2. Battle, Loyalty, and Fate: Cultural-Religious Themes
When battle is joined it is considered a disgrace for their chieftain to be surpassed in boldness or for his followers not to live up to his prowess. Morever, it is a lifelong reproach and shame to survive your fallen chief and come back alive from the field. To protect and defend the chief and to dedicate one’s own feats of arms to his renown is the very height of their loyalty. The chief fights for victory, but his followers fight for him.26
3. Felled Trees and Forced Baptisms: Immediate History
The Lord King Charles [Charlemagne] rushed to the place with all the Franks that he could gather on short notice and advanced to where the Aller flows into the Weser. All the Saxons came together, submitted to the authority of the Lord King, and handed over the evildoers who were chiefly responsibly for this revolt to be put to death—four thousand and five hundred of them. This sentence was carried out.63
4. The Heliand Cross as Sympathy with the Saxons (Murphy)
The ruling God had placed the Holy Spirit firmly in those heroes’ [the gospel writers] hearts…so that they could lift up their holy voices to chant God’s spell. There is nothing like it in words anywhere in this world! Nothing can ever glorify the Ruler, our dear Chieftain, more! Nor is there anything that can better fell [felle] every evil creature or work of wickness (lines 21–28).79
The hidden image is that of the tree, the place of Woden worship in Germanic religion. While admitting that the tree of [pagan] religion must be felled, the author praises “God’s spell” as the proper weapon to do the task, thereby rendering small support, and implicitly criticizing, the violent conversion method of Charlemagne and Boniface in Saxony.81
at that time the Christian God granted to the Roman people the greatest kingdom. He strengthened the heart of their army so that they had conquered every nation. The helmet-lovers from hill-fort Rome had won an empire. Their military governors were in every land and they had authority over the people of every noble race. In Jerusalem, Herod was chosen to be king over the Jewish people. Caesar, ruling the empire from the hill-fort Rome, placed him there—among the warrior-companions—even though Herod did not belong by clan to the noble and well-born descendants of Israel (lines 53–65).82
The author of the Heliand is expressing the deepest sympathy with his Saxon brethren when he suggests this brilliant and, I think, very thinly veiled allusion to the situation in Saxony…. [The] poet has managed to transpose the geographical situation of Palestine onto that of Saxony, but also the geopolitical situation as well. In so doing he evokes Saxon empathy with the sons of Israel… subject to a foreign ruler at the whim of Caesar Augustus.83
The Heliand author is no heretic or paganizing Saxon. He merely gives paganism its due, rendering unto Fate and time that which is theirs. But he claims that Christ can cure the blindness inherent in our being…. This is surely not giving too much importance to Fate, but rather expresses in no uncertain Germanic terms just what the absolute power of the waldand god [Ruler God] is.”87
5. The Heliand Cross as Subversion of Violence (Brock and Parker)
To the Saxons along the Rhine… Christian theology arrived at the point of a sword. The cross—once a sign of life—became for them a sign of terror. Blood seeped through the gold. Within a few generations of their forced conversion, the Saxons hewed an image of the tortured and dead body of Christ hanging from the tree [the Gero Cross]. Pressed by violence into Christian obedience, the Saxons produced art that bore the marks of their baptism in blood.94
Fate and Satan unite forces against Christ when he faces his enemies from Fort Rome…. The Heliand’s Passion story unfolds as a battle with both the demonic earthly enemies from Rome and with Fate…. In death, Christ escapes captivity to both Fate and Satan. He slips away from his enemies and travels to God. He cannot win against evil or overcome fate with violence. He mounts the cross and through death, his spirit escapes his captors—outwitting them…. In the dead of night, Christ’s fugitive spirit returns to his corpse, right under their noses. “There was the spirit coming, by the power of God, the holy breath, going under the hard stone to the corpse!” (Song 68).100
6. The Heliand Cross as Submission to Divine Fate
6.1. Rome and “Disloyal Jews” in the Heliand
The folk of the Jews loathed Christ Savior as their foe…. (line 5422)
The host of Jews so wanted [Jesus’ death]…. (5470)
All the clanspeople of the Jews cried out together… ‘Let his gore drip down’ (5481, 5483)
He was given to the Jews… unto those who loathed him…. (5487, 5490)
They erected the gallows [the cross]… the Jews set it up…. (5532–33)
The Jews put on each side of Christ on the cross two criminals…. (5560–61)
Then truly did the folk of the Jews laugh to mock him…. (5639–40)
