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The Contents of Vulgate Bibles Produced in England.

Anyone who has ever messed about in libraries, as opposed to just looking for a single text, will have run into a good many Latin Bible manuscripts. Excepting Books of Hours, they are about the most common surviving medieval books, and like Books of Hours, particularly complex ones. Indicatively, one medieval term for the Bible was bibliotheca, or "library," and these volumes contain, as everyone knows, a vast congeries of texts. Yet the overwhelming majority of the survivors one runs across in British libraries is pretty boilerplate, since they universally are a product of about seventy years' worth of thirteenth-century copying in Paris, northern France, and Oxford. This surge apparently filled the demand for Latin scripture for the remainder of the Middle Ages (late medieval Latin Bibles are rare indeed), and the manuscripts often show signs of up to three centuries of active use. These books, which have standardized formats for contents, size, mise-enpage, and most frequently, decorative styling (or consultative features), are the product of centralized mass-production.

As a result, cataloguing these books, especially in comparison to any other book with a comparable number of texts (folio collections of Augustine, for example), is a relative doddle. A typically succinct statement of the needful appears in the most extensive description of any Bible in Neil R. Ker's Medieval Manuscripts in British Libraries. (1) If one eliminates the fine print in the middle, to which I am going to return, Ker's account absorbs less than a page, and it really tells one all one needs to know to deal with this book. This, and absolutely nothing further, is the cataloguing model to which any biblical description should aspire; it is efficient, communicative, and provides all the necessary information. Anything further is supererogatory and confusing, and, in cataloguing--as my father used to say about some other subjects, mainly my youthful behaviors--zuviel ist zuviel.

That said, Ker's description offers hints about certain kinds of problems lurking inside "the common Parisian Bible" and its insular cousins. This is emphatically not, in concerted detail, the material for a catalogue description, where it will only create absolutely illegible clutter. (2) This material will allow one to note in descriptions proper only deviations from the expected. More importantly, such a separation of detail from a catalogue description will convert looking at Bibles into something like a proper book-historical investigation. Ultimately, that is a kind of study--I should imagine, a book-length one--different in mode and rhetorical kind from making a catalogue.

As I say, Ker's description offers hints of problems. All of them might be reduced to much the same single observation. The Bible is a text absolutely authoritative, and in certain accounts, at least the older portions of it directly conveyed by Yah. It carries within itself, as The Word, an absolute statement of its canonical status, of its utter completeness, and of its imperative exact reproduction as Word (Deut. 4:2). (3) That statement, ironically enough, was authored by the Temple scribes who had just finished substantially changing what they had received. But their guilty knowledge in reproducing a changed book--and they will have considered their work ameliorative, something better than what they had received--remained inherent in reproducing the Bible throughout the Middle Ages. The author, at least of the Hebrew, may have been Yah, but like every author, he depended upon errant, and engaged, human agents to get The Word out there. (4)

As a result, however similar they may initially appear, Latin Bibles hide large amounts of deviance--and deviance of a sort always available, as potential model, to other producers. By this, I am not referring simply to local textual readings--although there is plenty of mileage there. These are not limited to simple (and expected) scribal errors; it is very likely that the scribes responsible for copying Scripture took away bundles of quires and then returned them for new bundles. One cannot assume in advance that any single Bible actually represents the product of but a single exemplar (a production this extensive will have required multiples). Thus, copies of the work will, in all probability, show a range of shifting affinities with books with which there is no particular reason to believe them connected.

But there is yet more extensive variation among Latin copies, which Ker's introductory paragraph only signals. My general statements below are predicated upon a survey of what I imagine a representative sample of available insular Vulgates--nearly fifty relevant books, about half from Oxford libraries. I have either examined these books myself, or have derived information about them from fully descriptive recent catalogues. I have tried to limit my survey to books probably English, or early in England (which may imply special production to meet demands of English clients). In the notes 1 cite the evidence relevant to my general statements using the sigla I assign to each book in the Appendix below.

