Duodecim Prophetae, cum glossa: A Glossa Ordinaria from La Bussiere, France

By Sara Paola Guerra Rubí

The gloss on the Bible, also known as the Glossa Ordinaria, is a pedagogical and devotional text that became popular during the High Middle Ages.  Beginning around the twelfth century onwards, the text of the Latin Vulgate was commonly copied by scribes into structured manuscripts accompanied by commentaries from various authoritative sources.  These referenced  texts include the Church Fathers, Cassadorius, Isidore, Bede, and other medieval exegetes and intellectuals.  The term “gloss” comes from the Latin and Greek word for tongue (language) and it should not be confused with texts labeled as “commentaries,” as these only pertain to compilations that house the comments of a single author.  Glosses, in their most common form, are manuscripts that contain a series of biblical texts accompanied by a “set of marginal and interlinear comments and explanations.”[i]  These added excerpts discuss different interpretive theories or mention subjects like etymology and terminology as they relate to the biblical text on the page.

The format of the Gloss is one of the most distinctive features that distinguishes it from other Christian compositions; some Jewish exegetical texts also adopted these gloss formats.  The layout and script of the manuscript is meant to guide the reader through the text.  Scripture is laid out continuously in the center of the page, and the font of this text is much larger than the comments added in the margins.  This is done in order to visually distinguish between the holy words of Scripture and the exegesis of scholars.[ii]  This means that in some structural aspects, glosses not only had a practical purpose; their features also pointed to theological ideas and concepts, like the special, inspired status of the Bible.  In addition, the biblical text is double spaced to allow for several smaller glosses to weave between the scriptural lines.  All comments on a certain verse or passage are included alongside the Scripture on the same page.  In addition, glosses often employ the use of different symbols and markers to signal where a comment or biblical passage begins.  In the manuscript displayed in this exhibit, each separate comment is marked with a sign that looks like the modern indent symbol, each new verse is signaled with a larger capital letter, and the transition from one book of the Bible to the next is announced by a decorated initial.

Figure 1: The different font sizes help the reader of the gloss distinguish between the Scripture and the theological commentary.  This image depicts the decorated initial (V) that marks the beginning of the book of Micah.  A smaller, distinguishable “A” in the word Audite (listen) points to the beginning of the second verse in the first chapter.

Figure 2:
The symbol that looks like a modern indentation sign helps the reader know when a comment from a patristic or authoritative source begins and ends.

The Gloss included in this exhibition (Latin 17222) was produced in the Cistercian Abbey in La Bussiere, France during the first half of the thirteenth century.  It contains within it the biblical books categorized as the “twelve minor prophets,” along with patristic and exegetical commentary.  The twelve minor prophets appear in the manuscript in the following order: Hosea (Osee), Joel (Ioel), Amos, Obadiah (Abdias), Jonah (Ionas), Micah (Micaeas), Nahum, Habakkuk (Habacuc), Zephaniah (Sophonias), Haggai (Aggaeus), Zechariah (Zacharias), and Malachi (Malachias).  This is how the minor prophets are arranged in the Vulgate, as this is believed to be the proper chronological order of the texts.  For the sake of this brief introduction to the Latin 17222 manuscript, we will focus on the books of Hosea, Nahum, Zephaniah, and Zechariah, as their contents relate to the city of Jerusalem.  After a short discussion of these books of Scripture, this introduction will turn its focus to the added patristic commentary featured alongside each mentioned passage or chapter.

The Latin 17222 manuscript opens with a set of two prefaces to the minor prophets.  Most notably, the first preface comes from Jerome’s introduction to this set of books in his Vulgate, as it was compiled by Carolingian scholars.  All these features are common among Glosses.  In his brief prologue, Jerome dedicates these Scriptural translations to two individuals named Paula and Eustochium (Paula’s daughter).  The narrative of the life of Saint Paula is especially linked to Jerusalem.  In a letter penned by St. Jerome, he attempts to comfort Eustochium after the death of her mother.  Jerome mentions Paula’s famous pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where she visited many holy sites in Jerusalem and venerated them with ardent devotion.  As mentions in the letter, “What tears she shed there (in the Lord’s tomb), what groans she uttered, and what grief she poured forth, all Jerusalem knows; the Lord also to whom she prayed knows.”[iii]  At the end of her journey, Paula decides to remain close to Jerusalem, in the town of Bethlehem, where she remains until her death.  Finally, Jerome mentions in his preface the different sets of Hebrew prophets that were contemporaneous with each other.  He also claims that the order in which the books are compiled is a feature handed down from Jewish tradition, which orders the books of the prophets according to their date of composition.

