The Mystery of the Milton Manuscript: Barry M Libin
Milton’s poem Paradise lost tells the story of the creation and the origin of human in and suffering. The poem is divided into 12 books. In Book One the author states that the primary purpose of this poem is: to justify the ways of God, to men.” Here lies the controversy that sets the state for this novel. Interpretation is everything and understand the many layers presented by the author related to the poem’s meaning will strike up much discussion by Milton scholars and readers of this novel upon completion and during your reading. The subject matter is both religious and theological. Milton includes both personal events in his life and political events in 17th century England. Beginning with the argument of the first marriage and whose at fault as we learn about Adam and Eve, the temptation to eat from the Tree of Knowledge and the fact that Adam knew exactly what was happening when Eve tasted the forbidden fruit and did nothing to stop her.
The poem opens with a statement that not only sets the tone for the entire work but for the premise behind the events in this novel: · Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
- Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
- Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
- With loss of Eden, till one greater man
Quoted from Paradise Lost as the primary subject of the poem but also the act of disobedience upon eating the fruit of the forbidden tree. Adam and Eve’s fall from grace as well as what God’s plan for humankind might be. Satan is a prime force in the first book and when his fellow angels find him chained to a lake in the fire of Hell, the fee themselves and Satan comes to Earth in disguise. God’s words spoke to both Adam and Eve ordering them not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. God know of their disobedience and states they must suffer the consequences. First the son punishes the serpent and then Eve as all woman will now suffer in childbirth, submit to their husbands, hunt and grow their own food and live outside of Paradise.
Keith Jessup is studying for his doctorate in Oxford and is intrigued with Milton’s Paradise Lost and the knowledge that somewhere there is a lost manuscript that will define exactly what he wanted related in his poem. Professor Thornton Livingston was supposed to present a lecture on The Secrets of the Milton Manuscript at Herford College, Oxford. But someone wanted him out of the way and someone feared what he might reveal as the professor never made the lecture. Keith Jessup was his assistant and was helping to prepare for the lecture but when the announcement was made to bring him to the dais no one realized that he was gone. Someone took the life of the man and left more than just a corpse. As Keith identifies the body and he realizes that the killers left a definite message. Stigmata: “ Stigmata (singular stigma) is a term used by members of the Christian faith to describe body marks, sores, or sensations of pain in locations corresponding to the crucifixionwounds of Jesus Christ, such as the hands, wrists, and feet.
Stigmata are primarily associated with the Roman Catholic faith. Many reported stigmatics are members of Catholic religious orders. St. Francis of Assisi was the first recorded stigmatic in Christian history.
The body of the professor had these marks and two letters S.L. engraved in the victim’s face. But, there is more as Keith delves deeper in the mystery of the missing manuscript he is contacted by Thornton’s lawyer and a major decision on his part has to be made. Since Keith was in the middle of finalizing his dissertation on Milton he had to decide whether to present it as written, add something about the missing manuscript, explain it to his new mentor Foster Sundstrom and honor his late mentor’s wishes and present the information. What is the true meaning behind the poem seems to be the object of many debates throughout the novel and each scholar, researcher and collector presents their own viewpoint but Keith stands hard fast in getting to the truth and uncovering what is in the manuscript at all costs. So, what part does Professor James Bartholomew play and how many others will lose their lives before the truth is revealed?
The author states on page 23 that this poem is the “ greatest poetic accomplishment in the English language, not only the supreme epic of the English nation but of all Christendom.” He expands on that within paragraph 5. However, meeting with Bartholomew enlightens readers as to The Society of Cincinnati whose motto reflects that ethic of selfless service. Asking if this society and Milton had any direct relation he claimed not directly but why did his questions anger him? A heated discussion and Keith questions what is the Manuscript discloses something so terrifying that its defenders do not want revealed? How far would they go to stop anyone from revealing what is in the 200 pages that Milton penned? Someone was behind a conspiracy and someone had their hand on the pulse of what was happening and seemed to be more than one step ahead. As Keith advanced and began to learn more about the history of Paradise Lost, Christianity, relating that the poem was written to justify the ways of God to man and no one person really understands what those ways are. The manuscript as we learn was written over 350 years ago and sets the stage for the events to come. As Keith relates the fact that S and L were branded in to flesh of the late professor and meeting with Livingston’s lawyer next would reveal more.
