Glossae – Scholia – Commentarii

Studies on Commenting Texts in Antiquity and Middle Ages

by Mieczyslaw Mejor (Volume editor) Katarzyna Jazdzewska (Volume editor) Anna Zajchowska (Volume editor)
©2015 Edited Collection 200 Pages


The role of commentary as a basic method of research used broadly in both Classical Antiquity and the Middle Ages still awaits further analysis. Commentary as a research and didactic method becomes especially interesting in a multicultural perspective: were Buddhist and Arabic texts commented in the same way as it was done by late antique and medieval scholars? The extensive medieval commentary literature still awaits scholarly assessment from the perspective of theory of literature as well as methodology and history of various scientific disciplines.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Editors
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of contents
  • Introduction
  • Dorota Muszytowska: Qumran Pesharim as an Example of an Accommodative Commentary
  • 1. Circumstances of pesharim development
  • 2. Pesharim characteristics
  • 2.1. The etymology and semantics of the word pēšer
  • 2.2. Pesher as a literary genre and a method of commenting
  • 3. The technique of recontextualization in from 1QpHab
  • Conclusion
  • Summary
  • Marek Mejor: Buddhist Tradition in Quest of the Authenticity and the True Meaning of the ‘Word of the Buddha’ (buddha-vacana)
  • Bibliography
  • Katarzyna Pachniak: The Muslim Tradition of Commentary: Ibn Rushd’s (Averroes’s) Commentaries on the Works of Aristotle
  • Bibliography
  • Further Reading
  • Adam Bednarczyk: Prose Criticism in the Bush Warbler’s Hideout: Mumyōzōshi as the Earliest Literary Critical Commentary on Genji monogatari
  • Alleged author and date of Mumyōzōshi
  • The most difficult thing to give up in this world
  • Magic of a rainy night
  • The way of judging
  • Mumyōzōshi on Genji’s chapters
  • Fascinating, pleasant, and pitiful women
  • Essay on men and Genji’s miscellanea
  • Conclusion
  • Paweł Dziadul: Andrew of Caesarea’s Commentary on the Book of Revelation and Its Role in Medieval Orthodox Slavonic Literature
  • Bibliography
  • Dominika Budzanowska: Hieronymus’ Revision of Victorinus’ Commentary and Augustine’s Summary of Tyconius’ Rules
  • I. Victorinus and Hieronymus
  • II Tyconius and Augustine
  • Angelika Modlińska-Piekarz: Byzantine Theory of Paraphrase in Rhetorical Treatises and Commentaries and the Original Version of Theon’s Progymnasmata
  • Conclusion
  • Krzysztof Morta: Ancient Commenting Literature and the Etymologies of Isidore of Seville
  • Filip Doroszewski: Commenting with Hexameter. The Imagery of Light and Darkness in Nonnus’ Poetic Exegesis of John 3:1–21
  • The sun and the moon
  • The mysteries of light and darkness
  • Conclusions
  • Abbreviations
  • Adam Poznański: Some Remarks on the Super Esaiam of Pseudo–Joachim of Fiore
  • Izabella Andrzejuk: Aristotélisme ou thomisme? La dispute sur le caractère du discours de l’éthique dans le Commentaire de saint Thomas à L’Éthique à Nicomaque
  • 1. La position de Fernand van Steenberghen sur la question du Commentaire Thomasien à L’Éthique à Nicomaque
  • 2. La position d’Étienne Gilson sur la question de Commentaire Thomasien à l’Éthique à Nicomaque d’Aristote
  • Conclusion
  • Artur Andrzejuk: Le commentaire de Thomas d’Aquin à Liber de causis – odyssée de textes et de conceptions à travers les cultures, les époques et les écoles philosophiques
  • Dorota Gacka: Features of an Explanatio in Three Commentaries from Around the End of the Middle Ages. Some Observations on Commentum of John of Dąbrówka and on Commentaries on Theodulus and Facetus (Lyon 1514)
  • Krzysztof Bracha: Commentaries on the Decalogue in the Late Middle Ages: Between Method and Catechesis. Poland in the European Context. The State of Research and Perspectives
  • Agnieszka Maciąg: “Spiritu ambulate”, id est racionis ductu. Fifteenth-Century Latin Glosses on the Apostolic Letters


“The commentary-tradition, indeed, is so rich and varied in itself that we cannot claim to be comprehensive even in dealing with it alone.”

