‘And eall worulde gesceaft’: Re-Reading the Natural World in Old English Biblical Poetry

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Knowles, Emma Elizabeth 

This study argues that the hybrid nature of Old English biblical poetry is evident in its complex representation of the natural world — which is shaped by a mesh of traditions including biblical source material, Old English poetics and Latin biblical epic. Throughout this thesis the main insights come from close-reading; these are considered in the context of ecocritical and ecotheological approaches to literature which seek to challenge and reframe pre-existing assumptions about the representation of the natural world. Using this framework to examine Azarias and the poems found in the Junius 11 manuscript contributes to a better understanding of whether these texts present a literal or allegorical approach to the biblical material. It also demonstrates additional connections between Genesis A, Exodus and Daniel which help to justify their bringing together in the Junius 11 manuscript. These links, which are less evident in Christ and Satan, imply a closer connection between the Old Testament versifications, and demonstrate the ways in which the translation context of Genesis A, Exodus and Daniel leads to a closely related version of the natural world. Through this examination this study reveals that biblical source material contributes to an unacknowledged complexity in the representation of the natural world in Old English biblical poetry, and that reconsidering nature in these texts provides significant insights not just into the natural world, but the relationships between these poems and their wider context. The introductory chapter positions my work in the context of recent developments in ecocritical and ecotheological approaches to literature. Three chapters then consider Old English biblical poetry in detail. Chapter Two, focused on Genesis A but also discussing Genesis B, establishes the importance of the relationship between God, human and nature for the texts considered in this thesis, and examines the role of nature as God’s enforcer. Chapter Three considers how Exodus amplifies this idea of nature as God’s assistant in punishing disobedience. Chapter Four considers both Daniel and Azarias and highlights the importance of biblical source material in shaping Anglo-Saxon attitudes towards the natural world. The concluding chapter draws together the threads of my discussion by comparing these examples of Old Testament biblical versification with other Old English religious poetry. It suggests that Christ and Satan has a distinct approach to the natural world from the texts that precede it in the Junius 11 manuscript, and questions the ways in which the phenomena discussed in this dissertation are applicable beyond biblical poetry.

Dance, Richard
Old English biblical poetry, junius 11, ecocriticism, Genesis A, Exodus, Daniel
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
Gates Cambridge