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 Sortes Biblicae - seeking a divine opinion.

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Meles meles
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PostSubject: Sortes Biblicae - seeking a divine opinion.    Tue 08 May 2018, 09:41

I’ve just been reading one of Ellis Peters' Cadfael books 'The Holy Thief' set in 1145,  in which there is a dispute between three parties over who gets to keep the reliquary containing the bones of St Winifred. To decide they resort to using the Sortes Biblicae to find out what the saint herself thinks: each party in turn opens the Bible (in the story they use the Gospels) at random and without looking puts their finger somewhere in the text and reads out the indicated verse. In the story the verses are fairly clear in indicating the saint’s wishes but I imagine the method could well lead, not to a straight-forward resolution, but rather to much argument and disagreement as to how the verses should be interpreted.

I’d never really come across this practice before other than as a plot device in books or film, but Ellis Peters has usually thoroughly done her homework on historical matters, and she implies they were also sometimes used to get a divine opinion following voting for senior ecclesiastical positions, such as a bishop. (She mentions, although I’m not sure how true this is, the case of Bishop Wulfstan of Worcester who was doubtless pleased to get: “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile”, while Roger of Salisbury wasn’t so lucky as he got: “Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into outer darkness.”)

But how widespread was this practice I wonder, and how seriously were the prognostic pronouncements taken, especially if they went against the popular decision? And there must always have been the suspicion that someone might cheat or somehow influence the result.


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PostSubject: Re: Sortes Biblicae - seeking a divine opinion.    Tue 08 May 2018, 23:47

@Meles meles wrote:
I’ve just been reading one of Ellis Peters' Cadfael books 'The Holy Thief' set in 1145,  in which there is a dispute between three parties over who gets to keep the reliquary containing the bones of St Winifred. To decide they resort to using the Sortes Biblicae to find out what the saint herself thinks: each party in turn opens the Bible (in the story they use the Gospels) at random and without looking puts their finger somewhere in the text and reads out the indicated verse. In the story the verses are fairly clear in indicating the saint’s wishes but I imagine the method could well lead, not to a straight-forward resolution, but rather to much argument and disagreement as to how the verses should be interpreted.

I’d never really come across this practice before other than as a plot device in books or film, but Ellis Peters has usually thoroughly done her homework on historical matters, and she implies they were also sometimes used to get a divine opinion following voting for senior ecclesiastical positions, such as a bishop. (She mentions, although I’m not sure how true this is, the case of Bishop Wulfstan of Worcester who was doubtless pleased to get: “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile”, while Roger of Salisbury wasn’t so lucky as he got: “Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into outer darkness.”)

But how widespread was this practice I wonder, and how seriously were the prognostic pronouncements taken, especially if they went against the popular decision? And there must always have been the suspicion that someone might cheat or somehow influence the result.

Meles meles,

first of all, I see now when you used "she" that Ellis Peters is a woman. Ellis I presume is a men's name (but of continentals as we, you neverknow with English names Wink )? But by looking to the writer I see that Ellis was a nom de plume and that she was indeed a woman...
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cadfael_Chronicles

And my mother was a fervent fan from Brother Cadfael and  read all the books available in the library of Ostend. As I also many times did. But I was so busy with all kind of things that time that I rather had time to read...and with a divorce in between...but later I pointed to the TV series of Cadfael and then my mother looked to every episode on TV too...yes a real fan...

And thanks to you I looked this evening to the historical background of the chronicles and saw again how less I know about British history...
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Anarchy

And reading that I came on Henry II the first Plantagenet...and then rang a bell...and indeed Eleanora of Aquitaine, that I commented overhere...that magistral work from Alison Weir...thus where the "anarchy" stops , start my novel.
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7076074-captive-queen
And  there of course nearly a summary of the book:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_II_of_England

During that year of kidney dialysis I seem to have with reading the novel mentioned, and a novel about the War of the Roses (also commented overhere) and then the Elisabeth I Queen (the least one a bit controversial historical, as Elisabeth had a child) have had some enlightenment about these three perionds of British history...


And you can watch the episodes on internet with subtitles, even in Danish Nielsen ...



