An Early-Twelfth-Century German Verse Homiliary. A Thematic and Exegetical Commentary. With the Text and a Translation into English
David A. Wells
The so-called Central Franconian Rhyming Bible (“Mittelfränkische Reimbibel”), although surviving in only a fragmentary condition, is one of the most thematically wide-ranging works of the neglected corpus of Early Middle High German religious poems of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. In its original form the work may have incorporated Christian world-history from the Creation to the Last Judgement. The surviving fragments point to a substantial engagement by a poet from a northwestern dialectal region on the border of High German, Low German, and Middle Dutch with material from the early Old Testament, the Gospels, and the apocryphal and hagiographical legends relating to early Church history. The commentary is the first comprehensive treatment of the theological and literary subject-matter of the work since that of Hugo Busch in 1879/80, and complements the recent linguistic studies of Thomas Klein. The study of sources and analogues conclusively demonstrates that the text – probably of early-twelfth-century date – is a series of homilies, often closely related to German pre-mendicant sermons, and an important witness to the possible existence of a vernacular sermon tradition at an earlier date than existing manuscript evidence suggests. It also includes features of central importance for knowledge of the text tradition of seminal Christian apocrypha. The substantial introduction and conclusion include a comparison with the Old English homiletic corpus of Ælfric of Eynsham. The commentary is also accompanied by the Middle High German text from Friedrich Maurer’s standard edition, and a straightforward prose translation into English intended to make the neglected work accessible to medievalists of different disciplines.
An evolution of attitudes towards pre-Christian custom in , North-West Europe, as shown in early .medieval word-fields and texts in Old English and Old Icelandic literature, is represented in six variously focussed studies. The first three chapters, Pagan Words, form a network of research on pre-Christian concepts of mind and soul as they survived, still active, in Christianized heroic poetry. This was part of. the heathen matrix through which the first expressions of Christianity in Old English and Icelandic literature were possible. The second half of this book, Christian Meanings, shows .how the same Christian literature produced reinterpretations of paganism. The literary range stretches from the earliest epic formulae to the polished genealogical novels of thirteenth-century Iceland- An ancient tradition of augury is invoked by the poet of The Seafarer to illustrate a believer's passage to heaven. In Havamal, an artificially pagan creed of ritual teaching and responses is compiled in Iceland as an antiquarian entertainment, perhaps on a Christian model. The last chapter shows a variety of Christian interpretations of, paganism in four sagas of Icelanders from the early to late thirteenth century. Overall where paganism was concerned, the tendency was first to cast off a way of life, then later, when that life was lost forever, to reinvent it for the imagination.