Peter the Chanter's Distinctiones Abel
This influential and innovative work of twelfth-century biblical scholarship displays the multiple senses of some eleven hundred biblical terms, arranged in alphabetical order. Preserved in nearly ninety manuscript copies, it stands at the head of a series of similar aids for preachers and students of the Bible. Its immediate context is the practice of "distinguishing" the senses of terms in a biblical text as the backbone of a sermon, a novel practice employed by several masters of the late twelfth century, notably by Peter's colleague in Paris, Peter Comestor. The Distinctiones Abel was compiled in an age of organization and may be compared with such searchable reference works as Gratian's Decretum, the Glosa Ordinaria, the new Latin dictionaries, and Peter Lombard's Sentences. It is among the first scholarly works to use the alphabet as a technique of information retrieval. Only selections of the work have been printed before; this editio princeps will be of interest to intellectual historians and those interested in medieval biblical studies, homiletics, popular imagery, and allegory.
The Introduction itself is a major work of scholarship in a new field. It includes a brief account of Peter the Chanter's life and work, a survey of the genre 'distinctiones,' an extensive desciption of the manuscripts, many of them treated in print for the first time, along with a thorough exposition of the sophisticated methodology of textual criticism employed.
Stephen A. Barney has been Associate Professor of English at Yale University, and is Emeritus Professor of English at the University of California, Irvine.