link rel="shortcut icon" href="" /> <body><script type="text/javascript"> function setAttributeOnload(object, attribute, val) { if(window.addEventListener) { window.addEventListener('load', function(){ object[attribute] = val; }, false); } else { window.attachEvent('onload', function(){ object[attribute] = val; }); } } </script> <div id="navbar-iframe-container"></div> <script type="text/javascript" src=""></script> <script type="text/javascript"> gapi.load("", function() { if (gapi.iframes && gapi.iframes.getContext) { gapi.iframes.getContext().openChild({ url: '\x3d18785001\x26blogName\x3dMongrel+Horde:++Just+Plain+Mutts!\x26publishMode\x3dPUBLISH_MODE_BLOGSPOT\x26navbarType\x3dBLUE\x26layoutType\x3dCLASSIC\x26searchRoot\x3d\x26blogLocale\x3den_US\x26v\x3d2\x26homepageUrl\x3d\x26vt\x3d1067759869111460181', where: document.getElementById("navbar-iframe-container"), id: "navbar-iframe" }); } }); </script>

Friday, November 18, 2005

Book Review

The Heliand: The Saxon Gospel
Translation and Commentary by G. Ronald Murphy

The Heliand is a work near and dear to my heart. It is a retelling of the Gospel that was written in the early 9th Century for an audience of pagan Saxons. Murphy's translation is the best available in English and preserves the unique "Saxonisms" of the original. Consider this familiar passage:

"Our good Lord," he said, "we need Your gracious help in order to carry out Your will and we also need Your own words, Best of all born, to teach us, Your followers, how to pray-just as John, the good Baptist, teaches his people with words every day how they are to speak to the ruling God. Do this for Your own followers-teach us the secret runes. The powerful One, the Son of the Chieftan, had a good word ready right after that in reply. "When you men want to speak to the ruling God," He said, "to address the most powerful of all kings, then say what I now teach you: Father of us, the sons of men, You are in the high heavenly kingdom, Blessed be Your name in every word. May Your mighty kingdom come. May Your will be done over all this world-just the same on earth as it is up there in the high heavenly kingdom. Give us support each day, good Chieftan, Your holy help, and pardon us, Protector of Heaven, our many crimes, just as we do to other human beings. Do not let evil little creatures lead us off to do their will, as we deserve, But help us against all evil deeds. (54-55)

I am endeavoring to defend the orthodoxy of a particular aspect of The Heliand in my MA thesis. What makes it such an interesting work is how it pushes me to question how far a paraphrase may stray from the original scriptures before it becomes a work of syncretism. Many would be freaked out by the use of "runes" in the above quote. Others think that magical words are not so far off when John ch. 1 is considered. A far more clear example of syncretism is the elimination of the "no room at the inn" scene. Murphy speculates that Saxons would find it hard to believe that God would overlook such a blatant violation of the laws of hospitality. They would be incredulous that God wouldn't get His smite on.

Am I too flippant in saying, "Get His smite on?" Well, that's the question, isn't it? I seem to recall that when the Message was first released, it was marketed as a paraphrase and was not divided up by chapter and verse. I certainly saw such a version. Now it is marketed as another translation. The Contemporary English Version has more than a few eyebrow-raising passages, and we are faced with the spectre of the "gender-accurate" NNIV. We may not be hairy, pagan, Saxon warriors, but these new translations pander to our hairless, pagan, non-Saxonness as much as anything in The Heliand. An effete society is offended at the suggestion of God's maleness. Rather than confront the issue head on, we pander. They don't want to wrestle with any long words, so we let someone else define all the terms and ingest Scripture and commentary in one gulp. At least the Heliand-poet let his readers know that he was telling them the story of the gospel and didn't claim to be telling them the Scriptures in their own language.

These heavy thoughts aside, I don't think it is any sort of sin to enjoy reading The Heliand. If you enjoy Beowulf, you will find it an absolute delight. Suffice it to say, Peter's striking off of the slave's ear is far more central than in the Greek. As a work of syncretism, it is far less insipid than those we produce. This is because we don't really have pagans anymore. As C.S. Lewis observed, pagans were ready to receive the gospel. They were deeply religious, but recognized that their religion was ultimately futile. The Saxon who saw Christ as the fulfillment of all that Balder promised is far different from the latte-sipping sceptics of our day. They want assurances that God is "inclusive." Just as Aslan is not a tame lion, our God is quite dangerous. At least the Saxons understood that much.

Category: Between the Covers


Post a Comment

<< Home