The more the Chieftain’s Son did good work every day with his followers, the more the Jews did not believe at all in his mighty power because of that! Nor did they believe that he was the All-Ruler of everything, people and country. They are still receiving their reward for that—farflung journeying in exile—because they fought against the Son of the Chieftain (2284–90).112
6.2. Fate and the “Power of God” in the Heliand
[Jesus says:] The ruling God, the all-mighty Father, has determined it differently: we are to bear whatever bitter things this people does to us. We are not to become enraged or wrathful against their violence, since whoever is eager and willing to practice the weapon’s hatred, cruel spear-fighting, is often killed himself by the edge of the sword and dies dripping with his own blood. We cannot by our deeds avert anything.134
6.3. Satan and “the Passive Christ” in the Heliand
[Satan] immediately wanted to come to Christ’s aid to help prevent the sons of men from taking Christ’s life or killing him on the cross!….The sinister enemy began showing mysterious signs very clearly to the governor’s wife so that she would use her words to help Christ, the Chieftain of the human race, to remain alive (He was then already predestined to die)….The woman was very worried, she was frightened by the visions that were coming to her in broad daylight. They were the doings of the deceiver, who was invisible, hidden by a magic helmet (lines 5443–52).136
In a clever if somewhat intimidating reversal, the Heliand poet draws a necessary conclusion. If fate and the will of God are one, anyone who opposes fate (what happens in the world and when), opposes the will of God…. The only one who opposes the inevitable is Satan.137
This seems to be a poetic effort to stimulate sympathy for Christ among the Saxon hearers, and, even more, empathy. Many of the Saxon hearers of this epic must have been themselves or by proxy of their relatives, precisely in this situation from the ruling Christian authorities. The New Testament, of course, knows no such emphasis on chains and body irons in Christ’s Passion.149
6.4. Christ as the Doomed Chieftain in the Heliand
We should continue on, stay with Him, and suffer with our Commander. That is what a thane chooses: to stand fast together with his lord, to die with him at the moment of his doom [duome]. Let us all do it therefore, follow His road and not let our life-spirits be of any worth to us compared to His—alongside His people, let us die with Him, our Chieftain! Then our decision and our doom [duom] will live after us, a good word among men! (pp. 3995–4002)151
The Heliand poet consistently presents Christianity as a mild, peaceable faith. He nowhere even implicitly suggests that the faith might come in another manner. The violence which marked the historical conversion of Saxony under Charlemagne is swept from view. Whatever we may think of the morality of such a stance, it may be regarded as one way of trying to reconcile the Saxons to their lot.158
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See (Fletcher 1997, p. 265).
Fletcher (1997) on the Heliand for conversion and “Christianization,” pp. 265–69. See Russell’s famous study for the Heliand’s significance in “Germanization:” The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity: A Sociohistorical Approach to Religious Transformation (Russell 1994, pp. 23–24, 205–6). Earlier scholarship on the Heliand divided into two opposed camps, one typified by August Vilmar—who emphasized the Germanization of Christianity in the poem—and the other by Walther Köhler, who emphasized instead its “Christianization of Germanness.” See the summary in Friedrich (2010), “Jesus Christ Between Jews and Heathens: The Germanic Mission and Portrayal of Christ in the Old Saxon Heliand,” in Perspectives, pp. 261–62. A masterful outlook on the intersection of Germanic and Christian ideas in the Heliand, especially ideas relating to providence/Fate and anthropology (of great significance for this present study), is Augustyn (2004a), especially chps. 4 and 5. See also (Augustyn 2004b).
Michael Moynihan calls the process of the Heliand’s composition a “complex and artistically creative strategy of religio-cultural re-contextualization, accommodation, and amalgamation” (“Images of the Germanic Drinking Hall in the Old Saxon Heliand,” in Vox Germanica: Essays in Germanic Languages and Literature in Honor of James E. Cathey (Moynihan 2012, p. 158). See also Gantert (1998), Akkommodation und eingeschriebener Kommentar: Untersuchungen zur Übertragungsstrategie des Helianddicters.
cf. John 2:1–10. Feasting scenes in the Heliand much emphasize drinking, featuring “Christ’s virtual condoning of intoxication,” and feasters who are drunkane suiðo (“most drunk”); on this and the Heliand’s contrast on the subject of drinking with other Christian literature of the era, see (Magennis 1985, pp. 126–33, quote from p. 129). See also (Moynihan 2012, pp. 168–73).
