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Discovery: Alcuin’s Judith

July 24, 2014

Portrait of Alcuin, courtesy of and the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

A few weeks ago, I was shocked (shocked!) to experience another discovery. Not that I expected this project to stagnate, that all discoveries were behind me, that I would only be concerned with analysis from here on out–none of this is true–but it was the nature of the discovery that shocked me: I found yet another text for my corpus, by the Anglo-Saxon scholar Alcuin.

Here’s the story. I have taken another methodological approach to my project, and have been examining how Anglo-Saxons use quotations from the biblical book of Judith, which is slightly different from the compiling, editing, and text-mining that I’ve done so far. Part of this is my desire to look at the subject from a number of different angles, to explore many different facets of the central question about Judith in Anglo-Saxon England. In my recent approach, I’m concerned with the text of the biblical Judith, mainly the versions that Anglo-Saxons consulted and how they used it–for example, if they could read Greek, did they consult the Septuagint? Old Latin translations of the Septuagint? Jerome’s Vulgate? And, since there were various forms circulating throughout the medieval period, which recensions of the Vulgate?

For questions like these, the standard in the field is one book: Richard Marsden’s The Text of the Old Testament in Anglo-Saxon England (Cambridge, 1995). I was rereading this book, and I found that Marsden does briefly discuss Judith in several places, but there is much more room to pursue my subject. While Bede quotes from Judith a few times, this has hardly been noted (only a few entries in Fontes Anglo-Saxonici indicate correspondences); similarly, Aldhelm quotes Judith (from a Latin translation of the Septuagint), and Marsden gives a brief treatment. Some of these quotations are not included in my corpus, since not all of them are concerned with Judith, but only use the words from the biblical book for other aims. This is the difference between Bede and Aldhelm: Bede quotes, but does not cite, and his uses do not show direct interest in Judith but in the words as scripture; Aldhelm provides extended discussion of Judith as a figure and exemplar, embedding his quotation within this in his prose De uirginitate.

Reading Marsden’s work, I discovered another use of Judith, wholly unknown to me before, in a collection by Alcuin known as De laude Dei (probably compiled c.790-93).* This was an exciting discovery. This florilegium of biblical, patristic, poetic, and liturgical texts survives in two manuscripts: Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek, Msc. Patr. 17 (s. xi, Mainz), folios 133r-162r; and El Escorial B.IV.17 (s. ix3/4, S France), folios 93r-108r. Yet it has never been published. This led me to the work of Donald A. Bullough,** who was working on an edition when he passed away, and David Ganz, who seems to have picked up Bullough’s work.*** Fortunately, the Bamberg manuscript is digitized and online here, and I’ve been able to consult it. Alcuin dedicates a section of his collection to selections from Judith (titled “De libro Iudith”), and this has yielded some interesting intersections with my other material for this project (more to come when my article is completed). Although there’s no evidence that Alcuin’s text circulated in Anglo-Saxon England (apparently neither of the two manuscripts originates from or made it to England), this is still a major instance of an important Anglo-Saxon interacting with the biblical book of Judith. I’ve added this text to the corpus, and it now has an item page on the Omeka site, with a transcription of the selections from the Bamberg 17 manuscript.


* Discussed in his Text of the Old Testament, 222-35.

** Alcuin: Achievement and Reputation, Being Part of the Ford Lectures Delivered in Oxford in Hilary Term 1980 (Leiden, 2004).

** “Le De Laude Dei d’Alcuin,” in Alcuin, de York à Tours: écriture, pouvoir et réseaux dans l’Europe du haut Moyen Âge, ed. P. Depreux and B. Judic, Annales de Bretagne et des Pays de l’Ouest 111.3 (Rennes, 2004), 388-91


From → Texts, Uncategorized

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