School Stemma

A couple of days ago I published a post about an adaptation of the Great Stemma that appears in the bibles of Parc, Floreffe, Foigny and Burgos. For a long time, my working name for that diagram has been the Lesser Stemma, built on the sense that it employs fewer diagrammatic features than the original 5th-century document.

It has been rightly pointed out that this is misleading, since in sheer bulk it is one of the biggest biblical stemmata ever made.

Counted in pages -- 18 -- it is bigger than the other versions. (Epsilon: 16 pages. Alpha and Beta: 14.) Counted in words, it is vast, inflated with supplementary material from Isidore's Quaestiones including the elaborate allegorical account of the Wandering in the Desert divided into 27 stages or mansio. Even counted in roundels -- Burgos has 529 of them -- it is on a par with the other versions which have an average of 540.

So I began to think about a better name for it.

One idea was to name it from its aggressive intention, which was first identified nearly three decades ago by Yolanta Zaluska. The new stemma employs the techniques of the old one, but to oppose the Great Stemma's purpose. The original explains Jesus's dual ancestries as a mother-plus-father descent. The revision explains the doubling as an effect of Jewish society's levirate marriage custom. One might therefore compare the new stemma to a ship captured by an enemy. Taken as a prize, it sails with a new crew and turns its guns against its former owners. However there is no simple, obvious word to describe this repurposing phenomenon.

One might equally well consider the uses of the new work. The original Stemma was a rather flashy infographic designed to demonstrate at a glance certain ideas about chronology and descent. The new stemma was more like a turgid textbook, loaded up with etymologies, explanations and lists (like that of the prophets). Like a textbook, it has been checked for its doctrinal orthodoxy and has clearly been approved for use by the impressionable student monk. It is not there for easy reading, but to supply information that can be learned by rote and tested.

From this more educational purpose, it might be best to describe the new version as a "school stemma". That is the working name I will employ for it in the next stage of research.

I have fixed the tabulation of "School Stemma" pages on my catalog page, and have discovered that two pages of the Foigny Bible version are online, though in low resolution: the page with Sem and Joktan, 4r, and the Incarnation page, 11r. These two links to the BNF images database work intermittently, but not always.

Zaluska, Yolanta. ‘Entre texte et image: les stemmata bibliques au Sud et au Nord des Pyrénées’. Bulletin de la Societé nationale des antiquaires de France (1986): 142–152.


Window into the Past

Until now I have paid very little attention to a derivative version of the Great Stemma which is found in four bible manuscripts of the 12th and 13th centuries (described here). There are however some indications that this version may provide a window into the past, since it was probably adapted from the Great Stemma at quite an early date.

At first sight, the version that is found in the bibles of Parc, Floreffe, Foigny and Burgos seems very different from the 5th-century original: it is a frontal attack on the Great Stemma author's belief that the Virgin Mary had a father, Joachim, and a grandfather, Joseph, who were direct male-line descendants of King David. It asserts the early medieval orthodoxy, based on the idea that Mary's spouse Joseph had two separate male-line ancestries.

This assault on the Great Stemma imitates its structure while condemning its author's theology and Umfeld as erroneous. Rather like silver-tongued Edmund Burke using radical argumentation to attack radicalism itself, the revisor has appropriated the diagrammatic technique of his opponent to defend the mainstream represented by the thought of Isidore of Seville. He wished to:
  • erase the Joachimite explanation of the Gospel contradiction (it is replaced by part of Rufinus's translation of the Letter to Aristides); 
  • add the etymologies of Jerome of Stridon (as adopted by Isidore) to explain the biblical names, implicitly rejecting the counter-etymologies in the Liber Genealogus
  • adjust the content wherever possible to harmonize it with the Vulgate and suppress influences from the Vetus Latina biblical text. As an example, the order of the Minor Prophets is changed to that prescribed by Jerome.
Screeds of Isidore's Mysticorum expositiones sacramentorum also known as the Quaestiones in Vetus Testamentum have been overlaid on the diagram, presenting Old Testament events as allegories of the New. "The Old Testament is exclusively read in the Quaestiones according to the allegorical interpretation," explains Claudio Leonardi in his essay, Old Testament Interpretation ... from the Seventh to the Tenth Century. "Allegory is used by him to read every Old Testament passage and to discover in it the proclamation of Christ's own message.