On the Heliand’s unique deployment of warrior terms, see (Woods 2006, pp. 135–50).
Pace (Green 2003, p. 251), who is overly concerned to claim that the Heliand is simply pursuing a “Christian vocabulary in the Germanic vernacular.” While unbridled claims that the Heliand represents a “Germanizing” of Christian theology may go too far, as Green rightly notes, his own analysis swings too far in the opposite direction.
Murphy, Saxon Gospel, xiii; Saxon Savior, vii. In this, he differs importantly from a commentator such as Cathey, who, when venturing to comment on the actual theological content of the Heliand, says simply that it is “theologically correct” (Hêliand, p. 1) or that it “adheres faithfully to the Christian gospel” (“Historical Setting,” p. 20). Neither of these assertions is self-evident as applied to the Heliand (e.g., its christological bearing may be at-odds with orthodoxy when, for instance, it seemingly states that the Holy Spirit became Christ in lines 291–92), nor is it clear what either designation means precisely. Murphy, as a theologically attuned commentator, more ably balances both the author’s obvious creativity and the theological “fringes” that the text sometimes occupies. On the fuller question of the Heliand poet’s christology, see the study by (Pelle 2010, pp. 63–89, esp. 80–85). Pelle’s argument on the incarnational passage noted above (vol. 4, pp. 291–92) claims that hêlag gêst could be taken as “holy/saintly soul” rather than “Holy Spirit.” If this sense is adopted, it would seemingly preserve orthodox christology in the relevant passage. While more could be said in response to this argument, the fact that the Heliand author (on Pelle’s own interpretation) is aiming at theological correctness makes it very strange that hêlag gêst would be employed in 4:291–92, as the poem elsewhere uses the phrase repeatedly to refer to the Holy Spirit (e.g., 1:11, 1:50, 12:985–1006, 24:2004, 33:2791, 57:4708); using it at 291–92 surely raises a christological question at the outset. While Pelle demonstrates some plausible flexibility in the hêlag gêst language, why should the poet have employed it at all in detailing the most crucial claim of Christian theology (the incarnation)? The christological difficulty thus remains, and I find more agreement with Murphy’s outlook on the passage (see his Saxion Savior, pp. 44–45; Saxon Gospel, p. 13n20).
Prominent Heliand commentators who are also well-versed in theology include Murphy as well as the authorial duo of (Brock and Parker 2008).
Especially in his Saxon Gospel and Saxon Savior.
Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of this World for Crucifixion and Empire (2008).
I agree with Auweele and Vassányi on the plastic and vagrant nature of “political theology” as a variegated and interdisciplinary concern (Auweele and Vassányi 2020, p. 1). My application of the label in this paper is simple and analysis-oriented: the use of theological ideas in supporting or legitimating political ends. On reading the Heliand in this manner, Harrison (2018) remarks simply that “one cannot deny the poem’s intent as a method of political control”, p. 87.
See (Simek 2004, pp. 73–75).
A similar strategy is employed by Augustyn, Semiotics of Fate, pp. 25–26ff.
Well-described in (Backman 2003, pp. 49–50).
See (Backman 2003, p. 50).
Excellent reflection on the question of the Germania’s “reliability” can be found in Rives’ commentary: Tacitus: Germania (Rives 1999, pp. 57–66). After noting many “weighty considerations,” Rives affirms that “it would be going much too far to abandon the Germania as a major historical source for the peoples of northern Europe” (p. 64). See a similarly nuanced and cautiously affirmative stance in (Krebs 2011, p. 49).
Germania, p. 113.
Hêliand, p. 13.
While their gods were diffusive and flexible in local expression, even Simek admits a fairly standard shape to a recognized pantheon emerging by the year 900 or so (“Germanic Religion and Conversion,” p. 83). See also the useful commentary on the Norse-Germanic “pantheon” in Price (2020)’s recent Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings, pp. 44–50.
