Bryn Mawr Classical Review 96.7.10

Sean Connolly (trans.), Bede, On The Temple with an introduction by Jennifer O'Reilly. Translated Texts for Historians, 21. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1995. Pp. lv + 142. $17.95. ISBN 0-85323-049-8 (pb).

Reviewed by James W. Halporn, Harvard University/Indiana University,

On the Temple is the second of Bede's exegetical treatises on the sacred buildings of the Hebrews that are described in the Old Testament.1 The first of these, On the Tabernacle, has already been translated with an introduction by Arthur G. Holder (Church Divinity School of the Pacific), and included in this same series, as volume 18 (1994).2 The present volume includes the translation of Bede's work on the Temple as described in III (I) Kings 5:1-7:51 by Sean Connolly, currently teaching palaeography, Greek, and Medieval Latin in the Department of English at University College Cork, together with an introduction by Jennifer O'Reilly, Head of Medieval History at University College Cork.

Since Holder (On the Tabernacle, xviiff.) and Brown in his review have discussed Bede's exegetical method in a clear and detailed fashion, I shall concentrate my review on the translation of the text, with a few comments on the introduction.

Connolly began his translation as an aid to the students in a Latin course on Bede for graduate students in Medieval History. Since he found that many students have little grasp of the principles of Latin, he decided on presenting a translation that is as close to Bede as is possible in English. He admits that the structure of Bede's sentences (which in their style reflect his complicated thought) creates the sort of lengthy English statement that is unusual in our current idiom. Still, he preferred to be faithful to the text rather than attempt a smooth English version. He adduces two reasons for avoiding a paraphrase: first, he wanted the Latinless reader to get something of a feel for Bede's way of thinking and the way he expresses this; second, he wanted the medieval history student with some, though inadequate, Latin, to be able to follow the original (much in the way the Loeb translators currently do).

Presenting the architectural terms caused Connolly a different set of problems. Here the differences in the Hebrew and Septuagint texts that lie behind the Latin translations of Bede's terms required choosing English equivalents which may not either reflect the actual structures described or Bede's sense of them. In addition, in Chapter 17.2 Bede discusses a problematic passage from Cassiodorus' Psalm Commentary 86.37-44, in which the latter suggests that he is depending on a passage in Josephus' Jewish Antiquities.3 Connolly makes specific mention of the difficulties involved in translating the architectural term porticus, which he concludes by deciding for a rendering of "portico" or "colonnade," depending on the context. Given this care in translation of the terms, it is regrettable that no modern reconstruction of the Temple is offered as a reader's aid, such as appears in The Jerome Biblical Commentary (1968), 715.

The translation is based on D. Hurst's 1969 text (CCSL 119A.143- 234).4 Connolly has offered the reader useful aids in his arrangement of the text, which appears in Hurst's edition in a long, unbroken series of paragraphs. He has placed the "Capitula" (Hurst 146) at the head of the units of text to which the chapter headings belong. In addition, he has numbered each of the paragraphs under these headings, placing the Hurst page numbers in the margin as well. This makes the text much easier to follow and to refer to. The translations of Scripture are always problematic, and Connolly indicates that he has chosen to translate the Vulgate, adapting the wording when Bede sometimes uses other Latin versions. Unfortunately, already in the paragraph of the prologue, it is clear that the translator is not following this rule. In his citation from Romans 15:4 he has taken over the translation from the RSV (in which appear the clause "in former days" and the translations of patientiam and consolationem as "steadfastness" and "encouragement"). This is particularly unfortunate because in Bede's gloss on this passage that immediately follows, the translator has correctly rendered the two words as "patience" and "consolation."5

In general, the translation is excellent and does justice to the complicated style of Bede's exegesis. An example of the translation and the problems associated with such renderings can be offered in a sentence from the opening chapter of the work (1.2 in Connolly's numbering). Bede is discussing how the meaning of the Tabernacle and the Temple differ. "...[T]he former can be taken to represent the toil and exile of the present Church, the latter the rest and happiness of the future Church" (6). Bede continues, developing this theme in greater detail:

