Cain’s Face, and Other Problems: The Legacy of the Earliest English Bible Translations

Richard Marsden
Girton College, Cambridge

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Scripture was being put into English at least six hundred years before Tyndale’s martyrdom and four hundred and fifty years before the making of the Wycliffite Bibles. The roll-call of great Englishmen involved in promoting Scripture in the vernacular must be expanded to include King Alfred, Ălfric, the self-effacing abbot of Eynsham, and other, unnamed, Anglo-Saxons. The language of the earliest biblical translations, the most important of which were made in the two centuries preceding the Norman Conquest of 1066, was Old English. Although this form of our language is not easy to read for the uninitiated, the languages of Wyclif and Tyndale (Middle and early Modern English, respectively) were its direct descendants. The question I want to pose in this paper, therefore, is an obvious one: to what extent, if at all, were the later translations influenced by he earlier? Can a continuous biblical tradition be discovered, paralleling the linguistic revolution of English and linking the work of the Anglo-Saxon translators with that of their successors in the fourteenth century and beyond?

The general question of the continuity of English literature between the arrival of the French-speaking Normans at the end of the eleventh century and the reassertion of the English language in the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries has proved difficult and contentious. In his celebrated attempt to prove the existence of a continuous tradition of English prose, R. W. Chambers used the evidence of both homiletic writings and Old Testament translations from the Anglo-Saxon period, but his account contained much special pleading and was short on detail in crucial places.[1] Charles Butterworth, as part his classic study of the Bible in English. considered specifically (and uniquely, I believe) the possibility of a continuity of scriptural tradition and suggested two possible mechanisms: the building up of ‘an accepted standard or a traditional style for biblical translation’, which would then have persisted from generation to generation; or the direct influence of early manuscripts consulted by later scholars.[2] He concluded, however, that ‘no positive indication’ exists that either process took place. I shall be displaying less caution than Butterworth in my own re-examination of the subject. This does not mean that I shall claim to have established the wholesale direct influence of the Old English on the Middle English translations, but I do want to suggest that there are specific examples apparent influence which justify further research. There are indications, too, that other mechanisms of continuity may have been at work than those considered by Butterworth. However, I can begin my exploration of possible connections uncontroversially, with what I would call the ‘politics’ of continuity. These loomed large in the context of late medieval and Reformation Bible translation, when the existence of Old English scriptural translations was deliberately emphasized by scholars and ecclesiastics, even if the texts had not actually been read in most cases.[3] In 1539, only three years after Tyndale’s death, Thomas Cranmer noted in his Preface to the Great Bible (the second of Coverdale’s translations and the first ‘authorized’ version of Scripture in English) how many hundreds of years before, Scripture had been ‘translated and read in the Saxon tongue, which at that time was our mother tongue, whereof there remain yet diverse copies, found lately in old abbeys, of such antique manner of writing and speaking that few men now are able to read and understand them’.[4] In 1571, Archbishop Matthew Parker, a key figure in the transmission of Anglo-Saxon culture through his interest in manuscripts, supervised publication of one such ‘antique’ manuscript, an edition of the Gospels translated into Old English.[5] It was printed by John Daye and entitled The Gospel of the fower Euangelistes translated in the olde Saxons tyme out of Latin into the vulgare toung of the Saxons, newly collected out of auncient Monumentes of the sayd Saxons, and now published for testimonie of the same. The matryrologist John Foxe contributed a preface, addressed to Queen Elizabeth, in which he implicitly associated the Old English Gospels with what he called that ‘Pristine state of olde conformitie’ to which the Church was now going to be returned, he clearly hoped, by the young queen:[6]

Likewise haue we to vunderstand & conceaue, by the edition thereof, how the religion presently taught and professed in the Church at thys present, is no new reformation of thinges lately begonne, which were not before, but rather a reduction of the Church to the Pristine state of olde conformitie, which once it had, and almost lost by discontinaunce of a fewe later yeares.[7]

Daye’s edition of the Old English was not set out as in the original manuscripts, in continuous prose with few divisions, but broken up into chapters and verses, with each verse numbered and on a new line, following current conventions. This was an imposition which reinforced visibly the reformers’ belief in the continuity of the tradition.[8]

However, the sixteenth-century champions of vernacular translation were doing nothing original in this harking back to venerable tradition, for the same justification by precedent had been made by their forerunners of two hundred years previously, the Wycliffite translators. It was they who had been the first at any period to provide English readers with a complete Bible. In the Preface which John Purvey wrote to the second of the Wycliffite versions in about 1390, he first ingeniously invoked Jerome’s Latin Vulgate itself as a precedent for vernacular translation; after all, he argued, Latin was no more nor less than the great doctor’s own mother tongue. He then went on to refer to some of the earliest English translations:[9]

Lord God! sithen [since] at the bigynnyng of feith so manie men translatiden into Latyn, and to greet profyt of Latyn men, lat oo [let a] symple creature of God translate into English, for profyt of English men; for if worldli clerkis loken [examine] wel here croniclis and bokis, thei shulden fynde that Bede translatide the bible, and expounide myche in Saxon, that was English, either [or] comoun langage of this lond, in his tyme; and not oneli Bede, but also king Alured [Alfred], that foundide Oxenford [!], translatide in his laste daies the bigynning of the Sauter into Saxon, and wolde more, if he hadde lyued lengere [lived longer].[10]

Bede and Alfred were the names most frequently cited in connection with the earlier translations in five tracts defending vernacular translation which were written between Wyclif’s death in 1384 and the prohibition of the Wycliffite translation in 1408.[11] As Margaret Deanesly has shown, this claim was taken very seriously by the opponents of ‘lollardy’, who felt forced to counter-argue. The Franciscan, William Butler, for example writing in 1401, admitted that there had been earlier translations but put forward the rather curious argument that it was all right for the common people to read Scripture in their own tongue at a time when few of them were converted to the faith (the situation he assumed for the earlier English period), but not when all had become converts. In sup- port, he cited Aristotle’s dictum: ‘The greater the people, the smaller its understanding.’[12] Thomas Palmer, a contemporary Dominican opponent of vernacular translation, justified his opposition with two arguments. If Bede did indeed translate the whole Bible, the Church had never accepted it; but in fact Bede had not really made one at all, or at least had only rendered a small amount for practical purposes.[13]

The facts known to Purvey and others about the earliest translations were essentially correct, though one of the most important had been overlooked. There was never a complete vernacular Bible in the Anglo-Saxon period.[14] If all the scattered scriptural passages cited in Old English translation in the numerous works of homily and sermon which survive from the Anglo-Saxon period were assembled and joined with the more substantial translations that were made (and to which I shall return), we would end up, I estimate, with something in excess of a quarter of a complete Bible.[15]

The earliest translation of scriptural prose has often been attributed to the great Bede, who passed his long life from the age of seven (c.680) at the monastery of Jarrow in Northumbria, where he taught devotedly and wrote numerous works of exegesis, commentary and history.[16] An eye-witness reported that the indefatigable scholar was still working on his deathbed, trying to finish, among other tasks, ‘the gospel of St John from the beginning as far as the words, "But what are they among so many?", which he was turning into our language to the profit of God’s Church’.[17] Remarkably then, it seems that we can pinpoint an English translation of the first six chapters of John (as far as 6:9) to the year 735 and specifically (from other information available) to the weeks following Easter. We must be cautious, however, about giving too much significance to Bede’s ‘translation of John’. Thomas Palmer, the Dominican whose opposition to vernacular translation I noted above, was correct in this instance: there is no question of Bede’s having produced a complete vernacular gospelbook, let alone a Bible.[18] If he had, his deathbed efforts would presumably have been unnecessary, and no such work is mentioned in the long list of his achievements which he himself left us at the end of his Historia ecclesiastica; all of them are in Latin.[19]

We do know, however, that Bede sanctioned the use of the vernacular in the teaching of monks. In a letter he wrote to archbishop Egbert of York in 734, for instance, he recommended that not only laymen but also clerics and monks who were ignorant of Latin ought to be taught the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer in English, as he himself had often done.[20] Almost certainly, Bede’s translation of the first six chapters of John (which does not survive in any form) was for didactic purposes. It may have been an interlinear gloss to the Latin text; such glosses were particularly prevalent in the later Anglo-Saxon period. The eight-century Vespasian Psalter, whose Latin text was glossed during the mid-ninth century, has sometimes been cited as the earliest surviving translation of Scripture into English, though, like all such word-for-word renderings, it would have made little sense in its own right as continuous prose.[21] In fifteen of some twenty-five Anglo-Saxon psalters that survive, the Psalms are wholly or partly glossed. which indicates that hun- dreds of glossed psalters must have circulated in the tenth and eleventh centuries.[22] Famously, the Lindisfarne Gospels, a late seventh-century manuscript of the Vulgate Gospels, was given a continuous Old English gloss by the priest Aldred at Chester-le-Street in the mid-tenth century;[23] and not long afterwards the Rushworth Gospels, an Irish manuscript of about 800, was provided with a gloss by two monks, one of whom seems to have used the Lindisfarne gloss as a crib.[24]

