Imagine this. It’s sometime early in the ninth century and you’re a scribe. Louis the Pious, King of the Franks and Holy Roman Emperor, has just given you the task of making a copy of the bible in Old Saxon to convert to Christianity the pagan tribes on the other side of the River Elbe. How do you translate the Gospel’s message of peace and salvation in terms those battle-loving barbarians will understand?
One answer is the Heliand, a wacky paraphrase rather than translation of the Gospel in the form of a Norse or Germanic saga written around AD 825. Here’s the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane replayed under the title of “Christ’s deep fear before battle, his last salute in the garden.” It could be a Uwe Boll or Michael Bay movie.
“Christ’s battle companions saw warriors coming up the mountain making a great din, angry armed men. Judas the hate filled man was showing them the way. The enemy clan, the Jews, were marching behind. The warriors marched forward, the grim Jewish army, until they had come to the Christ. There he stood, the famous chieftain. Christ’s followers, wise men deeply distressed by this hostile action, held their position in front. They spoke to their chieftain, ‘My Lord chieftain’, they said, ‘if it should now be your will that we be impaled here under spear points, wounded by their weapons then nothing would be so good to us as to die here, pale from mortal wounds for our chieftain’.
Then he got really angry, Simon Peter, the mighty, noble swordman flew into a rage. His mind was in such turmoil he could not speak a single word. His heart became intensely bitter because they wanted to tie up his Lord there. So he strode over angrily, that very daring Thane, to stand in front of his commander, right in front of his Lord.
No doubting in his mind, no fearful hesitation in his chest he drew his blade, and struck straight ahead at the first man of the enemy with all the strength in his hands, so that Malchus was cut and wounded on the right side by the sword. His ear was chopped off. He was so badly wounded in the head that his cheek and ear burst open with the mortal wound. Blood gushed out, pouring from the wound.”
Here’s the original version for comparison. Notice that the focus is on choosing non-violence rather than revelling in cinematic blood-lust.
I would love to see this filmed with Arnie in the central role. It would make the perfect counterbalance to that hideous Mel Gibson movie.