- The Great Code: The Bible and Literature
'Just as he exiled questions of value from the Anatomy, he exiles from his biblical criticism questions of belief,' observed Frank Kermode in an essay of 1989, 'Northrop Frye and the Bible.' Let us imagine that 'questions of belief' had been exiled, banished, expelled from The Great Code. Where did they go? Are they weeping by the rivers of Babylon? Making bricks without straw in Egypt? Exiled by Frye, 'questions of belief' have been adopted by a group of Frye's disciples who, among other things, control, edit, annotate, explicate, promote, and write introductions for the Collected Works.
The Great Code, we read in the editor's introduction, is a book 'about the possibility of human enlightenment and freedom through a radical [End Page 366] new understanding of the symbolic language of the Bible.' 'Read anagogically, the two testaments, and the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, say the same thing: the freedom of the exodus is the freedom of the resurrection.' The 'main subject' of The Great Code is 'the awakening or resurrecting of human consciousness.' In 'this incarnational book,' Frye 'invites the reader to confront the major challenges of the Bible – in the hope that the old writings will breathe new life and so enable genuine individuals to be born, imaginatively and spiritually.' The Bible 'is still ready, says The Great Code, to evoke enlightened response from readers ready to act as antitypes in whom a new heaven and a new earth can be born.'
The original 1982 edition of The Great Code included 146 of Frye's terse and compact endnotes. This new edition includes 451 endnotes; of those, 160 comprise more or less extended passages from the Bible, usually the AV. Sometimes a catena of biblical passages appears in one long pedagogic endnote. I had assumed that readers of The Great Code would have a Bible to hand, but maybe not. The editor, Alvin Lee, comments, 'One of the problems of The Great Code is that, although it is said by its author to assume relatively little knowledge of the Biblical text on the part of readers, without such familiarity the reader can have little sense of what NF is shaking up – of the "Word" that is being decoded.' (Is the 'Word' encoded?) In my view, the hundreds of endnotes added to this edition are not the most convenient or unmediated source of knowledge about the Bible.
Concerned with editorial material in this review, I am struck by the unexplained use of the term Jahweh. For example, Frye in The Great Code discusses the 'totalitarian conception of law, in which the breaker of an obligation to God is to be wiped out with his family' (he cites Joshua 7:24). The editor's annotation suggests that Joshua 7 is 'valuable to understanding the reference to Jahweh's definition of collective guilt.' Why 'Jahweh'? Frye uses the phrase 'and obligation to God,' not 'Jahweh.' Another, like-minded endnote reads in part, 'In the post-exilic temple (not Soloman's) there was a seven-branched candlestick with seven lamps symbolizing the all-seeing eye of Jahweh.' The note proceeds typologically, by way of Zechariah's vision of the golden candlestick and the two olive trees, through the New Testament antitypes (the two thieves, the two witnesses of Revelation), to conclude with 'the ten plagues with which Jahweh punishes Egypt.'
The translators of the AV and RSV do not render the proper name of the God of Israel, YHWH, as 'Jahweh.' They substitute the word LORD in small caps ('they are the eyes of the LORD, which run to and fro through the whole earth' [Zechariah 4:10; AV]). Nor, so far as I can tell, is Jahweh (or Yahweh) used in other English versions of the Bible, with two exceptions: the Jerusalem Bible; and the World English Bible™ (WEB), [End Page 367] an evangelizing update of the American Standard Version of 1901. ('Yahweh is my...