The sixteenth-century Bible translators were aware from hearsay sources of what has more recently been confirmed by linguistic analysis, that King Alfred (871-99) translated the first fifty Psalms into English. This is the earliest attempt that we know of to put a substantial continuous portion of Scripture into Old English prose.[25] After saving the kingdom of Wessex from imminent Viking conquest, building up defences against further attack and creating the conditions under which the first politically unified English state would emerge, Alfred (deservedly called ‘the Great’) embarked on an ambitious programme of educational reform. His aim was to restore throughout his kingdom the standards of learning which had been reached in Bede’s day (150 years earlier) but had since disastrously fallen away.[26] According to his contemporary biographer, Asser, Alfred did not master Latin until 887, when he was nearly forty,[27] but he was to reach a sufficient level of competence to be able to undertake, albeit with helpers, major translations of Gregory the Great’s Regula pastoralis, Boethius’s De consolatione philosophiae and Augustine’s Soliloquia.[28] His version of the first fifty psalms seems to have been made towards the end of his life and survives in a manuscript of the mid-eleventh century known as the ‘Paris Psalter’.[29] The manuscript also has Psalms 51-150 in a metrical Old English version, but this is not associated with Alfred. As we have seen, there was a long-standing Anglo-Saxon tradition of using the vernacular to gloss Latin texts of the Psalms, probably as a help in teaching Latin to novice monks, but such glosses followed the Latin literally, word by word, and could not be read independently of the Latin. Alfred’s continuous idiomatic translation was thus a new departure. Why was it made? Alfred seems to have become increasingly pious as he grew older and his piety was closely tied up with his conviction of his own regal destiny and of England’s rightful place in the great scheme of divine history. He may even have seen a model of himself in King David, the putative author of the Psalms - a king, like him, bedevilled by seemingly intractable problems.[30] Thus Alfred’s motives for the translation seem to have been a mixture of personal inclination and a sense of national destiny, but it is the personal dimension that makes Alfred’s Psalms, for me, one of the most moving Old English texts. Although the core translation is very accurate and follows the Latin closely, Alfred has no compunction about adding, altering and, most notably, amplifying the rather cryptic Latin. There is the sense of a personal voyage of discovery in the king’s words and a consequent quality of spontaneity, which together endow the work overall with something approaching lyricism. One of the arguments of the sixteenth-century opponents of vernacular translation of Scripture, derided by Tyndale in the address ‘to the reader’ which prefaced his translation of the Pentateuch, was that direct knowledge of Scripture might make people rise against their king.[31] It is a telling comment on changing ideas of kingship that the earliest English translation of Psalms should not only have been made by an English king but have been used, at least in part, to bolster his kingship.

Extracts from two of Alfred’s versions of the Vulgate Psalms, which he knew in their ‘Roman’ text, will illustrate the ‘personal’ nature of his translation.[32] In Psalm 3, the Latin of verses 1-2 has: Multi dicunt animae meae non est salus ipsi in Deo eius. Tu autem Domine susceptor meus es, gloria mea... (‘Many say to my spirit that there is no salvation for it in its God. But you, Lord, are my protector and my glory...’). Alfred trans- lates closely and accurately; but he seems to find the movement to the affirmative by means only of autem too abrupt and so inserts a contradiction of the ‘many’ which serves also to anticipate what follows: ‘but it is not as they say’; and then for good measure he inserts a complementary amplification: ‘without any doubt’. His version thus reads: ‘Monige cwe­a­ to minum mode ■Št hit nŠbbe nane hŠle Št his Gode. Ac hit nis na swa hy cwe­a­, ac ■u eart butan Šlcum tweon min fultum and min wuldor’. In Psalm 22 (that is, 23 in the usual Protestant division), Alfred decided to amplify his translation of virga tua et baculus tuus ipsa roe consolata sunt (‘thy rod and thy staff they comfort me’) in verse 5 with an explanation of what the two objects in question signify: ‘that is, your correction and comfort’ (■Št is ■in ■reaung and eft ■in frefrung). Augustine may have provided the basis for this exegesis.[33]

Alfred is associated also with two other smaller portions of scriptural translation, one from the Old Testament and one from the New. They were most likely not made by the king himself but were attached to the law code that was probably issued during the 880s or early 890s.[34] A long ideological prologue about law and law-giving, couched in specifically biblical terms, precedes the law code and opens with a translation of most of Exodus 20-23, chapters that present the precepts of Mosaic law, and Acts 15:23-9. which promulgates parts of it.[35] These translations, which include some paraphrase and amplification, have a transparent political purpose: to give biblical authority for the English laws and by implication to suggest England as a successor to Israel in the scheme of Christian history.[36] Vernacular Scripture serves to demonstrate divine continuity.

The Old English versions of Latin works that were produced by Alfred and his collaborators in the last decades of the ninth century mark the first great phase of vernacular literary achievement in Anglo-Saxon England. The second was to begin in earnest some two generations later, in the middle of the tenth century, in the wake of the powerful movement for monastic reform associated principally with the names of Dunstan, Oswald, and Ăthelwold.[37] English monasticism was reorganized and expanded in accordance with principles propagated by the reforming continental Benedictines. New standards in devotional life were demanded and these in turn catalysed a new phase of intellectual endeavour, with the production by the reformers and their successors of an astonishing library of works in the vernacular.[38] Among them were the most important and influential of the Old English biblical translations: a complete gospelbook (the so-called ‘West Saxon Gospels’), and a compilation of Old Testament books in translation, of which one extant copy is a Heptateuch and another an illustrated Hexateuch. Both the New and the Old Testament translations were made, independently, towards the end of the tenth century and sufficient copies or the remains of copies of both survive to prove that they were widely used. Furthermore, they were being copied, emended and annotated through the twelfth century and on into the beginning of the thirteenth.

The Old Testament translations known collectively as the Old English Heptateuch. the title under which they have been edited, survive in two main manuscripts: London, British Library, Cotton Claudius B. iv, a lavishly illustrated Hexateuch. and the Oxford, Bodleian Library, Laud misc. 509, a Heptateuch containing the same text of Genesis to Joshua as the Claudius manuscript with the addition of a portion of Judges.[39] There are seven other manuscripts containing parts of the work, all but two of them fragmentary. The Old English Heptateuch is of especial interest because we know the identity of one of the translators involved.[40] This is Abbot Ălfric, who dominates the history of late Old English prose to an extraordinary extent, mainly through his two great series of Catholic Homilies and two volumes of Saints’ Lives.[41] Some of these works. such as homilies or sermons featuring 1-2 Kings, Job, Esther, Judith and Maccabees, contain further substantial portions of Scripture in translation.[42] Ălfric set new standards in vernacular prose and showed new possibilities for the English language; after him, for the first time in English literature, we can talk confidently about prose style as a deliberately wielded instrument of communication.[43] Little is known about, Ălfric as a person. except that he spent most of his life at the abbey of Cerne Abbas in Dorset, where he ran the monastic school, and was then made Abbot of Eynsham, just south of Oxford, a house newly founded by his patron, the ealdorman Ăthelweard Most of his works were written during the last decade of the tenth century and the first few years of the eleventh.[44] His contribution to the Heptateuch translation appears to have been Genesis chapters 1-24, the second half of Numbers, and all that there is of Joshua and Judges.[45] The compilation does not in fact offer a complete translation and in the later books there is much omis- sion and editing, and some paraphrasing; in the earlier books, however, close translation of the Latin predominates.[46]

We do not know when the Heptateuch compilation was made, nor for whom; but we can be certain about the original purpose of at least part of it, for, Ălfric wrote an explanatory preface to his translation of the first half of Genesis and this has survived in two of the manuscripts. He explains that the translation was made for the laity, though not for the masses. Ălfric’s patron, Ăthelweard, had asked him for it, and he and his son, Ăthelmer, may perhaps be seen as examples of a type of wealthy, literate, and above all pious nobility who were keen to follow as best they could monastic devotions.[47] The Heptateuch was assigned to be read in the monastic night offices, in the pre-Lenten and Lenten periods, so it may be that such an audience — a very specific class of the laity, many of them important patrons and supporters of the monasteries — was the recipient of the Heptateuch compilation as a whole, eager to follow for themselves something approaching monastic devotions during an important period of the ecclesiastical year.[48] There is no direct evidence for this, however. Although the combination of vernacular text and illustrations in the Claudius Hexateuch suggests a lay audience, the workmanship of the copy that survives does not indicate that it was prepared for royalty or a particularly high-ranking nobleman.[49]

