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Paradise Lost: A Biblically Annotated Edition (review)
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On the Milton Society website, on the “recent publications” page, Matthew Stallard’s new text is erroneously subtitled “THE Biblically Annotated Edition,” rather than using the indefinite article of the official title, but that capitalized aberration, whether intentional or accidental, is more accurate, since no other edition of Paradise Lost approaches its like. As Stallard notes in his preface concerning the work of other editors of the epic, they have tended to “cast their nets as broadly as possible to represent the depth and breadth of Milton’s allusions,” and subsequently given the Bible short shrift (vii). The subsequent argument effectively preaches to the choir, though in a very lucid and compelling fashion, to prove the centrality of Judeo-Christian scripture to Milton’s composition not only of Paradise Lost but of the vast majority of his other writings as well. Given also the general importance of the Bible in the religio-political environment of seventeenth-century England and Milton’s unwavering use of scripture as the underpinning of his own theological and civil agendas, there is little need to justify an edition such as Stallard’s, which limits the annotative matter to relevant passages from the various versions of the Bible familiar to the epic’s author. Those versions include not only the Authorized (or King James) Version of 1612, but also, of course, the Geneva Bible, and the Douay-Rheims, not to mention the two less familiar versions known as the Great Bible (1539) and the Bishop’s Bible (1568). Add to these the Latin Vulgate and the Greek Septuagint, and a Miltonist could hardly hope for a “wider net” to catch those inter-textual allusions to scripture that saturate virtually every line of Paradise Lost. As such, Stallard’s edition is a valuable resource to scholars of the seventeenth century, but not one limited to the rarified sort of research characteristic of academia. What Milton writes of bible study in his Treatise of Civil Power (quoted in Stallard’s preface) could just as easily pertain to the biblically annotated edition itself: “It is useful for teaching…even those who are already learned and wise.”

Indeed, Stallard’s new edition of Paradise Lost is a potentially useful adjunct to the study of the epic in both the graduate and undergraduate classrooms. It is not as if any of the other available texts are inferior (and certainly not such a fine edition as Flannagan’s Riverside), but in an era when so very few students come to college even with a marginal background in biblical literature, one can readily justify (as Stallard does) that an edition such as his helps compensate for this formidable gap in their knowledge-base. One could argue these days that many students come to us far more conversant in the mythologies of the Greeks and Romans than in the foundational narratives of Judaism and Christianity. By highlighting the primacy of scripture to Milton’s theodicy through which he intends, methodically, to “justify the ways of God to man,” Stallard himself tries to justify the ways of Milton to his 21st century audience, whether they are well-established scholars or novice students of English literature. Since the biblically annotated edition is available also in paperback, it constitutes a convenient and reasonably priced alternative to the more conventional texts out there suitable to classroom application despite the fact that, page for page, Stallard’s notes often swamp the primary text.

As one might expect, given its relative brevity, Book XII is the most heavily annotated by far, outstripping even Book XI, one as explicitly bound to Scripture as the first, but almost a third longer. Books II and IV merit the least annotation, and not surprisingly, as they are among the more interpolative and less explicitly theological. The curiosity, however, is the comparatively well-annotated Book V containing the first half of the account of Raphael’s divine mission to warn Adam and Eve of the danger Satan is known to present; as they lunch, the angel begins the tale of Lucifer’s revolt and Abdiel’s opposition. One might expect a narrative that has on its surface so little to do with biblically-grounded...

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