Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Staffordshire Hoard: Gold Strip with Old Testament Verse

The Staffordshire website offers a hoard of images, including the two fine ones below showing the entire gold strip with its semiliterate inscription taken from Numbers 10:35, "surge d[omi]ne [et] disepentur inimici tui et fugent qui oderunt te a facie tua," which translates as "Rise up, O Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face."



In a previous entry, I noted that the Old Testament offers two parallels:
Numbers 10:35 "surge Domine et dissipentur inimici tui et fugiant qui oderunt te a facie tua"

Psalm 67:2 "Exsurgat Deus et dissipentur inimici eius et fugiant qui oderunt eum a facie eius"
Comparison with the inscription, however, clearly shows that Numbers 10:35 is the source:
"surge d[omi]ne [et] disepentur inimici tui et fugent qui oderunt te a facie tua"
Note the use of "tui" and "tua" in both the inscription and in Numbers 10:35, whereas Psalm 67:2 has "eius" (and note as well the use of "Domine" versus "Deus").

Brandon Hawk has some interesting things to say about this inscription -- though he gets one thing wrong. He approvingly cites the usually impeccable Michael Drout, who says that the inscription is "probably taken directly from Psalm 67:2, where it is also used." Drout, however, offers no reasons or evidence in his blog entry, so I don't know why he thinks this unless he took the inscription's "dNE" as "Deus" rather than as an abbreviation for "Domine," but the use of "tui/tua" argues against Psalm 67:2. At any rate, here are Hawk's interesting remarks:
A search of the Fontes Anglo-Saxonici database reveals that only one text (or set of texts, as will be revealed) known in Anglo-Saxon England also quotes this passage from Numbers 10:35/Psalm 67:2: Felix's Vita S. Guthlaci. This Vita was written in c.730-49, and, according to E. Gordon Whatley, the text was present in Anglo-Saxon England in at least eight extant manuscripts, one of these (a fragment) from the late eighth or early ninth century (Biggs et al.). The corresponding use does appear in the Old English prose Life (which corresponds closely to Felix's Latin version), but not in Vercelli Homily XXIII or Guthlac A or B.

What is interesting about the passage in which this verse is used is that it is not merely a quotation; instead, Guthlac himself uses the Psalm to ward off evil spirits. According to the Old English prose version (Goodwin), Guthlac "þone sealm sang: Exurgat deus et dissipentur, et reliqua. Sona swa he þæt fyrmeste fers sang þæs sealmes, þa gewiton hi swa swa smic fram his ansyne" ("sang the psalm: Exurgat Deus et dissipentur, et reliqua. As soon as he had sung the first verse of the psalm, they departed like smoke from his presence") (Goodwin, 44, trans. 45). What we find, then, is an act of warding off evil, a use of the psalm to achieve victory over one's enemies. In this case, demons are the main enemies, but it is curious to think about the use of such a verse in the Old Testament as referring to humans all too hostile to the psalmist. Likewise, the use of the newly discovered gold strip with the biblical inscription also hearkens to a warrior's need to keep himself safe from his all-too-real opponents. More could be said, and perhaps in the future I will have more to add, but it may be enough to leave this examination without any more conclusion than to say that this verse evokes a supplication for bodily and spiritual aid from a warrior in need of the grace of God.
For his information about Felix's Vita S. Guthlaci, Hawk cites Whatley and seems to be using "Guthlacus," in Sources of Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture Volume 1: Abbo of Fleury, Abbo of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, and Acta Sanctorum, which is edited by Frederick M. Biggs, Thomas D. Hill, Paul E. Szarmach, and E. Gordon Whatley (Kalamazoo, 2001), for he offers a note to that effect and references pages 244-247. For "the Old English prose version" of Saint Guthlac's life, Hawk cites the Cotton version presented in The Anglo-Saxon Version of the Life of St. Guthlac, hermit of Crowland, which is edited by Charles Wycliffe Goodwin (London: John Russell Smith, 1848).

Anyway, Hawk's musings on the Psalm 67:2 with respect to the inscription raise the possibility that the gold strip was intended as a sort of 'charm bracelet' used for warding off spiritual evil. Relevant in this context might be the words of Saint Paul in Ephesians 6:12, and let's cite the Latin from the Vulgate since the Anglo-Saxons were using Latin:
quia non est nobis conluctatio adversus carnem et sanguinem sed adversus principes et potestates adversus mundi rectores tenebrarum harum contra spiritalia nequitiae in caelestibus
The New International Version gives this modern translation:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Of course, the 'charm bracelet' might be just as useful against physical evils as well. Incidentally, Richard Marsden, on page 73 of The Text of the Old Testament in Anglo-Saxon England (Cambridge University Press, 1995), presents Saint Guthlac as citing Numbers 10:35 (rather than Psalm 67:2) in a somewhat loose 'quote':
et fugient a facie tua qui te oderunt
Compare with Numbers 10:35 in the Vulgate:
et fugiant qui oderunt te a facie tua
Somewhat loose, as noted, but given the use of "tua" instead of "eius," this clearly comes from Numbers 10:35, not Psalm 67:2. In the passage noted by Hawk, however, Saint Guthlac is obviously using Pslam 67:2, for it states "Exurgat deus" rather than "surge Domine." Did Saint Guthlac splice the opening words of Psalm 67:2 to the following words of Numbers 10:35? I don't have the sources before me for checking, so I'll leave this to my readers . . . if there be any.

Incidentally, the evidence from Saint Guthlac's use of Latin for both Numbers 10:35 and Psalm 67:2 demonstrates that the Staffordshire gold strip with its Latin inscription could very well have come from an Anglo-Saxon context rather than being war booty taken from Christian Celts, a possibility that has also been suggested, but further analysis by experts will be necessary on this point.

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4 Comments:

At 8:03 PM, OpenID tenthmedieval said...

Obvious question from a point of ignorance: are we sure that the text of reference would be the Vulgate? Would the quote be better parallelled from the Old Latin Gospel or the Septuagint? It would be very interesting if so...

 
At 8:08 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, not the Septuagint, which is Greek, but a different Latin version is possible.

I haven't checked, but somebody ought to.

Thanks for the visit.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:11 AM, Blogger laura said...

Worth noting that in the context of Guthlac's vita, he uses the verse from the psalm to ward off evil spirits speaking 'on brytisc', at a time when the 'Brytta-þeod, Angol-cynnes feond' are said to have launched multiple attacks. So the implication of what you say is even stronger.

 
At 8:18 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

So, Guthlac thought that the devils spoke Brittonic? Interesting.

Thanks, Laura, for the note.

Jeffery Hodges

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