In his Preface to Genesis, Ălfric reveals himself as the first Englishman (as far as we know) to face those same doubts about the wisdom of vernacular translation that would tax later translators. He expresses great anxiety about translating for the laity and he subscribes firmly, in principle at least, to the Augustinian view that Scripture should be mediated, and that direct access by ignorant people might be a very dangerous thing.[50] What if, he asks in the preface, the unlearned were to confuse life under the old law with life under the new and believe that they could behave with the same sexual licence displayed by the patriarchs in Genesis? The spiritual meaning of Scripture beyond the ‘naked narrative’, says (Ălfric, is very deep. But he is clearly aware of a further dimen- sion to the problem. He writes of ignorant priests (ungelŠredan preostas), who under- stand a little Latin and think that this enables them to be teachers of Scripture.[51] Bede, in the early eighth century, as I have noted already, knew that he must cater in English for clerics without adequate Latin, and Alfred, too, in the late ninth century, saw vernacular translation as a necessary first step in overcoming the ignorance of those in holy orders.[52] Clerical ignorance was to be a recurring theme among later English translators. In Tyndale’s Preface to his translation of the Pentateuch, he gives as one of the reasons why he has suffered persecution in his England the fact that ‘the priests of the country be unlearned, as God it knoweth there are a full ignorant sort which have seen no more Latin than that they read in their portesses and missals which yet many of them can scarcely read’.[53]

The Old English Gospels survive in six more or less complete manuscripts (four copied in the eleventh century, two in the twelfth) and two fragments.[54] Each Gospel is translated in its entirety, in a rendering that is close to the Latin and largely accurate. We know nothing at all about the circumstances of the translation, though we may guess that t was probably made during the last decade or two of the tenth century. There is no evidence that Ălfric was in any way involved, or that he even knew of the existence of the translation. Rubrics in a copy associated with Exeter relate the Gospel texts to their liturgical use throughout the year, but this does not mean that the Old English Gospels were .actually read during Mass as a substitute for the Latin.[55] Roy Liuzza has noted the lack it evidence that any of the Gospel manuscripts were ever in the hands of laymen; they were part of monastic or cathedral libraries. What is more, examination of successive copies suggests a process whereby the originally ‘freestanding’ translation was ‘drawn sack into the orbit of the Latin text’ by means of added Latin headings and corrections made to the Old English text, apparently with reference to a Latin, not another Old English, text.[56]

It is clear that we would be mistaken to regard our two Anglo-Saxon vernacular part-Bibles — a gospelbook and a Heptateuch — as the clear beginning of a movement to provide Scripture for the masses. It is true that pious noblemen or noblewomen may have been involved, but whatever their initial audiences it is within the monasteries that all the scriptural translations, of the New and Old Testaments, survived, and there that alterations and emendations were made. These continued into the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In one Gospel manuscript, for instance, improvements were made to the Old English text in the thirteenth century, but the manuscript was still being used in the fourteenth century, when Latin glosses were added.[57] In one Heptateuch manuscript there has men updating of the English language, too, by means of Middle English glosses, and the illustrated Hexateuch carries numerous notes partly in Latin and partly in English, made in the twelfth century and deriving mostly from the writings of Josephus.[58]


Of all freestanding English scriptural translations, the Old English Psalms, Gospels and Heptateuch were the first into our language, and my fascination for them derives from this very fact. The putting of Scripture into any vernacular language for the first time is a coming of age for that language. In being brought face to face with the ineffable texts, couched as they are in the imagery and syntax of alien cultures and transmitting profound and often difficult concepts, the vernacular language is stretched to the omit. It may be found wanting; at the very least it will have to accommodate, to adapt, to explore new possibilities, and perhaps even to re-invent itself. It will never be quite the same again. Literary languages have sometimes in effect been created specifically in order to propagate Scripture. Old English itself only began to be fully written with the coming of Christianity and the adoption of the Roman alphabet. Even earlier another Germanic language, Gothic, had undergone a similar experience and, indeed, the only substantial written record we have of Gothic are fragments of the Gospels and some other biblical books in a translation made by bishop Ulfilas in the second half of the fourth century.[59] What especially interests me about the first translations made in Anglo-Saxon England is the linguistic challenge posed by some of those pivotal moments in the Old Testament narratives which are now such an intimate part of our linguistic, as well as spiritual, consciousness. In most cases the simplest of ideas or actions were involved, not great theological cruces, yet they had been described in the original Hebrew (and then in the Vulgate translation) in obscure or idiosyncratic words or phrases. Among these pivotal moments, as we shall see, are Adam’s and Eve’s discovery of their nakedness in Genesis 3 and God’s rejection of Cain’s sacrifice in Genesis 4.

Ălfric himself was well aware of language problems in general[60] and the problems of scriptural language in particular. This was another of the issues which he tackled in his Preface to the translation of Genesis. For Ălfric, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew were three sacred languages of equal status, and he was familiar with Jerome’s insistence that in holy Scripture the very order of the words is a mystery.[61] But Ălfric was also an educator and, like all educators, a pragmatist. He explains in his Preface that Scripture is ‘very dense with meaning’ and is set out syntactically exactly as God delivered it to Moses (Ălfric is talking here specifically of the Pentateuch). So, he says, ‘I dare not write in English anything that is not in the Latin — except in one case, namely, that English and Latin do not do things in the same way. Always, he who translates from Latin to English must order things such that the English keeps its own manner, or it will be confusing to understand for those without knowledge of Latin.’[62] I am not going to accuse Ălfric of being disingenuous here, and certainly he is a long long way from the Wycliffite idea that language is simply the clothing of the law of God, to be changed according to the style of clothing familiar to a particular people, but the freedom he gives himself to translate as he sees fit is fairly comprehensive, for the ‘one case’ when the two languages differ in their way of saying things (that is, in their syntax) is in fact most of the time. The churchman, heavily influenced by Augustine and others, never loses sight of the almost numinous character of the sacred text, and of his awesome responsibility to remain faithful to its profound spirit (deopan digelnysse); but the experienced teacher and expert grammarian knows that a translator who does not truly translate, but who simply, in effect, glosses, is abrogating the further responsibility of enlightening rather than con- fusing his flock. This approach is in fact that of Jerome, who, in producing his Latin Vulgate against great opposition in some quarters, had paid lip-service repeatedly to the sanctity of the words of Scripture (in Greek and Hebrew) but in practice had exercised the same sanction implicit in Ălfric’s ‘except in the one case’." The evidence of Ălfric’s approach is there throughout his translation: in general, he uses Old English idiom when the Latin is awkward or obscure, but he is prepared to go further in those cases where there is a chance, not that the words may be misunderstood, but their meaning. In his version of Genesis 6:2, for instance, which contains the notoriously difficult passage about the sons of God marrying the daughters of men (‘the sons of God, seeing the daughters of men, that they were fair, took to themselves wives’), Ălfric adds to ‘the sons of God’ an explanation: ­Št wŠron gode men ‘who were good men’. He could have found his authority in an extensive range of patristic works, including Augustine’s City of God.[64] Another example is found in Genesis 2:13, where Ălfric qualifies the name of the second river of Paradise, Geon, with the statement, seo ys gehaten Nylus ‘it is called the Nile’ — a sound piece of information, available in Isidore and other sources.[65] We have seen that Alfred made similar amplifications in his translation of the psalms, though the approach of the abbot is certainly more scholarly.

Critics have taken at best a rather condescending attitude to the Old English translations of the Gospels and the Heptateuch, laying the blame for shortcomings on the inadequacies of the language itself as much as on the translators. Geoffrey Shepherd suggests that an educated person would have found the vernacular, during the period before Wyclif and probably at any time before the sixteenth century, ‘simply and totally inadequate’.[66] A vernacular, he writes, must have ‘relevance and resources’ and especially ‘cultural prestige’ before it can make an acceptable translation, and this must coincide with an ‘available theology’ for interpretation. Shepherd seriously underestimates the achievements of late Old English prose, especially in the hands of Ălfric. I would argue strongly that the Old English language did have the resources and that the abbot of Eynsham himself, if none other, gave it cultural prestige. The artfully controlled rhetoric of Ălfric, which in his later homilies involves the use of some of the tools of the alliterative poet to unite the logic of his argument to the form of its expression, has been widely studied and admired." As for an ‘available theology’, my example of, Ălfrician amplification in Genesis 6:2 is enough to suggest that there was one, rooted firmly (as other examples would confirm) in the core ‘canonical’ works of Augustine, Jerome and the other fathers, and that it could be used effectively and uncontroversially in the Anglo-Saxon period to add definition to Bible translation in crucial places.[68] The suggestion of Roy Liuzza that such translations in the Anglo-Saxon period are ‘concessions, not accomplishments’, undervalues the actual results of their work, I believe.[69] The translations were indeed concessions, in the sense that their aim was probably limited to giving vernacular access to only parts of Scripture, and for a restricted audience of monks without adequate Latin and perhaps pious laymen or laywomen, and that their making presupposed the softening of a traditional reluctance to vernacularize Scripture. Nevertheless, they were accomplishments also in respect of the way in which they transmitted lucidly and literately the biblical narratives. Indeed, the stark success of the translation exercise may have contributed to Ălfric’s doubts about the wisdom and propriety of thus spreading abroad the ‘naked narrative’[70]

