15.04.17, Linde, ed., Suffraganeus bibliothece

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Scott G. Bruce

The Medieval Review 15.04.17

Linde, Cornelia. Nicolai Maniacoria, Suffraganeus Bibliothece . Corpus Christianorum: Continuatio Mediaevalis, 262. Turnhout: Brepols, 2013. Pp. lxxxvii, 207. ISBN: 9782503548388 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Scott G. Bruce
University of Colorado at Boulder

When historians think about textual critics of the Latin Bible in the early twelfth century, they rightfully call to mind Steven Harding (c. 1059-1134), founder of the Cistercian order and author of the Carta caritatis, whose massive, illuminated four-volume manuscript of the "corrected" Latin Bible (Dijon, Bibliothèque municipale 12-15) serves as an eloquent testimony to his labors in the fields of biblical criticism. In his Admonitio (composed in 1109), Steven explained his desire to correct the discrepancies found in most Bibles and his methods for doing so, which included the comparison of available Latin manuscripts and consultation with local Jews about the original Hebrew. A generation later, in the 1140s a lesser known Cistercian named Nicolas Maniacoria wrote a biblical commentary called Suffraganeus Bibliothece (hereafter SB). Like Steven Harding, Maniacoria was interested in textual criticism, made an effort to consult Jewish scholars about the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, and was alert to the scribal errors that led to discrepancies in the received tradition of the Latin Bible. While Maniacoria's achievements do not rival those of the founding father of the Cistercians, Cornelia Linde's new edition of the SB will bring his work to a much wider audience of scholars interested in biblical criticism and Christian Hebraism in the twelfth century.

Linde provides a thorough overview of the life and works of Nicolas Maniacoria in the long introduction to her edition. [1] Maniacoria was a deacon at San Lorenzo in Damaso in Rome. In the early 1140s, he retired to the nearby Cistercian abbey of Tre Fontane, where he composed SB during the abbacy of Bernardo Paganelli (1140-45), who became Pope Eugenius III. He probably died as a monk at Tre Fontane in the later 1140s, but there is no way to be sure. In addition to SB, Maniacoria wrote a life of Saint Jerome (his favorite among the church fathers, for obvious reasons), a poem on the spelling of the names of the popes and the chronology of their tenures as bishop (Versus ad incorrupta pontificum nomina conservanda), and a work of textual criticism on the correct text of the Latin psalter (Libellus de corruptione et correptione psalmorum et aliarum quarundam scripturarum).

The SB is without doubt the most original and important of Maniacoria's surviving works, but the lion's share of scholarly attention has focused on its brief introduction, which provides a fascinating and unprecedented survey of the causes of scribal errors in medieval manuscripts. Here Maniacoria calls attention to the omissions, additions, and alterations of medieval scribes as the primary causes of textual corruption in the Bible. While there is no way to tell what medieval readers thought about Maniacoria's ruminations on this topic, the SB had a brief season of popularity in the fifteenth century, when Cardinal Basilios Bessarion (1403-72) endorsed it as a useful introduction to the textual criticism of the Bible. It is safe to say that the SB owes its survival to the interest of humanist readers like Bessarion, for the work only survives in two late manuscripts, which Linde used to make her edition: Brussels, Bibliothèque royale MS 4031-33 (c. 1460-1470); and Venice, Biblioteca Marciana, MS Lat. Z. 289 (= 1681), written in the fourteenth or early fifteenth century.

Historians have paid much less attention to the main body of the SB, which presents a modest commentary on the Hebrew Bible. At the close of his introduction, Maniacoria stated his intention to help readers with difficult passages (ut hec lector...inueniat in difficultatibus suffragium, 11) by providing a literal explanation of obscure words and phrases for elementary readers. His commentary is very selective in its treatment of this material. For each book of the Hebrew Bible, Maniacoria began by providing the title, the number of chapters it contained, and the first line of the first verse. For example, his chapter on the Book of Isaiah starts with the words: De ysaia, qui habet distincciones LXXXVIIII. Visio Ysaie filii Amos (89). He then created lists of brief explanatory glosses on difficult or obscure words and passages. Some of these explanations are lexical: a talpa ("mole") is "an animal without eyes that borrows in the earth" (p. 90, glossing Isaiah 2.20: TALPA. Animal sine oculis quod terram fodit); an exactor is "a person who collects a debt with force" (p. 90, glossing Isaiah 3.12: EXACTOR. Qui debitum uiolenter exigit); and Charcamis and Challano are places (p. 92, glossing Isaiah 10.9: CHARCAMIS et CHALANNO. Loca sunt). A very few of the glosses are exegetical, that is, they explain not only the historical meaning of the text, but also its hidden significance for Christian readers. Maniacoria provides historical, allegorical, and tropological readings of Isaiah 8.3 ("I went to the prophetess and she conceived and bore a son"), a passage unusually rich in connotations for medieval Christian exegetes.

The text of Maniacoria's commentary is not especially original. In her rich Index Fontium (178-207), Linde shows clearly that he borrowed heavily from patristic and early medieval authorities like Jerome, Augustine, Isidore of Seville, and Bede. He also mined anonymous glosses on the Bible for synonyms and definitions, like the tradition represented in the tenth- or eleventh-century Glossae biblicae Vaticanae. [2] It is Maniacoria's close engagement with the Hebrew Bible that sets him apart from many of his contemporaries. Several passages of the SB indicate that Maniacoria knew Hebrew well enough to recognize when the Latin text of the Old Testament differed from the original. For example, in his commentary on Jeremiah 1.6, he correctly noted that the Latin tradition of the Bible mistakenly rendered the Hebrew simile "as deer" with the phrase "as rams" (FACTI SUNT PRINCIPES EIUS VELUT ARIETES [Hebreus habet: "uelut cerui"]). Maniacoria also consulted with Jewish scholars about the interpretation of difficult Hebrew passages. His incorporation of explanations known from Rashi and Abraham ibn Ezra but unknown in Christian exegesis hints at conversations with Jews who were learned in these traditions.

Scholars interested in the textual criticism of the Bible and the history of Christian Hebraism in the Middle Ages will benefit the most from Linde's new edition of the SB. The taxonomy of scribal errors presented in the introduction to Maniacoria's work remains especially interesting, in contrast to the main body of the text, which is largely derivative of early medieval authorities. Even so, the fact that it is aimed at elementary readers makes the SB a useful source for introducing students with some knowledge of Latin to the rich tradition of biblical glosses that Maniacoria distills so economically in this commentary.



1. In German. Readers interested in a succinct treatment of the same material in English can consult Cornelia Linde, "Basic Instruction and Hebrew Learning: Nicolaus Maniacoria's Suffraganeus Bibliothece," Recherches de Théologie et Philosophie médiévales 80.1 (2013): 1-16.

2. Edited by P. Vaciago in Glossae Biblicae, Pars II (Corpus Christianorum: Continuatio Mediaevalis, 189B; Turnhout 2004), 383-564.

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Scott G. Bruce

University of Colorado at Boulder