Friday, 1 May 2015

Gregory Robbins: Many a Gaud and a Glittering Toy' (Sayers): Fourth-Century Gospel Books

In describing events in Caesarea after 260 CE, during the reign of Gallienus, Eusebius records that Marinus, a would-be Roman centurion, was willing to sacrifice promotion to rank and life itself for the sake of his Christian confession-symbolized by his devotion to a book of the Gospels (HE 7.15). The martyrdom of Vincent depicted in the Galla Placidia mausoleum (Ravenna) comes to mind. A little over a century later, Jerome castigates Roman Christians for their devotion to de luxe codices on purple-dyed vellum with gold lettering, bedecked with gems, "while Christ lies at their door naked and dying" (Epist. 22.32; cf., 107.12.1). Chrysostom complains that wealthy Christians procure private copies of the scriptures not to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest their content, but to revere the elegance of their calligraphy, the fineness of their parchment (hom in Jo. 32.3). What sort of books these? Not pandects, this communication argues. More likely, they were Gospel books fitted with elegant covers, not illuminated, but equipped with Eusebius' sections and canons, which would become the locus of figurative and auriferous embellishment. While these volumes are status markers for wealthy Christians, transitional forebears of the illustrated Gospel books and Old Testament fascicles that appear in the 5th and 6th Centuries, e.g., Cotton Genesis, Vienna Genesis, the Rossano Gospels, the Sinope Gospels, the British Library Canon Tables, &c.), they also reflect a moment in Christian book production when Eusebius' practical apparatus is on its way to becoming a synecdoche for the Christian enterprise.

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