There is a particular trap which lies in wait for the analyst of scriptural translation: the bogey of ‘literalism’. Ălfric himself has been accused of being so concerned to keep to the letter of the sacred language that he was prepared to write ‘nonsense’ Old English on occasions.[71] My indignation at such a preposterous idea is already in print, and I need do no more than summarize my views here.[72] I am convinced that ĂIfric always translated with calculation, as well as with skill. The instances of apparent over-literal translation are not always what they seem and sometimes they simply illuminate that crucial moment (in fact a whole series of crucial moments) to which I alluded above, when a vernacular comes face to face with Scripture for the first time: what does the original mean, and how is it to be tackled? It is a moment when all the resources of the language are tapped and when it may have to be shaped anew. Perhaps the greatest skill of the translator in these circumstances lies in knowing the limits of the possible in his language and then pushing as far as he dare beyond them in a shaping, creating process. Thus when Ălfric, who as a rule shows no inclination to translate with slavish fidelity the Latin, renders Jerome’s odd ‘cessauerat ab omni opere suo quod creauit Deus ut faceret ’ in Genesis 2:3 as ‘he on ­one dŠg geswac his weorces ­Št he gesceop to wyrcenne ’ (‘he rested on that day from all the work which he had created to make’), we may perhaps posit two reasons. Either the verb ‘gescieppan’ was already in use in Old English in the sense of ‘to intend to’, followed by an infinitive (although there is no other record of it), or that Ălfric deliberately pushed the verb a very short step from its established use to another, hardly obscure or revolutionary, one.[73] On occasions he may simply have wanted to retain something of the numinous quality of a momentous divine statement. Thus in Genesis 17:4 Ălfric apparently chose to translate the Vulgate ‘dixitque Deus ego sum et pactum meum tecum’ literally, with omission of a second copulative verb and thus a spartan and memorable syntax: ‘ic eom and min wed mid ­e’ (‘I am, and my covenant with you’); but he was not compelled to do this.[74]

What is instructive is that the critics of Ălfric’s alleged ‘literalism’ have not been outraged, it appears, by other of his ‘literal’ translations. Particularly prominent among these are the hebraisms which are such a characteristic feature of the Old Testament in translation, not least in Genesis. Rendered nearly always literally by Jerome in the Latin Vulgate, they were in turn translated more or less literally by Ălfric. And here, at last, we reach the problem of Cain’s face. In Genesis 4:5, it will be remembered, God refuses Cain’s sacrifice, and Cain’s disappointment is shown by a change in his facial expression. The Vulgate, translating fairly accurately the Hebrew,[75] has iratusque est Cain uehementer et concidit uultus eius ‘and Cain became mightily angry and his face fell’ or ‘fell down’. The phrase is repeated in the following verse, 4:6, where God asks Cain. ‘Why did your face fall?’ (quare concidit uultus tuus?). Ălfric translated 4:5 quite literally: ■a hirsode Caim ■earle and his nebwlite Štfeol ‘then Cain became greatly angry and his face fell, or fell down’. The reason why critics of Ălfric’s translation style have not protested at this peculiar idiom, ‘his face fell’ (or, as the Authorized Version has it, ‘his countenance fell’), is obvious: it is current in modern English and causes us no problems (though this is not the case, it may be noted, in many other modern languages, which invariably paraphrase).[76] But what did the Anglo-Saxons make of the idiom? Was it known in Old English before the fateful day (almost exactly a thousand years ago) when Ălfric translated Genesis 4:5?[77]

The Hebrew idiom (ויּפּלוּ פּניו ‘his faces fell down’) had been paraphrased in some Greek versions but in others rendered literally, except that the noun was made singular (for example, καὶ συνέπεσε τᾳῡ προςώπῳ αὐτοὑ).[78] Both the earlier Latin translators (working from the Greek) and Jerome (with access to the Hebrew) chose to be literal also, yet there is reason to think that the ‘falling face’ idiom was never accepted easily in the Latin. Isidore, in a glossary of scriptural passages, felt that an explanation was necessary: mutauit colorem uultus sui ‘he changed the colour of his face’. An Old Latin (i.e. pre-Vulgate) version of the passage from the late first century was even more helpful in Genesis 4:5: et tristus factus est Cain ualde confusa est facies illius ‘and Cain was very sad and his face became upset’; but, curiously, it gave a literal rendering of 4:6: et dixit Deus ad Cain, quare tristis factus es et quare corruit uultus tuus? ‘...why did your face tall down?[79] The evidence is that the Anglo-Saxons in their turn were in no hurry to accept the idiom, for when King Alfred came to put Gregory the Great’s Regula pastoralis into English and had to deal with Gregory’s citation of Genesis 4:5, given in the usual Vulgate version, he paraphrased: ‘ ­a wear­ Cain swi­e ierre ond hnipode ofdune ’ (‘Cain became very angry and bowed down ’)[80]. The fact that Alfred used this paraphrase strongly suggests that the literal idiom was not known to him and therefore not yet available in English.[81] More interestingly still, Ălfric’s literal translation of the passage is in only one version of the Old English text, that in the mid-twelfth-century Cambridge University Library manuscript which carries a translation of Genesis 1-24:22 which is believed to be nearest to Ălfric’s original translation.[82] The main Hexateuch and Heptateuch manuscripts transmit a text which has undergone some revision, and they omit the clause ‘and his face fell’ altogether, having simply ‘­a wear­ Cain ungemetlice yrre’ (‘Cain became angry without measure’). Perhaps the revisers were unhappy with the idiom of the falling face; perhaps, indeed, they were the first to accuse Ălfric of ‘literalism’. Whatever the case, I believe that in (Ălfric’s version of Genesis 4:5 we may be able to see our language being created — and created in the image of Scripture.


In considering finally the subsequent history of the ‘falling face’ idiom in Genesis, after Ălfric’s fateful decision to present it literally, I return to my theme of continuity. We have seen that the fourteenth- and then the sixteenth-century translators were right in their self-justifying claims to be not innovators but continuators, when it came to the idea of vernacular translation. But can any more solid connections be drawn, whether linguistic or stylistic, between Ălfic and Wyclif, or even Tyndale? On this question I offer optimistically a few pointers to future study. The territory has hardly been touched, and yet it is a rich one, with intriguing problem, and some oddities awaiting investigation; and one of the most fruitful areas of enquiry will be hebraisms, such as that used in the Cain narrative.

The next known continuous prose version of Genesis after the one made by Ălfric and other Anglo-Saxons is that of the first Wycliffite translation (1380), which was based also on the Lain Vulgate. Its literal rendering of Genesis 4:5 is: ‘And Caym was greetli wroth, and therwith felde his chere’. The second, more idiomatic, Wycliffite version (1395) modifies slightly, filling out the action of faIling with a preposition and thereby, arguably, coming closer to the Latin (concidit): ‘And Cayn was wrooth greetli, and his cheer felde doun’.[83] From its use in the second version, if not the first, it is tempting to assume that the ‘falling face’ idiom was acceptable in Middle English, perhaps as a result of its introduction to our language in the Anglo-Saxon period and subsequent continuity of use through the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It is therefore disappointing to find in one of the six surviving manuscripts of the second Wycliffite version a gloss to this passage, which explains ‘felde doun’ as ‘he was hevy’, that is, sad.[84] This seems to suggest that the idiom was not considered to be immediately comprehensible, or at least not universally, and so it may be argued that we witness in the Wycliffite version a new and parallel act of language creation. Yet it remains possible that there were dialectical differences, in respect of the phrase in question, between various areas of England. The Oxford English Dictionary cites poetical use of the idiom some fifty years later so perhaps we may assume that by then, at least it had become ‘naturalized’.

