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.

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