Towards a new edition of the Wycliffite Bible

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: English Faculty

Abstract

The Wycliffite Bible (WB) is the first complete translation of the Bible in English, produced at the end of the 14th century by the followers of the Oxford theologian John Wyclif. The identity of the translators remains uncertain, but the scale and scholarly nature of the project suggest the involvement of many academic translators, probably based in Oxford. Though learned and accurate, the translation was condemned and banned within twenty five years of its appearance. The legislation promulgated early in the 15th century by the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Arundel prohibited the making of new versions and the use of any recent translations without episcopal approval of both the text and owner. In spite of this, WB became the most widely disseminated medieval English work: it survives in 250 complete or partial copies. It is also the most widely evidenced of European translations of the Vulgate.

The discovery of new manuscripts and recent research on the text of the translation have rendered obsolete the only complete edition of WB published in 1850 by J. Forshall and F. Madden. A new edition is unquestionably needed, but it is at present a remote goal, not only because of the amount of work it would involve, but also because it remains unclear which principles should underlie such an edition. There is no consensus among scholars as to which manuscripts should be collated and used as the base text for different parts of the translation, or how glosses that appear in the margins of many manuscripts relate to the biblical text and should be presented in an edition; the relevance of other apparatus attached to individual manuscripts in forms clearly related to WB is also not agreed upon. The proposed inquiry aims to establish whether what are currently known as the Earlier and Later versions of the translation (believed to reflect the translators' first efforts to produce an English text and its subsequent revision) represent each a single text or a series of different redactions. It also aims to investigate the relationships between important manuscripts and their value as evidence for different parts of the text. In addition the proposed research seeks to understand better the methods of the translators' work through the study of differences between versions of the translation, particularly in vocabulary, and the study of apparatus found in manuscripts, particularly marginal glosses. The project will also explore possible ways of editing WB and how such a large body of evidence can be presented and made intelligible to a user. It will develop a methodology for editing WB and produce trial editions of two Old Testament (Proverbs and the Song of Songs) and two New Testament (the Epistles to the Romans and Hebrews) books for print and online presentation. The online edition will offer a framework for expansion when editions of other biblical books are created in future or when further materials, such as additional images or records of variants, are developed to supplement the trial editions.

Planned Impact

Libraries

The project's research outcomes will include descriptions and analysis of manuscripts, as well as images, editions and records of manuscript readings published in print and online. Availability of such materials will benefit collection description and management, and conservation work in the libraries that hold the manuscripts. The provision of such materials is an essential part of the libraries' efforts to give access to their collections to scholars, students and wider public, but the libraries usually lack the resources to carry out this work themselves, and increasingly rely on contributions from the academic community.

Religious communities, media, wider public

Though primarily aimed at researchers and graduate students the publications describing the project's findings and the project's editions will be of interest to members of religious communities and public interested in the history of Christianity, Reformation, biblical translation and the development of the English language and literacy in English. The interest in the Bible and its cultural and political impact throughout the world is consistently high, as can be seen from the number of print and online publications, novels, films and television programs concerned with the subject, aimed at widely different audiences. Both investigators have been invited to speak about WB and medieval tradition of biblical translation to groups interested in history, literature and theology, and to professional translators.

The proposed freely available online edition will address a need for an easily accessible, scholarly and user-friendly edition of WB. Such edition does not exist at present, and the only available options are difficult to access and use the Victorian edition and its partial reprints in modernised orthography with minimal commentary and apparatus.

In order to make the project's work and the online edition better known, the investigators and PDRA will record lectures aimed at the general public to be distributed via Oxford's iTunes-u. The lectures will be dedicated to the history of the Wycliffite movement, medieval biblical translation and WB, as well as specifically to the proposed project, its context, methods and findings, and draw attention to the website and suggest possible uses of the online edition. We will also organise a series of six public lectures on the history of biblical translation in the Middle Ages and early Modern period to be hosted by the Centre for the Study of the Book at the Bodleian Library. The lectures will be given by the members of the project and invited speakers and will be accompanied by an exhibition on the history of biblical translation in English in the Middle Ages.