Keith decided to stand tall and presented his dissertation and when challenged met it head on. As Bartholomew states on page 43 that “ the world hasn’t misunderstood Milton, but this young man has.” Keith rebuts by questioning whether the professor things the poem is the epitome of the Christian faith and that Milton was the model of such Faith?”
The author takes the reader back in time to learn the connection between Daniel Skinner, Milton and De Doctrina. The documents were found after Milton’s death and revealed that Skinner gave the unpublished Doctrina to a Symon Heere. But this manuscript created quite a controversy and there were that did not want it published. Like the secrets of the Freemasons there was a fear that Morgan somehow found the lost Manuscript.
But, there is much more as Keith and an old girlfriend reconnect when he receives a special bequest from Livingston. Two Braniff’s that are originals, worth over a million dollars each and need to be framed as he takes them to Joanne Farnsworth. But, there is much more as we learn of more murders that took place in the past and are connected to the present. The murder of Sir Edward Godfrey that links him to the Popist Plot a conspiracy to kill King Charles II. But, just why they wanted to assassinate him and why a document accused the Roman Catholic Church of the plot said to be overseen by the Pope will surprise readers as the reason comes to light on pages 84 and 85. Stigmata was inflicted upon Sir Godfrey too. As Keith and Sundstrom team up together and inspect the evidence there is someone that is following their every step and when the road leads to Mosaic Law and the Laws of Moses things get really interesting as another professor disappears and is killed. Professor Reynolds is the next victim as he too is supposed to deliver a lecture.
Keith receives a call that will cause him to disappear, change his appearance and find his way to Joanne and concerned about her safety. The reason for the murders leads back to a man named William Prynne and the reasons I cannot uncover. This is one mystery you will have to decipher on your own as the author brings to light one more book and one more manuscript that ties it all together. But, first Keith frames the Braniffs and is threatened if he does not give them to the person behind the conspiracy so he creates two forgeries, which go unnoticed until they don’t. With the help of Joanne and her boss Kate and Jeff Moss they uncover the truth behind the forgeries and why Keith left his calling card on them and why.
Joanne’s life is in danger and her fear for Keith real as she traveled to Hong Kong to help uncover the truth. The author quotes many passages from Paradise Lost but focuses mainly on Books 9 and 12.
Researching Menasseh Ben Israel and his book Mikveh Yisra’el will not only enlighten readers as to its link to Paradise Lost. Why did Keith want to find a special edition of this book and what did he hope to find? How far would he go to learn the truth? Art forgery, deaths, missing people, a letter from an editor’s desk and much more leads readers to learning about Menasseh Ben Israel and his book.
As both Keith and Sundstrom talk about Mosaic Law and questioning the interpretation by Milton scholars that: Paradise Lost is based on Pauline theology, where the Law of Moses no longer leads to salvation. Relating the stigmata to the argument between Mosaic Law and Paulian Theology. Stigmata: letting anyone know they will punish anyone who contradicts Paul’s theology. Is that what Paradise Lost is really based on? What will the Manuscript reveal if found and whose life is on the line next?
But, on pages 216-218 the author reveals information about De Doctrina and Sir Edmund’s death as well as how this all links to the Popish Plot. Just who was preventing this from being published and what does for God and Country mean? Keith attends several seminars to learn more about Mosaic Law, The Hope of Israel, Mikveh Yisra’el and we learn just who the Rabbi was that aided Milton and why. Hear the words of Rabbi Lecht; listen to the discussion about the similarities between Ben Israel and Milton.
An ending that will bring it all together and a final result you will not expect. Paradise Lost was written to: Justify the ways of God to man, and not to defend the glory of Christianity nor the victory of the Christian Lord. So how does Milton justify the ways of God? How does he understand the why? How are we to understand the contest within which events unfold? Attend the lecture and hear Keith’s words and find out what happens when someone wants to stop him but does he? Who is really behind the conspiracy? Sometimes the enemy is hiding in plain sight and you will never guess who or why? When Milton uncovers the secret of God’s ways what link does it have to God of Mercy in the Old Testament?
The mystery of the Milton Manuscript: One that will give readers much pause for discussion, intrigue and thought. A novel you cannot pass up!
Fran Lewis: Reviewer