Before we begin looking at the texts of Genesis A+B, I thought it would be a good idea to learn about the people who created it.
History of the Anglo-Saxons
The Anglo-Saxons were a cultural group of Germanic tribes, who were pushed westward by the Huns and other invaders. They included Angles, Saxons, Goths and Vandels, but are normally considered to be one people group. They were invited in by the Romano-British to help protect them against the barbaric tribes. And then they chose to stay.
Christianity and Anglo-Saxons
In late sixth century, Pope Gregory I sent St Augustine to preach to the Anglo-Saxons. Christianity had already arrived to Briton through the Roman occupation. But the Saxons were pagan and had not adopted Christianity.
St Augustine set up a base in Canterbury, Kent and after only a century or so, the Anglo-Saxons had converted to Christianity.
Pagans and Conversion
When we read the History of the English People by Bede, we see how quickly the Anglo-Saxons converted.
Cynical historians have suggested that they saw the power of the Church and wanted some of that power too. Though I am dubious of using power as a lens to understand history. Life is far more complex. Not all interactions are about who has power over whom.
Chaos and Anglo-Saxon Paganism
I think what is more likely to have happened was the Anglo-Saxons had left their homelands and moved to a foreign country which was itself struggling with the uncertainty of the Dark Ages.
The Church could provide stability. It could act as a link to the other tribes on the island and help smooth out differences and conflicts, especially between groups which didn’t share a common language.
Historians don’t actually know what an Anglo-Saxon pagan actually believed. Much of what we think comes through adopting ideas from Norse paganism.
However, assuming Anglo-Saxon paganism was similar to other forms, then the inherent issue was conflict.
The pagan gods fought amongst themselves, which then gave approval for the pagan tribes to copy the same behaviour.
There was also little certainty about the future. They may have believed in a similar event to Ragnarok which meant they knew their pagan gods would fail and be replaced.
Where were the Anglo-Saxons in the Bible?
It was a common practice for people groups who newly converted to Christianity to identify themselves in the Bible. For examples, the Ethiopians traced themselves back to Solomon.
For the Anglo-Saxons, it was Sceaf.
According to Talmudic traditions, he was born to Noah on the Ark. He was Noah’s fourth son. Other names given to him include Yam and Canaan.
He isn’t directly named in the Bible, but was part of the oral traditions which surround the biblical text.
I believe the reason the Anglo-Saxons chose Sceaf was because England was in a state of flux. The old order was crumbling and there was no certainty about the future.
The time Noah spent on the Ark during the Deluge chimed with the Anglo-Saxon newcomers. In the chaos of the Great Flood, a baby was born. Sceaf was a new life, a sign of hope and a fresh start. And just as Noah trusted Yahweh through the Flood, so too the Anglo-Saxon chose to trust Him.
They abandoned their old gods, symbolically letting them drown in the chaos that would become England. And instead, they built churches to the God that saved them from devastation.
Its fascinating to read accounts of the Christianization of Britain and Ireland. Druids who had given their life to druidry give up that life upon hearing about Christ *once*.
The story was new and absolutely outlandish and perhaps that lent it some credibility. Perhaps they were looking for truth same as anyone and it sounded true. Once you convince one, convincing others becomes easier because you have someone who can speak to their specific experience.
Now, Christianity is widely known and so the fantastical stuff--death, resurrection, ascension?--is dismissed. We are too smart for our own good, familiarity has bred contempt. I wonder what ancient druids would have thought of our society.
Great article, looking forward to this series!