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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, September 20, 2015

More mind-blowing subversive Biblical subtext in Miss Bates’s “Our lot is cast in a goodly heritage”

In my last post…    … I wrote about the passages in Psalms 12 and Proverbs 16 which I believe Miss Bates slyly alluded to in order to covertly express outrage and defiance to Emma and Mr. Woodhouse, when she said “our lot is cast in a goodly heritage” and “You quite oppress her”. Such outrage and defiance is of course the opposite of the gratitude Chapman believed Miss Bates was expressing via Psalm 16, which Chapman (in my view mis)identified in 1933 as Miss Bates’s Biblical touchstone.  

Shortly thereafter, I received an extraordinary suggestion from Summer Kinard (an author and avid Janeite):  “But the most salient and foremost memorable casting of lots for any Christian is of course the Passion of Christ. The mockery is more likely writ larger than you supposed. Not only does she lambast them for leaving her scraps, but she compares their pork to the suffering Christ.”   Of course, the Biblical passages Summer had in mind re the casting of lots are to be found in the following parallel verses in three of the four Biblical Gospels:

Mark 15:24 And when they had crucified him, they parted his garments, CASTING LOTS upon them, what every man should take.
Matthew 27:35 And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they CAST LOTS.
John 19:
23 Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout.
24 They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but CAST LOTS for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did CAST LOTS. These things therefore the soldiers did.

Did you notice Matthew’s curious reference to “casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet”? And did you wonder, as I did, which prophecy it was that Matthew believed was being fulfilled by the Roman soldiers casting lots for Jesus’s garments? A quick online search revealed to me what someone much better versed than I in the relationship between passages in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian additions thereto would already know---that the essence of the Gospel crucifixion accounts is to be found in the following verses of Psalm 22, of course from the Hebrew Bible and written centuries before Jesus’s lifetime:

1 My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?
2 O my God, I cry in the day time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.
6 But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.
7 All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,
8 He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.
11 Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.
18 They part my garments among them, and CAST LOTS upon my vesture.

And so the casting of lots for Jesus’s garments in the Gospels, as well as Jesus’s loud forsaken cry to God (Mark 15: 34 & Matthew 27: 46), and the piercing of hands and feet, all find their origin in the above verses of Psalm 22 (just as, not coincidentally, Jesus’s summary of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 derives from the very next Psalm--#23).

And that brings me to my main point—i.e., even though I didn’t know about that textual linkage, I am pretty darned sure Jane Austen did, and therefore so did Miss Bates! And so my first response to Summer was “Brilliant and spot-on!”, because for some time I’ve seen Emma’s humiliation of Miss Bates on Box Hill as a parody of Jesus being mocked by the soldiers on Golgotha. And I’ve also long seen Miss Bates in general during the whole course of the novel, as a Christ figure who suffers at the hand of “Caesar”, i.e., the reigning authorities of Highbury—the Woodhouses and Mr. Knightley. 

So to now find such unexpected textual support for that reading in both the Hebrew and the Christian Bible was a delight for me, and a validation of my reading. I read Psalm 22, above, as yet another impassioned cry by Miss Bates, forsaken by her former equals, on behalf of herself but also for the poor powerless folk of Highbury whose commons have been “inclosed” by “the wicked” large landowners like…Mr. Knightley!

And, best of all, Summer’s brilliant insight led me to fresh, fruitful lines of inquiry. First, I went back to the Hebrew Bible and found two additional passages there, in addition to Psalms 22 and Proverbs 16, which I also claim Jane Austen subtly wove into the subtext of Miss Bates’s riddling and surprisingly complex Biblical paraphrase about casting lots and goodly heritage.

First, in Leviticus 17, we read:

7 And [Aaron] shall take the two goats, and present them before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
8 And Aaron shall CAST LOTS upon the two goats; one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for the SCAPEGOAT.
9 And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the Lord’s lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering.

How about Miss Bates as the scapegoat who has actually drawn the unlucky lot, and has been cast (but in another sense has also escaped?) out of the “community” she was born into, meaning the secure, healthy, bountiful life of a prosperous gentlewoman. As Knightley memorably put it:
“Were she your equal in situation—but, Emma, consider how far this is from being the case. She is poor; she has sunk from the comforts she was born to; and, if she live to old age, must probably sink more. Her situation should secure your compassion. It was badly done, indeed!”

And by the way, the above is congruent with the following observation I made in 2013, having no idea re the above allusion: “the whole discussion between Miss Bates and Mr. Woodhouse about the gift of pork from Hartfield to the Bateses…is, among other things, a very sly sendup of Leviticus 11:
7 And the SWINE, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you.
8 Of their flesh shall ye not eat, and their carcase shall ye not touch; they are unclean to you.”