Medieval Literary Theory and Criticism c.1100-c.1375. The Commentary-Tradition. Ed. by A.J. Minnis, A.B. Scott with assist. of D. Wallace, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991, vii.

A need to comment on a text arises when its contents is concealed before the eyes of the recipient and one must unveil it in order to ensure the text’s understanding. This applies especially to sacred, revealed books, the understanding of which is not possible without proper commentaries and explanations, and also to philosophical, scientific, and medical writings which require continual clarification and elucidation of their contents.

Commentaries are also indispensable tools when a text is archaic and therefore remains obscure without the aid of explanatory comments. These types of commentaries were composed since antiquity, since the Hellenistic period in which the language of Homer and Hesiod was already archaic and in large part incomprehensible.

A commentary is the most characteristic scholarly form of the Middle Ages. It is closely connected with the medieval scholarly methodology which relied on the practice of shared reading and commenting on a text, the aim of which was to reveal the work’s hidden meaning and to express one’s own attitude towards it.

The present collection of studies, titled Glossae, Scholia, Commentarii, focuses on commentary literature coming from diverse cultural and intellectual circles and attempts to appraise similarities and differences between them in regard to methods and techniques employed. We have invited eminent specialists – orientalists, medievalists, and historians of medieval philosophy – from different Polish universities to participate in this project. This book, which is a result of their joint efforts, only partially answers the questions raised. The subject matter is extensive and insufficiently researched; therefore, despite existing previous studies1, a comprehensive synthetic overview of various forms ← 7 | 8 → and genres of commentary literature is still a long way off. The present volume is a collectanea of studies focused on the practice of commenting in different cultures and periods; perhaps it will lead to further interdisciplinary meetings and projects devoted to commentaries and isagogic literature.

The Editors of the book would like to thank the authorities of the Faculty of Humanities at the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw for granting funding that enabled the publication of this volume.

Separate thanks go to Dr Katarzyna Jażdżewska from the Institute of Classical Philology and Culture Studies, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, who has undertaken the task of editing the contributions written in English. ← 8 | 9 →

Mieczysław Mejor

1Cf. e.g. Le Commentaire – Le Commentaire entre tradition et innovation. Actes du Colloque international de l’Institut des Traditions Textuelles (Paris Villejuif, 22 – 25 sept. 1999). Publ. sous dir. Marie-Odile Goulet-Cazé, avec coll. édit. de T. Dorandi, R. Goulet [et al.], Paris 2000, Der Kommentar in Antike und Mittelalter. Beiträge zu seiner Erforschung. Hrsg. von Wilhelm Geerlings, Christian Schulze. Clavis commentariorum antiquitatis et medii aevi, t. 1. Leiden–Köln: Brill, 2002, Der Kommentar in Antike und Mittelalter. Neue Beiträge zu seiner Erforschung. Hrsg. von Wilhelm Geerlings, Christian Schulze. Clavis commentariorum antiquitatis et medii aevi, t. 2. Leiden: Brill, 2004.

