Daibhi O Croínín

title.none: Cahill, ed. and trans., The First Commentary on Mark (O Croínín)

identifier.other: baj9928.9904.008 99.04.08

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Daibhi O Croínín, National University of Ireland,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1999

identifier.citation: Cahill, Michael, ed. and trans. The First Commentary on Mark. An annotated translation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Pp. xiv, 154. $45.00. ISBN: 0195116011.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 99.04.08

Cahill, Michael, ed. and trans. The First Commentary on Mark. An annotated translation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Pp. xiv, 154. $45.00. ISBN: 0195116011.

Reviewed by:

Daibhi O Croínín
National University of Ireland

Michael Cahill's book is a companion volume to his 1997 edition of the Expositio Evangelii secundum Marcum (= Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 82), which was the second in the new series Scriptores Celtigenae published under the joint auspices of the Royal Irish Academy and the Irish Biblical Association. The commentary has a double importance: firstly, it is the earliest known Latin commentary on the Gospel of Mark, and secondly it was one of the cornerstone-texts in Bernhard Bischoff's famous 1954 paper, "Wendepunkte in der Geschichte der lateinischen Exegese im Fruemittelalter" (Sacris Erudiri VI, 2). The commentary was for the best part of 1000 years thought to be the work of Jerome, and for that reason enjoyed a wide circulation throughout the middle ages (Cahill prepared his CCSL edition from 78 manuscripts). It was drawn on freely by early and late medieval exegetes, in the Glossa Ordinaria, by Thomas Aquinas, and by Cornelius a Lapide, to name but a few. However, after Erasmus demoted it to the ranks of Jerome's pseudepigrapha it clearly lost status and disappeared from view as a result. Its inclusion in the cloaca maxima of Migne's great Patrologia (PL 30, 589-644) rescued it from complete obscurity, and there was a flurry of renewed interest at the beginning of this century which saw articles by Gerd Wohlenberg ("Ein vergessener lateinischer Markuskommentar", Neue kirchliche Zeitschrift 18 (1907) 427-69) and Germain Morin ("Un commentaire romain sur S. Marc de la premiere moitie du Ve siecle", Rev. Ben. 27 (1910) 353-62), the one arguing for an origin for the text in seventh-century Canterbury (under the influence of Archbishop Theodore), on the basis principally that the author's predilection for Greek and Hebrew etymologies, and the absence of interest in any heresy save Quartodecimanism, suggested a connection with the churches of Ireland and Britain; and the other arguing in response that the evidence spoke rather for a conclusion that the author of the commentary was, in fact, a fifth-century Balkan refugee in Rome.

Morin's valuable list of sources (which identified the Eusebian canons, the Monarchian prologues to the gospels, Ambrose, Augustine, Cyprian and Jerome, Sedulius's Carmen paschale, Eucherius, Caesarius of Arles, and Gregory the Great's Homilies) did not, however, preclude the seventh-century date initially proposed by Wohlenberg (quite the contrary, in fact), and the story received a new twist when Bischoff, in his "Wendepunkte" article, pointed out that, in a ninth-century list of authors who had composed gospel commentaries (Angers, Bibl.Munic., MS 44 (48)), the scribe mentioned a nouellum auctorem in Marcum nomine Comiano. Bischoff argued that, since Mark was so seldom commented on (not at all, apparently, in the patristic period, and very rarely in the middle ages), the ascription of one such commentary to an apparently otherwise unknown"Comianus" should be taken seriously. Pointing in addition to certain features of the Expositio which appeared to suggest an Irish origin, Bischoff further conjectured that these, the known sources of the commentary, and Comianus's obviously Irish name could perhaps be taken in combination to indicate that the Pseudo-Jerome was the commentary the Angers writer had in mind, and its author perhaps a seventh-century Irishman named Comianus.

In chess notation, Bischoff's bold combination would undoubtedly have merited a "!!!!??", and a brilliancy prize. But not everyone has been convinced by the arguments, and Michael Cahill describes himself as still holding agnostic views on the subject (though in the introduction to his CCSL edition (7*) he has remarked: "Though my research has not been able to confirm the validity of Bischoff's hypothesis, neither has it clearly invalidated it."). In this book he reviews briefly the arguments discussed at greater length in the edition; his principal purpose, however, is to provide readers without acommand of Latin with access to the text and to its exegetical content -- a task he achieves very effectively. Cahill is a biblical scholar himself, with a firm grasp of both medieval and modern exegetical techniques. He is fully aware that modern readers might find medieval exegesis off-putting (if not downright silly) but is judicious in his estimate of the Mark commentary and its worth. The translation is straightforward and uncluttered, without being either too literal or too free, while the annotation is clear and to the point, though it is possible to take issue with some of Cahill's notes. E.g., Mk 12,41: Et ueniens una uidua paupera, aera duo minuta, quod est quadrans, on which C. states (93 n 24): " ... Though Roman coins have been found in Ireland, it is unlikely that their use was so common as to allow a metaphor based on an understanding of Roman currency ...". But this is to overlook the evidence of computistical texts, e.g., the seventh-century Irish De ratione conputandi ß21 (ed. O Croinin 1988, 129), where the ancient usage is fully explained. [Incidentally, C.'s oldest manuscript, St. Gallen, Stiftsbibl., 127 (saec. IX in.) shares the reading paupercula with the De ratione conputandi, though C. in fact prints paupera at this point in his edition; paupercula occurs four lines on in the text.]

Cahill's CCSL edition of this Mark commentary represented a major advance on the PL text that previous scholars had to work from. This English translation and commentary add further value to that earlier achievement. Text, translation and commentary together should open up this unique commentary once again to a new generation of scholars in biblical studies, Hiberno-Latin studies, and related fields. Michael Cahill deserves our thanks for that.