8.0388 Book Ad: Milton and Midrash (1/75)

Mon, 13 Mar 1995 19:04:18 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 8, No. 0388. Monday, 13 Mar 1995.

Date: Fri, 10 Mar 95 10:04 +0200
From: RWERMAN@vms.huji.ac.il

Golda S. Werman


The use of Jewish nonbiblical sources (Midrash) in _Paradise
Lost_ has never been so thoroughly examined as in this
volume, in which Golda S. Werman combines esoteric
scholarship with interesting facts and insightful commentary
to answer questions that have perplexed literary scholars for

At the beginning of the twentieth century, when literary
scholars first discovered the midrashic elements in _Paradise
Lost_, one school of critics responded with skepticism and
disbelief -- why, they asked, would a Puritan poet dig through
ancient Hebrew and Aramaic texts for material to be used in
a Christian epic on the fall of man? They insisted that Milton
could not read difficult midrashic texts and that everything not
taken from Christian or classical sources is a product of the
poet's own rich imagination. Another school regarded Milton's
use of Midrash as proof of his profound knowledge of Talmud,
Midrash, the Zohar, and other Hebrew/Aramaic texts.

In _Milton and Midrash_ Werman effectively demonstrates that
both camps err: Milton did indeed use midrashic sources, but
he did not read the difficult midrashic texts in the original
languages. She shows, in a detailed analysis of the
nonbiblical Judaic materials included in the prose works, that
Milton's limited understandinbg of Midrash rules out any
possibility of his having read the sources in the original. Yet
her investigation revealed that Milton uses midrashim on
almost every page of the epic, and that many of these
midrashim come from the eighth-century Midrash Pirkei de-
Rabbi Eliezer. Further research showed that this Midrash had
been translated into Latin in 1644, just before Milton began
_Paradise Lost_. At last the puzzle was solved -- Milton's
midrashic materials were taken from translations made by
Christian Hebraists. Indeed, Milton had many Latin
translations by Christian Hebraists of midrashic works
available to him, and here Werman surveys the contemporary
intellectual climate in which these translations flourished.

These findings have revolutionized Milton scholarship,
correcting much that has been written about the poet's
Hebraism. All future source studies of the poem will make
use of the book's Appendix, which provides an invaluable line-
by-line gloss of _Paradise Lost_ that matches passages from
the epic with their analogues in the midrashic literature.

Golda S. Werman was educated in the U.S. and now lives in
Jerusalem. Her other field of interest is Yiddish, and she has
published several important English translations of Yiddish
literature, including most recently S. Ansky's _The Dybbuk and
Other Writings_.

Advance praise for Milton and Midrash

"This is a book not only for Milton scholars but for academics
writing in the recently active field of literature and Midrash
(and literature and the Bible). There are deep reserves of
learning behind it; unlike Saurat, Fletcher, and Baldwin, Dr.
Werman reads the Hebrew sources expertly. She provides a
wealth of new information which less scholarly academics will
probably exploit." Jason P. Rosenblatt, Professor of English,
Georgetown University

"Werman's study corrects much that has been written about
Milton's Hebraism and adds significant new information. The
appendix is enormously valuable and will assist future
scholars in pursuing more specifically detailed study of
Milton's use of Midrash." James H. Sims, Distinguished
Professor of English, The University of Southern Mississippi