Text Size: Zoom In

Beowulf, Juliet, and Jesus


Photo by: Sofi

An article on the Geekosystem website says that a professor from the University of Manchester, has published a paper suggesting that students of literature have been misinterpreting the first line of the old English, heroic epic poem Beowulf for 200 years.

The article  was too complex to draw me into the debate. But I understood an illustration given in a couple of posted comments . They suggested that the professor’s point is similar to the normal mistranslation of some lines from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

According to the string of comments, the familiar line, “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo” makes no sense in context.

A second person goes on to explain that the confusion comes from not understanding that “wherefore” means “why” in Elizabethan usage. Juliet, therefore, is not asking where Romeo is but rather why he is who he is. That, the commenter suggests, leads right into Juliet’s monologue about how, if Romeo were from a different family she would be able to love him. In other words, “the line makes sense in context. It’s just not a context that the common reader is familiar with anymore.”

While I still can’t make much of the Beowulf mistranslation, Juliet’s misunderstood line sounds like another illustration of what happens when the Bible is or is not read with an understanding that fits its immediate and wider context.

As the greatest of all love stories, the storyline of the Bible—moving from Christ the Creator to Christ the Savior— gives a context that, in a much greater way, parallel’s the longing of Juliet.  God’s problem also is not that he doesn’t know where we are. Rather the issue is why we are who we are, and whether we are living within a family relationship that enable him to show us how much he loves us.

Vote on whether you think this post is something you'll be thinking about:
Vote This Post DownVote This Post Up (+15 rating, 15 votes)

11 Responses to “Beowulf, Juliet, and Jesus”

  1. SFDBWV says:

    Reading and re-reading the last paragraph of this topic I remain somewhat *confused*.

    It seems confusion begets confusion.

    So for however many hundreds of years people have read and enjoyed Romeo and Juliet and didn’t know what was being said.

    Now someone has come forward and *explained* it all.

    Personally I don’t think God has any problem knowing why we are who we are and it would seem He has shown more love to those who have not demonstrated themselves to be in a *family* relationship with Him as well as those who are.


  2. poohpity says:

    I think Billy Graham explained it so well last night. He said that many Christians feel that just because they have been raised in a Christian home/family, or wear a Cross, or attended church all the time it does not make them a Christian until the person themselves have asked Jesus into their hearts and turned their lives over to Him to follow after that is what makes them a Christian. Like standing in a garage does not make someone a car.

  3. poohpity says:

    Matthew 25:12 NIV

  4. remarutho says:

    Good Morning BTA Friends –
    I believe I read Beowulf in mid-high. Also Canterbury Tales. Much water under the bridge since then.

    It seems to me, as readers and interpreters of the Bible, we owe it to ourselves and to our brothers and sisters in Christ to keep up on the culture of the Ancient Near East. I am no profound scholar, but using a Bible dictionary or encyclopedia can help us all understand the ways of ancient peoples better.

    Speaking about the understanding of who Jesus is, the full truth of it does not come to our hearts and minds immediately. It seems to me, once we have read through the Chronicles and Books of the Kings we realize even the greatest human ruler cannot compare to the King who created the universe. “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” (Hebrews 11:3) The realization that we have not one thing to do with our own coming into being is a profound one. When we rejected our place as God’s treasured creation, made in God’s image, we began the long journey back into our Father’s house.

    Once Jesus, who has always been a member of the heavenly family, appeared in flesh – the greatest promises of God became clearer. We have been delivered from destruction with the only price that could ever accomplish that deliverance. The ultimate purchase has been made. Jesus is here to grab us from underneath the bus. The Apostle Paul told the former pagans of Corinth: “But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him…your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and…you are not your own…for you were bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:17-20) We are called to love the Lord as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.


  5. belleu says:

    A question by God in Ezekiel 18:31 asks, “Why will you die O people of Israel?” Jesus asked his disciples, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?”
    Paul asked some whys, “You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.”

    Why we are who we are? We are the product of our genetics and environment. Why do we do what we do? Same thing, but throw Satan in the mix. I’m sure we all have asked ourselves who we were before we came to Christ. We did wrong and wondered why. We wanted to be better people and wondered how to do that.

    I think God asking why gets us to thinking about ourselves and leads us to himself. Then we find out the why of being alive – to know Him and live in love.

  6. poohpity says:

    I was thinking how many times people have in mind that God is harsh, angry and punitive then try and reconcile that with that same God laying down His Deity to come in the form of man to take the punishment for our sins through His great mercy. The type of person who believes God is angry, harsh and punitive has taken much of the story of His relationship with His creation out of context.

    Even adhering to the letter of the law that were given as guidelines on how to live so that we do not break our relationship with God, harm others or ourselves but results in doing good. People often ask, “why, if God is such a good God, does He allow bad things to happen?” never realizing that the way God has asked us to live would have prevented many of those bad things from happening in the first place but they never think about that aspect.

    If we live within His family we not only understand His great love for us but we will be able to show that great love to others. A total reconciliation of Christ as the creator and the Savior, that God who is the same God who never changes and is the same God of the OT and the NT.

  7. tracey5tgbtg says:

    We may never fully understand the meaning of an author or the exact intent behind the words in a story. Needless to say, it is imperative to read the whole of a written work to get an impression of what the intent is. Open any written book and read one line. Do you now know what the whole book is about? Did you even understand what you read?

