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Some Early Medieval Commentaries on the Old Testament

  • M. L. W. Laistner (a1)


It is a commonplace that the Biblical commentators of the earlier Middle Ages were traditionalists who copied or adapted the Fathers and rarely added much of their own. At the same time there was much variation in method; for there is a world of difference between the commentaries of Bede or Paschasius, carefully integrated works bearing the impress of the writer's own mind and personality, and compilations that are no more than collectanea of Patristic passages strung together but lacking inner cohesion. Between these two extremes are works like those of Hrabanus or even Alcuin. Most of the material in them is borrowed, but its arrangement has been carried out with some skill and the compiler, besides quoting his authorities verbally, gives some variety to his exposition by reproducing part of the traditional teaching in his own words. The commentators also differ greatly in the degree to which they acknowledge their sources. Bede and Hrabanus often indicated their indebtedness to others by specific statements in the text or by a more general reference in the margin to the author cited. Even so the reader needs to be on his guard, because the commentators, by quoting the ipsissima verba of their source, may completely mislead him. A palmary example of this occurs in Hrabanus' commentary on Genesis. He introduces (PL 107, 506B) a discussion of Lamech and his seventy-seven descendants who perished in the Flood with the words: “referebat quidam Hebraeus in apocryphis eorum libris.” This might easily be interpreted as an allusion to the mysterious Jewish scholar whom Hrabanus is supposed to have consulted and to whom we shall have to return.



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1 Cf. Laistner, Hand-list of Bede MSS, pp. 44 and 50; Journ. Theol. Stud. 34 (1933), PP. 350354; P(atrologia) L(atina) 107, 729B–C and 109, 10A.

2 That is, in English parlance, I and II Samuel and I and II Kings. References to Angelomus are to PL 115, but the three prefaces have also been published in Mon. Germ. Hist.: Epistolae V. The few facts about Angelomus’ life that can be gleaned from his writings have been well discussed by Manitius, Gesch. d. lat. Lit. I, pp. 418–419; but Manitius’ treatment of the source-problem is completely unreliable because he has ignored the intermediate sources. Thus, the references to pseudo-Quintilian and Cicero's De senectute come from Jerome. The passages from Josephus and Cassiodorus, the description of Thule, and the philological derivation of pythonissa were all taken by Angelomus from Bede. The description of the Dead Sea is also from Bede, not from Isidore. Further details will be found in their context below.

3 Cf. Wutz, Onomastica Sacra, p. 788: “ein gelehrter Jude der der Zeit des Rabanus Maurus wenig vorangeht.” See also S. Katz, The Jews in the Visigothic and Frankish Kingdoms of Spain and Gaul, pp. 69–70, where further references to this controversy will be found. In the ninth century catalogue of Murbach Alcuin is described as magister modernus, not Bede. See Bloch, Hermann in Strassburger Festschrift zur XLVI Versammlung deutscher Philologen (Strassburg, 1901), p. 269.

4 This passage has been discussed by Caplan, H. in Speculum 4 (1929), pp. 287288, and by Beryl Smalley, The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages2, pp. 41–42. Angelomus may have borrowed the number seven from Tyconius by way of Augustine, but there is otherwise no similarity between his seven senses and Tyconius’.

5 The style of the prefaces is verbose and involved. There is a certain fondness for poetic diction and particularly for nautical metaphors (108B, 109D, 331B, 391C–D, 493A–B), which makes one wonder whether Angelomus, before he entered the monastery, grew up on or near the sea-coast. Occasional rare words, like lampabilis or trutinatio and exagium in a figurative sense, may point to his familiarity with the preface to Cassiodorus’ Commentary on Psalms (PL 70, 9D) and Cassian's Collations (i, 22, 1; xii, 8, 2).

6 To the four listed by Manitius must be added MS 744 in the Pierpont Morgan Library; it is a French codex of the twelfth century.

7 On the two versions cf. Hand-list of Bede MSS, pp. 41–43.

8 155A from Et. xi, 3, 13–14; 214C–215C from Et. vii, 7, 5 ff.; 226B from Et. vii, 6, 33–34.

