Conundrums of text and language in the Lindisfarne Gospels
Although the Lindisfarne Gospels is best known as a dazzling artefact of huge interest to church historians, art historians, codicologists and palaeographers (among others), it is also a text — or rather, texts, for, as we have it, it is a bilingual book: the Latin is accompanied throughout by a gloss in Old English, added the best part of 300 years after the original copying. For the historian of the Latin Bible, the seventh-century Latin text (of contemporary Italian origin) is notable for its quality and unusual for the fact that it is paralleled in other surviving Northumbrian gospel books or bibles, but the sometimes discordant relationship between it and the book’s second text (the Old English gloss) presents many conundrums whose resolution may provide rare information about the transmission of late tenth-century gospel texts. In addition, we are given insights into translation processes, knowledge of Latin, and the development of the English language in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria. To date, many of the topics relating to the texts of the Lindisfarne Gospels highlighted here have been surprisingly little explored.
Richard Marsden is Emeritus Professor of Old English in the University of Nottingham, where he taught Old English Language and Literature and the History of English, and where he continues with PhD supervision. He has published widely on the history of the Latin Bible and on the earliest translations of the Bible into English.
His books include The Text of the Old Testament in Anglo-Saxon England (CUP, 1995) and the first volume of an edition of The Old English Heptateuch and Ælfric’s Libellus de ueteri testamento et nouo (2008) for the Early English Text Society, and he recently co-edited The New Cambridge History of the Bible. Vol. 2. Medieval (c.650–c.1450) (2012). Among other recent publications are ‘Anglo-Saxon Biblical Manuscripts’, in The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, vol. 1, ed. R. Gameson (2011), and ‘Amiatinus in Italy: The Afterlife of an Anglo-Saxon Book’, in Anglo-Saxon England and the Continent, ed. H. Sauer and J. Story (2012), and works in the press include a chapter on ‘The literature of the New Testament’ in the second edition of the Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature (Spring, 2013). He is currently preparing the second (commentary) volume ofhis Old English Heptateuch and a revised edition of his Cambridge Old English Reader (2004).
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