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  • Naomi Tadmor


The paper shows how the important theological and Anglo-biblical term ‘Covenant’ was formulated in the course of successive biblical translations, from the original Hebrew and Greek to the King Kames Bible. It suggests that the use of the term in English biblical versions reflected – and in turn propelled – the increasingly prominent Covenant theology. Once coined in the vernacular Scriptures, moreover, the term was applied to religious political alliances: from the Scottish Covenants of the 1590s to the English Solemn League and Covenant, 1644, studied in the paper.



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1 ‘Covenant to be taken throughout England and Wales’, see ‘February 1644: An Ordinance, enjoyning the taking of the late Solemn League and Covenant, throughout the Kingdom of England and Dominion of Wales’, Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, 1642–1660 (1911), 376–8. accessed May 2011.

2 For the relation between the centre and localities, see esp. e.g. Fletcher, A., Reform in the Provinces: The Government of Stuart England (New Haven and 1986); Braddick, M., State Formation in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 2000); Hindle, S., The State and Social Change in Early Modern England, 1550–1640 (Basingstoke, 2000).

3 Vallance, E., ‘“An Holy and Sacramental Paction: Federal Theology and the Solemn League and Covenant in England’, English Historical Review, 116 (2001), 5075 , and esp. 50; see also e.g. The Scottish National Covenant in its British Context, ed. J. S. Morrill (Edinburgh, 1990), and e.g. M. J. Braddick, God's Fury, England's Fire: A New History of the English Civil Wars (2008), esp. ch. 10.

4 Vallance, ‘The Solemn League and Covenant’, esp. 72–4.

5 Ibid. , 69.

6 Green, I., The Christian's ABC: Catechisms and Catechizing in England c. 1530–1740 (Oxford, 1996), 459 . See also esp. Burrell, S. A., ‘The Covenant Idea as a Revolutionary Symbol: Scotland, 1596–1637’, Church History, 27 (1958), 338–50; Hamilton, C. L., ‘The Basis for Scottish Efforts to Create a Reformed Church in England, 1640–41’, Church History, 30 (1961), 171–8; Burrell, S. A., ‘The Apocalyptic Vision of the Early Covenanters’, Scottish Historical Review, 93 (1964), 124 ; Torrance, J. B., ‘Covenant or Contract: A Study of the Theological Background of Worship in Seventeenth-Century Scotland’, Scottish Journal of Theology, 23 (1970), 5176 ; M. Steele, ‘The “Politick Christian”: The Theological Background to the National Covenant’, in The Scottish National Covenant, ed. Morrill; Ford, J. D., ‘The Lawful Bonds of Scottish Society: The Five Articles of Perth, the Negative Confession, and the National Covenant’, Historical Journal, 37:1 (1994), 4564, esp. 64.

7 See in particular Weir, D. A., The Origins of the Federal Theology in Sixteenth-Century Reformation Thought (Oxford, 1990), esp. chs. 1, 4, 5.

8 Letham, R., The Westminster Assembly: Reading its Theology in Historical Context (Pittsburgh, 2001), 112 . Early reformed theologians such as Bucer, Musculus and Bullinger extensively considered Adam, yet not in terms of ‘covenant’ (perhaps owing to the absence of a literal mention of a covenant with Adam in Genesis). The theology of William Perkins (d. 1602) was influential in England in seeing Adam as bound by ‘covenant’ and representative of humankind, e.g.: ‘he was the Father of vs all: and was not a pri|uate man as wee are now, but a publike person . . . what couenant God made with him, was made for him|self & vs’: M. W. Perkins, A Faithfull and Plaine Exposition vpon the 2. Chapter of Zephaniah by that Reuerend and Iudicious Diuine, M.W. Perkins. Containing a Powerful Exhortation to Repentance: As Also the Manner hovve Men in Repentance Are to Search Themselues (1609), p. 36; Green, The Christian's ABC, esp. 403–11.

9 Green, The Christian's ABC, 403–5, passim; Vallance, ‘The Solemn League and Covenant’, 57.

10 See esp. Letham, The Westminster Assembly, ch. 7.

11 Green, The Christian's ABC, esp. 409, 459–60; Burrell, ‘Covenant Idea’; Torrance, J. B., ‘The Covenant Concept in Scottish Theology and Politics and its Legacy’, Scottish Journal of Theology, 34 (1981), 225–43; Steele, ‘The “Politick Christian”’; M. McGiffert, ‘Covenant, Crown, and Commons in Elizabethan Puritanism’, Journal of British Studies, 20 (1980), 32–52; Vallance, ‘The Solemn League and Covenant’, esp. 50–60.