Continuing Education

Continuing Education is good value and is open to all. The results of research will be disseminated through Continuing Education teaching in Oxford and Cambridge, raising awareness of medieval biblical translation as one of the most important aspects of our cultural heritage, and creating cultural and social benefits for wider public. Investigators and PDRA will organise a study day at the Department of Continuing Education, Oxford University, and a weekend course at the Institute of Continuing Education, Cambridge University, both focusing on medieval vernacular translations of the Bible.

Publications

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Description Our main research outcome is a selective new edition of the Wycliffite Bible to be published in print and online. The edition will be larger in scope than described in the application: we originally proposed to edit four biblical books, but we will edit five books in their entirety and a substantial section from a sixth book. The digital edition will also considerably exceed what we proposed in the application: in addition to the English text of the two versions of the Wycliffite Bible, it will include the Latin source text; in addition to traditional search facilities, it will offer modern text analysis tools based on Word2vec (neural networks that are trained to reconstruct linguistic contexts of words). The edition will have sophisticated facilities for personal research and teaching, including annotation and sharing of annotations, comparing, extracting and saving images and sections of text. Major research findings of the project include a discovery of an 'intermediate' version of the translation surviving in a manuscript in Oxford resulting in a clearer understanding of the textual tradition of the Bible; research into manuscript versions of the translation that helped us to understand more correctly its genesis and early history; research into the nature and sources of the glosses that accompany the translation in some manuscripts that has helped us to situate the translation more precisely within the history of Wycliffite thought; research into the translation technique that has helped to situate the Bible more correctly within contemporary literary culture. These findings are being currently reported through conference presentations and articles, and will be published in a monograph that is one of the planned outcomes of the project. One of our most important achievements is securing funding from the John fell Fund to employ for a year a second research assistant (Cosima Gillhammer) to produce an edition of the Wycliffite Old Testament Lectionary, currently an almost entirely unexplored text, that is turning out to be vitally important for understanding the early history of the Wycliffite Bible.
Exploitation Route The project is the first step towards producing a complete new edition of the Wycliffite Bible. Because of the enormous size of the textual tradition of the translation surviving in multiple versions and manuscript copies accompanied by paratextual materials this can be achieved only over a period of time as a result of academic collaborations. Now that we have created a digital publishing environment, we are exploring the possibilities of collaborations that will extend the work on the edition beyond the limits of the current project.
Sectors Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://wycliffite-bible.english.ox.ac.uk/#/
 
Description My findings have informed my teaching of medieval literature at two continuing education summer schools and talks for general public I gave in 2017. These have been reported in detail in the impacts section.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description Ludwig Humanities Research Fund
Amount £3,500 (GBP)
Organisation University of Oxford 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2017 
End 03/2018
 
Description Ludwig Humanities Research Fund
Amount £2,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Oxford 
Department New College Oxford
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2017 
End 08/2017
 
Description Ludwig Humanities Research Fund
Amount £2,850 (GBP)
Organisation University of Oxford 
Department New College Oxford
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2018 
End 05/2018
 
Description Ludwig Humanities Research Fund
Amount £4,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Oxford 
Department New College Oxford
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2017 
End 08/2018
 
Description Pump priming research grant
Amount £46,910 (GBP)
Organisation University of Oxford 
Department John Fell Fund
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2017 
End 08/2018
 
