In a review of Robert Alter’s Pen of Iron: American Prose and the King James Bible , Adam Kirsch explains how Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick was influenced by the KJV while being a sort of anti-Bible:
The irony is that Melville uses these biblical tropes in constructing a book that is a kind of anti-Biblea long refutation of the existence of God and the goodness of Creation. In one of the best sections of Pen of Iron, Alter focuses on Melvilles use of Leviathan, the biblical sea-monster, as a way of turning scripture against itself. Leviathan, who is of course a prototype of Moby Dick, seems to Melville to puncture the Bibles own chronology:
Who can show a pedigree like Leviathan? Ahabs harpoon had shed blood older than Pharaohs. Methusaleh seems a schoolboy. I look round to shake hands with Shem. I am horror-struck at this antemosaic, unsourced existence of the unspeakable horrors of the whale, which, having been before all time, must needs exist after all humane ages are over.
Leviathan, as the principle of brute violence and evil, is older than the biblical dispensation (antemosaic) and will survive it. As Alter writes, the whale drops the bottom out of history, leaving man as an inconsequential and transient mote in a play of cosmic energies that vastly antedates him and that will no doubt outlast him. In this way, Melville uses the Bible to herald a new, post-biblical worldviewwhich is one reason why his echoes of the King James text are so starkly powerful.
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