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22.09.02 McAllister, The Cambridge Gloss on the Apocalypse

22.09.02 McAllister, The Cambridge Gloss on the Apocalypse

The Apocalypse, as the anonymous Hiberno-Latin author of the Cambridge Gloss on the Apocalypse (Cambridge University Library Dd.X.16) claims, contains as many mysteries as there are words (32). If there are as many mysteries in the Apocalypse as there are words, then Professor Colin McAllister’s 2020 edition of this text for the Corpus Christianorum in Translation series from Brepols will certainly serve as an important tool for uncovering the enigmas, numbering at approximately 23,500 (McAllister’s tally of the words in the contained in the Cambridge Gloss). The Cambridge Gloss on the Apocalypse is a late eighth- or early ninth-century manuscript likely written in the South of France near Marseilles, penned by an Irish cleric. Within the text, the locating feature of the manuscript is primarily based on the author’s comparison of Babylon to “Massilia, which transacts much business” (134), in Rev. 18:19, which describes the merchants of the world weeping over the destruction of Babylon. The author employs commaticum interpretandi genus, which relies on short passages of the text followed by explanatory sections. The gloss itself focuses on the “spiritual interpretation of the Apocalypse,” rather than a telos-driven eschatology that would rely on a literal interpretation of the imagery accompanying the Judgement.

The manuscript is a relatively recent discovery by Guy Lobrichon, whose 1996 conference paper at Boston University precipitated his 2003 publication on the manuscript. [1] Yves Christe (1996), Martin McNamara and David Ganz (2001), and Roger Gryson (2013) have contributed the most significant scholarship on this manuscript to date, with McAllister’s translated edition of the Cambridge Gloss allowing work from a wider breadth of fields to be continued. [2]

The Carolingian dating of the manuscript stretches it past the usual temporal interests of the Corpus Christianorum Series Latina (CCSL); however, the gloss retains a significant embedment of the important, now-lost, commentary on the Apocalypse by the fourth-century Donatist exegete, Tyconius. The Cambridge Gloss, as McAllister explains, was integral to Gryson’s CCSL (108G) reconstruction of the Tyconius text. [3]

The mode in which the commentary is expressed contains certain reflexes common to Irish-produced exegesis. These features, included in McAllister’s introduction, include:

“questions directed to small details of expression and word

sequence; a preoccupation with ‘first things’...; distinguishing

between the contemplative and active parts of the church;

explaining the literal (historia) and the spiritual (sensus)

senses of Scripture; a discussion of the ten senses...; and the

interpretation of the seven seals in Rev. 5:1 as seven events in

the life of Christ.” (13-14)

A footnote points those interested in a more fleshed-out analysis of these Irish features to works by Bernhard Bischoff (1966), McNamara (1994), and Herrin (1998). [4] Highlighting these features in a straightforward, concise way in the introduction aids the tracking and analysis of these features.

As McAllister notes, one of the unusual features is the author’s offering of multiple interpretations for the same Biblical passage. He lists several of the passages for which three or four different interpretations are provided. One passage (Rev. 6:9) even receives seven variant interpretations. Interestingly, the interpretations sometimes conflict; for example, the gloss for “and all the birds were gorged with their flesh” (Rev. 19:21) is given as “that is the saints are gorged from the judgements upon sinners, because their cause is avenged upon sinners. ‘All the birds’ may also be interpreted as demons, because they feast on them [sinners] in the destruction of the wicked” (138). The first interpretation, equating the birds with the saints, is footnoted as being drawn from Tyconius, whereas McAllister does not indicate a precursor for the second interpretation of the birds as demons.

Though it appears from the single facsimile page of the manuscript (30) that the manuscript does not employ hierarchy of script (a system of different scripts used to distinguish between different sections of a text), McAllister’s translation cleverly relies on a modernized version of the medieval scribal strategy to integrate text and commentary. The typography presents the text from the Apocalypse itself, frequently heavily truncated, in all capital letters, while the commentary appears in standard conventions. Italics set off quotations from Biblical books other than the Apocalypse.

McAllister’s work includes references to the corresponding pages of Gryson’s CCSLedition; however, it does not include an apparatus for comparing the translation with the (albeit still undigitized) manuscript in the University Library. Corresponding foliation within McAllister’s work would have improved the user experience for those who might need to refer to the manuscript without accessing Gryson’s edition. This minor lacuna should not impact those intending to use the translation to support primarily text-based research, and the inclusion of a concordance of Biblical passages as an index supports comparative studies.

The Corpus Christianorum in Translation series identifies itself as a tool of accessibility, to aid scholars in their approach of often linguistically complex Latin and Greek texts. This text offers many sites of analysis for a plethora of fields united under the interdisciplinary banner of Medieval Studies, some of which might not require the advanced level of Latin needed to unpack the nuances of Hiberno-Latin and the often obtusely constructed descriptions surrounding the esoteric Apocalyptic imagery. Therefore, with McAllister’s carefully attended translation (the methodology of which he explains on 20-21), supported by Gryson’s CCSL edition, more minds can turn themselves to answering questions relating to, for example, the textual transmission of Apocalypse commentaries, the role of the Apocalypse on art and vernacular literatures, the impact of the establishment of Irish scriptoria on the Continent.

It is encouraging to see translations of texts like this which help modern scholarship understand the way that the medieval mind would have approached literature and theology. By providing a touchstone, or standard accepted reference, for interpreting these Latin texts in accessible modern vernacular languages, we can invite more people to grapple with the cruces of early medieval theology and its persistent ripples through the cultures it touched. McAllister’s translation supports a scholarly apocalypse in the literal sense--an unveiling.



1. Guy Lobrichon, “Stalking the Signs: The Apocalyptic Commentaries,” The Apocalyptic Year 1000: Religious Expectation and Social Change, ed. Richard Lancdes, Andrew Gow, and David C. Van Meter (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 67-79.

2. Yves Christe, L’Apocalypse de Jean: Sens et développements de ses visions synthétiques, Bibliothèque des Cahiers archéologiques, 15 (Paris: Picard, 1996); Martin McNamara, “The Newly-Identified Cambridge Apocalypse Commentary and the Reference Bible: A Preliminary Inquiry,” Peritia, 15 (2001): 208-60, with an appendix by David Ganz; and Roger Gryson, Incerti auctoris Glossa in Apocalypsin: e codice Bibliothecae Universitatis Cantabrigiensis Dd. X. 16, Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina 108G (Turnhout: Brepols, 2013).

3. Roger Gryson, ed. Incerti Auctoris Glossa in Apocalypsin, e Codice Bibliothecae Universitatis Cantabrigiensis Dd. X. 16, CC LS 108G (Turnhout: Brepols, 2013).

4. Bernhard Bischoff, “Turning-Points in the History of Latin Exegesis in the Early Middle Ages,” trans. Fr. Colm O’Grady, ed. Martin McNamara, Biblical Studies: The Medieval Irish Contribution, (Dublin: Dominican Publications 1966); McNamara, “Cambridge Apocalypse Commentary”; and Michael W. Herrin, “Irish Biblical Commentaries Before 800,” Roma magistra mundi: Itineraria culturae medievalis: Mélanges offerts au Père L. E. Boyle à l’occasion de son 75e anniversaire, ed. J. Hamesse, (Louvain-la-Neuve: Fédération internationale des Instituts d’Études Médiévales, 1998), 391-407.