The Transformation of the Canonical Portrayals of Joseph the Carpenter in the Advent Lyrics of the Exeter Book

A stained glass image of Mary of Nazareth and Joseph of Nazareth who are in the temple of Jerusalem.  Mary stands at the left with her arms crossed over her chest with a waist-length white veil over her head, red sleeves showing, and a blue cloth around her body.  Joseph wears a dull blue tunic with a orange cloth over most of his body.  The two of them are framed around openings that show 2 buildings and a few flowers outside the temple.
Detail of Presentation of the Lord at St. Bernard Catholic Church in Corning, Ohio.

This essay explores a record of the reception history of Joseph the Carpenter found in the medieval English poem of the Advent Lyrics of the Exeter Book to determine how its literary representation of Joseph compares with his earliest portrayals found in the early Christian gospel narratives of Matthew and Luke. At the same time, to better understand the significance of this record, a similar, although limited, comparison is also made between the portrayals of Mary in the gospel narratives (with special attention to her representation in the gospel of Luke) and her portrayal in this same text. These comparisons lead to the following conclusions: while similarities can be found between the canonical portrayals of Mary and her representation in this English poem, the same cannot be said of the portrayal of Joseph the Carpenter. In addition, a review of Joseph’s representation in the Advent Lyrics finds that its author has likely relied upon earlier portraits of Joseph found in the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew and its later literary manifestations for his/her impression of Joseph. Subsequently, it can also be concluded that, like these literary predecessors, the author of this poem has significantly transformed Joseph’s canonical portrayals in order to more fully venerate Mary. In the process, in his/her portrayal of Joseph, the poet has affirmed their narrative trajectory; a trajectory that represents a diminished image of Joseph that stands in sharp contrast to his canonical portraits.

Fascinating portrayals of both Joseph and Mary are found in the didactic verse of the medieval Catholic old English text, The Advent Lyrics of the Exeter Book.1 Most likely written in the ninth or tenth centuries, it is probable, as Kennedy suggests, that “these lyrics were founded on eleven antiphons used during the Advent season” and used for meditation and reflection during the four weeks of the Advent season.2 Although it is difficult to determine its author and the community for which it was intended, Clayton’s conclusion that it was probably composed by “a monk or cleric” and Woolf’s argument that the text was most likely created for a monastic body (rather than a large public setting) seem to best reflect both its language and tone.3

However, the focus of the Advent Lyrics is less difficult to discern: to offer honor and veneration toward the Virgin Mary; as, Garde, along with most scholars of the Lyrics, correctly acknowledges when she writes that a “persistently elevated, traditional, understanding of the Virgin in her various roles is present throughout the poem …”4

Thus, it is not surprising that as the Advent Lyrics unfold, and the grand story of the advent of the Christ is recounted in beautiful and powerful verse (particularly in the second, fourth, seventh, ninth, and twelfth poems), that the poet is unabashed in his/her veneration of Mary; a veneration that offers insight into the author’s perception of Joseph as well as Mary.5 In the process, it becomes evident that the old English poet has transformed not only the earliest canonical portrayals of Mary but also those of Joseph the Carpenter. Nonetheless, his/her adaptation of the portrait of Mary, while more elaborate and effusive than the narrative representations found in Mt. 1 and 2 and Lk. 1 and 2, is clearly based upon specific theological ideas portrayed in Lk. 1.

However, the same cannot be said with respect to the portrayal of Joseph in the seventh poem, the only lyrics in which Joseph is featured. In fact, in sharp contrast, the writer of the poem has changed the earliest canonical portraits of Joseph in Mt. 1 and 2 and Lk.1 and 2 so extensively that he/she, in essence, has created a new portrait of Joseph, devoid of almost all canonic influence.6

