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This chapter investigates the Latin interpretations of the last book of the Christian Bible, the Apocalypse or Revelation to John, up to the end of the ninth century, with a focus on the ways in which—and the reasons why—these interpretations (unlike later medieval and many modern readings of this book) are largely historical rather than focused on the end of the world.
There is a profound connection between medieval Christian mysticism and the traditions of biblical exegesis that grew up over the course of the Middle Ages; lectio divina, the prayerful study of scripture, lies in the middle. This system of meditation on passages in the Bible, sometimes extended to texts based on biblical passages and redolent of biblical language, is rooted in ancient ascetic discipline and is still practiced by Christians today, but it had its most important and formative period in the monastic world of the Middle Ages, when prayerful study and recitation of parts of the Bible was part of the everyday experience of monks and nuns.
It is important to understand what sort of Bible inspired the lectio divina. First of all, in the monastery, the Bible was mostly known through liturgy and devotional practices. As the great scholar of medieval monasticism Jean LeClercq pointed out, medieval monastics needed to know how to read so that they could participate in the lectio divina, and this lectio was primarily engaged through reading out loud. Later, in the world of the medieval schools and incipient universities, lectio divina came to be understood as part of sacra pagina, the study of the Bible for its own sake and for the sake of knowledge of the text, as well as texts that were directly inspired by the Bible, such as devotional treatises and homilies. But in the monastic world, lectio divina is centered on spiritual experience, especially the arousal of compunction, the desire for heaven.
From the twelfth century through to the period of the Protestant Reformation, western Christian authors produced a great library of texts focusing on the relationship between human beings and God, offering insights to and paths for the spiritual life of the believer. Many of these were visionary texts, directly revealed to the author; some were formally theological and thus more properly could be called (using a word that medieval authors did not use in the way we do) ‘mysticism’. When twentieth-century scholars finally came to terms with this literature as part of the legacy of Christian thought, they basically agreed on two things: first, that the corpus (which had been largely neglected in favour of works of systematic theology) was an important part of the development of Christian theology, and second, that an encompassing term that could aptly describe a variety of these texts with a minimum of anachronism is ‘spirituality’ or ‘spiritual literature’.
Besides the fact that western Christian spiritual literature and the tradition of biblical exegesis are literary genres that have been relatively neglected by historians of Christianity, spirituality and exegesis have much in common. For one thing, spiritual literature relies on received traditions of biblical interpretation for fundamental keys to living a Christian life. In fact, many works of medieval biblical exegesis can be read as spiritual guides. This chapter will begin by discussing some of the most important examples of such ‘spiritual exegesis’, and then conclude with a look at how the traditions of biblical exegesis influenced a broader selection of spiritual literature.
This volume examines the development and use of the Bible from late Antiquity to the Reformation, tracing both its geographical and its intellectual journeys from its homelands throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean and into northern Europe. Richard Marsden and E. Ann Matter's volume provides a balanced treatment of eastern and western biblical traditions, highlighting processes of transmission and modes of exegesis among Roman and Orthodox Christians, Jews and Muslims and illuminating the role of the Bible in medieval inter-religious dialogue. Translations into Ethiopic, Slavic, Armenian and Georgian vernaculars, as well as Romance and Germanic, are treated in detail, along with the theme of allegorized spirituality and established forms of glossing. The chapters take the study of Bible history beyond the cloisters of medieval monasteries and ecclesiastical schools to consider the influence of biblical texts on vernacular poetry, prose, drama, law and the visual arts of East and West.
The original Cambridge History of the Bible was published in three volumes between 1963 and 1970 and became an essential and trusted resource for all with an interest in the evolution and use of the Bible in its various manifestations from the beginnings to the present day. At the start of the new millennium, however, the desirability of replacing this History with a completely new one, which would take account of the considerable advances in scholarship made in almost all biblical disciplines during the previous forty years and respond to the new scholarly concerns of the twenty-first century, prompted Cambridge University Press to appoint a steering committee of international academics to plan it. The four-volume New Cambridge History of the Bible is the result.
The present volume is the second and traces the history of the Bible from Late Antiquity to the eve of the Reformation. It is both bigger and more comprehensive than its predecessor in the earlier History (also volume 2, edited by G. W. H. Lampe). We have aimed to present a more balanced treatment of eastern and western biblical traditions and especially to highlight the reception and study of biblical texts among Jewish and Muslim scholars, thus illuminating the important role of the Bible in medieval interreligious dialogue. We have given far wider coverage to the many scriptural languages of the Middle Ages, some of them ignored or barely mentioned in the earlier volume, including Ethiopic, Armenian and Georgian, and the Scandinavian and Slavonic languages. Also included is more extensive consideration of biblical influence on medieval secular literature and the visual arts; two substantial chapters treat the transformation of biblical narratives into public representation in a variety of media. Throughout the volume, the contributors have made extensive use of recent research, not least that on the materials of the Cairo Genizah, which has increased our knowledge of Hebrew and Greek textual history.