The Bible and Literature: a Personal View by Northrop Frye - Program 13 "The Metaphor of Kingship"
Director: Bill Somerville Technical Director: Ted GlickmanConceived and Produced by: Robert SandlerExecutive Producer: Bob RodgersAudio: Gerard Beckers, Chris RodgersCamera: Richard Cable, Don Elsliger, Keith SpringerGraphic Design: Ken FongProduction Assistants: Anne Riemer Hart, Frances HandlemanAssistant to Northrop Frye: Jane WiddicombeDigitized and edited by Robert Fysh (2008)
Media Centre, University of Toronto, Canada
3/4 inch U-matic tape
Copyright © 1982, 2013, Victoria University
In the Bible, the King is identified with the land, as champion in times of prosperity and as scapegoat in times of ruin. Similarly, Christ is both King and scapegoat, King in the spiritual world and mock King in the physical world. Contains material from Lecture 10.
Transcript:Copyright © 1982, 2013, Victoria UniversityLECTURE TRANSCRIPT: PROGRAM 13
This this text is a transcript of the full lecture of Prof. Frye on Nov. 11, 1980. Only the bold parts are used in this version.Download a PDF of the TranscriptTHE METAPHOR OF KINGSHIP
I was speaking of the parallel between the Exodus events and the events in the gospel. And I was saying that the life of Jesus is evidently being presented to us in the Gospel as a progess of the spiritual Israel in the form of an individual. Now that means of course that in terms of type and antitype, the story of Israel in the Old Testament, which is the story of a society, is a type which has as its antitype in the New Testament the story of an individual.
That leads to the form of metaphor in which the individual is identified with the group. I have previously suggested that there are two forms of identification. There is in the first place identity with, the kind of identification that you get in the ordinary metaphor. If you look at Jacob's prophecy of the twelve tribes of Israel in Genesis 49, you will find a series of metaphors of that type: 'this is that'. That is, 'Joseph is a fruitful bough', and 'Naphtali is a hind let loose; 'Issachar is a strong ass', and so on. In that form, the this-is-that form where two things are said to be the same thing and yet remain different things, we have the ordinary poetic metaphor, which is, as I said earlier, not simply illogical but anti-logical, because two things could never be the same thing and yet remain two things.
There is also the identity as, which is the basis of all ordinary categorical thinking, where you identify an individual by placing it within a class. If somebody who had just come in from Mars came into my office and said, 'What's that brown and green object outside your window?' and I say 'That's a tree', I am identifying the individual object he's pointing to with the class to which it belongs. That is, I'm identifying it as a tree.
There is a third kind of metaphor which unites the anti-logical identity with and the categorical identity as; and that is the kind of metaphor that you have when you identify all the trees of Eden with the tree of life, and all the cities of the world either with Jerusalem or with Babylon. And it is that peculiarly powerful and subtle metaphor which you get by identifying a thing as itself and also with its class that the metaphor of kingship belongs to. That is why kingship is one of the most pervasive of human institutions.
The society that went furthest in identifying the entire society with and as the king was ancient Egypt. If you look at, say, the Tutankhamen collection, you would say to yourself that it would be absolutely incredible that all that labor and expense went into the constructing of the tomb for a pharaoh. We'd never believe it without direct evidence. And yet, when we understand how very pervasive royal metaphors are in Egypt—that Pharaoh is not only a king, he is an incarnate god, identical with the god Horus before his death and with the god Osiris after it, and that he was called 'the shepherd of his people'—it becomes more conceivable. And unlike the Hebrew practice, he was high priest as well as king. So it is possible that the ordinary Egyptian found an identity for himself within the mystical body of Pharaoh which was of a kind that our mental processes simply cannot recapture.
There is something of that feeling in the typical king figure of the Old Testament, who is usually identified either with David or Solomon, and who is not spoken of as an incarnate god but as somebody under the special protection of God and in a special relationship to him. In Psalm 2, for example, you have an imagery attached to the king which is more common among the Semitic peoples of Western Asia. In verse 7: 'I will declare the decree: the Lord has said unto me, Thou art my son; this day have I begotten thee'. This of course is taken in a much more precise sense in Christianity, but in this context, the king is being regarded as chosen of God, and therefore the son of God. He is, strictly speaking, the adopted son of God, but the ceremony of adoption is symbolized by the physical term 'begetting': 'This day have I begotten thee'. That gives the king a special connection with divinity on the one hand and with his people on the other; because by the principles of metaphor, the king does not represent his people, he is the people in the form of a single body, which is why the conception of the line of David is so central in the Messianic imagery of the Bible.
