Michael Fox

title.none: Powell and Scragg, eds, Apocryphal Texts (Michael Fox )

identifier.other: baj9928.0402.037 04.02.37

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Michael Fox , University of Alberta,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Powell, Kathryn, and Donald Scragg, eds. Apocryphal Texts and Traditions in Anglo-Saxon England. Series: Publications of the Manchester Centre for Anglo-Saxon Studies, vol. 2. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2003. Pp. xi, 170. $85.00 0-85991-774-6. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.02.37

Powell, Kathryn, and Donald Scragg, eds. Apocryphal Texts and Traditions in Anglo-Saxon England. Series: Publications of the Manchester Centre for Anglo-Saxon Studies, vol. 2. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2003. Pp. xi, 170. $85.00 0-85991-774-6. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Michael Fox
University of Alberta

Apocryphal Texts and Traditions in Anglo-Saxon England, edited by Kathryn Powell and Donald Scragg, is the second volume in the new Publications of the Manchester Centre for Anglo-Saxon Studies series. This collection, which has its origins in a 2001 conference at Manchester, intends to "retrieve . . . apocryphal traditions from the margins of scholarship," by providing detailed studies of works which are often mentioned with reference to Anglo-Saxon England, but which are rarely the subject of concentrated study (i). The book contains nine contributions, an index, and ten illustrations; there is no bibliography. Overall, the text is quite clean, and I detected no errors which might confound readers.

The specially-commissioned introductory chapter by Frederick M. Biggs, "An Introduction and Overview of Recent Work," is an excellent introduction to the issues. Noting first that Anglo-Saxonists still have much to contribute to the study of apocryphal texts in general--a fact which tends often to be overlooked, both by Anglo-Saxonists and those outside our specific field--Biggs then defines and discusses the use of the terms "apocrypha" and "pseudepigrapha." Biggs examines the evidence of biblical codices and Anglo-Saxon authors for what might have been considered canonical [[1]], and offers an assessment of modern attitudes toward defining apocrypha, followed by "some patristic and Anglo-Saxon uses of the term," and what Old English glosses might have to add. In discussing Anglo-Saxon England specifically, Biggs notes the importance of Charles D. Wright's The Irish Tradition in Old English Literature and Michael Lapidge and Bernhard Bischoff's Biblical Commentaries from the Canterbury School, using the former as his main authority for concluding that the Irish "pass on to the English both entire apocryphal texts and specific information drawn from them," and that Irish biblical commentaries also play an important role in the transmission of these texts (22). A minor point: Biggs might at least have noted the continuing debate about the degree to which we can safely talk about a school of Hiberno-Latin exegesis. [[2]]

In "The Apocalypse of Thomas: Some New Latin Texts and their Significance for the Old English Versions," Charles D. Wright notes that the Latin textual tradition of the Apocalypse is "extremely complex"; "it has never been adequately sorted out, and there has never been a complete critical edition," a situation which has resulted further in a general lack of knowledge of critical analysis of the work (28-9). Wright, who has a full edition of the text in preparation, gives the reader a mass of information here, including manuscripts, manuscript contents and associations, and a separate treatment of the Old English versions (Vercelli XV; Corpus 41; Bazire-Cross 3; Blickling VII) and their relation to the Latin (although not in full--the edition will complete this aspect of the study). Wright sorts out the confusion of the "non-interpolated," "interpolated," and abbreviated versions-- twelve manuscripts in all--and includes an edition of three previously unpublished texts, plus three additional abbreviated texts which Wright himself has discovered, thus giving us six manuscript versions in parallel-column format at the conclusion of the article.

