A Swedenborgian Bible
Among the articles of faith of the New Jerusalem Church was that “the Books of the Word are all those which have the internal Sense” as defined by Emanuel Swedenborg.1↤ 1 Minutes of a General Conference of the Members of the New Church Signified by the New Jerusalem in the Revelation (London, 1789) 1. The articles were signed by W. and C. Blake, almost certainly the engraver and his wife. The list of exclusions from the Swedenborgian Bible is formidable: Thirty-two books, about a fourth of the bulk of the Protestant canon, including Job, Proverbs, the Song of Solomon, Acts, and all the New Testament Epistles.
Presumably the followers of the New Jerusalem Church, such as William Blake, his friend John Flaxman, the New Church printer Robert Hindmarsh, and Blake’s friend C. A. Tulk acted on the basis of the Swedenborgian canon. We know that Blake did, for in his Jerusalem (1804-?20) the Divine Lord builds a tomb for the dead Albion ornamented “with emblems & written verse, Spiritual Verse, order’d & measur’d” (48.6-7) which contains exactly the canon of the Bible established by Swedenborg and endorsed by Blake and others at the 1789 New Church meeting.
Since the canon of the New Church Bible is so different from that of all other Protestants, one might have expected Robert Hindmarsh, the Society’s printer, to print a Bible for their use. However, the only Bible text for Swedenborgians recorded in the standard bibliography of the Bible in English is for Genesis only, and it did not appear until 1912.2↤ 2 T. H. Darlow and H. F. Moule, Historical Catalogue of Printed Editions of the English Bible 1525-1961, rev. A. S. Herbert (1968) #2176.
However, there was a Swedenborgian Bible issued in Blake’s time, and it was available just when he was issuing his Milton and working on his Jerusalem. It is a bibliographically curious work entitled begin page 64 | ↑ back to top ↤ 3 The only copy of which I have record is in the Glasgow University Library. Volume 2 is dated 1813.
THE WORD OF GOD: BEINGA section on “The Books of the Word” explains that “The Books of the Word are all they which have the internal Sense,” and it lists the Books of the Word exactly as in the 1789 meeting, with cross-references to Swedenborg’s Arcana Coelestia No. 10325 and Heavenly Doctrine No. 266.
DIVINE TRUTH ITSELF, PROCEEDING FROM The Lord’s Divine Love;
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
DIVINE WISDOM AND DIVINE LIFE, / AS REVEALED TO MAN IN THE / OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS, / AND RECEIVED AND / ACKNOWLEDGED BY THE NEW CHURCH, / SIGNIFIED BY / THE NEW JERUSALEM, / IN THE REVELATIONS. / = / LONDON: / PRINTED, FOR THE SOCIETY OF IMMANUELITES, / OR THE WORSHIPPERS OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, AS THE ONLY GOD OF HEAVEN AND EARTH, / BY GEORGE HAZARD, BEECH-STREET, BARBICAN. // 1809.3
However, only a small fragment of the work was actually printed by George Hazard whose name appears on the title page. A note to “The Books of the Word” explains:
N.B. The Title page, with the contents of this leaf—a page of the end of JUDGES—end of II. KINGS—beginning of PSALMS—end of PSALMS—and at the end of ST. JOHN only, were Printed by GEORGE HAZARD, Beech-street, Barbican, 1809. But the BIBLE itself was PRINTED FOR GEORGE EYRE AND ANDREW STRAHAN, PRINTERS TO THE KING’S MOST EXCELLENT MAJESTY, 1806.The passages printed by Hazard were bridges to replace gatherings removed when those parts of the Bible which “have not the internal Sense” were removed. The work is therefore the Bible as printed for Eyre & Strahan in 1806 as abridged by George Hazard in 1809 and 1813 to make it conform to the Swedenborgian canon of the New Jerusalem Church.
It seems likely that those deeply interested in Swedenborg, such as William Blake and John Flaxman, would have known of such a publication and might even have consulted or purchased it. At any rate, this Bible as abridged by George Hazard in 1809 and 1813, demonstrates that the Swedenborgian conception of the true Bible was actually printed twenty-some years after it was publicly affirmed at the meeting to establish the New Jerusalem Church in 1789.