Nativity I, II, III and IV
Last December I posted four time on the nativity using Blake's illustrations to Milton's On the Morning of Christ's Nativity. The fifth illustration of the series "The Flight of Molock" faithfully presents these lines from Milton's ode:
And sullen Moloch fled,
Hath left in shadows dread
His burning Idol all of blackest hue;
In vain with Cymbals' ring
They call the grisly king,
In dismal dance about the furnace blue,Moloch, the second of Blake's Seven Eyes of God, called the executioner, required child sacrifice. Blake presents the theme of sacrificing children by showing the infant Jesus emerging from a 'fiery furnace.' Daniel tells of three men who emerged from such a furnace unscathed having met in the furnace a fourth who appeared as the 'Son of God.'
On plate 31 (E 177) of Jerusalem Blake tells us that:
"And the appearance of a Man was seen in the Furnaces;
Saving those who have sinned from the punishment of the Law,
(In pity of the punisher whose state is eternal death,)
And keeping them from Sin by the mild counsels of his love."
Two women (cf.1st Kings 3:16ff) are touching the child emerging from the furnace. One appears to be Jerusalem, the other Vala or Rahab. Both turn away from the child as they reach out to touch him. In The Mental Traveller we read of a babe whom none could touch:
The Mental Traveller, (E 484)
"Till from the fire on the hearth
A little Female Babe does spring
And she is all of solid fire
And gems & gold that none his hand
Dares stretch to touch her Baby form
Or wrap her in his swaddling-band"
Blake and Milton have supplemented the picture of the child who was laid in the manger as provided by Luke.