Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Un-discovered parts of the Gothic Bible

Yes, the hyphen is deliberate ...

I'm currently working on a dictionary article on the early versions of the Bible and am working through the material on the Gothic Bible. Here are some questions on the ancient and modern contents of the Gothic Bible.

1) Did Wulfila translate all the Bible except for Kings, or all the Bible except for Samuel and Kings?
The source for this is Philostorgius (2.5) whose Ecclesiastical History is preserved in an epitome by Photius. Philostorgius says of Wulfila:

'He became an inventor for them [the Goths] of their own letters and translated into their language all the scriptures, except those of of the Kingdoms [βασιλειων], since they contained the account of wars, and the nation was fond of war and needed a bridle for their eagerness for battles rather than something that would spur them on to these.'

Now according to some reputable sources (including Sebastian Brock, TRE art. Bibelübersetzungen; p. 213 and the Wulfila Project) it is only the books of Kings that Wulfila did not translate. But surely the books of 'Kingdoms' would most naturally mean Samuel and Kings. Am I missing something? My only worry is that no one else seems to consider the possibility that the books of Samuel could be included in this mention by Philostorgius.

2) Are there really any remains of the Psalms in Gothic?
Bruce Metzger, whose vast learning we have had recent cause to remember with gratitude, says that parts of Ps. 52:2 and 52:3 are preserved in Gothic (Metzger, Early Versions, p. 375 fn. 1). However, I could find no trace of these and so corresponded with a Gothicist (or whatever they are called) who pointed out to me that fragments that had been considered as belonging to the Psalms now are considered as belonging to Nehemiah (see red print here). Unless, someone informs me to the contrary I am therefore going to conclude that the reference to these verses in Metzger is misleading.


  1. Is there any way of knowing on the available evidence? All four books were typically referred to under the title Basilewn, Malakim, Regnorum, and with you I would think it probable that all four books are indicated. But then the question becaomes how reliable is Phil?

  2. It's obviously possible that Philostorgius got it wrong. The explanation does not sound very plausible, after all. Of course the Letter of Auxentius says even less.

  3. Well, it does sound plausible, but questionable. I can imagine Wulfilas not preaching on those books or not including them in his liturgy. Aelfric for example 7 centuries later is very relunctant to translate Genesis into Old English in large part so that auditors/readers not get the idea that polygamy is acceptable, and so his translation of Genesis stops at Genesis 22 with the sacrifice of Isaac. So given the mindset, I can imagine Wulfilas editing the books, or ignoring them in preaching etc, but not ignoring them altogether.

    On that note, though, we admittedly only have Philosturgius to go on and no way to either verify or disprove his statement on the available evidence. But based on typical usage, I think you can make a case that all four books are indicated.