12 Ford, ‘The Lawful Bonds’, esp. 49, 54–5, 64.

13 Burrell, ‘Covenant Idea’, 341; Ford, ‘The Lawful Bonds’, 49.

14 Vallance, ‘The Solemn League and Covenant’.

15 Electronic word searches with spelling variations in Holy Bible Conteyning the Old Testament, And the New: Newly Translated out of the Originall Tongues & with the Former Translations Diligently Compared and Reuised by His Maiesties Speciall Commandment Appointed to be Read in Churches (1611) (KJV), The Bible in English 990–1970, http:/ accessed May 2011; machine-readable transcripts of cardinal English versions, quoted here, are taken from this database. The main spelling variations are: couenant, couenaunt, covenaunt and couenat.

16 A. S. Herbert, Historical Catalogue of Printed Editions of the English Bible, 1525–1961 (1968), 61–2, and, e.g., Milligan, G., ‘Versions, English’, Hastings, J. et al., Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols., Edinburgh, 1898–1904), iv, 858 ; Greenslade, S. L., ‘English Versions of the Bible, 1525–1611’, in The Cambridge History of the Bible, iii: The West from the Reformation to the Present Day, ed. Greenslade, S. L. (Cambridge, 1978; 1st edn 1963), 141–74, esp. 159; Lewis, J. P., ‘Versions, English’, Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. Freedman, D. N. et al. (6 vols., New York, 1992) (ABD), vi, 822 . The first full edition of the Geneva Bible was published in 1560, the last was dated 1644. During this period, a number of revisions were also issued.

17 Tadmor, N., The Social Universe of the English Bible: Scripture, Society and Culture in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 2010), 89 , and references there.

18 2 Chron. 15:15. Several phrases were added at that point to the English version highlighting, among other things, that covenant is to obtain peace: ‘and the Lord gave them rest among them’. Note also the second phrase ‘Take away the wicked from before the King: and his Throne shall be established in righteousness’, Prov. 25:5. The fourth citation from Gal. 3:15, which appeared in the Scottish document, was taken not from KJV but from the Geneva Bible, which still included the word ‘testament’ at that point, and where the words ‘on the oath’, were added.

19 Oxford English dictionary online, s.v. ‘covenant’, accessed May 2011.

20 70 per cent of MPs in 1640–2 had attended either the Inns of Court or one of the universities, 55 per cent the Inns of Courts, and many who attended the universities also proceeded for a period at the Inns of Court, as the legal profession was expanding and the law was generally considered an important accomplishment for a gentlemen. Both the universities and the Inns of Court had by that time expanded to attract unprecedented numbers from among the gentry and middling ranks: see esp. Stone, L., ‘The Educational Revolution in England’, Past and Present, 28 (1964), 4180 , esp. table 8, 63; Prest, W., ‘Legal Education of the Gentry at the Inns of Court, Past and Present, 38 (1976), 2039 ; and see e.g. L. Stone, ‘The Size and Composition of the Oxford Student Body 1580–1909’, in The University in Society, ed. Lawrence Stone (2 vols., Princeton, 1974), e.g. i, 24–8, table 4.1, 93; Heal, F. and Holmes, C., The gentry in England and Wales, 1500–1700 (Stanford, 1994), esp. e.g. 133–4; R. O'Day, The professions in early modern England, 1450–1800 (Harlow, 2000).

21 29 Ch. II c. 3, see the law with current amendments: accessed December 2011. See also e.g. A. Fox, P., Oral and Literate Culture in England, 1500–1700 (Oxford, 2000), esp. ch. 5.

22 תירב: my transliteration here as elsewhere follows the modern Hebrew pronunciation.

23 Hartum, E. S., ‘Berit’, Encyclopaedia biblica, thesaurus rerum biblicarum, 9 vols. (Jerusalem, 1950–88) (in Hebrew), ii, 347–51.

24 Ibid. , 348.

25 Tadmor, H., ‘Treaty and Oath in the Ancient Near East: A Historian's Approach’, in Humanizing America's Iconic Book: Society of Biblical Literature Centennial Addresses 1980, ed. Tucker, G. M. and Knight, D. A. (Chico, CA., 1982), 127–52; reprinted in Tadmor, H., ‘With My Many Chariots I Have Gone up the Heights of Mountains’: Historical and Literary Studies on Ancient Mesopotamia and Israel, ed. Cogan, M. (Jerusalem, 2011), 205–36. See esp. e.g. the cutting of animals Gen. 15:9; Jer. 34:18–19; Ps. 50:5. For a learned English historical exposition of the ‘cutting’ of the berit, see e.g. H. Ainsworth, Annotations upon the Five Bookes of Moses, the Booke of the Psalmes, and the Song of Songs, or, Canticles VVherein the Hebrevv Vvords and Sentences, Are Compared with, and Explained by the Ancient Greeke and Chaldee Versions, and Other Records and Monuments of the Hebrewes (1627), 42–3.