This 2nd Psalm is one of the two psalms—the other one is Psalm 110—which were of greatest importance to the New Testament writers in defining their conception of the royalty of Jesus. They used the term 'begotten' to mean that Christ is the Son of God, proceeds from the Father, and is the only element or aspect of experience that is not a creature. Everything else has been created, but Christ was not created, he was begotten. That's the Christian reading of it, and it is an even more intensive identification than is, I think, intended in the 2nd Psalm.
Now we remember that the typical narrative structure in the Bible was of a U-shape where, in the Old Testament the society of Israel usually starts in a position of relative peace or prosperity, does something wrong or meets with a hostile ruler as it did in Egypt, and plunges into a state of bondage or servitude from which it is delivered. Now, if the king is his people in an individual form, it follows that the legendary kings of glory, David and Solomon, don't exhaust the metaphorical imagery of the king. The king also is his people in their shame and humiliation.
The Book of Lamentations has to do with the sacking of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and the carrying away of the people of Israel into captivity. And we are told that the unlucky last king of Judah, whose name was Zedekiah, had his eyes put out by Nebuchadnezzar. In 4:20: 'The breath of our nostrils. the anointed of the Lord, was taken in their pits, of whom we said, Under his shadow we shall live among the heathen'. Now that phrase, 'breath of our nostrils', could hardly say more explicitly than it does that the king is not a representative of his people, but is his people in an individual form.
Of course, Israel spent most of its time during the Old Testament period in a state of humiliation and foreign conquest. Consequently, the king figure has a good deal of this kind of imagery attached to him. I was speaking of the Semite peoples of Western Asia, who had somewhat similar attitudes to kingship. Even when those kings were strong and successful, they would have to go through certain ritual ceremonies in which they assumed the opposite role. We are told that in Babylon at the time of the New Year festival, a king, such as Nebuchadnezzar, would go through a ceremony of ritual humiliation, have his face slapped by the priest and that sort of thing, and then his title would be renewed for another year. Nebuchadnezzar was a strong and successful monarch: but if this ceremony were omitted, it might provoke the jealousy of his tutelary deity.
So we're not surprised to find that rather similar imagery is sometimes attached even to the glorified kings of Israel. II Samuel 6 describes not only an episode from the very successful and glorious reign of King David, but also the particular episode which, from the Biblical writers' point of view, was the greatest moment in David's life, the moment at which the ark of the covenant, which had gone through the desert with the Israelites, was brought into Jerusalem—because the greatest military feat of David's reign was the capture of Jerusalem and the making of that city the capital of Israel. In verse 17: 'And they brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in his place'. You have to watch out for 17th century locutions in the King James Bible: 'his' there is the genitive case of 'it'. In other words, the word 'its' did not exist in the English language when the King James translators were at work; or if it did exist, it was only coming into being as a neologism, which no respectable person like a Biblical scholar would use. That's why the translations have to twist all around corners sometimes to avoid the word 'its', as in Psalm 19: 'There is nothing hid from the heat thereof' instead of saying 'There is nothing hid from its heat'. So here, 'his place' means 'its place'.
'And they brought in the ark of the Lord and set in his place, in the midst of the tabernacle that David had pitched for it…' David showed his sense of the importance of the occasion by, in the first place, holding a communal meal: in verse 19, he gave to everybody in Israel a cake of bread and a piece of flesh and a flagon of wine—and also by dancing in front of the ark with all his might. His wife, Michal, who is Saul's daughter, sneered at him as having made an exhibitionistic fool of himself in front of the servants. David's answer is very interesting from our present point of view: he says, in verse 22: 'And I will yet be more vile than thus, and will be base in mine own sight: and of the maidservants which thou hast spoken of, of them shall I be had in honour'. He is speaking of the necessity of his own humiliation, even in his own eyes, as a part of his royal responsibility. So you can understand from that how it was that David got to be the traditional author of the Psalms. In the Psalms you get phrases like 'I will praise the Lord', where the 'I' is the author of the hymn, but also all the singers of the hymn. That is, the individual and the group are not linked in any logical relationship at all: they are identified. And it makes the identification that much more vivid and intense if the 'I' who speaks as the author of the hymn is, in fact, the king. That certainly would account for the number of psalms that are associated with David and yet are confessional psalms which express the need for forgiveness, or the need for deliverance, or at need of rescue against the slanders of enemies and that kind of thing. All these are things which the king goes through as the individuality of his people.
