restricted access 1. Sepulchral Jews and Stony Christians: Supersession in Bede and Cynewulf
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28  Chapter 1 Sepulchral Jews and Stony Christians Supersession in Bede and Cynewulf Stone and Supersession Arguably, the primary form of religious difference that occupied the minds of Anglo-Saxon Christians was paganism. One of the two writers on which this chapter focuses,Bede,was born in 672/73,less than a hundred years after the Gregorian mission to convert the Anglo-Saxons and only decades after Celtic missionaries joined that effort.1 We know very little about Cynewulf, the poet whom I pair with Bede. He likely was an ecclesiastic and seems to have flourished a generation or more after Bede.2 But we can be sure that during Cynewulf’s life,paganism continued to lurk not far from Christianity ,especially with the onset of Viking invasions. Both Bede’s and Cynewulf’s works confirm this interest in pagans. Texts like Bede’s Ecclesiastical History (ca. 731) and Cynewulf’s Fates of the Apostles evince a deep investment in the apostolic mission of extending the Roman Christian imperium to its English border, where a newly converted Germanic and, later, Norse people were asked to renounce long-held polytheistic attachments.3 However, Jews were just as much if not more of a concern for Anglo-Saxon Christians. This was not due to the presence on the island of Jews,who did not inhabitEnglanduntilafterthe Norman Conquest,butrathertotheproximityof Judaism and Christianity. While Anglo-Saxon writers like Bede and Cynewulf didn’t live alongside Jews, they were keenly cognizant of both their status as SEPULCHRAL JEWS AND STONY CHRISTIANS 29 God’s original chosen people, whose holy books formed the basis of Christianity , and the vexing fact that contemporary Jews did not follow the new Christian religion. Thanks to the close and difficult relationship between Christianity and Judaism, Jewishness haunted Christian life and thought. As Andrew Scheil and other scholars affirm, fundamental to Anglo-Saxon writers’ efforts to negotiate their relationship to the Jew was an ideology of supersession or,in a more strictly textual register,a typological hermeneutic.4 According to supersession, which first emerged in the complex intertwining of “ontology,hermeneutics,anthropology,and christology”in Paul’s epistles, Jews adhere to an outmoded carnality and literal-mindedness that Christianity supplants with its embrace of the spirit and figurative thinking.5 For example,in 2 Corinthians 3:3,Paul contrasts the literal inscription of the old law on the tablets containing the Ten Commandments to the figurative writing of the new law by “the Spirit of the living God”on “the fleshly tables of the heart.”6 Later writers, most influentially Augustine, invoked a version of supersession to manage the problematic priority—that is, the exalted venerability —of the Hebrew Bible. Persons, places, and events in the Old Testament , Augustine and other theologians asserted, both look toward and are superseded by their counterparts in Christian history, although Jews fail to grasp such a relationship due to the literal mindset that their carnality entails.7 Supersession, to be sure, was not unique to Anglo-Saxon writers but appears in Christian discussions of Jews produced throughout the medieval West. However,Bede and Cynewulf engaged supersession in spatial ways that both set them apart from previous writers and adumbrate English notions of Jews and geography evinced in later texts. For anyone familiar with contemporary Anglo-Saxon studies,my emphasis on space and Jews will bring to mind the topic of migration. Important work by scholars such as Scheil, Patrick Wormald, Nicholas Howe, and Samantha Zacher has made clear how the Anglo-Saxons exhibited a distinctive interest in the Israelites of Exodus, whose migratory experience and chosen status offered a template for understanding Anglo-Saxon identity.8 My discussion diverges from such work by taking as its starting point the Anglo-Saxon interest in not migration but Jerusalem and, more particularly, the privileged materialisms associated with that holiest of sites. Instead of attending to expansive tribal movements, this chapter tracks smaller-scale investments in the former Jewish homeland and the exalted objects and buildings located there.9 My analysis centers on Bede’s Latin exegetical work On the Temple (ca. 729–31), which interprets the description in 3 Kings 5:1–7:51 of Solomon’s erection of the Temple of Jerusalem, and Cynewulf’s Old English poem 30 CHAPTER 1 Elene, which retells the legend of the discovery of the “true” cross.10 Bede, one of the most sophisticated, nuanced, and brilliant thinkers in medieval Christianity, offers an excellent starting point for examining supersession, a...


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Subject Headings

  • Jews in literature.
  • Antisemitism in literature.
  • English literature -- Old English, ca. 450-1100 -- History and criticism.
  • English literature -- Middle English, 1100-1500 -- History and criticism.
  • English literature -- Early modern, 1500-1700 -- History and criticism.
  • Antisemitism -- England -- History.
  • Jews -- England -- History.
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