There is no direct evidence that the Wycliffite translators had read any Anglo-Saxon versions of Scripture, but they knew about them, as I noted above. The language would certainly have posed a problem. As John Purvey put it in a treatise on the question of Bible translation, Bede’s version of John and other Gospels, which he claimed still survived ‘in many placis’, were ‘of so oolde Englische that vnnethe can any man rede hem’.[85] But the statement that ‘hardly anyone’ could read the Old English Gospels leaves open the probability that some people, at least, could read them and it certainly does not preclude their study by scholars. It is not impossible that the Old English Gospels, and perhaps other scriptural translations from the Anglo-Saxon period, were on occasions consulted by the later translators.[86]

What does Tyndale do in his version of Genesis 4:5? Rather surprisingly, for one whose translation is based in general on the Hebrew and noted for the vigour of its idiom, he uses a paraphrase: ‘And Cain was wroth exceadingly, and loured’. The latter verb (first used in Middle English but of unknown origin) is graphic, but why did Tyndale not use the dramatic, and above all faithful, ‘falling face’ idiom? The first Coverdale Bible of 1535 is stiffly reticent: ‘Then was Cain exceadingly wroth, and his countenaunce chaunged’. The Geneva Bible (1560), however, fulfills the claim f the translators in their preface to have kept the Hebrew expression wherever possible: ’wherefore Kain was exceding wrath, and his countenance fel downe’. This is very close to the Wycliffite version. Curiously, though, when the phrase is repeated in the following verse, Genesis 4:6, Geneva varies with a paraphrase: ‘Then the Lord said unto Kain, Why art thou wroth‘? and why is thy countenance cast down?’ All the other English Bibles from which I have cited repeat in 4:6 whatever idiom they have used in the previous verse. The Bishops’ Bible of 1568, on the other hand, eschews the verb ‘to fall’ and opts to use ‘abate’ (with the primary meaning ‘beat down’) intransitively: ‘Cain was exceedyng wroth, and his countenaunce abated’.[87] Finally, however, the Authorized Version of 1611 opts once more for the Hebrew idiom, and thus makes one of its comparatively rare departures from Tyndale: ‘Cain was very wrath, and his countenance fell’. Did the King James translators, in this instance, recreate the language anew? Or were they drawing on well-established vernacular resources, deliberately taking over an idiom which was already available, although perhaps restricted to regional or dialectical use and therefore considered unsuitable by most other Reformation translators? And if so, had the idiom become established through the Wycliffite translators’ use of it, or had the original Old English version, Ălfric’s creation, been current in the vernacular all the time?

The ‘falling face’ idiom is just one of a whole nexus of hebraic expressions which occur in modern, or at least medieval, English and which may have become ‘naturalized’ in the Anglo-Saxon period. Several others are connected with the face, including ‘before the face of’, ‘to set one’s face against’, ‘to set one’s face towards’. Still in the facial region, the resonant phrase ‘lift up your eyes’, of Old Testament origin, seems first to enter our language when the anonymous translator of the Old English gospels writes ‘■a hig heora eagan up ahfon’ (’then they lifted up their eyes’) in Matthew 17:18. Ălfric uses it in his translation of Genesis 13:14 — ‘aheve up ■ine eagan’ (‘lift up your eyes’) — but does not seem to have been happy with it in 13:10, in a slightly different context, and paraphrases: ‘Lot ­a beheold geond all’ (‘then Lot looked all about’), as does the anonymous translator of Genesis 24:63: ‘■a he hyne beseah’ (‘when he looked around him’). Among other characteristically hebraic expressions is ‘to die by death’, with the variation ‘to die the death’. This barely survives in today’s language but was current (in various forms) throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and until the Renaissance period. The expression made its first prose appearance in the scriptural translation which reads King Alfred’s law code and was used also in the poem Genesis A, a long Old English paraphrase of Genesis (line 1,205). It thus had already a long pedigree when the second Wycliffite version used it, for example, in Judges 13:22, ‘Bi deeth die we’. Coverdale, in the same passage, used ‘We must dye the death’.

I shall finish with one more intriguing example of possible continuity between the anglo-Saxon and later periods, again from Genesis but this time involving Adam’s and Eve’s sartorial emergency. The Geneva Bible earned its famous nickname, ‘the breeches Bible’, because it used that word in Genesis 3:7 to describe the garments Adam and Eve hurriedly made out of fig leaves in order to clothe themselves, once they had eaten of the forbidden tree and thereby discovered their nakedness: ‘Then the eyes of them bothe were opened, and they knewe that they were naked, and the sewed fig tre leaues together, and made them selues breeches’. A footnote in the Geneva Bible interprets the Hebrew חגרת (chagoroth), as ‘things to girdle about them to hide their privities’. Other sixteenth- and seventeenth-century versions, including those of Tyndale and Coverdale, and the Bishops’ Bible, the Great Bible and of course the King James Bible, prefer ‘aprons’. Tyndale’s version of Genesis 3:7, for example, is: ‘they understode how that they were naked. Then they sowed fygge leves togedder and made them apurns’. The Hebrew word for the garments worn by Adam and Eve was put into the Greek as περίζωματα (περίζωμα, ‘an apron’, from a verb meaning ‘to gird round’). Jerome then took this over directly, as perizomata, for his Vulgate version.

Geneva’s ‘breeches’ is well-chosen but it was not original, for a precedent for the use of the word had already been set by the Wycliffite versions two hundred years previously: ‘and whanne thei knewen that thei weren nakid, thei sewiden the leeves of a fige tre, and madden brechis to hem silf’. I do not know whether this had influenced the Geneva translators, but my more immediate interest is in the source f the Wycliffite version. It seems to have gone unnoticed by historians of the English Bible that there was a precedent for this, too, and that it had been set by abbot Ălfric in the Old English translation which he made at the end of the tenth century. The Old English form of ‘breeches’ is brec (which can be plural as well as singular) and it is compounded with wŠd (cf. modern English ‘[widow’s] weeds’): ‘and hi worhton him wŠdbrec’; that is, ‘and they worked for themselves clothes in the form breeches’. Old English brec is itself of Latin origin and occurs fairly frequently in its simple form.[88] Is this a genuine example of semantic continuity between Ălfric and the Wycliffites (and then perhaps the Geneva translators)? I believe that it is, though in a specialized way. The only other occurrence of the Old English compound wŠd-brec in the Anglo-Saxon period is in a glossary, where it defines ‘perizomata’ or ‘campestria’ (the word used in some older Latin versions, and meaning a leather apron worn about the loins). But this Old English glossary is by Ălfric himself and it circulated with the vernacular grammar of Latin which he wrote.[89] In other words, in the glossary he may have been simply legitimizing his own choice of a translation, and my assumption is that Ălfric himself was indeed its originator. Interestingly, the uncompounded word is given in the entry immediately before perizomata in Ălfric’s glossary as a translation of Latin femorale ‘covering for the thighs’, which is a rare word but occurs in the Vulgate Sirach 45:10.[90] It is possible that the Wycliffite translators re-created the translation ‘breeches’ spontaneously, but it seems to me more likely, in view of the difficulty of the word requiring translation (perizomata), that they turned to a glossary for help. Glossaries were a staple of early medieval intellectual life, and collections of glosses survive which originated in Anglo-Saxon England as early as the seventh centtury.[91] We know that copies of Ălfric’s glossary (with its collocation femorale/brec and perizomata/wŠdbrec) were being made as late as the thirteenth century;[92] the use of one of these by later translators s a possibility. What I am suggesting, then, is yet anther sort of continuity in the history of English scriptural translation — a continuity of biblical scholarship.


I have used this paper to promote an idea of continuity between the earliest English translations of Scripture and those of the later English periods beyond the level merely of a shared conviction of the need for such translations. My thesis is that scriptural translation changes for ever the receiving language and that this will have been the case with the English language during the Anglo-Saxon period. The case has not yet been proved beyond doubt, and how ‘provable’ it will be is unclear, but at the very least I believe that the language available to the Wycliffite translators, and then in turn to those of the Renaissance and Reformation periods, will in some measure have been prepared for the task by what had been done some centuries before by those early Englishmen whose activities had enriched the literary and spiritual history of the English language.

I conclude with the words of Bishop Ăthelwold, a tireless monastic reformer of the tenth century who espoused vigorously the cause of vernacular translation. It was he why first put into English the Benedicti Regula, the monastic Rule established by St Benedict of Nursia in the sixth century and followed in the later Anglo-Saxon monasteries. Ăthelwold is specifically talking about the Rule, not Scripture, in the passage which I cite here, but the principle he propagates is a general one and is in perfect harmony with the spirit of the age of reform to which he belonged, an age when English translators were already hard at work and had not yet faced the threat of capital punishment for their efforts:

Ic ■[onne] ge■eode to micclan gesceade telede. Wel mŠg dug[an hit naht] mid hwylcan gereorde mon sy gestryned and to ■an so■an geleafan gewŠmed, butan ■Št an sy ■Št he Gode gegange.[93]
I therefore considered this translation a very sensible thing. It matters not at all by what language a man is acquired, and drawn, to the true faith, as long only as he came to God.