We all know (or think we do) that the canon of Scripture was settled long before Parisian Bibles were made. Not so. The optionals still appear in appendices in the rear of modern Vulgates (and in one case, in the text in the standard edition). (5) A very great many copies include, and in no predictable combination, 3 Ezra (in Vulgate contexts, Nehemiah = 2 Ezra; 4 Ezra is pretty universally appendix material); a prayer of Manasses at the end of 2 Chronicles; and a fifty-second chapter of Ecclesiasticus ("the prayer of Solomon," still printed as the text in the Stuttgart edition). Among later/modern biblical writings, the pseudo-Pauline epistle to the Laodiceans appears occasionally. (6)

But inclusiveness is not the only problem. Medieval Latin Bibles are capable of textual selectivity/deselection--and in shocking ways. A quite substantial number of Latin Bibles, a fifth of those I have surveyed, dispense entirely with that text most central to liturgical practice, the Psalter. (7) It is thoroughly possible that many clerical users of the Vulgate required no text of the Psalms, having absorbed it auswendig from its weekly liturgical repetition. Alternatively, these volumes may have been produced for individuals who had ready access to separate Psalters, perhaps in more extended volumes that also included their Books of Hours. Or these books may be the product of contracts for whole Bibles, with the Psalter deliberately made to be bound separately, perhaps for formal liturgical use.

That second prospect leads to a further observation about the codicological status of this biblical book in Latin tradition. It is very frequently bibliographically separate from the remainder of the full Bible manuscripts in which it is found, essentially a fascicular production. Moreover, in the construction of Latin Bibles, the end of the Psalter (and thus, its booklet), not the head of Matthew, is the traditional production break in making the book, the halfway point where two-volume Bibles universally divide (imitated in the juncture of Forshall and Madden's volumes 2 and 3). (8)

This separateness frequently appears to have been mandated by certain peculiarities of the text. Psalters, in Latin biblical tradition, have a special format shared with no other biblical book; uniquely, because they represent choral responsive singing, they have verses (other books did not until the sixteenth century), and the verses are quite emphatically set off in manuscript by some form of colored littera notabilior (and often by verse-ending line-fillers). (This will contrast with the in-chapter punctuation of the remaining books, which is by the period, sometimes marked with following red-slashed littera notabilior.) Moreover, while the Psalter might be optional only, sometimes, in the Latin tradition, it is extensive, and like the Stuttgart Vulgate, presents two of Jerome's translations in parallel.

Ker's ideal Parisian Bible also hides a variety of fairly predictable behaviors in Latin tradition of potentially wider impact. As one can see from Ker's account, the standard order of the Parisian biblical books differs from that familiar from modern printed Bibles. The conventional medieval order of Christian writings does not follow the fundamentally historical order enshrined in the modern text. Rather, it records, in a rough way, the historical order of biblical composition, the authors' proximity to the Incarnate, and the gospels are immediately succeeded by the Pauline epistles (which actually predate all the gospels, except perhaps Mark). The Acts of the Apostles is very nearly at the back of the book. Yet plenty of medieval Latin Bibles show variant orders here, and efforts at grouping the Christian historical accounts, i.e., moving Acts to follow John, the concluding gospel. But this transposition is not unproblematic, and book producers who front-load Acts most normally drag with it the Catholic epistles. In a few books I have looked at, even the Apocalypse comes along for this ride, and the last book of the full Bible is the epistle to the Hebrews. (9)

Moreover, the treatment of Acts is far from the only commonplace transposition of textual order available in Latin tradition. Tobit often does not precede Judith and Esther, but follows them. Moreover, the Maccabees often, like Acts, may appear substantially advanced from their customarily "intertestamentary" position, in this case also to emphasize their connections with other "historical" materials. This decision, probably inspired by some access to the Veritas Hebraica, is accompanied by some quite substantial reorderings of the remainder of the "Old Testament." (10) The appendages to the prophecy of Jeremiah are potentially mobile, Baruch particularly so, in a very few books attached to Ezechiel. And Thessalonians, rarely only the first epistle, more normally both, occasionally appear before, rather than after, Colossians. (11)

