In the Middle Ages, monotheism (Christianity in particular) replaced paganism. This event has resulted in rewriting Beowulf to emphasize biblical content and messages. Find a few words, names, phrases, etc. that only a Christian audience (not a pagan one) would recognize. As always, quote and cite the lines! ☺

Allusions to the Bible and monotheism in Beowulf include calling Grendel a descendant of Cain and the related explanation of God’s punishment, the Heorot singers refers to God the Creator, and numerous other references to God as superior to or replacing the gods.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Beowulf, biblical allusions often occur,and throughout the epic the idea of monotheism often predominates, though it is interspersed with mentions of traditional polytheistic practices. The most overt biblical reference identifies Grendel and Grendel’s mother as descendants—through a long line of cursed beings—of Cain. Specific references to God, the Lord, and the Father abound in the epic. The narrator begins to establish these quite early, and they appear at numerous, critical moments.

Grendel is described as a “foe” of the Danes, motivated by “malice” because of his lineage. The narrator says that the “horrible stranger” lived in the marshes, where “giants” also lived. He and other creatures were restricted to living in such areas because the “Father” had banished their ancestor, Cain, for killing his brother Abel (II: 49–56).

[T]he Lord and Creator

Had banned him and branded. For that bitter murder,

The killing of Abel, all-ruling Father

The kindred of Cain crushed with His vengeance…

Early in the poem, as the narrator establishes the scene at Hrothgar’s court, they explain how Heorot, the great mead hall, was built and what goes on there. The narrator describes Hrothgar’s intentions in building the hall as springing from his devotion to the Lord (II: 17–20).

A mead-hall grander than men of the era

Ever had heard of, and in it to share

With young and old all of the blessings

The Lord had allowed him

Once Heorot is built, amidst the sweet music, the singer comments on God creating the world and all its creatures (II: 36–40, 44–45).

He said that was able

To tell from of old earthmen's beginnings,

That Father Almighty earth had created,

The winsome wold that the water encircleth….

[L]ife He bestowed too

On all the kindreds that live under heaven.

The narrator also says that the braves at Hrothgar's court failed to repulse Grendel’s attacks because they appealed to their “idols” rather than knowing and praising God (III: 65-69).

God they knew not,

Judge of their actions, All-wielding Ruler,

No praise could they give the Guardian of Heaven,

The Wielder of Glory.

Posted on

Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial