Jehu was the king of Israel from 842 to 815 BC. He was anointed by Elisha who thereafter led him into a revolt against the house of Ahab. This saw him murder Ahab’s widow Jezebel, his sons King Jehoram of Israel and King Ahaziah of Judah, and other worshippers of Baal (see note for page 118). His bloody campaign, which received divine favour, was centred around avenging Naboth and his descendents – Naboth being an Old Testament figure whose vineyard Ahab had taken by force. Ahab was himself king of Israel from 869-850 BC. Though his rule was not without its triumphs, he is generally regarded in negative terms on account of his persecution of the prophets, worship of Baal and treatment of Naboth.
A Cloud of Witnesses, for the Royal Prerogatives of Jesus Christ : or, The last speeches and testimonies of those who have suffered for the truth in Scotland, since the year 1680 describes the persecution of the Covenanters which took place during 1680-82 (the ‘Killing Time’). As Robert says, the book contains accounts of unbelievers who are converted by the dying speeches of the Protestant martyrs with whom Robert clearly identifies. However, the fact that it was not published until 1714 would have prevented him from reading it.
The trinity of the sword, famine and pestilence recurs throughout the Book of Jeremiah and is God’s punishment to the people of Judah for their former idolatrous practices. (See, for example, Jeremiah 14:11-2: “Then said the LORD unto me, Pray not for this people for their good. When they fast, I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and an oblation, I will not accept them: but I will consume them by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence.”)
Gilgal is a place named in the Bible as being on the eastern border of Jericho. It is also the scene of one of the bloodiest murders in the Old Testament. After the Amalekites ambush the Israelites on their way out of Egypt, God issues an injunction to wipe out the whole of their race. The king, Agag, is initially spared by the mercy of King Saul, an act which the prophet Samuel sees as a blasphemous refusal of God’s orders. To atone for this failure, he takes matters into his own hands with brutal effect.
Tophet is a placed named in the Bible which lies in the Valley of the Hinnom in Jerusalem. It is associated with idolatrous practices, such as the worship of the Semitic god Moloch to whom children were sacrificed by being burnt alive. In Jeremiah 7:32, God declares that Tophet shall be renamed “the valley of slaughter: for they shall bury in Tophet, till there be no place”. Tophet later became a name for hell.
See note for p. 34. “Children of Belial” is an epithet flung at all manner of sinners – blasphemers, drunkards, and especially worshippers of false gods. Deuteronomy 13:13: “Certain men, the children of Belial, are gone out from among you, and have withdrawn the inhabitants of their city, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which ye have not known.”
Balaam was a prophet of the Gentiles. The lines which Robert quotes occur when Balaam is on his way to enact the king of Moab’s instructions to curse the Israelites. This mission enrages God and he sends an angel down to deter the prophet. Balaam is initially blind to this divine apparition. His donkey, however, is more perceptive and swerves out of the way. Balaam, frustrated with the donkey, threatens her thus: “I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee” (Numbers 22:29).
Robert’s uncharacteristic identification of himself with a worshipper of Baal is rather interesting: it suggests that his biblical knowledge is not matched by an ability to interpret correctly, reflecting the myopic solipsism that warps his worldview generally. That Balaam fails to see the angel of the Lord, meanwhile, prefigures Robert’s own neglect of the warnings of the divine messenger who appears to him later in the novel (see p. 160-1).
Hogg’s depiction of Robert’s relationship with Gil-Martin now enters a new phase. Whereas he has previously hinted that Gil-Martin is the devil incarnate, he now opens up the possibility that he is a product of Robert’s increasingly deranged mental state. Many of the experiences he describes could be attributed to what would nowadays be diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia. Though schizophrenia would not be described as a distinct syndrome until 1853, case studies reporting corresponding symptoms had begun to appear in Hogg’s time and Robert displays many of them. For example, delusions of grandeur (believing himself to be the scourge of God); delusions of persecution (believing that he is being pursued by a demonic agent); hallucinations (for example, Gil-Martin’s shape-shifting abilities); and paranoia. There are also correlations between Robert’s state of mind and dissociative identity disorder (see note for page 189).
Concepts of mental illness underwent a profound shift between Robert’s day and Hogg’s. From the Middle Ages into the 17th century, ‘madness’ was thought to be the work of supernatural forces; the result of demonic possession or witchcraft. By Hogg’s time, however, understanding had advanced. Whilst folk belief still retained some shreds of the old notions, physiological theories and the idea of insanity as a form of illness requiring treatment – the backbone of the modern approach – became established. Hogg achieves a masterful feat in combining both strands of thought in his portrayal of Robert's mental disintegration.
The true vineyard refers to Israel, the promised land of God’s chosen people. (Isiah 5:7: “For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant.”)
According to the Bible, fratricide – or the killing one of one’s brother – was the archetypal murder; the first ever committed. After Cain murders Abel , he is condemned to spend the rest of his life wandering over the face of the earth, much as Robert does later on in the novel.
The psalm, which calls upon God to persecute the wicked who have oppressed the humble, can be read here.