26 Other tokens included commemorative stones (Gen. 31:44–54), extending the hand (Ezek. 17:18) or eating shared food (Josh. 9:14), which itself can form a part of the solemn ritual of contraction.

27 E.g. ve-nikhretah ha-nefesh, Gen. 17:14.

28 Tadmor, ‘Treaty and oath’.

29 Wyclifite Bible, Earlier and Later Versions, machine-readable transcript, reproducing The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments, with the Apporcryphal Books, in the Earliest English Version Made from the Latin Vulgate by John Wycliffe and his Followers, ed. J. Forshall and F. Madden (Oxford 1850) (Wyc. EV, LV).

30 Wyc. LV, Gen. 9:12–17.

31 Wyc. LV, Gen. 21:32; Deut. 5:2–3, 9:11, 15.

32 E.g. Wyc. LV, Deut. 7: 9, 12, 8:18, 9:9, cf. 5:2–3; see also ‘to couenaunt’, Wyc. EV, Isa. 42:6.

33 The Pentateuch of the LV shows a decline of about one third, the books of Joshua, Judges, 1–2 Samuel and 1–2 Kings show a decline of nearly a half.

34 First printed 1530, New Testament fully printed 1526.

35 See e.g. Green, The Christian's ABC, p. 404.

36 See e.g. A. Schenker, ‘∆iaθηκη pour תירב: L'option de traduction de la LXX à la lumière du droit successoral de l’Égypte ptolémaïque et du Livre de la Genèse’, in Lectures et relectures de la Bible: festschrift P.-M. Bogaert, ed. A. Wénin and J.-M. Auwers (Louvain, 1999), 125–31 (I am grateful to Jan Joosten for the reference); see also e.g. Weir, The Origins, 58–9.

37 The term ‘bond’ was increasingly relegated to represent negative ties such as slavery and bondage, see Tadmor, The Social Universe of the English Bible, ch. 3.

38 In The Pentateuch, trans. W. Tyndale (Antwerp, 1530), no page number.

39 William Tyndale (Pentateuch, Jonah and New Testament), 1530–4: machine-readable transcript, reproducing Tyndale's Pentateuch (1530) (Tyn.), Gen. 15:18, 17:2, 4, 7, 9–11, 13–14. See e.g. Tyn. Deut. 7:9, 12; and ‘appoyntment’ and ‘tables of appointment’, e.g., Deut. 5:3, 9:9, 11, 15; and see also the different usages in Tyn. Deut. 28:69 or 29:1, and 29:11, 13, 20, 24–6.

40 Tyndale's translation policies attracted controversy and were disputed in detail by Sir Thomas More, see T. More, Dyaloge of Syr Thomas More Knyghte . . . Wyth many othere thyngys touching the Pestylent Sect of Luther and Tyndale (1529); Tyndale, W., An Answere vnto Sir Thomas Mores Dialoge Made by Vvillyam Tindale (Antwerp, 1531); T. More, The Co[n]futacyon of Tyndales Answere Made by Syr Thomas More knyght (1532); and see also, e.g., Daniell, D., William Tyndale: A Biograohy (New Haven, 1994), esp. 178–201, 250–80; Greenslade, ‘English Versions of the Bible’, 145–7; D. Rollison, The Local Origins of Modern Society: Gloucestershire 1500–1800 (1992), ‘Tyndale and all his sect’, and esp. 90–2, 96. As Rollison explains, the term ‘elder’ reflects not only Tyndale's theology but the contemporary social structure of local communities. Following Tyndale, Coverdale employed ‘congregation’ for ‘church’, ‘elder’ for ‘priest’, and ‘love’ for ‘charity’, etc. (but used ‘penance’ explaining that what he meant by it was true repentance). The ecclesiastical words largely remain in the Bishops’ Bible, but ‘charity’ is substituted where Tyndale had used ‘love’ (Greenslade, ‘English versions of the Bible’, 160–1; J. P. Lewis, ‘Bible, Bishops’, ABD, i, 719). ‘Arguments about the language’ erupted once more surrounding the publication of the Catholic Rheims-Douai version and were important in bringing about the commissioning of the King James Bible. For translation policies and debates, see especially Norton, D., A History of the English Bible as Literature (Cambridge, 2000), chs. 1–2, and on 35; Dove, M., The First English Bible: The Text and Context of the Wycliffite Versions (Cambridge, 2007), 3746 , and references there.

