Earliest Latin Commentary on the Gospels

by Earnest 8 Replies latest watchtower bible

  • Earnest

    The earliest Latin Commentary on the Gospels, lost for over 1500 years, has been rediscovered and made available in English for the first time.

    The work, which was written by a bishop in North Italy, Fortunatianus of Aquileia, dates back to the middle of the fourth century. Despite references to it in other ancient works, no copy was known to survive until a researcher from the University of Salzburg identified the commentary in an anonymous manuscript copied around the year 800 and held in Cologne Cathedral Library.

    It is reported on here and an English translation and information about the commentary and the bishop can be accessed here.

    This commentary tended to allegorise scripture in order to explain it. If you thought the Watchtower made too much of types and antitypes in the time of Fred Franz, this chap takes it to another level.

    In the Introduction (p.xix) it says :

    The principal characteristic of Fortunatianus’ exegesis is a figurative approach, relying on a set of concepts associated with key terms in order to create an allegorical decoding of the text... Some of the associations are obvious, while others are more creative: bodies, mountains, towns, boats, sheep and hens are figures of the Church, as are a number of female characters including Eve, the Queen of Sheba, the girl raised by Jesus in Matthew 9, the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15 and Abraham’s wife Sarah (as well as her son Isaac); towers, pleasant fragrances and the sixtyfold crop of corn in Matthew 13 are identified as virgins; eyes are associated with bishops, while hands represent presbyters and feet deacons; the sea is the world; references to darkness, the desert, sterility, disease or misunderstanding are taken to indicate Judaism, and so on. The manifold figures of Christ include the spring of water in Eden, a rock, the sun, a lion, both lambs and chickens offered as sacrifices, the flower on Aaron’s staff, the character of Samson and the cockerel that crows after Peter’s denial. While some of Fortunatianus’ figurative equations may be his own inventions, most of them are firmly rooted in the ancient tradition of Christian exegesis and go back at least to the time of Origen if not before.

  • careful

    Thank you, Earnest. I'm surprised that De Gruyter is letting people DL the book for free (???)—our benefit!

  • venus

    Very wonderful, and very useful information

    Thanks for that, Earnest

  • Ruby456

    how interesting. thanks earnest. I think the more atheistic minded may be interested in this find too because going back in ancient times some naturalists who used the allegorical approach found a way to cope with issues of what was attributed to the gods by showing that there were more rational explanations from nature - the tussle between scientific elements like earth air fire and water as Theagenes maintained on 525 BCE. Although this was a bit different from theological allegory it does show what some of the debates were in ancient times.

  • Earnest

    careful : I'm surprised that De Gruyter is letting people DL the book for free (???)

    In the Translator's Preface Dr Hugh Houghton, the translator, says

    I am grateful to the European Research Council for supporting my work on this volume in addition to my analysis of the commentary's biblical text as part of the COMPAUL project, and for funding its publication in Open Access.

  • careful

    I guess what I mean is that I'm surprised that an academic publishing house like De Gruyter would ever participate in an open access publication. Their financial survival depends on charging a pretty high price for their books—compare the prices of books published by other such book houses like Brill, Peeters, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Blackwell. How many of them have participated in open access? Perhaps they only did so in this case because the ERC made up the difference, giving them a profit?

  • Earnest

    There was a short discussion on this Commentary yesterday on BBC Radio 4 which can be downloaded at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qnbd/episodes/downloads. The download is 'Religion and Artificial Intelligence' and the discussion on the Commentary is @ 20:45.

    In the same podcast there is also a discussion of the Russian ban on the NWT @ 15:55.

  • TD

    Thanks, Earnest

  • David_Jay

    A weird footnote to this amazing find is that the information in the commentary is not all that new to modern eyes and ears.

    Much of it is still found to this day in the footnotes which appear in approved Catholic Bible translations found in any Catholic home, church, or bookstore (Canon law demands explanatory notations in each and every Catholic version of Scripture), and even critical Catholic commentaries lean heavily toward explaining some texts using the very same terms as found in this ancient allegorical exegesis. It is just new to many of us who may have been locked away from such information in Watchtowerland.

    I have read loads of ancient Catholic allegory, and though some of it is truly very weird, what I noticed was that some of it reads as if Franz and other former Governing Body members merely lifted some of it and made personal applications to themselves and their situations. The type/antitype model comes from the early Christian commentators, and almost everything was seen as "type/antitype" in those ancient works, especially regarding the coming Last Days and Parousia of Christ.

    Some illuminated Catholic manuscripts both old and even modern-day (see The Saint John's Bible for an example) rely on some of these traditional and very ancient exegetical teachings for their imagery. Some of the "weird" Catholic imagery comes from these old allegories and can be found drawn into the first letters or "initials" (sometimes called "drop caps") of these illuminated texts.

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