Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Goths, Spain, and Bibles

When Carol and I visited Spain with Mary in April of 2008, one of the highlights was Toledo. As our guidebook reported: "In a landscape of abrasive desolation, Toledo sits on a rocky mound isolated on three sides by a looping gorge of the Rio Tajo. Every available inch of this outcrop has been built upon: churches, synagogues, mosques and houses are heaped upon one another in a haphazard spiral which the cobbled lanes infiltrate as best they can." We had a very nice hotel, located a vegetarian restaurant with tasty food, and saw terrific sights, about which we posted a little here.

Among the sights was Toledo Cathedral. There at the cathedral we learned a little more about the Visigoths, because a mass in the "Gothic rite" continues to be celebrated there. In Cordova, we had first learned about the Goths at one of the museums. This Germanic tribe had ruled Spain before they were driven from power by the Moors. They were Christian, and their sect persisted during Islam's rule, to emerge on the other side of history when Isabella drove the Muslims from Spain. After some tension between those who followed the Gothic Rite and the Catholics, they made their peace. On Thursdays one could go to the Toledo Cathedral and celebrate the Gothic mass.

I am reading Metzger and Ehrman's The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (Fourth Edition), and today I read there an account of the Gothic Version of the Bible:

Shortly after the middle of the fourth century, Ulfilas, often called the "apostle to the Goths," translated the Bible from Greek into Gothic. For this purpose, he created the Gothic alphabet and reduced the spoken language to written form. The Gothic version is the earliest known literary monument in a Germanic dialect.

As I read this fascinating book, it becomes evident that the development of literacy in the Western world was propelled by the Bible. That is, there was such a thirst for the Gospel, the Acts, the Pauline and Catholic epistles, that there developed profound advances in the technology of books (moving from scrolls to codices, that is to books), the adoption of a cursive form of writing Greek to replace the block form that made copying so slow, even to the invention of written languages (such as that which was a precursor of German), and the rise of a class of educated people who were not necessarily among the nobility. All of this a thousand years before the printing press, itself an invention the crucial market for which was the production of Bibles.


With the exception of St. Jerome, more is known of the life and work of SS. Cyril and Methodius, the apostles to the Slavs, than of any other translators of an ancient version of the Bible. Sons of a wealthy official in Slavonica, they are credited with the creation of the Glagolitic alphabet, as well as the so-called Cyrillic alphabet. Soon after the middle of the ninth century, they began translating the Gospels (probably in the form of a Greek lectionary) into Old Bulgarian, commonly called Old Slavonic. - Metzger and Ehrman, op cit., at p. 121

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