Thomas N. Hall's "Aelfric and the Epistle to the Laodiceans" investigates why Aelfric, always considered the most careful and orthodox of writers, might have counted the fifteenth Pauline epistle in his enumeration of the biblical books in his Letter to Sigeweard. Hall demonstrates that Aelfric had to have been well aware that the Epistle to Laodiceans was not generally considered canonical, but his rationale, Hall argues, is that the addition of the epistle brings the total number of scriptural books to seventy-two, thus matching the "number of nations and languages dispersed at the Tower of Babel," and "the number of disciples sent forth by Christ" (73). In at least this one instance, then, Aelfric relies more on "the insight that derives from his own individual experience as a reader" than the judgements of the Fathers, conciliar legislation or the Pseudo-Gelasian Decree (81). Hall's article is also extremely useful for its survey of opinions on the constitution of the complete Bible, and for discussion of Aelfric's Letter to Sigeweard, about which very little has been written. To conclude the article, Hall offers an edition of the Epistle to the Laodiceans as it is found in BL, Royal 1.E.viii. His edition complements an earlier translation with source notes which demonstrates the Epistle's status as a pastiche of quotations and borrowings from genuine Pauline epistles.

"The Versus Sibyllae de die iudicii in Anglo-Saxon England" is the concern of Patrizia Lendinara, who surveys the different versions and surviving evidence for the so-called Oracula Sibyllina. Lendinara's focus, however, is on Book VIII, that part of the Oracula which was translated by Augustine in De ciuitate Dei XVIII.23, though she notes that the acrostic likely circulated in another version in addition to that of Augustine. Evidence for knowledge of the verses in Anglo-Saxon England is given, and the importance of the piece for the signs of Judgement is discussed. What seems slightly odd here is that Lendinara points out that there are unstudied Anglo-Saxon versions of the verses--in CCCC 173 and BL, Royal 15.B.xix, for example, though the latter may be quite late--and makes some observations about each, but does not go further; additional comments or perhaps even "editions" of these exemplars would have been a welcome addition to the article.

Aideen M. O'Learys "Apostolic Passiones in Early Anglo-Saxon England" attempts "to show when and in what forms apostolic apocrypha reached Anglo-Saxon England, and in which centres of learning they circulated," with "implications for understanding Old English treatments of the apostles" (104). O'Leary traces the Latin evidence, mainly in Aldhelm (the fourth Carmen ecclesiasticum and both prose and poetic versions of De uirginitate) and Bede (the Retractatio in Actus Apostolorum), but including Acca's tendency to collect apostolic material, and concludes that these passiones were known in Anglo-Saxon England, by about AD 700. They seem always to have circulated, and to have been referred to, in collected form, though "the issue of which collection of passiones might have circulated in early Anglo-Saxon England is a difficult one" (116). The passiones are clearly important evidence for Anglo-Saxon attitudes toward the apostles, and we may look forward to O'Leary's future edition of one or more of these texts.

In a discussion of "The Fall of the Angels in Solomon and Saturn II," Daniel Anlezark gives an excellent summary of the history of this extra-scriptural event, though he is primarily interested in the possible influence of the Book of Enoch. As possible evidence for knowledge of the Book in Anglo-Saxon England, Anlezark mentions Bede's Commentary on the Seven Catholic Epistles and BL, Royal 5.E.xiii, the latter of which contains a twenty-five line fragment somewhat resembling the Book of Enoch CVI.1-18. Both Bede and the fragment are far from convincing evidence, however, and at least one scholar of the books of Enoch has stated that the fragment comes rather from an early world chronicle than from a Latin translation of the Enoch material. [[3]] In addition, this fragment concerns the birth of Noah, and thus transmits relatively orthodox detail--even if it could be considered a fragment of the Book of Enoch, it does not demonstrate an interest in the angelic material of the early chapters of the Book. Though Anlezark cites Virginia Day's study of the catechetical narratio in ASE 3, he also does not mention the possibility that accounts of the angelic fall could have been transmitted through Latin catechetical sermons, which often open with an account of angelic history. Certainly, he is absolutely right that the account in SolSat II has not received much critical attention, and it is one of the most vivid of the Old English versions of the story. Anlezark also considers the influence of the Visio Pauli and the Vita Adae et Euae, and finally links the conception of hell in SolSat II with the Visio Pauli, Grendel's mere and Blickling XVI. Anlezark closes by suggesting a "closer literary association" between SolSat II and Beowulf "than has previously been supposed" (133).