I think you'll find this kind of metaphor used wherever you find royalty and the institution of kingship, or at least the equivalent of royalty. I remember seeing a movie about forty years ago which had to do with a group of emigres from revolutionary Russia. They were arguing with a Communist in the revolutionary Russian government, and one of them said, 'What the Czar was is something that you could never begin to understand. He was Russia'. That is an example of the royal metaphor being used in its full weight. There are even hymns to Stalin in later Russia which apply the same imagery to him, because of course anything that can be applied in a religious context can also be applied in an Antichrist context. The only mark of any genuine distinction in Hitler was the seriousness with which he took his Antichrist role, in identifying himself as the individual who was Germany. You can find the royal metaphor, like every other image, in either an apocalyptic context or in a demonic one. And you can get it also in any society which has accepted that view of royalty, kingship, leadership, dictatorship or whatever it is, whether it's explicitly religious or not.
Of course, the theory of democracy, insofar as it has a theory, is of a somewhat different kin? The metaphor of kingship is one which can be very appealing in certain contexts, and extremely regressive and sinister in certain other contexts. If Queen Elizabeth II were to go by on Charles Street, you would all be rushing to the window, not because there is anything unusual in her appearance, but because she enables you to see yourselves as a group in the form of an individual. There is a particular intensity or even a pathos about a figure who has acquired that status purely by accident, as a result of birth, and hasn't any executive power. That is the kingship metaphor as an attractive icon. But of course there are many other contexts where the kingship metaphor is a very dangerous idol, and it is because of the dangers in it that democracy has replaced the ritual humiliation of the king with the annual election in which, according to the theory, if you get enough individual imbecilities added together, you get a collective wisdom.
There can be other metaphors of individuality. The person is the most direct and the most intensive form of metaphor, because a person is of the same category as the people. Whereas if you identify yourself with the flag or with something which is really a metaphor for a person, you are using a secondary metaphor. Legally, there is such an entity as a Crown, but if Joe Blow were to walk along Charles Street carrying a crown, it would not arouse more than a casual interest on your part. That's a secondary metaphor. The primary metaphor is the one which is of the same category as ourselves.
The most eloquent passage anywhere in the Bible containing this identification of the king with his people in moments of humiliation comes from what is called the Second Isaiah, Isaiah 40-55, because he is writing many centuries later than the Isaiah who appears in the beginning of the book, represents himself in fact as writing during the Babylonian captivity. The prophecies of the Second Isaiah revolve around a conception that scholars call the 'suffering servant'; and the pronoun suggests that he's talking about an individual person.
In 53:3: 'He is despised and rejected of men: a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not'. The distinction is quite clearly drawn between the 'he' and the 'we'. That is, the suffering servant is spoken of as an individual and the 'we' represents the society that has rejected him. But the point is, that even in the act of rejection, the individual is the identity of the society that has rejected him.
This identification probably goes back to the ritual described in Frazer's Golden Bough. Whether it was actually a ritual at the very beginning of human society, or whether Frazer was writing a piece of science fiction doesn't really matter. But in the original rite as he describes it, the central figure of the community is regarded as both divine and human. And because he is that, the tribe's success is bound up with him. Consequently, you can't have an unsuccessful or humiliated god-man, or the tribe would go to pieces. So when he shows signs of losing his dominance, you put him to death, eat his body and drink his blood; and thereby he passes into the bodies of his worshippers and creates a single body out of them. His successor is immediately appointed, and is cheered up in this office by having his predecessor's blood smeared over him. However, as I say, I don't know to what extent that is more than a reconstruction. What is behind it is this metaphorical identification of group and individual, society and king, and the fact that the death or humiliation of the king figure is something; into which our own identity is drawn.
