Document Type


Date of Award



Exodus (Anglo-Saxon poem), Criticism and interpretation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


English, General Literature, and Rhetoric

First Advisor

Bernard F. Huppé

Second Advisor

Paul E. Szarmach

Third Advisor

Wilhelm F. Nicolaisen


Although modern scholars, acknowledging the influence of the partistic tradition on Medieval literature, have begun to recognize the artistic excellence of the Old English Exodus, most have approached the poem presuming a narrative structure, and therefore a thematic structure, based on the three modern editions of the poem. The structure attributed by modern editors, however, has been determined largely by modern notions of grammar, punctuation, and plot unity. Thus our understanding of the poem remains somewhat distorted and fragmentary: while we are vaguely certain that the poem as a whole is a symbolic representation of man’s spiritual journey to salvation, and that the various parts are related to that whole, we are less than certain that the parts are related to each other in light of the widely acknowledged theme.

The present study undertakes to resolve some of this uncertainty by examining the rhetorical structure of Exodus as that structure is suggested by (1) the use of sectional divisions in the manuscript as a possible key to the poem’s scenic divisions, and (2) by the use of the rhetorical principles discerned by Adeline C. Bartlett in The Larger Rhetorical Patterns in Anglo-Saxon Poetry, and Bernard F. Huppé in The Web of Words, insofar as those principles reflect the smaller rhetorical structure and meaning of the poem. Such an examination reveals a complex structure governed less by the poet’s concern with a chronological retelling of the Exodus story than by his concern with the meaning of the Red Sea crossing as it was reflected in patristic literature. The sense of design is evident not only in the rhetorical parallelism and counterpointing of phrases, periods, and verse paragraphs, but also through the parallelism and counterpointing of incidents, metaphorical motifs, and verbal motifs. The use of parallelism and counterpoint indicates that the poet’s strategy is to relate the incidents of the poem to each other through analogy rather than through cause and effect. The juxtaposition of analogous events, insofar as it reflects the patristic practice of interpreting Old Testament incidents in light of New Testament analogues, in turn stresses the common meaning of those events. Hence, the Israelites’ entry into the Red Sea, Noah’s crossing of the Deluge, and Abraham’s sacrifice, are linked through the common meaning attributed by the patristic tradition that man can only be saved through the blood Christ shed at his crucifixion. Thus, the complex use of rhetorical principles evident in Exodus reveal that the poem is no mere redaction of a biblical incident, but is rather the product of the highest art.