A One-Day Symposium at Harvard University

held at

Real Colegio Complutense (26 Trowbridge St.)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Organizers: Nicholas Watson and Luis Girón-Negrón, with the assistance of Michelle De Groot

Sponsored by the Provostial Fund for the Humanities, the Medieval Studies Committee,

the Medieval English Colloquium, and the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures

Panel Four: The Audiences and Social Contexts of Vernacular Bibles

Geoff Rector: Style and Audience in Anglo-Norman Psalters (1100-1300)

This paper takes as its point of departure two Anglo-Norman translations of the Psalms, which are used as a means of addressing the question of style in vernacular Bible translation. The two translations, both expressions of a vigorous culture of francophone Psalms reading in England in the high and later Middle Ages, can be thought of as two ends of a stylistic spectrum. The first, produced at the beginning of the thirteenth century and extant in two manuscripts– BL MSS Harley 4070 and Additional 50000 (the luxuriously illuminated Oscott Psalter)– consists of 2460 hexasyllabic sizains, rhyming aab aab: that is, a complete tail-rhyme Psalter, the oldest versified Psalms in French. The second, the so-called Oxford Psalter, is a complete prose translation produced in the first decade of the twelfth century and is one of the originary documents of post-Conquest francophone literature. The question of style arises here first because of our sense of the very different social contexts and aesthetic functions of prose and tail-rhyme verse. Stylistic differences seem to speak, we presume, to differences in audience, taste and the practical use of these vernacular Psalms. Tellingly, style and stylistic difference– whether in the form of structural parallelism, generic variety, or aesthetic excellence– were also central to the medieval reception and commentary on the Psalms.

Ryan Szpiech: "Polemical Romance: Abner of Burgos and Romance Bibles"

The Castilian polemical writing of convert Abner of Burgos / Alfonso of Valladolid (d. ca. 1347) includes thousands of citations of Biblical and rabbinical texts, all translated directly from Hebrew. His work constitutes a substantial and relatively corpus of Hebrew-to-Romance Bible translation, one little considered in the study of Romance Bibles.
Ryan Szpiech is currently Assistant Professor in the departments of Romance Languages and Literatures and Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan. He is also a member of the INTELEG project, "The Intellectual and Material Legacies of Late Medieval Sephardic Judaism: An Interdisciplinary Approach," led by Dr. Esperanza Alfonso at the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas in Madrid. His research interests include multilingualism, inter-faith polemic, and conversion in the late-medieval western Mediterranean, focusing on the writing of Dominican Ramon Martí and convert Abner of Burgos/Alfonso of Valladolid. His book, a comparative study of narratives of conversion in Jewish, Muslim, and Christian polemical writing between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries, is entitled Conversion and Narrative: Reading and Religious Authority in Medieval Polemic (forthcoming, UPenn). Some of his recent articles include: “Citas árabes en caracteres hebreos en el Pugio fidei del dominico Ramón Martí: entre la autenticidad y la autoridad,” (in Al-Qanṭara: Revista de Estudios Árabes 32.1, 2011); “In Search of Ibn Sīnā’s ‘Oriental Philosophy’ in Medieval Castile,” Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 20, 2010); and "Converting the Queen: Gender and Polemic in the Sefer Ahitub ve-Salmon," which he published within a special issue that he edited for the Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies (3.2, 2011) entitled "Between Gender and Genre in Late Medieval Sepharad: Love, Sex, and Polemics in Hebrew Writing from Christian Iberia." He also recently contributed a chapter to the Oxford Handbook of Medieval Latin Literature (2012) entitled “Latin as a Language of Authoritative Tradition,” in which he compared notions of linguistic prestige in Latin, Hebrew, and Arabic.


Claire M. Waters: "A Gospel for Learners: Transmitting the Word in Robert of Gretham’s Évangiles des domnées."

Robert of Gretham’s Sunday gospels in French verse, composed around 1240, explicitly aim to convey orthodox doctrine to a broad audience, but present their biblical teachings in a way that opens new avenues for lay readers by consistently addressing not just doctrinal content or its moral implications (though both are important) but the methods by which teaching is to be received and used. Robert emphasizes that his readers, lay and clerical, need to understand how to interpret what they hear and read, making available to the laity a role usually associated with, and often jealously guarded by, the clergy.
Claire M. Waters teaches medieval literature at the University of Virginia. She is interested in religious teaching in many forms, and has published a book on the art of preaching and an edition of fifteenth-century saints' lives, as well as essays on related topics in Studies in the Age of Chaucer, Philological Quarterly, and New Medieval Literatures among others. She is currently completing a book on thirteenth-century Anglo-French and French works that convey religious teaching in the vernacular.

James Simpson: "Sixteenth-Century English Vernacular Bible Reading Culture: Novelty and Persecution"

In this short paper I outline some of the ways in which the new culture of vernacular Bible reading in the sixteenth produced punishing and persecutory disciplines of reading.

James Simpson is Donald P. and Katherine B. Loker Professor of English at Harvard University (2004-). He was formerly Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at the University of Cambridge. His most recent books are Reform and Cultural Revolution, being volume 2 in the Oxford English Literary History (Oxford University Press, 2002), and Burning to Read: English Fundamentalism and its Reformation Opponents (Harvard University Press, 2007), and Under the Hammer: Iconoclasm in the Anglo-American Tradition (Oxford University Press, 2010).