Clovis allegedly converted after a battlefield appeal to Wodan (Odin) failed and a similar appeal to Christ did not: Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, cited in Cathey, “The Historical Setting of the Heliand,” in Perspectives, p. 5.
Tacitus noted further: “Both prestige and power depend on being continually attended by a large train of picked young warriors, which is a distinction in peace and a protection in war” (Germania, p. 112).
See (Russell 1994, pp. 120–21).
See (Cathey 2002, p. 13; Simek 2004, p. 93). Augustyn speaks to this as well: “The Germanic gods are mere parts of the creation with a certain influence on human lives, but they were equally subjected to the supreme creative force: fate” (Semiotics of Fate, p. 39). Diverse strands of Germanic mythology also bear witness to the Norns, the “weird sisters” who, on some renderings, cut and measure the cords of destiny; see (Winterbourne 2004; Murphy 2010, p. 271; Weil 1989, pp. 94–95; Price 2020, pp. 50–52).
Price (2020), Children of Ash, pp. 74–82. For the Northmen, at the cultural and ideological level, Price affirms that “the preordination of fate, the inevitability of the Ragnarök, and the god’s knowledge of their coming doom form the constant pulse of Norse mythology” (p. 81, emphasis original; see also p. 267).
It is worth noting that “audience” is just as appropriate as “readers,” since it is agreed that the Heliand was likely to be not only read but also sung or recited to a gathered party. See Murphy, Saxon Gospel, p. xvii.
In the style of Gregory the Great, Augustine of Canterbury, and others among the Celts, on which see Paul Cavill’s contributions to Not Angels but Anglicans: A History of Christianity in the British Isles (Chadwick 2010, pp. 9–24).
Indeed, as Peter Brown notes, Boniface “radiated ‘correct’ ecclesiastical order” (Rise, p. 423).
Brown, Rise, pp. 419–23; Murphy, Saxon Savior, p. 13.
Bonifatii Epistolae: Willibaldi Vita Bonifatii (Rau 1976, p. 21; quoted in Murphy, Saxon Savior, p. 14).
Brock and Parker, Saving Paradise, p. 226; Murphy, Saxon Savior, p. 14. Augustyn thus distances the work of Boniface a bit too far from Charlemagne’s “cruel Saxon war” (Semiotics of Fate, p. 53).
Fulda is the most probable of the three possible authorial locations for the Heliand, all described by Cathey in “Historical Setting,” pp. 19–20.
Saving Paradise, p. 228.
See (Rembold 2018, pp. 40–44).
See (Hines 2003, pp. 300–1).
Brock & Parker, Saving Paradise, p. 227. See also (Rembold 2018, pp. 50–53).
Murphy, Saxon Savior, p. 18.
A broadly accessible reference to the whole course of Charlemagne’s Saxon wars is (Dean 2015, pp. 15–20).
The Royal Frankish Annals alone recount several such baptisms; see Carolingian Chronicles (Scholz 1970, pp. 55–58, 63, 73).
See (Rembold 2018, p. 77).
While it is one of the better known mass executions of the Saxon wars, Verden should not be considered an anomaly in terms of scale; thousands of slain Saxons are repeatedly enumerated across the Frankish annals of the wars, see (Rembold 2018, pp. 51–53).
Carolingian Chronicles, p. 61.
Royal Frankish Annals, quoted in Murphy, Saxon Savior, p. 21; see also Brock & Parker, Saving Paradise, p. 228.
Murphy, Saxon Savior, p. 17. At the Lippe baptism, Rembold (2018) notes that the “Saxons were baptized in the shadow of Charlemagne’s new fort [at Eresburg], a visible symbol of Frankish domination” (Conquest, p. 77). Likewise Davis: “the imposition of Christianity by Frankish command went hand-in-hand with political control” (Charlemagne’s Practice, p. 101).
See Brock and Parker, Saving Paradise, pp. 230–34.