Elizabeth Coatsworth reopens the question of possible influence of the Book of Enoch, but this time on Anglo-Saxon manuscript illustrations. Coatsworth provides a thorough history and description of the Book of Enoch and possible thematic links to Old English texts. She attempts to show that depictions of Enoch in Cotton Claudius B.iv, and Junius 11 are somehow the product of knowledge of the Book of Enoch, most notably through a recognition of the importance of the fall of the angels in its relationship to the fall of man, but also at the level of detail, as in the binding of Satan. The article is interesting, and makes a useful companion piece to Anlezark's work on the angelic fall, but Coatsworth's argument is not ultimately convincing. However, the article suggests a valuable way of evaluating the perplexing illustrations of the Old English Hexateuch and Junius 11.

The main purpose of Catherine E. Karkov's "Judgement and Salvation in the New Minster Liber Vitae" is to argue "that the pictorial representation of the Last Judgement was developed at Winchester in the eleventh century from a combination of generally popular textual sources (including apocrypha) and specifically Winchester iconographic and historical traditions, and that in addition to its spiritual significance it represented a potent coming together of the concerns of both the contemporary church and court" (152). One of the more unusual details is the appearance of Mary, Michael, and Peter (what she calls the "apocryphal trio"); Karkov suggests finally that their appearance "provided visual assurance that the prayers of the community had been heard, and that help would be on hand in the journey towards salvation" (163). Karkov examines the evidence of prayers and homilies, the New Minster tower and West Saxon charters, and concludes that there was probably no single source for the Liber Vitae's Judgement sequence, but that Aelfwine more likely "was borrowing from a number of different sources" (163). One particularly interesting note on a parallel with an illustration in Junius 11 brings up "interesting implications for the suggestion that Junius 11 is a Winchester manuscript" (156, n. 9); given that several such "suggestions" have been made recently, this seems to me to be a question which deserves serious study. The collection concludes with a brief contribution from Joyce Hill, "The Apocrypha in Anglo-Saxon England: The Challenge of Changing Distinctions." Hill summarizes the fundamental questions which lie behind both the original Manchester conference and the volume as a whole: (1) "What were the determining factors in Anglo-Saxon England in establishing what was apocryphal?"; (2) "And how much did it matter?" The answer to both is that "it all depends on tradition, authority, perception and polemic," and thus that the distinctions are fundamentally fluid (165). The essays in this volume are meant to remind us of this fact, and to ensure that we continue to remain sensitive to alternative texts and alternative channels of influence as we study the culture of Anglo-Saxon England. Finally, then, the volume obviously offers studies and even editions of several specific texts, but, importantly, it also suggests ways in which to approach not only definitions of canonical and non-canonical, but also ways in which to approach the study of such texts. As such, it will be valuable not only to Anglo-Saxonists, but also to scholars of the Bible and of apocryphal texts and traditions. Highly recommended.


[[1]] What Biggs says about Daniel,, the Prayer of Azarias and the Song of the Three Children, with reference to Paul Remley's Old English Biblical Verse, CSASE 16 (Cambridge, 1996), pp. 334-434, should now be supplemented by Remley's "Daniel, the Three Youths Fragment and the Transmission of Old English Verse," ASE 31 (2002), 81-140.

[[2]] Though several scholars, including Wright, have written convincing rebuttals of his theories, I believe some legitimate concerns remain in the cautions of Michael Gorman (see, for example, "A Critique of Bischoff's Theory of Irish Exegesis: The Commentary on Genesis in Munich Clm 6302 (Wendepunkte 2)," Journal of Medieval Latin 7 (1997), 178-223; "The Myth of Hiberno-Latin Exegesis," Revue Benedictine 110 (2000), 42-85).

[[3]] See J.T. Milik, The Books of Enoch: Aramaic Fragments of Qumran Cave 4 (Oxford, 1976), pp. 80-1. Without this fragment, at least so far as I know, there is no evidence for Latin circulation of the Book of Enoch in the medieval period.