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  • In Search of Pseudo-Joachim of Fiore: Understanding the So-Called Isaiah Commentary
  • David Anthony Morris (bio)

Despite his place as one of the most original thinkers of the Middle Ages, the legacy of Joachim of Fiore has eluded clear comprehension in at least two areas, those of texts and transmission. That is, Joachim studies have, until most recently, been limited by a lack of modern editions for Joachim’s works, and by an incomplete understanding of how the revolutionary ideology inspired by a twelfth-century abbot from Calabria ultimately came to be appropriated by disparate groups such as the Spiritual Franciscans, the Münster Anabaptists, and Spanish missionaries in colonial Latin America. Yet there has been much scholarship, of exacting standards and of immense value, which has pushed forward our knowledge of these issues of texts and transmission, making possible the efforts of new generations of scholars. It is therefore especially appropriate that we honor one of the exemplars of this rich tradition of Joachim studies, E. Randolph Daniel. Professor Daniel’s work has proven to be a major inspiration, especially in how it has discussed the complexity behind the spread of Joachim’s ideas, the monastic context of his thought, and the textual issues that must undergird our understanding of the Calabrian abbot.1 I am deeply grateful to be able to present here in his honor.

As we are now approaching a complete set of critical editions of Joachim’s authentic works, those texts that were spuriously attributed to him have long remained, in comparative terms, shrouded in mystery.2 Though [End Page 255] written decades after Joachim’s death in 1202, these pseudo-Joachite works are vital to understanding Joachim’s legacy, especially as they were believed to be genuine from the Middle Ages well into the nineteenth century.3 I would therefore like to discuss one of the most important of these texts, what is commonly called the “Isaiah commentary,” which is known to most scholars through the Venice edition of 1517. “Super Esaiam Prophetam,” as it is called, is striking because it was one of the earliest of Joachim’s works to be sent to the printer’s press and, depending on how one reckons, it is the only major pseudo-Joachite work of the thirteenth century to contain numerous striking images, commonly called “figurae.”4 This text demonstrates how much more we need to learn about the various manuscript traditions behind the pseudo-Joachite works, and how best practices in codicology, bibliography, and art history—in other words, of understanding the manuscripts as physical objects—should be brought to bear in our analysis of these texts, their distribution, and their reception, in ways that had been largely unexplored by earlier generations of Joachim scholars. With these considerations in mind, I will discuss the particular manuscript tradition behind the so-called Isaiah commentary of pseudo-Joachim, focusing on five major issues.

Context and Parameters of the Work

For the sake of context, and before we get to these five points, let us open with an overview of what is found in this edition. As presented in the 1517 imprint, Super Esaiam Prophetam is a composite work, consisting of distinct, but interrelated, texts. These include: [End Page 256]

  1. 1. A figure collection known to the literature as the Praemissiones.5 Prior to the research of Marjorie Reeves in the 1950s, scholars had either ignored these highly complex images or assumed that they were effectively the same as the Liber Figurarum, a collection of images that is often considered to be an authentic work of Joachim or at least directly inspired by Joachim’s notes and models.6 The number and exact order of the images varies among the manuscripts, but it now appears that the earliest versions had eleven.7 Typically, they come in the following sequence. First, there is the eagle of contemplation—note that the use of the eagle here differs sharply from how the eagle is used throughout the text, as a symbol of Frederick II and his progeny. Second are the two trees, of the old and new dispensations, with the former being crowned by the tribe of Ephraim in Joseph...


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