Project Report: Studying Judith in Anglo-Saxon England

Brandon W. Hawk

University of Connecticut


Surviving in the Nowell Codex (London, British Library, Cotton Vitellius A.xv), the Old English poetic Judith is a formidable text in the corpus of vernacular Anglo-Saxon literature—one of only a few biblical verse narratives,1 and prominently featuring a female heroine.2 Indeed, scholars have recently welcomed it into the canon of Old English poetry alongside other well-known texts.3 Yet, for all the deserved focus on this poem (and perhaps because of it), a major research question remains: How did Anglo-Saxons read, understand, and write about Judith, the figure and the book? My purpose in this note is to report on a project titled "Studying Judith in Anglo-Saxon England," which aims to examine this question.

One of the significant findings so far is the large amount of material that circulated in Anglo-Saxon England relating to both the book and the figure of Judith. A corpus of forty-nine texts survives, though often only a handful are cited or examined. Most scholarship has focused on the Old English poetic Judith, and some recent work has discussed Ælfric's Old English sermon De Iudith, with scattered references to important authors such as Jerome, Aldhelm, and Hrabanus Maurus.4 Yet a large part of the overall relevant corpus has not been significantly acknowledged nor addressed. For example, in his edition of the poetic Judith, Mark Griffith lists several works as "the main medieval discussions of, or references to, the Book of Judith which pre-date the O.E. poem"—but this list includes only a portion of the larger picture.5 The basis of this project is Jerome's translation of Judith (completed c. 405-7) included in the Vulgate Latin Bible, which forms the center of what may be thought of as a constellation of texts surrounding it.6 This constellation of texts includes a variety of commentary on and references to the biblical book and its central figure, bringing together Latin and Old English texts from patristic, continental, and Anglo-Saxon authors, spanning from antiquity up into the twelfth century.

One contribution of this project is in bringing together an array of methodologies and approaches from several areas of scholarship. These methodologies draw on traditional, philological approaches at the heart of medieval studies as well as emerging techniques made possible with digital technologies. Some of these approaches include:

  • · Textual Editing
  • · Source Study
  • · Manuscript Studies
  • · Digital Archiving
  • · Text Encoding
  • · Text Mining
  • · Geospatial Mapping
By bringing together these disparate methodologies, I seek to examine and present the texts surrounding Judith with questions not previously addressed. Results of this study will be made available via open access under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), to facilitate access for scholars and the general public.

Since the basis of this project lies in studying the transmission of texts related to Judith, much depends upon establishing evidence for Anglo-Saxon knowledge of the corpus. The most solid evidence may be found in manuscripts. Fortunately, past efforts provide important resources for this task: for example, standard references like N. R. Ker's Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Anglo-Saxon (NRK) and Helmut Gneuss's Handlist of Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts (HG), as well as recent works like The Production and Use of English Manuscripts 1060 to 1220, edited by Orietta Da Rold and others, and Donald Scragg's A Conspectus of Scribal Hands Writing English, 960-1100. Beyond manuscripts, but relevant to evidence for textual transmissions, are the monumental source projects, Fontes Anglo-Saxonici and Sources of Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture. Another relevant and useful resource has been Michael Lapidge's The Anglo-Saxon Library, which is, in its own right, a model for one type of approach to transmission, focused on classical and patristic Latin. Finally, I have also consulted other major standards in the field, particularly the Clavis Patrum Latinorum (CPL) compiled by Eligius Dekkers and Emilius Gaar, Clavis Patristica Pseudepigraphorum Medii Aevi (CPPM) compiled by Jan Michaelson, and the Dictionary of Old English (DOE), edited by Antonette diPaolo Healey (now Roy Liuzza).

The development of this project will span several phases, as work continues with various digital tools. The goal of the first phase of this project (completed) was to compile transcriptions of every text (or relevant passages from longer texts), along with information about Anglo-Saxon manuscript circulation. Additionally, in order to facilitate scholarly cross-referencing and to conform to standards of digital scholarship, it has been necessary to include appropriate metadata. At present, four ways of accessing project data are available online, all available via open access:

  • 1) All of the texts in the project corpus with Dublin Core metadata (including references to editions consulted) are listed in a Google Docs spreadsheet [link].
  • 2) All of the texts in the project corpus with references to relevant surviving manuscripts are listed in another Google Docs spreadsheet [link].
  • 3) Each individual text (most with translations) may be viewed, with metadata, at an Omeka archive hosted by the University of Connecticut Scholars' Collaborative [link].
  • 4) Finally, a GitHub repository contains the entire text corpus in plaintext files (in multiple forms for analysis), both spreadsheets with Dublin Core and manuscript data, as well as some preliminary results and visualizations of text analysis [link].