Despite this revised document's hostility to the Great Stemma, it does offer a few indications of how the Great Stemma might have looked before our oldest extant manuscripts came into existence. Comparing its page divisions with the "purest" recension of the Great Stemma, that in the manuscript of Florence, we are struck by some uncanny similarities.

The section describing the Horrite and Edomite rulers from Genesis 36: 20-43 appears precisely as in the Epsilon recension under the heading, Hi sunt filii Esau qui in Monte Seir nati sunt. The Horrites from Lotan to Anah appear on one page, while Dishon, Ezer and Dishan are delayed to the next page. The Judaean kings from Rehoboam to Ahaz are neatly fitted into a single page with some zigzags, avoiding the strange muddle that afflicts the 13th page of the Florentine manuscript where this succession ends in a kind of graphic traffic jam.

In the Judges section there are two interesting amplifications. For the foreign-rule period we read Alienigene annis XL, and for the peace period in the Foigny Bible we read, Pacem habuerunt et sine lege fuerunt.

Later we read, David filius Iesse, magnus rex et propheta, regnavit super Israel annis XL, in Ebron sex, in Ierusalem XXXIIII, and Salomon pacificus filius David rex Israel regnavit annis XL. As in the Liber Genealogus, durations are given for most of the reigns after the kingdom is divided as a result of the Judaean secession. Of interest is the inclusion in the Foigny, but not in the Burgos text, of certain chronological data from after the Exile which is notably lacking in the other recensions of the diagram. Whether it comes from Isidore or from the early diagram is uncertain:
  • Regnum persarum et medorum a temporibus Cyri vel Darii usque ad extremum Darium qui ab Alexandro Magno victus occubuit fuerunt anni centum octoginta novem. 
  • Rex macedonum a temporum et Alexandri Magni usque ad Cleopatram regnam Egypti. Rex Antiochus ex Syrie qui Iudeos varia calamitate oppressit plurimos que ex ipsis ob defensionem legis mortes? fecit.
  • Iulius Cesar regnavit annum unum ex quo in regno romanorum imperatores et?? ceperunt. 
  • Octavianus augustus regnavit annis LX iste obtinuit monarchiam. 
  • Thyberius Augustus regnavit annis XXIII huius Tyberii imperatoris anno XVIII Christus passus est.

One also suspects a couple of the glosses in Foigny might pre-date Isidore, although there is nothing that verbally resembles them in the Liber Genealogus. The division into the Northern and Southern Kingdoms is explained with the words, Ab hinc regnum Israel in Roboam atque in Iheroboam divisum bipertitum est, effectum ex quo tribus Effraim principatum obtinuit, and the expiry of Samaria is explained: Osee iste est qui quondam fuit rex super X tribus Israel in Samaria qui temporum Salmanasar regis ab Assiriis captus ...

All of these passages need to be studied more closely, since they could potentially preserve lost text of the original Great Stemma. I am grateful to Dr Andrea Worm for sharing with me information and insights about the Foigny Bible which have led to these observations.


Biblia Pauperum

The Biblia Pauperum is a kind of medieval Reader's Digest version of the Bible which interprets the Old and New Testament as if the mass of biblical texts had been purposefully written as a book of allusions, where the events of Jewish history foreshadow events in the life of Christ. This exegesis, known as typology, goes back to Origen and beyond.

Each of these connections is demonstrated by a collage of images that comprises two Old Testament events (the types), one New Testament event (their antitype) and head-and-shoulder portraits of four patriarchs or prophets. Bruno Reudenbach of the University of Hamburg says the original Biblia Pauperum manuscripts comprised 34 groups in this format. In the beginning they were laid out two to a page, so that four were visible on a spread.