While the lyricist’s transformation of the portrayal of Joseph in the seventh poem will be the main concern of this essay, attention will first be directed to his/her praise of Mary in the second, fourth, ninth, and twelfth poems of the Advent Lyrics since they provide the background and context for this examination.7 Signs of the lyricist’s veneration of Mary emerge early, in the second poem. Here, the writer introduces the subject of Mary, reiterating stories about her and aspects of her character primarily found in the Lucan narrative and in the apocryphal narrative of the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew.8 Relying upon particular ideas, notably found in Lk.1, in Lk.1.27, 1.28, 1.35, 1.42, 1.43, and 1.48 and in GPM 6.3, 7.1-2, 8.1, 9.1 and 10.1, the author creates his/her own unique portrayal of these earlier Christian narrative accounts about Mary; a portrayal that represents more than a composite of these different ideas in Luke and the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew.9 In so doing, the poet reminds the reader(s) of the critical role Mary played and still plays in the Christian history of salvation.

…The girl was young,
a virgin free of sin, she whom he chose for a mother.
It was accomplished without the love of a man
that the bride was magnified by the birth of a child.
Nothing approaching that, before or since,
no such merit of woman existed in the world.
Such a thing is miraculous, a mystery of God.10

Subsequently, in the fourth poem, where the Virgin is the primary subject, the writer becomes more explicit in his representation of her character. Here, the Old English poet speaks of Mary as the “noblest woman in all the earth” and, most significantly, addressing her as a living person, asks her to “explain to us the mystery that came to you from the skies, how you ever received a magnification by the birth of a child, and intercourse according to human notions never knew.”11 Later, the writer expands the portrayal by having the living Virgin, herself, address humanity with a question and ask: “For curiosity do you ask how I the state of virginity, my purity, maintained, and also became the exalted mother of the Son of God?”12 Further, curiously, in order to raise the position of Mary, the lyricist decides to ignore the biblical record in Luke which identifies Mary as a descendant of Levi.13 He/she finishes the poem, writing,

…Christ did reveal
in the dear kinswoman of David
that the sin of Eve is all nullified,
the curse overthrown, and the lowlier sex
is made great. Now hope is received
that blessing may rest with both together,
with men and women always henceforth…

Therefore, ignoring the record of Lk.1, the poet identifies her, as Matthew and Luke identify Joseph, as a member of the tribe of David, as many early and medieval Christian writers, including the author of the GPM 1.2 and 13.1 and the English Catholic authors Bede and Alcuin.15 Additionally, the lyricist’s understanding that Mary has “nullified” the sin of Eve and removed “the curse” would most likely have been informed by one or more of these sources. Thus, in his/her construction of the fourth poem, the writer would have found his/her inspiration for this further revelation of the character of Mary, in the fourth poem, among the writings of several Christian authorities.

Further praise of the Virgin continues in the ninth poem. Here, the Old English lyricist continues the veneration of Mary, building upon the rich portrayal he began in the earlier poems. Here, he ascribes many different titles and attributes to the Virgin, including that of the “Great One of the world,” “the purest lady,” “the bride of the most excellent Lord of the sky,” and “the lady of the heavenly host as well as the earthly ranks under the heavens and the inhabitants of hell.”16

O Great One of the world,
throughout the earth the purest lady
of those who ever existed
how rightly all possessors of speech,
men upon earth name you and say
with glad heart that you are the bride
of the most excellent Lord of the sky.
Also the highest in heaven,
Christ’s nobles, speak and sing
that you by holy power are the lady
of the heavenly host as well as the earthly
ranks under the heavens and the inhabitants of hell.

You, alone among all mankind
resolved splendidly, firm-minded,
that you brought your virginity to God,
gave it without sin….

A few lines later the poet reveals that it is because Mary has brought her virginity to God that God has sent the angel Gabriel to

… reveal quickly to you
the fullness of power, that you the Son of God
might bear in a pure birth
as a mercy to men, and henceforth might keep
yourself, Mary, ever immaculate.