In the Exodus-Gospel parallel, the Joshua who conquers the Promised Land is the type of Jesus, who has the same name, and who achieves the conquest over death and hell. Joshua, in his conquest of Canaan, fights against certain enemy kings, and after winning the battle and capturing these kings, he hangs them on trees and then buries them and rolls great stones against the tomb. Similarly, we are told that the successor of the glorious David who captured Jerusalem was the equally glorious Solomon who built the Temple: but David also had a son called Absalom who rebelled against his father, and who was, in flying from David's armies, caught by his hair in a tree; and who hung there until David's general came up and thrust darts into his side. In telling the story of the passion of Christ in the Gospels, the Gospel narrators needed the imagery of the defeated kings of Canaan and the defeated Absalom as much as they needed the opposing figures of Joshua the conqueror and Solomon the king of wisdom hailed by the wise men.
Now this process of the humiliation of the king, at the bottom of the U-curve, is something that can be expressed symbolically in ritual. As I remarked earlier, it would make for political instability if you went through with that Frazer rite in its unadulterated form. When man is required by religious contract to give everything he most wants himself to God, it's a natural tendency—and in most contexts an extremely healthy tendency for man to say, 'The hell with this', and put in a substitute instead. Similarly, in the Mosaic law, there is a very clear conception of the people of Israel celebrating at their New Year the same kind of ritual humiliation that Nebuchadnezzar would have gone through in Babylon. But it is not here associated with a royal figure; it is purely a matter of ritual, and of sacrificial victims chosen for ritual.
Now you remember that the 'suffering servant' in Isaiah is described as 'despised and rejected'. That is, he is not simply a person who bears our grieves, but also a person driven out of the community: 'we esteemed him not'. And I've already suggested, I think, the significance for Christianity of the fact that Christ was the kind of prophet that no society could put up with. So there are these two aspects of the Passion: one is that of being the pure victim put to death; the other is that of being an exile sent out into the desert.
In Leviticus 14, there is a ritual to be observed by the priest if there is a suspected outbreak of leprosy. The priest is to take two birds and, in verse 50, 'He shall kill one of the birds in an earthen vessel over running water'. And the other bird, in verse 53, is to be let go out of the city into the open fields. So you avert a plague of leprosy by choosing two sacrificial victims, of which one is to be killed, the other sprinkled with its blood and driven out or exiled.
The underlying symbolism of this ritual becomes clearer in chapter 16 in the ceremony for the Day of Atonement. We saw that in the New Year festival in Babylon, the king went through a rite of humiliation. This is the corresponding rite for the people of Israel, and here again there are sacrificial victims, in the form of two goats. And again, one of the goats is killed, and the other is to be driven away from the people, symbolically carrying all the sins of the community on its head into the wilderness. The King James translators here came up with one of the most ingenious and inspired mistranslations in history, and said, 'This goat is to be sent as a scapegoat into the wilderness', thereby giving the English language an essential word. It is not what the text says. The text says that this goat is to be driven out 'to Azazel', who is the demon of the wilderness. The goat is sent to the devil; or, more precisely, to Azazel, the devil of the wilderness. And obviously, this is a development of a rite in which the original goat would actually have been offered to Azazel. There's a passage in Leviticus, another chapter further on, that indicates that. This corresponds again to elements in the Passion, where Jesus is both killed on the cross and, immediately after, descends to the kingdom of the devils.
But there is another aspect of the same imagery. We are told that at the time of the Passion there were in fact two prisoners, Jesus and a robber named Barabbas, whose name is quite interesting because it means 'son of the father'. And Pilate said to the crowd, 'It's your custom to release a victim at the Passover feast So choose one of these'; and they chose Barabbas to be released. But as I say, it's symbolically clear that Jesus has both roles.
