Genesis B, also known as The Later Genesis, is a text of Genesis, one of the poems in Old English included in the partially illustrated Junius Manuscript, which has been held in the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford since 1677. Scholars regard Genesis B and other poems in the Junius Manuscript as among the "best of the Anglo-Saxon corpus"
The poem commonly known as Genesis B or The Later Genesis is embedded in another Old English poem called now Genesis A. Scholars once believed that the legendary first Old English poet Cǣdmon was responsible for not only the Genesis poems but also the entire Junius Manuscript. This theory has long since been disregarded (Weston Wyley 212). The separate existence of Genesis B (lines 235-851 of the Genesis A poem) was inferred in the 1870s by Eduard Sievers, who by philological and stylistic analysis showed convincingly that these lines were translated from an Old Saxon (continental Low German) original. In 1894 his hypothesis was dramatically confirmed by the discovery of parts of the Old Saxon original in a manuscript in the Vatican: about two dozen lines of the Old Saxon text coincide almost word-for-word with part of Genesis B. Marsden entitles his transcription of Genesis B “Satan’s Challenge (Genesis B)”, effectively summarizing the poem’s general contents. Genesis A is a paraphase of the Vulgate Latin version of the Book of Genesis chapters 1 to 22, whereas Genesis B is a strikingly original and dramatic retelling of the Fall of the Angels and the Fall of Man.
Content and controversy surrounding the text
Genesis B depicts the fall of Lucifer from heaven, at which point he is renamed "Satan" and assumes authority as the ruler of hell. The text goes on to describe the temptation and subsequent fall of Adam and Eve from God’s grace, but the account presented in this manuscript differs largely from any other version. Oldrieve addresses this controversy in terms of the language used to describe Satan’s bodily form. According to Genesis B, Satan appears to Adam as an angel, as opposed to the serpent which typically represents Satan. Woolf even goes as far as to compare Satan to Loki of Norse mythology, stating that the similarities between the two are “undoubtedly sufficient”. The controversies, however, are not as superficial as the depiction of the devil, which is still crucial to the overall meaning of the poem, but complicate much more significant plot points and characters. One of these major differences that Hill cites is the portrayal of Eve; while Genesis A claims that Eve is motivated by the desire to be more God-like, Genesis B shows that she was tempted by Satan and is instead trying to help save Adam by fulfilling God’s wishes. Oldrieve’s conclusion that Eve was so deceived by the devil and his words that she believed she saw an angel instead of a serpent blend these two controversies and offer further support of Eve’s innocence and lack of manipulation, much like the discrepancy noted by Hill.
The issue of language, the philology, is also a concern of Timmer’s, a scholar referenced several times throughout other scholars’ interpretations of Genesis B. He immediately discusses the discrepancies between versions of the fall of Adam and Eve and attributes them to problems with the translation from Old Saxon to Old English, offering reason as to how specific words are construed to have a meaning different than those found in any other Old English manuscript (19). A different explanation is offered by Doane; he argues that many of the discrepancies are a result of the extended time period between the oral telling of the story and the transcribing of the story by the Old Saxons, causing embellishment to heighten the literary drama of the text.
Goals in translation
Many scholars who translate Genesis B give significant evidence to the reasoning behind their translations, due to the complicated nature of the text. Oldrieve chooses to focus on maintaining the beauty of the text in her translation in order to portray the “vivid and lifelike characterization of Satan, Adam, and Eve”. Similar to Oldrieve, Woolf uses the text to further explore the portrayal of the devil throughout Old English poetry; in Genesis B alone, she compares Satan to Loki, as mentioned before, along with other Norse gods, and Weland of Beowulf, the latter which she cites as Timmer’s original idea. Timmer’s goal in transcribing the text, since he does not offer a direct translation, was to represent a complete rendering of the text based on manuscripts and several other transcriptions and translations he encountered, similar to Doane. He goes on to acknowledge the discrepancies he still encounters, despite his thorough investigation of the text.
- Doane, Alger N., The Saxon ‘Genesis’: an Edition of the West Saxon ‘Genesis B’ and the Old Saxon Vatican ‘Genesis.’ (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1991)
- Hill, Thomas D., “The Fall of Angels and Man in the Old English Genesis B.” Anglo-Saxon Poetry: Essays in Appreciation. Ed. Lewis E. Nicholson, Dolores Warwick Frese (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975), pp. 279-290
- Oldrieve, Susan, “Genesis B: Introduction and Translation.” Baldwin Wallace College. The Department of English. Web. October 13, 2010. http://homepages.bw.edu/~uncover/oldrievegenesisb.htm.
- Timmer, B. J., “The Later ‘Genesis.’” (Oxford: The Scrivener Press, 1948)
- Woolf, R. E., “The Devil in Old English Poetry” in Review of English Studies 4.13 (1953), pp. 1-12
- Weston Wyley, Bryan. "Caedmon the Cowheard and Old English Biblical Verse." Beowulf and Other Stories: A New Introduction to Old English, Old Icelandic, and Anglo-Norman Literatures. 1st ed. Great Britain: Pearson Educated Limited, 2007. 189-218.