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Understanding a Selection of Medical, Theological and Poetic Diagrams in a Thirteenth-Century Book of Biblical Commentaries: British Library, Harley MS. 658

Emily Corran (notes)

Abstract

British Library, Harley MS. 658 is a miscellany of study aids for the Bible from the early thirteenth century, bound together with a collection of scientific, poetic and theological diagrams. The texts were written by different scribes probably at separate times and places, but, apart from two texts at the back of the codex, were collected soon after by a single compiler with a clear intention. The collection is a comprehensive handbook for Biblical study, comprising of works on the literal, allegorical and moral interpretation of scripture, as well as models for reading, disputing and preaching. The nine diagrams vary in subject matter; they include a map of the city of Jerusalem, diagrams relating to the study of grammar, medicine and theology, in contrast to the Biblical and moral themes dominant in the rest of the book. Although they at first might appear incongruous, closer examination reveals that they can best be seen as appendages to two works included in the collection, Peter of Poitiers's Compendium historiae in genealogia Christi and the Computus. The contents of the diagrams suggest that their collector was well versed in twelfth-century philosophy and subscribed to a theory of education current in the twelfth century, according to which all aspects of knowledge, including medical and natural science, could be deployed in exposition and contemplation of the Bible.

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