[Scriptoris] Fw: [Scribes] Interesting book review

Hillary Greenslade hillaryrg at yahoo.com
Wed Jun 4 15:42:49 PDT 2008

--- On Wed, 6/4/08, Helen Schultz <helen.schultz at comcast.net> wrote:

> From: Helen Schultz <helen.schultz at comcast.net>
> Subject: [Scribes] Interesting book review
> To: scribes at castle.org, "New Scribes List" <SCA_Scribes_and_Illumination at yahoogroups.com>, "MK-Scribes" <MK-SCRIBES at yahoogroups.com>
> Date: Wednesday, June 4, 2008, 2:45 PM
> McKendrick, Scot, Kathleen Doyle. "Bible Manuscripts:
> 1400 Years of Scribes 
> and Scripture."  London:  The British Library, 2007. 
> Pp. 160.  $35.00. 
> ISBN 978-0-7123-4922-2.
>           Reviewed by Catherine Conybeare
>           Bryn Mawr College
>           cconybea at brynmawr.edu
>  Reprinted from BMCR 2008.05.40
>  This collection of beautifully reproduced leaves from
> bible manuscripts in 
> the collection of the British Library seems designed for a
> non-academic 
> audience -- yet one that will be intrigued to get a glimpse
> of one of the 
> more attractive purviews of academia. It is a book for the
> amateur in the 
> truest sense of the word.
>  The introduction engages, in most summary form, such
> issues as the 
> transition from roll to codex, textual variants, numeration
> and 
> cross-referencing, large and small format bibles and their
> purposes,
>  illuminations and theirs. The relative rarity of pandect
> bibles is compared 
> with the proliferation of gospel books, lectionaries, and
> other excerptions. 
> The introduction concludes: 'Such in outline is the
>  distinctive character of the manuscript tradition of the
> Bible. To 
> illustrate that tradition we have had the great privilege
> of selecting items 
> from the manuscript holdings of the British Library'
> (11).
>  After that, each page displays a leaf from a bible
> manuscript, with 
> catalogue details and summary comments. The figures are
> often conceived as 
> pairs across the double-page spread, inviting comparison.
> The arrangement of 
> the examples is broadly chronological, though we begin
>  with the e/clat of the Golden Canon Tables (sixth/seventh
> century, figs. 
> 1-2) not with the less photogenic papyrus fragments from
> the second and 
> third centuries (figs. 3-6).
>  The majority of the examples are illuminated, but salutary
> attention is 
> given to non-illuminated manuscripts as well. There tends,
> however, to be no 
> technical comment on the script or hand, with a few
> exceptions: fig. 26 
> refers to the script 'in a style developed at
> Tours', contrasting it with 
> 'Insular ornament'; fig. 68 even remarks on the
> form of the 'e' in the 
> Beneventan script there displayed. But there is no
> consistency in this 
> labelling, and so little systematic guidance for the
> aforementioned amateur.
>  As for the languages of the bibles here displayed: they
> are mostly in 
> Latin, but Greek, Old English, Middle English (including a
> Wycliffe 
> translation, and Rolle's earlier translation too),
> Syriac, French,
> Anglo-Norman, Church Slavonic, Old High German, and Catalan
> are all 
> represented as well.
>  Not surprisingly, given the location of the collection,
> some of the most 
> exciting examples are from the English tradition. Fig. 16
> gives us a Latin 
> psalter (in uncial, though the comments don't tell us
> that) with a 
> ninth-century interlinear translation into Old English in
> an Anglo-Saxon 
> minuscule, 'the oldest extant translation into English
> of any biblical 
> text'. The Old English translation in fig. 37 is signed
> by the translator 
> (not unfortunately on the leaf illustrated here),
> 'Wulfwi me wrat'. Fig. 51 
> gives us the earliest copy in English of part of the Old
> Testament--early 
> eleventh century--accompanied by a marvellous image of Adam
> naming the 
> animals. Fig. 142 shows a page from Henry VIII's own
> psalter, with marginal 
> notes in (apparently) the king's own hand.
>  To list a few personal favourites: the tenth-century
> psalter in Tironian 
> shorthand (fig. 38); the double-page spread from the
> eleventh-century Harley 
> psalter (figs. 45-6), in which almost every verse of the
> psalms is 
> illustrated with exquisite, animated line drawings; the
> psalter from the 
> twelfth century which is trilingual in Greek, Latin, and
> Arabic (fig. 72); 
> the startlingly different sensibility of the Silos
> Apocalypse from early 
> twelfth-century Spain (fig. 60), with a richness of colour
> and organized 
> density of iconographic program more reminiscent of
> biblical manuscripts 
> from the Ethiopic tradition than of anything being produced
> farther North. 
> Finally, there is the poignant image of Noah releasing the
> raven and the 
> dove from the Ark in the Holkham Bible Picture Book
> (fourteenth century; 
> fig. 114): beneath the Ark, hideously exposed in the waves,
> float the 
> corpses of humans and animals. The raven feeds on a
> horse's eyes.
>  The comments on each illustration are--as I have
> suggested--rather 
> inconsistent in degree of detail and scholarly content,
> though each contains 
> something of interest. There is one amusing error at fig.
> 85,
> where the plea at the beginning of Psalm 69 is quoted as
> 'Save me, O God, 
> for the waters have come up to my neck' --not
> 'soul', as is conventional, 
> and clearly visible here in both the Greek and the Latin
> of the parallel text. But the historiated opening
> 'S' does show the waters 
> rising to the petitioner's ribcage!
>  The amateur whose interest has been piqued by this volume
> might move on to 
> the catalogue of the 2007 exhibition at the British
> Library, "Sacred: Books 
> of the Three Faiths: Judaism, Christianity, Islam"; or
> to the excellent 
> catalogue from the 2006 exhibition at the Freer Gallery in
> Washington DC, 
> "In the Beginning: Bibles before the year 1000."
> And, although a 
> beautifully-produced book is as satisfying a thing as ever,
> the web-savvy 
> readers of BMCR may wish to know of the Digital Catalogue
> of Illuminated 
> Manuscripts [at the British Library] (DigCM), now being
> developed on the web
> (http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/welcome.htm)
> . (If your 
> internet connection is fast enough, see also the delightful
> conceit of 
> 'Turning the Pages' 
> (http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/ttp/ttpbooks.html) . 
> Indeed, in this age of digitized images, the web is fast
> transforming the 
> availability and visibility of these collections: for
> example, I knew 
> nothing of the
>  remarkable collection of manuscripts at my local library,
> the Free Library 
> of Philadelphia, until it gained an online presence 
> (http://libwww.library.phila.gov/medievalman)  eighteen
> months ago. In
>  this arena, the printed book is becoming merely a teaser
> for the riches 
> available online.
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