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The Accommodated JewEnglish Antisemitism from Bede to Milton$

Kathy Lavezzo

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781501703157

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501703157.001.0001

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Sepulchral Jews and Stony Christians

Sepulchral Jews and Stony Christians

Supersession in Bede and Cynewulf

(p.28) Chapter 1 Sepulchral Jews and Stony Christians
The Accommodated Jew

Kathy Lavezzo

Cornell University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the unstable geography of Christian and Jew during the Anglo-Saxon period through an analysis of Bede's Latin exegetical work On the Temple (ca. 729–731) and in Cynewulf's Old English poem Elene. It takes as its starting point how Bede and Cynewulf tackle a material long associated with Jewish materialism, stone, in comparison with Christian materialism and descibes their accounts of the sepulchral Jew as well as the stony nature of Jews. It also considers how Bede and Cynewulf construct Christianity by asserting its alterity and opposition to an idea of Jewish carnality that draws on and modifies Pauline supersession. The chapter concludes with an assessment of how Bede's and Cynewulf's charged engagements with supersession and “Jewish” places contribute both to our understanding of Anglo-Saxon material culture and to the important role that ideas of the Jew played in such materialisms.

Keywords:   supersession, Christian materialism, Bede, On the Temple, Cynewulf, Elene, Jewish materialism, stone, sepulchral Jew, stony nature of Jews

Stone and Supersession

Arguably, the primary form of religious difference that occupied the minds of Anglo-Saxon Christians was paganism. One of the two writers on which this chapter focuses, Bede, was born in 672/73, less than a hundred years after the Gregorian mission to convert the Anglo-Saxons and only decades after Celtic missionaries joined that effort.1 We know very little about Cynewulf, the poet whom I pair with Bede. He likely was an ecclesiastic and seems to have flourished a generation or more after Bede.2 But we can be sure that during Cynewulf’s life, paganism continued to lurk not far from Christianity, especially with the onset of Viking invasions. Both Bede’s and Cynewulf’s works confirm this interest in pagans. Texts like Bede’s Ecclesiastical History (ca. 731) and Cynewulf’s Fates of the Apostles evince a deep investment in the apostolic mission of extending the Roman Christian imperium to its English border, where a newly converted Germanic and, later, Norse people were asked to renounce long-held polytheistic attachments.3

However, Jews were just as much if not more of a concern for Anglo-Saxon Christians. This was not due to the presence on the island of Jews, who did not inhabit England until after the Norman Conquest, but rather to the proximity of Judaism and Christianity. While Anglo-Saxon writers like Bede and Cynewulf didn’t live alongside Jews, they were keenly cognizant of both their status as (p.29) God’s original chosen people, whose holy books formed the basis of Christianity, and the vexing fact that contemporary Jews did not follow the new Christian religion. Thanks to the close and difficult relationship between Christianity and Judaism, Jewishness haunted Christian life and thought. As Andrew Scheil and other scholars affirm, fundamental to Anglo-Saxon writers’ efforts to negotiate their relationship to the Jew was an ideology of supersession or, in a more strictly textual register, a typological hermeneutic.4 According to supersession, which first emerged in the complex intertwining of “ontology, hermeneutics, anthropology, and christology” in Paul’s epistles, Jews adhere to an outmoded carnality and literal-mindedness that Christianity supplants with its embrace of the spirit and figurative thinking.5 For example, in 2 Corinthians 3:3, Paul contrasts the literal inscription of the old law on the tablets containing the Ten Commandments to the figurative writing of the new law by “the Spirit of the living God” on “the fleshly tables of the heart.”6 Later writers, most influentially Augustine, invoked a version of supersession to manage the problematic priority—that is, the exalted venerability—of the Hebrew Bible. Persons, places, and events in the Old Testament, Augustine and other theologians asserted, both look toward and are superseded by their counterparts in Christian history, although Jews fail to grasp such a relationship due to the literal mindset that their carnality entails.7 Supersession, to be sure, was not unique to Anglo-Saxon writers but appears in Christian discussions of Jews produced throughout the medieval West. However, Bede and Cynewulf engaged supersession in spatial ways that both set them apart from previous writers and adumbrate English notions of Jews and geography evinced in later texts.

For anyone familiar with contemporary Anglo-Saxon studies, my emphasis on space and Jews will bring to mind the topic of migration. Important work by scholars such as Scheil, Patrick Wormald, Nicholas Howe, and Samantha Zacher has made clear how the Anglo-Saxons exhibited a distinctive interest in the Israelites of Exodus, whose migratory experience and chosen status offered a template for understanding Anglo-Saxon identity.8 My discussion diverges from such work by taking as its starting point the Anglo-Saxon interest in not migration but Jerusalem and, more particularly, the privileged materialisms associated with that holiest of sites. Instead of attending to expansive tribal movements, this chapter tracks smaller-scale investments in the former Jewish homeland and the exalted objects and buildings located there.9

My analysis centers on Bede’s Latin exegetical work On the Temple (ca. 729–31), which interprets the description in 3 Kings 5:1–7:51 of Solomon’s erection of the Temple of Jerusalem, and Cynewulf’s Old English poem (p.30) Elene, which retells the legend of the discovery of the “true” cross.10 Bede, one of the most sophisticated, nuanced, and brilliant thinkers in medieval Christianity, offers an excellent starting point for examining supersession, a rhetoric that informs nearly all the works covered in this book. Cynewulf’s Elene complements and supplements Bede by showing how an Anglo-Saxon writer understood supersession not in a Latinate and theological register, but rather in a vernacular and explicitly literary context. In what follows, I slowly tease out the stakes, slippages, and tensions informing both Bede’s and Cynewulf’s accounts of Jews and “Jewish” materialism. I take as my premise the belief that while we already know that supersession is both omnipresent in early Christian writings and doomed to failure, its articulation in certain places and periods generates lines of development and breakdown that diverge and overlap in important and telling ways. In the case of Bede and Cynewulf, their charged engagements with supersession and “Jewish” places contribute both to our understanding of Anglo-Saxon material culture and to the important role that ideas of the Jew played in such materialisms.11

As we shall see, in many respects, both Bede and Cynewulf affirm the usual Christian elevation of the spirit over matter and letter. At the start of On the Temple, Bede claims he will locate “the spiritual mansion of God” in the “material structure” of the temple, foregrounding his interest in reading the building typologically, or what Christian theologians later would describe as “in the accommodated sense.”12 And Elene features a Jew, Judas, whose carnal investment in the well-being of his fellow Jews prevents him from assisting Queen Helena in her quest to uncover the cross as a vehicle of faith. However, other aspects of those works exhibit Christian materialisms that both shed light on important aspects of the Anglo-Saxon world and radically undermine the usual denigration of the Jew as carnal. These elements hint at a fuller picture of early Christian identity in England than supersession would, on the face of it, suggest. Effectively turning the import of supersession on its head, these texts reveal how Christians not only are carnal but also are fascinated by and even envious of what emerges as not a debased but rather a privileged Jewish materialism.

Crucial to my analysis of Bede’s and Cynewulf’s spatial rhetorics of supersession is their engagement with a material long associated with the “carnal” Jew, stone. Stone plays a central role in Paul’s elevation of Christian over Jew; in 2 Corinthians 3:7–8, he describes how the Christian life-giving “ministry of the spirit” supersedes a Jewish “ministry of death” that was “engraved with letters upon stone.”13 Paul elaborates on the Jew’s stony materialism, writing that Jewish minds are hardened—their senses ossified, dull, and unchanging—so much so that “to this day” they are incapable of (p.31) “beholding the glory of the Lord” witnessed under Christianity.14 Stonily clinging to a carnal mentality, Paul’s Jews are cognitively handicapped, incapable of comprehending new Christian truths.15 While ideas of the stone-hearted or stony Jew appear in writings in medieval England and elsewhere, Bede offers a distinctively architectural and notably offensive version of this rhetoric in a sermon that I pair with his temple exegesis.16 In this homily, Bede connotes the Jew’s lithic materialism via the degraded space of a tomb closed by a stone. Cynewulf makes a similar move in Elene by linking Judas’s stony carnality to the notorious moment when Queen Helena tortures him in a grave-like pit for refusing to help her find the cross.

Both Bede’s and Cynewulf’s texts depict what I call the “sepulchral Jew,” the idea that the Jew’s recalcitrant investment in the dead letter of the old law merits his association with a grave or tomb-like space. I argue that, by using Bede’s and Cynewulf’s respective depictions of the stony, sepulchral Jew as a heuristic for both Elene and On the Temple, we gain an important means of tracking the geopolitical stakes of those writings, that is, their conception of the place of both Christians and Jews in the contemporary world. Bede’s and Cynewulf’s sepulchral Jews adumbrate the tomb-like houses of Shylock in Merchant and Manoa in Samson Agonistes. They also look toward the political acts of displacement that would occur in England in 1290. In the same way that the expulsion removed Jews from English soil, Bede’s tomb and Cynewulf’s pit exile the carnal Jew from Christian life, consigning him to a stony space of death located underground or inside a rocky escarpment. Indeed, the offensive image of the sepulchral Jew the writers connote lends chilling support to theories that during the Anglo-Saxon period, Jews were “deliberately excluded from the country.”17

Importantly, however, even as the depiction of stone in Bede and Cynewulf points to a disturbing burial or entombment of the Jew, it also undermines the very rhetoric of supersession on which that spatial rejection is based. A close look at Bede’s interpretations of the stones of Solomon’s Temple reveals moments where he proves invested in that building material in ways that point to the role of stone monuments and architecture in establishing the faith in England. Such links suggest how not just Roman but also Jewish materialisms shaped Christianity on the island, where religious sought both to incorporate England within an imperial Roman ecclesia and to bring the holy, Jewish spaces of Jerusalem to their isolated island. Cynewulf’s Elene exhibits similar contradictions, though those tensions emerge more overtly in relation to the materialism of Anglo-Saxon secular culture and Germanic paganism. Namely, references to the stones used in a building program led by Queen Helena, a Roman queen who also resembles Anglo-Saxon aristocrats, (p.32) expose her deep investment in “Jewish” materialisms. Taken together, Bede’s and Cynewulf’s works give us a new vantage point for appreciating how the Anglo-Saxons’ conversion to Christianity entailed no easy supplanting of pagan carnality with a pure and ascetic-minded Christian spirituality, but rather involved the messy and necessary entanglement of pagan, Christian, and Jewish materialisms.

Supersession and the Sepulchral Jew

Bede’s engagement with supersession appears in one of his fifty homilies on the Gospels. Likely late career products, the sermons are organized into two volumes and are found in their entirety in two ninth-century parchment continental manuscripts (Boulogne, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 75, 339 fols.; Zurich, Zentralbibliothek, MS C. 42, 81 fols.).18 The sermon, the tenth of volume 2, focuses on an Easter pericope or gospel passage from Luke where the evangelist recounts how, after the Crucifixion, Mary Magdalene and other women wishing to anoint Christ’s corpse with spices “found the stone rolled back from the sepulcher. And going in, they found not the body of the Lord Jesus” (Luke 24:2–3). As Bede does throughout his homilies, he teases out several meanings of the episode for his fellow monks.19 Bede begins with the historical sense, by reminding his readers that Matthew’s gospel “tells us that an angel came down from heaven and rolled the stone away from the mouth of the tomb”; the angel, Bede stresses, did not move the stone to “make a way for the Lord to go out, but so that the open and empty space of the tomb might divulge to human beings that he had risen again.”20 The usual function of a sepulcher—to protect a corpse—does not pertain to Christ, whose Resurrection rendered the built environment unnecessary. Indeed, Christ’s triumph over the physical world and mortality is such that he didn’t need his tomb opened by an angel in order to depart from it. The angel turns away the stone not to assist Jesus but to disclose his Resurrection to those left on earth. Instead of sheltering Christ, the empty sepulcher manifests Christ’s transcendence of material objects like tombs. Physical absence signifies as spiritual presence in Bede’s reading of the homily. Through its obsolescence, the tomb morphs into a vehicle of faith.

Bede elaborates on Christ’s triumph as he considers the spiritual meanings of the passage. Employing the pericope to assert supersession, Bede writes that “mystically, the rolling away of the stone implies the disclosure of the divine sacraments, which were formerly hidden and closed up by the letter of the law. For the law was written on stone” (II.10, 90).21 Echoing Paul, Bede reads rolling away the stone as a figure for the revelation of a higher, spiritual (p.33) Christian order, one that displaces and supplants a Jewish law that is bound to a literal and earthly sensibility. Bede’s use of stone to connote Jewish carnality is twofold. The letter of the law is both “written on stone” in the manner of the Ten Commandments and covers over or encloses the new law in the manner of a tomb. The sealed tomb signifies the Jews’ inability to see or witness the new law, while its architectural function—the sheltering of a corpse—signifies the lethal nature of the old law, as articulated by Paul’s claim that “the letter kills.” Bede engages in a kind of historical sleight of hand here. For Jews, that is, Mary Magdalene and the other Marys, are portrayed in the Gospels as the first to learn of the Resurrection from the angels at the tomb. But Bede, exhibiting a pattern of thought analyzed by Kruger, depicts the women as somehow always already Christian.22

Members of the Christian faithful, Bede continues, mystically reenact the work performed by the angel: “when we acknowledge our faith in the Lord’s passion and resurrection, his tomb, which had been closed, is opened up” (II.10, 90).23 In contrast, Jews and pagans “continue to be like a tomb still closed by a stone. They are not capable of entering to see that the body of the Lord has disappeared by his rising, because by the hardness of their infidelity they are prevented from becoming aware that a dead person, who has destroyed death’s right of entry and has already passed into the heights of the heavens, cannot be found on earth” (II.10, 90–91).24 In his account of the unbeliever’s hermeneutic blindness, Bede technically refers to both Jews and pagans. Yet his primary focus on the former group emerges in their stony duritia or hardness of infidelity, as well as his focus on Jewish law just prior to this moment.25 Here, as in his likening of the stone covering the tomb to the old law, Bede draws his trope from 2 Corinthians. In the same way that Paul writes that Jews’ minds “were hardened” or ossified, “for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read,” Bede renders the Jew hermeneutically blind and lithic. In Bede’s homily, as in Paul’s epistle, the Jew embodies the dead literalism of the old law in the manner of the stone of the Ten Commandments. Bede intensifies the trope not only by describing the Jew’s heart as hard and ossified but also by comparing the Jew to a tomb still closed by stone. In Bede’s sermon, while Christians mystically open Christ’s tomb anew, Jews become like sealed tombs in their stubborn adherence to a carnal perspective that prevents them from comprehending the Resurrection. Rendering Bede’s sepulchral Jew especially degrading is its presentation in the context of supersession. When occupied, a tomb has its uses, ranging from the ordinary function of sheltering a corpse to grander purposes such as memorialization. For a Christian ascetic—such as Cuthbert, whose biography Bede wrote—the sepulchral, reclusive, and closed space of the hermit’s (p.34) cell or monk’s cloister presented an appealing otherworldliness.26 But here, in the context of the tomb abandoned by Christ, a closed sepulcher is superfluous and useless, connoting the Jew’s outmoded carnality.

