Thursday, September 24, 2009

Biblical text in greatest Anglo-Saxon find

The headline news in the UK today (apart from Obama's supposed snub of Brown) is of what is said to be the greatest find of Anglo-Saxon gold in history. See the BBC. The nice thing about the strip of gold in the image is that it shows a biblical inscription. It looks rather like Numbers 10:35 to me:

s]urge dne disepentu[r inimici tui et
f]ugent qui oderun[t te a facie tua

'Arise, Lord, let your enemies be scattered and let those flee from before you who hate you.'

Appropriate enough for battle I guess. Any comments on the textual form? What does this tell us about the Latin text being used in Staffordshire? Can anyone make out the writing on the 'inside' of the inscription, or is that the impression of the writing on the front?


  1. I'm inclined to think it is impression from front. There are a few letters that appear fairly symmetrical in this photo, but there is one that looks like a mirror "e".

    Additionally, the discoloration on that portion of the strip seems to be inverted.

    What troubles me is that the relatively smooth curves of the inscription make it look like it is etched or graved, rather than hammered. I don't know why an etched/graved inscription would leave such a well-defined impression on the reverse side, especially given the relative thickness of the strip.

  2. Actually, the video, around 1'17" makes it much more clear that we are seeing inverted text. I make out "cye" as the last three letters. Someone with better technology could probably make some frame captures and get a better image of that portion of the strip.

  3. peterrodgers9/24/2009 2:19 pm

    Looks to me like Psalm 68(LXX Vg 67) verse 1.

  4. Ps. 67:2 Vg
    exsurgat dus et dissipentur inimici eius et fugiant qui oderunt eum a facie eius

    Num. 10:35b Vg
    surge dne et dissipentur inimici tui et fugiant qui oderunt te a facie tua

    Saxon inscription
    s]urge dne disepentu[r inimici tui et
    f]ugent qui oderun[t te a facie tua

    Psalms is out. The quote is verbatim from Numeri other than the spelling of fugiant, unless this is a rare variant of DNE vs. DUS, which corresponds both to QS in Greek and YHWH in Hebrew.

    There is an interesting feature to 35-36 in the MT in which it is set off in closed parentheses (inverted Nuns).

  5. Oops, I also noticed that dissipentur is also spelled differently.

    Are these different verb forms or just simplified spellings?

  6. I found one more: It's missing et.
    The point is, that wherever it differs from Numbers, Numbers and Psalms don't differ. Where Numbers and Psalms do differ, it always follows Numbers.

    So, other than the variants aforementioned, it's verbatim from Numbers, but differs from Psalms wherever Numbers does.

  7. Yet another observation: There's no line over the NS.

  8. There are a few letters that appear fairly symmetrical in this photo, but there is one that looks like a mirror "e".

    I would say the end of that line reads, in mirror image,
    lo cye
    The rest of the letters look much cruder--something like
    but they look upside down and backward in relation to the end of the line (i.e in proper orientation), if those are indeed Latin letters.

  9. AP also carried the story, with further details:

    Bland said the hoard was unearthed in what was once Mercia, one of five main Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, and is thought to date to 675-725 AD.

    Now, that's an rather precise but not quite accurate way of saying "early eighth century." Are they dating when the artifacts were made, when they were acquired by the Saxons, or when they were buried? If this truly is a Carolingian hand, then that sets a much later terminus a quo.

    Note that the presence of religious artifacts is considered significant.

    One of the most intriguing objects in [the ]hoard is a small strip of gold inscribed with a warlike Latin quotation from the Old Testament, which translates as: "Rise up, O Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face."

    Now, at least they identified the right text here, but they still haven't translated what is on the subscription--which is more like:

    "[R]ise up, L-rd; may be dispers[ed thine enemies;]
    [May b]e driven those who hat[e thee from thy face]."

    There's an obvious assimilation to some English version of the Bible, but for the life of me I can't pin it down.

    Some peculiar characteristics:
    1)first 'thy' instead of 'thine'(classical) or 'your' (modern)
    2) 'dispersed' instead of the majority reading 'scattered'
    3) literal translation of MPNIK as 'before thy face'

    Many more inscription photos here:

  10. Okay, I'm looking at more of the inscriptions, and finding the rest of the verse:

    ]r imici tui et
    ]t te a facie tua

    Congratulations, Pete. Your reconstruction was spot-on.

    The 'a' is very distinctive, consisting of conjoined arcs. There are two very different ways of writing 'u'. And some of the i's look more like 'y'.

    I can now read the end of the inside bottom line as calocie or calocye. But the official label on the photo reads, "6th to 7th century!" That's definitely century earlier than the date the experts at BBC assigned to it. They aren't looking any better than the 'Carolingian hand' paleographer.

  11. This is very cool news. Love the verse too.

    I love to see historical gold pieces. Would love to know what the people were thinking and feeling in making those pieces and what they meant to them.

  12. Oops, looks like my last post didn't make it on:

    The question now is, can we dismiss the three variants (two misspellings and an omission) as independent scribal error (unless there was a whole textual family of armband inscriptions), or do these send us back to any particular Old Latin or Vulgate ms?

    Perhaps we could begin by answering the question, In how many OL mss is this verse extant?

  13. I had also mentioned my suspicion that the quasi-official English translation was assimilated to an interlinear edition of the Vulgate.

    In a similar way, some readings in the classical English Bible did not trace back to the Textual Receptus, but to Coverdale's 1538 Latin-English diglot of the NT, which was frequently conformed to the Vulgate in both columns.

  14. I think the text on the inside is similar. I read:

    surge dne di- - - et fugiu(n)t(?) qui ode-
    runt te a fa- - -

    I am not sure about fugiunt - it should be fugent as on the other side, or fugiant. But there is clearly a vertical stroke after fug-, then probably U with a horizontal about it (= n), and not quite clear t.

  15. Check out the first of these letters to the Times:

  16. Michelle Brown, whose opinion I'd trust in such matters, dates the inscription to late seventh-early eighth.

    We've had a great deal of discussion about the form of the text on Ansax and Early Medieval Forum without conclusion. But there are all sorts of possibilities from VL to liturgical mss as source (the verse was widely used in certain liturgical settings) to the inscriber not knowing Latin well and getting it wrong, to variant from Irish/Gaulish text, to inscriber working from memory and getting it wrong, to influence of Old English or other language's affect on pronunciation.....its simply going to take some slogging and even then we may end up with nothing definitive to make a positive determination.

    The period in question is the beginning of the "Northumbrian Renaissance" and from the area where a period of production of both Biblical manuscripts and biblical commentary was being churned out.