We agree with the growing consensus, well summed by Rembold, that the Heliand was mainly written to “Christianize an already Christian elite” (Rembold 2018, p. 212; see also Hines 2003, p. 308). However, it should be understood that “already Christian” in this case simply means already-converted-by-way-of-conquest. For such an audience to be “Christianized” by the Heliand would then mean something akin to “catechized”—given an initial theological orientation within the newly won micro-Christendom of Saxony (see further Pelle 2010, pp. 64–66). It is on these same grounds that we differ from Rembold’s framing of the Heliand’s audience as “judges and would be litigators, not the wronged and oppressed” (p. 214). Such a characterization (1) ignores too much of the Heliand’s manifold theological attentions (as will be discussed below); (2) operates within a false binary wherein the station of the Saxon audience would somehow alter their status as members of a “wronged and oppressed” people group; and (3) neglects the additional point made also by Rembold (and many other Heliand scholars) that, as a work intended for recitation, the Heliand would have been “accessibile to literate and illiterate” Saxons alike (p. 213; see also Green 2003, pp. 252–55). A balanced treatment of authorship and audience can also be found in (Hintz 2019, p. 29).
In many ways, this is the question of “Saxon Christianity” at-large; as Rembold has it: “The textual record is clear: during the reign of Charlemagne, Saxony became Christian. Precisely what this conversion to Christianity entailed, however, is far from clear. How was Christian doctrine disseminated in Carolingian Christianity, and what were the expectations of Christian observance?” (Conquest, p. 205). The Heliand, of course, provides one of the great seedbeds for probable answers.
Saxon Gospel, p. xvi. James Cathey also generally agrees with this outlook: “Historical Setting,” pp. 14, 17.
“Old Saxon Heliand,” p. 263.
Murphy’s translation: Saxon Gospel, p. 4.
See (Dean 2015, p. 16).
Murphy, Saxon Gospel, p. 4n5. See also Saxon Savior, pp. 13–16.
Saxon Gospel, p. 5.
Saxon Savior, pp. 19–20.
He makes this claim more clear in a separate note: “No doubt a description of a Saxon attitude of mind toward the Holy Roman Empire of Charlemagne as much as the Hebrew one toward the old Roman Empire of the Caesars” (Murphy, Saxon Gospel, p. 5n10).
Saxon Gospel, pp. 158n245, 162n253; “Jews in the Heliand,” p. 244. More on this will be said in the argument below.
“Jews in the Helaind” p. 245; see also Saxon Savior, p. 96.
Saxon Savior, p. 41.
“Christ’s sovereign status above normal Fate-workings” (Saxon Savior, p. 46).
Saxon Savior, pp. 114–15.
This is their book’s provocative subtitle; see further their Prologue in Saving Paradise, esp. pp. ix–xxii.
Brock and Parker, Saving Paradise, p. xix.
The keystone section of their argumentation occupies pp. 223–33 in Saving Paradise.
See the analysis of sculptural history of the crucifixion, and the comments on the Gero cross in particular, in (Dale 2019).
Brock and Parker, Saving Paradise, p. 232.
See their discussion of the Heliand in Saving Paradise, pp. 240–48, quote is from 249.
In their initial mention of Murphy, they attribute to him the somewhat unnuanced notion of the Heliand as a “story of resistance,” for the Saxons, which evidences their “struggle against subjugation” (Saving Paradise, p. 240).
Brock and Parker, Saving Paradise, 241; see (Scott 1990).
Brock and Parker, Saving Paradise, p. 248.
Brock and Parker, Saving Paradise, p. 245.
Saving Paradise, pp. 245–46.
Saving Paradise, p. 247.
Murphy’s observations on these three are more complex and balanced but perhaps too colored by his optimism toward the “pastoral intent” of the Heliand.
See (Friedrich 2010, pp. 269–71).
See (Haferland 2010a, pp. 222–33).
“Jews in the Heliand,” in Perspectives, 238. This is an important and seemingly partially corrective move for Murphy, as The Saxon Savior hardly mentions this negative portrayal of the Jews (see e.g., Saxon Savior, pp. 109–10).
Murphy, Saxon Savior, p. 238.
Murphy, Saxon Savior, p. 244, emphasis mine.
This point is complemented by Murphy’s correct observation that the Heliand author has removed all of the more typical Jewish sub-group designations from the text (Scribe, Pharisee, Sadducee, etc.)—see Murphy, “Jews in the Heliand,” p. 241. These distinctions mattered little to the author and his audience. However, the distinction of loyal/disloyal mattered a great deal.
