Sandals and scandals

The Book of Kells TCD MS 58 f145v

The Book of Kells is generally recognised as the greatest treasure in the Library. A copy of the four Gospels in Latin, it was produced around the year 800 AD. While the extent of its decoration makes it famous, the frequent carelessness of its scribes in copying the Gospels is less well known.

Folio 145v provides one example. At Mark’s Gospel 6.3-9, those who listen to Jesus identify him, disparagingly, as ‘[the carpenter, the son of Mary,] the brother of James, and Joseph, and Jude, and Simon’ (the top line reads, frater iacobi et ioseph et iudae et simonis), and are scandalised by the attention being paid to one of such humble background. Jesus remarks on their lack of belief, saying ‘A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country’. He calls together the apostles, sending them out to preach in pairs. They are to carry only a staff – no money or food – and are to be shod in sandals. At the last line, the scribe has become confused between the words for scandals and sandals, mistakenly writing that the apostles were to be ‘shod with scandals’ (calciatos scandalis); he should of course have written sandaliis. This is a typical scribal slip caused by inattention to the meaning of a text.

The Book of Kells TCD MS 58 f145v detail

Bernard Meehan

[adapted from Bernard Meehan, The Book of Kells, to be published by Thames & Hudson in November 2012]