The Dream of the Rood

Start Free Trial

Student Question

How does The Dream of the Rood depict the crucifixion differently from modern interpretations?

Quick answer:

The crucifixion story is told differently in The Dream of the Rood from how we know it today in that Jesus is depicted as a bold warrior, not as suffering and broken.

Expert Answers

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

In The Dream of the Rood, the crucifixion of Christ differs from the gospel story we know. In the gospels, the Biblical Christ is sick and weary as he is nailed to the cross. He suffers pain, thirst, and anguish in a fully human way and cries out to God to ask why he has been abandoned by him.

In contrast, the Christ of The Dream of the Rood is depicted as a heroic warrior figure, similar to Beowulf or any bold medieval fighter. The rood's Christ is not broken and suffering. Instead, he boldly reaches out to take on the cross. As the poem states:

Then the young hero (who was God Almighty)
Got ready [for crucifixion], determined and strong in heart.

Nowhere in the gospel accounts is Christ depicted as a a "hero" or warrior on the cross.

Rather than being stripped by the Roman soldiers, who divide up his clothes, this Jesus tears off his clothes boldly in preparation for his encounter with the cross. His is not lifted as a passive sufferer to the cross, but is active in pursuit of it as his destiny. The poem uses the active verb "climbed" to describe how he faces the crucifixion challenge and calls Jesus "bold":

He climbed onto the lofty gallows-tree,
Bold in the sight of many watching men,
When He intended to redeem mankind.

In order to show Jesus as impervious and courageous in the face of his ordeal, this poem has the rood or cross take on Jesus's suffering. It is the rood that is "pierced" with nails and the rood that bears "scars." In a society in which it was important that heroes did not show pain or physical weakness, the cross provides an important function in taking on that role.

Showing Jesus as not suffering—as in a sense, a superhuman hero—veers close to the gnostic heresy that Jesus used his godlike powers to float out his body to escape pain during the crucifixion. This interpretation has been roundly rejected by orthodox Christians, who want to emphasize that Jesus suffered as any human would when tortured. However, some scholars interpret The Dream of the Rood's heroic depiction of Jesus as a way to communicate an orthodox message: Jesus triumphed over death. He was always stronger than Satan and capable of beating him.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial