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Reference: English Versions


1. The history of the English Bible begins early in the history of the English people, though not quite at the beginning of it, and only slowly attains to any magnitude. The Bible which was brought into the country by the first missionaries, by Aidan in the north and Augustine in the south, was the Latin Bible; and for some considerable time after the first preaching of Christianity to the English no vernacular version would be required. Nor is there any trace of a vernacular Bible in the Celtic Church, which still existed in Wales and Ireland. The literary language of the educated minority was Latin; and the instruction of the newly converted English tribes was carried on by oral teaching and preaching. As time went on, however, and monasteries were founded, many of whose inmates were imperfectly acquainted either with English or with Latin, a demand arose for English translations of the Scriptures. This took two forms. On the one hand, there was a call for word-for-word translations of the Latin, which might assist readers to a comprehension of the Latin Bible; and, on the other, for continuous versions or paraphrases, which might be read to, or by, those whose skill in reading Latin was small.

2. The earliest form, so far as is known, in which this demand was met was the poem of Caedmon, the work of a monk of Whitby in the third quarter of the 7th cent., which gives a metrical paraphrase of parts of both Testaments. The only extant MS of the poem (in the Bodleian) belongs to the end of the 10th cent., and it is doubtful how much of it really goes back to the time of Caedmon. In any case, the poem as it appears here does not appear to be later than the 8th century. A tradition, originating with Bale, attributed an English version of the Psalms to Aldhelm, bishop of Sherborne (d. 707), but it appears to be quite baseless (see A. S. Cook, Bibl. Quot. in Old Eng. Prose Writers, 1878, pp. xiv

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