Blake and the Bible Christopher Rowland

Publication date:
05 Mar 2011
Yale University Press
320 pages: 3962 x 5944mm
32 b-w + 8 color illus.
Sales territories:

All those beguiled by the work of William Blake recognise the importance of the Bible for his poetic genius, whether as an object of criticism, or an inspiration. This book, the first substantial study for sixty years, attempts to locate Blake within the broad spectrum of Christian biblical interpretation, orthodox, heterodox, and radical. It explores the particular ways in which Blake engaged with the Bible and the distinctive interpretations that emerged, not least through the medium of images.

Rowland considers Blake's series of engravings on the "Book of Job", and his only commentary on a biblical book, to illuminate the distinctive features of the poet's exegesis. These include the priority given to the Spirit over the Letter; the critique of a theology which places supreme value on what is found in a book rather than attending to what Blake calls 'the Word of God Universal'; the advocacy of a religion of divine immediacy rather than transcendence; and, experience of suffering as the motor of theological and ethical change. This powerful and richly-illustrated work brings forty years of study to bear on one of the great interpreters of the Bible.

Christopher Rowland is Dean Ireland Professor of the Exegesis of Holy Scripture, University of Oxford, and a specialist in the interpretation of the books of Ezekiel and Revelation.

"Blake and the Bible, is full and fascinating."—Philip Pullman, The Guardian

"Blake and the Bible is a distinguished theologian’s idiosyncratic take on one of England’s greatest yet most subversive Christian poets….an entertaining journey."—Shirley Dent, Times Literary Supplement

"Most revisionist Blakes are mere costume drama, squeezing him into revolutionary uniform or San Fraciscan psychedelic bands. This one delivers him convincingly whole, in period, and aware of all periods of the Judaeo-Christian era."—Brian Morton, The Tablet

"With a pronounced attention to detail Rowland demonstrates a perceptive understanding of Blake’s visual exegesis of the Bible, covering the poet’s relationship with biblical literature, his comprehension of scripture in light of his own idiosyncratic beliefs, and the ways in which Blake expressed these ideas through various media."—David Jones, Theological Book Review Vol.23 No.1

"The strength of the book comes from the confident and controlled manner with which it approaches Blake’s complex and ostensibly riddling reading of scripture. Only a critic with Rowland’s vast insight into New Testament exegesis, Hebrew, Gnosticism and radical Christian writing can start to reveal the congruence between Blake’s early polemics against the Bible (The marriage of Heaven and Hell; The First Book of Urizen) and his later more obvious championing of it (Illustrations to the Book of Job; Jerusalem)"—Emma Mason, Art and Christianity

"This will become a landmark study. As one of today’s leading biblical scholars, Rowland combines acute theological perception with sustained readings of William Blake’s art that indicate his extraordinary hermeneutical achievement and significance for contemporary Christian theology."—David Jasper, Theology

"Christopher Rowland…has given us a magnificent steer towards understanding the genius of William Blake in a way that allows him to speak to the spirit of our own age. We are greatly in his debt."—Leslie Griffiths, Methodist Recorder