    And yet, when you have read an entire book, you can sum it up in a line or two. When you have read an entire book, you can discuss it with someone else who has read the entire book. In fact, you can begin to talk about things that the book made you think and the other person can see what you mean.

    Mart’s comment: “As the greatest of all love stories, the storyline of the Bible—moving from Christ the Creator to Christ the Savior— gives a context that, in a much greater way, parallel’s the longing of Juliet.”

    I agree that the Bible is about the love of God. It is because God is love and that this love is perfect that He wanted to have a creation to enjoy and know this love. It is the depth of this love that it cannot be earned, it must be found. It must be chosen. Why does God allow us to walk away from this love and walk in our own darkness? Maybe because we see the love in God’s forgiveness in sharper relief when we have gone through the hell of seeking our own way.

    We can see that His love is stronger than our weakness. His love is stronger than our rebellion; His love is stronger than any evil or temptation. His love comes first and out of His love, everything was created. It is amazing to me that in the face of this love that people fall. From Adam to the Israelites, from David to Paul, we all like sheep have gone astray. God longs for all to know Him. He opened the door for all. Forgiveness is available to all. Because of His love. Perhaps this longing God has for us to accept His love is expressed by Jesus when He laments over Jerusalem. Matthew 23:37 It kills me when people say or think that the Bible is rules to follow and seem to miss the message of God’s amazing love.

    Maru – you are right that we should make some attempt to study the language (actually you said culture) of the Ancient Near East. I am grateful that there are those who dedicate their lives to such studies and provide us with resources. One thing is certain, I could never read Scripture in the original words in which it was written. I praise God that His Word is living and that the body is always working to make the Word of God accessible and understandable to all peoples in this world.

  8. remarutho says:

    Good Morning All —

    Juliet, a Capulet family member, asks why Romeo must be a Montague family member. For, love and marriage become too complicated on account of family loyalty. The two great families of Verona have been enemies for generations. They are feuding, much as the Hatfield and McCoy families of the Kentucky-West Virginia border of the USA have fought one another without really remembering why (wherefore) they do it. Where would Romeo and Juliet live? How could the two families be joined in love when all they bear one another is hate?

    These clans that hold ancient grudges against one another are a parable of the animosity between rebellious human beings and the Creator God — Father of all that lives — King of the universe. The quarreling humans have failed to see the big picture. We are born in the likeness of our Creator. There is no line of separation between the wicked and the good. We have no room for indignation against anybody. We are all tarred with the same brush. Yet, like young Juliet, Jesus loves us and would make a real life with us if we will step over the line of hatred. (John 14:23, 24)

    Mart, you reduce the question to: “…whether we are living within a family relationship that enable(s) him (God) to show us how much he loves us.”

    Since we are God-breathed, like every other living thing in the universe, are we not kin to God? And if all are kin to God, are we not related to each other? Like Juliet, another idealistic young Italian, Francis of Assisi, celebrated the cosmic relatedness of everything we see — Brother Sun — Sister Moon — all the creatures of the forest — and all the peoples.

    “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” means that in Juliet’s eyes Romeo would still be essentially the same young man if he left behind the name Montague — and crossed over from hatred to love. So sinners become saints. (Romans 12:21)


  9. saled says:

    Words are such unreliable things. We have many words like this ‘wherefore’ that have meanings that have changed over many years. And we have words with more than one meaning. As a child, having watched the Beverly Hillbillies, and hearing a neighbor speak of the location of a forest fire with these words: “It could be up by Marshall’s, still?” I thought well respected Marshall had a moonshine still up in his woods, just like Granny. So much depends on context, and the consciousness and understanding to process the context correctly.

    The story of the tower of Babel fascinates me. And the book of John where Jesus is presented as the Word also. I love that Jesus is the Word. In all the confusion of our information driven world, we can look at the one who became the reliable Word and find peace.

    This reminds me of some lines from one of my favorite Bee Gees songs: Smile an everlasting smile, a smile can bring you near to me. Don’t ever let me find you gone, for that would bring a tear to me. This world has lost its glory. Let’s start a brand new story.
    . . . It’s only words, but words are all I have to take your heart away.

    Yes when God looks at us, he must ask “Why are you the way you are after I sent my Son the Word to take your heart away?”

  10. oneg2dblu says:

    Mart… thanks for openning another book of thoughts for us all.

    Family issues?

    Did we choose to be in the family of God?

    Or, did He choose us, or do both need to come together to be considered as correct, and as whole?

    So, in keeping in context, what is our family now, that God has chosen us, and we have also chosen Him?

    Christ has defined that thing for us when He spoke of his question, Who are My mother and brother?

    And, if we were to expand “that family” through the act of godly marriage, then what family should we be looking at, to then consummately marry into?

    Wherefore, who art though looking for love, as a Jesus Followwer, or a Juliet?

    Do we live by the rules, or just as little outside them and still receive all the blesssings?

    Just thinking out loud, yes, but still listening to that still small voice within…

    This is only a test, and if you open the book, you’ll find it is an open book test as well.

    Unfortunately, many today only seek the approval of the world and the books they worship instead.

  11. oneg2dblu says:

    “Words are such unreliable things.” How true that statement is, as the times they are a changing, so do the meanings evolve to fit the times.

    But, the words of God will never change, and stand through all time, to testify to us as a filter through which we should live if we truly love the Lord, then I believe we need to also obey his commands.

    His words, not mine.

    There is never a time when we should not follow His word in obedience, if we love Him, like sheep we will be able to recognize His voice, and then follow Him.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.