s dialogues with Jesus. For Jesus to be swayed at any point by his antagonist means his downfall, and with him the downfall of mankind’s only hope for redemption. Christ’s epic heroism surpasses that of Job; where Job, heroic as his refusal to curse God is, wars not with an active and present malevolence but merely with his misguided friends, Jesus actively refutes his tempter and the author of Job’s misfortune.

     While Job’s and Christ’s heroism is primarily spiritual—each wins victory by refusing to succumb to Satan’s power and wiles—they are also placed in physical danger by the archfiend: “The conflict in “Paradise Regained” is ultimately a spiritual one, but the basis of the human spirit is the physical body, and the body is the battlefield of the spirit.”[21] Job’s physical peril is that of illness; though God orders Satan to spare Job’s life, he leaves the tempter free to smite him with “sore boils, from the sole of his foot unto his crown.”[22] Jesus’ physical endangerment in “Paradise Regained” goes beyond even this extremely painful trial. The threat of physical harm first appears when Satan sends him terrifying dreams of “fierce rain with lightning mixed, water with fire/In ruin reconciled,”[23] winds strong enough to uproot trees,[24] and “hellish furies. . .[bearing] fiery darts.”[25] This show of power is oddly reminiscent of God’s own show of force to Job “out of the whirlwind,”[26] but coming from Satan, rather than from a moral, if terrifying, God, lends it an added menace. These dream-terrors are nothing compared to the final temptation at the pinnacle of the Temple, in which Jesus, despite his spiritual steadiness, stands with “uneasy station” and risks plummeting to his death.[27] The heroic nature of Jesus is emphasized by this climactic test, which is more than Job physically had to face; thus the Son, who “is in the position of a tragic hero, on top of the wheel of fortune, subject to the fatal instant of distraction that will bring him down,”[28] surpasses his predecessor, already an epic hero in Milton’s mind.

     There is a crucial aspect of the ending of the Book of Job that “Paradise Regained” reflects while simultaneously turning it on its head—the silencing of Job by God. In “Paradise Regained,” the one being tempted is, in fact, divine, unlike the righteous yet still human Job. Thus it is Christ who receives the final word. In Milton’s epic it is Satan the tempter, who in the Book of Job is curiously absent from the conclusion of the framing narrative, who is silenced by the power of divine speech, plunging voiceless and “smitten with amazement” from the Temple’s height.[29] The tempted hero and the divine are vindicated in each poem, but in Job the vindication of the divine comes at the expense of the hero, who can only himself be vindicated after being humbled by the awesome words of God. In “Paradise Regained” the hero and the divine are one and the same, and it is the tempter who has no choice but to remain silent in light of the truth.

     In the end, “Paradise Regained” and Job are framed by the choice to remain faithful to God:

     “[It] remained for Milton to simplify construction to the point where all action     hung upon a single choice. . .for good or bad, made with free will. . . [He believed] it was his business as a poet to clear away the phenomenal and accidental so that the essential choice might stand forth.”[30]

     In spite of his doubts and his anger, Job ultimately chooses to stand firm in his faith, refusing to blaspheme God and rather submitting to him after he is addressed from the whirlwind. Similarly, Christ’s one choice throughout “Paradise Regained,” most dramatically presented in his final test at the height of the Temple, is to stand firm with his Father and refuse to succumb to temptation.

     Outside of the text of “Paradise Regained,” the poem’s publication in one volume with Milton’s Hebrew-Greek tragedy “Samson Agonistes” points to his desire to underline a connection between the Old and New Testaments. “Samson Agonistes” itself is reminiscent of the Book of Job, the hero’s soliloquies hearkening back to Job’s numerous laments of his condition. The difference between Samson and the duo of Job and Christ lies in the reasons for their suffering and the manner of their heroism. Samson’s suffering is due to his own flaws, the revealing of his secret “weakly to a woman.”[31] He admits this, saying “Whom have I to complain of but myself?”[32] His final heroic act, which results in his own destruction, is selfishly motivated; as he says to the Philistines before he slaughters them through his feat of strength, “Now of my own accord such other trial/I mean to show you.”[33] Job and Christ, on the other hand, are identical to each other, and diametrically opposed to Samson, in their plights and their heroism. Each of them is tempted and afflicted not due to his own hubris or sin but to Satan’s desire to prove God wrong; each triumphs not for himself, but for God. Job’s final words are, “Therefore I abhor myself,”[34] while Christ’s are, “Tempt not the Lord thy God.”[35] Christ and Job are in many senses the same; they are afflicted not by their sin but by Satan, and they triumph not through personal glory but through the glorification of God. Christ ultimately surpasses Job in each of these areas, but Job nevertheless prefigures his eventual savior.