Qumran Pesharim as an Example
of an Accommodative Commentary

Dorota Muszytowska

Chair of Old Polish Literature and Rhetoric,
Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw

The term ‘pesher’ (pēšer) has three different meanings in modern scholarship: it is used in reference to texts found in scrolls which were discovered near the Dead Sea, to a form or a genre of commentary literature, and to a method of textual exegesis. The term, then, has a fairly extensive semantic field, as it can refer to specific texts, more broadly to a commentary type they represent, or to a procedure of explaining and clarifying texts, not necessarily limited to a specific literary form. All three meanings, however, relate somehow to the community living at the turn of the first century in the neighborhood of today’s Qumran. This community employed a particular form of text interpretation which it considered sacred, and which can be seen at work both in organizational writings of that community and in commentaries interpreting books of the Bible. Their hermeneutical approach was influenced, on the one hand, by the specific situation and self-awareness of the Qumran community, and on the other hand, by other exegetical traditions of Judaism, in this period not restricted to biblical exegesis. I have in mind, primarily, the impact of understanding and assessment of current and past events in the Old Testament prophetic literature and influence of religious traditions which evolved in close relationship with texts acknowledged as sacred; both influences were increasingly significant during the rabbinic period in halakhic and haggadic midrashes.

The distinction between commenting styles of midrash and pesher is not sharp. They have the same aim: actualization of the message of the interpreted text. However, the methods of the two types of commentaries are not identical. They are founded on different hermeneutical premises, which allow the pesherists to customize interpreted texts in a peculiar way, relevant to current circumstances.

1. Circumstances of pesharim development

As I indicated above, the origin of the commentary literature referred to as pesharim (pēšārîm) is associated with the community living in Qumran, in the ← 9 | 10 → Judean Desert, between around 150/130 BC and 68 AD.1 Archaeological research led in 1947–1965 in Khirbet Qumran and its surroundings, in Wadi Murabba’at, in Khirbet Mird (identified as Hyrcania), as well as in Nahal Hever, Nahal Tse’elim, Nahal Mishmar, and Masada confirmed inhabitation of the area at various times, including the turn of the eras. Numerous scrolls were discovered there, usually made of some sort of parchment, among which there were manuscripts of the biblical texts and commentary literature. Findings discovered in other places of the Judean Desert are not considered as directly connected with the cave findings from Qumran and its neighborhood because of their different dating and character. The latter, however, are commonly associated with the settlement in Qumran itself.2

Yet, the origin of the Qumran scrolls is not clear. One cannot with certainty ascribe them to the population inhabiting the area. There is no proof that the scroll collection belonged only to inhabitants of this settlement, even though the vast majority of researchers recognize a close relationship between the settlement and the manuscripts.3 So far, there is also no satisfactory evidence ← 10 | 11 → enabling us to identify the settlement4 and the community living there at the turn of the eras. Scholars operate on a working hypothesis developed by the first researchers which identified the Qumran people with the Essenes or members of their radical faction.5 This hypothesis is based mainly on interpretation of ancient writings mentioning the Essenoi, their way of life, and places inhabited by them (the main sources here are Pliny the Elder’s Historia Naturalis and the works of Josephus: The Jewish War, Against Apion, and Antiquities of the Jews).6 The Essene hypothesis was constantly modified since the eighties of the twentieth century. As a result, many of its original proposals were rejected, as were some alternative hypotheses (e.g. Qumran association of Zadokites).7 Two issues in particular have been discussed and revised: the connection between the origins of Qumran and the beginnings of the Essene faction and the quasi- monastic character of Qumran community.8

Whether we accept the Essene hypothesis or not, the Qumran scrolls reveal that the community depicted in them held unusual views, which were different from the mainstream opinions of the so-called official Judaism of that period, or at least from the politicized Judaism of the Hasmoneans. Characteristic of the Qumran society are apocalyptic views, which, however, should be distinguished from both the mainstream Old Testament eschatological apocalyptics and the mainstream mystical Enochic apocalyptics. Both these trends are manifest in the Qumran writings, though in a modified form, mainly influenced by sapiential tradition and its way of seeing history (as can be clearly seen in Ages of Creation – 4Q180 and 4Q181). When we take into account the specific political ← 11 | 12 → and religious situation of the community, its views and its conception of “a realizing eschatology” become understandable.9

The main text, the so-called Rule of the Community (1QS) – a compendium of rules governing the community and its life, which influenced other Qumran writings10 – focuses on the biblical idea of the Covenant. The purpose of the Rule was to prepare community members for the eschatic fulfillment of the Covenant, which would consist of the coming of God’s messiah (or messiahs: prophet, king, priest) and his victorious battle over the forces of evil.

