The Bible as Critic: Questioning identity amid the loss of Incarnation.

“Jerusalem”; lyrics of 1804 by William Blake, anthem of 1916 by Hubert Parry, asks the question whether the child Jesus of History actually visited England and references the intention of the returned Christ of Glory to establish a New Jerusalem at his Second Coming.  The first story is apocryphal; there is no Biblical account of Jesus outside Israel and Egypt in his boyhood.  The second story is apocalyptic and is recorded in Revelation 3:12 and 21:2.  For Blake the Bible, and popular Christian tradition, can be used as a cultural resource to critique culture.  Is it possible that the New Jerusalem might be “builded here among the Dark Satanic Mills” of a rapidly industrialising England and Wales?  What was in Parry’s mind that the story lost its critical value to become the anthem of the Women’s Institute, or does he also rage against the machine amidst his own dark satanic flesh-not-cotton-mills of the Western Front?

The story of God made flesh, of a real Jesus who walked and ate and as a child might have travelled to Britannia with Uncle Joseph (the Arimathean) is the story of Christianity.  God became one of us out of love; and this we know because the Bible tells us so.  So surely a God who got dusty feet on human roads, and may have puked his boyish guts out on the channel crossing, has an opinion about the world God so loved becoming a mechanised, rather smoky place of fire and millstone.   This too is the story of Christianity, not only that the one and only God joined Creation in a created form but that God came down from Heaven out of profound interest and a desire to engage closely with every man and woman.

What does it mean that the One who created all things “good” (Genesis 1:11-12) is in danger of emphysema should Creator visit Creation for a chat (Genesis 3:8-9)?  This is the sort of question the Bible is made to ask by those who use it to make their point.  A second Bible-in-Culture question is asked, that of cultural identity.  Having addressed a Creational Theology, what does it mean to English cricket’s Barmy Army that “Jerusalem” was chosen as a rallying cry?  How does the Biblical “Jerusalem” address questions of identity in ways that “Land of Hope and Glory” might not?    Isn’t there irony that the popular anthem of English identity while abroad is a song about the breaking down of interpersonal relationships through impersonal industrialisation?    Regardless, when one is dressed as St George while at the Gabba Biblical imagery can prove useful in delineating one’s cultural identity.

The Bible has proven adept at allowing itself to make a valid, divinely ordained point critical of any or all technological or social endeavours.  Whether you are a theologian or a cynic of all Jewish or Christian claims to truth, as a cultural artefact and a book of quotes the Bible is a veritable ore-mine of nifty and lofty arguments and proof-texts.


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