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  • Preaching Apocrypha in Anglo-Saxon England by Brandon W. Hawk
  • Christopher A. Jones
Preaching Apocrypha in Anglo-Saxon England. By Brandon W. Hawk. Toronto Anglo Saxon Series, 30. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018. Pp. xviii + 271. $67.

This engaging book, a revision of the author's 2014 doctoral dissertation, considers the functions of New Testament apocrypha in the cultural-religious mainstreams of early medieval England. Brandon Hawk's overarching argument is that, far from being stigmatized as marginal or heterodox, apocryphal writings were largely integrated into "orthodox" Christian tradition as discernible in "preaching texts" (a deliberately broad category, including but not limited to sermons and homilies). Hawk thus extends recent work on early Latin apocrypha by scholars such as Els Rose (e.g., her monograph Ritual Memory [2009]), but with particular focus on Anglo-Saxon England and its abundance of vernacular as well as Latin materials.

The introduction sets the boundaries for the book and helpfully clarifies how it uses the terms "apocrypha" and "pseudepigrapha." An overview of past scholarship locates the present work in a long history of apocrypha studies; against that background Hawk positions his own approach innovatively by drawing on concepts from media theory and the methods of network analysis. Chapter 1 demonstrates some applications of these models to Latin manuscripts (both Insular and Continental), tracing among them a network of apocryphal matter both dense and variously enmeshed with canonical Biblical and patristic sources. An accompanying survey of Old English sermons and homilies in their manuscript settings yields a similar picture. Chapter 2, the first in a series of case studies, considers an anonymous Old English homily, Blickling 15, on the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul, as a representative appropriation of Latin apocryphal materials. Hawk observes how the Old English translator has carefully edited the Latin Martyrdom of Peter and Paul to highlight formulas of correct belief in the Trinity, which become the central concern of long speeches put into the mouths of the two apostolic saints. The same lesson—that apocryphal traditions were routinely subsumed into theologically conservative projects—emerges from chapter 3, discussing examples of Ælfric's various uses of the apocryphal acts of the apostles (or Virtutes apostolorum). Hawk correctly notes that modern scholarship has oversold a few isolated comments by Ælfric about the prevalence of gedwyld (error) as evidence for sharp boundaries between the canonical and apocryphal around the turn of the first millennium. Also helpful in this chapter is the discussion of Ælfric's compositional strategies for placing apocryphal narrative material about the apostles within "frames" of (usually) patristic exegetical or doctrinal agendas. Chapter 4 turns to apocryphal traditions about Christ and Mary that, especially through the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, influenced Vercelli Homily 6, and then to the notoriously complex network of sources pertaining to Christ's Harrowing of Hell, with special reference to the account of that event in Blickling Homily 7. In both parts of the chapter, however, Hawk's concern is to broaden the concepts of "sources" and "media" beyond single texts, and to that end he offers persuasive readings of some illustrations in Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, chiefly those in the eleventh-century Sacramentary of Robert of Jumièges (Rouen, BM 274 [Y.6]). Chapter 5, finally, pulls back once again to a wider focus, examining apocryphal [End Page 535] strands among larger thematic networks traceable in a complex homiliary from the post-Conquest period, now Oxford, Bodleian Library, Bodley 343.

Scholarship on the apocrypha can be forbiddingly technical, favoring minute studies of single texts and transmissions. Hawk is at ease with those aspects of his specialty; he writes lucidly and keeps larger stakes always in view. The effort to frame such larger questions is a real strength of the project but also, at times, a limitation. Its assumptions about the range of settings in which these "preaching texts" were created and used tend to level what may have been rather more diverse historical situations. When such issues are discussed, the context invoked is the royally sponsored monastic reform movement of the later tenth century. Such a linkage was inevitable in chapter 3, on Ælfric and the culture of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-662X
Print ISSN
0363-6941
Pages
pp. 535-536
Launched on MUSE
2020-10-19
Open Access
No
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