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The Oxford Illustrated History of the Bible A richly illustrated account of the story of the Bible written by leading scholars.

Aids to Right Understanding

Marginal notes also served to explain historical, geographical, or other details not part of general knowledge. As such they belonged to the variety of aids for the student of the Bible that multiplied alongside, and often inside, the early printed editions. A concordance of the Vulgate—that is, an alphabetical list of all its Latin words with location-references (still imprecise, before verse-numbering)—was printed in 1479. A Jewish scholar's concordance of the Hebrew Bible published by Daniel Bomberg at Venice in 1523 became the basis for later versions, and was itself used by Martin Bucer of Strasbourg for his Psalms commentary of 1529. At Frankfurt in 1607 Conrad Kircher brought out a three-volume concordance of the Greek of the Septuagint together with Hebrew equivalents. The earliest concordance of the Greek New Testament was the work of Sixtus Betuleius (Birck), issued at Basel in 1546, while another by Henri Estienne at Geneva in 1594 marked another of this printing family's services to sixteenth-century Bible learning. Luther's New Testament and whole Bible were soon followed by German concordances, in 1524 and 1546 respectively. Thomas Gybson in 1535 published a concordance to Coverdale's English New Testament. John Merbecke (Marbeck), better known for his musical contributions to worship, got his concordance to the whole English Bible printed in 1550—but only winning a pardon after being sentenced to death in 1543 for daring to produce it. Later printings of the Geneva Bible included a concordance by Robert Herry.

The first printed grammars of the Hebrew language built on the foundation laid by Rabbi David Kimchi (d. 1235) and a commentary on it by another Jewish grammarian, Elias Levita (1468–1549). Christian pioneers of Hebrew language study included Johannes Reuchlin (especially De Rudimentis Hebraicis, 1506), Conrad Pellikan (a brief introduction, 1503/4), Wolfgang Capito of Strasbourg (1525), and Santi Pagnini (Hebrew grammar printed by Robert Estienne of Paris in 1546). The most important was Sebastian Münster of Basel (d. 1552). Taught by Levita and Pellikan, he produced several Hebrew grammars and the first of Aramaic (1527), and was without rival in transmitting the best of Jewish expertise, represented above all by Levita, to Christian scholastic circles. The study of Hebrew in Basel was later revitalized by Johann Buxtorf (d. 1629), who was succeeded in the chair of Hebrew by his son, grandson, and great-grandson, all named alike.

The study of the Greek of the New Testament took time to shake itself free of the dominance of classical Greek, of which there was no lack of grammars in print. Forty appeared in as many years, including an elementary one by Melanchthon in 1518. Erasmus himself was followed by others such as Beza in reflecting on the differences between the two, but grammars of New Testament Greek alone were not produced until the mid-seventeenth century (Caspar Wyss, 1650; Georg Pasor, 1655), but still classical parallels proved impossible to ignore. Earlier discussions attributed the distinctiveness of New Testament Greek to Hebraisms or to the purity inspired by the Holy Spirit. Its recognition as the koine (common) Greek of the Hellenistic world was slow in emerging.

Hebrew lexicons looked back to the early work of Kimchi (published before 1480). Significant productions by Christians included those by Reuchlin (1506, in his De Rudimentis), Münster (1523), Pagnini (1529), and Buxtorf the Elder (1607). The sixth volume of the Complutensian Polyglot was a vocabulary of Hebrew and Aramaic (printed 1515), and the fourth contained a Greek-Latin glossary of the New Testament, Ecclesiasticus, and Wisdom. When printed in 1514 this was the earliest of its kind, but publication was held up until 1522. Georg Pasor's Lexicon Graeco-Latinum (1619) was an altogether more scholarly effort. The Estiennes produced outstanding Latin and Greek dictionaries, Robert's Thesaurus Linguae Latinae (from 1532) and Henri's Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (1572). Both were immense advances on anything then available, especially the Greek Thesaurus, which continued to be republished into the nineteenth century. But these were general humanist productions with no special interest in the biblical languages.

Modern students of the Bible have at their disposal a rich variety of introductions, handbooks, dictionaries, and encyclopedias. The sixteenth century witnessed the publication of a number of individual works which from one angle or another in varying measure essayed the task of inducting readers into sound knowledge of the Bible. Several of Erasmus's writings furnished introductions to New Testament books, Santi Pagnini issued an introduction (Isagogae) ‘to the mystical senses of Holy Scripture’ (1536), and the English Puritan divine, William Whitaker (d. 1595), regius professor at Cambridge, compiled a Disputatio on scripture against Roman Catholic positions on such issues as the distinction between canonical and non-canonical books, vernacular translations and scripture's authority, perspicuity and interpretation (1600). Several writings catalogued the books of the Bible, sometimes as the first section of a larger listing of Christian writers. But in this period no genre established itself comparable to later works of reference or introduction.

Deserving of special mention is the Bibliotheca Sancta (Holy Library) of Sixtus of Siena (d. 1569), a convert from Judaism, whose colourful career as a Catholic friar and teacher was crowned by the production (1566) of this remarkably comprehensive encyclopaedia of biblical scholarship. It merited numerous subsequent editions, including a revision by the Scots Jesuit John Hay, and was still being published in the mid-eighteenth century. Lutherans, Calvinists, Anglicans, and Catholics all spoke well of it. In 1678 in his Histoire critique (Critical History) of the Old Testament, Richard Simon, one of the forerunners of later biblical criticism, declared that there were few works with as much sense and learning on the Bible as that of Sixtus. Its eight books cover the distinction between canonical, ‘deuterocanonical’ (a term he introduced), and apocryphal books, and provide a basic introduction to each book. The third book, often printed separately, deals with biblical interpretation, and is followed by a dictionary of writers on scripture, two books on numerous contested passages in each testament in turn, citing extensive patristic material, and finally books on heresies and heretics motivated by rejection or criticism of parts of the Bible. Particular interest has attached to his extraordinarily schematic and detailed analysis of the different ways of tackling the interpretation of scripture. His sources included the rhetorical and scholastic traditions, but his work reflects also the fresh learning and resources of Renaissance biblical study. Sixtus thus has been credited with creating the science of biblical introduction. Nothing comparable was forthcoming from Protestant authorship for some time. When it came, from Johann Heinrich Alstedt (d. 1638), a German Calvinist from Herborn, his Triumphus of the Sacred Writings, subtitled ‘Biblical Encyclopaedia’ (1625), was a more advanced compilation, harvesting much humanist learning on the biblical books in their historical setting.

The modern study Bible had its closest sixteenth-century counterpart in the French Genevan Bible of 1559 (with many features carried over into the English Genevan version the next year). Each book is prefaced by an introduction (‘Argument’) running across both columns, and each chapter by a summary of the content. Heavy textual or doctrinal annotations fill the margins, even attaching to the title of, say, Matthew's Gospel. The Bible itself is preceded by Robert Estienne's summary of Christian doctrine and John Calvin's ‘That Christ is the end of the law’ (which first appeared as the foreword to the New Testament in Olivétan's French Bible of 1535). Diagrams and folding maps are incorporated, an index or two at the end, and many copies had bound in a collection of metrical psalms, a form of common prayer, and Calvin's Genevan Catechism of 1542.

Thus scripture was not ‘alone’, even in a context such as Calvin's Geneva where it was accorded the highest authority. Both authority and interpretation were contested issues, which could not be left to unaided apprehension direct from the scriptural text.

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