On Genesis

On Genesis

On Genesis

On Genesis


For much of the last century, the Venerable Bede (673–735) was best known for his Ecclesiastical History of the English People and his Lives of the Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow, works indispensable for an understanding of the early history of Anglo-Saxon England. His biblical commentaries, which comprise the bulk of his scholarly output, received less attention. In the last thirty years, however, a flood of new editions and translations of the commentaries has altered the landscape. Bede's Commentary on the Beginning of Genesis (hereafter On Genesis) is crucially important among them because Bede regarded the opening chapters of Genesis as the foundation narrative of the world. It was here that one should look to understand divine cosmology and God's plan for his people. From it Bede derived the theoretical basis for his scientific treatises and his notion of the English as a chosen people of God, which informs the Ecclesiastical History. In an age which has seen a resurgence of fundamentalist thought and action in all three of the great monotheistic religions based on the book, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, it is well to be able to trace ideas that now seem retrograde to a time and a text where they constituted the latest, most intellectually and 'scientifically' reputable accounts of the nature of the world and the place of mankind in relation to God.


On Genesis was not one of Bede's biblical commentaries most in demand in the Middle Ages, perhaps, as M. L. W. Laistner surmises, 'because Ambrose, and, for advanced readers, Augustine, had already preempted the field'.

See Bibliography.

The best introduction to On Genesis is Jones, 'Bede's Commentary on Genesis'.

See Hanning, The Vision of History, p. 70; Jones, 'Bede's Commentary on Genesis', pp.

4 Laistner, Hand-List, p. 41. Laistner has in mind such works as Ambrose's Hexaemeron
and Augustine's De Genesi ad litteram and De Genesi contra Manichaeos; see Bede's Preface

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