Hostage taking and small-scale deportations were much the norm throughout the Saxon wars (see Rembold 2018, pp. 54–60). However, by far the most significant forced exiles in the Saxons’ recent cultural memory would have been those implemented between 795 and 804, which affected thousands of Saxon families (Rembold 2018, pp. 46, 55–57).
See also lines 2339–45.
The major terms are wurd—“fate,” giscapu—“create, shape,” and metod—“fortune/fate.” Green notes that in the Heliand, “all three of these of these Old Saxon terms for fate are shown as synonymous with God’s power” (Continental Saxons, p. 257).
Saxon Savior, pp. 110–11; Saxon Gospel, pp. 157n244, 164n255, 178n279, 188n302.
Saxon Gospel, p. 198n319; “Old Saxon Heliand,” pp. 46–50; Murphy also phrases this as, “he [Jesus] could overcome his doom even after death” (Saxon Savior, p. 52), see also pp. Saxon Savior, pp. 110–15.
See (Hines 2003, pp. 256–57). Murphy, Saxon Gospel, p. 7n12.
While her monograph on the subject (Semiotics of Fate) ultimately concerns the movement and transformation of culture via a Peircean analysis of linguistic meaning, rather than expressed textual theology, the depth of her engagement with the relevant loci in the Heliand makes her a valuable interlocutor for this point of the present study.
Semiotics of Fate, p. 42.
E.g. Semiotics of Fate, pp. 62–68, esp. p. 64.
E.g. Semiotics of Fate, pp. 71, 74, 82.
Principally relying on Murphy, Saxon Gospel.
Murphy, Saxon Gospel, pp. 132–33.
On which, see Murphy, Saxon Gospel, pp. 132–133n191. I agree with all of Murphy’s analysis here.
Murphy, Saxon Gospel, p. 150.
Murphy, Saxon Gospel, p. 152.
Murphy translates thiu wurd as “Fate” (and thinks it refers to Jesus’ fate), while Augustyn takes it as referring to Judas’ fate (Murphy, Saxon Gospel, 152n231; Augustyn, Semiotics of Fate, pp. 68–69). Either meaning works for my interpretation, wherein the whole course of deathly events (including both Judas’ and Jesus’ fates) is in accordance with the all-encompassing divine will.
Murphy, Saxon Gospel, p. 157.
Murphy, Saxon Gospel, p. 159. Scott translates this as “god-sent fate” (Scott 1966, p. 165).
Cathey, Heliand, p. 336.
Murphy, Saxon Gospel, p. 162.
Augustyn agrees on the reading of this keystone passage: “It is made clear in the Heliand that Jesus is fulfilling God’s inevitable will. […] His death, or wurd, is inescapable. It is determined by God to happen so…. [The Heliand author] makes it clear that God is the ultimate ruler over life and death” (Semiotics of Fate, p. 71).
58:4893–900, Murphy’s translation (Saxon Gospel, p. 161), emphasis added.
Murphy’s translation (Saxon Gospel, pp. 179–80).
Saxon Gospel, p. 179n282, emphasis added.
To make the associations even more clear, the poet gives Satan a helidhelm (magic helm), a distinctly pagan trope, used by Siegfried and other cultural heroes of Anglo-Saxon mythos.
The author followed the Diatessaron in the main but of course would have also had access to the Vulgate. Since the Vulgate contains more gospel material for the Heliand author to draw on, it has the best chance of providing parallels and thus serves to highlight the Heliand’s contrast with the canonical gospels most effectively. Vulgate is cited from (Kinney 2013).
Murphy, Saxon Gospel, p. 159.
Murphy, Saxon Gospel, p. 161.
Murphy, Saxon Gospel, p. 162.
Murphy, Saxon Gospel, p. 162.
See Murphy, Saxon Gospel, pp. 162–64.
Murphy, Saxon Gospel, p. 167.
Saxon Gospel, p. 174.
Saxon Gospel, p. 177.
Saxon Gospel, p. 181.
Saxon Gospel, p. 173n270.
“Three Aspects,” p. 260.
Murphy’s translation, Saxon Gospel, pp. 130–31.
Scott: “We must not destroy one whit with our deeds” (Scott 1966, p. 168).
Murphy, Saxon Gospel, p. 153.
