Myths, Legends and Epic Poetry

Any fans of myths and legends here? I certainly am, and I view mythical heroes in a Christological sense, as Christ figures who stand against evil, and sometimes sacrifice their lives to defeat their foe, just like what our saviour did on the cross.

My personal favourite is Beowulf, partly because of my English identity, but also because it perfectly portrays these Christian virtues of heroism and sacrifice, and adds much biblical imagery to exemplify it. Grendel, a descendent of Cain, who was (metaphorically of course) ‘of the evil one’, represents evil in the form of the seed of the serpent, who would be defeated by Christ. Likewise, Beowulf sacrifices his life (like our saviour), to save his people from a dragon (like our saviour).

Thoughts? Is there a place for myths and legends in Christian life?


They invariably involve redemptive violence, like the earliest myth of Gilgamesh. So they are fine alongside the Bible…

The “myth of redemptive violence” is a topic that catches my attention, so I’m biting here! …and interested in you unpacking that, Martin. I’ve been reading your responses for a while, and I’m still not entirely sure when you are using sarcasm, etc. For the sake of future readers and lurkers who will have even less idea than I do what your cryptic responses were supposed to communicate, you should elaborate.

Mah pleasure Ma’am : ) It’s a pond thing. We’re eccentric. Quirky. Keep ‘em guessing! On stage I unconsciously modelled myself on John Cleese. And online. A bit of flesh tearing their for sure! As you know, the phrase “myth of redemptive violence” is Walter Wink’s, who deconstructs sin for me, along with Brian McLaren, Steve Chalke, Rob Bell et al, as abuse of power, one way or another. Even the powerless do that. Abuse what they have. From fractious infants to terrorists. Often in response to abuse. I’m amazed there’s so little. The Bible tries to transcend that while reinforcing it until Jesus kicks it in to touch. But it still hangs on even in NT apocalyptic and Jesus’ epistemology and hard sayings (which we never contrast with His wonderful glaring universalist ones) and pollutes Christianity since its state institutionalization. The trajectory of Jesus’ kick continues out of the stadium but we fail to follow it, dragged down on the pitch still justifying violence in all its forms beyond genuine self and social defence. Including the form of damnation.

That’s probably added more layers of packaging!

To some extent … yes. You do excel in that! But I think I hear just enough to gather that I resonate with you in the much needed critique of where Christianity has largely gone - especially since Constantine. Thanks for indulging me.

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Any time Mervin. I see the OT taking bigger and bigger loops back, going forward, as it evolves. It is immensely, horrifically, existentially nauseatingly violent. Its God is. The good guys are. Let alone the bad. But gets more and more sophisticated. That pattern intensifies in the NT. God the Killer killed his millions in the OT. It’s billions in the N. While offering a way out if we dare take it: He’s never killed a living soul or required it or ever will.

Beowulf is one of my favorites too, ever since highschool. I can never find the older versions, but a portion stuck in my mind:
Sic Grendel theonan
Feorhseoc under fenhleothu
*Secaean wynleas wyc. Wiste the georner *
Thaet his aldres was ende gegongen,
Dogora daegrim.

the ending is “Knew he more surely that his life was ended/ Days’ day-number.”
The rhythm is mesmerizing–somewhat like Tolkien (which it influenced a lot).

My kids and I also like “Overly Sarcastic Productions,” and the (clean) Beowulf version:

In undergrad, my teacher noted our culture heritage of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes’ warlike tendencies didn’t accept someone who died in the end as being a victor–so the “Dream of the Rood” pictures Jesus actively, powerfully grasping the cross to accomplish His goal of dying for others. It was interesting to have a bit of a culture clash with my own ancestors (though most of mine were Dutch, that’s presumably not far flung).

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It’s been something I’ve looked at in romans 9 several times. But it does make me appreciate eye for an eye to turning the cheek. I also believe it’s tied into culture and a god working on improving a culture without making the divide to the next step so big we could not keep up.

I think about just how much ethics and culture has changed in the last few decades and then centuries and can only imagine how much change it took to
Get from where the ancient Mesopotamians were to where the Jews got to all the way to the life God called is to under Christ.

I enjoyed Beowulf as well. I was introduced to it through children’s TV programming in Britain, which I think put a lot more airtime toward portraying historical events and myths than what I’ve seen in the US. Beowulf was certainly more violent than what I’d been used to, except for maybe OT stories. I guess I’d missed (or forgotten) the whole “descendant of Cain” aspect of Grendel.

I’ve enjoyed Greek myths too. Quicksilver, Medusa, the Trojan War and other stories have been favorites, especially those from “A Wonder Book” by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

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I’m a fan of Robert Graves’ speculative takes on the Greek Myths, which have helped me to understand Genesis.


Have you read Neil Gaiman’s book on Norse mythology? Can you recommend it?

No I haven’t, but I can recommend Stephen Fry’s books on Greek mythology

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