If one returns to Ker's description of Lambeth Palace MS 1364, one finds that more than half his account is given over--so that Ker never has to do it again for any of the other Bible manuscripts he describes--to one feature of medieval Bibles (still selectively present in the standard Stuttgart Vulgate). The books include, widely dispersed through the text, a substantial amount of non-biblical material, basically exegetical instructions and historical contextualization of the biblical text. These materials are conventionally known as "Jerome's prologues," and as Ker lays them out, there are sixty-four of them, appearing at fixed points in the Vulgate text. (12)

If one thought the variations in content and order among manuscripts of an authoritative text, supposedly inviolable and invariate, were confusing, the prologues are more so. In Anglo-Latin tradition, the handling of less authoritative explanatory materials of clear human authorship appears thoroughly bewildering and various. The prologues to the biblical books turn out to be surprisingly malleable, and Ker's precise sixty-four-item account, while often followed, is very far from the whole story. There are, for example, prologues of some diffusion that not just Ker, but the expert F. Stegmuller, never saw--and for which, even after an assiduous bit of searching, I cannot offer a source. For example, there is a prologue to Zephaniah with the incipit, "Iosiam regem Iude cuius temporibus Sophonias prophetasse," or another to Haggai, "Moriente Dario rege Medorum et succedente in regno." In some manuscripts I have seen, they are hopefully ascribed to Jerome, but they certainly are not among the works printed as his; the first, at least, looks to me like an abbreviated paraphrase of material from Petrus Comestor's Historia scholastica. (13)

To begin with, the sixty-four seem to have been considered by Bible producers only a rough template. That is, most Anglo-Latin biblical books have most of them, and pretty invariably, in the expected places. But, given that these are exegetical/historical aids, and not Scripture, no copyist seems ever to have felt compelled to actually provide them all. Scribal practice suggests to me that one rule in play in producing Latin Bibles might be stated as, "One book, one prologue." For certainly, one universal in Bibles produced in England is the suppression of multiple prologues to the same book. This rule, of course, introduces its own small frisson, since, if someone is going to decide to suppress one prologue of two or three, obviously that person gets to choose which one ought to be omitted.

Ker's list of the standard prologues shows immediately where the problem areas might be expected to fall. Job, Joel, Amos, Jonah, Maccabees, and Matthew all have multiple prologues and thus are all prime candidates for modest excisions. In the case of Job and Matthew, where such streamlining is common, it is always the second prologue that is suppressed--although, confusingly, if typically, having suppressed RB 357 before Job, scribes are prone to add in extra materials, not part of the traditional sixty-four. (14) But, in the equally common case of reducing the prologues to the Maccabees, it is universally the first two prologues that are omitted, with only Stegmuller's RB 551 retained. (15) The minor prophets show a considerable amount of variation, complicated by a further feature I will mention in a moment; thus, various producers suppress Stegmuller RB 510 before Joel, yet others Stegmuller RB 511, and of the set before Amos, only Stegmuller RB 515 has anything like more or less universal transmission. (16)

Other commonplace suppressions are, in a general way, similar. That is, if the rule is "One book, one prologue," this might be perceived as having a corollary, "One prologue for each continuous biblical genre." One of the most commonly absent prologues is Stegmuller RB 327, to the continuation, 2 Chronicles; one might note that the Stuttgart Vulgate only nominally separates the traditional two books, in its rendition given the single title "Verba dierum." Or again, Ecclesiastes and Wisdom frequently lack prologues (RB 462 and 468, respectively); in this case, RB 457 serves as a general introduction to all the "Wisdom books." (17) But, at the same time, I would note that, confusingly enough, RB 468 to Wisdom offers one of the most common variants that neither Ker nor Stegmuller ever saw: a version with an extra sentence at the head, "Incipit quartus ordo eorum librorum qui in." This appears to have been derived from a rubric that in the Patrologia Latina rendition of the Vulgate introduces the book of Judith (28:1449n), and to have become absorbed into the subsequent text. (18)