The conviction of the Qumran community that they are living in the final times is strongly noticeable in the texts.11 The figure of the Teacher of Righteousness played a significant role in crystallizing such views. In the scrolls, he is contrasted with characters of his opponents – the Wicked Priest, the Man of Lie – and the community named Ephraim or the House of Absalom. Qumran scriptures indicate that the community considered the authority of the Teacher of Righteousness to be unquestionable. A more realistic image is conveyed through documents which are attributed to him, such as the Rule of Community (1QS), the Rule of Congregation (1QSa), the Blessings (1QSb), or hymns called Lehrerlieder from the collection of Hodayot (1QH).12 Although the image in these texts is diversified, it indicates someone aware of his mission and confident about his God-given vocation; someone who is forced to confront opponents who distort God’s intentions and who has to endure false accusations, insults, and persecution.13 The Damascus Document emphasizes in particular the role of the Teacher of Righteousness as the founding leader of the association: “…for twenty years they were like blind men groping for the way. And God observed their deeds, that they sought Him with a whole heart, and He raised up for them a Teacher of Righteousness to guide them in the way of His heart to give later generations the knowledge of what God has done for the last ← 12 | 13 → generation, assembly of traitors and infidels. Indeed, they were the ones who strayed from the path” (CD-A 1,9–13).14 Pesher Ps 37 (4QpPsa 3,15–17) takes up this thread by clearly calling the Teacher of Righteousness the founder and leader of the community. In pesharim, however, the person of the Teacher of Righteousness is idealized. First of all, he emerges as the sole legitimate interpreter of prophets’ words. Only he can properly explain the meaning of community experience and current events which have been foretold by earlier prophets. In pesharim prophetic texts, the Interpreter-Teacher of Righteousness makes references to the contemporary situation in Jerusalem and Judah, to the association which he leads, and also to himself. The type of idealization we observe in pesher texts clearly shows the direction of the evolution of the eschatological views of the community, as well as the possible process of identifying the experience of the Qumran community with the experience of the Teacher of Righteousness.15

The conviction that the time is being fulfilled created a noticeable tension in the community and generated certain behaviors. Reading and meditating on the sacred books was considered one of the most important phases of the preparation. “In any place where is gathered the ten-man quorum, someone must always be engaged in study of the Law, day and night, continually, each one taking his turn. The general membership will be diligent together for the first third of every night of the year, reading aloud from the Book, interpreting Scripture.” (1 QS 6, 6–7).16 An extensive literature considering different ways of interpreting of and commenting on sacred texts was a result of this command. It included paraphrases of entire books (e.g., Paraphrase of Genesis and Exodus – 4Q42) and of smaller units of biblical texts in the form of didactic considerations or narrative midrashes (e.g. Meditation on Creation – 4Q303, 304, 305), as well as targumic translations. But the most significant form of commenting, characteristic for the Qumran community, are continuous and thematic pesharim.17 ← 13 | 14 →

2. Pesharim characteristics

2.1. The etymology and semantics of the word pēšer

The Semitic root pšr has an Akkadian origin.18 In the Hebrew Bible, the root does not exist in the form of a verb, but as a noun Pšer (image).19 In Book of Ecclesiastes 8:1, it was used to describe the ability of the wise man who knows the essence of things and therefore can provide an explanation of the meaning of words (image), which LXX referred to as τίς οιδευ λύσιν ρήματος In the Aramaic biblical texts the root pšr occurs several times in the Book of Daniel: for example, püšar (image) in Dn 4:3 (image) means “explanation of the meaning of a dream”, and in Dn 5:15.26 (image) “explanation of a written text”.20

