Jesus – the Epic Hero Although the Bible’s description of Jesus and his crucifixion has not been changed, the perception of the people about Jesus has been changing throughout the ages. The poem “The Dream of the Rood” is good example of a unique view of Jesus and his crucifixion. The poem is referred as “one of the first and most successful treatments of the crucifixion” in Old English poetry (Burrow 123). The poem consists of a mixture of Christian and epic elements and has a very unique style.
It represents the crucifixion as a battle and Christ as an epic hero, similar to Beowulf, which is quite different from the texts in the Bible. This contrast can be observed in the description of Jesus’ action during the crucifixion, and in the description of Jesus’ burial and the relationship between Jesus and his thanes. To present Christ as an epic hero, the poet describes Jesus’ crucifixion as a battle scene.
While the Bible states ”they [the Roman warriors] stripped him[Jesus]” (The Holy Bible: New international version, containing the Old Testament and the NewTestament, Matthew 27:28), the poem says that the “young Hero stripped himself,” and instead of being put on the cross, Christ “climbed on the high gallows, bold in the sight of many, when he would free mankind” (The Dream of the Rood 28).
This description of Christ is very different from the way he is described in the Bible as a “Passover lamb that is sacrificed”(First Corinthians 5:7).
Moreover, John Canuteson suggests that Jesus in the poem possesses the daring spirit often expressed by Beowulf (296). Canuteson states that the poem shows “Christ’s willingness, indeed his eagerness, to embrace his fate “(296). An example for this attitude is observed when Christ climbs upon the cross: “Than I saw the Lord of mankind hasten with stout heart, for he would climb upon me [the Rood]. ” (The Dream of the Rood 28). The depiction of the final moments of Christ’s life also contributes to his heroic image of Jesus in “The Dream of the Rood”.
In the poem Christ “sent forth his spirit”( The Dream of the Rood 28), in contrast to the Bible where he “bowed his head and gave up his spirit”(John 19:30). Jesus’ willingness to die shows his courage which is very important characteristic for an epic hero. This behavior is similar to Beowulf’s when Beowulf goes to battle the dragon, knowing that this would be his last battle; Beowulf says, “By my courage, or else mortal combat, /doom of battle, will bear your lord away” (2536-7). In Anglo-Saxon poetry the relationship between the lord and his warriors is very important. The warriors vowed loyalty to his lord,… in return, the lord was expected to…reward them richly for their valor”(Greenblatt, Stephen, and M. H. Abrams 30-31). The loyalty of Chris’ thanes is shown in Jesus’ burial. The burial of Christ in the poem is described as a burial of an epic hero rather than a burial of Jesus presented in the Bible. According to the Bible, Jesus is simply buried in tomb near by the place where he is crucified (John 19: 41-42). “At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. /… since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. (John 19: 41-42). In “The Dream of the Rood” Jesus’ burial is much similar to a burial of a great warrior like Beowulf. Beowulf’s people built “a mound on a headland,… their hero’s memorial”(3156,3160). In the poem Jesus’ “warriors” “began to build him an earth-house in the side of his slayer, carved it out of bright stone; they set there the Wielder of Triumphs,” than they praise their Lord by singing to “him a song of sorrow” (The Dream of the Rood 28). On the other side, like a good king, Jesus rewards his warriors as the Rood says: “he feed us and granted us life, a heavenly home” (The Dream of the Rood 29).
It is difficult to separate the Germanic and Christian motive in “The Dream of the Rood. ” “Although the Anglo-Saxons adapted themselves rapidly to the ideals of Christianity, they did not do so without adapting Christianity to their own heroic ideals”(Greenblatt, Stephen, and M. H. Abrams 5). Even though the poem is based on the scripture, Jesus is not represented as a “Passover lamb” but as a courageous Germanic epic hero who is ready to die for his people and reward them for their loyalty with eternal life.
In addition, Dockray-Miller concludes that in “The Dream of the Rood” “Christ is presented as an Anglo-Saxon warrior lord, who is served by his thanes, and who rewards them at a feast of glory in heaven” (par. 7).
Works Cited Burrow, John A.. “An approach to ‘The Dream of the Rood . ’” Neophilologus 43. 1 (1959): 123-133. Springerlink. Web. 18 Nov. 2010. Canuteson, John. “The Crucifixion and the Second Coming in ‘The Dream of the Rood. ’” Modern Philology 66. 4 (1969): 293-297. JStor. Web. 20 Nov. 2010. Dockray-Miller, Mary. “The Feminized Cross of ‘The Dream of the Rood. ’” Philogical Quarterly, Vol 76. 1997, pp. 1 and 3. HighBeam Research. Web. 18 Nov. 2010. Greenblatt, Stephen, and M. H. Abrams. The Norton anthology of English literature . 8th ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 2006. Print. —. “Beowulf. ” The Norton anthology of English literature . 8th ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 2006. Print. —. “The Dream of the Rood. ” The Norton anthology of English literature . 8th ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 2006. Print. The Holy Bible: New international version, containing the Old Testament and the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1988. Print.
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