Viking Jesus

To see the ways in which a religion works, one of the best ways is to observe their missionaries and how they adapt stories created in one historical and geographic area, for people and places wildly different. On this point, nothing beats the ninth-century Saxon saga Heliand, which presents Jesus as a chieftain, prayers as runes, and refers to the Last Supper as “The last mead-hall feast with the warrior-companions.” Simply the list of chapter titles is a lesson in comparative religion, as well as being pretty funny.  (This is taken from the best edition of the poem available in English, the translation of G. Ronald Murphy)


The Creator’s spell, by which the whole world is held together, is taught to four heroes.

Zachary sees the Chieftain’s angel in the shrine.

John comes to the light of mankind.

The All-Ruler’s angel comes to Mary in Galileeland.

The Chieftain of mankind is born in David’s hill-fort.

The Baby is brought to the Ruler’s shrine.

Three thanes from the East, led by the workings of fate, follow a star.

The three foreign warriors present their gifts to the Ruler’s Child.

Herod orders his warrior-companions to bead all two-year-old boys around Bethlehem.

Mary and Joseph find the holy Child at the shrine.

John announces Christ’s coming to Middlegard.

Christ the Chieftain is immersed in the Jordan by His loyal thane John.

The Champion of mankind fights off the loathsome enemy.

Christ, the might Chieftain, chooses His first warrior-companions.

The mighty Rescuer calls twelve to be His men.

The Chieftain’s instructions on the mountain; the eight Good Fortunes.

The instructions on the mountain.

The instructions on the mountain; the secret runes of the Lord’s Prayer.

The marriage feast in the guest-hall at Fort Cana.

At hill-fort Capharnaum, God’s Child of Peace heals a household lad of a commander of a hundred men.

Christ the Rescuer raises the dead son of a widow outside Fort Naim.

Christ commands the wind and the sea.

The mighty Christ heals the cripple lowered through the roof by his warrior-companions.

The story of the early who sowed good seed.

The explanation of the story.

The story of the wheat and the weeds.

The grim-hearted Jews of Galileeland attempt to throw Christ off a cliff.

John the soothsayer is beheaded.

With five loaves and two fishes the Chieftain of human beings feeds a great throng of earls.

The mighty Child of God and good Peter walk on water.

Christ the Ruler heals the daughter of a woman from a foreign clan.

Peter, the best of thanes, is given power over Hel’s gates.

On the mountaintop the Son of God gives off bright light.

Christ pays the king’s head-tax to an arrogant thane.

Forgiving; the young man with the great treasure-hoard.

The story of the rich man and the beggar.

The story of the workers who came late to the vineyard.

Christ tells His loyal followers about His future torture and death; the curing of the blind men outside Fort Jericho.

The author explains the meaning of the cure of the blind.

Christ enters Fort Jerusalem and foretells its fate.

Christ praises the small gift to the shrine of the woman fated to poverty; He advises thanes to pay the emperor’s taxes.

Christ the Champion protects the life-spirit of the woman caught in adultery.

Dissension over Christ’s teaching; Martha and Mary send for Him; Thomas accepts a warrior’s fate.

By decree of holy fate, God’s Son is able to raise Lazarus from the grave.

The clan-gathering of the Jewish warriors decides to kill Christ.

The Chieftain of human clans teaches at the shrine.

The coming of doomsday.


The Passion begins; Judas betrays his own Chieftain to southern people; Christ washes the feet of His early and thanes.

The last mead-hall feast with the warrior-companions.

The words of Christ give great powers to the bread and wine.

Christ’s deep fear before battle; His last salute in the garden.

Christ the Chieftain is captured; Peter, the mighty swordsman, defends Him boldly.

Peter denies he is a warrior-companion of Christ.

Christ is brought before the assembly as a prisoner.

Christ stands before Pilate of Pontusland; Judas, the deserter, hangs himself.

Pilate, Caesar’s thane, speaks with God’s son.

Warriors bring Christ in irons to King Herod; arrogant earls ridicule God’s Child of Peace.

The Jewish warriors threaten Pilate with the ill-will of the emperors at Fort Rome.

Caesar’s thane puts the Best of all men into the hands of the Jews.

The Chieftain is hanged on the criminal tree.

The Chieftain of mankind dies by the criminal-tree rope; His spirit escapes.

The body is removed from the gallows tree and buried in the earth; Christ’s spirit returns at night to the corpse; Christ rises.

The angel of the All-Ruler tells the women that the Chieftain is on His way to Galileeland.

The grave-guards are bribed with jewels; Peter, John, and Mary Magdalene come to the grave.

Christ the Ruler joins the warrior-company of earls on the road to Emmaus Castle.


12 replies »

  1. I found this title separately and was initially intrigued. Unfortunately, I didn’t care for the writing. For me, it loses the severity and feel of Norse mythology and the originality and dignity of the Christian gospels. The Bible really seems to suffer when adapted in that it loses the stateliness of its language.


  2. Robert, thank you for your comments, on this & other posts. I totally agree–we read the Sagas or Eddas, or the Gospels, because they move us; but we read something like the Heliand because it is so incongruous, it’s less literature than it is a historical artifact.

    I’ve always been curious about the “stateliness” of the Bible, though (or most scriptures), and wonder what anybody with experience in the original languages says. Somewhere I read that the Gospel of John, easily my favorite, nevertheless only became a work of literature in 1611, implying the KJV gave us a better John than John. This may be harsh, but I wonder if something sort of like it might be true in general, that our most revered texts stranger and more idiosyncratic than we imagine, but no less powerful for all that.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The problem is that often the translators are not great writers themselves. And, of course, somethings are untranslatable. Mostly we get a mirror of the original and so much is lost that way. Then along comes a great poet like Seamus Heaney and they renew our interest in the greatness of the original.


  4. Yes, this is all quite coincidental, isn’t it? 🙂

    There are also loads of coincidences between the Ancient Greek myth of Pandora and Noah’s great flood.



  5. Reblogged this on Ancient Faith, Fresh Faith and commented:
    How do Christian missionaries tell the Gospel to Vikings?
    “Jesus as a chieftain, prayers as runes, and the Last Supper as ‘The last mead-hall feast with the warrior-companions.'”


  6. Tim, great to meet you and thanks for the follow on my blog Confessions!

    I found this piece incredibly fascinating. It’s amazing to see the dichotomies of the stories interplayed between different cultures. Eye opening for sure. Thanks for sharing!