Figure 3:
In this image of a sentence in St. Jerome’s “Prologue to the Twelve Prophets,” he names his two patrons.  “I would only you were warned this, O Paul and Eustochium: the book of the Twelve Prophets to be one; (not in the picture) and Hosea a contemporary of Isaiah; (and) Malachi in fact to have been of the times of Haggai and Zachariah.”

The book of Hosea is the first book included in the list of the minor prophets, and it focuses on the theme of loyalty to God. It is believed to have been composed from 750-725 BCE.  The first three chapters of Hosea, especially, represent Jerusalem through the figure of a prostitute or harlot.  This personified Jerusalem has gone after her lovers and made God rightfully resentful of her abandonment.  It is because of this that God makes her path difficult and punishes her through the suffering of her children and the defilement of her status.  God then tells Hosea to “love a woman who is a lover and an adulteress, just as the Lord loves the people of Israel” (Hosea 3:1).  However, despite the current state of Jerusalem and the people who used to live within it, God still points Hosea to the possibility of redemption and a promised, eventual return to the divine presence of God and their sacred spaces.  Jerome, in his Three Books of Commentary on the Prophet Hosea to Pammachus, mentions that the term “fornication,” as it is used in the book of the prophet Hosea, refers to the idolatrous practices of the Israelites.  Jerome also links this specific action attributed to the personification of Jerusalem to the heretics of his time.  He mentions that “heretics go after these (foreign) lovers according to spiritual understanding; when often they are deserted by them, they are turned back to the bosom of mother church by the weight of evils.”[iv]  Finally, Jerome re-interprets the story in this biblical book through a Christian lens.  Though he acknowledges that the period of suffering mentioned in Hosea refers directly to the seventy years of exile in Babylon when there were no priests or a temple in Jerusalem, he says that Christians should think of this story in relation to the end of times when the people of Israel will see their mistake in rejecting Christ.  This rejection is, according to Jerome, analogous with the abandonment of God by Israel before the first destruction of the temple.  In a similar way, Jerusalem and the Jewish people will be punished for fornicating with other figures and ideas and not accepting Jesus, who was sent primarily to save them.

The prophecy of Nahum centers on the downfall of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyria Empire.  This disaster came about because the people in this city failed to listen to God.  The fall of the major city featured in this prophetic book mirrors the fall of Jerusalem and is meant to remind the Jewish people of God’s will, power, and judgment, for it is only God who can liberate them from the oppression of a foreign empire by destroying the Neo-Babylonian’s most important city.  The book of Nahum was written between 630 and 612 BCE.  For both the Israelite authors and the Christian scholars commenting on this book, Nahum’s text describes the ultimate governance of God over his creation.  Since Christian and Jewish thinkers only made reference to Nineveh in relation to the exile and Jerusalem, this significant site was only necessary as long as it played a role in the prophetic narrative.  This status of liminal and secondary importance held by this Assyrian city differs greatly from the historical, cultural, and religious significance linked to the city of Jerusalem.

The book of Zephaniah dates to around 630 BCE.  Zephaniah himself is believed to be a contemporary of Jeremiah, Nahum, and Habakkuk.  This prophetic book discusses the idolatry and injustice occurring in Jerusalem and admonishes the Jewish and Gentile nations of an impending day of doom.  The final prophet discussed in this entry, Zechariah, dates his work to “the second year of Darius the king (1:1), which would be around 520 BCE.”[v]  This biblical book is apocalyptic in style and highly messianic.  Jerusalem is represented in Zechariah as the dwelling place of God’s people. By this time in Jewish history, the exiles were released from captivity in Babylon by the Persian emperor Cyrus and had returned to Jerusalem.  Jerusalem is depicted in Zechariah through two literary senses.  The first refers to the rebuilt, physical city of Jerusalem.  The second refers to Jerusalem as the dwelling place for the people of God in which they will accept the coming of the Messiah and the end of times.[vi]  Jerome, in his biblical commentary, posits a third image of Jerusalem.  This Jerusalem represents not an earthly or heavenly city, but the Christian church.  As he mentions in his commentary on Zechariah, “Jerusalem and Zion… can be understood as the church, which does not consider the wars of this world, nor lowly and earthly things, but peace and harmony and the heights of the heavens.”[vii]  Jerome mentions that the decline in the bureaucratic and moral state of the Church will cause the church to be handed over to dangers and persecutors, in order to test the valuable members of the Church.  Although the adversaries sent to test the people will destroy the earthly, physical Jerusalem (the Church), Jesus will arrive at the end of time to build his Church back up.  Jerome repeats the language utilized by Jewish scholars, prophets, and exegetes when talking about Israel and Jerusalem, but places these images of a heavenly institution or space in conversation with Christian theological imagination.