Vel certe quia illa [sc. domus, i.e. Tabernacle] a solis filiis Israhel, haec [sc. domus, i.e. Temple] autem a proselitis etiam et gentibus facta est; possunt in illa principaliter patres ueteris testamenti, et antiquus ille Dei populus, in hac autem congregata de gentibus ecclesia figuraliter exprimi. Quamuis aedificium utriusque domus enucleatius spiritali sensu discussum, et labores praesentis ecclesiae cotidianos, et praemia in futuro perennia, gaudiaque regni caelestis, et electionem primae de Israhel ecclesiae, et salutem omnium gentium in Christo multimodis ostendatur insinuari figuris. (Hurst, 148.44-53)6

At all events because the former was made by the children of Israel alone, the latter by proselytes also and by gentiles, the former can be taken chiefly as a symbolic expression for the Fathers of the Old Testament and the ancient people of God, the latter for the Church assembled from the gentiles, although the building of both houses,7, when it has been discussed in greater detail in the spiritual sense, can be shown in many ways to suggest symbolically both the daily labours of the present Church and the everlasting rewards and joys in the future and the salvation of all nations in Christ. (Connolly, 148)8
Leaving aside the omission of the words "regni caelestis et electionem primae de Israhel ecclesiae," which partially destroys Bede's parallels, the translation is accurate enough, but certainly requires, as the translator suggests in his preface, several readings to disentangle the meaning. Bede's emphasis on figural meanings (which the translator renders as "symbolic") is lost because the last word of his sentence figuris is tucked away as an adverb several lines too soon. Yet for those with some sense of the Latin the translation offers a way through the thickets of Bede's complicated structure. It is these readers who will most benefit from this translation. For others, it will always prove a useful aid for reference to Bede's exegesis of particular passages.9 Most of the notes are to Scriptural references or to cross-references, but the few lengthy notes are sometimes on topics related to Bede's discussion, but not entirely relevant to it.

Jennifer O'Reilly's introduction is a full and informative essay that discusses the content of the treatise as well as its place in the political and intellectual life of the British Church in the early eighth century. She investigates in considerable detail the background of the work in earlier exegesis and the importance of the work in the context of Bede's pastoral program. As she so well puts it (xviii), "the theme of the Temple was peculiarly suited to Bede's well-known objective of supplying teaching materials for the purposes of monastic formation and the education of spiritual teachers...." She begins her analysis with a discussion of the Tabernacle as the house of God in the earlier dispensation, then turns to the construction of the Temple by Solomon and how it relates to the new dispensation and the future life, to the person of Christ, and to the new Temple, which is the body of Christ, the Church itself.

She then considers how the theme of the Temple was developed in the earlier patristic tradition, discussing in turn Origen, Ambrose, Augustine, and in particular, Gregory the Great, whose works served as models not so much for this particular treatise, as for Bede's exegetical methods. Indeed, as she notes earlier, Bede's treatise is in fact the first full exegetical commentary on the passage in Kings that has come down to us (xvii f.). Indeed, Bede's work in general is seen yet again as the conclusion and culmination of the patristic tradition.

She then asks what were Bede's objectives and approach in this work. In On the Temple Bede presents a systematic figural analysis of the description of the Temple in III (I) Kings, similar in treatment and structure to his work On the Tabernacle. Most important was Bede's careful distinction between the Tabernacle in the Wilderness and the Temple of Solomon. In the course of his discussion Bede remains fully conscious of the seven years involved in the building and dedication of the Temple, giving to his description a historical sense embedded in the architectural significance of the holy shrine and its furnishings.

The prologue to the work, dedicated to Acca, abbot and bishop of Hexham (709-731), directs the reader to the kind of audience that Bede wanted for his treatise. Acca was a member of the educated Anglo-Saxon clergy who lived both the contemplative and active life so central to the mission of the English church. Bede is also the historian of this church, and O'Reilly situates the exegetical work of Bede within the framework of English ecclesiastical history. At the same time, Bede is aware of the great flowering of art and architecture in his contemporary world, and these developments are presented in the conclusion to O'Reilly's fine essay.

There is a brief appendix to her essay which deals, on the basis of a select bibliography, with the illustrations of the Tabernacle and of Ezra in the Codex Amiatinus. O'Reilly will be delivering one of the three papers on the Codex Amiatinus at the conference "The Golden Age of Northumbria" (Newcastle, July 22-26, 1996), and one may expect that she will offer a more detailed discussion than the brief overview she presents here.10 The problems of the Codex Amiatinus, its text and its illustrations, have been the subject of much work in recent years. Much of it has suffered from the difficulties inherent in many studies of the early Middle Ages. The medieval historians and the students of late Latin culture (like myself) lack the training to deal with the art-historical side of such investigations, and the art historians lack sufficient understanding of the literary and historical issues involved.11

Both Connolly's translation of this difficult text and O'Reilly's wide-ranging discussion of the work will be welcome to all who work in the literature and history of the early Middle Ages. I would like to echo George Hardin Brown's concluding words in his BMR review of Arthur Holder's book, that the editors and the press who have made these major texts available to scholars and students also deserve our praise.

