From past to present and beyond the Venerable Bede, figural exegesis, and historical theory

Date of Award


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Theology


Department of Religious Studies


Advisor: John A. Inglis


The importance of historical inquiry in all disciplines in the humanities has dramatically increased over the past century. From the philosophy of language to sociology and anthropology, the historical constitution of knowledge and human action continues to entrench itself in our ways of thinking. While shared values and beliefs constitute the practice of history, each use of history is structured by how it represents its subject matter. Each historical work presents its subject matter within a framework and/or context that cannot be reduced to mere empirical claims. Though logically dependent on empirical claims, historical representation contains non-empirical content. If history cannot ground itself on solely on empirical claims, the possibility of retrieving ancient Christian figural or allegorical modes of reading Scripture presents itself in a new light and can be understood to be historical itself, despite critics who often think it a/unhistorical. This work explores the relationship of the exegetical and historical works of the Venerable Bede to show how conceptions of the past determine the writing of history. It argues that while Bede undoubtedly had a theological conception of the past, his lack of attention to important issues in philosophy and exegesis resulted in ambiguity and problematic readings of the literal sense of Genesis 1 that someone like Augustine was able to avoid. The contemporary lesson to be learned from Bede is that trenchant philosophical and theological issues matter in the writing of history, since they are part of the inevitable representational structure of history. More specifically, Bede is treated, not as object in the past, but as an historian worthy of a place at the table alongside contemporary historians, despite the issues previously mentioned in his work. In fact, despite his own separation of exegesis and history, it is shown that Bede did, just like his contemporary interpreters, use representation in his historical writings and that figural exegesis and history writing have more in common than usually thought.


Bede, the Venerable, Saint, 673-735 Historiography, Bede, the Venerable, Saint, 673-735 Criticism and interpretation, Historiography

Rights Statement

Copyright 2011, author