Further, in many cases, English Vulgate manuscripts respect the Parisian instruction, "Prologue goes here," but they do not provide the standard Parisian text. The most ubiquitous example, to which I have already alluded, concerns the minor prophets. In my experience, this provision of materials occurs in Anglo-Latin Vulgates at least as frequently as does the received Parisian pattern, and perhaps more frequently. Certainly, beginning with Micah or Nahum, and in some Vulgates affecting the entire sequence from Obadiah on, English Bibles either supplement the standard prologues with, or offer in their stead, an alternate set of prologues. All these examples--extremely brief, three sentences at the most, and thus probably not construed as an exception to the "one prologue" rule--are indexed in Stegmuller. Although there is copious variation here (recall that my examples of prologues unnoted in Stegmuller are prefixed to prophets in this sequence), most usually English book producers offer materials they have gleaned from non-Vulgate Jerome sources. In this case, they simply lift the brief account of each prophetic book from Jerome's epistle 53, where he instructs Paulinus in the study of scripture (Patrologia Latina 22: 546-547). (19) So there is a richly various background in paratextual biblical materials.

As a consequence, although one respects Ker's presentation (and it offers an exemplary general guide), it is very far from the full story of Anglo-Latin Bibles. Fewer than a quarter of the books I have surveyed follow this model strictly, even for gross biblical contents (and ignoring whether the texts appear in Ker's order). Thus, no researcher should be either surprised or elated to discover minor variation or unindexed prologue materials. Whatever the appearance of uniformity (or of our conviction of the inviolable holy text), Anglo-Latin Bibles display all the quirks of transmission familiar in less august contexts.

Keble College, University of Oxford


Manuscripts Consulted, cited by sigla in the notes

(All are from Oxford, unless stated otherwise)

All Souls College: Al MS 1; A2 MS 2; A3 MS 3

Balliol College: Bl MS 1; B2 MS 330; B3 MS 348; B4 MS 351 (20)

Bodleian Library, Digby MSS: Di MS 229

Christ Church: Chi MS 105; Ch2 MS 106; Ch3 MS 107; Ch4 MS 108; Ch5 MS 109; Ch6 MS 110; Ch7 MS 111

Dublin, Trinity College: Dl MS 35; D2 MS 36; D3 MS 37; D4 MS 38; D5 MS 40; D6 MS 41; D7 MS 42; D8 MS 43; D9 MS 44

Exeter College: E MS 45

Hereford Cathedral: HI MS; H2 MS P.vii.1

Lincoln Cathedral: LI MS 1; L2 MS 131; L3 MS 246

Magdalen College: M1 MS lat. 2; M2 MS lat. 108

Merton College: Me1 MS 7; Me2 MS 235

The Queen's College: Q1 MS 52; Q2 MS 55; Q3 MS 299; Q4 MS 358

St John's College: J1 MS 4; J2 MS 29; J3 MS 48; J4MS 100; J5 MS 110; J6MS 123; J7 MS 193; J8 MS 207

Worcester Cathedral: W1 MS F.162; W2 MS Q.83


(1.) Completed by A. J. Piper, 4 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1969-1992), now with a fifth volume of indexes, ed. I. C. Cunningham and A. G. Watson (Oxford; Clarendon, 2002), here the account of Lambeth Palace Library, MS 1364 at 1: 96-97. Contrast, for example, R. M. Thomson's description of the Augustine anthology, Merton College, MS 1, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Medieval Manuscripts of Merton College, Oxford (Cambridge: Boydell, 2009), 36.

(2.) I must acknowledge that, in spite of Ker's wisdom and authority, cataloguing since Medieval Manuscripts has often remained strangely impervious to his presentation. For one example of the tendency, (attempt to) consult Peter Kidd's illegible accounts in the web-mounted descriptions of Queen's College manuscripts; contrast the succinct, yet perfectly communicative treatment in Thomson's Merton. This essay will, at least, suggest that details rendered close to unrecoverable in descriptions like Kidd's, and telegraphically communicated in Thomson's, do conform to certain variously common patterns, even if not the expected "Parisian" model.

(3.) And cf. the reprise, at Apoc. 22: 18-19.

