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

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

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

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

Synopsis

What was meant by the medieval popular Bible - what was presented as biblical narrative to an audience largely unable to read the original biblical texts? Presentations in the vernacular languages of Europe of supposedly biblical episodes were more often than not expanded and interpreted, sometimes very considerably. This book looks at the presentation, the use, and the possible lay reception of the book of Genesis, using as wide a range of medieval genres and vernaculars as possible on a comparative basis down to the Reformation. Literatures taken into consideration include Irish, Cornish, English, French, High and Low German, Spanish, Italian and others. Genesis was an important book, and the focus is on those narrative high points which lend themselves most particularly (it is never exclusive) to literal expansion, even though allegory can also work backwards into the literal narrative. Starting with the devil in paradise (who is not biblical), the book examines what Adam and Eve did afterwards, who killed Cain, what happened in the flood or at the tower of Babel, and ends with a consideration of the careers of Jacob and Joseph. The book is based on the Speaker's Lectures, given in 2002 in the University of Oxford. BRIAN MURDOCH is Professor of German at the University of Stirling.

Excerpt

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 . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.