04 September 2006

Beowulf and the Brontosaurs

"Grateful" isn't really the best word for my reaction to reading, through Blogenspiel and the latest History Carnival, the following article: "Beowulf: Fiction or History?", by Ruth Beechik [click off the annoying pop-up]. But it was thought-provoking. Reinterpreting the Old English monster-fighting epic, Beechik declares:

Details are embellished to make the battles more intense, the animals more scary, and the heroes more heroic. But the basic story is historically true, and the animals are zoologically real. They are not called trolls or other fantasy names. They are described by their big jaws, their sea-cave dwellings and other scientifically accurate depictions.

Why, then, do so many literature critics say that Beowulf is fiction? It is because they do not believe that dinosaur creatures lived at the same time men lived. Their evolutionary worldview says that dinosaurs lived long ages before men evolved on the earth. Therefore, in their minds, this all must be fiction. But with a Biblical worldview, we can see that dinosaurs entered the ark with Noah--land species at least--and they lived on the earth again after the Flood. But the post-Flood earth was not so hospitable to large creatures and they eventually became almost extinct.
Yes, that's right: Grendel and Grendel's mom aren't monsters or enemy warriors, but dinosaurs or similar animals. We think of them as prehistoric and extinct, Beechik says, but to creationists there is no prehistory. It's all in the Bible.

Beechik's source for her statements is a book called After the Flood, written by British creationist Bill Cooper and published in 1995 by New Wine Ministries. Cooper apparently does most of his work through the Creation Science Movement in the UK. Here's an extract labeled "Beowulf and the Dinosaurs". Both Cooper and Beechik complain that translators inaccurately describe Grendel as a "troll"; it's a measure of their own accuracy that many translators don't use that word.

The main argument of Cooper's book is not that Grendel and his mother were dinosaurs, but that he can trace genealogies from Beowulf and other sources straight back to the first books of the Bible:
Virtually every edition of the Beowulf epic and virtually every commentary on the poem, will take pains to assure the reader that what he is reading is NOT an historically accurate account of events or personages. Beowulf is described as a moral tale composed several centuries after the times of which it treats, a good yarn, and so on and so forth. What it does not do is embody real history. However the best test for historicity that can be applied to any document from the past, be it chronicle, epic poem or prose narrative, is the test of its genealogies and personal names. Are the men and women mentioned in the work characters who are known to us from other contemporary sources? Can the genealogies be verified? If they can, then we are dealing with an account that we can rely on as history.
And not, by any means, historical fiction, or a good yarn.

Given Cooper's interest in
Biblical genealogy, I have to wonder how he reconciles his identification of Grendel and his mother as dinosaurs with what the Beowulf saga explicitly says about their ancestry: that they're descendants of Cain.


Anonymous said...

I wonder what these folks would do with Homer.

Eric Shanower

J. L. Bell said...

Since Homer contains genealogical information linking warriors to the Greek gods, then by Cooper's argument those epics must be true! Even though Homer's genealogies might offer some contradiction to his preferred world-view.

My own maternal line has genealogical research showing that we go back to Odin. But aside from inveterate Wagner fans, I'm not sure whom that would impress today.

Uncle Lusty said...

I have recently written about the creationist defense of dinosaurs since their existance seemingly points to an evolutionary worldview. However, many creationists still say that Dinosaurs lived side by side wiht man and were on Noah's ark.


Your post was interesting.

J. L. Bell said...

One of the difficulties for the creationists who insist Noah had dinosaurs on the ark is the question of size. Genesis is specific about the dimensions of the ark. Fossils show the size of dinosaurs--and some of them were very big.

That puts creationists in the position of insisting that dinosaurs on the ark must have been eggs or babies, yet grew unaided to adulthood. And then there's the question of enough food for such animals.

To inculcate such beliefs in dinosaur-loving children, merchants have come with a scale model of Noah's ark with dinosaur models!

Anonymous said...

In reference to the comment, "to creationist there is no prehistory.. just the Bible": That is absurd. That is an extremist's view. From a creationist's point of view, yes there is a prehistory.. do we understand it all... no... we aren't supposed to KNOW everything... but with time and understanding we can come to see more and more of the truth of things.

J. L. Bell said...

Anonymous, "prehistory" is by definition what occurred before the recording of history.

To creationists, the Bible records history from the beginning of creation.

Therefore, there is no prehistory.

That's not "an extremist's view." It's logic. Sorry you don't recognize either logic or extremism.

All historians know there are gaps in our knowledge of history. Those gaps don't turn the recorded past into "prehistory," as your argument would have it.