The usual first collation, for example, would link an image of the Annunciation to the temptation of Eve by the serpent and Gideon finding the fleece soaked by dew, along with David, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah. This can be seen in a British Library manuscript (King's 5 f. 1), in Tamara Manning's Internet Biblia Pauperum woodcut (reproduced with the Wikipedia article), or with a slight variation in clm 19414 in Munich.

There is another fine digitized example online at the Heidelberg manuscripts site. This German-language manuscript has extended descriptions of each group. Its first extant collation, for example, shows Joseph being cast into the well, Jonah being swallowed by the whale, Jesus being laid in the tomb and David, Solomon, Jacob and Isaiah (compare this to the English version on Manning's website, go to *g*).

Reudenbach's work at the University of Hamburg is a project of the Centre for Manuscript Cultures. The presentation by Reudenbach and Hanna Wimmer (PDF) says more than 80 such manuscripts still exist.


Diagrammatic Reasoning Again

Far from the Patristic period, but nevertheless very relevant to its infographic inventiveness is a 2010 essay on diagrams by Robbie Nakatsu, Diagrammatic Reasoning in AI. I call this a book-length essay, because Nakatsu goes short on notes and references and instead rushes at the big question of what diagrams are for.

The title is a touch misleading, since the book comprises sections about diagrams and artificial intelligence, but the connection between them which Nakatsu proposes in the final chapter is little more than an idea. Chapters 1-4 and 9 are about diagrams, while 5-8 describe artificial intelligence, a technology that can be used to manage business processes and high-frequency trading on stock markets. Nakatsu’s finale is an argument that diagrams would constitute a more effective interface between users and these "expert systems" than existing methods of giving commands with such software. (His faculty page says he designed Expert-Strategy, a software that provides a graphical user interface to an expert system’s knowledge base.)

The main value to us of his essay lies in his earlier observations about mental models and why diagrams are effective for reasoning when compared with sentential statements:
In an sentential representation we form system descriptions by employing the sentences of a language. A diagram, by contrast, is a type of information graphic that "preserves explicitly the information about topological and geometric relations among the components of the problem." [Larkin/Simon]  In other words, an information graphic indexes information by location on a plane. ... For example, a graphical hierarchy can help humans sort through information much more efficiently and understand how the objects of a domain are classified much more rapidly than a verbal description, which must be processed sequentially. (page 57)
This comes close to my own description of why the Great Stemma is likely to have been devised and what advantages it offered to its users. Oddly, his discussion of hierarchic diagrams only briefly mentions their use for classifying biological species and is silent about their first use to represent human pedigrees.

In his final chapter, Nakatsu briefly alludes to an earlier paper he published on the effectiveness of diagrams when compared them to an alphabetic tabulation of the important data which could be fed into an expert system.
When asked to comment on possible weaknesses of the hierarchic system, participants were able to come up with a few responses. The most popular response was that the hierarchic interface was more complex and that more training would be required to learn and use it (28 participants). It is interesting that a few participants (6 individuals) suggested that the hierarchic interface might be harmful in terms of biasing the user toward a certain way of using the system. That is to say, the user of a flat system is more actively engaged in trying to understand the relationships in the variables, whereas the user of the hierarchic system is more likely to passively accept what the system teIls him or her to do. However, overall, it was c1ear that the hierarchic interface was highly preferable to the flat one. (page 315)
This relates to a point I have referred to myself: diagrams offer a more powerful tool to someone seeking to convince others, because diagrams are more difficult to test analytically. The doctrines in the Great Stemma appear less plausible when explained verbally, but somehow more logical in a neat visualization. Audiences are suspicious, because they are generally aware that diagrams tend to lead to "passive" acceptance and can be inimical to a critical response. It may simply be that we are educated to question what we are told, but we are not trained to question the veracity of what we see.

Nakatsu, Robbie T. Diagrammatic reasoning in AI. Wiley, 2010.

-------- ‘Explanatory Power of Intelligent Systems’. In Intelligent Decision-making Support Systems, 123–143. Decision Engineering. Springer London, 2006. http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/1-84628-231-4_7.