About the project


In Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, few people knew how to read or write. The common person usually became familiar with texts by hearing them recited or by seeing them represented artistically in liturgical, theatrical and ritual performances. Lectionaries – broadly understood as texts of different genres which inform the liturgical performance of one or more biblical passages – are the key link between the Bible and people, between intellectuals and the uneducated, between theory and praxis and, therefore, between the fields of literary and ritual studies. As such, lectionaries are important not only for scholars of Eastern and Western liturgies, but also for exegetes of the Old and New Testaments as well as for historians researching Jewish – Christian relations. In short, they are essential for any scholar attempting to understand Christianity and Judaism as living religions both in the past and present. This database is a deliberate attempt to bring to the fore the dimensions of liturgical performance and ritual in the study of early Christianity and Judaism, where texts continue to be perceived as falling primarily under the elitist domains of philology, dogma and literature.

Scholarly Aims

Our aim is to assemble the vast data contained in all ancient lectionaries, both Jewish and Christian, and make them easily accessible for and conveniently searchable by scholars interested in liturgy, the Wirkungsgeschichte of biblical texts, as well as by historians. We truly believe that publishing materials on the web is the most convenient way to provide free and immediate access to those important texts which form the basis for much of human culture. Publicizing these materials electronically allows anyone with internet access to utilize these texts and enables these materials to reach a broader audience.

Why Is This Database Important and to Whom?

This database will enable biblical scholars to quickly research the ritual Sitz im Leben of scriptural chapters or verses, which is critical for studying the impact of the Bible (the Wirkungsgeschichte). In addition, liturgical experts will be able to compare different reading traditions more easily and comprehensively. Historians as well as patristic and rabbinic scholars can utilize the database for a variety of purposes, such as finding the chronological and liturgical context of a homily or evaluating whether a biblical pericope might have an impact during a particular season of the year. With the help of the database, scholars will also be able to compare the prevalence of a text within the database to the number of extant exegetical treatises, along with carrying out many other statistical queries.

Why Have Lectionaries Remained an Understudied Subject Matter?

Despite their significance, lectionaries have been severely understudied. As a consequence, almost no commentary on the Bible includes thorough references to the liturgical life of a text - despite the fact that modern exegesis has understood the importance of the history of Biblical interpretation (e.g. Evangelisch-Katholischer Kommentar).

One of the factors contributing to this phenomenon is the fragmentation of modern university life, where exegetes and liturgists, scholars of the Church Fathers and scholars of Rabbinic Judaism, rarely collaborate. Liturgy is usually a Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican or – more rarely – a Jewish field. Scholars from each of these disciplines usually focus on their own religious traditions; and liturgical study programs are seldom established in non-theological institutions and rarely carry out comparative analyses of different traditions.

An additional reason why lectionaries have remained an understudied subject matter is that this discipline is highly complex and contains an immense amount of data. The reading traditions of the Christian East as well as those of the West can be distinguished by several large families. On the Christian side we may list among others Roman, Gallican, Mozarabic, Byzantine, Jerusalem [Armenian and Georgian], Coptic, as well as East and West Syrian. The Jewish families consist of Sephardic, Ashkenazic, Yemenite, Byzantine, Italian rites that read the Torah in one year and Palestinian rites that read the Torah in three years or more. Some of these traditions are quite homogeneous (such as Roman and Byzantine Christian or the various derivations of the annual Jewish rite), while others are extremely heterogeneous, differing from manuscript to manuscript (e.g. West Syrian).

A third reason why lectionaries remain an understudied field is the fact that information relating to lectionaries is dispersed throughout many sources and is difficult to locate. Currently, anybody trying to identify when different Churches would read a specific biblical chapter is forced to consult dozens of books, many of which are rare. For serious studies on Syriac, Coptic or Jewish Palestinian liturgy, one would have to locate and consult countless additional manuscripts as well. While the database will not replace these publications, it will make their core information easily accessible and will help the user decide which materials are worth consulting.

An Inclusive Approach: Types of Texts Included in the Database

Our website attempts to be as inclusive as possible and aims to compile all Jewish and Christian texts, thereby providing information on regular biblical readings. Many different genres of such texts exist. First and foremost, there are various forms of lectionaries. Some include the text to be read, e.g. Evangelaries (readings of the Gospels), Epistolaries (readings of the Epistles), and Menologies. Others are simply notations on the margins of biblical manuscripts, give only the chapter and verse number, or merely provide the first and last verses of the pericopes which are to be read. There is also a great deal of data scattered throughout many different texts. This data mainly focuses on local rites in patristic documents, in Midrashim or in some Piyyutim (Jewish liturgical hymns) which mention a Haftarah in connection to a Torah reading in one or the other synagogue of Byzantine and Muslim Palestine.

A Dynamic Approach: A Growing Database

Current and Future Content

The database has been launched with the introduction of a group of basic Christian and Jewish lectionaries, which represent the major liturgical families. We are continuing to expand the database by diversifying the larger families and by adding smaller local rites, single manuscripts and various reconstructions. At the moment, our aim is to digitalize all lectionaries from the first millennium; later we hope to include texts up to the age of print.

We have also begun mapping those lectionaries which will eventually be included in the database, and we welcome any references to lectionaries that we can include in this database.

In addition, important Patristic and Midrashic data exists which can be analyzed for the purposes of reconstructing the Biblical readings of prominent Church figures or Synagogues. Michael Margoni-Koegler (Vienna) and Harald Buchinger (Rome) are researching this issue in the cases of Augustine and Origen and will contribute their relevant results to this database.

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