Beowulf as a Messianic Narrative

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Beowulf as a messianic narrative has been a subject of great controversy. Given the time period, ‘Christianity’ was not completely established, and it was entwined with cultural paganism, as seen woven throughout the text. The definition of a messianic narrative (containing the ultimate messianic figure) is found in Isaiah 53, a prophecy spoken by God through the Hebrew prophet Isaiah. This is the standard to which Beowulf must be compared to determination the nature of the poem. Many scholars such as Harold Bloom (quoting E. Talbot Donaldson), Roberta Frank, Rich Lawson, Seamus Heaney, and J. R. R. Tolkien (quoting R. W. Chambers) have critically viewed Beowulf to determine the nature of the epic, resulting in a diverse range of conclusions.

In establishing a standard of messianic narrative for Beowulf to reach, God’s metanarrative must be explored. Isaiah 53 speaks of the characteristics of a messianic figure, outlining the messianic narrative. It reads, “He was lead like a lamb to the slaughter ...The punishment that brought us peace was on him,” The nature of Jesus is understood through simile, as Jesus is compared to a lamb, symbolising purity, gentleness, and sacrifice. This symbolism is significant as Hebrews would have identified with slaughtering an unblemished lamb to atone for their sin. The alliteration then used in punishment and peace emphasises the connection between the event of punishment and atonement, conveying the perfectly orchestrated plan of salvation. Isaiah 53 speaks of an innocent messianic figure giving their life to save an undeserving people – the messianic narrative.

The Christianity of Beowulf is explored by Bloom in the introduction to Tolkien’s Monsters and Critics. He quotes Donaldson, “While Christian is a correct term for the religion of the poet and of his audience, it was a Christianity that [had not] succeeded in obliterating an older [paganism],” and responds, “Donaldson describes what I have read: a heroic poem,...
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