From the outset of his career as an author, Bede set himself up as an expert on the future – not, indeed, on future events, but on orthodox thinking concerning the future. The essays in this volume trace this claim in its diverse forms across Bede’s literary output, but it was initially articulated in Bede’s first work of biblical exegesis, the Expositio Apocalypseos. In the light of the aims of Bede and the Future it thus seems particularly pertinent to ask why Bede decided to comment on Revelation at all, and why he did so at a particular point in time. Bede’s commentaries are valuable keys to his thinking on a wide range of topics relating to theology, spirituality, church discipline, secular and ecclesiastical authority, and Christian life and learning, but comparatively little sustained attention has been paid to Bede’s choice of particular books of the Bible for commentary, or the timing of these choices. The fact that he was selective tends to get lost in generalisations about Bede’s unwavering lifelong mission to distil existing patristic commentaries, and to fill the remaining gaps in the exegetical library with expositions of Scripture suitable for the newly converted English. This gives the impression that the timing of Bede’s commentaries was driven by commissions from others, such as Bishop Acca, or failing that, by Bede’s inner fascinations and preferences.1 But such explanations are not entirely persuasive. To begin with, Bede did not tackle every book of the Bible expounded by the Fathers: his total neglect of the Prophets, apart from the lost capitula lectionum
1 See for example, G.H. Brown, A companion to Bede (Woodbridge, 2009), 34; B. Ward, e Venerable Bede (London, 1990), 66. Increasingly, the shape of Bede’s work as an exegete – what he commented on, when (including the interruptions in his writing process) and how (e.g. what was included or omitted) – is seen as driven by his evolving ecclesial and broadly political concerns. Notable examples are S. DeGregorio, ‘Bede’s In Ezram et Neemiam and the reform of the Northumbrian Church’, Speculum, 79 (2004), 1-25; ‘Footsteps of his own: Bede’s commentary on Ezra-Nehemiah’, in Innovation and tradition in the writings of the Venerable Bede, ed. S. DeGregorio (Morgantown WV, 2006), 11-35; and ‘Bede and the Old Testament’, in e
mentioned in Historia ecclesiastica 5.24, and of the Psalms, is particularly striking. There are similar weaknesses in the gap-filling hypothesis. Bede chose to fill some gaps with exceptional density: the commentaries on the Tabernacle and the Temple, which expand a few chapters of the Old Testament into fullscale treatises, are cases in point. On the other hand, he did not think good to fill other gaps underserved by the works of the fathers, such as Joshua, Judges and Ruth, or Lamentations.