Biblical Archaeology Review 35:6, November/December 2009

Past Perfect: A Knight in Bethlehem?

The prologue of The Travels of Sir John Mandeville begins in old-fashioned English, “I, John Mandeville, Knight, albeit I be not worthy, that was born in England, in the town of St. Albans, and passed the sea in the year of our Lord Jesu[s] Christ, 1322, in the day of St. Michael.” Although it has been widely read ever since its publication around 1360, modern scholars believe that the book was not actually an account of Mandeville’s own travels through the Holy Land, Turkey, Armenia, Persia, Syria, Arabia, Egypt, Africa and India; nor do they believe he was a knight.

Written in Latin, the popular book was quickly translated into Anglo-Norman French, English and several other languages. Mandeville may be responsible for some of these translations. He continues in his prologue: “And ye shall understand, that I have put this book out of Latin into French, and translated it again out of French into English, that every man of my nation may understand it.”

Five hundred years passed before scholars determined that most of the travelogue consisted of a compilation of other travelers’ pilgrimages from the 12th and 13th centuries. The few remaining passages that have not been identified from other works were presumably written by Mandeville.

Following is an excerpt of a journey from Hebron to Bethlehem, and from there, to Jerusalem:

Join the BAS Library!

Already a library member? Log in here.

Institution user? Log in with your IP address.