The rejection theme comes also into the context of mockery. A great deal is made of the fact that although Jesus was a genuine king, even if a king of the spiritual kingdom, he was given royal attributes by his persecutors in a context of mockery: hence the crown of thorns, and the reed put in his hands, and the inscription over the cross: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
Teacher's Guide:Northrop Frye and Michael DolzaniCopyright © 1982, 2013, Victoria UniversityTEACHERS GUIDE: PROGRAM 13Download a PDF of the Teacher's GuideTHE METAPHOR OF KINGSHIP
(Note: AV=Authorized Version, OT=Old Testament, NT=New Testament)Synopsis
The royal metaphor, by which a person becomes the individual form of his class or society, unites the metaphorical identity with to the categorical identity as. This third kind of metaphor generates the institution of kingship. It gives the king a special connection with divinity on the one hand—in Egypt, he actually was the god; in Israel, he was God's chosen or adopted son—and with his people on the other. And it establishes his two roles, as the glorified king and the humiliated one. The greatest instance of the latter is the 'suffering servant' of Second Isaiah. The humiliated king has two aspects: he is the pure victim put to death, and also the exile driven from the community, the scapegoat. Jesus as king is both glorified and humiliated; as the latter, he is both the slaughtered victim and the scapegoat.
Program Lecture Outline: Key Facts
Biblical Passages Cited
Genesis 49:22, 21,14.—'Joseph is a fruitful bough', etc.: 'this is that' metaphors.
Psalm 2:7.—'this day have I begotten thee'.
Lamentations 4:20.—'the breath of our nostrils'.
Isaiah 53:3.—The 'suffering servant'.
Leviticus 14:49-53.—The two sacrificed birds, one killed and one driven out.
Leviticus 16.—The scapegoat ritual.
Leviticus 17:10.—'sacrifice unto devils'.
The Teacher's Perspective
The royal metaphor says that we are members of a larger body. We have met with it before in program 6, in the imagery of Christ as bridegroom and his people in a single body as the bride. This larger body is really a larger identity, and the question of achieving some kind of identity greater than that of the isolated and neurotic limitations of the ego is a very central one; in religion, it usually takes the form of the question of salvation.
Christianity has usually insisted that salvation involves the subordination of the individual ego to a social and institutional structure, and over the centuries developed an elaborate mechanism of dogma, sacrament and ritual observance to facilitate the individual's integration into the body of the Church. The political equivalent of salvation is survival, and similarly, states develop systems of propaganda and rituals of solidarity to inculcate the notion that the individual is less important than the survival of the group. Both Church and State use the royal metaphor, but each tends to use it in its conservative form as a metaphor of integration: see The Great Code, pp. 98-99. Each also invents a corresponding scapegoat figure, respectively that of the heretic and the traitor. The teacher may have the class look at parts of Shakespeare's Henry V for the kind of political rhetoric of kingship that can be attached to the royal metaphor; the 'speech from the throne' by God in Book III of Milton's Paradise Lost is a corresponding example of religious rhetoric designed to rationalize authority by using the royal metaphor as a metaphor of integration—though technically, of course, both Satan and Adam become political rebels as well as enemies of revelation. The students might also look at a bit of T.S. Eliot's After Strange Gods: A Primer of Modern Heresy, an attempt to make all the advantages of that concept again available for our time. Eliot's famous statement that he was royalist in politics, Catholic in religion and Classical in literature meant that he was attempting to return to a conservative formulation of the royal metaphor by rejecting the same Revolution that Milton supported—a Revolution that temporarily got rid of the English king and set up a Commonwealth—by returning to the concept of a State Church, and by rejecting the Romantic element in English literature, whose affinities are generally with the reverse.
But the mass hysterias of the twentieth century, Naziism in particular, have made people more sensitive to the dangers of subordinating an individual to a society or to a collective ideal as embodied in a single figure of authority: this concern naturally emerges in modern psychology, two good examples of which are Ernest Becker's The Denial of Death, especially the chapter called The Spell Cast by Persons', and Carl Jung's 'Wotan', a study of Nazi mythology as a collective hysteria. Also, a good deal of modern philosophy, from existentialism to deconstructionism, has been emphatic in pointing out the dangers and distortions involved in formulating ideas in the kind of hierarchical language that is really only a conceptualized version of the royal metaphor of integration. Much of the interest in discontinuity and fragmentation in modern art and thought is in fact a reaction to the kind of unity achieved by subordinating the individual and the particular.
