The Medieval Popular Bible: Expansions of Genesis in the Middle Ages

By Brian Murdoch | Go to book overview

PREFACE

These chapters were delivered as the Speaker's Lectures for 2001―2 in the University of Oxford, and have now been expanded and provided with notes, though I have attempted to preserve at least some elements of the lecture format (something for which I was once, in a quite different context, taken to task in a review; nevertheless, the attempt still seems to be worth the effort). As with the Hulse Lectures, which I gave in Cambridge in 1998 and published as Adam's Grace, the theme is again the interplay of theology and literature for a largely lay audience in material from the book of Genesis. This time, however, I am concerned not with the theology of the Fall, but with the more general question of what was meant by the medieval popular Bible ― that is, not the Vulgate or any other actual version, but what was presented in the vernacular as biblical narrative, even if it was sometimes very considerably expanded and interpreted. The lectures looked at the presentation, use and lay reception of the book of Genesis down to the story of Joseph, using as wide a range of medieval genres and vernaculars as possible on a comparative basis, and selecting those narrative high points which lend themselves most particularly (it is never exclusive) to a literal, rather than to an allegorical expansion, even though allegory can also work backwards into the literal narrative. Thus the focus was upon tales like that of the Tower of Babel or of Jacob and Laban, rather than, say, Abraham and Isaac, which is familiarly interpreted in a Christological manner.

As always, I profited from the questions and comments after the lectures enormously, and I wish to thank all those who provided me with extra material. Thanks are due first of all to the Electors to the Speaker's Lectureship. I consider the interplay of theology and medieval literature to be particularly important, and the question of what constituted the Bible for a medieval (lay) audience is a large and still imperfectly answered one, so I am grateful to the Electors (as I was to those for the Hulsean Lectureship in Cambridge) for offering a literary specialist a chance to make this point in detail. My thanks go especially to Professor Ernest Nicholson, Provost of Oriel and Chair of the Electors. His college was kind enough to give me a Visiting Fellowship whilst I was in Oxford, and my all-too-brief stay at Oriel was a delight and a privilege, for which I wish to thank both the Provost and the Fellows, especially Professor John Barton and Dr Annette Volfing. I am grateful, too, to other friends and colleagues in German studies at Oxford ― Professor Nigel Palmer, Dr Almut Suerbaum, Jill Hughes and Dr Henrike Lähnemann, visiting Oxford in 2001/2 from Tübingen.

I began working on Genesis, specifically on Adam and Eve in early German texts, as a postgraduate student in Cambridge in 1965, and moved not long after this into the study of the apocryphal Adambooks with work

-vii-

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The Medieval Popular Bible: Expansions of Genesis in the Middle Ages
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Medieval Popular Bible - Expansions of Genesis in the Middle Ages *
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Abbreviations ix
  • Introduction: the Popular Bible 1
  • One - Bedevilling Paradise 19
  • Two - What Adam and Eve Did Next 42
  • Three - Lamech and the Other Lamech 70
  • Four - Noah: Navigator and Vintner 96
  • Five - The Tower of Babel and the Courteous Vengeance 127
  • Six - Patriarchal Trickery: Jacob and Joseph 149
  • Conclusion 175
  • Bibliography 177
  • Biblical Index 203
  • General Index 205
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