Several stanzas later the author continues with his portrait of the Virgin, and identifies her as the “gate, unique, through which the Ruling Lord into this earth journied forth,” a gate which, according to the teaching of the church, has been “locked …with a mysterious key, again undefiled by anything.”19

Following this, the lyricist expands his/her portrayal of Mary and introduces the subject of the Virgin’s powers as a personal intercessor for humanity before the Christ and personally petitions Mary, as in a prayer, to act on his/her behalf as well as that of other humans.20

Show us now the grace which to you the angel,
God’s messenger Gabriel brought.
That indeed we mortals pray,
that you reveal to men that comfort,
your own Son. Afterward we may all
single-mindedly hope,
now we look on that child at your breast.
Intercede for us now with vigorous words
that He did not leave us any longer
in this valley of death to follow error,
but that He transport us into his Father’s kingdom
where we sorrowless may ever
dwell in beatitude with the God of Hosts.

The lyricist concludes his exaltation of the Virgin in the twelfth and last poem of the Advent Lyrics by implying that it was God’s reception of Mary’s virginity that actually brought salvation to humanity. Describing the wonder of God’s action in and through the person of Mary, he writes:

O, what a marvelous change in the life of men
that mankind’s mild Creator
received from a virgin undefiled flesh!
She knew the love of man not at all
nor through the seed of man on earth
came the Ruler of Victory; that was a greater feat
than all earth-dwellers comprehend
in its mysterious significance, how He, Glory of the skies,
High God of heaven, brought help
to man’s kind through his mother’s womb…

Thus, in the second, fourth, ninth, and twelfth poems, the reader is provided a clear sense of the theological environment surrounding the lyricist’s verses about Mary and Joseph in the seventh poem. Further, as Garde notes, these poems clarify Mary’s dominance within this literary account, that “Mary is perceived as the unique and meritorious Virgin-Mother, as Theotokos (God-bearer, and the witness who was exhorted in medieval homilies to testify to the miracle), as Queen of heaven, earth and hell and as Mediatrix between Saviour and saved (below).”23

Yet, the seventh poem, while clearly providing further honor and veneration to Mary, offers certain distinctions that set it apart from the others.24 The first is stylistic: the poetry occurs in the context of a dialogue.25 The second distinction relates to the subject of the text: the poet introduces a new and previously unrecognized character, the figure of Joseph. The third, in turn, is revealed in the focus of the writing. In contrast to other poets in Anglo-Saxon literature, the author of this poem discloses something of the “interiority of its characters,” offering insight, in the process, into Joseph’s and Mary’s thoughts and character.26 Nonetheless, important as these distinctions are, it is doubtful the reader or hearer would not notice who it is the writer has introduce Joseph, how the dominance of Mary, even at this point, remains? This becomes even more evident if one accepts the conclusions of Cosijn, Burlin, and Clayton with respect to the division and the attribution of the speeches within the seventh poem; conclusions that seem to be the most logical in light of the “structural guidelines of the poem” and “the Marian tradition.”27 They believe the poem consists of three long speeches that can be divided as follows: the first speech of Mary (lines 1-12a), the speech of Joseph (lines 12b – 32a), and the second speech of Mary (lines 32b – 50).28 Further, this construction gives the lyric a consistency and unity it would not otherwise have. Consequently, if this is the case, not only the first question but the first several lines of the poem can be attributed to Mary.

Aware of the doubt and worry that has come upon Joseph since his discovery of her pregnancy, Mary begins:

O my Joseph, son of Jacob
descendant of David the great king,
now must you sever a firm affection,
reject my love?

I suddenly am deeply disturbed, despoiled of honor,
for I have for you heard many words,
many great sorrows and hurtful speeches,
much harm, and to me they speak insult,
many hostile words. Tears I must
shed, sad in mind. God easily may
relieve the inner pain of my heart,
comfort the wretched one.

Thus, in her first words, proffered as a question, Mary, acknowledges her relationship with Joseph (“my Joseph” and “a firm affection”), affirms her love for him, and recognizes he is a “descendant of David.”30 At the same time, aware of the “hurtful speeches” and “hostile words” that have been directed toward both of them as a result of her circumstances, she also acknowledges that they have “deeply disturbed” her as well as him.31
Following Mary’s first words to him, Joseph replies:

O young girl,
Mary the virgin!
What are you bewailing,
crying out full of care? Never did I guilt in you,
any fault ever find
of accomplished wrong, yet you speak these words
as if you yourself of every sin,
of crimes were filled.