9 PL 107, 574A–579A and 115, 200A–205B, from 79, 704C–709C.

10 112D–113 A (cf. PL 34, 173); 115C (176–177); 119A (181); 131D (203–204); 132A (ibid.); 145A–B (213); 146A (214).

11 Examples of this are very numerous, so that one instance will suffice: 166A–C, though derived from Jerome, corresponds to Hrabanus in PL 107, 529B–D.

12 E.g., 119D, just before a quotation from Bede; 141B, 149B, 150A; 169C–D, where Hrabanus follows De civitate dei xvi; 209A–B.

13 167B from PL 24, 164A–B; 189C–D from PL 23, 885A–B and 898C.

14 Texte und Untersuchungen 42 (1920), Heft 1, 76–77.

15 Die G(riechisch)–C(hristlichen) S(chriftsteller): Origenes VI, 27, 17–18.

16 The commentary on the Pentateuch is not a genuine work by Bede, for its author sometimes copies Hrabanus. Thus the early part of his thirtieth chapter is an abbreviated version of PL 107, 600A–601B, while the beginning of chapter 26 opens with the middle of a sentence in a passage in Hrabanus (585B–586C). The earliest manuscript of the commentary known to me is Brussels 1354, written in the tenth century. The Lorsch manuscript of the later ninth century (Bodleian, Laud. Misc. 159), which Coxe's catalogue describes as Beda in Octateuchum, does not contain it; for this codex is made up of some material apparently derived from Augustine, Book 1 only of Bede's commentary on Genesis, and then Wigbod's Collectaneum; on this last cf. Harv. Theol. Rev. 40 (1947), p. 30 with note 27.

17 160C–D. For bibliotheca in the sense of Bible or one or other of the two Testaments see Thesaurus, s.v. The usage is first found in Jerome; to the examples in the Thesaurus should be added the Latin Acts of Pilate (Tischendorf, Evang. Apocr., p. 409), where the magna bibliotheca must mean the Law and the Prophets. We have it on the authority of Alcuin (MGH: Poetae I, p. 283, no. lxv) that by his time the word had come into general use, though he himself favored the older Pandecte, which had already been employed by Cassiodorus (Inst., ed. Mynors, 37, 20 et al.). It is also found in library catalogues of the ninth century; cf. Becker, Cat. bibl. ant. 11, 1 (St. Riquier) and Lehmann, Mittelalt. Bibliothekskat. I, p. 71, 35 (St. Gall).

18 E.g. the Theodulfus Bible (Paris, B. N. 9380; saec. viii–ix) and a Tours Bible (Paris, B. N. 11514) which Rand has placed in his class IVB (A.D. 800–820). The corrector of the Maurdramnus Bible (Amiens 6–11; saec. viii2) also favored Saraam.

19 See the admirable article, “Melchisédech dans la polémique entre juifs et chrétiens et dans la légende” by Marcel Simon in Rev. d’hist. et de philos. religieuses 17 (1937), PP. 58–93.

20 I owe this information and the following references to the kindness of Professor Harry Wolfson of Harvard University. Cf. Carl Bezold (ed.), Me ‘arat Gazo, p. 116, 11, 4–5, and id., Die Schatzhöhle, pp. 27–28; pseudo-Athanasius in PG 28, 525A.

21 E.g., in 233C Aneglomus includes a sentence from Hrabanus that is missing in Alcuin, but in 235A the Hebrew etymology is from Alcuin. Hrabanus omits it.

22 Manitius lists eight. To these should be added MS 92 in Trinity College, Cambridge (Christ Church, Canterbury; saec. xii), Angers 41 (St. Aubin, saec. xii) and Angers 42 (St. Serge, saec. xii). See M. R. James, The Ancient Libraries of Canterbury and Dover, pp. 21 and 506; L. W. Jones, Studies in Honor of E. K. Rand, p. 144, note 11, and p. 151.

23 Gregory: 273C, 305A, 334B, 351C; Augustine: 306D, copied from Hrabanus, 328D; Jerome: 348A (“noster interpres in tribus linguis peritus”) and 393C. Jerome's treatise on Hebrew names was used in 347B and 383C.

24 404D–550C. The only exceptions are two short pieces of allegorical interpretation (453 A–B and 469C–D) which I have failed to trace elsewhere, and a brief addition in 473A–B. These may well be Angelomus’ own contribution!