If we turn from Bede’s Latin sermon to Cynewulf’s Old English poem Elene, we find the poet similarly using a tomb to indicate the Jew’s stony materialism and resulting hermeneutical incapacity. Richly combining travel, landscape, archaeology, and architecture, Elene is a verse account of the apocryphal story of the finding of the cross during the reign of Constantine the Great, who some English writers claimed was born in Britain.27 In the legendary tale, Constantine’s mother Helena travels to Jerusalem and eventually finds both the beams on which Christ died and the nails of the cross. Of the three Old English versions of the invention legend that exist, only Cynewulf’s text features a Jew and yokes finding the cross to the problem of Jewish unbelief.28 In Elene, the queen turns to the Jew, Judas, for help in her quest, but due to his stony carnality, he at first resists helping her. However, after Helena tortures him in a pit redolent of Bede’s tomb, Judas relents, assists Helena, and eventually becomes the bishop of the emperor’s newly conquered territory of Jerusalem.

Elene is located in a single late tenth-century manuscript known as the Vercelli Book (fols. 121r–133v), where it comprises one of several poems that mingle with twenty-three Old English prose sermons.29 In many respects those poems, as Scheil points out, develop literary themes laid out in the homilies.30 One such theme is that of the stony Jew. The sixteenth sermon in the codex relates how Christ’s divinity was evident not only to humans but to all of creation; even the stones recognize Christ, including many stones of the temple, which fell out of the sanctuary and burst apart at the time of the Crucifixion.31 But the “hard-hearted” Jews’ stubbornness is such that it trumps even the hardness of stones; they “wished not to recognize him, and they were harder than any stones due to their counsel” (“And hineþ onne hwæðreð forheardydan heortan Iudeas hine ne woldon ongitan, ac hie wæron heardran þ onne ænige stanas, ac hie for ðan næfre to hira ræde gecyrran ne meahton”).32 Cynewulf’s Elene develops this offensive notion and also builds on and complicates references to the lithic in his likely source, the so-called Acta Cyriaci.33 Complicating a relationship only hinted at in his sources and touched on in Vercelli 16, Cynewulf’s citations of stone, both literal and metaphoric, create in Elene richly various, overlapping, and even contradictory depictions of a stony and “Jewish” carnality.

A stony hard-heartedness is vital to Judas’s identity in the poem, and at least initially it sets him apart from other Jews. Before Judas appears in Elene, Cynewulf recounts a meeting between five hundred Jews and Helena. (p.35) During this gathering, the queen berates the Jews as “wræcmæcggas” (“miserable men,” 387a) who know the prophets yet deny that God’s son was born in Bethlehem (386–95).34 Helena evokes the familiar stereotype of a willful hermeneutical blindness to Christian truth. But the Jews’ response posits a scenario that in certain ways is more far disturbing: they claim that they have no idea what sin they have committed. In other words, we find in Elene not willfully blind Jews—Jews whose ancestors knew Christ as one of their own and rejected him as their savior—but instead Jews who are utterly ignorant of Christianity and Christ’s existence. This is not the first time Helena has met with Jews in the poem; rather she assembled them before her on three earlier occasions. During those encounters, the queen exhibited a keen Christian cognizance of and vested interest in Jewish law and the Hebrew Bible (288a–292b; 333a–368a). In contrast to Helena’s intense awareness of Judaism, the Jews are oblivious of the new Christian order and its fraught relation to them and their ancestors. The problem facing Helena at this point in the poem isn’t so much the Jews’ denial that Jesus was God, but that Jews are so disinterested in Christian history and the Gospels that Jesus has no place in their historical record or collective memory.

Judas, however, knows of what the queen speaks, and he is remarkably firm in resisting her aid. He tells his fellow Jews after their royal summons that Helena seeks information about the cross on which Christ died and stresses that “the need is great that we set our hearts firmly” (“Nu is þearf mycel/ þæt we fæstlice ferhðstaðelien,” 426b–427b) to hide both the murder and the location of the cross (419–30a). Judas’s desire to conceal evidence of Jewish anti-Christian violence adumbrates the conventions of later ritual-murder legends, where “martyred” boys are hidden in forests, wells, and privies. These lines also mark the first time that Cynewulf associates Judas with hard-heartedness. His likely Latin source, the so-called Acta Cyriaci, doesn’t mention solidly fixed hearts and has Judas simply urge that no one reveal the information.35 Making Judas’s resistance especially noteworthy is his awareness of not only the historical Jesus but also his divinity, thanks to firsthand knowledge passed down from his grandfather Zachaeus and father Simon (436–531a). Recounting a dialogue between his ancestors, Judas relates how Zachaeus, who lived in Jerusalem during Christ’s lifetime, tried to convince his fellow Jews not to hang the man they all knew was “the true son of the creator” (“soð Sunu meotudes,” 461). Judas’s knowledge of the “truth” of Christianity seems to render him all the more obstinate in refusing to assist Helena. Indeed, in urging his fellow Jews to set their hearts on secrecy, he opposes both what he knows to (p.36) be a fact and the wishes of his forbearers. Zachaeus tells Simon to “speak quickly” (“snude gecyð,” 446b) about the cross if asked about it, and Simon likewise counsels Judas never to speak ill of Christ (522–28). Ignoring the import of his personal paternal hotline to Christianity, Judas asks the Jews to lie and ensure that, in an ironic choice of phrase, the “teachings of our fathers” (“fæderlican lare,” 431b–432a) are not abandoned. Importantly, Judas is notably carnal in his adherence to Judaism. While Zachaeus “turned from the world” (“wende hine of worulde,” 440a) to support Christ, and Simon urges his son to speak well of Jesus so that he will merit “eternal life” (“ece lif,” 526b) in heaven, Judas trains his attention on middangeard or earth (435a), worrying that the “nobles of Israel” (“Israhela æðelu,” 433) may rule (“ma ricsian,” 434b) there no longer. The needs of the tribe trump the patrilineal plot.36

Once Judas enlightens his fellow Jews about Christ, they finally possess the knowledge Helena seeks. Thus when the queen soon reassembles them before her, they can exhibit a stony resistance toward her, which they do. The queen asks them “where the prince suffered, the true son of the creator for the love of souls” (“hwær se þeoden geþrowade, soðsunu meotudes for sawla lufan,” 563–64), only to receive a response that highlights the Jews’ newfound stubbornness:

  • Heo wæron stearce, stane heardran,
  • noldon þæt geryne rihte cyðan
  • ne hire andsware ænige secgan,
  • torngeniðlan þæs hio him to sohte
  • ac hio worda gehwæs wiðer-sæc fremedon,
  • fæste on fyrhðe.


[They, her bitter foes, were stiff, harder than stone; [they] did not want rightly to reveal that secret nor give any answer to her about what she sought from them, but they offered opposition to her words, firm in heart.]

Following Judas’s advice and echoing his own hard-heartedness, the Jews are “firm in heart” in their unwillingness to assist Helena. Indeed, they are, as Cynewulf stresses in a line that resonates with Vercelli 16, “harder than stone.”37 Cynewulf implicitly contrasts Jewish obduracy with Christ’s generosity. While, as the queen tells the Jews, Jesus lovingly gave up his life, they refuse to give over their knowledge about that sacrifice. As E. Gordon Whatley points out, Cynewulf’s “careful wording” of Helena’s query intersects (p.37) with the language the poet uses to describe the Jews’ response, tying their stony obduracy toward the queen to the deicide charge.38 That is, insofar as their hard resistance makes them “bitter foes” of Helena’s Christian cause, the Jews repeat the opposition of their ancestors toward Christ.

This moment in Elene supports the dominant image of Jews in the poem. Jews first appear in the narrative when a newly converted Constantine learns how Jesus was hung (“waes ahangen,” 180a) on the cross “in envy through malice” (“æfstum þurh inwit,” 206a–207a), thanks to the powers of the Devil “over the Jewish race” (“Iudea cyn,” 209a). This image of the Jews as evil agents of Christ’s suffering and death receives more stress when Judas tells his fellow Jews how their ancestors out of hate (“purh hete,” 424a) and with “furious minds sent the holy one to his death by their own hand” (“on þone halgan handa sendan/ to feorhlege fæderas usse/ þurh wraðgewitt,” 457–59a) and sought to inflict Christ with suffering (“sarum settan,” 479). Helena’s exchange with the Jews, with its characterization of them as “active antagonists,” merges this notable stress on the Jews as enemies of Christ with claims about their stony obduracy, rendering it an ongoing feature of Jewish identity.39

Further confirmation of this association of the Jews’ lithic resistance with their violent aggression toward Christianity emerges in Judas’s speech and its account of the Protomartyr Stephen’s martyrdom. Describing how “stones were thrown” (“stanum worpod,” 492b) at Stephen after Saul/Paul ordered that Stephen be destroyed with stones (“stanum … abreotan,” 509b–510a), Judas connotes stone as an anti-Christian weapon. When, a bit later, Cynewulf characterizes as ossified the Jews who resist Helena, he echoes the stones of Stephen’s martyrdom, suggesting their association. The Jew’s lithic mind, Cynewulf implies, is an anti-Christian weapon akin to the literal stones thrown at Stephen. Such a reading of the weapons of Stephen’s martyrdom as figures of Jewish obstinacy was well established in Anglo-Saxon discourse and evoked by writers including Bede and Arator.40

If the Jews’ obduracy resonates with the stony violence of both Christ’s death and Stephen’s martyrdom, Helena responds with equal aggression by threatening to burn them in a fierce, hellish fire if they remain silent. Fearing death, the Jews give Judas over to the queen as an informant. The charged confrontation that ensues begins with Helena warning Judas that resistance will prompt the death of both his body and soul. Judas responds:

  • “Hu mæg þæm geweorðan þe on westenne
  • meðe ond meteleas morland trydeð,
  • hungre gehæfted 7 him hlaf 7 stan
  • on gesihðe bu geweorðað,
  • (p.38) strea[r]c 7 hnesce, þæt he þone stan nime
  • wið hungres hleo, hlafes ne gime,
  • gewende to wædle 7 þa wiste wiðsæce,
  • beteran wiðhyccge, þonne he bega beneah?”


[“How can that happen for the one in the wilderness, (who) treads the moorland weary and without food, tortured by hunger, and for whom both bread and stone, the hard and the soft, both appear together to his vision, that he should take the stone for refuge from hunger and heed not the bread, turn to poverty and refuse the food, scorn the better when he has both at his disposal?”]

Read in tandem with his earlier speech, Judas’s evocation of stone before Helena presents the reader with a contradictory cluster of associations ranging from carnality, obstinacy, and sacrifice to salvation. Ironically, this “stony” (i.e., stubbornly carnal) man tells Helena that he disregards stone; he explains how a starving man alone in the wild will prefer sustenance—the hlaf, that is, the loaf or bread—over deprivation, here embodied by inedible stone. Judas’s description of bread as soft or hnesce and stone as hard or strearc furthers their respective associations with an easy existence where life is supported and a difficult life devoid of nourishment.41 As Whatley points out, Judas tells Helena that he is drawn toward a comfortable life on earth, suggesting how he is open to assisting her.42 But Judas’s words seem to be a ploy, since he goes on to resist Helena for sixty-five lines, until she resorts to torturing him in a dry well. Judas, in other words, will actually choose the “stone” in supporting his Jewish cause; he endures deprivation for the sake of his tribe, even as he claims to prefer sustenance.

At the same time, as Whatley also observes, Judas’s words are, from a figural perspective, “apt.”43 For in overtly embracing “bread” or food, Judas reveals his carnal “Jewish” nature. In claiming to prefer bread—in asserting his desire to live on earth—Judas admits his stubborn “Jewish” investment in this world over the next. Viewed in this light, Judas reiterates the worldly stance he assumed when he advocated to his fellow Jews that they maintain Jewish rule on earth by keeping quiet. When he implies to Helena that he chooses life over death, Judas thus signifies his investment in a “Jewish” carnality, his figurative stoniness.44 A look at the two closest biblical analogues to the passage affirms how Judas reveals his materialism. In the Sermon on the Mount, as described in Matthew 7:9 and Luke 11:11, Jesus asks his disciples, “what man is there among you, of whom if his son shall ask for bread, shall reach for (p.39) a stone?” Jesus follows that literal question with a figurative query as he tells the disciples: “If you then being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children: how much more will your Father who is in heaven, give good things to them that ask him?” (Matt. 7:11; Luke 11:13). Bede, following Augustine, interprets this passage as figuring supersession, with stone signifying the Jew’s duritia cordis or hard heart and bread indicating eternal life.45 Judas supports this construction of the Jew in his “stony” preference for literal bread over the “bread” of spiritual life offered by his own father and grandfather.