41 See Tadmor, The Social Universe of the English Bible, p. 16, and references there.

42 Electronic search in Thomas Matthew, 1549: a machine-readable transcript, reproducing The Byble, that is to Say All The Holy Scripture: In Whych Are Cotayned the Olde and New Testamente, Truely & Purely Translated into English, & Nowe Lately with Greate Industry & Diligece Recognised (1549) (TM).

43 Gen. 9, 21 and 31. Daniell notes that Tyndale edited such usages in his 1534 version to reinforce the term ‘covenant’, having ‘thought himself through into a more full-blooded Protestant covenant theology’. Yet, revisions remained inconsistent in Genesis and were not extended through the 1534 Pentateuch, where considerable variation was retained: Tyndale's Old Testament: Being the Pentateuch of 1530, Johan to 2 Chronicles of 1537, and Jonah, ed. D. Daniell (New Haven, 1992), xxii–xxiii, and references there; The Firste Boke of Moses Called Genesis Newly Correctyd and Amendyd by W[illiam].T[yndale]. (Antwerp, 1534).

44 Berit was rendered alternately in the Great Bible at Gen. 17, for example, as ‘bond’, ‘testament’ and ‘everlasting testament’, and the TM prelude to Jer. 31 was reproduced, see the Great Bible, 1540: a machine-readable transcript, reproducing The Byble in Englyshe, that is to Saye the Contet of Al the Holy Scrypture both of Ye Olde, and Newe Testamet, with a Prologe Therinto, Made by the Reuerende Father in God, Thomas Archbysshop of Cantorbury, This Is the Byble Apoynted to the Vse of the Churches (1540) (GB).

45 Daniell, D., The Bible in English: Its History and Influence (New Haven and London, 2003), 185 ; Dove, The First English Bible, 192–3.

46 The several English editions (which contain adaptations) bear different titles, and vary in length: Bullinger, H., The Christen State Of Matrimonye . . ., trans. Coverdale, M. (Antwerp, 1541); Bullinger, The Golde[n] Boke of Christen Matrimonye . . . Set Forthe in English by Theodore Basille, trans. M. Coverdale (1543; 1st edn 1541). The treatise was reissued in 1548, entitled ‘The Christian state of matrimony: and how man and wife should kepe house together with love’, within a three-part volume entitled The Christen Rule or State of All the Worlde from the Hyghest to the Lowest and how Euery Man Shulde Lyue to Please God in Hys Callynge, containing also chapters from Tyndale's 1528 tract. Bullinger's name does not appear on any of the English editions of his treatise. The name on the title pages of the first English editions is ‘Translated by Myles Coverdale’. Some editions contain a second preface by the popular polemicist Thomas Becon. Two bear the name ‘T. Basille’, Becon's pseudonym. Becon, one of the most widely read English polemicists of the period, is claimed to have boasted that the publisher affixed his name to the Bullinger–Coverdale treatise so as to increase sales. See also references to Coverdale's adaptation of Bullinger's treatise in Cressy, D., Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion and Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England (Oxford, 1997), 271, 277, 294, 297, 350–2.

47 Coverdale's Pentateuch, New Testament and probably Jonah were based on Tyndale. Coverdale confessed that his command of the Hebrew was insufficient and that he therefore relied in his work on the remaining parts on other sources; these included the Vulgate and Luther's Bible, see Tadmor, The Social Universe of the English Bible, pp. 3–4 and notes there, and see esp. e.g. Daniell, The Bible in English, 174, 181–5, 193–7; Daniell, ‘Miles Coverdale’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (0nline), ed. L. Goldman, Jan. 2009 edn, Oxford, 2004–9, accessed December 2011, and references there; Norton, A History of the English Bible as Literature, pp. 29–34; Lewis, ‘Versions, English’, ABD, vi, esp. 820–1; Greenslade, ‘English versions of the Bible’, 147–51.

48 Biola Unbound Bible, containing, among others, Luther's Bible (1545); online-bibeln, including, among others, Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, Septuaginta, Biblia Sacra Vulgata, KJV, accessed May 2011.

