Some very special Biblical forms of names

York Gospels

York Gospels, York Minster, © Sara L. Uckelman, 2017

One of the long-term adjunct projects of the Dictionary is to look at how various names are spelled in the earliest vernacular translations of the Bible, because these translations had a significant influence on how the names were spelled when they were used in common currency. Because there are so many Biblical names and so many vernacular translations produced before 1600, added the citations to the relevant entries is an on-going process; we can generally add the Middle English forms from the Wycliffite translation of 1395 right at the start because there is a handy online searchable version of it available. For other Biblical names, we are slowly working through the alphabet adding for (cf., e.g., Aaron, which has forms from the Wycliffite Bible, the Geneva Bible of 1560, and in the next edition will have citations from the Sagrados Escrituras of 1569).

The vast majority of the time, the DMNES editors do data collection for the Dictionary via printed editions; we simply do not have the time, volunteer power, or money to work solely with manuscripts. But every once in awhile, we do get to have an encounter with a manuscript that has names in it, and last weekend on a trip to York, our editor-in-chief had a manuscript encounter which involved both early Bibles and names. In the undercroft of York minster, the York Gospels are on display. The Minster’s website says of the Gospels:

The York Gospels were brought to York in around 1020 by Archbishop Wulfstan and the 1,000 year old text is still used in services today. The Anglo-Saxon book is one of the most valuable in York Minster’s collection and is one of the few surviving items from the Saxon Minster, the location for which is unknown today.

It contains four Gospels rather than the whole bible and is filled with elaborate illustrations as well as a letter from King Canute dated around 1019. It’s believed its original pages were written in Canterbury in around 990AD, with additional pages added to the manuscript by the Dean and Chapter after they arrived in York.

The Gospels are currently on display in the cathedral’s Revealing York Minster in the Undercroft attraction. The book is stored behind glass but visitors can turn virtual pages of the book to take a closer look at some of the illuminated pages using touch screen displays adjacent to the case.

Often when a manuscript Bible is on display, a page with a fancy illuminated initial, or a whole-page picture, are chosen; these are the eye-catching ones that display the true beauty and skill of medieval artwork. But the York Gospel has a rather plain and simple spread on display, something that might seem boring or ordinary to the average viewer.

But to the onomast?

The page that’s on display contains part of the genealogy of Jesus, and thus it gives us first-hand knowledge of how scribes rendered these names in Latin in the 10th C.

What could be more beautiful?

…who was of Aram, who was of Efrom, who was of Phares, who was of Iudea, who was of Iacob, who was of Isaac, who was of Abraha, who was of Thare, who was of Nachor, who was of Seruch, who was of Ragau, who was of Phaleg, who was of Eber, who was of Sala, who was of Cainan, who was of Arfaxat, who was of Sem, who was of Noe, who was of Lamech, who was of Matusale, who was of Enoh, who was of Iared, who was of Malalehel, who was of Chainan, who was of Enos, who was of Seth, who was of Adam, who was of God.

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