After Helena exchanges with Judas more words that confirm his resistance to her cause, she tries a new strategy to enlist his help: torturing him in an empty pit.46 Finding Judas “stiðhycgende” (“stiff- or hard-minded,” 683a) in his refusal to assist her,

  • Heht þa swa cwicne corðre lædan,
  • scufan scyldigne—scælcas ne gældon—
  • in drygne seaðþær he duguða leas
  • siomode in sorgum seofon nihta first
  • under hearmlocan hungre geþreatod,
  • clommum beclungen.


[She then ordered him led away alive by a company and the guilty one pushed—the servants did not hesitate—into a dry well where, lacking retinue, he abided in sorrow for the space of seven nights, tormented in prison with hunger, bound with fetters.]

Helena’s action reveals her canny awareness of how Judas’s carnality puts him in a double bind. Judas vehemently desires to preserve Judaism and Jewish authority on earth. Yet the carnality associated with Jewishness implies a limit to what Judas will do to defend his people and their law. In other words, Elene posits the question: insofar as Jewishness is aligned with a love of this world, will a Jew go so far as to sacrifice himself or herself—to leave this world, renounce her physical being—to ensure the continuation of Judaism? The alacrity with which the Jews offer up Judas in order to avoid death by burning indicates that this is not the case. Helena’s decision to throw Judas in the pit suggests how she is sensitive to this conundrum, and Judas’s actions confirm how he is caught in a web of carnal attachments. For seven days Judas starves, suggesting how he used his bread and stone speech as a mere ruse. But ultimately, unlike figures such as Stephen who actually die for their faith, Judas eventually submits to his will to live. (p.40) When he calls out from the pit for release “from the torment of hunger” (“fram hungres geniðlan,” 701a), it turns out that Judas’s bread and stone speech accurately reflected his carnal attachment to literal bread over and above the needs of his tribe.

The pit, Helena’s strategic response to Judas’s stony carnality, presents the reader with a complex image that lends itself to multiple interpretations.Here I touch on one meaning in particular: its resonance with Bede’s tomb-like Jew. As we have seen, in Bede a sealed tomb indicates the Jew’s stony, stubborn closure to Christian spiritual truths. Cynewulf’s pit isn’t a closed tomb, but it is a grave-like space. The seven days Judas spends in the empty hole constitute a kind of living death that gives Judas a taste of the eternal death he faces if he remains obdurate.47 Moreover, like Bede’s tomb-like Jew, the sepulchral pit indicates how Judas is “dead” to Christian spirituality. Devoid of sustenance, the pit figures the absence of Christian “bread”—spiritual food—in Judas’s life. Thus while Elene doesn’t explicitly liken Judas to the pit in the manner of Bede’s idea of the Jew as tomb, Cynewulf’s stress on Judas’s stony, stubborn carnality does imply how he is sepulchral and occupies a stance that mirrors the grave containing him. In this light, Helena seems to be torturing Judas by submerging and surrounding him with a literal manifestation of his spiritual emptiness.

Both Bede and Cynewulf suggest a disturbing Anglo-Saxon geopolitical stance toward the Jew. As I noted in the Introduction, Augustine famously conceived of the Jews’ exile from Jerusalem and subsquent geographic dispersal as both divine punishment and grounds for toleration. God scattered the Jews throughout the world, Augustine argued, because they embodied the biblical books that prophesy and confirm the validity of Christianity. But Bede and Cynewulf offer a geography of supersession where the Jew’s stony, stubborn attachment to the dead letter of the law prompts not his scattering but his entombment or burial. Both Bede’s and Cynewulf’s sepulchral Jews suggest how their Anglo-Saxon creators wish that the contemporary Jewish unbeliever is not just exiled from Jerusalem but evacuated from the spaces of earthly habitation altogether. Imagined as not only stone-hearted but also occupying a stony space of death, the sepulchral Jew cedes the outside world to Christianity.48

Christ’s Absence, Spiritual Presence, and Biblical Buildings in Bede

Both Cynewulf and Bede stress the empty and dead space of the Jew. But what of the empty space of the Christian? To return to Bede’s Easter homily, the sermon juxtaposes the closed tomb of the Jew to a Christian space, Christ’s tomb, which is itself empty. The story of Easter is one of (p.41) divine transcendence—of Jesus’ triumph over the material, mortal world—and the absence that results from the Resurrection. Bede registers that troubling void by recounting how the women at the tomb were “saddened at the disappearance of Jesus’s body” (II.10, 91).49 He also indicates how Christian sorrow over the continued absence of the physical “presence of our Maker” persists and “afflicts” both himself and his brothers, who “endure the hardship of exile” from “the eternal joys of the citizens on high” who share space with God (ibid.).50 While contemporary Jews endure exile from the historical Jerusalem, Christians on earth suffer exile from the heavenly Jerusalem. Cynewulf, in Christ II, similarly states of the Christians left behind after Christ’s ascension into heaven, “their spirit was sad,/ hot around the heart, their mind mourning,/ because they no longer could see the one so dear / under heaven” (“Him wæs geomor sefa / hat æt heortan, hyge murnende,/ þæs þe hi swa leofne leng ne mostun/ geseon under swegle”).51 The dilemma Bede and Cynewulf raise here problematizes their respective images of the sepulchral Jew. In the case of Elene, Judas’s deprivations during his time spent underground in the pit in certain respects pale in comparison to the separation in the world above of Christians from God. While those who die in imitation of Christ—for example, martyrs like Stephen—enjoy immediate access to the New Jerusalem, the rest of the Christian community, such as Helena and her son Constantine, must wait, in exile on earth, until mortality brings them to that privileged space. The earth, viewed in terms of the Resurrection, is in a sense one giant empty tomb: a site devoid of the lively spirituality and divine presence of the New Jerusalem which pious Christians aspire to enter. In the remainder of this chapter, I track how Bede and Cynewulf respond to the problematic emptiness of Christian space, and the ironic place of the “Jew” in efforts to imagine a strong and rich Christian existence on earth.

In his Easter sermon, Bede comforts auditors who feel despondent at Jesus’ absence, stating that they must “have not the slightest doubt” that during such moments of sadness, angels are “invisibly” present to them in the manner of those whom the women encountered at the tomb, bringing “them the remedy of consolation by disclosing the fact of [Christ’s] resurrection” (II.10, 91).52 Bede thus counters the problem of physical absence by invoking an unseen yet real spiritual presence that affirms Christ’s occupation of heaven. Bede goes on to cite Paul on the frequent arrival on earth of “ministering spirits” who assist the saved (Hebrews 1:14), singling out a particular place where and occasion when such spirits frequent Christians:

Nevertheless, we should believe that the angelic spirits are especially present to us when we give ourselves in a special way to divine services, (p.42) that is, when we enter a church and open our ears to sacred reading, or give our attention to psalm singing or apply ourselves to prayer or celebrate the solemnity of the mass. … We are not permitted to doubt that where the mysteries of the Lord’s body and blood are being enacted, a gathering of the citizens from on high is present—those who were keeping such careful watch at the tomb where [Christ’s] venerable body had been placed, and from which he had departed by rising.

(II.10, 91–92)53

Bede’s account of how the same angels who were at the tomb make a special point of visiting Christian believers in a church during the consecration of the host engages both the spiritual (invisible angels) and the physical (a church). The faith is practiced not in a void but in a built environment. Living on earth after the Resurrection entails both believing in spirits and relying on concrete edifices.

That Bede viewed architecture as crucial to Christian practice emerges in his Ecclesiastical History (hereafter EH), where, in his account of the dissemination of the faith in Britain, preaching goes hand-in-hand with building churches (cf. 1.26, 76–77, and 2.3, 142–43).54 That stress hardly surprises, insofar as, since Constantine’s era, the construction of Christian buildings—and demolition of non-Christian edifices—was fundamental to conversion, even aggressively so. Thus, in a letter included in the EH, Gregory the Great, citing Constantine as his exemplar, instructs the newly converted king to “overthrow” his pagan subjects’ “buildings and shrines” (1.32, 112–15).55 Bede’s own appreciation of churches as “concrete manifestations of missionary advance” emerges not only in this letter but also his account in the EH of Æthelbert and other kings like Ecgfrith and Oswald who assisted in church building or restoration.56 Especially notable is Bede’s description of King Edwin’s spiritual development—his journey from student of the faith to baptized member of the Christian community—as a process intertwined with the progressive building of a church from a hastily built and impermanent timber structure to a fine edifice made of stone (2.14, 186–87).57

However, in the Christian-cum-pagan Anglo-Saxon world described in the EH, the idea of a Christian built environment was fraught. Another, even more famous, Gregorian epistle included by Bede in his EH suggests how the Anglo-Saxons’ lingering pagan attachments prompted a certain missionary resistance to tearing down heathen buildings and erecting Christian structures in their stead. Apparently writing to Abbot Mellitus not long (p.43) after he wrote Æthelbert, Gregory urged that “the idol temples of” the pagan Anglo-Saxons “should by no means be destroyed, but only the idols in them,” which clerics will replace with altars and relics (1.30, 106–9). Gregory’s original instruction that Æthelbert demolish pagan temples invests the materiality of built environments with particular value. Pagan temples are part and parcel of paganism and therefore must be demolished, just as erecting new religious edifices proves key to establishing Christianity (1.30, 108–9). That violent architectural policy reflects the coercive nature of conversion during this period in England and elsewhere. But when faced with the “stubborn minds” of the Anglo-Saxons, Gregory shifts tack, stating that they may retain their temples, since physical buildings are not really intrinsic to Christianity but rather serve as mere settings for what really matters, the faith and its rituals (ibid.).

Bede reflects Gregory’s stance toward buildings in his Easter homily, where his primary interest is not churches per se, but rather the presence inside them of members of the faithful—the “living stones” of the “spiritual church” described in 1 Peter 2:5—and their invisible angelic companions. That perspective also informs one of his sermons on the dedication of a church. Glossing the reference in John 10:23 to Jesus “walking in the temple, in Solomon’s portico” during the feast of the dedication, Bede writes that if Christ

did not disdain to walk round the portico where a mortal and earthly king, albeit the most powerful and wisest one, was once accustomed to stand and pray, how much more greatly does he desire to inspect and enlighten the innermost recesses of our hearts—if he regards them as equivalent to the portico of Solomon, that is, if he regards them as having the fear of him which is the beginning of wisdom. We must not suppose that only the building in which we come together to pray and celebrate the mysteries is the Lord’s temple, and that we ourselves, who come together in the Lord’s name, are not more fully his temple and are not so named, since the Apostle clearly says, You are the temple of the living God; as God says, “I will live in them and walk among them.”

(II.24, 241–42).58

Invoking the logic of supersession, Bede stresses how it is not the “building” where Christians pray but people who epitomize the new Christian practice that has supplanted Judaism. Christ desires far more to enter “the innermost recesses” of the heart—that is, a figurative architectural space located inside the believer—than any literal building, whether Solomon’s (p.44) Temple or a physical church. Bede’s elevation of the heart as edifice over any physical church exists in tension with his stress in the EH on Christian building programs. Or to put it more precisely, his investment in living and not literal stones helps explain why Bede in the EH values physical buildings yet doesn’t bestow on them notable praise and attention.59

There is, however, one kind of building upon which Bede does lavish attention: the biblical Jewish buildings discussed in On the Temple and other works such as On the Tabernacle (ca. 721–25), an interpretation of the account in Exodus 24:12–30:21 of the erection of the Mosaic tabernacle, and On Ezra and Nehemiah (ca. 725–31), an exegesis of Ezra-Nehemiah’s portrayal of the postexilic construction of the Second Temple.60 Those texts mark, in Jennifer O’Reilly’s words, “the culmination of a lifetime’s thought and writing on biblical built environments: the closest parallels to De Templo occur in three of Bede’s own gospel homilies.”61 Rendering Bede’s interest in Jewish edifices all the more striking is its unprecedented nature. While Jews had long subjected the temple to allegorical interpretation, until Bede no Christian writer had devoted sustained attention to either that edifice or the tabernacle.62 The “first Christian exegete to produce complete verse-by-verse commentaries on these subjects,” Bede broke “new ground” in the history of Christian exegeses.63 Highly popular works that went on to exert an influence over Christian allegories and even Christian architecture for centuries after Bede’s death, On the Temple, On the Tabernacle, and On Ezra and Nehemiah were without precedent and parallel during the period of their production.64

What accounts for this unusual interest in Jewish buildings?65 Two books at Bede’s home abbey of Wearmouth-Jarrow were likely influences: the Codex Grandior, the ca. 547 Old Latin bible that Cassiodorus commissioned at his monastery at Vivarium and Abbot Ceolfrith (ca. 642–716) apparently transported from Italy to England; and another pandect partially modeled on the Codex Grandior, the Codex Amiatinus, which was created at Wearmouth-Jarrow and Ceolfrith presented to the pope in 716.66 The opening leaves of the Codex Grandior contained images of the temple and tabernacle.67 At least a decade before he wrote his architectural exegeses, Bede probably helped make the Codex Amiatinus, which opens with an image of the tabernacle based on that fronting the Codex Grandior (figure 7).

Mary Carruthers demonstrates how images like the sanctuaries in the Codex Amiatinus and its exemplar demonstrate the role of built environments in monastic spirituality, especially “various kinds of memory work for meditation and prayer.”68 Monks used building plans as “meditation machine[s]” to inspire and shape their prayers and theological works.69 The situation of (p.45)

Sepulchral Jews and Stony ChristiansSupersession in Bede and Cynewulf

Figure 7. The tabernacle. Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, MS Amiatino 1, cc. 2v–3r.

