Giannozzo Manetti’s New Testament

Giannozzo Manetti’s New Testament
95503Annet den Haan
ISBN: 978-90-04-32374-2
Series and Volume number: Brill’s Studies in Intellectual History, Volume 257/1
List price EUR: 199 / List price US$: 239

In Giannozzo Manetti’s New Testament Annet den Haan analyses the Latin translation of the Greek New Testament made by the fifteenth-century humanist Giannozzo Manetti (1396-1459). The book includes the first edition of Manetti’s text.

Manetti’s translation was the first since Jerome’s Vulgate, and it predates Erasmus’ Novum Instrumentum by half a century. Written at the Vatican court in the 1450s, it is a unique example of humanist philology applied to the sacred text in the pre-Reformation era. Den Haan argues that Manetti’s translation was influenced by Valla’s Annotationes, and compares Manetti’s translation method with his treatise on correct translation, Apologeticus (1458).

One of the benefits of reading widely in one’s field and related areas is that one can always learn very interesting facts about what is often portrayed as a fairly straight line of events in history.  For instance, the common supposition is that the poor Germans languished under the oppression of the Vulgate version of the Bible until Luther arrived and, out of the blue, without precedent, translated the Bible from Hebrew (with a lot of help) and Greek (with as much help from Melanchthon as without his help) into German for the first time.

Of course that simply isn’t what happened.  There were numerous translations of the Bible into German before Luther came on the scene.

The same is true in the area of ‘Bible translations’ in Latin.  Jerome may have been the most famous of the translators but he wasn’t the only one.  The present volume introduces us to Manetti’s translation of the New Testament.  Our author describes Manetti’s life, aims in translation, and significance.  He also provides an edition of Manetti’s Latin New Testament which is an authentic delight to read.  This is important because Manetti’s edition was never published and exists in only two manuscripts- one which is quite good and the other which is utter rubbish.

Manetti is probably barely known, which makes this volume even more important.  He was, it seems by all accounts, one of the most important intellectuals of his day.  Accordingly, we’re informed

The first purpose of this book is therefore to make Manetti’s translation accessible to Renaissance scholars (p. 2).

It is also quite useful for biblical scholars and textual critics.  A few pages later den Haan writes

… the so-called ‘Protestant Paradigm’, the common belief that before Luther, the ordinary man and woman could access the sacred text only through the mediation of the Church, which repressed lay book possession and did everything in its power to control religious culture. All this changed only with the Reformation, when the Bible was given back to the lay believer, who could now read and interpret the text for himself.

This belief in a breach with the Middle Ages was actively promoted by the Protestants themselves, and it is now deeply rooted in the collective memory of the Western world. In a recent study on the Bible in late-medieval England, Andrew Gow challenges the Protestant Paradigm. Gow complains of ‘whiggish’ historiography, arguing that the Church indeed imposed restrictions on lay Bible possession, but that there was hardly any (effective) repression, and that the average lay-reader had not more, but less freedom after Luther.  Similar studies for other regions and languages have appeared since (pp 3-4).

I cite this rather extensive section to show that it is not only Renaissance scholars who can learn a great deal from this work or text critics but students of the Reformation as well.

The contents of the volume are these:

  • Manetti’s Life and Works
  • Writing Process
  • Textual Criticism
  • Translation Theory from Antiquity to the Renaissance
  • Apologeticus
  • Translation Method
  • The New Testament Translation of Manetti

A sample of den Haan’s method may be useful to potential readers of the volume.  So, whilst discussing Manetti’s translation method den Haan writes

His main reason for dismissing the ad verbum method is that it compromises the meaning of the original. This happens because the meaning of idiomatic expressions is determined by the way they are used, not by the meaning of the words they consist of.

The clearest example of such an expression in the New Testament is the Greek ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχω [‘to be pregnant’], which literally means ‘to have in the belly’. In the Vulgate, it is rendered by in utero habeo. Valla commented on this unidiomatic translation at Matthew 1:18 and 1:23, and at 1 Thessalonians 5:3.20 Manetti translated it as pregnans [‘pregnant’] at Matthew 1:18, concipio [‘to conceive’] at Matthew 1:23, and parturio [‘to be in labour’] at 1 Thessalonians 5:3. He preserved the unidiomatic in utero habeo at Revelation 12:2. Similary, at 1 John 2:27, he replaced et non necesse habetis [‘you do not need’] with et non est uobis opus, a less literal translation of the Greek οὐ χρείαν ἔχετε.

This volume is an extraordinary accomplishment.  Readers learn so very much about Manetti and the practice of translation, and the Latin edition of  Manetti of the New Testament is a most welcome addition to the library of every New Testament scholar.

About Jim

I am a Pastor, and Lecturer in Church History and Biblical Studies at Ming Hua Theological College.
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