I have too much
of evil received for this pregnancy.
How may I refute the hateful talk
or find any answer
against my enemies?

It is widely known
that I from the bright temple of God
willingly received a pure virgin
free from stain, and now she is changed
by I know not what.

It does me no good
either speaking or keeping silent.

If I tell the truth,
then shall David’s daughter die,
killed with stones. Yet it is worse
that I conceal the crime; a perjured man,
hateful to all people, would live hereafter
vile among the folk.

In his response to Mary, Joseph reveals the deep perplexity he feels about how their lives have changed since they first met; how the circumstances of Mary’s pregnancy have changed not only the way others see them but the way they see themselves.33 In his very first words, Joseph recounts his perception that from his perspective she remains both the “young girl” and a “virgin”, just as he “received” her, following her departure from “the bright temple of God.”34 Thus, he finds her new condition inexplicable (“now she is changed by I know not what”) and himself on the horns of a dilemma, unable to decide what he should do.35

Then, the reader is told that following Joseph’s words of doubt and anguish, Mary seeks to assuage him by revealing “the true mystery” that has been revealed to her.36 Unveiling “the truth” behind the circumstances and mystery that have perplexed and plagued her and Joseph, Mary states that she speaks “through the Son of God”.37

The truth I utter through the Son of God,
Savior of Spirits that I still do not know
by copulation any man,
any on earth, but to me it was granted,
young in my home, that Gabriel,
archangel of heaven, offered me a greeting.
He said truly that the Spirit of Heaven
would illumine me with splendor; I should bear the Glory of Life
the bright Son, the mighty Child of God,
of the glorious Creator. Now that I his temple am
made without spot, in me the Spirit of Comfort
\ has dwelt, so you now may completely relinquish
your bitter sorrow. Say eternal thanks
to the great Son of God that I have become his mother,
yet henceforth a virgin, and you called his father
by the reckoning of the world. Prophecy had to be
in Himself truly fulfilled.

Consequently, this poem ends, as Burlin states with respect to the fourth and seventh poems,… in an exalted speech by the Virgin. The sense of finality in Mary’s words is increased by the confused atmosphere of apparent realism, out of which her emphatic “revelation” emerges triumphantly.39

Revealing the special nature of her relationship to God and the unique revelation she has received, Mary confirms that she remains a virgin, a fact she repeats three different times, and has been chosen, of all women to “bear the Glory of Life,…the mighty Child of God …”40 Thus, her words and her presence, filled as they now are with “the Spirit of Comfort,” should enable Joseph to “completely relinquish” his sorrow.41 At the same time, they should also lead Joseph to offer “thanks” to the “Son of God” that is within her for this “Son” has enabled Mary to “become his mother” and Joseph to “be called his father.”42 In the process, the words of the prophets of old have been fulfilled.43

Therefore, while the pious poet does relate Joseph’s doubt and struggle to discern the mystery of Mary’s pregnancy, his sensitivity to the vicious gossip it has evoked, his guilt that he did not protect her as he should, and his confusion about how to respond to her and the child she bears, he/she goes to great lengths, in these pivotal verses, to transform the biblical portrayal of Joseph (despite the writer’s claim that the empowerment of Mary has led to the “blessing” of God being given to “both together, with men and women always henceforth …”[in the fourth poem]).44 It is certainly the case, as Clayton states, that the “theme of the doubting of Mary,” found in this poem has its basis in Mt 1.18-19.45 It is also the case that the lyricist does not inundate this text or the seventh poem with the many extra-canonical stories about Mary found in the apocryphal narratives that are often used in other medieval narratives and poetry.46 Further, as Clayton argues,

The situation (in the seventh poem) presupposed by the poet differs from that in the apocryphal narratives, where Joseph is aware of Mary’s conception by the Holy Spirit before the public rumours and accusations begin …47