By permission of MiBACT.

the tabernacle and temple at the start of the bibles at Bede’s abbey encouraged such a relationship between buildings and interpretive Christian pondering.70

Alongside the two codices at Wearmouth-Yarrow, another rationale for Bede’s exegeses emerges in the fact that he wrote about biblical buildings while writing the EH. Insofar as the temple and tabernacle serve in Bede’s (p.46) work as prompts for spiritual thinking, they spoke to the ultimate purpose of the missionary work described in the EH: the creation of solid “living stones”—a firmly faithful church—in an erstwhile pagan Anglo-Saxon England. As Scott DeGregorio puts it, “the idea of building a house for God parallels Bede’s historical account of the foundation of the ecclesia gentis Anglo-rum in the Ecclesiastical History … suggesting that Bede may have envisioned a massive exegetical-historical project on a set of interrelated themes which he deemed particularly pressing.”71 Thus the Jewish edifices of the Hebrew Bible not only assist monastic meditation but also contribute to the national program of strengthening the faith in a newly converted Anglo-Saxon England.

Interestingly, the EH refers to the utility of still another Jewish structure in fostering the faith in England. In Gregory’s letter to Mellitus, the pope, after advocating retaining heathen temples, instructs the abbot to allow new converts also to continue, with modifications, the pagan practice of animal sacrifice: “on the day of the dedication or festival of the holy martyrs, whose relics are deposited there, let them make themselves tabernacula from the branches of trees around the churches which have been converted out of shrines, and let them celebrate the solemnity with religious feasts” (1.30, 108–9).72 As Flora Spiegel points out, Gregory’s “description of the huts as tabernacula, and his couching these instructions [elsewhere in the letter] in the context of the Israelites’ reception of the Law after their forty-year sojourn in the desert, all suggest an explicit reference to the Jewish festival of Sukkot.”73 Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles, commemorates Israel’s wandering in the desert by creating outdoor temporary booths akin to those inhabited by Jews during the Exodus. Because Sukkot was a prominent public festival in Roman society and due to Gregory’s involvement in Jewish communities, he very likely “was aware of early medieval Jewish traditions for celebrating the holiday.”74 Spiegel links Gregory’s instruction that missionaries organize proto-Sukkot feasts to the pope’s theory that the new converts should come to Christianity incrementally, first by identifying with Jews and then later with Christianity.75 Thus Gregory didn’t deride contemporary Jews as wholly irrational and blind beings but situated them on “the middle position on the spectrum of rationality between Christians and practising pagans” like the Anglo-Saxons.76 Archaeological evidence suggests that missionaries carried out Gregory’s injunction. Brian Hope-Taylor’s excavation of a settlement at Yeavering, Northumbria, revealed at least four “rectangular wattle huts, each measuring approximately six feet by twelve feet,” which were erected one after the other on the same location as “intentionally temporary structures.”77

(p.47) Both the pseudo-Sukkot huts described by Gregory and Bede’s exegeses of biblical buildings suggest a uniquely architectural role played by the “Jew” in Anglo-Saxon Christianity. While for Gregory that architectural utility worked in overtly material ways that replicated contemporary Jewish ritual building practices, for Bede, the materials of long-gone biblical structures functioned in a more figurative vein, as prompts for conceiving of Christianity. Viewed in tandem with his Easter homily, Bede’s exegeses of the temple and tabernacle present a complex and contradictory engagement with the space of the Jew. While Bede connotes the uselessness of the sepulchral Jew in his sermon, he demonstrates in his exegeses the utility of Jewish built environments in “building up” symbolic Christian locations. Alongside the idea of the lethal and barren Jew-as-tomb, Bede suggests the fecundity of biblical Jewish spaces, from which a slew of Christian meanings proliferate.

It is this figurative or allegorical approach to literal buildings that overtly informs Bede’s architectural exegeses. Early in On the Temple, Bede announces his intention of finding “the spiritual mansion of God in the material structure [of the temple]” (6).78 Similarly, in On the Tabernacle Bede writes that “we must reflect for a little while upon the text of the material letter itself, so that we shall be able to discuss the spiritual sense with greater certainty” (my emphasis).79 Everywhere, Bede’s architectural exegeses testify to his spiritualizing thrust.80 Through ingenious allegories, Bede links Old Testament buildings to mystical sites associated with “the past, present and future states of the Ecclesia,” that is, Christ as cornerstone, the living church of the faithful on earth, the sanctuaries created in the heart of individual pious persons, and their eternal home in heaven.81

Of the manifold spiritual meanings Bede finds in biblical sanctuaries, his account of both the living stones of the church and the heart as temple counter the problem of Christ’s absence with which I began this section. But here, instead of stressing a compensatory angelic presence, Bede emphasizes the sheer fullness of the faith in the world. For example, when describing the conversion work of the evangelists and, later, missionary practice under Rome, Bede associates Christianity with a wondrous fullness and expansiveness. Thus in On the Tabernacle, “the width of the boards” of the tabernacle mystically signify “the expansion of the faith and the sacraments, which formerly lay hidden among the one Israelite people but through” the ministry of the apostles and their successors “came [to fill] the wideness of the whole world” (66).82 And, in On the Temple, the four wheels on each of the ten bases (p.48) of the temple figure how, “with the Lord’s help through the instrumentality of the apostles, the word of the Gospel filled all the regions of the world in a short space” (97).83 Elsewhere, Bede’s account of the erection of individual temples in Christian hearts suggests how, while Christ may be gone, believers nevertheless enjoy a mystical intimacy with the divine. In On the Tabernacle, the grate in the middle of the tabernacle altar figures the “place for the Lord” prepared by the elect “in the inmost affections of their hearts, where they gather thoughts devoted to him” (92).84 Here, as in his homily on the dedication of a church, Bede’s rhetoric originates in Paul’s idea—in, for example, 1 Corinthians 3:16 and 6:19—on the relationship between the temple and individual believers.85 Bede is unique, however, in stressing the extreme intimacy enjoyed by Christians; while Paul generally associates individual persons with the temple, Bede specifies God’s presence not only in the core of a person’s being—the heart—but moreover in its “inmost affections” and “innermost recesses.”86

Such moments in Bede’s exegeses reveal a spatial paradox: the discrete and limited physical buildings of the Hebrew Bible figure their geographic inverse. The very materials that made the biblical sanctuaries bounded edifices accessed only by Jews mystically signify the spread of the faith to persons throughout all the earth. Christ may be in heaven, but the faith spreads everywhere, to even the most intimate locations of the self. But as the Easter homily evinces, the miraculous reach of the faith is neither as universal nor as intimate as it appears. While God travels widely under Christianity, he never resides in a “Jewish” space. Biblical Jews had special access to a building enlivened by nothing less than God’s presence. But Jews who deny Christianity, instead of enjoying their ancestors’ privileged architectural intimacy with God, suffer the opposite and are exiled from God like “a tomb still closed by a stone.”87 Due to their hardened and resolutely carnal hearts, Jews are trapped inside an empty and spiritually barren space of death. The lively fecundity of spiritual truths figured by the temple and tabernacle are apparent only to Christians and are hidden from the literal-minded and tomb-like Jew. Bede’s figural method thus wrenches the privileged architecture of the bible away from contemporary Jews and transfers it to Christians, while rendering the “architecture” of contemporary Jewish identity as debased as possible. Thanks to the Christian’s sensitivity to the spirit and the Jew’s enslavement to the letter, the former enjoys a vital plenitude and the latter suffers emptiness, lack, and death.

(p.49) Loving Stone: Christian Materialism and Bede’s Architectural Exegeses

Bede’s architectural exegeses hinge on supersession: higher, spiritual meanings supplant the literal spaces of the tabernacle and temple. And yet, as critics such as Jill Robbins and Steven Kruger have made clear, the promulgators of Christian hermeneutics always register the value of the “old” Jewish perspectives they claim to supplant.88 Christian spirituality never truly trumps its Jewish material counterpart; rather, the material dimensions of Jewish historical life persist in the “new,” figural interpretation. In “Figura,” Erich Auerbach suggests such an interrelation, writing that “Figural prophecy implies the interpretation of one worldly event through another; the first signifies the second, the second fulfills the first. Both remain historical events; yet both, looked at in this way, have something provisional and incomplete about them; they point to one another.”89 Auerbach suggests the dialectical and interdependent quality of the Christian–Jewish analogies generated in works like On the Temple, On the Tabernacle, and On Ezra and Nehemiah. Insofar as the temple and its Christian meanings “point to one another,” the figural turn is always incomplete.

While this instability always informs Christian hermeneutics, it seems to especially emerge in Bede, whose fascination with the materiality of Jewish built environments is palpable and undeniable. As Charles Jones points out, throughout his architectural exegeses “Bede has a master’s interest in the literal meaning despite his preacher’s aim to surmount it.”90 At the start of On the Tabernacle, Bede makes that interest explicit when he stresses how it is important to discuss the circumstantiae referred to by Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:11, that is, particulars regarding time, place and the physical nature of things.91 In keeping with this methodology, Bede goes on to preface his figural interpretations with close attention to the materials of the tabernacle and its contents. On the Temple engages in a similar interpretive method, as Bede attends to each tiny literal aspect of Solomon’s Temple. In Arthur Holder’s words, “Every part of the structure … every detail of ornament, every number, measurement or point of the compass described in the biblical accounts” of Solomon’s Temple “presented Bede with a mystery of Christ or the Church.”92 Bede’s interest in getting an accurate grasp of the physical details of the tabernacle and temple is such that, when possible, he supplements his discussion by citing extrabiblical sources, such as Cassiodorus and Josephus.93

Bede suggests otherwise, of course. Statements such as his aforementioned claim about how he seeks “the spiritual mansion of God in the material structure” (6) of the temple would seem to affirm how his hermeneutic really (p.50) looks “through an object rather than at it.”94 Yet Bede’s marked investment in the physical components of biblical built environments suggests the inverse: that he was drawn to the inherent physicality of those buildings; that he repeatedly, even obsessively, looked at them as objects.95 Indeed, Bede’s figural interpretations demonstrate an attention to physical details so minute and so scrutinizing that it effectively renders the temple and tabernacle imaginative presences in his reader’s mind’s eye. Thus even as Bede stresses building the living Christian church, he brings long-gone Jewish built environments to vivid imaginative life. Bede’s exegetical works make virtually visible for his Anglo-Saxon readers the spaces of the temple and tabernacle.96

Why would Bede exhibit such a marked visual investment in those buildings? One answer lies in the problem voiced in his Easter homily: the empty nature of Christian space after the Resurrection. The issue of Christ’s absence may have been particularly pressing for Bede, given the sheer novelty and instability of the faith in England during this period. We may speculate that the notably tenuous nature of Anglo-Saxon Christianity might have rendered him especially attracted to the idea of “grounding” Christian practice by imaginatively importing to England certain privileged Jewish materialisms. In other words, the proximity of the pagan in Anglo-Saxon England may have inspired a compensatory effort to gain an intimacy with the one true God via the exalted spaces of the Jew.

And exalted those spaces were. No Christian church matched the privileged materialism of the temple and tabernacle, the most exalted buildings in human history. In the case of the former building, the material privilege of the temple extended to its supremely hallowed lithic foundation. As Cristiana Whitehead points out, “reputed to lie at the centre of the world, the great temple rock” on which Solomon’s Temple stood “was considered the oldest part of creation: the first point of dry land, beneath which all the waters of the earth were gathered and controlled.”97 Beyond its association with the “germinal point of creation,” the temple’s privileged materialism emerges in how its physical components and form were dictated by none other than God, as recorded by scripture (1 Chron. 28:11–19).98 Most importantly, both the temple and the tabernacle enjoyed unsurpassed distinction as houses of God. Each holy sanctuary embodies how, during the time of the old law, faith was bound up with a certain material, geographic, and communal exclusivity: only in Jewish spaces did God reside, only Jews could enjoy a physical proximity to the divine. The tabernacle and temple epitomize how biblical Jews were as close to God as possible, that is, they enjoyed a relationship so intimate that he deigned to inhabit man-made shelters located in Jewish communities.99

(p.51) Bede’s clear attraction to the privileged materiality of the temple and tabernacle qualifies his celebration of the angelic and other spiritual presences that define Christian life in the wake of the Resurrection. Merely stressing living stones and the temple of the heart—for all Bede’s statements to the contrary—proves insufficient and requires a supplementary attention to privileged biblical architecture. That investment in the literal, in turn, undermines the rhetoric of supersession, with its claim that Christian spirituality supplants Jewish materialism. Indeed, there are ways in which Bede’s attention to the letter doesn’t merely trouble but inverts the logic of supersession. While supersession refers to a shift from a lesser Jewish to a higher Christian plane, Bede’s materialism suggests the deficiencies of the new Christian order when compared to its Jewish predecessor.

Beyond his overall scrutiny of the materials of the temple and tabernacle, one aspect of Bede’s exegeses seems to especially undermine his rhetoric of super-session: his investment in the stones of the temple. As we have seen, stones were a favored means by which Christians connoted a debased Jewish carnality. In his Easter sermon, Bede viscerally indicates the stubbornness, imperceptiveness, and even inhumanity of Jews by likening them to hard and insentient stone. Solomon’s Temple, however, offers an entirely different and exalted brand of stoniness. While the stony Jew is closed off and blind to Christian truths, the stones of the temple merit careful attention. Bede’s attraction to stones appears in a section of On the Temple on 1 Kings 5:18, where he describes how the church lays “large precious stones … in the foundation” of the “temple” of the faithful when it sets before the people exemplary Christians, who “cling in a special way by the virtue of humility to the Lord … persevering unflinchingly with invincible constancy of spirit like squared stones” (16).100 While Bede denigrates the stony obstinacy of the Jew, here he celebrates the stony immutability of exemplary Christians, whom he compares to the hard stones of the temple.101 Bede’s figurative reading circles back to its material prompt. The foundation stones figure faithful Christians who in turn are “like squared stones.” Living during an Anglo-Saxon era when the faith was indeed shaky, Bede proves attracted to stony permanence.102

Bede’s appreciation of the durability of the temple’s stones emerges especially in his discussion in On the Temple of 1 Kings 6:18. His exegesis begins by describing how the supreme durability of the stones of the temple walls signifies the “living stones” of the saints “cemented to each other by the strength of their faith in the one and the same rule” (41).103 Then Bede ponders the place of stone in the old law and another building material—wood—in the new law:

because the law was written in stone whereas the teaching of the Gospel was confirmed by the wood of the Lord’s passion, so too the people (p.52) were circumcised by a flintstone in the foreskin whereas we are consecrated by the sign of the cross on the forehead. The stone walls of the temple or the floor paved with most precious marble can quite appropriately be taken as a type of those who lived faithfully and perfectly in the law, whereas the planks of cedar or fir can signify the righteous of the New Testament who in their desire to go after the Lord deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow him.


