Milton and Midrash

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Catholic University of America Press, 1995 - 266 pages
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""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 and Aramaic 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

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 decades. 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 understanding 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 United States and now lives in Jerusalem, Israel. 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.

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Midrash in Christian Writings
Miltons Knowledge of Hebraica
The Midrash Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer and Paradise Lost

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