Apocryphal Texts and Traditions in Anglo-Saxon England

Apocryphal Texts and Traditions in Anglo-Saxon England

Apocryphal Texts and Traditions in Anglo-Saxon England

Apocryphal Texts and Traditions in Anglo-Saxon England

Synopsis

Apocrypha and apocryphal traditions in Anglo-Saxon England have been often referred to but little studied. This collection fills a gap in the study of pre-Conquest England by considering what were the boundaries between apocryphal and orthodox in the period and what uses the Anglo-Saxons made of apocryphal materials. The contributors include some of the most well-known and respected scholars in the field. The introduction - written by Frederick M. Biggs, one of the principal editors of Sources of Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture - expertly situates the essays within the field of apocrypha studies. The essays themselves cover a broad range of topics: both vernacular and Latin texts, those available in Anglo-Saxon England and those actually written there, and the uses of apocrypha in art as well as literature. Additionally, the book includes a number of completely new editions of apocryphal texts which were previously unpublished or difficult to access. By presenting these new texts along with the accompanying range of essays, the collection aims to retrieve these apocryphal traditions from the margins of scholarship and restore to them some of the importance they held for the Anglo-Saxons.

Excerpt

The subject of this book is central to the study of the culture of Anglo-Saxon England, although, as Joyce Hill points out in the final essay, it has not often been seen as such. It is central because we need to know what is apocryphal in Anglo-Saxon terms, not just in our own, before we can properly evaluate the canonical, and it is clear from the essays that follow that our view and theirs are different. However, in the compass of a single volume it is not possible to rehearse all of even the most signal of the texts current in Anglo-Saxon England which our own day judges to be apocryphal, let alone the traditions that relate to them, and that is certainly not the intention here. The first necessity indeed is to define the terminology and to review the major texts, and Biggs’ introductory essay does this admirably well. The essays that follow focus on individual texts, both in Latin and in Old English, and on traditions associated with them. They include studies of two of the most influential texts linked to the Old and the New Testaments respectively: the Book of Enoch - considered by Coatsworth for its influence on Anglo-Saxon art and, inter alia, on texts considered by Anlezark - and the Apocalypse of Thomas (Wright), an apocryphal text which was not only widely read throughout medieval Europe but one which was well known in England, as the four independent translations into the vernacular prove. Yet other texts exerted a wide influence also, an influence which scholars have perhaps overlooked, as is shown by Lendinara of a classical text and O’Leary of the legends of the apostles. In accordance with the interdisciplinary focus of this series, there are, as well as textual studies, two studies on art history, Coatsworth’s and Karkov’s. Throughout, there is reference to attitudes toward all of these texts by contemporaries, particularly, in the case of Hall and Lendinara, to the attitude of that most orthodox of writers, Abbot Ælfric. Wright, Hall and Lendinara offer the texts themselves, in Wright’s case newly published Latin versions of the Thomas Apocalypse. In sum, these essays by established scholars constitute a significant advance in our understanding of a neglected area, and will substantially add to our knowledge.

This volume originated in a conference held under the auspices of the Manchester Centre for Anglo-Saxon Studies in July 2001, organized by Susan Rosser as part of the HEFCE/HRB Institutional Fellowship project, Sources, Authorship and the Transmission of Texts and Ideas in AngloSaxon England. The conference was also supported by a generous grant from the British Academy, and by the University of Manchester Research Support Fund. Since Susan had offered the University her resignation before the conference took place, DGS took over responsibility for commissioning essays for publication in this volume based on some of . . .

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