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.

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