The original form of expression is Old English and the context is Anglo-Saxon, but I am confident that later translators, including William Tyndale, would have united to endorse the sentiment.[94]


Genesis 3:7

Hebrew ויּדעוּ כּי עירמּם הם ויּתפּרוּ עלה תאנה ויּעשׂוּ להם חגרת

LXX καὶ ἔγωσανὅτιγυμνωὶ ἡσαν καὶ ἔρραψαν φύλλα συκῆ καὶ ἐποίησαν ἐαυτοῖς περιζώματα

Vulgate cumque cognouissent se esse nudos consuerunt folia ficus et fecerunt sibi perizomata

Ălfric (c.990) hic oncneowon ­a ­Št hi nacode wŠron and sywodon him ficleaf and worhton him wŠd-brec

Wyclif 1 (1380) and whanne thei knewen hem silf to be nakid, thei soweden to gidre leeues of a fige tree, and maden hem brechis

Wyclif 2 (1395) and whanne thei knewen that thei weren nakid, thei sewiden the leeues of a fige tre, and maden brechis to hem silf

Tyndale (1530) they understode how that they were naked. Then they sowed fygge leues togedder and made them apurns

Coverdale (1535) and they perceaued that they were naked, and sowed fygge leaues together, and made them apurns

Geneva (1560) and they knewe that they were naked, and the sewed fig tre leaues together, and made them selues breeches

Bishops’ (1568) and they knewe that they were naked, and they sowed fygge leaues together; & made them selues apernes

KJV (1611) and they knew that they were naked; and they sowed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons

Genesis 4:5

Hebrew ויּחר לקין מאד ויּפּלוּ פּניו

LXX Καὶ ἑλυπηθη Κύιν λία&nu, καὶ συνέπεσε τῷ προςώπῳ (var. τό προσώπον αὐτου)