But even more germane to Miss Bates’s aphorism is Joel 3:2-5, which is actually the only passage in the entire Bible which contains all four of the keywords that Miss Bates used: lot, cast, goodly, & heritage. Therefore, it logically has the strongest claim of all as the primary source for Miss Bates—and it is a rabble-rousing speech!:

Joel 3:
1 For, behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem,
2 I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people and for MY HERITAGE Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land.
3 And they have CAST LOTS for my people; and have given a boy for an HARLOT, and sold a girl for wine, that they might drink.
4 Yea, and what have ye to do with me, O Tyre, and Zidon, and all the coasts of Palestine? will ye render me a recompence? and if ye recompense me, swiftly and speedily will I return your recompence upon your own head;
5 Because ye have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried into your temples my GOODLY PLEASANT  things:
6 The children also of Judah and the children of Jerusalem have ye sold unto the Grecians, that ye might remove them far from their border.
Behold, I will raise them out of the place whither ye have sold them, and will return your recompence upon your own head:
8 And I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the children of Judah, and they shall sell them to the Sabeans, to a people far off: for the Lord hath spoken it.

This is the life of the Bates family in a nutshell—stripped of all wealth, and their humanity so devalued by their “conquerors” that they literally have had no option but to give up their babies to other families, which is what I see happening to both Miss Bates a generation earlier (when she gave up her “niece”—i.e., her daughter---Jane!), and also to Jane, when she gives up baby Anna to Mrs. Weston.

And then, finally, armed with insight into all that Hebrew Biblical subtext, I went back into the text of Emma, and found the following additional winks by JA at Jesus and the Gospels.

First, Emma callously describing Miss Bates’s life to Harriet:
“…Those who can barely live, and who live perforce in a very small, and generally very inferior, society, may well be illiberal and CROSS. This does not apply, however, to Miss Bates; she is only too good natured and too silly to suit me; but, in general, she is VERY MUCH TO THE TASTE OF EVERY BODY, though single and though poor. Poverty certainly has not contracted her mind: I really believe, if she had only a shilling in the world, she would be very likely to give away sixpence of it; and nobody is afraid of her: that is a great charm."

It’s not just the “cross” reference (so to speak), it’s also the sense Summer Kinard picked up on with the Woodhouse pork as the suffering Jesus – Miss Bates, like the pork, tastes good, to those who “feast” on her flesh—we are right back to the homage of Swift’s Modest Proposal that Diane Reynolds and I see in that same passage! So once again, bravo Summer!

And then, at Donwell Abbey & Box Hill as parodic Golgothas, we have a myriad of “cross” references, with Frank’s overheated angst an over the top, extended parody of Jesus’s horrific suffering on the cross. To grasp the parody, just pay close attention to the passages I’ve put in ALL CAPS, and think about how they relate to the thirsty death and anticipated second coming of Jesus as told in the Gospels, with Frank as the “crossed” Jesus, and Emma as the God who does not really “hear” him.

First at Donwell Abbey, Frank describes (if you will) the “stations” of his “cross”-ness, including his doubts and his suffering [only four chapters after we read in Chapter 38 how “Frank Churchill returned to HIS STATION by Emma.”].

“The heat was excessive; HE HAD NEVER SUFFERED ANY THING LIKE IT—ALMOST WISHED HE HAD STAID AT HOME—nothing KILLED HIM like heat—he could bear any degree of cold, etc., but heat was INTOLERABLE—and he sat down, at the greatest possible distance from the slight remains of Mr. Woodhouse's fire, looking very deplorable.
"You will soon be cooler, if you sit still," said Emma.
"As soon as I am cooler I SHALL GO BACK AGAIN. I could very ill be spared—but SUCH A POINT HAS BEEN MADE OF MY COMING! You will all be going soon I suppose; the whole party breaking up. I met one as I came—Madness in such weather!—absolute madness!"
Emma listened, and looked, and soon perceived that Frank Churchill's state might be best defined by the expressive phrase of being out of humour. Some people were always CROSS when they were hot. Such might be his constitution; and as she knew that eating and DRINKING were often THE CURE OF SUCH INCIDENTAL COMPLAINTS, she recommended his taking some REFRESHMENT; he would find abundance of every thing in the dining-room—and she HUMANELY pointed out the door.
…"You are not quite so miserable, though, as when you first came. Go and eat and DRINK a little more, and you will do very well. Another slice of cold meat, ANOTHER DRAUGHT OF MADEIRA AND WATER, will make you nearly on a par with the rest of us."
"No—I shall not stir. I shall sit by you. You are my best cure."
"We are going to Box Hill to-morrow;—you will join us. It is not Swisserland, but it will be something for A YOUNG MAN SO MUCH IN WANT OF A CHANGE. You will stay, and go with us?"
"No—It will not be worth while. IF I COME, I SHALL BE CROSS."
"Then PRAY stay at Richmond."
"But if I do, I shall be CROSSER STILL. I CAN NEVER BEAR to think of you all there WITHOUT ME."
"These are difficulties which you must settle for yourself. Chuse your own degree of CROSSNESS. I shall press you no more."

