A Merovingian Commentary on the Four Gospels

A Merovingian Commentary on the Four Gospels

Hen, Yitzhak

Revue des Etudes Augustiniennes, 49 (2003)


The Bible was a vital force in early medieval Francia. It offered Merovingian authors a veiled way of talking about the current order of things, and it provided them with an ideal image, against which the present could be judged. Moreover, the Bible, as already noted by Pierre Riche, ‘was a work rich and varied enough to replace the liberal arts’, and it gradually became the bedrock of secular as well as ecclesiastical education in Merovingian Gaul. No wonder that Merovingian authors from the sixth century onwards bristle with allusions to the Bible. Abraham and Jacob, Moses and David, are all there in force, a fertile supply of similes.

Yet, notwithstanding the biblical preoccupation of Merovingian authors, only three exegetical treatises are known to have been composed in Merovingian Gaul. The first and the more famous one is Gregory of Tours’ commentary on the Psalms (CPL 1026), of which only the headings, the preface, and two short fragments copied by Mabillon survive. The second is the commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (CPL 1122a) which, according to Frede, was composed in southern Gaul (probably Provence) in the seventh century. The third is a commentary on the four Gospels (CPL 1001), wrongly attributed in the past to Theophilus of Antioch (d. ante 190), and it is on this commentary that I wish to concentrate in this paper.

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