Vulgate iratusque est Cain uehementer et concidit uultus eius

Alfred (c.880) ­a wear­ Cain swi­e ierre ond hnipode ofdune

Ălfric (c.990) ■a hirsode Caim ■earle and his nebwlite ­tfeol

Wyclif 1 (1380) And Caym was greetli wroth, and therwith felle his chere

Wyclif 2 (1395) Aid Cayn was wrooth greetli, and his cheer felde doun

Tyndale (1530) And Cain was wroth exceadingly, and loured

Coverdale (1535) Then was Cain exceadingly wroth, and his countenaunce chaunged

Geneva (1560) wherefore Kain was exceding wroth, and his countenance fel downe

Bishops’ (1568) Cain was exceedyng wroth, and his countenaunce abated

KJV (1611) Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell


[1]On the Continuity of English Prose from Alfred to More and his School, Early English Text Society 191A (1932), esp. pp. xc-xciv. For a general survey of the linguistic history of the transition period, see A. C. Baugh and T. Cable, A History of the English Language (Routledge, London, 3rd edition, 1978), pp. i 07-57.
[2]C.C. Butterworth, The Literary Lineage of the King James Bible 1340-1611 (U. of Pennsylvania P., Philadelphia, PA, 1941), pp. 22-6.
[3]For the fourteenth century, M Deanesly, The Lollard Bible and Other Medieval Biblical Versions (University Press, Cambridge, 1920), is indispensible. General accounts of the history of the Bible in English are numerous (though usually derivative). Early important contributions were B. F. Westcott, A General View of the History of the English Bible, 5th edition, Rev. W. A. Wright (Macmillan, London, 1905) and Butterworth, op. cit., For a useful recent survey of mainly the sixteenth century, see G. Hammond, The Making of the English Bible (Carcanet New Press, Manchester, 1982). For the Anglo-Saxon period, see below, n. 14.
[4]On Coverdale’s Bibles, see Hammond, op. cit., pp. 66-88.
[5]Parker and his secretary, John Joscelyn, used an Anglo-Saxon homily by Ălfric to support their case in a controversy over transubstantiation and thereby, in 1566-7, produced the first book containing printed Old English, A Testimonie of Antiquitie; see M. Murphy, ‘Religious Polemics in the Genesis of Old English Studies’, Huntington Library Quarterly 32 (1969), 241-8. For more on the first generation of Old English scholars, see E. N. Adams, Old English Scholarship in England from 1566-1800, Yale Studies in English 55 (Yale U. P., New Haven, CT, 1917; repr. Archon Books, Hamden, CT, 1970), pp. 11-41, and C. P. Berkhout and M. McC. Catch eds., Anglo-Saxon Scholarship: the First Three Centuries (G. K. Hall, Boston, 1982), passim.
[6]On Foxe, see M. Murphy, ‘John Foxe, Matryrologist and "Editor" of Old English’, English Studies 49 (1968), pp. 516-23.
[7]The Gospel of the fower Euangelistes, p. 9.
[8]On this, see R. Liuzza, ‘Why Read the Gospels’?’, in Words and Works: Essays for Fred C. Robinson (P. S. Baker and N. Howe eds., Toronto, forthcoming).
[9]J. Forshall and E Madden eds., The Holy Bible containing the Old and New Testaments with the Apocryphal Books, in the earliest English versions made from the Latin Vulgate by John Wycliffe and his Followers (Oxford U. P., Oxford, 1850), Prologue, pp. 1 - 60, at 59.
[10]The argument used by King Alfred himself to justify vernacular translation, made in a Preface to his English version of Pope Gregory the Great’s Regula pastoralis, was essentially the same: ‘Then I recalled how the Law was first composed in the Hebrew language, and thereafter, when the Greeks learned it, they translated it all into their own language, and all other books as well. And so too the Romans, after they had mastered them, translated them all through learned interpreters into their own language. Similarly all the other Christian peoples turned some part of them into their own language’; H. Sweet ed., King Alfred’s West-Saxon Version of Gregory’s Pastoral Care, 2 vols., Early English Text Society 45 and 50 (London, 1871), I, pp. 2-9, at 5-7, and S. Keynes and M. Lapping trans., Alfred the Great: Asser’s *’Life of King Alfred’ and other Contemporary Sources (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1983), pp. 125-6. The translations referred to by Alfred in the last sentence were probably scriptural versions in continental Germanic languages which he had heard about; ibid., p. 295, n. 12. On Alfred’s version of Psalms, noted by Purvey, see below, pp. 32-3.
[11]Deanesly, The Lollard Bible, pp. 131-4. In a treatise, Purvey was a little more circumspect about Bede, writing that he ‘translatid the Bibel or a grete pane of the Bibile, w[h]os originals ben in many abbeis in Englond’; ibid., pp. 437-5, at p. 441.
[12]Ibid., pp. 133-4, trans. Deanesly, with the Latin at p. 406.
[13]Ibid., pp. 133, trans. Deanesly, with the Latin at p. 435. [n 1528, Thomas More, too, appears to allude to the existence of Anglo-Saxon biblical translation in a Dialogue (1528) written to refute aspects of the ‘new learning’, including vernacular translation; ibid., p. 5 and n. 4.
[14]Still useful for the Anglo-Saxon period, though dated, is Butterworth, op. cit., on which many later accounts seem to depend. See also G. T. Shepherd, ‘English Versions of the Scriptures before Wyclif’, in his Poets and Prophets: Essays in Medieval Studies (T. A. Shippey and John Pickles eds., D. S. Brewer, Cambridge, 1990), pp. 59-83; Henry Hargreaves, ‘From Bede to Wyclif: Medieval English Bible Translations’, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 48 (1965), pp. 1 18-40; and W. A. Craigie, ‘The English Versions (to Wyclif)’, in The Bible in its Ancient and English Versions, (H. W. Robinson ed., Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1940; repr 1954; Westport, CT, 1970), pp. 128-145. Deanesly, op. cit., pp. 132-40, is judicious and perceptive.
[15]I deal with the contiguous translations of the Gospels and the Heptateuch below. Much non-continuous Old English translation is collected in A. S. Cook, Biblical Quotations in Old English Prose Waters Edited with the Vulgate and Other Latin Originals, Introduction on Old English Biblical Versions, Index of Biblical Passages, and Index of Principal Words (Macmillan, London, 1898), and Biblical Quotations in Old English Prose Writers, Second Series. Edited with Latin Originals, Index of Biblical Passages, and Index of Principal Words (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, and Edward Arnold, London, 1903). Further citations are in A. S. Napier, ‘Nńchtrage zu Cook’s Biblical Quotations in Old English Prose Writers’, Archiv fŘr das Studium tier neueren Sprachen and Literaturen 101 (1898), pp. 309-24, 102 (1899), 24-42 and 107 (1901), 105-6. M. C. Morrell, A Manual of Old English Biblical Materials (U. of Tennessee P., Knoxville, TN, 1965), gives manuscript details Old English scriptural texts, with bibliography. For a discussion of the Old English translations in relation to their Vulgate originals, see my The Text of the Old Testament in Anglo-Saxon England, Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England 15 (University Press, Cambridge, 1995), Ch. 12.
[16]It is Bede who tells us of the miraculous origin of Old English poetical versions of Scripture at the monastery at Whitby in the seventh century, where the cowherd CŠdmon was granted the divine gift of song; see Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, (B. Colgrave and R. A. B. Mynors eds., Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1969), IV.24, pp. 414-20. The Old Testament poems which survive, however (reworkings of parts of Genesis, Exodus, Daniel and Judith), cannot be attributed to CŠdmon. Exodus, Daniel, Judith and much of the very long Genesis are translated in S. A. J. Bradley, Anglo-Saxon Poetry, (Dent, London, 2nd edition, 1995}.
[17]‘[A] capite euangelii sancti Iohannis usque ad eum locum in qua dicitur "Sed haec quid sunt inter tantos?" in nostram linguam ad utilitatem ecclesiae Dei conuertit’: ‘Epistola de obitu Bedae’, printed Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, Colgrave and Mynors, pp. 580-86, at 582.
[18]See the useful account by Deanesly, op. cit., pp. 134-6. Cf. the eccentric theory of M. GrŘnberg ed., The West-Saxon Gospels: a Study of the Gospel of St Matthew with the Text of the Four Gospels Scheltema and Holkema NV, Amsterdam, 1967), pp. 369-70, that Bede translated all tour gospels and that the text of a tenth-century translation of the Gospels (which I describe below) is descended from his work.
[19]Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, Colgrave and Mynors, pp. 566-70.
[20]Printed in Venerabilis Baedae Opera Historica, C. Plummer ed., 2 vols. (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1896), I, pp. 405-23, at 409.
[21]For a facsimile of The Vespasian Psalter (London, British Library, Cotton Vespasian A. i), see The Vespasian Psalter , D. H. Wright and A. Campbell eds., Early English Manuscripts in Facsimile 14 (Rosenkilde and Bagger Copenhagen, 1967). The text and gloss of are printed in The Vespasian Psalter (S. M. Kuhn ed., U. of Michigan P., Ann Arbor, MI, 1965).
[22]See C. Sisam and K Sisam eds., The Salisbury Psalter, Early English Text Society 242 (London, 1959), p. 75.
[23]For a facsimile of, and commentary on, the Lindisfarne Gospels, see Evangeliorum Quattuor Codex Lindisfarnensis. Musei Britannici Codex Cottoninnus Nero D. iv, T. D. Kendrick et al. eds., 2 vols. (Urs Graf, Often/Lausanne, 1956-60). The gloss and glossator are described in II, Book 2.
[24]See J. Stevenson and G. Waring eds., The Lindisfarne and Rushworth Gospels now first printed from the Original MSS. in the British Museum and the Bodleian Library, 4 vols., Surtees Society 28, 39, 43, 48 (London 1854-65}, where the Rushworth gloss is printed at the foot of the page, below the Latin and Old English texts of the Lindisfarne manuscript.
[25]The Psalms are ed. J. W. Bright and R L. Ramsay, Liber Psalmorum. The West-Saxon Psalms (D. C. Heath, Boston, MA, and London, 1907). A few are translated in Keynes and Lapidge, op. cit., pp. 153-60. For a discussion, see A. J. Frantzen, King Alfred (Twayne Publishers, Boston, MA, 1986) and for evidence of Alfred’s authorship of the translation, see J. M. Bately, ‘Lexical Evidence for the Authorship of the Prose Psalms in the Paris Psalter’, Anglo-Saxon England 10 (1982), pp. 69-95. The tradition of Alfred’s authorship had been preserved in the twelfth century by William of Malmesbury in his De Gestis Regum Anglorum. Some earlier historians spuriously associated the translation with Aldhelm, Abbot of Malmesbury and Bishop of Sherborne.
[26]On Alfred’s life and work, see Frantzen, op. cit., and Keynes and Lapidge, op. cit., pp. 9-58.
[27]W.H. Stevenson ed., Asser’s Life of King Alfred (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1904), ch. 87 (p. 73). For a translation, see Keynes and Lapidge, op. cit., p. 99; see also p. 234, n. 46.
[28]Keynes and Lapidge, op. cit., pp. 124-52, give brief notes on, and short translated extracts from, these works. See also D. Whitelock, ‘The Prose of Alfred’s reign’, in Continuations and Beginnings: Studies in Old English Literature, (E. G. Stanley ed., Nelson, London, 1966), pp. 67-103.
[29]Paris, BibliothŔque Nationale, lat. 8824; see N. R. Ker, Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Anglo-Saxon (Clarendon Press. Oxford, 1957; reissued with suppl., 1990), pp. 440-41 (no. 367).
[30]See Keynes and Lapidge, op. cit., p. 153, and Frantzen, op. cit., pp. 96-105, especially at 105.
[31]Tyndale's Old Testament Being the Pentateuch of 1530, Joshua to 2 Chronicles of 1537, and Jonah (David Daniell ed.,Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1992), p. 3.