Title Wycliffite Bible Digital Edition 
Description A new online edition of the Wycliffite Bible, the first complete translation of the Bible in English produced at the end of the 14th century by the followers of the Oxford theologian John Wyclif. The edition (currently a demo version) comprises texts of the two versions of the Wycliffite translation of the Bible, the Vulgate (the source text from which the translation was made), images of manuscripts and the record of textual variants from a range of manuscripts in which the translation survives. The edition is designed to support online publication of a selection of biblical books as a result of the current project and of the complete biblical text as a result of future collaborative projects. The edition also provides facilities (currently under development) that allow research into the text of the translation, including sophisticated searching, comparison of texts and images provided, annotation and sharing of annotations by users. Technological solutions developed for the edition will be freely available for use by other similar projects. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The edition was only made available in December 2017 and we are only starting to use it and advertise it to others, but its current and projected impacts are: (a) on research into the Wycliffite Bible, biblical translation more widely and medieval literature; (b) on scholarly digital publishing (it supports the publication of an important text and makes it more accessible and widely available than traditional publishing; it acts as a model for publication of large and complex texts and accompanying materials that are difficult or impossible to make available by traditional methods); (c) on teaching of medieval literature, manuscript studies, textual criticism and editing. 
URL https://wycliffite-bible.english.ox.ac.uk/#/
 
Title Wycliffite Bible Digital Edition 
Description A new online edition of the Wycliffite Bible, the first complete translation of the Bible in English produced at the end of the 14th century by the followers of the Oxford theologian John Wyclif. The edition (currently a demo version) comprises texts of the two versions of the Wycliffite translation of the Bible, the Vulgate (the source text from which the translation was made), images of manuscripts and the record of textual variants from a range of manuscripts in which the translation survives. The edition is designed to support online publication of a selection of biblical books as a result of the current project and of the complete biblical text as a result of future collaborative projects. The edition also provides facilities (currently under development) that allow research into the text of the translation, including sophisticated searching, comparison of texts and images provided, annotation and sharing of annotations by users. Technological solutions developed for the edition will be freely available for use by other similar projects. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The edition was only made available in December 2017 and we are only starting to use it and advertise it to others, but its current and projected impacts are: (a) on research into the Wycliffite Bible, biblical translation more widely and medieval literature; (b) on scholarly digital publishing (it supports the publication of an important text and makes it more accessible and widely available than traditional publishing; it acts as a model for publication of large and complex texts and accompanying materials that are difficult or impossible to make available by traditional methods); (c) on teaching of medieval literature, manuscript studies, textual criticism and editing. 
URL https://wycliffite-bible.english.ox.ac.uk/#/
 
Description Masterpieces of Old English Poetry, Oxford University Summer School for Adults 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A course on medieval poetry taught at Oxford University Summer School for Adults, 1-15 July 2017. The school has an excellent reputation as the oldest summer school for adults in Britain and attracts an international audience (British, North American, eastern and western European, Asian). The course had an excellent feedback with several students expressing commitment to further study of medieval literature.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.conted.ox.ac.uk/about/oussa
 
Description The Lollard Bible: the Greatest Medieval English Best-Seller, Library Lates: Designing English 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A talk at an evening event in the Weston Library in Oxford on 23 February, 2018, to accompany an exhibition 'Designing English'. The event was one of a series of events, 'Library Lates' , when the library stayed open in the evening with several education talks, workshops and demonstrations running at the same time. The event was widely advertised to the general public, very well attended and got an excellent feedback.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/whatson/whats-on/upcoming-events/2018/feb/library-lates-designing-engl...
 
Description Translating the Bible: the Wycliffite Revolt, Medieval Studies Summer Programme, Institute of Continuing Education, University of Cambridge 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A plenary lecture 'Translating the Bible: the Wycliffite Revolt' and two courses on medieval literature taught at Medieval Studies Summer Programme, International Programmes, Institute of Continuing Education, University of Cambridge, 7 August - 11 August, 2017. The plenary lecture was attended by c. 120 participants and each course had 15-20 participants. The programme attracts an international audience (British, North American, western and eastern European, Asian). The courses and the lecture had an excellent feedback.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.ice.cam.ac.uk/course/medieval-studies-summer-programme