ADDENDUM -- The following note to the author of the review from Professor George Hardin Brown is added at the reviewer's request:

The only item I would also like to have seen you correct is the oddity in 16.3 (pp. 58-59), where Connolly unaccountably translated "byssus" (i.e., "flax," or "linen") as "silk," which makes nonsense of Bede's text: "Silk which is produced from a seed which springs green from the earth...." Amalarius, Liber officialis, III.4.1-3, quotes Bede on this and remarks, "In significatione non discrepat nostrum linum, quo nostri cantores vestiuntur, a bysso."


  • [1] Bede, On the Temple 2.24.4 (p. 115 Connolly): " the books we have written on the construction of the tabernacle...."
  • [2] An important and thorough review of Holder's book, written by George Hardin Brown, appeared as BMR 95.2.20. Trent Foley (Davidson) and Holder are also preparing a third volume of six of Bede's shorter exegetical writings for TTH, including In libros Regum quaestiones xxx (CPL 1347), in which Bede discusses the Temple at Jerusalem.
  • [3] For a full discussion of the passage in Cassiodorus, see my article, "Pandectes, Pandecta, and the Cassiodorian Commentary on the Psalms," Revue Benedictine 90 (1980): 290-300.
  • [4] Connolly spends a long footnote (9, fn. 9) on what is clearly an error in Hurst's text. The result probably (as so often in CCSL texts) of an over-zealous copy editor who changed the MS reading sabbatismum (o) to a regular Latin superlative sabbatissimum (o) (153.247, 167.809 Hurst). A quick check of Giles' original edition (8.271, 8.286) or the reprint in PL (91.743B, 754D) would have revealed this.
  • [5] Indeed, a cursory search of the Scriptural passages translated throughout shows that they are adaptations of the RSV (or NRSV translation) rather than translations of Bede's text.
  • [6] In order to simplify the understanding of this passage, I have used Giles' punctuation (265), but not his text. Hurst is chary of punctuation, offering only commas after facta est and exprimi and making the whole text one sentence.
  • [7] utriusque domus should be translated as "each house."
  • [8] Jennifer O'Reilly in her introduction (xxi) properly notes that "[t]he idea that the Church has already, since the Incarnation and Passion of Christ, spiritually replaced the Tabernacle and Temple on earth, but is itself incomplete, awaiting its future fulfilment in heaven whose eternal joys can only be glimpsed and desired by the faithful still on earth is a fundamental assumption underlying Bede's De templo."
  • [9] I have discovered a few other abbreviations or missing clauses in the translation; none of them is of particular moment. At 4.6 (Connolly, 17), the fact that Paros is one of the Cyclades is dropped. Neither Hurst nor Connolly indicates where Bede obtained this antiquarian information. It derives, in the last analysis, from Isidore, Etym. 14.6.29. In the same paragraph, Josephus "teaches" rather than "hints" (insinuare is related to the French "enseigner"). At 6.2, in the citation from II Chronicles 3:4, the phrase "according to the measurement of the width of the house" has fallen out. At 14.1 (53), read "carvings" for "etchings."
  • [10] Arthur Holder, who will also be participating in this conference, gave the title of her paper as "The First Quire [of the Codex Amiatinus] -- Tabernacle/Temple, and the Relationship of the Exegetical and Iconographic Material."
  • [11] The most balanced and careful discussion of the Codex Amiatinus appeared too late to be considered by O'Reilly in her essay. Richard Marsden, "The Codex Amiatinus, a sister pandect and the Bibles at Vivarium," in his The Text of the Old Testament in Anglo-Saxon England, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995, 107-139. See also his essay, "Job in His Place: The Ezra Miniature in the Codex Amiatinus," Scriptorium 49 (1995):3-15. Pl. 6 in this volume has an excellent reproduction of the "Ezra" page, and is much easier of access than the illustration in the reproduction of the Lindisfarne Gospels (1959-60), II, pl. 21.