25 It has not been generally recognized that Hrabanus “lifted” the whole of De templo Salomonis for his own commentary. In their catalogue for 1947 the Rosenbach Company of Philadelphia and New York (Item 492) announced a manuscript written in France in the later twelfth century, which they described as follows: “De templo has been incorporated chronologically into Rhabanus Maurus’ Commentary on Kings and as here written forms an integral part of the third book of the latter work.” Clearly this codex, so far from being unusual, is a normal manuscript of Hrabanus’ commentary. For the Aliquot quaestionum liber cf. Paul Lehmann, Munich SB. 1919, Heft 4, and Heinrich Weissweiler, Beiträge z. Gesch. d. Philosophie und Theologie des Mittelalters XXXIII, Fasc. 1–2 (1936), 54 ff.

26 At 430D Angelomus agrees with Hrabanus against Bede's slightly different wording. The occasional cuts made by Hrabanus in Bede's text are uniformly passages of allegorical interpretation. Pseudo–Eucherius also incorporated De templo in his commentary and he retained the parts which Hrabanus, and following him Angelomus, excised. But see Note at the end of this article.

27 E.g., 271C (PL 79, 789D–791A) and 285B–C (ib. 791B); 290A–B (PL 83, 396D–397A), 363B–C (ib. 412A–B), 396A (ib. 413D–414D).

28 328D–330C; cf. PL 40, 101 ff.; Bede on Acts (ed. Laistner), p. 63, 24–28.

29 E.g., 287A, where Angelomus inserts six lines from the Jew between two passages taken from Bede, 301B–C, 310D–311A, 332B, 339B.

30 577A–C and 627D–628D. The second passage contains the story that Theodosius II copied out Priscian with his own hand and is found also in Aldhelm's De metris. The tale arose out of a confusion between Theodorus of the imperial chancellery and the emperor. Cf. Schanz, Gesch. d. lat. Lit. IV, ii, 230, Keil, Gramm. lat. II, viii, and Aldhelm in MGH: Auct. ant. XV, 203, 22 ff. Ehwald assumes that Angelomus copied from Aldhelm, but both may have copied a common source now lost.

31 562B from Carmen paschale I, 335–336; 538A–B from Isidore, Et. xvii, 8, 4; 623C from Et. xvii, 9, 30; for Jerome see below.

32 See Capelle, B. in Revue bénédictine 41 (1929), pp. 204217. Among the MSS. of the two Gregorian homilies listed by Capelle are several that were copied in the ninth century.

33 The manuscript of the shorter version collated by Froben is now Cod. Reg. Christ. 69 (saec. ix–x) in the Vatican Library. See A. Wilmart, Codd. lat. regin. I, p. 153: “Alcuini in Cant. Cant, compendium immo de cap. I–IV magis contractum; quae sub forma Isidori iam impressa est” (PL 83, 1119–1132). Although it is not assigned to Alcuin in this manuscript, it is included in a collection of Alcuin's letters.

34 Several early manuscripts survive. One, an uncial codex (saec. viii med.) in the Vallicelliana at Rome, was probably copied in France. E. A. Lowe in C(odices) L(atini) A(ntiquiores) IV, No. 433 says of it: “Written north of the Alps in a fine centre of calligraphy,” but the manuscripts with which he compares it are from N. or N. E. France. Schanz, op. cit. IV, ii, 95, and Manitius, op. cit. I, p. 50, disputed the attribution and proposed to assign the pseudo-Cassiodorus commentary to Justus. Neither offered any proof. Moreover, on p. 359, note 3 Manitius referred to the commentary by Justus, meaning the work printed under Justus’ name, and Krüger on pp. 629–630 of Schanz's book did the same! Delirant reges, plectuntur Achivi! The pseudo-Cassiodorus commentary has recently been attributed to Isidore by Vega in La ciudad de Dios 154 (1942), 143 ff., but I have not seen this article.

