A major feature in the Old English poem Exodus and its biblical source is the antagonism between the Israelites and the Egyptians. The Israelites face foes whose inter-cultural alterity threatens the very existence of the Jewish community until this threat is neutralized with the drowning of the Egyptians in the Red Sea. However, the Anglo-Saxon poem can hardly be regarded as a close rendering of the Old Testament narrative. I will argue that the Anglo-Saxon poet did not only take creative liberties in the portrayal of the conflict and its participants, but that he also introduced both culture-specific and radical concepts of Otherness, which ultimately define the identities of the Israelites and their persecutors.
In Cynewulf’s Juliana, Juliana’s suitor Heliseus, called ‘the guardian of treasure’, represents secular material culture, in which women are weakened by the male control of materiality. The material culture of the heroic world reproduces the masculine body politic, reducing women to objects of exchange in contractual relationships between men. The present paper makes a case that from the poem emerges a contrast between a perception of materially constituted masculinity, aligning manhood with wealth and status, and a more inclusive spiritual manhood, available to both sexes. Juliana achieves spiritual manhood as a miles Christi. Feminine holiness empowers women; Juliana’s emasculation of the devil is a challenge to the secular patriarchal order in which they are the currency of exchange.