A second phase (underway) includes examining the corpus of texts using text-mining methods—what Franco Moretti calls "distant reading" and Matthew L. Jockers has deemed "macroanalysis"—with tools such as the R programming language, as well as web-based statistical analysis tools such as Voyant. At the same time, I aim to develop the text archive further by editing the texts in computer-actionable markup such as XML/TEI.7 Finally, a third phase (also underway) is to map the manuscripts in which these texts survive across geographies and temporalities, in order to understand the transmission of texts in Anglo-Saxon England more fully. A preliminary map of relevant manuscripts surviving in modern British libraries (built on the GoogleMaps Engine Lite) is available [link]. This map includes one layer for data about manuscript origins, with some locations as vague as "England" or "France" (and some of these are marked by a question mark in HG) and others as specific as "Canterbury, Christ Church"; another layer indicates current provenance in modern repositories.

Progress reports may be read at the development blog, where some preliminary results have been posted:


Works Cited


Bredehoft, Thomas A. Early English Metre. Toronto; University of Toronto Press, 2005.

Anlezark, Daniel, ed. and trans. Old Testament Narratives. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 7. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2011.

Burnard, Lou, Katherine O'Brien O'Keeffe, and John Unsworth, eds. Electronic Textual Editing. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2006.

Cooper, Tracey-Anne. "Judith in Late Anglo-Saxon England." The Sword of Judith: Judith Across the Disciplines. Ed. Kevin R. Brine, Elena Ciletti, and Henrike Lähnemann. Cambridge: OpenBook, 2010. 169-96.

Creative Commons.

Da Rold, Orietta, et al., ed. The Production and Use of English Manuscripts 1060 to 1220. University of Leicester, 2010. [link]

Dekkers, Eligius, and Emilius Gaar. Clavis Patrum Latinorum. 3rd ed. Turnhout: Brepols, 1995.

Dublin Core Metadata Initiative. 1995-2014.

Fontes Anglo-Saxonici: A Register of Written Sources Used by Anglo-Saxon Authors.

Fulk, R. D., ed. and trans. The Beowulf Manuscript: Complete Texts, and The Fight at Finnsburg. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 3. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2010.

Gneuss, Helmut. Handlist of Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts: A List of Manuscripts and Manuscript Fragments Written or Owned in England up to 1100. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 241. Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2001.

Griffith, Mark, ed. Judith. Exeter: U of Exeter P, 1997; repr. 2001.

Hawk, Brandon W. Book of Judith. Scholars' Collaborative. U of Connecticut. [link]

—. Studying Judith. GitHub. [link]

—. Studying Judith in Anglo-Saxon England: Project Development Blog. [link]

Healey, Antonette diPaolo, ed. The Dictionary of Old English. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2003–.

Jockers, Matthew L. Macroanalysis: Digital Methods and Literary History. Urbana, IL: U of Illinois P, 2013.

Ker, N. R. Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Anglo-Saxon. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1957; repr. with supplement, 1990.

Klein, Stacy S. "Gender." A Handbook to Anglo-Saxon Studies. Ed. Jacqueline Stodnick and Renée R. Trilling. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. 39-54.

Lapidge, Michael. The Anglo-Saxon Library. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006.

Marsden, Richard. The Text of the Old Testament in Anglo-Saxon England. Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England 15. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995.

Machielsen, Jan. Clavis Patristica Pseudepigraphorum Medii Aevi. 5 vols. Turnhout: Brepols, 1990-2004.

Moretti, Franco. Distant Reading. London: Verso, 2012.

Omeka. Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. George Mason University, 2007-2014.

R Core Team. The R Project for Statistical Computing. Institute for Statistics and Mathematics. Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien.

Scragg, Donald. A Conspectus of Scribal Hands Writing English, 960-1100. Publications of the Manchester Centre for Anglo-Saxon Studies 11. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2012.

Sinclair, Stéfan, Geoffrey Rockwell, and the Voyant Tools Team. Voyant Tools Documentation. 2012-2014.

Scholars' Collaborative. University of Connecticut.

Sources of Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture.

Szarmach, Paul. "Ælfric's Judith." Old English Literature and the Old Testament. Ed. Michael Fox and Manish Sharma. Toronto Anglo-Saxon Series 10. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2012. 64-88.

TEI: Text Encoding Initiative.

1. Other examples are Genesis, Exodus, Daniel, and its counterpart, Azarias—all recently edited and translated together in Anlezark, Old Testament Narratives.

2. See esp. Klein, "Gender."

3. Paul E. Szarmach makes the same point in his recent article "Ælfric's Judith," with references at 64, n. 1.

4. Recently, see esp. Griffith, Judith; Cooper, "Judith in Late Anglo-Saxon England"; Fulk, Beowulf Manuscript; and Szarmach, "Ælfric's Judith."

5. Griffith, Judith, 71-2, n. 240; he also lists which texts are known to have circulated in Anglo-Saxon England, at 73, n. 247.

6. While the Vulgate version of Judith was the dominant form in Anglo-Saxon England, it is possible that the Old Latin also circulated, and it is not always easy to determine which version was used; see Griffith, Judith, esp. 47-61; and Marsden, Text of the Old Testament, 442.

7. See Burnard, O'Brien O'Keeffe, and Unsworth, Electronic Textual Editing.