35 I have used the reprint of Faber's edition in Bigne, M. de la, Sacra Bibliotheca SS. Patrum (ed. 2: Paris, 1589) I, pp. 763 ff. The only complete text of Aponius in print is that by H. Bottino and J. Martini (Rome, 1843), and the references to Aponius given below are to the pages of that edition. It is, however, very faulty. Witte, J., Der Kommentar des Aponius zum Hohenliede (Diss. Erlangen, 1903), pp. 56, is critical, but is himself far from impeccable. He finds some parallels (p. 85) between Aponius and Ambrose, meaning by Ambrose the pseudo-Ambrosian compilation (PL 15, 1851 ff.) which in fact was put together by William of St. Thierry in the twelfth century. His comparison between a passage in Aponius and one in Gregory on Cant. Cant. 8, 2, is no less unfortunate, since that part of “Gregory” is by Robert of St. Vigor. As we shall see, Witte also underrated the extent to which Angelomus copied from Aponius.

36 This manuscript is now in the Stiftsbibliothek of St. Paul in Carinthia (25.2.36). Angelomus retains Jerome's subjunctives and the verb nuncupate, whereas Alcuin changes the subjunctives to the indicative and nuncupate to appellate. Jerome and Angelomus also read per sententias for which the printed text of Alcuin has praesentibus, but this may be a corrupt reading. So, too, Angelomus took the Hebrew titles of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs from Jerome's preface to Kings (cf. Biblia Sacra iuxta latinam vulgatam versionem 5 [Rome, 1944], p. 7), not from Isidore, Et. vi, 1, 7, as he retains Jerome's praenotant. Hrabanus, De inst. cler. 3, 7 (ed. Knöpfler, p. 200), copies Isidore.

37 558A–560A from Aponius 5–7 and 561C–562A from Aponius 3–4; 561B–C from PL 79, 561B–C.

38 562D–563B from Aponius 10, and 566C–568B greatly abbreviated from Aponius 10–15.

39 From Alcuin: 580D, 581A, 585D, 589C, 591C, 599C; from Gregory-Paterius: 594C, 603A, 604D–606A.

40 Cf. Bernhard Bischoff in his valuable article on John of Mantua (Festschrift für Walter Goetz zum 80. Geburtstag [Marburg, 1948], p. 27): “Da die homiletische Auslegung Gregors des Grossen nur für Kap. 1, 1–8 erhalten geblieben war, wurde für die lateinischen Erklärer des Frühmittelalters Beda die beherrschende Autorität.”

41 See Leclercq in Dictionnaire d’archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie IX, ii, 2780–2781. Mr. Leslie Webber Jones in his article on three Luxeuil manuscripts and another now at Oxford (Bulletin of the J. Rylands Library 23 [1939], 3–18) overlooked this inventory, since he remarks (p. 4): “We may be sure, then, that all four manuscripts were present at Luxeuil at the beginning of the eighteenth century.” The manuscripts that he analyzes are Nos. 4, 11, 14, and 7 in Leclercq's description of surviving manuscripts.

42 See E. A. Lowe, CLA I, nos. 92–94 and 106; II, 163 and 173; III, 300; IV, 497; V, 548, 579, 614, and note particularly Dr. Lowe's remarks on V, 579 (Paris, B.N. 9427). The homiliary collated by Morin and described by him as litteris typi luxoviensis exaratus (S. Caesarii opera I, lxxxix), which was formerly Ashburnham Barrois 57, is now MS 17 in the Pierpont Morgan Library. See De Ricci and Wilson, Census II, p. 1368.

43 Cf. CLA V, 548. The illustration shows the beginning of a series of excerpts from Gregory: “Excarpsum ex libro beati Gregorii papae in Hiezechel propheta.” This is the kind of selection, other than that of Paterius, to which Angelomus might well have had recourse.

44 For Rheims 118 see Catalogue général 38, 109 ff. and especially F. M. Carey in Studies in Honor of E. K. Rand, pp. 52–53. Mr. Carey assigns it with a number of other manuscripts to the period 845–882.

45 Cf. Baehrens, op. cit., pp. 160–161; Cat. gén. (in quarto) 3, p. 431. The writer of the catalogue says “Apponius super totum librum eiusdem” but the explicit is not that of Book XII, but of Book VI.

46 Cf. Bloch, op. cit., pp. 262–273.

Some Early Medieval Commentaries on the Old Testament

  • M. L. W. Laistner (a1)


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