I’m pleased to say that I have an article forthcoming in the December issue of the Bulletin for the Study of Religion, titled “A History of the Study of Apocrypha in Anglo-Saxon England.” I was invited to submit this contribution because of the publication of my recent book, Preaching Apocrypha in Anglo-Saxon England. In my article for the Bulletin, I outline some of the historiographic currents and highlight the major works that have shaped the study of apocrypha in early England from the mid-nineteenth century to the present, and I gesture toward future prospects.
One of the goals of writing this book was to bring together the fields of apocrypha studies and medieval studies, which have not often overlapped. On the one hand, many scholars who study apocrypha tend to turn toward works from the first few centuries of Judaism and Christianity. On the other hand, there have not been many synthesizing studies about medieval uses of apocrypha, and the field is largely dominated by articles about specific texts. Because of the technical nature of the two fields (and the languages needed in each domain), scholars of apocrypha across the eras haven’t always taken part in the same conversations. Yet, given the interdisciplinary scope of both fields, there is quite a lot of possibility for their continued convergence. Of course, as I note in this article, recent publications in studies of pseudepigrapha and apocrypha demonstrate how the fields are coming together. I hope that my historiographic work will help to push the fields together even more.
Below I provide my introduction to the article.
Literature written in England between about 500 and 1100 CE attests to a wide range of traditions, although it is clear that Christian sources were the most influential. Of the surviving record from what is commonly known as the Anglo-Saxon age, the majority of Anglo-Latin and Old English literature is Christian in content. We find vernacular translations of large parts of the Bible from the Latin Vulgate (e.g., the Heptateuch, 1–2 Kings, Esther, Judith, Psalms, Maccabees, and the Gospels), as well as Latin and Old English commentaries, sermons, hagiography, treatises, and other types of texts drawing on biblical, patristic, and late antique learning. Biblical apocrypha feature prominently across this corpus of literature, as Anglo-Saxon authors clearly relied on a range of extra-biblical texts and traditions related to works under the umbrella of what have been called “Old Testament Pseudepigrapha” and “New Testament/Christian Apocrypha.” As I have argued elsewhere, in early England, biblical apocrypha “did not merely survive on the margins of culture, but thrived at the heart of mainstream Anglo-Saxon Christianity” (Preaching Apocrypha 3).
While scholars of pseudepigrapha and apocrypha have long trained their eyes upon literature from the first few centuries of early Judaism and early Christianity, the medieval period has much to offer. Indeed, some of the most popular apocrypha in Western Europe were composed or compiled in the Middle Ages: for example, the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, or the Virtutes apostolorum. Scholars are beginning to synthesize previous studies into a general picture that demonstrates the impact of apocrypha on medieval culture, and long-standing work on extra-biblical influences in Anglo-Saxon England is foundational. The following presents a survey of significant developments and key threads in the history of scholarship on apocrypha in Anglo-Saxon England. My purpose is not to offer a comprehensive bibliography, but to highlight major studies that have focused on the transmission of specific apocrypha, contributed to knowledge about medieval uses of apocrypha, and shaped the field from the nineteenth century up to the present. Bringing together major publications on the subject presents a striking picture of the state of the field as well as future directions.