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Lay Literacy and the Medieval Bible

Graham D. Caie

Nordic Journal of English Studies, Vol.3:1 (2004)

Introduction: Among Arne Zettersten’s impressive research publications are those on Middle English texts. His brilliant editions of The Ancrene Riwle, published over the years in the Early English Text Society, have done so much to further our knowledge of this important religious work. Tracing the sources of the The Ancrene Riwle author’s quotations is indeed a complex task. Geoffrey Shepherd states that “the Bible provides most of the material of the Rule – the medieval Bible, a vast indivisible unity, but perceived only by glimpses. Often it is a gloss which leads him [the author] to the scriptural text, not to an initial memory of Scripture”. Shepherd goes on to show the complexities involved in finding the source of biblical paraphrases in The Ancrene Riwle:

It is often difficult to tell whether the author of the Rule is making a direct use of originals entire, or whether he is not using some collections of authorities (Sententiae), or current anthologies (Florilegia), which would be available in any library by the beginning of the thirteenth century. However, considering the Rule as a whole, we must recognize that the range of scriptural reference or contact with a variety of extra-scriptural writings is wide.

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