See Cathey, Heliand, p. 334.
Therefore, as should now be clear, my reading of the Heliand could actually be seen to align with Brock and Parker’s larger thesis about Carolingian Christianity, the violent subjugation of the Saxons, and a mythos of redemptive violence. I simply see the Heliand as a fairly transparent continuance of these motifs, whereas they see it as a counterpoint to that prevailing political theology.
“To them is granted afterwards God’s meadow and spiritual life for eternal days—thus the end will never come of their beatific happiness” (1322, Saxon Gospel, p. 47). See Woods: “The [Heliand] author is able to say, in effect, “If you find all of these foreign [i.e. Christian] notions difficult to accept, just think of the reward” (Woods 2006, p. 148; Rupp 1973, p. 251).
However, this need not indicate a failure of Brock and Parker’s overarching thesis in Saving Paradise. Indeed, if my reading of the Heliand is accepted, then it could simply join their reading of the Gero Cross as a Saxon artifact testifying to a theology formed by bloodshed and inclined toward motifs of redemptive suffering.
Fletcher, Barbarian Conversion, p. 267.
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|Heliand (OS)||English Translation||Commentary|
“ik gilôƀiu that thu the wâro bist”, quað siu,
"[Krist godes sunu:]
that mag man antkennien wel,
witen an thînun wordun,
that thu giwald haƀes
thurh thiu hêlagon giskapu
himiles endi erðun.”
|“I believe,” she [Mary] said, “that you are the true Christ, God’s Son. It can be recognized clearly and known from your words that You, by decree of holy fate, have power over heaven and earth.”124||This passage’s expression of Christ’s life and power being owed to helagon giskapu—holy fate—is perhaps the most blatant blending of fate/God in the Heliand. Murphy’s analysis here is revealing: “It is [the author’s] ultimate if uneasy synthesis: the ‘fate’ of the Saxons and the ‘power of God’ are one and the same.”125|
Nu ik iu [iuwes] drohtines skal
that ik an thesaro weroldi ni môt
mid mannun mêr
Mi is an handun nu
wîti endi wunderquâle,
thea ik for thesumu werode skal,
tholon [for thesaru thiodu].”
|Jesus: “Now I will tell you that it is your Chieftain’s [or Lord’s] will that I no longer enjoy food with men…. For me, the pain and terrible torture which I am to suffer for this world and its people is now at hand.”126||Here, Jesus himself notes that his upcoming passion is entirely God’s will. He is not, it bears noting, simply saying that the later resurrection is God’s will, but the whole course of the “torment and torture” (wîti endi wunderquâle).|
“…Thiu wurd is at handu
thea tîdi sind nu ginâhid.”
|Jesus says this to Judas, prompting him to go and put his betrayal in motion: “Fate is at hand. The time has now come close.”127||Jesus here indicates that the upcoming betrayal by Judas (a moment of great contextual significance for the recently subjugated Saxons) is entirely “fated.”128|
Thiu wurd is [at] handun,
that it sô gigangen skal,
sô it god fader
|Jesus, to the disciples in the garden of Gethsemane: “Fate is at hand, so that everything will go just as God the Father in his might has determined it.”129||Again, the author has Jesus claiming clearly that the Father’s will equates to Jesus’ upcoming agonizing fate.|
thar he mid is jungarun stôd, mâri drohtin:
|As the soldiers approach Jesus to arrest him: “There [Jesus] stood with his followers. He was awaiting the workings of fate[.]”130||Metodogiskapu—means “measured-workings of fate” or even “divine fortune,131 the author again leaving no doubt about the conflation of Jesus’ divinely willed suffering and fate.|
ni was it thoh be ênigaru blôði,
that sie that barn godes,
ni mahtun sie is bemîðan
|Referring to the disciples’ desertion of Jesus: “It was not because of any cowardice…they could not have avoided it.”132||The fated and deterministic language embraces all dimensions of Jesus’ fate, including his abandonment by his followers.|
…it weldi god,
that sô lioƀen man
|The author reflects on the sorrow of Peter after he has denied Christ: “…why God so willed it, that such a beloved man should suffer such sorrow.”||Again, the remit of fate/God’s will enfolds all pain and suffering attendant to the passion. Peter’s grief is willed by God. In fact, even his foregoing denials were fate (see 59:4978-79).|
Thiu wurd nâhida thuo,
mâri maht godes
endi middi dag,
that sia thia ferahquâla
|As Jesus is being accused and tried: “Fate was coming closer, then, the great power of God, and midday, when they were to bring his life-spirit to its death agony.”||This passage serves as the climax in the overt conflation between fate and God’s desire for and power over Christ’s suffering death.133|
|Heliand Reference||Summarized Content||Vulgate Parallel|
|58:4822||Judas giving directions to the soldiers on their way to capture Jesus: “That person [whom I kiss] will be Christ Himself, whom you are to capture by the might of the clan, tie him up [binden], up on the mountain, and bring Him back to the fort.”140|
In Mt 26:48
and Mk 14:44, Judas simply enjoins the soldiers to “hold Jesus” [tenete eum] at his arrest.
