19.09.01 Hawk, Preaching Apocrypha in Anglo-Saxon England

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Jonathan Davis-Secord

The Medieval Review 19.09.01

Hawk, Brandon W. Preaching Apocrypha in Anglo-Saxon England. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press (UTP), 2018. pp. xvi, 271. ISBN: 1-4875-0305-9 (paperback).

Reviewed by:
Jonathan Davis-Secord
University of New Mexico
jwds@unm.edu

Preaching Apocrypha approaches the traditional topics of preaching and orthodoxy from the new angles of media studies and network theory. Hawk assembles this analytical framework in order to dismantle flawed scholarly assumptions on the topics and make room for a fresh look at Old English preaching texts. One of the book's main conclusions is that the hard divide between apocryphal and canonical biblical texts--a divide assumed in the modern mindset of critical editions and rigorous religious classifications--is largely absent from early medieval England. Instead, Old English preaching texts often rely on apocryphal material as freely as they draw on orthodox works. A subtheme throughout the book is the theoretical paradigm of media networks, giving visualization and a form of rigor to the idea of "context," which remains a vague haze in the hands of some scholars. This approach allows Hawk to concentrate on the forest, as it were, rather than the trees, on which (implies Hawk) other studies of apocrypha have tended to focus. Indeed, the book's title might initially seem to threaten an esoteric study of minutiae, but Hawk steers instead toward large questions of connections, influences, and interventions. Figures visualizing the connections between individual sermons, homiliaries, and apocryphal texts accompany Hawk's explanation of the approach, and they demonstrate the many links embedding apocryphal materials within the same intellectual milieux as preaching texts based on canonical and orthodox works.

Hawk specifically uses this framework of media networks to analyze the processes of translation and adaptation in Blickling 15 within the context of tenth-century reforms (chapter 2); Ælfric's reliance on apocryphal acts of the apostles and the "afterlife" of his homilies (chapter 3); apocryphal narratives of Christ's life in Vercelli 6, Blickling 7, and illuminations and engravings (chapter 4); and Oxford, Bodleian Library, Bodley 343 as a microcosmic representation of the mixture of apocrypha and orthodox material in the contextual network of early medieval English preaching texts (chapter 5). Approaching preaching texts through media networks and incorporating non-textual materials overtly situates this book in the realm of cultural studies, although it still includes close textual analysis, especially in discussions of translation and adaptation. In this way, Hawk joins and extends the trend of recent scholarship on early medieval England in treating text as simply one vector in a multifarious cultural system.

Addressing the stereotypical negative assumption about medieval views of apocrypha, Hawk notes that many previous scholars have applied this modern mindset to early medieval England in response to Ælfric's comments on the subject. Ælfric indeed decries specific types of apocryphal works, but those condemnations should not be generalized. Hawk demonstrates that we must nuance our understanding of Ælfric's stance: while he avoided many apocryphal sources, he embraced at the very least apocryphal accounts of the apostles' activities after the death of Jesus. This acceptance of apocryphal Acts demonstrates a careful distinction between texts that purport to fill in the gaps of the canonical gospel narratives and those that recount post-biblical events. As Hawk points out, these latter--the apocryphal Apostolic Acts--effectively function as prototypes of hagiography and simply continue the narrative of Christian history without attempting to alter or embellish the biblical canon. This specific nuance in Ælfric's practices epitomizes the approach Hawk takes with apocrypha generally: identify with precision what made an officially unorthodox text acceptable in each circumstance and analyze what utility it provided for a given individual sermon relying on it. With Blickling 15, for instance, Hawk mounts a "Trinitarian reading" (98) that places the sermon's reliance on theMartyrdom of Peter and Paul within the context of increasing interest in the Trinity, liturgical standardization, saints' cults, and the Creed in tenth- and eleventh-century reforms. These interests coalesce, according to Hawk's reading, in the speeches in the apocryphal source, making it highly useful as a teaching tool for the author of Blickling 15. It is important to note that pedagogical goals form an essential element in Hawk's analyses, although teaching itself naturally recedes from prominence at points as Hawk explores connections and networks.

Hawk carefully defines important medieval terms like "apocrypha" and "sermon," even including an "Excursus on Terminology" before the appendices (209-212). Given the fluidity of terms in both scholarship and the medieval sources, this care is admirable and useful. Unfortunately, some readers may find that other terms are not sufficiently explained. While Hawk explores in detail network theory and media theory, giving attention to the term "media" and a fine-grained explanation of network visualization figures, other terms like "mediation" and "remediation" might have benefited from greater elucidation. "Remediation," at least, is used in a theoretically-specific manner rather than its more typical general meaning of "to provide a remedy for [something]" (OED,s.v. remediate v.2). Footnotes direct the reader to relevant publications in media studies, but I do not find an explanation in the main text, nor does "remediate" appear in the index. Some readers in the book's primary audience (obviously including this reader) might need additional guidance on the finer points of Hawk's theoretical framework.

Preaching Apocrypha succeeds on many levels: as an introductory guide to apocrypha and Old English preaching texts, as a high-level argument on cultural networks and media, as a useful intervention in scholarship on medieval preaching practices. The book also succeeds in inspiring new questions, an important part of good scholarhsip. The absence of an extended discussion of Archbishop Wulfstan of York's relationship to apocrypha is one point that may yield future work. Given Wulfstan's important presence and influence on the networks discussed in this book, it is remarkable that his sermons seems to have relied on apocrypha so little. Indeed, Wulfstan only appears once in Biggs' SASLC volume on apocrypha (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2007); one might wonder why apocrypha figure so little in the archbishop's writing. Hawk remarks on the sermon in question, but the general question of Wulfstan's views otherwise does not interest the book; hopefully future work will answer it. Preaching Apocrypha is an interesting, useful, and laudable contribution to the field.

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