(4.) See the discussion of the textual aberrancy of commonly circulating Bibles in chapter 15 of "The General Prologue," in The Earliest Advocates of the English Bible, ed. Mary Dove (Exeter, 2010), 80/2802-11, 81-82/2846-62; Anne Hudson and Elizabeth Solopova, "The Latin Text," in Elizabeth Solopova, ed., The Wycliffite Bible: Origin, History and Interpretation (Leiden: Brill, 2017), 107-132 passim; and my "The Wycliffite Translators' Vulgate Manuscript: The Evidence from Mark," Medium AEvum 86 (2017), 60-90.

(5.) Biblia Sacra, iuxta vulgatam versionem, ed. Robert Weber et al., 4th edn (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994). The appendices, with most of these variant texts, appear at 1909-1976; the one bit accepted into the text at 1095.

(6.) 3 Ezra appears in fourteen of the books I have surveyed, A2 (uniquely, with 4-6 Ezra as well) A3 Ch5 Ch6 D2 D4 D5 D7 J6 J8 L3 M2 Q4 (and in Ch2 as a later addition). The prayer of Manasses occurs in seventeen copies, A1 A3 B2 B4 Chi Ch6 D9 Di J5 J6J8 Ml M2 Mel Q3 Q4 W1. Ecclesiasticus 52 ("the prayer of Solomon") is rather weakly attested, in the light of its inclusion in the standard text, in twelve copies only, B1 B4 Ch2 Ch3 Ch4 Ch5 D5 J4J5 L2 Q2 Q4. The Pauline Laodiceans appears in only seven of the books, B4 D3 D7 D9 HI J1 Q2.

(7.) The Psalter fails to appear in ten of the sampled books A1 B1 Ch6 Ch7 J4J6L1(?) M1 Q2 (added later in Di).

(8.) Josiah Forshall and Frederic Madden, eds, The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments, 4 vols (Oxford: Clarendon, 1850). For an example of such a separate booklet and two-volume full Bible, see British Library, MS Royal 1 B.x (once property of John Dyggon, fifth recluse of Sheen) and J1. Dyggon's book also includes a parallel-text Psalter.

(9.) Acts alone follows John in J2 Q1. Acts and the Catholic epistles are advanced to this position in B1 D6 Di E H2 J6 M1 Q2 W2. And both Catholic epistles and the Apocalypse follow Acts here in Ch4 J3 J4 W1. In two aberrant instances, H1 L2, only the Catholic epistles appear in this position. After all, James, whose letter stands at the head, was "the Lord's brother," and the other authors among the apostles.

(10.) Tobit follows Judith and Esther in A1 B4 Ch4 D3 J2 J3 Q1 W2. In the "historical" handling of Maccabees, the books usually follow Esther, to be succeeded by prophets, Job, the Psalter, and 'Wisdom books" (thus concluding with Ecclesiasticus). Examples of this order occur surprisingly frequently, in A1 Ch4 Di E J4 Q1 Q2 W2. The traditional tanakh/Hebrew whole Bible, imitated a bit inconsistently in such presentations, comprises three text blocks: the Pentateuch (torah), nevim ("prophets," including the last three books of the Octateuch), and ketuvim (" [miscellaneous] writings," beginning with Psalms and Job); cf. Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, ed. A. Alt et al., 2nd edn (Stuttgart: Wurtembergische Bibelanstalt, 1983).

(11.) Baruch, absent from Al LI, precedes Lamentations in Ch2 J4, follows Daniel in Ch4, and is copied in two bits one displaced, in D6. Both letters to the Thessalonians precede Colossians in A2 Ch4 D5 H2 J3 J5, 1 Thessalonians only in J6.

(12.) For the partial modern reproduction of these, see, for example, Bibla Sacra 3-4, 285-286, 364-366, etc. Such paratextual materials are conventionally identified, as I will do here, by the numbers assigned each of the texts in F. Stegmuller, Reportorium Biblicum Medii Aevi, 11 vols. (Madrid: [Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas], 19[5]0-80) (hereafter RB); all the biblical materials and the prologues appear in volume 1.

