Beowulf as a messianic narrative has been a subject of great controversy. Given the time period, ‘Christianity’ was not completely established, and it was entwined with cultural paganism, as seen woven throughout the text. The definition of a messianic narrative (containing the ultimate messianic figure) is found in Isaiah 53, a prophecy spoken by God through the Hebrew prophet Isaiah. This is the standard to which Beowulf must be compared to determination the nature of the poem. Many scholars such as Harold Bloom (quoting E. Talbot Donaldson), Roberta Frank, Rich Lawson, Seamus Heaney, and J. R. R. Tolkien (quoting R. W. Chambers) have critically viewed Beowulf to determine the nature of the epic, resulting in a diverse range of
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This is supported by the statement Beowulf made, “Let he who can, win fame before death, because that is a dead man’s best memorial...[I will] either perform some heroic feat, or breathe [my] last,” emphasising the value that was placed upon fame and heroism. However, this pagan concept of fame is reconciled by many references to God, such as, “The...Lord...gave out the victory,” glorifying Him. In this way, Beowulf is a messianic figure, portraying the messianic narrative.
In his widely renowned book Beowulf: Monsters and Critics, Tolkien was bold in saying that the entire poem of Beowulf was devoted to conveying the messianic narrative. He wrote, “It is in Beowulf that a poet has devoted a whole poem...that we may see man at war with the hostile world, and his inevitable overthrow in Time.” This overthrow of man correlates directly to a messianic figure, fulfilling a messianic narrative. Tolkien admits that there are pagan elements, but they were in keeping with the time frame, and because the, “Anglo-Saxons...could not [separate paganism] and the Scriptures,”. He continues, also suggesting that the monsters in Beowulf are significant in symbolism and Biblical Allusions, quoting Chambers’, “The gigantic foes (monsters) are...foes of God.