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Old English Bible translations

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The Bible in English
Old English (pre-1066)
Middle English (1066-1500)
Early Modern English (1500-1800)
Modern Christian (1800-)
Modern Jewish (1853-)

A number of Old English Bible translations (pre 1066) were prepared in medieval England, rendering parts of the Bible into the Old English language.

Many of these translations were in fact glosses, prepared and circulated in connection with the Latin Bible, the Vulgate, that was standard in Western Christianity at the time, for the purpose of assisting clerics whose grasp of Latin was imperfect. Old English literature is remarkable for containing a number of incomplete Bible translations that were not glosses and that were meant to be circulated independently.

Known translations

  • Aldhelm, Bishop of Sherborne (b. 639 d. 25 May 709) is thought to have written an Old English translation of the Psalms, although this is disputed.
  • Caedmon is mentioned by Bede as one who sang poems in Old English based on the Bible stories, but he was not involved in translation per se.
  • A translation of the Gospel of John into Old English by the Venerable Bede, which he is said to have prepared shortly before his death around the year 735. This translation is lost; we know of its existence from Cuthbert of Jarrow's account of Bede's death. [1]
  • Eleven other 9th century glosses of the Psalms are known including Eadwine's Canterbury Psalter [3]
  • King Alfred had a number of passages of the Bible circulated in the vernacular around AD 900. These included passages from the Ten Commandments and the Pentateuch, which he prefixed to a code of laws he promulgated around this time. Alfred is also said to have directed the Book of Psalms to have been translated into Old English. Many scholars believe that the fifty Psalms in Old English that are found in the Paris Psalter [4] represent Alfred's translation.
  • Between 950 and 970, Aldred added a gloss in the Northumbrian dialect of Old English (the Northumbrian Gloss on the Gospels) to the Lindisfarne Gospels as well as a forward describing who wrote and decorated it.
The Lord's Prayer - Suae ðonne iuih gie bidde fader urer ðu arð ðu bist in heofnum + in heofnas; sie gehalgad noma ðin; to-cymeð ric ðin. sie willo ðin suae is in heofne J in eorðo. hlaf userne oferwistlic sel us to dæg. J forgef us scylda usra suae uoe forgefon scyldgum usum. J ne inlæd usih in costunge ah gefrig usich from yfle
  • In approximately 990, a full and freestanding version of the four Gospels in idiomatic Old English appeared, in the West Saxon dialect; these are known as the Wessex Gospels. Seven manuscript copies of this translation have survived; they apparently had some currency. This version gives the most familiar Old English version of Matthew 6:9–13, the Lord's Prayer:

Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum, si þin nama gehalgod. To becume þin rice, gewurþe ðin willa, on eorðan swa swa on heofonum. Urne gedæghwamlican hlaf syle us todæg, and forgyf us ure gyltas, swa swa we forgyfað urum gyltendum. And ne gelæd þu us on costnunge, ac alys us of yfele. Soþlice.
  • At about the same time as the Wessex Gospels, a priest of Dorsetshire named Ælfric produced an independent translation of the Pentateuch with Joshua and Judges.
  • The Caedmon manuscript which was initially ascribed to Caedmon, was written between 700-1000. The extant manuscript was copied about 1000. It includes Biblical material in vernacular verses.

In 1066, the Norman conquest of England marked the beginning of the end of the Old English language and initiated profound changes in its vocabulary. The project of translating the Bible into Old English gradually ended after that process began. We then enter the period of change from Old English to Middle English, with concurrent efforts for Bible translations in that language.


  1. Dobbie, E. Van Kirk. "The Manuscripts of Caedmon's Hymn and Bede's Death Song with a Critical Text of the Epistola Cuthberti de obitu Bedae." New York: Columbia university press, 1937. OCLC 188505
  2. Wright, David H. (ed.) "The Vespasian Psalter." Copenhagen: Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1967. (Early English Manuscripts in Facsimile, #14) OCLC 5009657
  3. Harsley, F.(ed.) "Eadwine's Canterbury Psalter.". London: Published for the Early English Text Society by N. Trübner and Co., 1889. (Early English Text Society, Original series; 92) OCLC 360348
  4. Colgrave, B. "The Paris psalter: Ms. Bibliothèque nationale fonds latin 8824." Copenhagen: Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1958. (Early English manuscripts in facsimile; #8) OCLC 717585
  5. Stevenson, J & G. Waring. "The Lindisfarne and Rushworth Gospels. Now first printed from the original manuscripts in the British Museum and the Bodleian Library." Durham: Published for the Society by G. Andrews, 1854-1865. (Publications of the Surtees Society, v. 28, 39, 43, 48)

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