- An Introduction to the Medieval Bible by Frans van Liere
It is a brave man who would attempt to introduce so vast and sprawling a topic as the medieval Bible in a single volume of modest size. Frans van Liere’s courage has produced a useful outline of the Bible in the medieval West, aimed primarily at undergraduates but also at “biblical scholars and students who want to rediscover the rich tradition of medieval biblical interpretation as something still relevant to our understanding of the Bible today” (p. xii). After a general introduction (chapter 1), he tackles the nature of medieval Bibles as books (chapter 2), their content, including apocrypha and pseudepigrapha (chapter 3), and the transmission of the texts (chapter 4). The focus then shifts to the different ways in which the texts were read and understood, with an introduction to the multiple senses of scripture in medieval exegesis (chapter 5) and an overview of the main commentary traditions (chapter 6). The next chapter sketches the history of vernacular versions (chapter 7), whereas the final two tackle “The Bible in Worship and Preaching” (chapter 8) and the Bible in medieval art, including theater (chapter 9). There are three useful appendices (tabulating the canons of the Hebrew, early medieval, late medieval, and modern bibles; setting out the different names used for various biblical books; and presenting a “schematic genealogy of Old Testament translations,” p. 271); a chronological handlist of principal medieval commentators would have been a worthwhile fourth. There is a reasonable “Subject and Author” index, an index of biblical references (surely irrelevant in an introductory volume), and an “Index of Manuscripts Cited.” The last can only be described as lamentable; it fails to include many of the manuscripts that are discussed, even very famous ones (one will look in vain for entries for Codex Argenteus, the Books of the Durrow and Kells, the Dagulf Psalter, the Old English Hexateuch, the Heliand, the Paris Psalter, the Très Riches Heures, the Utrecht Psalter, and the York Gospels, among others), whereas the references for those that do happen to be included may be incomplete—Codex Veronensis, for example, is reported for page 91 but not for pages 181–82, the Lindisfarne Gospels for pages 107 and 189 but not 187.
The strengths of the volume are its conceptual structure—a sensible way to introduce the many aspects of the topic to nonspecialists—and its general clarity: each chapter effectively conveys key issues for its complicated field. Thus someone who reads the whole work will indeed grasp the essentials of an enormous, indeed boundless, subject. This is a major achievement, for which the author deserves warm congratulations.
The weaknesses of the volume are its many errors of detail. For instance, on page 8 we read that Benedict Biscop “visited Rome no less [sic] than five times” (he actually visited it six times); on page 9 that “the new bibles did not look at all like any of the books commonly produced in England at the time such as the Book of [End Page 150] Durrow” (Durrow is not an English manuscript, and elaborately decorated gospel-books of its sort were the exception, not the rule); and that “500 sheep were needed to produce parchment for the Codex Amiatinus alone” (in fact, calves were used). On page 28 it is claimed that “one [golden gospel-book] was given by Emperor Conrad to the minster at Goslar, and another by his son, Emperor Henry III, to the cathedral of Speyer” (in reality, both were gifts from Henry III), and evangeliaria are said to be “gospel books” whereas they are, of course, gospel-lectionaries. On page 33 it is stated, “[The] Vespasian Psalter was provided with an interlinear translation into Old English in the tenth century” (actually it was the ninth; cf. p. 152). On page 34 it is stated that “lay scriptoria existed alongside these monastic scriptoria” in the “fifth through eighth” and “the twelfth century” (a wild exaggeration of the roles...