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  • Preaching Apocrypha in Anglo-Saxon England by Brandon W. Hawk
  • Natalie Whitaker
Preaching Apocrypha in Anglo-Saxon England. By Brandon W. Hawk. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018.

In Preaching the Apocrypha in Anglo-Saxon England, Brandon W. Hawk disrupts traditional scholarship on Anglo-Saxon sermons, preaching, and religion by examining the use of apocryphal material in Anglo-Saxon media through a confluence of methodology that includes media studies and network theory. Early medieval scholars acknowledge the value of cross-linguistic transmissions between Latin and vernacular texts, but Hawk takes this a step further by building a methodological frame that can allow for developing a deeper understanding of not only these early medieval texts but also modern culture and media, “demonstrating how media across centuries are ineluctably connected and mutually help us to make sense of past and present” (21). Considering the current state of the early northern medieval field, and its problematic past, this scholarly intervention is valuable both as a change from traditional scholarship and as a way to become more politically aware of the effects of our studies. In this latter sense, its methodology can benefit not only those in early medieval studies but also scholars of other fields who study premodern texts, digital humanities, and media.

In the introduction, Hawk asserts that this project “rests at the intersection of scholarship on Old English sermons, apocryphal sources, and transmission studies” (5) and importantly uses the term afterlife when referring to the texts, emphasizing the merit of this methodology not only for studying these particular texts within the limited field of early medieval English scholarship but also for transmission, translation, media, and network studies. He acknowledges from the beginning that there have been invaluable studies on Anglo-Saxon apocrypha and preaching, yet those look at the individual trees rather than the forest. This study takes a more outward look at the broader cultural intersections of these texts—how their use and adaptation reveal cultural contexts and implications. Hawk’s research follows the precedent laid by Samantha Zacher in Rewriting the Old Testament in Anglo-Saxon Verse by focusing on the process of authorial reshaping of apocryphal texts and how this process of adaptation reveals important information about the culture beyond the text. Hawk lays out the first aspect of his disruption: that he is challenging the normative scholarly assumptions about apocrypha in Old English sermons. Previous scholarship has [End Page 158] taken an anachronistic perspective when it comes to apocrypha or has overgeneralized and inferred from Aelfric’s negative comments about them, assuming that Anglo-Saxons would all view apocrypha negatively. Hawk does not discount previous scholarship but synthesizes it within his study and with historical context. His approach makes this monograph not only valuable as an introductory text for those new to Anglo-Saxon religious and medieval apocrypha studies but also useful to those more versed in the field who are interested in reexamining these texts from a different perspective and innovative methodology.

Following the introduction are five chapters that model Hawk’s methodology in varying ways, telescoping in and out from big data to the microcosm of specific texts while staying true to the organizational thread that the author has framed around the conceptualization of media networks and the transmission of apocrypha in sermons. In chapter 1, Hawk sets up his forest view of the study and examines the broader picture of networks and media in early medieval Europe. Rather than following previous scholarship focused on Irish influences, he takes the less traveled road of continental sources and transmissions of sermons. He explains further his methodology in the context of media and network theory, describing the multiple layers of media—in this case, sermons, preaching collections (homilaries), and manuscripts. These media are all interrelated yet hold different information that must be examined: a manuscript holds more information (its material information, marginalia, and so on) than does a collection of sermons or an individual sermon itself. With this perspective, the communication structure becomes just as rewarding to analyze as the content of the sermons is. The chapter also integrates work in digital humanities, drawing on the conceptualization of media networks for examining both Latin and...


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pp. 158-161
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