Meles meles about the "Sortes Biblicae" I found this:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sortes_Sanctorum

A rather dubious? I have not controlled the "about us":
http://www.biblicalcyclopedia.com/S/soothsaying-in-christian-times.html


And:
https://goo.gl/g51pYk

And even Augustinus seems to allow the Christian lottery: the "Sortes Biblicae"
https://goo.gl/sP9sAU

Kind regards from Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Sortes Biblicae - seeking a divine opinion.    Wed 09 May 2018, 09:48

In the book "The Deadliest Sin" by the Medieval Murderers which I mentioned on another thread, summoning spirits (rather than using the Sortes Biblicae) for is used as a plot device in a story by Karen Maitland.  I won't go into detail in case anybody reads the book sometime - I don't want to "spoil".  Using the Sortes Biblicae seems very superstitious by modern standards.  Of course there were all sorts of dodgy things went on in medieval times - were "relic" sellers a medieval equivalent of the rogues who ring one up and claim to be from Microsoft and want to get control of one's computer?  Or maybe the relic sellers were people who had fallen on hard times in days when there was no Welfare State and had to do what they could to survive.  Maybe the people who bought the relics were not so much simple as feeling sorry for the sellers.

Now, it's not quite the same thing but in one of Toni Morrison's books one of the characters is called "First Corinthians" - I can't remember now how the character comes to be thus named but I think inspiration for names was sought from the Bible.
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PostSubject: Re: Sortes Biblicae - seeking a divine opinion.    Wed 09 May 2018, 11:36

@LadyinRetirement wrote:
Using the Sortes Biblicae seems very superstitious by modern standards. 

Well yes, but then the whole concept, then or now, of seeking to communicate with a long dead person, whether by Sortes Biblicae or just prayer, seems superstitious to my mind. While I accept that in the 12th century people did have unquestioning faith in the power of God and the Saints, they also had a healthy scepticism for the honesty (or dishonesty), gullibility and fallibility, of their all too human, fellow man. What was to stop someone carefully marking a page in advance or simply "reading" out a suitable memorised verse? And what happened if the Sortes Biblicae indicated the Saint to have a particularly partisan view completely at variance with popular opinion?
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PostSubject: Re: Sortes Biblicae - seeking a divine opinion.    Thu 10 May 2018, 10:40

@PaulRyckier wrote:
@Meles meles wrote:
I’ve just been reading one of Ellis Peters' Cadfael books 'The Holy Thief' set in 1145,  in which there is a dispute between three parties over who gets to keep the reliquary containing the bones of St Winifred. To decide they resort to using the Sortes Biblicae to find out what the saint herself thinks: each party in turn opens the Bible (in the story they use the Gospels) at random and without looking puts their finger somewhere in the text and reads out the indicated verse. In the story the verses are fairly clear in indicating the saint’s wishes but I imagine the method could well lead, not to a straight-forward resolution, but rather to much argument and disagreement as to how the verses should be interpreted.

I’d never really come across this practice before other than as a plot device in books or film, but Ellis Peters has usually thoroughly done her homework on historical matters, and she implies they were also sometimes used to get a divine opinion following voting for senior ecclesiastical positions, such as a bishop. (She mentions, although I’m not sure how true this is, the case of Bishop Wulfstan of Worcester who was doubtless pleased to get: “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile”, while Roger of Salisbury wasn’t so lucky as he got: “Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into outer darkness.”)

But how widespread was this practice I wonder, and how seriously were the prognostic pronouncements taken, especially if they went against the popular decision? And there must always have been the suspicion that someone might cheat or somehow influence the result.

Meles meles,

...
And my mother was a fervent fan from Brother Cadfael and  read all the books available in the library of Ostend. As I also many times did. But I was so busy with all kind of things that time that I rather had time to read...and with a divorce in between...but later I pointed to the TV series of Cadfael and then my mother looked to every episode on TV too...yes a real fan...

And thanks to you I looked this evening to the historical background of the chronicles and saw again how less I know about British history...
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Anarchy

...


And you can watch the episodes on internet with subtitles, even in Danish Nielsen ...



...

Kind regards from Paul.

Hello Paul,

As an aside, at best I do not watch much television except the news, and when in German or English I prefer it without subtitles as I think these detracts too much from play on words, double entendres, and the underlining understanding of whatever the culture may be.

I did read the Brother Cadfael books, and indeed I have them in the bookcases beside my computer. 
I haven't seen the TV adaptions, as I wasn't aware of them being made, and already having read the books. 
Imho, I hold the opinion, that screenwriters generally tend to 'dumb down' what may have been a good story, in order to conform it to the format of TV.

Kind regards from me, too.
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PostSubject: Re: Sortes Biblicae - seeking a divine opinion.    Thu 10 May 2018, 14:15

Looking at this on Wiki, the Greeks and Romans used this method as well, only using Homer and Virgil instead of the Bible:

Brutus used this practice, which informed him Pompey would lose the battle of Pharsalus.

