"Death is swallowed up in victory"
In yesterday's blog entry, I noted that both John Milton and John Donne depict "an all-devouring Death that ultimately submits to God and dies" and that both "are drawing upon scripture for inspiration." I promised to explore this point today, but I don't have much time, so I'll just note two scriptural passages. Both are surely thinking of St. Paul's doctrine, expressed in 1 Corinthians 15:54, which describes the resurrection in which believers will receive immortal bodies:
ὅταν δὲ τὸ φθαρτὸν τοῦτο ἐνδύσηται ἀφθαρσίαν καὶ τὸ θνητὸν τοῦτο ἐνδύσηται ἀθανασίαν τότε γενήσεται ὁ λόγος ὁ γεγραμμένος Κατεπόθη ὁ θάνατος εἰς νῖκοςThe Greek expression for "is swallowed up" is κατεπόθη (katapothē), which is the aorist passive indicative of καταπίνω (katapinō), which means "1) to drink down, swallow down 2) to devour 3) to swallow up, destroy." Paul is drawing upon an Old Testament verse, Isaiah 25:8, for his point:
So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
בִּלַּע הַמָּוֶת לָנֶצַח וּמָחָה אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה דִּמְעָה מֵעַל כָּל־פָּנִים וְחֶרְפַּת עַמֹּו יָסִיר מֵעַל כָּל־הָאָרֶץ כִּי יְהוָה דִּבֵּֽר׃The Hebrew term for "he will swallow up" is בִּלַּע (billa`), the piel perfect for בָּלַע (bala`), which means "1) to swallow down, swallow up, engulf, eat up a) (Qal) 1) to swallow down 2) to swallow up, engulf b) (Niphal) to be swallowed up c) (Piel) 1) to swallow 2) to swallow up, engulf 3) squandering (fig.) d) (Pual) to be swallowed up e) (Hithpael) to be ended."
He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the LORD hath spoken [it].
Paul, of course is using some Greek version (unless he's translating the Hebrew), but he's not using the Septuagint Greek version that's come down to us since that has "κατέπιεν ὁ θάνατος ἰσχύσας" ("He will swallow up death in victory"), whereas Paul has "Κατεπόθη ὁ θάνατος εἰς νῖκος" ("Death is swallowed up in victory").
This doesn't enlighten us a great deal on where Milton or Donne ultimately got their image of an all-devouring death, but there's a certain appropriate irony in the fact that death also gets devoured and dies . . .