Figure 4:
In this biblical verse one can see Jerusalem and Zion mentioned along with some added commentary.  Part of the verse reads: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: I have been zealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great zeal” (Zechariah 1:14).

Why were the compilers of these types of manuscripts so interested in including these patristic commentaries that point to Jerusalem’s inherent theological importance?  This question points the reader to the cultural, artistic, and literary impact of the Crusades.  During this period the repossession of Jerusalem symbolized (for the European Christian population) the superiority of Christianity, the prestige of the Western church, and the effective safe-guarding of the patrimony of Jesus, the apostles, and other holy figures.[viii]  This clerical and popular interest in the city is reflected in the continued appeal of pilgrimage to its holy sites and the resulting literature and manuscripts that attempted to take the reader to Jerusalem through their narratives.  Even pedagogical texts like glosses concerned themselves with placing patristic commentary on Jerusalem next to Scriptural depictions of the city, making it clear that, in some way, these texts were interested in establishing the importance of this particular city in the Christian theological and devotional imagination.  Even after the Crusader states fell, Jerusalem still continued to loom large in the minds of medieval writers and artists, who widely copied texts that depicted the Holy city within the Crusader context.[ix]  As one can see, the effects of the Crusades and the campaigns that stirred up support for these enterprises were felt throughout the High Middle Ages.

The Latin 17222 manuscript references personifications and images of Jerusalem as they relate to prophetic narratives.  The Scripture points to how Jerusalem was portrayed by the Jewish authors of the texts named after the minor prophets, and the comments in the margins and between the lines, authored by Christian readers of the biblical texts, complement or challenge these interpretive claims.  These additions to the biblical text through the Christian glosses introduce their own historical and theological concerns.  This, inevitably, shifts the role and importance of Jerusalem in the medieval imagination.  This interest in reinterpreting Jerusalem through a Christian lens might also be linked to the historical and cultural developments that followed the advent of Crusader culture.

Sara Paola Guerra Rubí is a senior History and Theology major from a small town in the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico.  She currently enjoys painting, hanging out with her dogs, and reading about the Biblical Apocrypha. 

This blog post was originally written for Prof. Sarit Kattan Gribetz’s “Medieval Jerusalem: Jewish Christian, Muslim Perspectives” course, and is featured in the exhibition catalogue “Jerusalem in the Stacks.” 


[1] Smith, Glossa Ordinaria, 1.

[2] Smith, Glossa Ordinaria, 5.

[3] Jerome, “Letter 108,” 6.

[4] Jerome & Scheck, Commentaries on the Twelve Prophets, 162.

[5] Melhus, “The Minor Prophets,” 95.

[6] Melhus, “The Minor Prophets,” 96.

[7] Jerome & Scheck, Commentaries on the Twelve Prophets, 9.

[8] Armstrong, Jerusalem, 427.

[9] Westwell, “Medieval Depictions of the Crusades,” 1.


Armstrong, Karen. “Chapter 13: Crusade,” in Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths, 426–59. New York: Ballantine Books, 1997.

Doob Sakenfeld, Katharine, James Raymond Mueller, and M. Jack Suggs. The Oxford Study Bible: Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Jerome. “Letter 108.” Translated by W.G. Martley, W.H. Fremantle, and G Lewis. Church Fathers: Letter 108 (Jerome), 1893. https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3001108.htm.

Jerome, trans. by Kevin P. Edgecomb. “Jerome, Prologue to the Twelve Prophets (2006).” tertullian.org. Accessed December 5, 2020. http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/jerome_preface_prophets.htm.

Jerome, and Thomas P. Scheck. Commentaries on the Twelve Prophets. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2017.

Melhus, Dan. “The Minor Prophets.” padfield.com, n.d. https://www.padfield.com/acrobat/asher/minor-prophets-mehus.pdf.

Smith, Lesley. Glossa Ordinaria: The Making of a Medieval Bible Commentary. Boston: Brill, 2009.

“Twelve Minor Prophets.” Latin-English Study Bible (with translation notes), 2020. http://www.sacredbible.org/studybible/.

Westwell, Chantry. “Medieval Depictions of the Crusades.” Medieval manuscripts blog, March 29, 2017.