(13.) "Josiam" appears as a second prologue, supplementing Ker's standard example (RB 534) or another, in Chi J2 Q2; cf. Patrologia Latina 198:1415-18. "Moriente," an acephalic version of the standard RB 538, appears in Chi Ch3 J2 Q2 W1 (and British Library, MS King's 2). A further example: Ch4 prefaces Obadiah, not with RB 519+517, but "Arguuntur illi qui populum domini persequentes"; it also appears as an additional prologue in the same position in J4.

(14.) RB 589, the second prologue to Matthew, is absent in about half the books surveyed, Ch1 Ch3 Ch7 D3 D6 D7 D8 D9 Di E H1 J1 J2 J3 J7 L3 M1 Me1 Me2 W2 (D5 lacks both prologues; L2 W1 substitute other materals; and A3 uniquely suppresses RB 590 instead). The second prologue to Job, RB 357, is completely lacking in fourteen books, A3 Ch2 Ch7 D3 D8 H1 J1 J2 J6 J7 L3 Me1 Q3 (neither prologue in B4); but in another nine instances, it is replaced by another text, usually RB 349 or 350 or some combination of both, in Ch1 Ch3 Ch4 D9 J3 L1 Q1 Q2 W1.

(15.) The first prologue to Maccabees, RB 547, is absent in more than half the copies, B1 Ch1 Ch2 Ch3 Ch4 D2 D7 D9 E J1 J2 J3 J7 L2 L3 M1 Me1 W2 (added later in Ch2, different materials supplied A2 A3); the second, RB 553, absent in all these, does not occur in Ch7 Me2 either (it again is a later addition to Ch2). Four manuscripts, D5 D6 D1 H1, provide no prologue here at all.

(16.) RB 511 is lacking in Chi Ch2 (added later) Ch3 D5 D9 J2 J3 L1 L2 Q2, in the last, however, with non-standard prologues in its place. RB 510 does not appear in Ch2 E J1 L3 M1 Me1 Me2, and W1 suppresses both, although providing other materials here. In the case of Amos, the first prologue, RB 515, is lacking only in Ch4 Ch7 J3 J4. RB 512 also occurs frequently, only absent in E L2 L3 M1 Me2 W1; but the third prologue, RB 513 is very widely suppressed, absent from Ch1 Ch2 (added later) Ch3 Ch4 Ch7 D6 D9 Di E J2 J3 J4 L1 L3 Me1 Me2 Q1 Q2 W1 W2.

(17.) RB 327 occurs in only a minority of volumes in the survey, absent from B4 Ch1 Ch2 Ch3 Ch4 Ch5 Ch7 D1 D3 D5 D6 D7 D8 D9 Di H1 J2 J5 J6 L3 M1 M2 Me2 W2 (its omission was remedied later in Ch2 Ch5). RB 462 to Ecclesiastes is lacking in A2 Ch2 (supplied later) Ch4 Ch7 Di D3 D9E H1 J1 J2 J3 L2 L3 Me1 Q1 Q2 Q4 W1, and RB 468 to Wisdom in all these, excepting A2 J2 L2 W1, but it fails to appear in A3 D7 D8 M2 Q3 as well.

(18.) The expanded version, "Incipit," occurs in Ch1 Ch3 J2 J7.

(19.) This replacement/supplement series parallels Ker's prologues 33-39 and includes RB 525, 527, 529, 532, 535 (very occasionally 539), 540, 544 or 545, respectively. Versions of this sequence, either alone or as supplements, approach being the majority form in local Bibles, occurring in Ch1 Ch2 Ch3 Ch4 D5 D9 H1 J1 J2 J4 L1 L2 L3 Me1 Me2 Q1 Q2, portions only in A2 E W1 W2. In cases where the sequence extends back to Obadiah, RB 516 replaces RB 517, as in Ch1 Ch2 Ch3 D5 D9 J1 J2 J3 J4 J6 J7 L1 L2 Me1 Q1 Q2 W2.

(20.) These books, for which I rely upon R A. B. Mynors, Catalogue of the Manuscripts of Balliol College, Oxford (Oxford: Clarendon, 1963), are not so fully described as the remainder of the books here, and the information presented might be taken as provisional.
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Author:Hanna, Ralph
Publication:The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUUE
Date:Jan 1, 2018
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