How does Beowulf contrast to Jesus?

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mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In Beowulf, any connections between the epic hero Beowulf and the biblical Jesus are loose at best.  The original poem was written by an anonymous pagan poet who believed in wergild (blood revenge compensation), wyrd (fate), earthly glory, and communal warrior status.  These, of course, are not Christian principles.

So, when the poem was being translated by Christian monks, they added some Christian imagery, symbolism, and allegory.  They tried to make Beowulf come across like the ideal Christian king, but with mixed results.  Because they did not take out the pagan elements, the poem that we have today is a paragon of intertextuality (it has been transformed over time by many authors).  So, some read it for its pagan brutality, and others read it for its Christian dualities.

So, to get back to your question: the early Beowulf is far from the Christly example.  Beowulf is arrogant, blood-thristy, and fatalistic: he would rather "live fast and die young" in battle because he has little concept of salvation or an after-life.  He battles Grendel, Grendel's mother, and the dragon for wealth, fame, and out of revenge.  And Beowulf has an overdeveloped sense of revenge.  Not only does he kill the monster for killing so many of Hrothgar's men, but he kills his mother too.  He destroys even the origin of evil.

Christ, on the other hand, did away with revenge.  He changed the old law by saying "love your enemies" and "turn the other cheek."  In other words, he went against the old Jewish practice of vengeance ("an eye for an eye.")  As such, Christ was a humble martyr for his message: he died on the cross rather than fight against his oppressors.

Beowulf would have none of Christ's meek long-suffering.  He would battle the Romans and Pharisees to the death, single-handedly, without weapons, and--after killing them-- he would kill all their families too.

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