Wednesday, June 8, 2011

An Early English Bible

Leah Elder has been working for several months editing images of the 1410 Wycliffe translation of the New Testament. This book is in the care of Lichfield Cathedral, and was photographed by a team from the University of Kentucky , with some help from Furman University, during the summer of 2010. 

John Wycliffe (1320-1384) was a Christian theologian and reformer whose early translations of the Bible in English were, first of all, considered shockingly heretical, and subsequently, instrumental to the advance of the Reformation in England.

There were many editions of the Wycliffe translations. Even though production of these illegal texts must have been a dangerous business in the 14th and 15th centuries,  it is evident that the copyists could not resist making the books beautiful. The Wycliffe Testament at Lichfield Cathedral is the oldest to survive intact.
Leah’s Transcription of the Wycliffe (here, Matthew 18:1-18:6)
in XML format
Photography is only the first step in publishing a digital facsimile of a manuscript. In order to turn a directory full of digital images into a useful resource for scholars, the images must be sorted, the text transcribed, and the images indexed to canonically cited passages of text. This is what Leah has been doing.

She has been transcribing the text, reading the ornate blackletter script to capture language like this:

An othe parable Jhs spak to hem / the kyngdom of heuenes is lijk to sourdouȝ / which a woma took and hidde in there mesurisof mele; til it were al sourid / — Matthew 13.33 (Wycliffe)
For comparison, here is the King James translation:
Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened. — Matthew 13:33 (KJV)
The ultimate goal for this text is a fully integrated digital facsimile with the images closely related to the transcription and to other translations. Toward this integration, Leah has been defining “regions-of-interest” on the images corresponding to particular passages in the New Testament. So we can now easily ask for the particular “quotation” of the page-image that contains Matthew 2:15 (and we can generate interactive views of passages in context ):

Work on the Wycliffe bible will progress this summer, and in cooperation with our friends at the University of Kentucky and Lichfield Cathedral, we will look forward to making the fruits of this labor available to the widest possible audience as soon as possible.

This work is possible because the Chapter of Lichfield Cathedral released the images under a Creative Commons License. We are extremely grateful to everyone in Lichfield, and particularly to Canon Chancellor Pete Wilcox (who has a very excellent blog !).