The Dream of the Rood and the Image of Christ in the Early Middle Ages

The Dream of the Rood and the Image of Christ in the Early Middle Ages

By Jeannette C Brock

The Hanover Historical Review, Volume 6 (1998)

Introduction: Though the author of the book of Hebrews states that “Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever”  it is clear that humankind’s image of Christ has changed throughout the ages. Jaroslav Pelikan, author of Jesus Through the Centuries, writes: “It has been characteristic of each age of history to depict Jesus in accordance with its own character.”  In “The Dream of the Rood,” an Anglo-Saxon poem written in the early Middle Ages, Christ’s death and burial is described in a manner which is startlingly different from the original biblical accounts. In order to emphasize the momentous triumph of the crucifixion, the poet of “The Dream of the Rood” depicts Christ as an aggressive warrior who boldly confronts and defeats sin. This depiction is consistent with the honor and courage so highly valued in the early medieval culture.

The words used to describe Christ’s approach to the crucifixion in “The Dream of the Rood” reveal the poet’s conscious choice to portray Jesus as a purposeful courageous warrior:

Then the young hero (who was God Almighty)
Got ready, resolute and strong in heart.
…the warrior embraced [the cross].

Instead of simply using the word “Christ,” the poet calls Jesus “the young hero” and “the warrior.” In other translations, Christ is called the “heroic, fair, young knight,” and “mankind’s brave King.” These images, along with the words resolute and strong in heart, create a vivid image of Christ which echoes the description of Beowulf, an admired mythical hero of the Early Middle Ages. In Beowulf, Beowulf is praised as a “king,” “the hero,” and a “valiant warrior.” ]He is said to posses “strength and vigor,” “daring,” and “determined resolve.”

Click here to read this article from the Saylor Foundation

Click here to read this article from the Hanover Historical Review

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