Introduction: Judith, more than one text?

[Taken from the full edition, Chapter VIII, 1.b).

The main narrative [of Judith] is followed first by Ælfric's explication of the text, and then by the story of St Malchus (now lost). The question arises as to whether these additions were always present in Ælfric's Judith. Lines 356 onwards are there to enforce the idea of strength through purity, a theme admittedly prominant throughout, but by no means central to the homily as a whole. Furthermore, this section is clearly aimed at a monastic audience, most notably, it would appear, for a nunnery, as indicated by the phrases ‘Sume nunnan’ (l. 360) and ‘min swustor’ (l. 372). An audience of religious women seems at odds with Ælfric's reference to his version of the Old Testament book made in the Letter to Sigeweard (Crawford, 1922, p. 48). Here he clearly indicates that the story of Judith is meant to uplift the demoralised English laiety and to inspire them to defend their country. One has to ask the question then, that if the text as presented in this edition was read to the noblemen, what would they have made of the sentences addressed to the nuns?

Godden suggests that Ælfric initially translated the book of Judith as an exemplar for his religious colleagues and then saw an opportunity of using it for the pressing ‘military and political situation’ (Godden (1994), p. 14). It can, however, be suggested that a version intended for the laiety might have finished at l. 355, together with the appropriate ending ‘Þam sy a wurðmynt to worulde! Amen’ (Judith, l. 355). This suggestion allows for the retention of the brief explanatory section of ll. 339–55, which stresses how the righteous can overcome the strong and is thus in keeping with the message that he might have wished to portray to noblemen. Alternatively it is very possible that Judith at one time contained a different explanatory ending, now lost, stating once again the importance of defending one's country: a theme which runs through the homily equally as strongly as that of chastity.

If one were to argue along these lines, then a possible problem presented by l. 2 of Judith would have to be overcome. Here Ælfric states that ‘We secgað ærest...’ seemingly implying a second subsequent piece (i.e. the Life of St Malchus). However, it could also be that ‘ærest’ refers to the author’s scene-setting of ll. 2-18. In effect, what Ælfric is saying is that to begin the tale he must first supply some information which was not to be found in the biblical story, before presenting the main events of the story. In support of this theory it should be noted that there is no mention of nuns at the beginning of the homily (whereas generally Ælfric likes to refer to his audience from the outset, particularly if it is a specific one). Furthermore, in the body of the narrative there is no digression which one could identify as being specifically directed at a female audience. It is only at l. 360 that the reference ‘Sume nunnan’ appears, and, it has to be said, the phrase comes as something of a surprise.

This idea of different versions of a text for different purposes or audiences is far from unrealistic. Consideration of his treatment of the Vulgate source material shows how Ælfric was constantly aware of the needs, requirements, and limitations of his audiences. On the other hand, it is unrealistic to suggest that Ælfric would have presented Judith in the form here edited to a non-monastic audience. Although there are only two manuscripts which contain the homily extant, both of which are incomplete, it is very possible that more manuscripts existed, some containing a version of Judith for the clergy, complete with the discussion of ‘clænnysse’, some a ‘lay’ version for the private audience of the nobility, outlining the need for resistance.

l. 339. stent:–Assmann claims that O has ‘stentt’ but this is incorrect.

l. 339. þus:–Assmann, without the aid of ultra-violet light read þus as nis. However, his transcription does have important implications as Eric Stanley points out in ‘Ælfric and the Canonicity of the Book of Judith: ‘hit stent on leden þus on ðære bibliothecan’, N&Q 32 (1985), p.439. Here, Stanley notes the fact that Ælfric uses the word bibliotheca to refer particularly to the scriptures in Jerome's canon, thus forcing Assmann's edition to imply that Ælfric saw Judith as being non-canonical. However, this is clearly not the case. The apparent inconsistency is resolved however, when the manuscript is viewed under ultra-violet light and nis can clearly be seen to be the word þus.

ll. 352-4. ‘Ac hit næs...binnan þam weallum’:–Ælfric's use of irony is at its most apparent here. Judith promised Holofernes that she would bring him into Bethulia, and, as Ælfric points out, she was not lying, since she eventually brings his head binnan þam weallum.

ll. 356-60. ‘Heo nolde agan...habban ænige synne’:–These lines are somewhat troublesome and a possible translation should be offered: ‘She did not wish to own, just as the account tells us, the clothing of the cruel one, which the people gave to her; but she cast aside entirely his dress, she would not wear it, but cast it off from her; she would not have any sin through his heathenship’.

l. 370-1. Fornicatores & adulteros iudicabit Deus:–Hebrews 13:4 ‘For fornicators and adulterers God will judge’.

ll. 372-81. ‘Ic wylle worulde! Amen.’:–The beginning of this incomplete Life of St Malchus appears in only one MS (O), plus Wanley's few lines in his Catalogue. According to Wanley the complete Judith originally occupied ff.143-151a of O, i.e. 17 sides. In the extant form the only material left of Judith is on ff.29 and 30. In total these cover 99 lines of this edition, i.e. each side covers, on average, 25 lines of edited text. By multiplying the original number of sides (17) by this average (25) one gets the figure of 425 lines. That is to say, if O retained the complete version, when collated this edition would have presented a version of Judith of c.425 lines. As can be seen from the edition as it stands it is only 381 lines long. Therefore, c.44 lines are missing (i.e. one folio). This clearly was devoted to the Life of St Malchus by the fact that f.30 of O ends with the Life just beginning and Wanley notes that it carried on to the end of the piece.

The Life in total then, at most, can only have been 40-50 lines long which means that it was too short to stand alone as a separate piece and is therefore secondary to Judith in importance. It serves purely to explain further the virtues of chastity.

Malchus, as Ælfric states, wunodon æfre on clænnysse (ll. 379-80) and therefore mirrors well the role model set by Judith. He was born in Maronia, near Antioch (Syria), and joined a monastery at Chalcis to evade marriage and thus retain his celibacy. However, although he was an exemplary monk, he finally succumbed to curiosity (tempted by the Devil) about the welfare of his parents and left the monastery to visit them. On his journey home he was set upon by Saracen bandits and taken as a slave. His chastity is once again tested when his master tries to force him to marry another slave, Malcha, but Malchus resists and the two live as brother and sister. Eventually they escape and return to Syria (Judith, ll. 376-80). They live out their days in service to God but remaining celibate throughout. Before they died though they were visited by St Jerome and told him their story which he then wrote down to form his Vita Malchi Monachi Captivi (PL XXIII, cols. 53-60). Malchus then was clearly the ideal role model to follow on from Judith, important also because he was a monk himself and thus directly applicable to Ælfric's comments aimed at the nuns in l. 356ff.

As it is incomplete one can only guess at the source material. Assmann stated (1888, p. 79, n. 3) that: ‘Die quelle dazu ist die von Hieronymus abgefasste Vita Malchi Monachi Captivi...Der bei Wanley erhaltene schluss stellt das zehnte kapitel der Vita dar. Ælfric gab also nur einen kurzen auszug aus seiner quelle. Ein unterschied gegenüber der quelle besteht darin, dass Hieronymus den Malchus seine geschichte selbst erzählen lässt, während Ælfric dieselbe in der dritten person vorträgt’. Pringle (1975) also cites Jerome as the probable source and in the absence of other information one is forced to agree.