Nevertheless, this does not mean the poet “scarcely departs from biblical events,” as Clayton states.48 Rather, the lyricist appears quite comfortable ignoring much of the biblical account in the first and second chapters of both Matthew and Luke and creating even more theological walls between Joseph and Mary than the earlier Christian apocryphal writers. As an example, rather than including the numerous accounts pertaining to Joseph in the gospel of Matthew: his four dreams, his adoption of Mary’s child as his own, his role in the guidance and protection of his new family in their respective journeys to and from Egypt and Galilee, the writer only relates the material about Joseph’s doubt. Additionally, instead of including the events in the Lucan narrative of Joseph’s participation with Mary in the care of their son and in his spiritual instruction, the poet focuses exclusively upon events pertaining to Mary. Thus, although the writer is obviously well-acquainted with Luke’s story of the angel Gabriel’s association with Mary and with the attributes that are bestowed upon her in this canonical narrative, as he/she demonstrates in many of the verses in this poem as well as others, he/she seems either oblivious to Luke’s portrayal of Joseph and the positive attributes bestowed upon him or disinterested in its relevance to the story of the Advent.

Subsequently, it can be concluded that one thing that distinguishes this literary record from other period medieval narratives and poetry is the way in which Joseph’s doubt is resolved within the context of a dramatic dialogue between Mary and Joseph. This occurs when Mary reveals to Joseph that the archangel Gabriel has told her that she is to bear “the Glory of Life … the mighty Child of God.”49 In the Matthean canonical narrative and early apocryphal narratives Joseph’s doubt is assuaged by a revelatory and reassuring message of an angelic figure in a dream and this dream, in turn, is followed by others that inform the journey of Joseph and Mary and the child.50 But, here, as in the Lukan canonical narrative, it is Mary, not Joseph, who is approached by an angelic figure (here, identified as in Luke, as Gabriel). Thus, from the perspective of the lyricist, Mary subsumes the role of the Matthean angelic messenger who came to Joseph as he slept, Joseph’s Matthean role as the spiritual recipient and enactor of God’s messages and, for all intents and purposes, his Matthean and Lukan roles as the earthly father of Jesus and Mary’s real spouse.51 Consequently – as is seen in the words of the seventh poem – Mary subsumes most of the roles Joseph had held in both the Matthean and Lukan narratives. This is seen, in part, in this critically instructive seventh poem, as Mary exhibits her spiritual prowess and, in her last words to Joseph, directs him to: “Say eternal thanks to the great Son of God that I have become his mother, yet henceforth a virgin, and you called his father by the reckoning of the world.”52 Thus, the reader is left with the impression in these last words of the seventh poem that Mary and only Mary can ultimately save Joseph from what Garde calls the “petulant self-concern” that he appears to exhibit in this dialogue.53

Therefore, it may be concluded that a careful examination of the Advent Lyrics offers substantiation that this lyricist believed he/she had permission to dramatically alter both the story of the birth of Jesus as well as the portrayal of the character and role its two main adult characters: Mary and Joseph. This led him/her to create a uniquely positive portrait of Mary that significantly elaborated the portraits of her found in the earliest canonical gospels, and particularly the gospel of Luke. But, he/she also created a uniquely negative portrayal of Joseph that bore only the slightest of similarities to the representations of him found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke and made him appear as a weak and limited character who can only find hope in his relationship with Mary.


