From Conference to Book: Shaping the Bible in the Reformation
March 4, 2013 Leave a comment
The publication of Shaping the Bible in the Reformation in 2012 shares with a wider audience the papers offered at the St Andrews Bible Conference of 2010. The purpose of the conference was to make possible a broad discussion of the worlds of the sixteenth-century Bible: its uses, transmissions and languages, the scholars and printers who worked upon it, and those debates and controversies which arose between them. The conference adopted a slightly less usual format: papers were completed and circulated in advance, and only briefly summarised during the panels, making available the greatest possible amount of time for comment and discussion.
The conference was sponsored by the AHRC Protestant Latin Bible in the Sixteenth Century Project, and the opening remarks were made by the project’s principal investigator, Professor Bruce Gordon, who discussed the project’s study of the series of entirely new Latin translations of the Bible undertaken by Reformed scholars and Churches in the century after the Reformation.
Several longstanding friends of the St Andrews Reformation Studies Institute returned to share new aspects of their research: Stephen Burnett discussed the use of the Biblia Rabbinica by Christian Hebraists in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and Irena Backus spoke about concepts of the sacred and the profane in Sebastian Castellio’s Latin Bible. Kenneth Austin addressed manner in which Immanuel Tremellius translated and understood the Psalms, while Mark Elliot considered the attitudes of Johannes Piscator and Abraham Calov to the Latin Bible. Amy Nelson Burnett’s paper considered hermeneutics and exegesis in the early phase of the Reformation’s Eucharistic controversy.
We were also delighted to welcome a number of scholars to St Andrews for the first time. Sabrina Corbellini discussed the vernacular Bible and lay readers in the late-Mediaeval period and Josef Eskhult delivered a paper on rhetoric in the classical world and its influence on Latin Bible translation in the early modern period. Two papers considered illustrations in Bibles: August den Hollander on their use in early printed Latin Bibles in the Low Countries, and Justine Walden on the maps in the English Geneva Bible. Wim François offered a detailed consideration of Augustine and the Golden Age of biblical scholarship in Louvain. Finally, Bruce Gordon discussed Theodore Bibliander’s Oration on Isaiah and Commentary on Nahum.
These papers served as the basis for a series of fascinating detailed discussions, and allowed the conference to reflect on several recurring themes. Throughout the period under discussion, the desire for certainty in Scripture was apparent among both scholars and the unlettered. The learned pursued truth through the exhaustive comparison of manuscripts, the mastery of biblical languages, the examination of possible meaning through philology, exegesis and hermeneutics; they sought to offer clarity through the addition of annotations, marginalia, cross-references and illustrations. Among the unlearned a similar desire was manifest in the the selection of the essential from the Vernacular Bible, sermons, internalisation and practice in life: all the possible approaches taken to finding the ‘right’ Bible were pursued, all existed in complex negotiation with each other.
Translation from one language to another caused agonies (should it be literal, or according to sense?), trusting the right to its interpretation to others was unsettling (should it be mediated by priest or by paratext?), the application of tools or knowledge from outside the Christian tradition risked censure (is classical Latin appropriate to Scripture, are the commentaries of the Rabbis safe?). These profound dilemmas were faced because the Bible was understood to be more than literature or a rulebook for living, although it was these things too. The Bible was understood as the authority, it was a real force in the world, as it was a real presence when at hand. The needs and expectations of early modern Christians with the regard to the Bible heightened even as they diverged along lines of confession, language and scholarly method; as they did so the Book was given new form and shape many times.