While under their law inscribed on stone (i.e., the Ten Commandments) Jews literally alter their bodies through circumcision by flint, Christians symbolically mark themselves with the sign of the cross. But the Christian event memorialized by that symbolic gesture has its physical elements: the wooden beams on which Christ died. Bede develops this relationship by linking the “planks of cedar or fir” of the temple to righteous Christians who “take up their cross” and identifying the stone walls of the temple as figures for righteous Jews “who lived faithfully and perfectly” in the old law. Thus while Bede earlier imbued Christians with stony permanence, now he likens them to ordinary, impermanent wood and links devout biblical Jews with the very stony permanence he had just a few lines earlier associated with the saints. Of course, the more fragile and mutable nature of wood is part of Bede’s theological point. A key Christian paradox is that God deigned to become man and take on impermanent, mortal flesh.105 But I would suggest that because Bede’s reference to the wood of the cross comes on the heels of a passage so clearly invested in stone’s permanence, the association of Christianity with timber is problematic. I’m not suggesting here, of course, that stone is inherently superior to wood; no material object has any essential value. Many aspects of Anglo-Saxon material culture—buildings, furnishings, and artifacts—attest to the value of wood. Yet, within the particular context of On the Temple, Bede’s realignment of Christians with wood proves disturbing.106

Bede’s association of righteous Jews with the stone walls of the temple contradicts another earlier moment in his exegesis, a section on 1 Kings 6:3 where he linked the portico with righteous Jews and the temple itself to Christians. That earlier designation of the entrance as a figure of holy Jews both grants them their historical priority (since one reaches the portico first when entering the temple) and exiles them from the space of the temple itself.107 But in his reading of 1 Kings 6:18, as we have seen, Bede associates Jews with the stone used for the whole temple. Cognizant of this issue, Bede (p.53) states “Nor should there seem to be any conflict between this and what we said above to the effect” (41–42).108 Such seeming inconsistencies are fine, and indeed are central to his exegetic program: “in the different materials there is a manifold repetition of the same figures” (42).109 But despite such assurances, Bede seems uncomfortable with the turn his analysis has taken and goes on to engage in some rapid and rather confusing maneuvering. First, he writes that the stone walls signifying righteous Jews pertain to the portico, not the temple, and that the cedar of the portico represents the Jews who “with greater perfection” (42) led a Christian life before Christianity.110 Then, turning to the interior of the temple, Bede links Christians who sacrifice all for God with the stone wall of the temple and states that people who are content merely to do the minimum necessary to enter heaven signify its wooden board work.111 Bede shifts rapidly between interpretations, moving between associating first Jews then Christians with stone, with wood, with inner and outer temple, finally resting upon the association of the holiest Christian with the most durable material entity, the stone of the temple proper.

The finest writer-scholar of his generation (if not the entire Anglo-Saxon era), Bede evinces such exceptional hermeneutic skill, creativity, control, and nuance in his corpus that the interpretive instability present in this passage from On the Temple seems especially unusual and telling. To be sure, the slippery nature of Bede’s exegesis partly confirms his own stress on the “manifold” or multiple nature of exegetical interpretation. But his rapid maneuvering also suggests a kind of hermeneutic volatility stemming from his materialist discomfort with the direction his analysis has taken. In other words, the fact that those frequent hermeneutical shifts immediately follow Bede’s association of Jews with stone and Christians with wood suggests how that material binarism—lithic Jew and ligneous Christian—troubles him. The fact that Bede’s exegesis culminates and settles on the association of stone with the holiest of Christians seems to confirm how his hermeneutic shifts are prompted by an investment in stone. When viewed alongside Bede’s portrayal of the sepulchral Jew, this passage clarifies the contradictory nature of Christian denigrations of a “Jewish” carnality. Stone, far from embodying the outmoded and lethal old law, proves appealing to arguably the greatest scholar of the new law during the eighth century. We glimpse here how Bede loved not only the living stones of the Christian church but also the literal stones of the Jew.

An important historical counterpart to this passage in On the Temple emerges in the religious functions of stone during the Anglo-Saxon period.112 (p.54) Stone was so crucial to Anglo-Saxon Christianity that “at least on the richest monastic sites, the really revolutionary change” effected by the introduction of the religion in England “was the revival, for the first time since the Romans left, of technologies for building and carving in stone.”113 The colossal crosses at Ruthwell and Bewcastle were without parallel in Europe when they were erected during the seventh and eighth centuries. Emblems of the Crucifixion, the sculptures served as important and complex loci of Christian ritual, performance, and contemplation. Carved with text—including the words iterated by the speaking cross of The Dream of the Rood—those lithic monuments offer a different take on the Christian celebration of “living stones,” by pointing us not to souls but to animated objects. Just as, if not more, significant than those sculptures was the stone architecture introduced by missionaries, who restricted the practice to buildings associated with the church.114 Bede’s home at Jarrow and its sister monastery at Monkwearmouth (founded ca. 673) lie at the center of this ecclesiastical building program.115

Critics including Nicholas Howe stress the Roman investments evinced by those stone structures. Such factors as the reuse of stones originally used for Hadrian’s wall to build St. Peter’s and Benedict Biscop’s fondness for churches built in the Roman style make clear that Bede appreciated the Roman connections of Jarrow’s buildings and even viewed the monastery as “a type of Rome set at the end of the road that led from the papal city to Northumbria.”116 But it is also important to consider the possible Jewish meanings that Jarrow and its stone edifices held for Bede. The language of Christian architecture suggested such a relationship, insofar as the word templum was used to refer to a church since the fourth century.117 Jarrow and Wearmouth may have taken the link between Christian and Jewish buildings one step further by basing certain architectural components on Solomon’s Temple. One such feature is what Cramp describes as “an elaborately decorated covered walk or passage” in Wearmouth, “which led south from” St. Peter’s church (founded AD 674) to other monastic buildings.118 Paul Meyvaert suggests that that walkway was influenced by the porticus in the image of the temple Cassiodorus had painted in his Codex Grandior.119 Meyvaert also suggests that the caenaculae or upper stories of St. Peter’s were modeled on those at Solomon’s Temple.120 Holder notes how “one of the most striking features” of Solomon’s Temple, that is, “its great height in proportion to its length and breadth, would have been duplicated in a general way” by the height of the walls of St. Peter’s.121 In addition, Ian Wood suggests that St. Paul’s church at Jarrow was built to echo the physical form and makeup of Solomon’s Temple.122

(p.55) In part, we can view the possible modeling of Christian architecture on Jewish precedents as a function of monastic spirituality. In the same way that, as Carruthers stresses, the image of the tabernacle in the Codex Amiatinus may not so much represent an actual building than offer a rhetorical ductus or traveling in and out of the “‘places’ of a mental schema,” the buildings of Wearmouth and Jarrow may have served as cues for spiritual meditation.123 But we would be wrong to stress only the spiritual side of the equation and view the built environments at Wearmouth-Jarrow as nothing more than mental prompts. As we have seen, Bede’s exegeses suggest that he didn’t only look “through” but also “at” the materials of the temple; surely he felt the same way about the monastic stone structures where he spent the majority of his life.124 But that materialism isn’t explicit and extensive. Any overt embrace of Christian buildings would shore up a version of the degraded materialism Bede attributes to Jews, as well as the idolatry from which he sought to wean erstwhile pagans.125 Instead he inadvertently offers us a glimpse at his Christian materialism as it emerges in the hermeneutic instability of On the Temple.

Stony Christians and the Suffering Jew in Elene

In Bede’s exegeses of Jewish buildings, Christian materialism exists in tense relation to an abiding and overt investment in monastic spirituality and the “living stones” of a newly converted Anglo-Saxon church. Cynewulf similarly exhibits a fraught stance toward the place of materialism in Christianity, most significantly in Christ II. While, as I mention above, the poem depicts the sadness of those left behind when Christ ascended into heaven, Cynewulf doesn’t endeavor to resolve materially this absence. Indeed Cynewulf evinces little overall interest in physical space. As Johanna Kramer observes, “Cynewulf’s approach to teaching Ascension theology” in Christ II “differs from the concrete, materially grounded, and spatially conceived imagery used to teach it in most Anglo-Saxon literature and art.”126 The emphasis on the “cerebral and theoretical” in Christ II—above all the poem’s stress on “realiz[ing] a spiritual ascension”—contrasts starkly with Elene, a poem that explicitly portrays Christianity accommodating the carnal and worldly.127 Elene opens with warfare between the Roman emperor Constantine and the invading Huns, Hrethgoths, and Franks. As the great monastic prose writer, the monk Ælfric of Eynesham, puts it in his account of the three estates, Constantine is a worldly warrior or woruldcempa who fights carnal foes and performs worldly battles or woruldlicum, as opposed to a “servant of God” such as Bede or Ælfric, who “battles spiritually against invisible (p.56) foes.”128 The “true cross” on which Elene centers partakes in Constantine’s carnal battles. Only when he receives a vision of the cross and then uses a crucifix as his battle standard does the emperor overcome the invaders (99b). Later on, the nails of the cross serve a similarly worldly function when they are used for the bridle of Constantine’s horse, allowing him to overcome all enemies (1177a–1188a).

Cynewulf develops the carnal associations of the cross on several registers. For one thing, the cross Constantine sees in his vision possesses a magnificent materiality like the cross in another Vercelli manuscript poem, The Dream of the Rood.129 In the same way that the dreamer in the latter poem beholds a cross covered in gold and gems, the emperor in Elene witnesses a crux gemmata, a radiant, glorious object “bright with gems” (“frætwum beorht”; 88b) and “adorned with gold” (“golde geglenged”; 90a).130 Secondly, Constantine’s interest in the cross after his conversion is abidingly literal-minded. Thankful that God through the cross “gave me glory and success in war against the hostile ones” (“me tir forgeaf,/ wigsped wið wraðum”; 164b–165a), Constantine seeks to return the favor and glorify God by uncovering the original artifact. Here Elene resonates with the English cult of the true cross, which emerged from multiple impulses, spiritual and material.131 Devotees viewed the cross as a kind of portal to heaven, a means of healing bodily ailments, and/or a way of reenacting the scene of the Crucifixion. Central to such beliefs was an investment in the wood of the cross, as the movement of both pilgrims to Jerusalm and relics to England attests.132 The investment in the materiality of the cross was such that relics even were thought to turn the wood of the reliquaries containing them into the actual wood of the cross.

Both the cult of the true cross and the particular investment in the literal cross portrayed in Elene should be understood, at least partly, in terms of the issues raised in Bede’s Easter homily and, to a lesser extent, Cynewulf’s Christ II, with their acknowledgment of the material absences that inform post-Resurrection life on earth. Elene refers to Christ’s departure from earth when Constantine learns of the ascension (185b–188b). As we have seen, Bede responds to this problem by stressing the compensatory presence of invisible spirits on earth and the sheer fullness of the faith. The cult of the cross evinces a desire to access on earth a material artifact with Christic associations, an object that in a sense was the closest thing to Christ on earth. Elene centers on the Roman imperial archaeological project that made the cult possible.133

Rendering the quest for the cross in Elene all the more worldly is its resonance with the secular warfare that initiates the poem. Introduced as Christ killers whose burial of the cross is of a piece with deicide, Jews function in the poem as new, specifically religious enemies for Constantine to defeat (p.57) through the proxy of his mother, Helena. As with the battle against the Huns, Hrethgoths, and Franks, the “battle” against the Jews is worldly and geopolitical. The Jews’ rule “ofer middangeard” will end upon the Christians’ discovery of the cross (434a). In the same way that Constantine fights the invaders with swords, arrows, and spears, Helena travels to Jerusalem with a band of “mighty men, war-brave heroes” (“leodmægen, guðrofe hæleþ”; 272b–273a) who are loaded with weaponry.134 The queen doesn’t actually fight the Jews in a full-blown war, but her encounter with them has martial and materialist elements.135 Royally enthroned, bedecked with golden ornamentation that mirrors the decorations on the cross revealed to her son (329b–331b), and supported by her armed band of warriors, Helena threatens the Jews with bodily harm and ultimately employs physical torture to obtain the material object she seeks.

Crucially, however—and as Helena’s torture of Judas affirms—the Jews aren’t simply enemies of Christianity, but also radically important mediums by which the queen gains access to the cross. At the same time that Helena hates the Jews she also desperately needs their—or more precisely Judas’s—help.136 Judas’s role as the lynchpin to Helena’s materialist project presents us with another version of the privileged Jewish materiality witnessed in Bede’s exegetical works. That is, Helena’s intense interest in Judas—like Bede’s acute investment in the temple and tabernacle—speaks to a Christian fascination with, desire for, and even envy of the Jew’s physical intimacy with the divine. In the same way that the Jews of the bible shared space with a God who deigned to inhabit their man-made sanctuaries, direct Jewish access to God continued into Christian history, as related by the New Testament. The Gospels describe how Jesus was Jewish and lived among Jews. Christian teaching demonized Jews as killers of Christ. But the presence of Jews at the Crucifixion, as eyewitnesses to that pivotal historical event, imbued them with an enviable proximity to the divine that all believers living after Christ’s death and Resurrection lacked.137 It’s Judas’s genealogical—that is, material—link to that time and place, via his father and grandfather, that makes him so valuable to Helena.138 In the same way that Bede’s exegesis brings virtual versions of the temple and tabernacle to earth, Helena works to bring “Christ”—or an object closely tied to Christ—back to earth via Judas. In Helena’s intense and carnal interest in Judas, we discover the contradictory nature of supersession as an ideology that embraces the materiality it claims to trump and, conversely, proves anxious over the spirituality it purports to embrace. Symbolically taking up the cross or simply marking oneself with the sign of the cross is not sufficient in Elene; only the material cross will do, and only a Jew can deliver the goods.