Drawing Iliad 16, 849 "By the cruel crown of Fate I was undone / And by the rancor of Latona's son.". Latona's son was Apollo, and Apollo was the Republican forces' password on the day of the battle.
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PostSubject: Re: Sortes Biblicae - seeking a divine opinion.    Thu 10 May 2018, 14:27

Re Medieval Detectives.......... Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose;

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PostSubject: Re: Sortes Biblicae - seeking a divine opinion.    Thu 10 May 2018, 14:38

Thanks for that Trike about the Romans using Virgil and the Illiad ... very interesting.

Didn't the Romans, as well as doing all that dodgy augur stuff about reading the movements of doves and eagles across the sky (doubtless released on demand or attracted with suitable bait if you had the ready cash to arrange it), also do divination with chickens and the sacred Capitoline geese ... laying out a matrix of letters scratched on the ground; putting a grain of corn in each square; then releasing a fowl to see which letter it would peck at first? All rather reminiscent of ouija boards if you ask me.
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PostSubject: Re: Sortes Biblicae - seeking a divine opinion.    Thu 10 May 2018, 15:01

The classic example of this are the sacred chickens which refused to eat prior to the naval Battle of Drepana during the First Punic War.

The less than impressed Consul, Publius Claudius Pulcher had the offending chickens thrown overboard.

The Romans lost.


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PostSubject: Re: Sortes Biblicae - seeking a divine opinion.    Thu 10 May 2018, 16:00

It's not trying to find the future by divination but there was a practice that I picked up from other kids (when I was about 5) of crossing my fingers when I saw an ambulance and not uncrossing them until I saw a 4-legged animal.  That was superstitious I suppose but I haven't a clue where it stemmed from.  Another thing involving crossing fingers was when we played tick (might be called tag in some parts of the county) if one crossed one's fingers and said "Barleys" one was immune to being ticked.  I think they say (if this practice still exists in children's games) "Faynights" in some parts of the country.  As I say I haven't a clue where crossing one's fingers in these practices came from.
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PostSubject: Re: Sortes Biblicae - seeking a divine opinion.    Thu 10 May 2018, 22:51

@Meles meles wrote:
What was to stop someone carefully marking a page in advance or simply "reading" out a suitable memorised verse? And what happened if the Sortes Biblicae indicated the Saint to have a particularly partisan view completely at variance with popular opinion?

There is some evidence to suggest that Sortes Biblicae was even used in ... The Bible. This stems from an episode in the New Testament when, following the death of Judas Iscariot, the disciples meet to choose his successor. In the Acts of the Apostles we are told that the meeting was chaired by Simon Peter who proclaimed that:

'this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas'

This is a reference to King David of the Old Testament and his Book of Psalms. Peter goes on to explain:

'For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take.'

This seems fair enough until one appreciates that 2 separate quotations from 2 separate psalms are cobbled together here. The first part ‘Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein’ is a misquotation of Psalm 69 verse 25 which actually reads ‘Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents’. Note the use of the plural ‘their’ and also the word ‘tents’. One wonders why Peter chose such an obscure and seemingly unhelpful quotation and then had to change it to suit the situation. Not only that, but the subsequent resolution that another should take Judas’ bishopric, clearly and immediately contradicts Psalm 69 which says ‘let none dwell in his tents’. One can only surmise that Psalm 69 verse 25 was indeed chosen at random (no doubt under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) and that Peter then had to scour the rest of the Book of Psalms until he came across Psalm 109 verse 8 ‘and let another take his office’ in order to try to somehow fix the skew.
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PostSubject: Re: Sortes Biblicae - seeking a divine opinion.    Fri 11 May 2018, 08:53

"Sortes Biblicæ" sounds like a Christian version of how the Sybilline Verses books had been traditionally used in Roman law anyway from the pre-republican monarchical times right up to late empire. Besides being handy for justifying military, domestic and foreign policy initiatives, they were also used quite a lot in matters of "high law" in which leading citizens were on trial for something or other and it was deemed judicious that no other individual or sect should be seen as an outright accuser in the case, and especially not the one to pass judgement (politics are fluid and one never knows when such things can come back and bite you in the bum). Cicero hated the process - he thought it simply meant the accusers hadn't the balls to carry through with their arguments against the accused - and in particular derided how, after the originals had been destroyed in the Marian Dictatorship, they had been replaced by random Greek gibberish that didn't even make sense in their original tongue. Though he also had to admit that their even greater ambiguity simply made them even more politically useful. He dared Catiline at one point during his trial to place his innocence or guilt in the hands of the scripture, though with the sardonic warning that he reckoned the prophetess's favour may not be as forthcoming for him as it had been for his hero Sulla, another great advocate of their use in law, especially when in total control of their "interpreters" as dictator himself.