At Box Hill the next day, they continue this conversation as if it never ended, first looking back:

…"How much I am obliged to you," said he, "for telling me TO COME TO-DAY!—If it had not been for you, I should certainly have lost all the happiness of this party. I had quite determined to go away again."
"Yes, you were VERY CROSS; and I do not know what about, except that you were too late for the best strawberries. I was a kinder friend than you deserved. But you were humble. You begged hard to be COMMANDED TO COME."
"Don't say I was CROSS. I was fatigued. The heat overcame me."

The punning has only just begun on the Mosaic “commandments” of God (Emma) and also Jesus (Frank) passing on to the gathering on the mount known as Box Hill the new Christian version of those commandments we call The Sermon on the Mount:

"It is hotter to-day."
"Not to my feelings. I am perfectly comfortable to-day."
"You are comfortable because you are under COMMAND."
"Your COMMAND?—Yes."
"Perhaps I intended you to say so, but I meant self-COMMAND. You had, somehow or other, broken bounds yesterday, and run away from your own management; but to-day you are got back again—and as I cannot be always with you, it is best to believe your temper under your own COMMAND rather than mine."
"It comes to the same thing. I can have no self-COMMAND without a motive. YOU ORDER ME, WHETHER YOU SPEAK OR NOT. And YOU CAN BE ALWAYS WITH ME. YOU ARE ALWAYS WITH ME."

Apropos that last line of Frank’s, recall what the resurrected Jesus says in the final verses of the Gospel of Matthew:

16 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, INTO A MOUNTAIN WHERE JESUS HAD APPOINTED THEM.
17 And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted.
18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

But Jane Austen cannot resist one more virtuosic double Biblical flourish, as Emma inadvertently enters into Frank’s extravagant, sacrilegious Biblical metaphor, and then Frank starts orating:

"DATING FROM THREE O’CLOCK YESTERDAY. MY PERPETUAL INFLUENCE COULD NOT BEGIN EARLIER, or you would not have been so much out of humour before."
"Your gallantry is really unanswerable. But (lowering her voice)—nobody speaks except ourselves, and it is rather too much to be talking nonsense for the entertainment of seven silent people."
"I say nothing of which I am ashamed," replied he, with lively impudence. "I SAW YOU FIRST IN FEBRUARY. LET EVERY BODY ON THE HILL HEAR ME IF THEY CAN. Let my accents swell to Mickleham on one side, and Dorking on the other. I SAW YOU FIRST IN FEBRUARY." And then whispering—"Our companions are excessively stupid. What shall we do to rouse them? Any nonsense will serve. They shall talk. Ladies and gentlemen, I am ordered by Miss Woodhouse (who, wherever she is, presides) to say, that she desires to know what you are all thinking of?"

Do you recognize the joke behind Emma’s insistence that her command over Frank began when he showed up at Donwell Abbey at 3 pm the day before, all “out of humour”? Of course, this is Jesus who (per Mark) was crucified at “the third hour”! That would indeed be the moment when Jesus died and his spirit ascended to God, no longer “out of humour” suffering on the cross, and he entered Paradise.

And what about Emma saying she saw Frank first in February and then Frank repeating it twice more (the last time, orating to the assembled multitude on Box Hill)? What’s that about?

Well, it is of course true that Frank finally shows up in Highbury in the first week of February—but how might that relate to Jesus? We must travel backwards from the very end of Jesus’s life all the way to the very beginning thereof:

Luke 2:
21 And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called Jesus, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
22 And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord.

In the Church of England, the events reported in Luke 2:21-22, commonly referred to as “The Presentation of Christ in the Temple”, are celebrated on the Anglican liturgical calendar as a Principal Feast either on February 2 or on the Sunday between January 28 and February 3. So, isn’t it very curious that Frank shows up in Highbury during the first week of February, and then this fact is repeated, for no other apparent reason connected to the unfolding of the plot, a total of three times by Emma and Frank? Of course, this is the bookend to the Gospel significance of “3 o’clock yesterday’!!!

And actually, that threefold repetition of what appears to be a very “dull thing” is also, I now see, the inspiration to Frank for his spontaneous proposal of a new game--that someone come up with three dull things. And how fitting that this frivolous proposal eventually prompts Emma to humiliate Miss Bates by limited her to saying a maximum of three dull things at once—which brings us full circle on Miss Bates’s “our lot is cast in a goodly heritage”—to Emma, just another one of the many “dull things” Miss Bates pours out at a rate so alarming to Emma, but to the knowing reader, a truly goodly heritage---that is, of the Bible read through the “spectacles” of the subversive, outside-the-box, heretical genius of Jane Austen!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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