(p.58) Because Helena’s recovery project hinges on a contemporary Jewish informant, the image of the sepulchral Jew in Elene departs from its counterpart in Bede. Bede’s Jew is tomb-like because his carnality has no place in the new spiritual order on earth. In contrast, the pit in Elene is pivotal to the queen’s materialist project. Only by starving Judas does Helena finally learn the location of the true cross. Tellingly, once Judas unearths the cross, it, like its counterpart in The Dream of the Rood, enjoys an exalted materiality. Like the speaking and suffering cross of Dream, the cross Judas finds in Elene has physical abilities that render it more than just the object on which Christ died but rather a “metonymic recovery of the Lord’s presence.”139 For example, when the cross reveals itself as such by miraculously reanimating a dead boy, it repeats the miracle with which Christ manifested his divinity, the raising of Lazarus in John 11:1–44. By bringing back the deceased youth the cross discloses its Christ-like powers; by uncovering the cross Judas thus seems to enable another resurrection of Christ, though here “Christ” in the cross doesn’t ascend to heaven but remains on earth.

Once Constantine learns of the discovery, he commands Helena to build a “temple of the Lord” (“tempel dryhtnes”; 1009b) on Calvary. Helena goes into action:

  • Þa seo cwen bebead cræftum getyde
  • sundor asecean, þa selestan,
  • þa þe wrætlicost wyrcan cuð on
  • stangefogum, on þam stedewange
  • girwan Godes tempel, swa hire gasta weard
  • reord of roderum; heo þa rode heht
  • golde beweorcean 7 gimcynnum,
  • mid þam æðelestum eorcnanstanum,
  • beset[a]n searocræftum 7 þa in seolfren fæt
  • locum belucan.


[Then the queen ordered the men skilled in their craft to be sought out individually, those [who were] the best, those who could work most wondrously in the joining of stones, to make on that field the temple of God, as the protector of souls had told her from the heavens. She then commanded that the rood be adorned with gold and precious stones, with cunning studded with the noblest stones, and then locked up in a silver vessel with locks.]

(p.59) Helena’s construction program starkly contrasts with the depiction of Christian architecture in Bede’s architectural exegeses. As we have seen, Bede stresses not literal churches but the living stones of the faithful. However, and in keeping with its depiction of a materialist Christian investment in the cross, Elene imagines Elena literally reenacting the original building of the Jerusalem temple. In the same way that Solomon, imbued with divine wisdom, oversaw the construction of the First Temple, Helena supervises the erection of the tempel as God instructs her from above (“swa hire gasta weard / reord of roderum,” 1023a). Just as Solomon’s Temple featured the use of dressed stone (1 Kings 5:15–17), Helena has men skilled in joining stone or stangefogum build her temple. And just as God entered the temple in an inner room containing the ark of the covenant (1 Kings 8:10–11), the Christ-like cross inhabits an elaborately decorated chest located inside Helena’s temple. Instead of depicting the Christian typological fulfillment and supplanting of Jewish materialisms, Elene portrays the re-creation on earth of the physicality of both Christ and the Jewish temple.140

However, in Elene, this yoking of worldliness to Christianity is far from smooth or easy, given Cynewulf’s stress on both figural interpretation and Jewish–Christian relations. As scholars have noted, Helena berates the Jews who assemble before her for their interpretive failings. Klein points out how “the unconverted Jews in the poem are depicted … as strictly literal readers, obdurately impervious and willfully blind to symbolic meaning” within their own biblical books. Since Helena castigates the Jews for their carnal approach to the bible, interpreting the queen “on a strictly literal level would be misguided, for it would, in fact, be to read her precisely as do the Jews in the poem.”141 The same insight, of course, applies to Helena’s antagonist, Judas. Yet when read figuratively, the meanings of those key personages prove unstable and ambiguous. The poem overtly encourages its readers to celebrate Helena’s materialisms and denigrate Judas’s materialisms: the queen’s quest for the literal cross and building of literal churches render her holy, while Judas’s carnal love of his tribe makes him an enemy of Christendom. But if we view those figures allegorically, their identities become slippery and shifting, so much so that at times Helena verges on becoming a “Jewish” villain and Judas comes to resemble a “Christian” hero. Such moments remind us that Cynewulf is also the author of the ascetic-minded Christ II and suggest that he may have had qualms about his subject matter in Elene, concerns that prompted him to render his characters ambiguous via allegory.

The built environments of the poem lie at the center of this hermeneutic instability, starting with the pit. As we have seen, the pit performs symbolic work akin to Bede’s tomb, insofar as its empty and sepulchral nature suggests (p.60) how Judas both lacks Christian sustenance, that is, the “bread” described in the Sermon on the Mount, and is “dead” to Christianity. But the symbolism of the pit hardly stops here. At the same time that the pit symbolizes Judas’s stony, lethal, and “Jewish” carnality, it also suggests his status as a type of Christ.142 As we have seen, Jews are introduced in Elene as Christ killers and violent persecutors, a view that encompasses the Jews who bury the cross and resist helping Helena. But once Judas enters the pit, he shifts from “Jewish” persecutor to a figure whose suffering links him not so much to Jesus’ enemies but to Jesus himself, as well as other suffering Christians.

Of course, his eventual release from the pit puts an end to Judas’s “Christian” suffering. However, that very movement in and out of the dry well connotes still other Christian valences. In the bible, heroic figures are thrown into cisterns not for any crime they have committed, but due to the abuse of others.143 Thomas Hill, the first critic to call serious attention to the figural aspects of Elene, points out how Judas’s liminal time in the pit resonates specifically with the account in Genesis 37:24 of Joseph being thrust into a cistern by his brothers and subsequent rescue, a sequence that exegetes typically read as “a figure of Christ’s entombment, descent into hell, and resurrection.”144 The cross in Elene, buried then unearthed, also figures the movement of Christ in and out of hell. And Judas, by dint of his journeying in and out of the pit, is a kind of double of the cross. Other moments in the Vercelli manuscript, namely The Dream of the Rood, reinforce this alignment of Judas-in-the-pit with the buried cross. In Dream, the speaking cross describes the “terrible fate” (“egeslic wyrd”) suffered by it and the other two crosses as “men buried us in a deep pit” (“Bedealf us man on deopan seaþe,” my emphasis).145 Judas’s resonance with not only Joseph but also the cross suggests how the pit in Elene serves a typological function akin to that of the pit in a much later medieval English text, the Prioress’s Tale. But while in the Prioress’s Tale it is a Christian schoolboy who is thrown into and rescued from a pit—mirroring the harrowing of hell—here it is a Jew.

In the same way that Judas paradoxically gains Christian valences during this episode, Helena acquires contradictory meanings as she tortures him in the pit. While in hagiography saints are sufferers not persecutors, Elene “violates the normal conventions of hagiography” in having a saint “compel credence by physical force.”146 In the master plot to which all hagiographic narratives refer, the Crucifixion narrative, the role of persecutor is attributed to the Jew, with Christ in the position of sufferer. Ironically, Helena stresses that dichotomy in her dialogue with the Jewish assembly, when she alludes to how Christ suffered for love of souls (“ge þrowade … for sawla lufan”; 563b–564b) even as she threatens to oppress them. Helena indicates that (p.61) paradox yet again when she issues to Judas a threat—“I swear by the Son of the creator, the crucified god, that you will be killed by starvation in front of your kinsmen” (“Ic þæt geswerige þurh sunu meotodes,/ þone ahangnan god, þæt ðu hunger scealt / for cneo-magum cwylmed weorð an”; 686–88)—that recalls Christ’s alignment with the very public victimhood and suffering that Judas will soon undergo.

Critics have suggested how Helena’s harsh words make her a militant mater ecclesia.147 Her gender and maternal function, which authorities such as Isidore of Seville tied closely to matter, certainly help explain why she came to supplant Constantine as the finder of the cross in versions of the Inventio legend; who better to uncover a material object—and work with the supremely carnal Jew—than a woman?148 Insofar as Helena is a matriarchal warrior, the pit may resemble a kind of disciplinary “womb” through which Judas is reborn into Christianity. Yet a look at the links between the pit in Elene and the pits depicted in the bible complicates this view, since it is never the case that a beneficent figure in the bible places someone in a pit. Indeed, Elene itself imbues burial with negative associations. In the same way that their refusal to assist Helena loops back toward the Crucifixion, by keeping the cross hidden underground “the Jews are, in a sense, reenacting the crucifixion, extending their original crime.”149 Resonating with those nefarious acts of burial—and adumbrating the Jewish villains in ritual-murder libels who hide their Christian victims in wells and pits—Helena’s “burial” of Judas in the pit suggests yet another way she exhibits the “Jewish” aggression normally associated with the deicide charge.

With his ambivalent portrayal of Helena and Judas as figures who are both Jewish and Christian, Cynewulf may be acknowledging his own, probably monastic, investment in the otherworldly and spiritual. Both the cerebral elements of Christ II and the epilogue to Elene, with its forceful contemptus mundi and encoding of that message in runes spelling out Cynewulf’s identity, suggest how the poet doesn’t utterly endorse the Christian materialism at the forefront of Elene.150 In keeping with this antimaterialist bent, Cynewulf encodes in Elene a subtle denigration of the secular aspects of his world somewhat in the manner of Ælfric who, by yoking his aforementioned account of the three estates to a sermon on the Jewish warriors of Maccabees, denigrates as Jewish and “insufficient” the carnal values of the Anglo-Saxon members of the second estate.151

A telling sign that Cynewulf criticizes Helena for her “Jewish” materialisms is the rhetoric of stone in the poem. As we have seen, the poet expands on his sources to stress the stony nature of Jewish carnality via the Jews’ lithic refusal to assist Helena, Judas’s preference for figurative stones and (p.62) literal bread over Christian spiritual sustenance, and the stones that martyred Stephen. Such moments go beyond Paul’s idea of the stony Jew’s inability to see Christian truth to the still more offensive association of the stony Jew with deicide and anti-Christian violence. After such a noteworthy stress on the pejorative associations of stone, what are we to do with the stones that proliferate later in the poem, when Helena erects the temple? Cynewulf expands considerably on his likely source to stress the place of not living but literal stones in this construction program. While the Acta Cyriaci refers to stones only once, Cynewulf does so three times. The Latin legend mentions how Helena adorned the cross with precious stones or lapidibus praetiosis.152 Cynewulf not only refers to the stangefogum or stone joining performed by the masons who build the temple, but also stresses twice the adorning of the cross with stones (gimcynnum or gemstones, and eorcnanstanum or noblest stones).

Taken one way, such references may support Christian materialism, that is, the idea that stones and other physical objects and literal spaces aren’t so much antithetical to Christianity but rather may be appropriated for distinctly Christian ends. Instead of being deployed to destroy Stephen, these stones create a Christian edifice.153 But Cynewulf’s unusual stress on the “Jewishness” of stone problematizes such a reading and suggests instead how Helena’s construction program, with its focus on literally reproducing Solomon’s Temple, doesn’t so much supersede but extend and continue the materialism of the Jew.154 Cognizant of the necessarily material nature and worldly associations of Christianity both during the time of Constantine and in his own Christian moment, Cynewulf doesn’t reject such practices outright but instead subtly critiques them by suggesting Helena’s paradoxical Jewishness.

I end by considering how Cynewulf may acknowledge his fraught relation to Helena and Christian materialism by identifying himself—as a Christian poet—with Judas. Robert DiNapoli has pointed to original aspects of Cynewulf’s account of Judas’s ancestral knowledge, especially its use of the word leoðorun (“wise counsel given in song,” 522b), that align Judas with poetic wisdom.155 DiNapoli contends that Judas’s ancestral affiliation with poetry mirrors that of Cynwulf and showcases his status as the representative of a pagan Anglo-Saxon literary tradition in conflict with a new Christian literary mode.156 While I agree with DiNapoli that Judas is portrayed as a kind of poet-figure, I would argue that the link between poet and Jew shores up not so much Cynewulf’s identification with a native pagan tradition, but something altogether different: his difficult position as an ecclesiastic—a member of the first estate learned in spiritual wisdom—writing a poem (p.63) about Christian materialisms. After all, the paternal poetic tradition with which Judas is aligned is one that stresses the otherworldly. Paradoxically, Judas does become otherworldy and sacrificial (and Christ-like) as he resists Helena, yet he gives in to her carnal Christian quest to find both the cross and, later, the nails. Could Cynewulf be encoding in Judas’s resistance and ultimate submission his own qualms about celebrating Helena and writing this carnal poem?

Cynewulf’s possible identification with Judas and his subtle criticism of Helena don’t necessarily render Elene any less antisemitic than critics such as Scheil or Estes claim it is. Cynewulf criticizes Helena by shoring up her problematic “Jewishness.” Cynewulf’s identification with Judas is more complex. While Cynewulf may identify with Judas as a figure compelled or forced into the service of worldly Christian rulers, that connection doesn’t mean that he feels a particular sympathy with Jews.157 In other words, and in a move that in some respects looks toward the gentile cross identification with Jews in modernist writings as analyzed by Brian Cheyette and Jonathan Freedman, Cynewulf may be drawn to Judas not so much as a Jew per se, but as a member of a people who were in a sense the ultimate outsiders.158 In the difficulties posed by the Jew’s strangeness to and isolation from a larger Christian community, Cynewulf may have seen parallels with his own status in Anglo-Saxon England as an ascetic in an unavoidably material and worldly milieu. Is the pit, after all, so different from a monastic cell?


