The Golden Past

The myth of the golden past, of a world of boundless innocence tempered by profound wisdom, is flawed by the fact that these qualities are unlikely to live together, because the acquisition of wisdom requires the accumulation of knowledge.

A more compelling myth is that the human race has always had its lonely figures, its Mozarts, Einsteins, Newtons, Galileos, Mendeleev’s, who could combine observation with insight, men of whom , like Schubert, it could be said, have been taught by God and can see things to which the rest of us are blind. Nowhere is this myth more powerfully presented than in the Garden of Eden story which is clearly the work of a mind of the first magnitude. Although linked to the Creation story it transcends it. The lesser insight of the Creation Story is that the world had not always existed. The greater insight of the fall is to describe the dawn of the awareness of self-awareness and the consequences that this must have. Man/woman has woken up and begun to see. Unfortunately the story has become contaminated. Wonder and joy have been replaced by shame, the ugly sister of necessity. Survival is about self-interest and the guilt this must involve is in a sense, original sin, but the corrosive attribution of shame is no more than a perversion and this, if anything, is the truly original sin. A full resolution of these issues awaited the arrival of the man who could write

Equally ambiguous is the story of Cain and Abel. The grasping farmer has killed the noble hunter, but should all farmers bear the mark of Cain and are all hunters admirable free spirits. Is this tale metaphorical, or does it relate to a single ‘historical’ event.

The most difficult of the Biblical events to interpret are those surrounding the Last Supper and the disciple whom Jesus loved. Looking ahead to Blake and his interpretation of ‘to rightly know’, one possibility is that Blake believed the soul to be immortal and that earthly trauma could not touch it. There is every reason to believe that Jesus held the same view. It is also possible that Jesus believed that he could survive death. For whatever reason he had determined and predicted that his crucifixion would take place at a time and place that he had decided on. The problem was to ensure that the arrest could be organised. There was always the possibility that his actions in Holy Week had not been sufficiently provocative and that has was still not well-enough known. Facing this dilemma, who could he select to carry out the task, one who had lost respect for him, or the only one he could trust to do it? The English translation of his words  ‘ One of you will betray me’ carries the full ambiguity of the word ‘will’. In this light, the story of the betrayer and his subsequent doubts and regret can take on very different qualities.

This interpretation, or one like it, does make the Bible story more wholesome, because in the accepted version, whilst it was Jesus who, in the short-term, suffered for the sins of the world, in the long-term it was Judas, and he remains unforgiven for the part he either chose, or was destined, to play.

Man was made for joy and woe;

And when this we rightly know,

Thro' the world we safely go.