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Reviewed by:
  • Two Old English Apocrypha and their Manuscript Source: ‘The Gospel of Nichodemus’ and ‘The Avenging of the Saviour’
  • Clyde Curry Smith Emeritus
James E. Cross, editor. Two Old English Apocrypha and their Manuscript Source: ‘The Gospel of Nichodemus’ and ‘The Avenging of the Saviour’. Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England 19. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Pp. xi + 307 + IV pls. $64.95.

In one sense this volume, in the continuing series “Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England,” has very little to do with these two Old English apocrypha, except insofar as more than half is taken up with providing text and translation, not only of the particular Old English manuscripts but also with the Latin text and its translation from that one manuscript source, argued in the preceding essays to be the very Latin base from which these same Old English examples were made. On the other hand, the editor and his four contributors are not really interested in the total content of this one Latin manuscript—identified as Saint Omer, Bibliothèque Municipale, 202—whose origin was the monastery of Saint Bertin in Saint Omer in the latter half of the ninth century, but with provenance definitely in England and possibly in Exeter in the course of the eleventh century.

Saint Omer 202 includes, as well as these two apocrypha (respectively at positions 1 and 3), no less than thirty-five homilies on various gospel pericopes collected by Paul the Deacon (c. 720–800)—whose sources themselves range throughout Fathers such as Origen, Augustine, Jerome, Pseudo-Chrysostom, Pseudo-Maximus of Turin, Leo the Great, Gregory the Great (9 examples), and especially Bede (14 examples)—but these are of no concern except to receive itemization at pages 22–31. Our authors do not even provide a speculative consideration on why these two apocrypha might have found a relatively prominent place within such a collection of “second-hand” homilies, save in the overarching concern to document for the larger intent of this volume that the manuscript itself fits an entry within two copies of an inventory of books which list Bishop Leofric’s bequest (d. 1072) to his Cathedral at Exeter.

For if it really be the case that this manuscript item be the “one full homiliary [End Page 331] for winter and summer” [‘.i. full spelboc wintres and sumeres’] there postulated, especially by virtue of its containing no less than three Old English glosses and one formalized drawing in diverse hands, then it might well be established as the exact source for the Old English translations of these two apocrypha. And that is the burden of the “Introduction” and five chapters by the editor, James E. Cross of the University of Liverpool, and his four other contributors: Denis Brearley, Latinist at Ottawa University; and the Anglo-Saxonists Julia Crick of Exeter University, Thomas N. Hall of the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Andrew P. Orchard of Emmanuel College, Cambridge—each well enough known for their scholarship on this early mediaeval period.

To be certain, of that group, Hall is also known as collector of material on the Vindicta salvatoris [“Avenging of the Saviour”], but even in his essay (ch. 3), devoted as it is to these two apocrypha within Anglo-Saxon England, considerations that might have been welcomed on the total significance of these same apocryphal items are not focally present. And the remainder of the essay-chapters are essentially oriented to details of manuscripts and related stylistics as well as to translation strategies appropriate for their presentation within the greater half of this volume. For no one of these are we thankless.

But what one must give major attention to is the layout of this principal feature. On facing pages (138–293) we find: upper left, the Latin of the focal manuscript with variants, for the Euangelium Nichodemi from three other exemplars of nearly contemporary origin, or for the Vindicta mere reference to the conflated edition prepared by Constantin Tischendorf (1815–1874) in his Evangelia Apocrypha (1853;2 1876); lower left, a literal English rendering of that Latin; upper right, the Old English of the corresponding manuscripts (three for “Nichodemus”; four for “Vindicta”); and...

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