(1.) Bede, Ecclesiastical History, 5.24, ed. Colgrave and Mynors, 567; future citations by book, chapter, and page number from this edition appear in the text. On Bede’s biography, see M. Brown, “Bede’s Life in Context.”

(3.) For a recent assessment of Bede, Cynewulf, and other figures’ interest in conversion, see Karkov and Howe, Conversion and Colonization.

(6.) Biblical citations in chapters 1–4 are taken from the Douay-Rheims translation, with minor modifications.

(7.) See J. Cohen’s discussion of the hermeneutical Jew in Living Letters of the Law.

(9.) These works exemplify a notable interest in Jerusalem by Christians located on the western margins of Europe, witnessed also by Adomnan of Iona’s On the Holy Places (ca. 680) and Bede’s On the Holy Places (ca. 702–3), which relies heavily on the earlier work. On the geographic sensibility of Bede’s On the Holy Places, see Howe, Writing the Map of Anglo-Saxon England, 137–41.

(10.) On the dating of those works, see O’Reilly, “Introduction,” xvii; and Fulk, “Cynewulf.”

(11.) Scholarship in archaeology, history, literary criticism, and other disciplines has clarified the role of a distinctive and rich material culture in Anglo-Saxon England. See, for example, Hines and Frantzen, Cædmon’s Hymn and Material Culture; Loveluck, “Wealth, Waste and Conspicuous Consumption”; Cramp, Wearmouth and Jarrow Monastic Sites; Hyer and Owen-Crocker, Material Culture of Daily Living; Karkov and Damico, Aedificia Nova.

(12.) OED, s.v. “accommodate,” v., 2.d. “Tractaturi igitur iuuante domino de aedificatione templi et in structura materiali spiritalem Dei mansionem” (On the Temple 1.2: Bede, do, ed. Hurst, 148; On the Temple, ed. and trans. Connolly, 6). Subsequent page citations of Hurst’s Latin edition and Connolly’s translation appear in the text.

(13.) As an inanimate and hard object that, according to classical authorities, occupied the bottom rung of the Great Chain of Being, stone served as an apt means of critique in the bible. As Jeffrey Jerome Cohen puts it, “rock seems as inhuman a substance as can be found” (“Stories of Stone,” 58). Cohen uses the ambivalent status of stone to rethink received notions of medieval English Jewish–Christian relations in “Future of the Jews of York”; he also problematizes the seemingly inert Christian narrative of the stony Jew in his ecological study of lithic liveliness, Stone.

(p.265) (14.) 2 Cor. 3:14–18. The Vulgate stresses dull senses (“Sed obtusi sunt sensus eorum”) while the Greek emphasizes hardened minds. The Hebrew Bible criticizes the occasional wrongdoings of Israel and the ongoing cruelty of other people (like Pharaoh) by referring to their “heart of flint” (Zech. 7:12) or “heart of stone” (Ezek. 11:19). Paul reframes that analogy in a Christian context.

(15.) Jeremy Cohen discusses early and medieval Christian perceptions of Jewish interpretive insufficiency in Living Letters of the Law.

(16.) J. J. Cohen, Stone, 150; Scheil discusses Anglo-Saxon invocations of the trope in In the Footsteps of Israel, 32, 41, 227.

(17.) Stacey, “Anti-Semitism and the Medieval English State,” 166; J. Campbell, “Was It Infancy in England?,” 14; Agus, Urban Civilisation, 61; H. Richardson, English Jewry under the Angevin Kings, 1n4. Campbell and Stacey postulate that fears over competition on the part of Anglo-Saxon merchants may account for any official policy excluding Jews from England. My speculation about the political import of Bede’s and Cynewulf’s sepulchral Jews complements arguments by Akbari, Biddick, Leshock, and others about the geographic effects of supersession.

(18.) On the dating of the homilies, see Martin, “Introduction,” xi. On their manuscript context, see Hurst, “Introduction,” in Bede, Homiliarum, 2:xvii–xxi.

(20.) “Notum iuxta historiam est narrante euangelista Matheo quia descendens de caelo angelus reuoluit lapidem ab ostio monumenti non quidem ut exeunte domino uiam faceret sed ut apertus uacuusque monumenti locus hominibus eum resurrexisse proderet” (Bede, Homily II.10, Homiliarum, ed. Hurst, 247; Homilies, trans. Martin and Hurst, 90) further citations of those editions appear in the text and include book, sermon, and page numbers.

(21.) “Mystice autem reuolutio lapidis sacramentorum est reuolutio diuinorum quae quondam littera legis claudebantur occulta. Lex enim in lapide scriptum est” (247–48).

(23.) “Etenim et nobis singulis cum fidem dominicae passionis et resurrectionis agnouimus monumentum profecto illius quod clausum fuerat apertum est” (247).

(24.) “Ac uero Iudaeus ac paganus qui mortem quidem redemptoris nostri quam credunt inrident triumphum uero resurrectionis eius prorsus credere recusant quasi clausum lapide adhuc monumentum permanet nec ualent ingredi ut ablatum resurgendo corpus domini respiciant quia duritia suae infidelitatis repelluntur ne animaduertant quia non potest in terris mortuus inueniri qui destructo mortis aditu iam caelorum alta penetrauit” (247–48).

(25.) Bede, like other Christian writers, does portray pagans at times as hardhearted, a phrasing that demonstrates the application of the more central trope of Jewish hard-heartedness to other non-Christians.

(29.) The Vercelli Book is no. CXVII in the Eusebian Archives. On the date and manuscript context of Elene, which probably was written during the 970s, see Cynewulf, Elene, ed. Gradon, 1–2; and Lucas, “Vercelli Book Revisited.”

(33.) Informed by Gradon’s work on the sources of Elene and the Latin and Greek recensions of the Acta Cyriaci, critics have made a persuasive case for closely comparing Elene to the St. Gall MS (e.g., Klein, “Reading Queenship in Cynewulf’s Elene,” 82n20). On Cynewulf’s sources, see also S. Rosser, “Sources of Cynewulf’s Elene,” and Whatley, “Figure of Constantine the Great.” In Christ II, Cynewulf links the Jew’s stony heart (“heortan staenne”) to an inability to see a figure for Christ’s Ascension in Job 28:7 (Christ II, 641b, in Muir, Exeter Anthology of Old English Poetry, 70). Future line citations of Christ II come from this edition. On Bede’s influence on that poem, see Kramer, Between Heaven and Earth, 124–28.

(34.) All citations of Elene are by line number and from the Gradon edition; translations are my own.

(35.) Holder, Inventio Sanctae Crucis, 5. Following Gradon’s assessment of the possible sources of Elene, I cite the Latin version of the legend that appears in St. Gall 225, as transcribed by Holder (Cynewulf, Elene, ed. Gradon, 15–22, esp. 18–19).

(37.) The Acta Cyriaci only relates how the Jews “did not want to speak the truth” (“nihil uerum uoluerunt dicere”; Holder, Inventio Sanctae Crucis, 558, line 185).

(41.) Whatley, “Bread and Stone”; T. Hill, “Bread and Stone, Again”; Sharma, “Reburial of the Cross.” Cf. the Acta Cyriaci: “Et quis in solitudinem constitutes panibus adpositis lapides manducet” (Holder, Inventio Sanctae Crucis, 7, lines 196–97).

(44.) Ibid., 556.

(47.) Cf. how a converted Judas describes God hurling the devil into the abyss in language that recalls his hurling into the dry well by Helena (939–45a; Whatley, “Bread and Stone,” 554).

(48.) It is the case that in Elene, Judas eventually leaves the pit, helps the queen, and even becomes a Christian bishop. The pit thus serves in certain respects as not only a means of exile but also a torturous tool of conversion. However, were Judas to not convert and remain faithful to his people, his “living death” in the pit would inevitably have shifted to a permanent, literal death. The fact that Elene depicts a Jew escaping his sepulchral confinement hardly means that the poem does not reiterate the geopolitics—the radical brand of exile and eradication—encoded in Bede’s tomb-like Jew.

(p.267) (49.) “Maestis autem de ablato corpore Iesu mulieribus” (248).

(50.) “cum de longitudine praesentis incolatus ac de praesentia nostri conditoris salubriter afflicti repente supernorum ciuium quae sint gaudia aeterna recolimus ac recordata illorum beatitudine in qua etiam nos futuros speramus exilii quam patimur aerumnam leuius ferre incipimus” (ibid.).

(51.) Christ II, 499b–502a; see also ibid., 537b–540a.

(52.) “apparuerunt angeli qui illis patefacta resurrectione consolationis remedia ferrent. Quod nunc quoque inuisibiliter nobiscum agi minime dubitare” (248).

(53.) “Maxime tamen angelici nobis spiritus adesse credendi sunt cum diuinis specialiter mancipamur obsequiis, id est cum ecclesiam ingressi uel lectionibus sacris aurem accommodamus uel psalmodiae operam damus uel orationi incumbimus uel etiam missarum sollemnia celebramus. … Nec dubitare licet ubi corporis et sanguinis dominici mysteria geruntur supernorum ciuium adesse conuentus qui monumentum quo corpus ipsum uenerabile positum fuerat et unde resurgendo abscesserat tam sedulis seruant excubiis” (249).

(54.) The earliest manuscripts of the EH are the ca. 737 Moore Bede (Cambridge University Library, MS Kk. V. 16), the ca. 746 Leningrad codex (National Library of Russia, Q. I. 18), and the eighth-century London Cotton codex (British Library, MS Cotton Tib. C. II). Nearly 150 copies of the EH were made during the Middle Ages, attesting to its tremendous influence. Holder affirms the “great significance for Bede” churches had “as concrete manifestations of missionary advance” (“Allegory and History in Bede’s Interpretation,” 121).

(55.) Citations of the EH are from the Colgrave and Mynors edition.

(57.) Other examples include the church that memorializes Alban’s martyrdom (1.7, 34–35) and the rebuilding of churches after the Diocletian persecution (1.8, 34–35).

(58.) “Si ergo ambulare uoluit in templo in quo caro et sanguis brutorum animalium offerebatur, multo magis nostram orationis domum ubi carnis ipsius ac sanguinis sacramenta celebrantur uisitare gaudebit. Si perambulare non despexit porticum in qua rex quondam mortalis ac terrenus quamuis potentissimus ac sapientissimus ad orandum stare solebat, quanto magis penetralia cordium nostrorum inuisere atque inlustrare desiderat, si tamen ea porticum esse Salomonis, hoc est si ea timorem suum quod est initium sapientiae habere perspexerit. Necque enim putandum est quia domus solummodo in qua ad orandum uel ad mysteria celebranda conuenimus templum sit domini et non ipsi qui in nomine domini conuenimus multo amplius templum eius et appellemur et simus cum manifeste dicat apostolus: Vos estis templum Dei uiui sicut dicit Deus, inhabitabo in eis et inter illos ambulabo” (358–59).

(59.) In particular, Bede refrains from reading allegorically Christian buildings (Holder, “Allegory and History in Bede’s Interpretation,” 131; O’Reilly, “Introduction,” li).

(60.) On the dating of On the Tabernacle and On Ezra and Nehemiah, see Holder, “Introduction,” in Bede, On the Tabernacle, xvi; and DeGregorio, “Introduction,” in Bede, On Ezra and Nehemiah, xlii.

(61.) O’Reilly, “Introduction,” xviii. She refers to two sermons on the anniversary of the dedication of the church at Jarrow, and a Lenten homily on the cleansing of the temple. Bede also included allegories of the tabernacle and/or temple in his (p.268) commentary on Genesis, his commentary on the Apocalypse, and his Thirty Questions on the Book of Kings (Holder, “Allegory and History in Bede’s Interpretation,” 118).

(62.) On Jewish interpretations of the temple, see Whitehead, Castles of the Mind, 7–10.

(64.) On the Tabernacle appears in sixty-eight, On the Temple appears in forty-five, and On Ezra and Nehemia appears in thirty-two extant manuscripts from the ninth to fifteenth centuries (Laistner and King, Hand-List of Bede Manuscripts, 39–40, 70–77). One manuscript, Orléans, Bibliothèque municipale, 42, may be of eighth-century provenance (ibid., 40). On the prospect that Bede “may have possibly exercised an influence upon later sculpture,” see Whitehead, Castles of the Mind, 18.

(65.) Beyond the rationales discussed in what follows, still more reasons include Bede’s interest in charting new territory in the tradition of religious writing established by church fathers and his desire, as outlined in the apparent letter to Bishop Acca at the start of On the Temple, to console religious figures who had suffered affliction and exile in England by fostering meditation on heavenly existence (DeGregorio, “Bede and the Old Testament,” 132; O’Reilly, “Introduction,” in Bede, On the Temple, ed. and trans. Connolly, xxxi; I. Wood, Most Holy Abbot Ceolfrid, 11–12).

(67.) While scholars don’t know precisely where the two images appeared originally, it’s clear that they were “conceived to be initiatory to the text” (Carruthers, Craft of Thought, 234).

(68.) Ibid., 222.

(69.) Ibid., 230.