It remains to be seen whether the royal metaphor can be formulated in some way that avoids these totalitarian implications, whether we are capable of living in a larger body and a greater identity without sacrificing what is truly individual in ourselves. This would be a paradoxical form of identity, one that preserves the sense of a unique individual personality which is so often regarded as the greatest achievement both of Christianity and of western culture; yet one which says firmly of the ego, 'Not I'. The class may compare two great instances of this transcendent utterance, one Christian and the other not, by St. Paul in Galatians 2:20 (see The Great Code, p. 100) and by D.H. Lawrence in 'Song of a Man Who Has Come Through'. Lawrence, unfortunately, has also provided in The Plumed Serpent the blueprint for a religious and political totalitarianism that is in fact a demonic parody of his poem. Mention of Lawrence, however, reminds us that the royal metaphor has another aspect, that of lover and beloved, of symbolic bridegroom and bride, to which some writers have turned as an alternative to the authoritarian overtones of the metaphor of kingship. In the 'Prospectus' to Wordsworth's Prelude, God has in fact dropped out of the picture, and the Biblical bridegroom and bride imagery has been transferred to nature and the mind of man. At the end of Blake's Milton, the spiritual form of Milton is united to his 'emanation' Ololon, who is the form of his creative acts.
Yet there is no reason that the kingship metaphor itself may not be turned inside out, as it were, in which case it would become the vision of a universal man who dwells in his total form in the body of each individual. There is something of this in Milton's description of England as 'a noble and puissant nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible locks', a passage which occurs significantly in Areopagitica's argument for Christian liberty. It is present in the figure of Blake's Albion, Joyce's Finnegan, Hopkins' 'immortal diamond' of 'That Nature Is a Heraclitean Fire, And of the Glory of the Resurrection', and Dylan Thomas' 'long world's gentleman' of 'Altarwise by Owl-light'; present in science fictional terms in Arthur Clarke's Childhood's End; in psychological terms in Jung's theory of the process of individuation (see The Portable Jung, edited by Joseph Campbell).
One begins to wonder whether the humiliation of the king figure may be connected not so much with the kind of ascetic denial of self that Nietzsche hated in Christianity, but with the putting on of real personality by breaking through the inhibitions of the ego. The class may try looking at the great picture of David dancing before the ark in II Samuel 6 in such light: surely the force and vividness of David's personality comes across in the very moment of his self-abasement, and something similar could be said of the despair of Job or of Christ on the cross, with his 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' Here, as also in some of the Psalms, one sees the possibility of a kind of 'confessional' writing which is nevertheless not dominated by the compulsions of the ordinary personality.
The ideas of ritual humiliation and the scapegoat are also closely related to the discussion of sacrifice in program 8, particularly to the idea of the Atonement considered as an 'at-onement' or a 'making at one'. Here, the sacrifice of the royal figure of Christ himself, his burial in what The Great Code calls 'the tomb of the ego' (101), and his achievement of identity with the Father are really another series of metaphors for the scapegoat ritual, in which the larger form of identity becomes identified with God himself.
1. Biblical Passages
II Samuel 6.—David dancing before the ark.
Joshua 10:16ff.—Five kings hanged on trees.
11 Samuel 18.—Absalom.
Deuteronomy 21:13.—'He that is hanged is accursed of God'. The scapegoat.
Galatians 3:13—'Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree'. Paul alludes to Deuteronomy 21:23.
Galatians 2:20.—'yet not I, but Christ liveth in me'.
Psalm 5:2.—'my King, and my God'.
Psalm 74:12.—'For God is my king of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth'.
Isaiah 32:1.—'Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness'.
Luke 19:38.—Palm Sunday: 'Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord.
Luke 23:2.—'that he himself is Christ a king'.
I Timothy 6:15.—'the King of kings, the Lord of lords'.
2. Corresponding Passages in The Great Code
Chapter Four. Typology I.
pp.86-101. The royal metaphor.
Chapter Seven. Myth II.
pp. 180. The king as scapegoat.
pp. 185-86. The scapegoat.
The Golden Bough, Sir James Frazer, Part III. (Kings put to death).
Suggested Essay or Discussion Questions