49 Geneva Bible, machine-readable transcript, reproducing The Bible: That is the Holy Scriptveres Contained in the Olde and Newe Testament. Translated According to the Ebrew and Greeke, and Conferred with the Best Translations in Diuers Languages. With Most Profitable Annotations vpon All The Hard Places . . . (1587) (Geneva).

50 At 2 Chron. 16:3, the terms ‘covenant’ and ‘league’ were employed, subtly reflecting the speaker's emphasis on the ‘covenant’ with himself, as opposed to a mere ‘league’ with an opponent, in Hebrew both read: berit.

51 Bishops’ Bible, 1568: a machine-readable transcript, reproducing The Holie Bible Conteynyng the Olde Testament and the Newe (1568) (BB), Gen. 14:13 note, 26:28 and notes, 31:44 and notes.

52 Rheims-Douai, 1582–1610: a machine-readable transcript, reproducing Holie Bible Faithfully Translated into English out of the Authentical Latin. Diligently Conferred with the Hebrew, Greeke, and Other Editions in Diures Languages (Douai 1609–10) (RD).

53 Based on word search of ‘league’, and excluding eleven mentions in 1–2 Maccabees.

54 Albeit to gloss ’alah and shevucah, and with reference to ’amanah, see: RD Neh. 9: 32, 38, 10:29, Masoretic Text Neh. 9:32; 10:1, 30.

55 E.g. Num. 4:25, 30, 33, 6:10, 13, 18; 2 Chron. 1:3, ’ohel moced, translated in RD as ‘tabernacle of couenaunt’,‘couenaunt of testimonie’; cf. e.g. Geneva, ‘Tabernacle of the Congregation’; ’ohel moced mikhsehu, RD Num. 4:25: ‘roofe of the couenant’; see also mishkan ha-cedut; e.g. Ex. 38:21; Num. 1:50; 10:11: RD Geneva, ‘tabernacle of testimonie’.

56 Or about 330 excluding Tobit, Ecclesiasticus and 1–2 Maccabees, based on an electronic searches and additional comparisons in RD, TM and GB.

57 E.g. KJV Josh. 9; 2 Sam. 3: 12–13, 21 and 5:3, confirming that the deposition of Saul and the anointment of David by his people was a ‘league’, rather than a ‘covenant’, as in RD.

58 BB Deut 31:9; Josh. 3:3, 3:6, 4:9; Jer. 3:16. See also Green, The Christian's ABC, 404, and the disappearance of ‘testament’ from theological tracts by the 1590s, Weir, The Origins, 58. Note the increased use of ‘covenant’ in KJV NT.

59 For Andrewes, see Green, The Christian's ABC, 406. The avowed anti-Calvinist Thomas Jackson, for example, embraced the notion of ‘covenant’ while highlighting the mystery and prophecy embedded in the Greek diathēkē, and criticising those who argue otherwise: T. Jackson, An Exact Collection of the Works of Doctor Jackson . . . Christ Exercising his Everlasting Priesthood . . . (1654), 3259. Compare, e.g., the learned exposition reconciling berit and diathēkē in A. Willett, Hexapla, that is, A six-fold commentarie vpon the most diuine Epistle of the holy apostle S. Paul to the Romanes (1611), 2–3, passim.

60 Above, n. 54.

61 See in particular, for example, how words such as ‘precepts’, ‘law’ and ‘conditions’ have crept into contemporary lexicons to explain biblical passages such as Jer. 31:33–4: Weir, The Origins, e.g. 55–8; Letham, The Westminster Assembly.

62 Tadmor, The Social Universe of the English Bible.

63 Solemn League and Covenant, Journal of the House of Commons: Volume 3: 1643–1644 (1802), 25 Sept. 1643, item iii URL: accessed May 2011.

64 Journal of the House of Commons: Volume 8: 1660–1667 (1802), 254. URL: accessed May 2011.

65 Usages of ‘league’ corresponding with berit, e.g. Josh. 9:6, 11; 15, 16; Judge 2:2; and 2 Sam 5:3, mentioned above, were frequently changed in revised versions to ‘covenant’, as indicated, for example, in the standard A. Cruden, Cruden Complete Concordance of the Old and New Testaments (Peabody MA, n.d.; 1st edn 1869), s.v. ‘league’.

66 See e.g. The New Bible Dictionary (1962), e.g. s.v. ‘Testament’, 1253; In ABD, for example, there is no entry for ‘Testament’.

* I am very grateful to Mordechai Cogan, Colin Kidd, David Smith and Nili Wazana for their generous reading of the draft.

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