|58:4894-95||Jesus advises Peter not to resist violence: “We are to bear whatever bitter things this people does to us. We are not to become enraged or wrathful against their violence[.]”141|
In John 18:11, Peter is admonished simply to put his sword away.
|“They [the Jews] fastened His hands together with iron handcuffs and His arms with chains [fitereun]…. [they were] able to put the Holy Christ in body irons and bring him back in chains [fitereun].”142|
John 18: There is a single mention of the arresting crowd binding Jesus [ligaverunt eum], but what he is bound with is unmentioned.
|58:4923-4924||“He [Jesus] did not say a thing about what they wanted to do to Him in their spiteful hate.”143|
|Repeated references to Jesus being “bound” or “in chains” while Peter is questioned and denies knowing Christ.144|
|As Jesus is abused by the crowds and falsely accused: “[He was] suffering the iron bonds [bendi] for the sake of mankind…. He stood there in chains and bore with patience whatever evil things this clan’s people did to him…. Christ kept silent and endured it.”145|
Themes: Chains and Passivity
Luke 22:61-65 recounts Jesus being blindfolded and struck, but there is no parallel to any specific mention of noted passivity or his bonds.
Mark 14:61 says that Jesus “held his peace” (ille autem tacebat) which emphasizes his silence more than his suffering.
|61:5113-22||“He was held in iron bonds…The enemy horde heaped words of mockery and scorn upon Him…. His arms were chained, He suffered in patience whatever bitter things the people did to him…. Then wrathful men took Him, God’s Son, still in irons…”|
Themes: Chains and Passivity
Matthew 27:2 and Mark 15:1 simply note that Jesus was “bound” [vinctum] when he was brought to Pilate.
|62:5171||“God’s Son waited at the assembly house, enduring the pain of the iron bindings [bendi]….”|
Themes: Passivity and Chains
|62:5214-23||Pilate questions Jesus; Jesus’ bound status is referenced three times between them.|
This scene in the Heliand is derived from John 18:33-37, which contains no mention of Jesus being bound.
|63:5260-69||“Pilate then ordered his warrior-heroes to take the prisoner, as He was, in His chains…. They led the holy Christ…in chains. Christ walked with His arms and legs in iron shackles….”|
This is when Jesus is being taken to Herod in Luke 23; this sequence mentions nothing of Jesus’ bindings in the Vulgate.
|Facing questions and mockery in Herod’s presence: “The mighty Christ stood there, enduring and keeping silent…. Patiently the Chieftain’s Son endured all their violence, words and deeds, every spiteful thing they wanted to do to him.”146|
Luke 23:9 simply says Jesus “answered him nothing” (nihil respondebat). No reference to suffering or endurance is made.
|64:5381-85||“The Jewish people said many different sinful things about mighty Christ. He stood there, keeping silent in patient humility…. He let the evil clan subject Him to whatever terrible torture they desired.”147|
|65:5489-5504||“As the heinous enemy took Him, He was held tightly by the pressure of the iron bonds, and a great crowd of cruel people surrounded him. The great Chieftain endured patiently whatever the clanspeople did to him.”148|
Themes: Chains and Passivity
The canonical gospels relate some of this abuse, which comes between Jesus’ sentencing and crucifixion (Mt 27:27–31; Mk 15:16–20; Jn 19:1–3). However, none of these passages discuss Jesus’ bindings or highlight Jesus’ patient endurance.
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