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The Apocryphal Gospels of Mary in Anglo-Saxon England.

The Apocryphal Gospels of Mary in Anglo-Saxon England. By Mary Clayton. Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England 26. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. xii + 355 pp. $69.95 cloth.

This book consists primarily of critical editions of three Old English texts, presented together with English translations and commentary. The first of these is the Old English version of the Gospel of pseudo-Matthew, while the others are both homilies for the feast of the Assumption, from manuscripts dated to around the eleventh to twelfth centuries. Although each of these texts has been edited previously, Clayton explains the need for her re-edition on the basis that two of these editions were made in the nineteenth century and therefore do not include all of the now available manuscript witnesses. Two appendices supply Latin texts of the Protevangelium of James and the Gospel of pseudo-Matthew, as well as two early Latin Dormition narratives, the Transitus of pseudo-Melito and an abbreviated version of the so-called Transitus W, which are provided for comparison with the Old English versions. The volume begins, however, with a substantial introduction, much of which surveys the scholarship on early Marian apocrypha, and on the Dormition traditions in particular. My expertise being more in the latter area than in the intricacies of Old English philology (of which I am innocent), I will direct my comments primarily to this segment of Clayton's work.

In the roughly one hundred pages of this study that focus on the early Marian apocrypha, Clayton presents one of the better introductions to these traditions presently available. Although there is not much that is especially original in these pages, the reader is given a brief but thorough and generally reliable overview of these narratives and some of the issues involved in their interpretation. Chapter 1 briefly surveys the apocryphal literature of Mary's birth and childhood, focusing especially on the Protevangelium, its Latin transmission, and its use in the composition of the Gospel of pseudo-Matthew. Chapter 2 takes up the traditions of Mary's death and Assumption, treating first the "Syriac and Greek traditions," under which heading Clayton also includes a number of other linguistic "traditions," and the Coptic literary tradition in particular. In this chapter Clayton does a fine job of introducing readers to the various narratives and their literary families, as well as to recent scholarship. Particularly welcome are her frequent and accurate criticisms of Simon Mimouni's recent work, Dormition et Assomption de Marie, although she also notes the study's usefulness for certain matters. Nevertheless, in this chapter Clayton all too readily accepts the view of many scholars that these traditions have strong connections with anti-Chalcedonian sentiment or "Julianism," points not at all evident from the texts themselves. Chapter 3 treats the Latin Assumption traditions in some detail, carefully exploring the intricate literary relations among the different narratives. Her discussion of pseudo-Melito's Transitus is particularly helpful in sorting through the different opinions on this document. Moreover, in drawing attention to the relationship between paradisus and caelum in the context of pseudo-Melito's Transitus, she has brushed against an issue that is critical for understanding the entire corpus of traditions. She strays in this chapter, however, by following Mimounis (unsubstantiated) belief that the Kathisma church was once associated with Mary's house.

Chapter 4 begins consideration of the specifically Anglo-Saxon traditions of Mary's Dormition. Here Clayton surveys the different witnesses to the apocryphal traditions in early medieval England. These are presented chronologically and in a rather matter-of-fact manner, leading Clayton to the eventual conclusion that "from the beginning of the eighth century onwards... we have evidence of knowledge, not always favorable, of the apocrypha of the death and assumption, while evidence of the birth and infancy apocrypha is found from the ninth century onwards" (116). Chapter 5 gives a detailed description of the different manuscripts used in preparing the editions, while chapter 6 discusses the origin of these traditions in Anglo-Saxon England. Here Clayton concludes that we cannot determine their place of origin or age by linguistic analysis, but we can nevertheless be relatively certain that they were in existence by the tenth century. She also considers in this chapter the literary relationships between each text and its Latin ancestors. The remainder of the book consists of the edited texts: the Old English Gospel of Matthew, an abbreviated version of its Latin source; and the two Assumption homilies, one of which depends on the Transitus of pseudo-Melito, while the other draws primarily on Transitus W, but also utilizes pseudo-Melito in places.

I would strongly recommend the first third of this book as a good, general introduction to Marian apocrypha. Nevertheless, a real shortcoming of this study, in my opinion, is its extensive citation of primary material in the original language without providing translations for the reader. This is not so much the case in earlier chapters, where Greek and other eastern sources are routinely cited in modern translation without any reference to the original language. But as the focus moves steadily westward, quotations are given exclusively in Latin or Old English, and if we may perhaps excuse the Latin, the Old English really does present an obstacle for the reader who does not know this language, but has an interest in the history and development of Marian traditions. In many instances, the quotations are quite lengthy and do not appear to involve finer points of philology, in light of which translations would seem to be more appropriate. In other cases, where the quotation is from one of the texts published in this volume, translations could be given for the uninitiated, while those interested in the nuances of the different languages could easily consult the Old English or Latin in the following editions and appendices. Unfortunately, as the book now stands, much of the argument in the later chapters of the introduction is inaccessible for those who do not read both of these languages. Presumably this reflects a decision on the part of the author and/or publisher to limit the book's target audience primarily to scholars of Anglo-Saxon England. While it is difficult to fault such a decision, a few simple changes could have made the book more accessible to a much broader audience.

Stephen J. Shoemaker W. F. Albright Institute for Archaeological Research
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Author:Shoemaker, Stephen J.
Publication:Church History
Date:Dec 1, 1999
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