However the Verses were accessible to everyone for a fee, being also used in more trivial domestic and financial lawsuits using an established legal method of payment, legal representation, and then contracted commitment to whatever "interpretation" was adduced by the legally appointed haruspex, and exactly in the same way as ecclesiastical courts would later use the Bible. Cicero, being the lawyer that we was, understood this process precisely for what it really was, and instead urged clients to opt instead for augury (his argument being that at least the birds being observed were visibly acting as independent agents - also, no two augurs ever agreed anyway).

Ironically the only copies we have nowadays of the Sybilline Verses are fragments originating from Christian scribes (they are part of a codex which includes Judaeo-Christian texts), and believed to be total concoctions - probably designed in the late 3rd or early 4th century to settle a particular political dispute in Rimini in which the nascent church acted as "honest broker" between the parties, but for whatever reason deemed it injudicious to use their own scriptures. However they were literate enough, and apparently locally established enough as an authority, to emulate the state-approved method of the day and duly obliged, even to the extent of writing their own Greek gibberish for the occasion. Whether they went the whole hog (pardon the pun) and dissected a farm animal so that its intestines might tell them which passage of the verses they should quote in judgement is anyone's guess. But that was only one method Cicero mentioned anyway - licking one's thumb and flicking through the codex was probably just as acceptable by that time.
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PostSubject: Re: Sortes Biblicae - seeking a divine opinion.    Fri 11 May 2018, 10:38

Ah yes the Sybilline verses ... and in relation to their ambiguity and the flexibility of their interpretation, I'm rather minded of that scene in 'I Claudius' when a lightning bolt strikes the 'C' from Augustus Caesar's name on the temple, and he immediately goes into a decline believing it means he only has C=100 days left to live ... until a friend says, but might it not mean 100 weeks? Or that he'll live to be 100? Whereupon Augustus's health immediately rallies.

Going back specifically to the sortes biblicae ... augurary and divination, and hence the related practice sortilege (taking the sortes), are specifically denounced by several verses in the Bible and accordingly the use of sortes biblicae were repeatedly condemned. For example in France, the synods of Vannes (465CE), Agde (506), Orleans (511) and Auxerre (570-590) all passed ordinances vowing to excommunicate any Christian who was detected  practicing, consulting or teaching it. St Augustine argued that in his opinion this type of Bible lottery was not a correct use of Biblical texts, especially when it was used to seek answers to mundane earthly matters, in that it twisted the main purpose of the Scriptures, it bred laziness and ignorance (avoiding serious Biblical study) and it made a mockery of God's word by mixing it with the forbidden methodology of divination:
"I am displeased with this custom, which turns the divine oracles, which were intended to teach us concerning the higher life, to the business of the world and the vanities of the present life".

Nevertheless according to Bruce Metzger writing in 'The Oxford Companion to the Bible', there are a few manuscripts of the Gospels (from roughly 3rd to 10th centuries) that even contain small footnote-type phrases written on the bottom of certain pages, that seem to have been added as fortune-cookie style statements that could specifically be used as sortes: "you will be saved from danger", "expect a great miracle", "seek something else", and so forth.
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PostSubject: Re: Sortes Biblicae - seeking a divine opinion.    Fri 11 May 2018, 11:45

If the church condemned the practice, I would wager it was less to do with opposition to superstitious nonsense (as if) and more to do with retaining control over such superstition, discouraging unofficial and incidental use of their jealously controlled scripture for such unpredictable ends.

And of course with any organisation founded on superstition, one can easily find direct contradictions of their "official" stance in their own internal "official" behaviour.

Up to the latter half of the 20th century it was completely permissable behaviour - in fact a traditionally important part of the procedure - that the enclave meeting to elect a new pope should be informed of the last passage from the Bible the previous incumbent had been reading at the time he snuffed it. The data even had official variants of "quality" to it, ranging from high-end stuff like a dead pontiff conveniently found with his finger still pointing to a passage reading "here's the guy", much like Cesare Borgia declared regarding his daddy Pope Alexander VI's use of Samuel 8:1 as good deathbed reading material, down to really low-level auguries such as some bedpan bringer vaguely remembering the senile old git mumbling something about "appoint blancmange to cool before consuming, it says so in the book of Mrs Beeton". It was still all highly relevant stuff apparently and open to very severe interpretation as potentially the divine prediction of the one true God and fully deserving of extreme theological deliberation, at least until it was overruled in favour of appointing the lad anyway who had the most gen (and of course the negatives) concerning his fellow cardinals' activities behind the spiritual bike sheds.
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