Reference bible

  • Latin, Hiberno-Latin
  • prose
  • Hiberno-Latin texts
An extensive Latin compendium of exegetical commentary on every book of the Bible. It has been dated to the eighth century and is commonly thought to be Irish in origin or Irish-influenced at the least.
Reference bible
also known, per Bernhard Bischoff, as Das Bibelwerk.


  • Latin Hiberno-Latin
8th century
prose (primary)


Hiberno-Latin textsHiberno-Latin texts


Primary sources Text editions and/or modern translations – in whole or in part – along with publications containing additions and corrections, if known. Diplomatic editions, facsimiles and digital image reproductions of the manuscripts are not always listed here but may be found in entries for the relevant manuscripts. For historical purposes, early editions, transcriptions and translations are not excluded, even if their reliability does not meet modern standards.

Edition wanted
An edition by Seán Connolly is forthcoming.
[ed.] MacGinty, Gerard, The Reference bible – Das Bibelwerk: Pauca problesmata de enigmatibus ex tomis canonicis. Praefatio et Libri de Pentateucho Moysi, Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Mediaevalis, 173, Turnhout: Brepols, 2000.  
The text that has conventionally become known in German as Das Bibelwerk is now generally referred to in English as the Reference Bible. This work has rather a schoolroom air. After a general ‘Praefatio’ the books of the Old Testament are treated according to the LXX canon, with, however, the omission of Lamentationes and Baruch. Among the various books, Genesis receives the most extensive treatment. The Latin title of the work, Pauca Problesmata states very accurately the general approach. There is no attempt at a coherent exegesis of the text; rather various matters which interested the compiler(s) are dealt with, mostly by citing short excerpts from the Fathers. In this, repetion is not avoided. B. Bischoff has suggested that the text was originally drafted around the year 750 A.D., and this has been generally accepted. An analysis of the stylistic features of the text led Bischoff to decide in favour of an Irish, or Irish-influenced centre of origin. His arguments are still valid, and there are many other detailed arguments from the language and orthography - particularly as represented by the Vatican Manuscript - which could confirm ultimate Irish inspiration and possible autorship.
Critical edition of the commentary on the Pentateuch

Secondary sources (select)

Monk, Christopher, “A context for the sexualization of monsters in The wonders of the East”, Anglo-Saxon England 41 (2012): 79–99.
McNamara, Martin, “Five Irish psalter texts”, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 109 C (2009): 37–104.  
In 1973 the present writer published an essay on the psalms in the early Irish Church (from AD 600 to 1200). In this he reviewed the material available for a study of the subject and gave a more detailed examination of some of the texts. The present work intends to supplement the 1973 essay. It concentrates on three central topics:

(1) the full collation of a hitherto unstudied text, the fragments of an Irish Hebraicum Psalter in MS. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF) fr. 2452 (tenth century), fols 75-84, which on analysis is revealed as an early representative of the typical Irish recension of the Hebraicum (AKI—the sigla for the psalter text of the three MSS Amiatinus, Florence, Biblioteca Mediceo-Laurenziana Amiatino I; Karlsruhe, Badische Landesbibliothek, Aug. perg. 38; Rouen, Bibliothèque municipale 24 [A. 41]);

(2) a more detailed examination of the Psalter of Cormac (thirteenth century);

and (3) of the so-called Psalter of Caimin (c. 1100).

With these, two comments on two other psalters are also given (that in the 'Reference Bible' and the Double Psalter of St-Ouen) while a preliminary section treats of texts having a bearing on the understanding of the psalter in Ireland (the Tituli psalmorum attributed to Bede; psalm prologues and biblical canticles and psalm prayers).
McNamara, Martin, “The newly-identified Cambridge Apocalypse commentary and the Reference bible: a preliminary inquiry”, Peritia 15 (2001): 208–260.  
A discussion of the newly discovered commentary on the Apocalypse in Cambridge, University Library, Dd X 16 (s. x, probably of Breton provenance) and a comparison of its text with that of the Reference bible (c.AD 750). Three extensive passages of both texts are cited as the basis for comparison. In addition, there is a general discussion of commentaries on the Apocalypse and of the possible sources of the Cambridge commentary.
MacGinty, Gerard, “The Pentateuch of the Reference Bible: the problem concerning its sources”, in: Thomas OʼLoughlin (ed.), The Scriptures and early medieval Ireland: proceedings of the 1993 Conference of the Society for Hiberno-Latin Studies on Early Irish Exegesis and Homilectics, 31, Steenbrugge, Turnhout: In Abbatia S. Petri, Brepols, 1999. 163–177.
McNamara, Martin, “Plan and source analysis of Das Bibelwerk, Old Testament”, in: Próinséas Ní Chatháin, and Michael Richter (eds), Irland und die Christenheit: Bibelstudien und Mission. Ireland and Christendom: the Bible and the missions, Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1987. 84–112.
Kelly, Joseph Francis T., “Das Bibelwerk: organization and Quellenanalyse of the New Testament section”, in: Próinséas Ní Chatháin, and Michael Richter (eds), Irland und die Christenheit: Bibelstudien und Mission. Ireland and Christendom: the Bible and the missions, Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1987. 113–123.
Kelly, Joseph F., “Hiberno-Latin exegesis and exegetes”, Annuale Mediaevale 21 (1981): 46–60.
Bischoff, Bernhard, “Wendepunkte in der Geschichte der lateinischen Exegese im Frühmittelalter”, Sacris Erudiri 6 (1954): 189–279.
231 [‘1A’]
C. A., Dennis Groenewegen
Page created
June 2015, last updated: May 2023