(70.) Meyvaert, “Bede, Cassiodorus, and the Codex Amiatinus,” 883. Sanctuary images like that in the Codex Grandior have Jewish roots. In his Institutiones, Cassiodorus relates how a wise blind man from Asia, Eusebius, spurred him to insert the sanctuary image at the start of the pandect (I.5.2, ed. Mynors, 22–23). Roth describes how illuminated codices depicting biblical sanctuaries appeared in Jewish bibles during the first centuries of the Common Era, and how social contact led to the migration of the Jewish iconographic practice to Christians (“Jewish Antecedents of Christian Art”). While later scholarship stresses the complex lines of influence between Jews and Christians in Syria, Egypt, Byzantium, Italy, and further west (Meyvaert, “Bede, Cassiodorus, and the Codex Amiatinus,” 848n95), Roth’s essay remains “an important demonstration, not just of the earliest influences of Jewish traditions on Christian traditions, but of their continuing influence on aspects of Christian art throughout the later Middle Ages” (Carruthers, Craft of Thought, 347n30). Intriguingly, while Roth suggests the Jewishness of a figural method grounded in symbolic biblical buildings, Revel-Neher argues that the Amiatinus diagram offers a more literal view of the sanctuary than its Jewish precedents (“Du Codex Amiatinus et ses rapports,” 16).

(75.) Ibid., 5–6.

(76.) Ibid., 5. On Gregory’s complex attitude toward Jews, and especially the relationship between his correspondence and his theological writings on Jews, see J. Cohen, Living Letters of the Law, 73–94. Regardless of his promotion of the pseudo-Sukkot ritual in his correspondence, Gregory “harbored no love for the Jews” (ibid., 79).

(78.) “Tractaturi igitur iuuante domino de aedificatione templi et in structura materiali spiritalem Dei mansionem” (148).

(81.) Kramer. “‘Ðu Eart se Weallstan,’” 98. Bede associates the temple with the four senses of scripture (historical, allegorical, anagogical, and tropological) in De schematibus et tropes (Holder, “Allegory and History in Bede’s Interpretation,” 118). O’Brien elucidates the “plurality of interpretations” Bede offers in his architectural exegeses (Bede’s Temple, 6).

(82.) “Latitudo etenim tabularum dilatatio est fidei et sacramentorum quae prius in una Israhelitica plebe latebat sed horum ministerio ad totius orbis amplitudinem peruenit” (60).

(83.) “sermo euangelicus iuuante domino per apostolos uniuersas in breui mundi plagas impleuit” (217).

(84.) “Habet ergo altare Dei in medio sui craticulam ad suscipienda holocausta paratam quia praeparant electi locum domino in intimo sui cordis affectu ubi deuotas ei cogitationes collecent” (82).

(86.) A more extensive discussion of the spatial aspects of Bede’s exegeses is Lavezzo, “Building Antisemitism in Bede.”

(87.) Cf. Augustine’s account of biblical Jew’s failure to read figuratively the prophesy on the rebuilding of the temple in Haggai 2:9. In the same way that Bede’s Jew suffers devastating spatial effects for his carnal unbelief, Augustine’s Jew suffers devastating temporal effects for his literal-minded take on the space of the temple: due to their failure to realize that Haggai foretold a spiritual temple, Augustine claims, God deprived them of their ability to prophesy altogether (Augustine, City of God, 18.45, 888).

(88.) Robbins, Prodigal Son, Elder Brother. Kruger’s book opens by discussing how “even as it is made to die, to disappear,” in Christian narratives of supersession, “Judaism comes to occupy our field of vision” (Spectral Jew, xvi–xvii).

(89.) Auerbach, “Figura,” 58. Auerbach’s theory of figura insists “that each event must be treated as actual, as within “the stream of historical life,” and not as a mere idea or concept (Howe, “Figural Presence of Erich Auerbach,” 139; thanks belong to Andrew Scheil for drawing my attention to this piece). We should also note, with Howe, that “there was good reason … to insist on the here and now of events rather than the then and there of interpretive systems,” since, as a Jewish émigré writing in (p.270) the late 1930s, he “had a political and moral responsibility in the late 1930s to assert the continuing presence of the historical events of the Hebrew bible and thus of the Jewish people” (ibid., 139–40).

(94.) “Tractaturi igitur iuuante domino de aedificatione templi et in structura materiali spiritalem Dei mansionem” (148). Frantzen, “All Created Things,” 119.

(95.) Relevant here is Darby’s discussion of On the Temple and Bede’s support of images in “Bede, Iconoclasm and the Temple of Solomon.”

(96.) Bede thus offers an early, architectural version of the virtual Jew found in post-expulsion English writings. See Tomasch, “Postcolonial Chaucer and the Virtual Jew.”

(99.) That proximity to the divine emerged in other aspects of biblical accounts of Jewish life. In Maccabees, angels on horses ride alongside Judas Maccabeus and other guerilla fighters as they oppose the Hellenic occupiers of the temple. Such narratives suggest how, during biblical times, no chasm or wall sundered earthly from heavenly space but rather a porous landscape or open door between the two locations allowed for easy passage on the part of divine entities into the human world. Zacher discusses the representation in the OE Exodus of a “God of presence” in Rewriting the Old Testament in Anglo-Saxon Verse, 61–70.

(100.) “specialiter domino adhaerere nouerimus quos inuincibili mentis stabilitate quasi quadratos quodammodo atque ad omnes temptationum incursus immobiles perdurare” (155–56).

(101.) Cf. Christ I, which hails Christ as the cornerstone “Binding with firm fastening the wide walls, the flint unbroken” (“gesomnige side weallas / fæste gefoge, flint unbræcne”; lines 6–7, in Muir, Exeter Anthology of Old English Poetry, 46).

(102.) Such favorable associations of stones with Christian leaders also appear in On Genesis, 236; and On Ezra and Nehemiah as well, in which Bede likens the latomi or stonecutters of the new temple to spiritual stonecutters, and the cementarii or builders of the Second Temple to preachers (Bede, De tabernaculo, De templo, ed. Hurst, 273–74; On Ezra and Nehemiah, ed. DeGregorio, 56). An especially fraught celebration of stone is in On the Tabernacle, where the stone of the Ten Commandments figures the preservation of the faith in Christian hearts (Bede, De tabernaculo, De templo, ed. Hurst, 6; On the Tabernacle, ed. and trans. Holder, 3).

(103.) “fortitudine fidei in unam eandemque regulam sibimet agglutinati” (174).

(104.) “Verum quia lex in lapide scripta doctrina uero euangelii per lignum est dominicae passionis confirmata unde et populus lapide circumcidebatur in praeputio nos signo crucis consecramur in fronte. Possunt non incongrue parietes templi lapidei siue pauimentum pretiosissimo marmore stratum eorum qui in lege fideliter ac (p.271) perfecte uixerunt typum gerere, tabulae uero cedrinae siue abiegnae noui testamenti iustos indicare qui uolentes post dominum uenire abnegant semet ipsos et sumpta cruce sua cotidie sequuntur illum” (174).

(105.) The Incarnation epitomizes the materialism at the heart of Christian practice, which encompasses the doctrine of transubstantiation and the cults of relics. Bede demonstrates the kind of concrete and material use of figura Auerbach describes in his discussion of Tertullian (“Figura,” 28–32). In one of his church dedication homilies, Bede links the Incarnation to the temple (Homily II.24, Homiliarum, ed. Hurst, 375, Homilies, trans. Martin and Hurst, 250).

(106.) Though it is worth noting, with Howe, how timber buildings in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle are linked with impermanence (Writing the Map of Anglo-Saxon England, 49–51).

(108.) “Nec contrarium debet uideri quae supra diximus porticum quae erat ante templum antiquorum ipsum fidelium figuram gestare templum uero eorum qui post incarnationis dominicae tempus in mundum uenerunt” (175).

(109.) “Multiplex namque est in diuersis rebus earundem repetitio figurarum” (175).

(110.) “maiori perfectione” (175).

(112.) Recent work on stone in Anglo-Saxon England includes Karkov and Orton, Theorizing Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture.

(113.) Blair, The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society, 137. My argument complements Mayr-Harting, who notes how “Bede’s explanation in moral terms of the stones used in the building of the Temple may have another side in his interest to say in the EH when actual churches were built of stone” (Venerable Bede, 20). Inverting the approaches of critics like O’Reilly and Holder, who stress the spiritualism linking both texts, Mayr-Harting implies a materialism lurking in De templo that emerges more clearly in the stone churches of the EH.

(115.) D. Brown, Anglo-Saxon England, 68. On the Upper Permian Magnesian Limestone (aka Roker Dolomite), glacier erratics, Coal Measure Sandstone, and ashlar from Roman sites used at Monkwearmouth, see Turner et al., Wearmouth and Jarrow, 141. Jarrow’s buildings were composed entirely of cut and dressed stones taken from Roman sites, such as “the Roman wall and fort at Wallsend, across the Tyne to the north-west, and the remains of the substantial supply fort at South Shields to the east” (ibid., 146). Today, a museum called Bede’s World centers around the remains of St. Peter’s and other buildings of the monastic precinct. See http://www.bedesworld.co.uk.

(117.) Eusebius of Caesaria, Historia Ecclesiastica, 10.4.39, and Lactantius, De mortibus persecutorum, 12, cited in Holder, “Allegory and History in Bede’s Interpretation,” 123–24.

(p.272) (118.) Cramp, Wearmouth Jarrow Monastic Sites, 98.

(124.) Bede stresses his lifelong habitation of Jarrow in an oft-cited passage from the EH, 5.24, 566–67.

(129.) The poem occupies from line 6 of fol. 104v to the end of fol. 106r of the Vercelli Book.

(131.) A national rationale for the cult is suggested by Constantine’s supposed birth in Britain (Estes, “Colonization and Conversion,” 138).

(132.) On English pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the cross in Elene, see I. Wood, “Constantinian Crosses in Northumbria.”

(133.) On the sensitivity of Elene to the geographic particulars of the Christian imperium and Anglo-Saxon England, see Zollinger, “Cynewulf’s Elene and the Patterns of the Past.”

(134.) Elene in a sense adumbrates the religious warfare of the Crusades, with the Jews it depicts—unlike the proximate Jewish victims of European pogroms—occupying the eastern location inhabited by the crusaders’ Muslim opponents.

(135.) On the idea that Elene figures the battle of the Church Militant with Synagoga, see Regan, “Evangelicalism as the Informing Principle,” 29.

(136.) Cf. Heckman’s argument that Elene portrays a Christian reliance on the privileged wisdom of the Jews in “Things in Doubt.”

(137.) In Dark Mirror, Lipton offers an acute analysis of the tension between how Christ “walked the earth in full sight” of Jews and Christian ideas of Jewish blindness (6).

(138.) While, once Judas changes positions and assists Helena, he does pray for a sign from God, it remains the case that he is the invaluable medium for this divine revelation. On the “mutual need” of Judas and Helena for each other, see Regan, “Evangelicalism as the Informing Principle,” 31.

(140.) Cf. how architectural materialisms were central to Constantine, who sent his mother to Jerusalem and other territories precisely in order to build churches and make Christianity a visible presence in his expanding empire (ibid., 62; Drijvers, Helena Augusta, 66–70).

(143.) Judas also resembles Christ insofar as his presence in the empty pit figures the desert where Christ was tempted (T. Hill, “Sapiential Structure and Figural Narrative,” 172–73; Regan, “Evangelicalism as the Informing Principle,” 39).

(145.) Krapp, ed. The Dream of the Rood, lines 74b–75a. Critics often adopt an “either or” approach when discussing the Jewish or Christian qualities of Judas. See Whatley (“Bread and Stone”) on the former and T. Hill (“Bread and Stone, Again”) on the latter. Woolf argues that the “inverted passion” in Elene reflects Cynewulf’s intensification of an already contradictory source (“Saints’ Lives,” 47). Regan argues that Judas’s Christ-like qualities don’t so much contradict his Jewishness but look toward the “profound spiritual conversion” he “undergoes,” and figure the “relationship between the teaching church and the individual soul” (“Evangelicalism as the Informing Principle,” 34–35, 44–46). With Sharma, who stresses how “the metaphorical vectors of Elene are bidirectional” (“Reburial of the Cross,” 281), I argue that Cynewulf, instead of successfully achieving concordia discordiarum or the reconciliation of apparently ineluctable oppositions, allows such tensions to stand in Elene.

(146.) T. Hill, “Bread and Stone, Again,” 256. Critics who liken Helena to the tyrants of hagiography and view her as even less sympathetic than Judas include Di-Napoli, “Poesis and Authority”; Heckman, “Things in Doubt,” 470–71, and the works cited in n. 44.

(148.) Isidore, Etymologies, IX.v.4, trans. Barney et al., 206. On the medieval Christian association of the Jew with woman, see Lampert-Weissig, Gender and Jewish Difference.

(150.) Cf. the stress at the end of Christ II on the unstable and shifting nature of the space of Christian earthly existence, which Cynewulf likens to a ship tossing on a heaving sea (850a–858a).

(151.) Scheil, In the Footsteps of Israel, 327. On the inescapable nature of materialism and the worldly in Elene, see Heckman, “Things in Doubt,” 479; and Sharma, “Reburial of the Cross,” 281, 297.

(153.) See also how Judas’s eventual discovery of the physical nails prompts the creation of a spiritual edifice in Helena, who “was filled with grace of wisdom, and the holy, heavenly Spirit kept a dwelling in her noble heart” (“gefylled wæs / wisdomes gife, ond þa wic beheold / halig heofonlic Gast / … æðelne innoð”; 1142b–1145a). In many respects, Elene is a work that seems comfortable with such contradictions.

(154.) Cf. Cynewulf’s unique descriptors for Helena. While the Acta Cyriaci stresses Helena’s holiness by almost always calling her “beata Aelena,” Cynewulf calls her the more secular “cwen” and “hlæfdige,” and describes her as “æðele” (Klein, “Reading Queenship in Cynewulf’s Elene,” 58). While such adjectives may heighten Helena’s social status, does Cynewulf avoiding calling her holy because he questions her piety?

(156.) Ibid., 623.

(157.) But on Cynewulf’s sympathy for Jews, see Fleming, “Rex regum et cyninga cyning.”