  1. Translations of the Advent Lyrics can be found in several different texts.  See A.S. Cook, The Christ of Cynewulf (Boston: Ginn & Company, 1900); George Philip Krapp and Elliot Van Kirk Dobbie, The Exeter Book, vol. 3 of The Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936); Jackson J. Campbell published in The Advent Lyrics of the Exeter Book (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1959); and Charles W. Kennedy, Early English Christian Poetry (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press,1963). For this article I have used the translation by Campbell published in The Advent Lyrics.  Mark C. Amodio, The Anglo-Saxon Literature Handbook (West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014),204, states that the poems in the Advent Lyrics “are far more than the brief, devotional utterances that the antiphons are: in the hands of the Anglo-Saxon poet they become sites of extended devotional, almost homiletic meditation and instruction as well …” ↩︎
  2. Kennedy, Early English Christian Poetry, 76.  While Amodio, The Anglo-Saxon Literature Handbook, 203-04, does believe several of the poems in the Advent Lyrics have their foundation in Advent antiphons, he
    thinks the seventh poem is not directly “connected to the Advent celebration …” Katherine O’Brien O’Keefe, Visible Song: Transitional Literacy in Old English Verse (New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University
    Press, 1990), 155, following the conclusions of N.R. Ker, Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Anglo-Saxon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1957), no. 116 (s.x.2) and K. Sisam, Studies in the History of Old English Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1953), 99, argues that the text was likely copied between 970 and 1000 CE. ↩︎
  3. Mary Clayton, The Cult of the Virgin Mary in Anglo-Saxon England (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 181, believes that the author’s “familiarity with liturgical sources … suggests he … was a monk or cleric.” She also subscribes to Woolf’s argument that the text was likely intended for a limited audience such as a monastic body.  See this in R. Woolf (reviewing Advent Lyrics, ed. Campbell), MAE 29 (1960), 125-9, at 129. ↩︎
  4. Judith Garde, “Christ I (164-195a): The Mary-Joseph Dialogue in Medieval Christian Perspective,” Neophilologus 74 (1990), 128. ↩︎
  5. This argument can be made even though Campbell, Advent Lyrics, p. 10, finds “no structural progression in idea or emotion from one poem to the next” in this work. ↩︎
  6. Garde’s belief, “Christ I,” 128, that the “doctrinal dimension” of this poetry is based upon the “irrefutable authority of the Scripture” is misguided, especially with respect to the seventh poem. ↩︎
  7. The theological background and literary context of the seventh poem are critical to its comprehension.  Garde, “Christ I,” 128, is quite correct in her conclusion that the seventh poem “cannot be discussed in isolation … from the rest of the poem, of which it remains an essential doctrinal component.” To focus upon the praise of Mary in these four poems (as well as in the seventh poem) is not to imply that I assume an immediate sequential reading for this corpus of lyrics.  The very length of the Advent season suggests these individual lyrics were probably read separately, at designated times, within the season, over a period that covered most if not all of the season. Further, as was previously noted in note 2 of this article, by Amodio, The Anglo-Saxon Literature Handbook, 203-204, although one must recognize the seventh poem’s relationship to the rest in the context of the present extant collection, to do so is not to assume that it was directly “connected to the Advent celebration,” as the other poems. ↩︎
  8. Clayton, The Cult of the Virgin Mary, 190, believes this poet would most likely have known of the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew and would not have been familiar with the Infancy Gospel of James. ↩︎
  9. While the poet may well have also found inspiration for his/her words in the second poem in the writings of later Christian writers, including Bede and Alcuin, the ideas highlighted in this poem are readily found in these two early Christian gospel accounts. ↩︎
  10. Campbell, Advent Lyrics, 48. ↩︎
  11. Campbell, Advent Lyrics, 52. ↩︎
  12. Campbell, Advent Lyrics, 52. ↩︎
  13. See Luke 1.1-27. ↩︎
  14. Campbell, Advent Lyrics, 52. ↩︎
  15. Clayton, Cult of the Virgin,190. See the mention of Mary as a member of the tribe of David in Bart Ehrman and Zlatko Pleše, The Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 79 and 99. ↩︎