[32]The so-called Roman text of Psalms was that most commonly known in Anglo-Saxon psalters until the end of the tenth century. See Sisam and Sisam, op. cit., pp. 47-9.
[33]See, for instance, his Enarrationes in psalmos, E. Dekkers and J. Fraipont ed., 3 vols., Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina 38-40 (Turnhout, 1956), I, 134-5.
[34]Two complete copies of the law code, joined with the code of Ine, survive, the earliest of them in the mid-tenth-century Parker manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 173, fols. 33-52; see Ker, op. cit., pp. 57-9 (no. 39). The laws are ed. E Liebermann, Die Gesetze der Angelsachsen, 3 vols. (Max Niemeyer, Halle, 1903-16) I, pp. 16-123. I discuss the translation of Exodus in my Text of the Old Testament, pp. 401-2.
[35]Gesetze, Liebermann I, 26-43 and 42-5. See Liebermann’s ‘King Alfred and Mosaic Law’, Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England 6 (1908-10), pp. 21-31; Frantzen, op. cit., pp. 14-16; and P. Wormald, ‘Lex Scripta and Verbum Regis: Legislation and Germanic Kingship, from Euric to Cnut’, in Early Medieval Kingship (N. H. Sawyer and L N. Wood eds., London, 1977), pp. 105-38, at 132.
[36]The West Saxon kings traced their genealogies back to Noah and Adam; see, for instance, Asser’s account of Alfred’s descent Asser’s Life of King Alfred, Stevenson, Ch. 1, pp. 1-4, Keynes and Lapidge, op. cit., p. 67.
[37]See D. H. Farmer, ‘"the Progress of the Monastic Revival’, in Tenth-Century Studies: Essays in Commemoration of the Millennium of the Council of Winchester and Regularis Concordia (D. Parsons ed., Phillimore, London and Chichester, 1975), pp. 10-19, and D. Bullough, ‘The Continental Background of the Reform’, *ibid., pp. 20-36.
[38]See H. Gneuss, ‘Anglo-Saxon Libraries from the Conversion to the Benedictine Reform’, Settimane di Studio de( Centre italiano di studi sull’ alto medioevo 32 (Spoleto, 1986), 643-99, at 682-3.
[39]The edition is S. L Crawford, The Old English Version of the Heptateuch, Ălfric’s Treatise on the Old and New Testament ^nd his Preface to Genesis, Early English Text Society 160 (1922; repr., with the text of two additional manuscripts trancribed by N. R Ker, 1969). On the manuscripts, see pp. 1 ), 440-41, 444 and 456-7. Crawford’s text is based on the Claudius manuscript, which is available in facsimile, with a valuable introductory section, in The Old English Illustrated Hexateuch. British Museum Cotton Claudius B. IV (C. R. Dodwell and Peter Clemoes eds., Early English Manuscripts in Facsimile 18 (Rosenkilde and Bagger, Copenhagen, 1974).
[40]As I will show in a forthcoming article, the assumption that there was only one ’anonymous’ translator is wrong; there were at least two.
[41]On Ălfric, see esp. J. Hun, Ălfric (Twayne Publishing, New York, 1972): J. Wilcox ed., Ălfric’s Prefaces, Durham Medieval Texts 9 (Durham, 1994), 1-81; and L. M. Reinsma, Ălfric: an Annotated Bibliography (Garland Publishing, New York and London, 1987).
[42]See Craigie op. cit., pp. 131-4, and Morrell, op. cit., pp. 14-18.
[43]On Ălfric’s prose, see esp. P. Clemoes, ‘Ălfric’, in Continuations and Beginnings, Stanley, pp. 176-209, and M. Golden, ‘Ălfric and the Vernacular Prose Tradition’, in The Old English Homily and its Backgrounds, (P. E. Szarmach and B. F. HuppÚ eds., U. of New York P., Albany, NY, 1978), pp. 99-117.
[44]P. Clemoes, ‘The Chronology of Ălfric’s Works’, in The Anglo-Saxons: Studies in some Aspects of their History and Culture Presented to Bruce Dickins, (P. Clemoes ed., Bowes, London, 1959), pp. 212-47; corrected reprint in Old English Newsletter, Subsidia 5 (Binghamton, NY, 1980).
[45]See P. Clemoes, ‘The Composition of the Old English Text’, in Illustrated Hexateuch, Dodwell and Clemoes, pp. 42-53.
[46]See R. Marsden, ‘Ălfric as Translator: the Old English Prose Genesis’, Anglia 109 (1991), pp. 319-58.
[47]M. McC. Gatch, ‘The Office in Late Anglo-Saxon Monasticism’, in Learning and Literature in Anglo-Saxon England: Studies Presented to Peter Clemoes on the Occasion of his Sixty-fifth Birthday, (M. Lapidge and H. Gneuss eds., University Press, Cambridge, 1985), pp. 341-62, at 360-61.
[48]A partial analogy may be noted in King Edgar’s request, around 960, that Bishop Ăthelwold translate the Benedictine Rule (by which English monks ostensibly lived) into English. According to a document which was probably written by Ăthelwold himself, Edgar was conscious of a need to rectify his own life with proper obedience to the divine purpose, and to this end he began to investigate for himself the precepts of the monastic Rule. For the text aid translation of the document, see Councils and Synods, with Other Documents Relating to the English Church, 1, 871-1204, Part 1, 871-1066, (D. Whitelock, M. Brest and C. N. L. Brooke eds., Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1981), no. 33, pp. 142-54, at 149. See also below, p. 42.
[49]Clemoes, Illustrated Hexateuch, p. 58.
[50]The preface is printed in Heptateuch, Crawford, pp. 76-80.
[51]Ibid., p. 77.
[52]See Alfred’s preface to his English version of Pipe Gregory the Great’s Regula pastoralis, in King Alfred’s West-Saxon Version, Sweet, I, pp. 2-9; also Keynes and Lapidge, op. cit., pp. 124-6.
[53]Daniell, op. cit., p. 4.
[54]They are listed and described in R M. Liuzza ed., The Old English Version of the Gospels, Vol I Text and Introduction, Early English Text Society, 304 (Oxford U.P., Oxford, 1994), pp. xvi-xlii.
[55]The manuscript is Cambridge, University Library, li. 2. 1 l. See Liuzza, pp. xvii-xx.
[56]Liuzza, ‘Who Read the Gospels?’
[57]The manuscript is London, British Library, Royal l. A. XIV; see Ker, op. cit., p. 316 (no. 245).
[58]The Middle English glosses are in Oxford, Bodleian Libra, Hatton 115, which contains Ălfric’s version of Judges; see Crawford, Heptateuch, pp. 422-3. The Hexateuch notes are printed ibid., pp. 418-22.
[59]See J. Wright, Grammar of the Gothic Language and the Gospel of St Mark. Selections from the Other Gospels and the Second Epistle to Timothy with Notes and Glossary, 2nd ed. with a Supplement to the Grammar by O. L. Sayce (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1954), pp. 195-7.
[60]Ălfric was the author of the first vernacular grammar of Latin for English school boys: J. Zupitza ed., * Ălfrics Grammatik und Glossar*, Sammlung englischer Denkmaler 1 (Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, Berlin, 1880; repr. with introduction by H. Gneuss, Max Niehans Verlag, Benin, 1966).
[61]See my discussion in ’Ălfric as Translator’, pp. 324-8.
[62]Heptateuch, ed. Crawford, pp. 79-80: ’we ne durron na mare awritan on Englisc ■onne ­Št Laden hŠf­, ne ­a endebyrdnysse awendan, buton ­am anum, ­Št ­Št Leden and ­Št Englisc nabba­ na ane wisan on ­Šre sprŠce fadunge; Šfre se ­e awent o­­e se ­e tŠc­ of Ledene on Englisc, Šfre he sceal gefadian hit swa ­Št ­Št Englisc hŠbbe his agene wisan, elles hit bi­ swy­e gedwolsum to rŠdenne ­am ­e ­Šs Ledenes wise ne can’.
[63]Marsden, ‘Ălfric as Translator’, pp. 324-8.
[64]XV.23 (CCSL 48, 488-92). See also my ‘Old Latin Intervention in the Old English Heptateuch ’. Anglo-Saxon England 23 (1994), pp. 229-64, at 238.
[65]Ibid., p. 239.
[66]Shepherd, op. cit., pp. 62-3.
[67]See above, n. 43.
[68]A useful introduction to the theological concerns and sources of the late Anglo-Saxons, based on the writings of Ălfric and Archbishop Wulfstan of York is M. McC. Gatch, Preaching and Theology in Anglo-Saxon England: Ălfric and Wulfstan (U. of Toronto P., Toronto and Buffalo, 1977). On Ălfric, see also L. Grundy, Books and Grace: Ălfric’s Theology, King’s College London Medieval Studies 6 (London, 1991).
[69]Liuzza, ‘Who Read the Gospels?’.
[70]In his preface to Genesis, Ălfric shows himself to be aware that * ‘sum o­ex man’ * had already put into English the book of Genesis from the Abraham and Isaac episode to the end; see Heptateuch, Crawford, p. 76.
[71]This is the view of H. Minkoff, ‘Some Stylistic Consequences of Ălfric’s Theory of Translation’, Studies in Philology 73 (1976), 29-41, repeated in S. B. Greenfield and G. C. Calder, A New Critical History of Old English Literature (New York U.P., New York and London, 1986), p. 85.
[72]See my ‘Ălfric as Translate’, passim.
[73]Ibid., pp. 349-58.
[74]Ibid., pp. 344-9.
[75]See Appendix.
[76]Cf. German, ‘Da ergrimmte Kain sehr, and seine Gebarde verstellte sich’; French, ’sa figure s’allongea’.
[77]The ‘falling face’ idiom is one of those noted in an excellent discussion of hebraisms in the English Bibles by L Isaacs, ‘The Authorized Version and After’, in The Bible in its Ancient and English Versions, Robinson ed., pp. 19(x234, at 209-14; but Isaacs is unaware of the Old English usage.
[78]See Appendix.
[79]Sancti Clementis Romani ad Corinthos Epistulae versio latina antiquissima, C. Morin ed., Anecdota Maredsolana 2 (Maredsous, 1894), p. 5.
[80]King Alfred’s West-Saxon Version, Sweet, I, p. 234. We do not, of course, know what idiosyncracies Alfred’s exemplar of Gregory’s work may have shown in the passage in question.
[81]Ălfric knew the works of Alfred, including the Regula pastoralis (see Godden, op. cit., pp. 102-5), and so presumably could have followed Alfred’s precedent in using the paraphrase, if he had wanted to.
[82]The text in Cambridge, University Library, Ii. l. 33, differs notably in some extended passages (4-5:31 and 10-11) from the text which is common to the other two major manuscripts. See Heptateuch, Crawford, pp. 4-5 and P. Clemoes, ‘The Composition of the Old English Text’, pp. 42-53.
[83]‘Chere’ or ‘cheer’ is a Middle English word for ‘face’, of French origin, which, unlike the earlier Old English ward nebwlite, has survived in the modern language, though only in the derived sense of ‘state of mind’, as in ‘to be of good cheer’.
[84]Forshall and Madden, op. cit., p. 85.
[85]Deanesly, op. cit., p. 441.
[86]The assertion of Hargreaves, op. cit., p. 121, that the Old English of the manuscripts was ‘as unintelligible to it is to the layman today’ is not warranted by Purveys words.
[87]Cf. ‘abate’ II.6 in the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.)
[88]The word is from the Classical Latin brac(c)ae ‘breeches’, but I am aware of no instance where it is used in Latin versions of Genesis 3:7.
[89]Zupitza, op. cit., p. 315. A glossary by Ălfric has the entry Old English strapulas (‘breeches’) for Latin tubroces uel braccae; see Wright, T. and R. P. WŘlker eds., Anglo-Saxon and Old English Vocabularies, 2 vols., 2nd ed. (TrŘbner and Co., London, 1883-4), I, col. 125, line 2. It is probable that tubroces is an error for tribroces; Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources (R. E. Latham et al. eds.,Oxford U.P., London, 1975- ), s.v.
[90]More common than femorale is feminalia, with the same meaning. Cf. a classroom gloss made at Canterbury in the late seventh century to the words feminalia linea in Exodus 28:42: feminalia linea: .i. bracas curtas (‘linen beeches: that is, short trousers’); see B. Bischoff and M. Lapidge eds., Biblical Commentaries from the Canterbury School of Theodore and Hadrian, Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England 10 (Cambridge U.P., Cambridge, 1994), p. 358, no. 316. I am not aware of any Old English translation of Sirach 45:10.
[91]See previous note.
[92]Worcester, Cathedral Libra, F. 174, was written at Worcester in the first half of the century and shows consistent linguistic modification; see Ker, op. cit., pp. 466-7 (no. 398). On manuscripts of the glossary, see also R. E. Buckalew, ‘Leland’s Transcript of Ălfric’s Glossary’, Anglo-Saxon England 7 (1978), pp. 149-64, at 153-4.
[93]Whitelock et al., op. cit., pp. 151-2.
[94]I am indebted to Kimberly Molinari for valuable criticism of a draft of this paper.