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Toswell, M. J., The Anglo-Saxon Psalter.

Toswell, M. J., The Anglo-Saxon Psalter (Medieval Church Studies, 10), Turnhout, Brepols, 2014; hardback; pp. xvi, 458; 21 b/w illustrations; R.R.P. 100.00[euro]; ISBN 9782503545486.

This comprehensive study provides a much-needed resource on psalter manuscripts in Anglo-Saxon England. While M. J. Toswell herself comments that her book is more of a reference work than a thesis, the argument that comes across is certainly that these (frequently overlooked and certainly understudied) manuscripts were of central importance in Anglo-Saxon England.

Toswell organises her work thematically. The first chapter focuses on three known authors' approaches to the psalms: Bede, Alfred, and AElfric. In Chapter 2, she speculates on the uses and production of psalter manuscripts, using three psalters as case studies: the Salisbury Psalter, the Paris Psalter, and the Achadeus Psalter. Toswell provides thorough introductions to these manuscripts, setting the benchmark for further studies of these works and other psalter manuscripts.

One of Toswell's most innovative contributions is Chapter 3, entitled 'The Psalms in the Material Culture'. Toswell articulates the crucial role the psalms played in many aspects of Anglo-Saxon life by looking at inclusions of psalm texts on material objects. This approach allows her to examine the ways the psalms infiltrated daily life and culture, for example, the inclusion of the psalms in certain charms to ward off cattle disease.

In Chapter 4, Toswell renames the glossed psalters as 'bilingual psalters', redefining their position within Anglo-Saxon history and scholarship. In this chapter, she focuses on the psalters of Stowe, Royal, Cambridge, Bosworth, and Paris. Toswell endeavours to emphasise aspects that have otherwise been overlooked, such as the fact that the much-ignored Stowe Psalter, is the only extant Anglo-Saxon psalter to be glossed throughout. She also draws attention to its place as the most complete extant psalter in Anglo-Saxon England, and emphasises the necessity for further study of the manuscript.

Chapters 5 and 6 look at evidence of the psalms in a range of Old English texts, including saints' lives, reinforcing Toswell's argument concerning the pervasiveness of the psalms in all aspects of Anglo-Saxon life and literature. Toswell challenges the scholarly presumption that they were viewed as static and untouchable, and explores how scribes reworked and reinterpreted the psalms in psalter manuscripts, and in other texts, such as poetry. She also reinforces her contention that the psalms have been generally overlooked in the history of the Bible in English literature.

Toswell's concluding chapter looks at the Anglo-Saxon elements in a group of Anglo-Norman psalters, to show that the Old English glossing tradition continued after the Norman invasion, and that psalter production continued to be an important element of monastic literary life.

Toswells elegant study ranges from the minute details of various understudied manuscripts to more general interest sections on the psalms within the broader cultural context of Anglo-Saxon England. She touches on the entire history of Anglo-Saxon England, and successfully foregrounds the place of the psalms within Anglo-Saxon culture, both monastic and lay. This extensive volume provides an excellent introduction to a variety of psalter manuscripts, articulates various questions that require further investigation, and makes a valuable contribution to the study of Anglo-Saxon literature.

Tahlia Birnbaum, Australian Catholic University
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Author:Birnbaum, Tahlia
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2015
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