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A recent discovery and translation of a Latin commentary on the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John has allowed scholars an insight into the ways in which the Bible may have been read and practiced during early Christianity, and it was not always literally. The text, written by a Catholic bishop from mid-fourth century Italy named Fortunatianus, is referred to in ancient sources and has been thought lost, until it was found recently at Cologne Cathedral Library. It has since been translated from Latin by Hugh Houghton, who demonstrates that the literal meaning that can be taken from the Bible is ‘only one of a number of layers.’ For example, the commentary suggests that the number 12, whatever context it is used in, is always ‘a reference to the disciples’, and the number 5 is always ‘a reference to the books of the Jewish law.’

Theology and History applicants could explore why later sources focus on a literal interpretation of the Bible, which some believe is due to the invention of the printing press, and therefore the ability to make exact printed copies. Language students should consider how aspects of interpretation, both literal and allegorical may be lost (or gained) through translation. English Literature and Classics applicants might think about the nature of interpretation, and how the commentary identifies specific words and symbols within the text to decipher alternative meaning. The translation can be found here.

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