Heliand * Jaap van Vredendaal (transl.) (2006 sun * isbn 9085062969)

In October I also reviewed a “Hêliand”, but then I didn’t have a complete translation, which I found pretty frustrating. It seems that I (silly enough) picked the wrong title at Amazon.com and I should have had this one. Then the news came to me that “the Saxon Gospel” has been published in Dutch too, so I was excited. The book is just out, comes with hardcover, images and is printed on thick paper, has a long introduction by the translator and has a translation of the Genesis fragments (but these translations are made by Redbad Veenbaas), so in a way this is a Dutch version of the famous “Heliand und Genesis” by Behaghel.
A little bit of background information, but you will be able to find enough on the internet, so not too long. The “Hêliand” is the story of the four gospels in one story. It was written around 825 CE and scholars think that this happened in the monastery of Fulda or the one in Corvey. It is written as a poem and is obviously meant for a not-yet-Christian, or just-Christian audience of Germanic descent. There are a few damaged manuscripts left and a few excerpts here and there, like in the Vatican, which library also has the Genesis fragments in old Saxon that have been included in this translation. The “Hêliand” begins wonderfully with the writers of the gospel, the birth of John the Baptist, the announcement of the birth of the saviour (what “Hêliand” means) and the birth of Jesus. Jesus is a king, a leader, the greatest of men, Mary is the most beautiful of women, the “Hêliand” reads like an old Germanic adventure story. The most funny thing is that (with regards to the audience), accents differ from the versions of this story that we know. At length is explained why it is a problem that Mary gets pregnant without having lost virginity, but the birth of Jesus is told in just a few lines. The stable is a hall and the three wisemen sleep in the sleeping hall. Things are put differently. The Lord’s Prayer, for example, differs. I like ‘the pagan touch’ to this gospel. When Jesus has become Christ and starts to preach, there is a bit too much of moralistic talking involved and again, with different accents. There is a large part against the swearing of oaths for example. The story continues, it is told beautifully and the Dutch translation is great. The end is quite sudden, but of course we all know the story.
The Genesis fragments are funny too. First Adam and Eve are told to stay away from the dark tree, then the story of Satan and his falling angels follows, Satan sends someone else to persuade Adam to eat from the dark tree as revenge for his fall. The messenger uses an entire page to persuade Adam, but when he fails, he turns to Eve. This story ends quite abruptly and then we come to Cain and Abel, which is also obviously a fragment. Nice to read, but the “Hêliand” itself is a better read.
So… Christian and non-Christian readers are advised to read this original version of the famous story of Christ with its older (and more authentic?) twist to some things. This Dutch translation is great, unfornately I can’t commend on the English translation that I linked to, but the Hêliand – text and commentary book by Cathey is reviewed elsewhere within these pages.
(4/1/07 -4-)
The Lord’s Prayer from this text in the original language and English translation here.

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