The Infernal Laboratory: Hell and Apocryphal Hermeneutics in the Medieval North Sea


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This dissertation investigates early medieval vernacular treatments of hell in North Sea texts. While canonical Christian scriptures contain brief passages on the infernal, apocryphal accounts exhibit the most robust treatments from the era. These early medieval depictions of hell show how apocrypha can vary by time, place, and purpose. Via careful study of the “Vision of St. Paul” and the “Gospel of Nicodemus” in Old English, Old Norse, Middle Welsh, and Old Irish, the research demonstrates that fusion and creativity in vernacular apocrypha are often the result of these texts’ liminal status. Apocrypha are sometimes considered authoritative since they treat biblical themes, but they are often held revisable since they are unofficial. This liminality generates discursive space for experimental, speculative theologies that play with contemporary orthodox standards. The research thus finds that apocrypha empowered medieval Christians to assert local identities while still identifying as members of a universalizing faith.