The Bible for Medievalists

Course Description: 

The Bible played a fundamental role in many and varied ways in the formation of the intellectual (and also material) culture of the Middle Ages. The “language and the logic of the Bible” shaped (to different degrees) the form of the church as an institution, her legal system, the liturgy, the sermons, iconography, theology, and ultimately profane literature, too. The biblical and the Bible-related texts provided ideas and frameworks not only for theology (often termed as sacra pagina), but also for politics, ceremonials, iconographic and building programs, and offered role-models for social behaviour, or even blueprints for imperial or royal ideologies. In short, the characteristic facets of the historic shape of the church (reflected in its changes) and many aspects of medieval social life or material culture cannot be understood without a substantial knowledge of the texts providing the matrix for these aspects. The introductory course will help students to familiarize themselves through the close reading of choice texts (in commentaries) with some basic ideas, concepts and vocabulary of the institutionalized understanding and interpretation of the Bible from its Hellenistic shape to the final phase of the Mediaeval Bible (early 16th c.).

The exegetical techniques discussed will be those of the Medieval period (the modern Bibelwissenschaft [Bible studies] will not be touched upon, except some assumptions of it as contrastive examples). The classes will begin with short lectures on aspects of premodern biblical scholarship including the methods by which the Bible was interpreted (commentaries, glosses, lectio divina, catenae, liturgical readings, etc.), or some of the central ideas (God, creation, sacred history (salvation history), sacrifice, sacred time (linear history), salvation, angels, devil and Satan, last judgement, etc.), while in the second part we will read and comment on Biblical passages in English, which will be the langue axiale, or lingua franca of the course. Students will be asked to contribute to the commentaries on the various languages they happen to be competent in (Greek, Latin, OCS).

Learning Outcomes: 

Familiarity with the role of the Bible in the Middle Ages; with the types of the books of the Bible, and their function, the development of the canon(s), the history of the LXX and the Vulgate, the logics of its medieval reading and the main principles of its interpretation. Fundamental positions and the types of explanation (literal, anagogical, moral, figurative), the main schools and principal authorities in exegesis.


The Bible texts will be primarily read in English. Other linguistic skills (Greek, Latin, etc.) are not required, but can be of help. Grading is based on participation (25%), a class journal, about 500 words every week, including a summary of the readings (50%), and 2 in-class tests (together 25%).