We find analogous meanings of the root pšr in a Hebrew pesharim from Qumran. In 1QpHab 2.8, the verb ‘to explain’ appears in relation to the activities of the Teacher of Righteousness. It is most noticeable, however, in commentaries on biblical texts as well as in legal and doctrinal texts of the community, where the word ‘explanation/interpretation’ becomes a technical term, used in some sort of a formula. In most biblical commentaries it appears in introductory statements (in the form of image ‘explanation applies to’, image ‘his explanation [i.e. the Teacher of Righteousness] in relation to’, etc.). In doctrinal texts, where the biblical text is not dominant, such formula is not always present, although the contents of a comment is analogous to such formula21; also, if the formula appears, it is either of introductory character (Pišrô al), or, more commonly, of summarizing and informative one, indicating that the interpretation has the highest authority, whereas the biblical quotation serves to reinforce the argument.22 It should be noted that often this model of ← 14 | 15 → argumentation is used not only to provide instruction, but also to interpret events and characters.23 However, the formula which includes the term Pëšer, and which influenced the name of current Qumran commentaries, has a meta-sense and does not merely serve to distinguish formally between the text and the commentary. The semantic range of this term is equivalent to the meaning of the Aramaic püšar as it appears in several passages in the Book of Daniel. The first of them (in chap. 2) is associated with Daniel’s explanation of the meaning of his dream of a mysterious statue which he gives to Nebuchadnezzar. In the text, the explanation is preceded by an eager prayer of Daniel and his three companions to God, who request that he reveals the meaning of the dream. Daniel is thus the mediator through whom God reveals the mystery (räzâ). In the book he is portrayed as a man of God, who was given the ability to solve and explain complicated things (Dn 5:12 image). In the context of the book, calling Daniel an interpreter (pael participle: müpaššar) 5:12 takes on a special meaning. It is not simply that he has an ability to explain something, even exceptional; the ability that he has is not something that can be learned, but is a gift of extraordinary nature, which allows the recipient to get in contact with the supernatural reality. Qumran texts indicate that the Teacher of Righteousness’ ability to interpret the words and the reality is understood in the same way. His interpretations, introduced by a formula containing Pëšer or derivatives, were treated as explanations revealed by God. Hence, pesharim were recognized not only as commentaries on the inspired message, but also as authoritative texts. Their value was not much lesser than that of commented texts.24

2.2. Pesher as a literary genre and a method of commenting

Despite the prevalence of a formula with the root pšr in many Qumran documents, not only in biblical commentaries25, not many texts were recognized as pesharim. The pesharim come from four caves: the first, fourth, fifth, and ← 15 | 16 → eleventh. Their classification takes as the basis few important elements, which at best should occur together and are all significant in determining the genre: the form, content, purpose, and method.26 The pesher commenting method can also be found in the New Testament: an example, though not literal, is provided in chapter 12 of the Gospel of Mark, often referred to as quasi-pesharim.27


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (December)
literarische Genres Kommentare multikulturelle Perspektive
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 200 pp., 1 b/w fig., 5 graphs

Biographical notes

Mieczyslaw Mejor (Volume editor) Katarzyna Jazdzewska (Volume editor) Anna Zajchowska (Volume editor)

Mieczysław Mejor, a medievalist and neo-latinist, is Professor in the Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Head of the Chair of Medieval and Neolatin Literature, Institute of Classical Philology and Culture Studies, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw (Poland). Katarzyna Jażdżewska, a Hellenist, is employed at the Chair of Greek Language and Literature in the Institute of Classical Philology and Culture Studies, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw (Poland). Anna Zajchowska, a medievalist, is employed at the Chair of Medieval and Neolatin Literature, Institute of Classical Philology and Culture Studies, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw (Poland).


Title: Glossae – Scholia – Commentarii