The legacy of the remnant, Old English laf and the junius cycle

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Portnoy, Phyllis C.
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The "remnant" has been a signifier of survival in literature since its earliest record. It speaks to the fundamental issue of continuance in a world where existence is always threatened, and posterity always a concern. In scriptural narrative, the "remnant" recurs as a motif describing "what is left" after a judgment by God. Through a process of redaction, translation and exegesis, the idea acquires messianic and eschatological connotations; survival becomes Salvation. The study of the "remnant" has focused on Near Eastern epic and biblical literatures. Little attention has yet been given to epics of the western tradition. The present study seeks to add to the scholarship of the "remnant" by demonstrating a theological usage of the motif at the very beginning of English epic, in the poems collected in Oxford, Bodleian Junius 11. The four poems in this codex, 'Genesis, Exodus, Daniel' and 'Christ and Satan', together comprise an epic of salvation history which seems to reflect the "remnant" idea in its Christian revision, and also in its liturgical celebration in the Easter Vigil. This distinguishes it from its usage in 'Beowulf ', where the "remnant" recurs as a topos of doom. To substantiate these claims for the codex, this study first traces the theological changes associated with the "remnant" motif in scripture and liturgy, asking ultimately: are we dealing with the same idea? It then attempts to establish a semantic norm for OE 'laf' ("remnant", "legacy"), asking ultimately: are we dealing with the same word, or meaning of a word? The study attempts to show that the Anglo-Saxon version of s lvation history is another vernacular translation of scripture deserving of attention. Like the Targums and the Septuagint, the Junius codex uses the "remnant" motif to transform Pentateuchal history into providential narrative. This narrative is similar to medieval mystery "cycles" and classical epic "cycles": each poem is a discrete work, but it has a larger significance as part of a larger story. The "remnant" is a unifying element in this story. The Junius codex is part of its theological legacy.