Glosses, Biblical

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The term "gloss," it has been said, may be applied to almost every form of biblical exposition. This article points out the several ways in which it has been used.

A biblical gloss may be defined as one or more words, usually only a few, added in the margin or between the lines of a text, in explanation of an obscure word. Although generally helpful to the exegete, it cannot always be relied on as a correct clarification. The glossator, or author, of the gloss may be well intentioned but in error or purposely tendentious.

As glosses multiplied it was found convenient to gather them into separate books, either in the order of their occurrences or alphabetically. A collection of this sort forms a glossary, also at times called a gloss. Among the principal glossaries containing biblical terms are the lexicon (preserved in a much interpolated MS of the 15th century) of the fourth-century Alexandrian lexicographer Hesychius, the nineth-century lexicon of photius, the tenth-century lexicon of the Suidas, and the 12th-or 13th-century Etymologicum Magnum. For a printed collection, see F. W. Sturz, Glossae sacrae N.T. illustratae (Leipzig 181820).

Although glosses originally consisted of only a few words, they grew in length as glossators enlarged them with their own comments and quotations from the Fathers. Thus the tiny gloss evolved into a running commentary of an entire book. The best-known commentary of this type is the vast Glossa ordinaria of the 12th and 13th centuries. Its marginal glosses were formerly ascribed to walafrid strabo (d. 849), but recent studies demonstrate that both its marginal and interlinear glosses were compiled from Latin translations of Origen and Hesychius, from Latin Fathers, and from medieval glossators under the direction of anselm of laon (d. 1117). In appearance, a page contains a very few words of the Latin Vulgate text at the center surrounded by extensive marginal and interlinear glosses. So great was the influence of the Glossa ordinaria on biblical and philosophical studies in the Middle Ages that it was called "the tongue of Scripture" and "the bible of scholasticism." Of the many printed editions, one of the best is that of Leander a St. Martin (6 v. Antwerp 1634).

The term "gloss" is also used of words in the Bible itself that were not part of the original writing but were accidentally or intentionally embodied into the text by a transcriber. The existence of glosses in biblical manuscripts is universally admitted but often difficult to discern. Differences in style and vocabulary or an introductory phrase (e.g., "that is") are signs of a possible gloss. It is one of the tasks of the textual critic, frequently quite difficult, to disentangle a gloss from the genuine text.

See Also: exegesis, medieval.

Bibliography: j. schmid, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiberg 195765) 4:968970. b. smalley, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Tübingen 195765) 2:162728; The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages (2d ed. New York 1952; repr. Notre Dame, Ind. 1964) 4666. f. vigouroux, Dictionnaire de la Bible, ed. f. vigouroux (Paris 18951912) 3.1:252258.

[c. o'c. sloane]