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Old English Bible translations

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Old English Bible translations

The Old English Bible translations are the partial translations of the Bible prepared in medieval England into the Old English language. Most of these efforts wound up with the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, when translations into Middle English began.

Many of these translations were in fact glosses, prepared and circulated in connection with the Latin Bible — the Vulgate — that was standard in Western Christianity at the time, for the purpose of assisting clerics whose grasp of Latin was imperfect. Old English literature is remarkable for containing a number of incomplete Bible translations that were not glosses and that were meant to be circulated independently.


  • Known translations 1
  • End of Old English translations 2
  • Later texts 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Known translations

  • Aldhelm, Bishop of Sherborne (b. 639, d. 25 May 709) is thought to have written an Old English translation of the Psalms, although this is disputed.
  • Cædmon (~657-684) is mentioned by Bede as one who sang poems in Old English based on the Bible stories, but he was not involved in translation per se.
  • The Venerable Bede (b. c. 672, d. 26 May 735) produced a translation of the Gospel of John into Old English, which he is said to have prepared shortly before his death. This translation is lost; we know of its existence from Cuthbert of Jarrow's account of Bede's death.[1]
  • The Vespasian Psalter,[2] (~850-875) an interlinear gloss of the Book of Psalms in the Mercian dialect.[3]
  • Eleven other 9th-century glosses of the Psalms are known, including Eadwine's Canterbury Psalter.[4]
  • King Alfred around 900 had a number of passages of the Bible circulated in the vernacular. These included passages from the Ten Commandments and the Pentateuch, which he prefixed to a code of laws he promulgated around this time. Alfred is also said to have directed the Book of Psalms to have been translated into Old English. Many scholars believe that the fifty Psalms in Old English that are found in the Paris Psalter [5] represent Alfred's translation.
  • Between 950 and 970, Aldred the Scribe added a gloss in the Northumbrian dialect of Old English (the Northumbrian Gloss on the Gospels) to the Lindisfarne Gospels as well as a foreword describing who wrote and decorated it. Its version of The Lord's Prayer is as follows:
Suae ðonne iuih gie bidde fader urer ðu arð ðu bist in heofnum & in heofnas; sie gehalgad noma ðin; to-cymeð ric ðin. sie willo ðin suae is in heofne & in eorðo. hlaf userne oferwistlic sel us to dæg. & forgef us scylda usra suae uoe forgefon scyldgum usum. & ne inlæd usih in costunge ah gefrig usich from yfle
  • At around the same time (~950-970), a priest named Farman wrote a gloss on the Gospel of Matthew that is preserved in a manuscript called the Rushworth Gospels.[6]
  • In approximately 990, a full and freestanding version of the four Gospels in idiomatic Old English appeared, in the West Saxon dialect; these are known as the Wessex Gospels. Seven manuscript copies of this translation have survived; they apparently had some currency. This version gives the most familiar Old English version of Matthew 6:9–13, the Lord's Prayer:
Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum, si þin nama gehalgod. To becume þin rice, gewurþe ðin willa, on eorðan swa swa on heofonum. Urne gedæghwamlican hlaf syle us todæg, and forgyf us ure gyltas, swa swa we forgyfað urum gyltendum. And ne gelæd þu us on costnunge, ac alys us of yfele. Soþlice.

End of Old English translations

In 1066, the Norman Conquest of England marked the beginning of the end of the Old English language and initiated profound changes in its vocabulary. The project of translating the Bible into Old English gradually ended with the movement from Old English to Middle English (though evidence is very scanty), and eventually there were attempts to provide Bible translations in that language.

Later texts

  • The three related maunscripts, Royal 1 A. xiv at the British Library, Bodley 441 and Hatton 38 at the Bodleian Library, are written in Old English although produced in the late 12th century. Hatton 38 is noted as being written in the latest Kentish form of West Saxon.[7][8] They cover the four Gospels, with one section (Luke 16.14 - 17.1) missing from both manuscripts, Hatton and Royal.[9]


  1. ^ Dobbie, E. Van Kirk. "The Manuscripts of Caedmon's Hymn and Bede's Death Song with a Critical Text of the Epistola Cuthberti de obitu Bedae." New York: Columbia University Press, 1937. OCLC 188505
  2. ^ Wright, David H. (ed.) "The Vespasian Psalter." Copenhagen: Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1967. (Early English Manuscripts in Facsimile, #14) OCLC 5009657
  3. ^ See also Roberts, Jane (2011). “Some Psalter Glosses in Their Immediate Context”, in Palimpsests and the Literary Imagination of Medieval England, eds. Leo Carruthers, Raeleen Chai-Elsholz, Tatjana Silec. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 61-79, which looks at three Anglo-Saxon glossed psalters and how layers of gloss and text, language and layout, speak to the meditative reader.
  4. ^ Harsley, F. (ed.) "Eadwine's Canterbury Psalter.". London: Published for the Early English Text Society by N. Trübner and Co., 1889. (Early English Text Society, Original Series; 92) OCLC 360348
  5. ^ Colgrave, B. "The Paris Psalter: MS. Bibliothèque nationale fonds latin 8824." Copenhagen: Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1958. (Early English Manuscripts in Facsimile; #8) OCLC 717585
  6. ^ Stevenson, J. & Waring, G. "The Lindisfarne and Rushworth Gospels. Now first printed from the original manuscripts in the British Museum and the Bodleian Library." Durham: Published for the Society by G. Andrews, 1854-1865. (Publications of the Surtees Society; v. 28, 39, 43, 48)
  7. ^ Oxford Bodleian Library catalog "Minor Donations", page 837, item 4090;
  8. ^ Oxford Bodleian Library description of this manuscript.
  9. ^ Oxford, Bodley, Hatton 38, The Production and Use of English Manuscripts 1060 to 1220, Universities of Leeds and Leicester, Mary Swan, Elaine Treharne, Orietta Da Rold, Jo Story, and Takako Kato, June 2012


  • Dekker, Kees "Reading the Anglo-Saxon Gospels in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries", in: Anglo-Saxon Books and Their Readers, ed. Thoman N. Hall and Donald Scragg. Kalamazoo, MI, 2008), pp. 68–93.

External links

  • Anglo-Saxon Versions of Scripture
  • Notes on Translations of the Anglo Saxon Bible from the University of Toronto
  • NASV (New Anglo-Saxon Version)
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