As discussed in a previous post , canon tables were intended to be a functional component of a medieval Gospel manuscript.1 That is perhaps one reason for adding canon tables to an existing Gospel text, such as in the Book of Mulling. While the Mulling Gospels were likely copied in the eighth century, the canon tables are thought to have been inserted in a later period. Beyond their usefulness as a concordance, canon tables also demonstrated the harmony of the Evangelists’ texts.2 In some cases, the agreement was expressed with the decoration framing the tables.
The design of canon tables could vary from manuscript to manuscript. They could be quite plain, as seen in the Book of Mulling (fig. 1). The Mulling canons are simply columns of numbers separated by red vertical lines. Corresponding passages are listed in the same row and so the table resembles a modern spreadsheet.
Canon tables form part of the prefatory material of many Gospel books, including our project manuscript, the Book of Mulling (see previous post). They function as an index of Gospel passages. The system was developed by Eusebius of Caesarea in the fourth century as a means to cross-reference sections recorded by more than one evangelist. Parallels between Gospel versions were thought to reflect the harmony of the texts. The canon table system gave visual affirmation of the agreement among the evangelists’ accounts. 1
To create the canons, all Gospel passages were cataloged on one of ten tables (fig. 1). Canon 1 (I) lists the passages found in all four of the Gospels. Subsequent tables 2-4 (II-IV) list the texts common to three Gospels. Canon II, for example gives parallel passages for Matthew, Mark and Luke. Tables 5-9 (V-IX) show episodes found in two Gospels. The tenth and final canon identifies the remaining texts which were uniquely found in only one account.