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Art. 71, Ludlow Scribe, Estoyres de la Bible: Introduction

Abbreviations: AND: Anglo-Norman Dictionary; ANL: Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts (R. Dean and Boulton); BL: British Library (London); Bodl.: Bodleian Library (Oxford); CT: Chaucer, Canterbury Tales; CUL: Cambridge University Library (Cambridge); DOML: Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library; FDT: French Devotional Texts of the Middle Ages (Sinclair 1979); FDT-1French Devotional Texts of the Middle Ages, . . . First Supplement (Sinclair 1982); IMEV: The Index of Middle English Verse (Brown and Robbins); MED: Middle English Dictionary; MWME: A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 1050–1500 (Severs et al.); NIMEV: A New Index of Middle English Verse (Boffey and Edwards); NLS: National Library of Scotland (Edinburgh).

A lively assemblage of Old Testament stories in Anglo-Norman prose constitutes the longest and most central text in MS Harley 2253. This work has not been previously edited or translated. By careful analysis of its dialect and idiom, scholars ascribe authorship to the Ludlow scribe (Wilshere, pp. 87–88; ANL 463). Comparative study of linguistic features points, in addition, to the same person as the translator of the Anglo-Norman outlaw tale Fouke le Fitz Warin, which the scribe copied into London, BL MS Royal 12.C.12. Fouke is apparently a prose redaction of a lost verse romance. Both Fouke and this item provide opportunity, therefore, for observing the preoccupations and compositional talents of this otherwise elusive scribe. The cumulative evidence points to a “substratum influence of English,” that is, to an anglophone writer of French prose (Thompson 2000, p. 280). The scribe may also be the composer of a translation from Latin to English, A Book of Dreaming (art. 85), and an adapted Latin saint’s life, Martyrdom of Saint Wistan (art. 116).

In Old Testament Stories we observe the Ludlow scribe engaging in the pious literary practice of translating, paraphrasing, and summarizing biblical matter. His method is to combine story elements from the Vulgate Bible with exegesis from Peter Comestor’s Historia scholastica and other sources, and also to add a few comments of his own. His selections suggest the pedagogical foci of a schoolmaster who wants to pass along knowledge of the history of the Hebrew tribes, details of Holy Land geography, and precepts of the priestly profession. He especially wants his readers to hear about the responsibilities and privileges of the tribe of Levi and to understand that their role is prescribed by God. As Kuczynski remarks, “The attention drawn to the Levites, the priestly class, in these biblical paraphrases and glosses might, then, point to a clerical hand in the copying of Harley” (2000, p. 130).

In stories extracted from Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers, the central figures are Joseph and Moses, divinely appointed leaders of the Hebrew race who overcame substantial adversities in childhood (rather like the romance hero Horn). With what might seem to be an appeal aimed at boy pupils, the Ludlow scribe offers many episodes of godly divination and magic: Joseph’s ability to decipher dreams, Moses’s spectacular tricks with his rod, Moses’s capacity to converse with God, Balaam’s soothsaying aided by a she-ass with miraculous speech and a private angel. He provides his audience, in the manner of a teacher, with a mnemonic in Latin verse by which to recall the ten plagues of Egypt (lines 412–13). Here and there the Ludlow scribe includes christological allusions found in Old Testament events: how Joseph is named “Savior of the World” (line 104), how an aged Jacob crosses his arms to bless his grandsons (lines 242–43), how God’s presence on Sinai is like Christ’s on the Mount (lines 481–83), and how Church has replaced Synagogue (lines 732–33). The stories embed implicit moralizing upon the dangers of false idols, covetousness, and arrogant pride, as opposed to true signs, righteous piety, and humble obedience. They teach lessons of filial duty and narrate moments of righteous victory. When the author pauses to dissect words etymologically, or to explain how Joseph switched from one language to another, his storytelling showcases his own fascination with cross-lingual understanding.

Essays by Wilshere, Kuczynski, and Thompson constitute the only commentaries on this work to date. Kuczynski outlines the contents by biblical book and chapter (2000, pp. 128–30). Thompson examines the codicological context whereby MS Harley 2253 preserves other French Bible translations, namely, those copied by Scribe A in the older portion of MS Harley 2253, fols. 1–48 (2000, pp. 280–87). Wilshere analyzes the nature of the retold tales, and he pinpoints several of the Ludlow scribe’s linguistic and spelling habits, which show his mother tongue to be English (1988). On the handful of orthographical errors provoked by thorns or yoghs, see the textual notes to this edition.

In preparing this text, I have inserted modern paragraphing to indicate speech changes and natural breaks. I have also used the rubrication and paraph signs of the Ludlow scribe as guideposts. Wherever he has marked the first letter of a sentence in red, I have begun a new paragraph. Proper names for biblical persons, places, and books are translated as their standard modern forms in accord with those found in the DOML edition of the Vulgate Bible with Douay-Rheims translation, edited by Edgar. For example, “Noe,” “Josue,” and “Pharao,” are rendered “Noah,” “Joshua,” and “Pharaoh,” respectively. I have exempted one name from this practice: the scribe’s “Marie” for the sister of Moses and Aaron is here retained as “Mary” per the original Douay-Rheims, not as modern “Miriam.” The following explanatory notes sometimes cite additional exegesis as found in the Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible (accessible online at, but omitted from the DOML edition.

[Fols. 92v–105r. ANL 463. Scribe: B (Ludlow scribe). Quires: 10–11. Layout: No columns, as prose. Editions: None. Other MSS: None. Translations: None.]

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