The Oldest Extant Irish Manuscript

I was buzzing about the webdom and came across a curious find: the oldest extant Irish manuscript in existence. Of course, there has to be an “oldest” of everything, but the surprise is two-fold:

The text is from the 6th century. To give some perspective, Ireland was evangelized in the 5th century (sometime) and the earliest accounts of that period are from the 6th century or later.

The text is written in wax. Just as the Greek word for writing (γραφής/γράφω) is literally “a scratch/scratching,” this text was produced not with ink but by scratching the wax to form letters.

Wax tablets had been utilized in the ancient world for nearly a millennium prior to this Irish production, yet they were used for taking notes and writing exercises. In other words, the tablets were used for practice rather than production.

Compare this to the Book of Kells, written from the 6th-9th centuries. The artwork is exquisite, and one quickly sees that the book is a piece of art. This kind of work and time is precisely the opposite of what we see in the earlier wax tablet.

What is astonishing about this is that the Book of Kells was a masterpiece and is preserved today. Many other biblical manuscripts from that period are still extant, but they represent probably less than 5% of the manuscripts that were in circulation at those times. Somehow a wax tablet codex survived for a millennium and a half, something no other manuscript from Ireland can claim, and something that only a choice few manuscripts worldwide can claim.

Rather remarkable and impressive.

The text is of Psalms 30 and 31, which I provided below with certain particularly “Christian” elements in bold.

Psalm 30

1 [For the end, a Psalm of David, [an utterance] of extreme fear.]

O Lord, I have hoped in thee; let me never be ashamed: deliver me in thy righteousness and rescue me.

2 Incline thine ear to me; make haste to rescue me: be thou to me for a protecting God, and for a house of refuge to save me.

3 For thou art my strength and my refuge; and thou shalt guide me for thy name’s sake, and maintain me.

4 Thou shalt bring me out of the snare which they have hidden for me; for thou, O Lord, art my defender.

5 Into thine hands I will commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.

6 Thou has hated them that idly persist in vanities: but I have hoped in the Lord.

7 I will exult and be glad in thy mercy: for thou hast looked upon mine affliction; thou hast saved my soul from distresses.

8 And thou hast not shut me up into the hands of the enemy: thou hast set my feet in a wide place.

9 Pity me, O Lord, for I am afflicted: my eye is troubled with indignation, my soul and by belly.

10 For my life is spent with grief, and my years with groanings: my strength has been weakened through poverty, and my bones are troubled.

11 I became a reproach among all mine enemies, but exceedingly so to my neighbours, and a fear to mine acquaintance: they that saw me without fled from me.

12 I have been forgotten as a dead man out of mind: I am become as a broken vessel.

13 For I heard the slander of many that dwelt round about: when they were gathered together against me, they took counsel to take my life.

14 But I hoped in thee, O Lord: I said, Thou art my God.

15 My lots are in thy hands: deliver me from the hand of mine enemies,

16 and from them that persecute me. Make thy face to shine upon thy servant: save me in thy mercy.

17 O Lord, let me not be ashamed, for I have called upon thee: let the ungodly be ashamed, and brought down to Hades.

18 Let the deceitful lips become dumb, which speak iniquity against the righteous with pride and scorn.

19 How abundant is the multitude of thy goodness, O Lord, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee! thou hast wrought [it] out for them that hope on thee, in the presence of the sons of men.

20 Thou wilt hide them in the secret of thy presence from the vexation of man: thou wilt screen them in a tabernacle from the contradiction of tongues.

21 Blessed be the Lord: for he has magnified his mercy in a fortified city.

22 But I said in my extreme fear, I am cast out from the sight of thine eyes: therefore thou didst hearken, O Lord, to the voice of my supplication when I cried to thee.

23 Love the Lord, all ye his saints: for the Lord seeks for truth, and renders [a reward] to them that deal very proudly.

24 Be of good courage, and let your heart be strengthened, all ye that hope in the Lord.

Psalm 31

1 [[A Psalm] of instruction by David.]

Blessed [are they] whose transgressions are forgiven, and who sins are covered.

2 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin, and whose mouth there is no guile.

3 Because I kept silence, my bones waxed old, from my crying all the day.

4 For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: I became thoroughly miserable while a thorn was fastened in [me].


5 I acknowledged my sin, and hid not mine iniquity: I said, I will confess mine iniquity to the Lord against myself; and thou forgavest the ungodliness of my heart.


6 Therefore shall every holy one pray to thee in a fit time: only in the deluge of many waters they shall not come nigh to him.

7 Thou art my refuge from the affliction that encompasses me; my joy, to deliver me from them that have compassed me.


8 I will instruct thee and guide thee (should read “judge with you and stride with you”) in this way wherein thou shalt go: I will fix mine eyes upon thee.

9 Be ye not as horse and mule, which have no understanding; [but thou must] constrain their jaws with bit and curb, lest they should come nigh to thee.

10 Many are the scourges of the sinner: but him that hopes in the Lord mercy shall compass about.

11 Be glad in the Lord, and exult, ye righteous: and glory, all ye that are upright in heart.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s