  16. Campbell, Advent Lyrics, 66. ↩︎
  17. Campbell, Advent Lyrics, 66. ↩︎
  18. Campbell, Advent Lyrics, 66. ↩︎
  19. Campbell, Advent Lyrics, 68. ↩︎
  20. Campbell, Advent Lyrics, 70. The theological idea that Mary had the capacity to act as an intercessor for human beings before Christ and God was likely first articulated by Irenaeus, the second century Christian Bishop of Lyon. ↩︎
  21. Campbell, Advent Lyrics, 68 and 70. ↩︎
  22. Campbell, Advent Lyrics, 76. ↩︎
  23. Garde, “Christ I,” 124. ↩︎
  24. Aside from the obvious and most basic influence of the Matthean canonical text (Mt.1.18-25), scholars believe other influences can be found in Sermon 195 in Pseudo-Augustine and in the apocryphal Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew.  In this regard see D.G. Calder & M.J.B. Allen, Sources & Analogues of Old English Poetry (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1976), 70-76 and Clayton, The Cult of the Virgin, 187-190. ↩︎
  25. Amodio, The Anglo-Saxon Literature Handbook, 204, elaborates upon this distinction noting that the “lyric … contains only one line of narration” and thus the identities of Joseph and Mary “emerge only through their speeches and not by any discourse markers …” ↩︎
  26. See Amodio, The Anglo-Saxon Literature Handbook, 352 ↩︎
  27. Clayton, Cult of the Virgin, 195. A good review of the debate over the division of the seventh poem can be found in Robert B. Burlin, The Old English Advent: A Typological Commentary (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1968), 119-120. ↩︎
  28. Clayton, Cult of the Virgin, 190-5, does an excellent job of summarizing the argument for this division of the seventh poem. ↩︎
  29. Campbell, Advent Lyrics, 58. ↩︎
  30. Campbell, Advent Lyrics, 58. ↩︎
  31. Campbell, Advent Lyrics, 58. ↩︎
  32. Campbell, Advent Lyrics, 58. ↩︎
  33. Amodio The Anglo-Saxon Literature Handbook, 205, states that “Joseph’s doubts are part of the tradition surrounding the birth of Christ that developed in apocryphal writings …” However, in doing so, he reveals his lack of knowledge of the Matthean canonical narrative. ↩︎
  34. Campbell, Advent Lyrics, 58. ↩︎
  35. Campbell, Advent Lyrics, 58. ↩︎
  36. Campbell, Advent Lyrics, 58. ↩︎
  37. Campbell, Advent Lyrics, 58. ↩︎
  38. Campbell, Advent Lyrics, 58 and 60. ↩︎
  39. Robert B. Burlin, Old English Advent, 175. ↩︎
  40. Campbell, Advent Lyrics, 60. ↩︎
  41. Campbell, Advent Lyrics, 60. ↩︎
  42. Campbell, Advent Lyrics, 60. ↩︎
  43. Campbell, Advent Lyrics, 60. ↩︎
  44. Campbell, Advent Lyrics, 52. ↩︎
  45. Clayton, Cult of the Virgin, 187. ↩︎
  46. Clayton, Cult of the Virgin, 202. ↩︎
  47. Clayton, Cult of the Virgin Mary, 193. ↩︎
  48. Clayton, Cult of the Virgin Mary, 202. ↩︎
  49. Campbell, Advent Lyrics, 60. ↩︎
  50. The substantial change the Old English poet creates in his/her limited portrayal of Joseph in this seventh poem is confirmed by the description Jane Chance, Woman as Hero in Old English Literature (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1986), 24-25, offers of Joseph as a person who is so “faithful to the Law and the Letter” that Mary (not God or the angelic messenger of God—as recounted in the Matthean narrative) has to save Joseph from a “pernicious literalism …”  This stands in sharp contrast with his portrayal in the Matthean narrative.  It is most interesting that in her reflective and intriguing essay on Mary, “The Virgin Mary of Christ I as Secular and Ecclesiastical Feminine Ideal,” Chance, Woman as Hero, 13-30, does not also explore the issue of the transformation of Joseph in light of his portrayal in these lyrics and the way the poet represents his relationship with Mary. ↩︎
  51. Chance, Woman as Hero, 25-26, concurs with this and even goes so far as to imagine Joseph to be a symbolic “fallen man …” She writes that “Mary here becomes a spiritual messenger instructing fallen man, analogous to the angel Gabriel instructing Mary …” Further, Chance even suggests that it is Mary who “educates him (Joseph) in how to read God’s Word by the Spirit instead of the Letter” and Mary’s pregnancy that “signals Joseph’s conversion from the Old Man to the man new in Christ …”  As amazing as these ideas may sound, they seem to be appropriate claims in light of the way the Old English poet represents Joseph in this poem. ↩︎
  52. Campbell, Advent Lyrics, 60. ↩︎
  53. Garde, “Christ I,” 128. ↩︎

Author: Dr. Philip W. Jacobs

Author & professor of art history and Christian subjects.

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