     Ultimately, by adhering to the Book of Job in many of its heroic aspects, and surpassing it in others, “Paradise Regained” fits Milton’s definition of a “brief epic”. Its apparently small scope is actually cosmic in scale, and its heroism is no less for occurring in words rather than action. While not an epic in the same sense that its predecessor, Paradise Lost, is, “Paradise Regained” nevertheless maintains the epic spirit that Milton had in mind, and is a worthy continuation of its themes.


[1] Helen Darbishire, Early Lives of Milton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1932), 75.

[2] John Milton, The Reason of Church Government, in The Essential Prose of John Milton, ed. William Kerrigan, John Rumrich, and Stephen M. Fallon (New York: Modern Library, 2013), 88.

[3] Barbara Lewalski, Milton’s Brief Epic: The Genre, Meaning, and Art of Paradise Regained (London: Methuen & Co. Limited, 1966), 12.

[4] Milton, Church Government, 88.

[5] Charles W. Jones, “Milton’s ‘Brief Epic’,” Studies in Philology 44 (1947): 210.

[6] Lewalski, Milton’s Brief Epic, 13.

[7] Ibid., 17.

[8] Ibid., 16.

[9] John Milton, Paradise Lost, (London: Routledge, 2013), 6.30-32.

[10] John Milton, “Paradise Regained,” The Complete Shorter Poems, ed. John Carey (London: Routledge, 2007), 1.147.149.

[11] Ibid., 1.368-370.

[12] Ibid., 1.424-425.

[13] Ibid., 3.60-107.

[14] Job 1:6-12 GNV.

[15] Milton, “Paradise Regained,” 1.33-105.

[16] Lewalski, Milton’s Brief Epic, 27.

[17] Milton, “Paradise Regained,” 1.104-105.

[18] Ibid., 2.340-342.

[19] Ibid., 2.348-349

[20] Job 2:9 GNV.

[21] Northrop Frye, “The Typology of Paradise Regained,” in Milton’s Epic Poetry: Essays on Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, ed. C. A. Patrides (Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1967), 306.

[22] Job 2:7 GNV.

[23] Milton, “Paradise Regained,” 4.412-413.

[24] Ibid., 4.413-419

[25] Ibid., 422, 424.

[26] Job 38:1 GNV.

[27] Milton, “Paradise Regained,” 4.584.

[28] Frye, “The Typology of Paradise Regained,” 317.

[29] Milton, “Paradise Regained,” 4.562.

[30] Jones, “Milton’s ‘Brief Epic’,” 222-223.

[31] John Milton, “Samson Agonistes,” in The Complete Shorter Poems, ed. John Carey (London: Routledge, 2007), 50.

[32] Ibid., 46.

[33] Ibid., 1643-1644 [emphasis added].

[34] Job 42:6 GNV.

[35] Milton, “Paradise Regained,” 4.561.

 

References

Darbishire, Helen. Early Lives of Milton. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1932.

Frye, Northrop. “The Typology of Paradise Regained.” Milton’s Epic Poetry: Essays on Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, ed. C. A. Patrides. Middlesex: Penguin Books,    1967.

The Geneva Bible. Bible Gateway. Accessed November 21 2014.

https://www.biblegateway.com/versions/1599-Geneva-Bible-GNV/

Jones, Charles W. “Milton’s ‘Brief Epic’.” Studies in Philology 44 (1947): 209-227.

Lewalski, Barbara. Milton’s Brief Epic: The Genre, Meaning, and Art of Paradise Regained. London: Methuen & Co. Limited, 1966.

Milton, John, Paradise Lost. London: Routledge, 2013.

Milton, John. “Paradise Regained.” The Complete Shorter Poems, ed. John Carey. London: Routledge, 2007.

Milton, John. “Samson Agonistes.” The Complete Shorter Poems, ed. John Carey. London: Routledge, 2007.

Milton, John. The Reason of Church Government. The Essential Prose of John Milton, ed. William Kerrigan, John Rumrich, and Stephen M. Fallon. New York: Modern Library, 2013.