Norse Myth and Bible History

In the early 13th century, so the story commonly goes, a man named Snorri Sturluson realized he was pretty well the last of the ancient skalds, the historians of the Saxon nations. He set himself to preserve the last of a vital and failing tradition. The result was a set of works known as The Prose Edda, the mysterious and sometimes confused lore of a people-group’s origins and adventures.

Sturluson made an assertion that his people were founded from the fall of Troy. It was a guess which has several interesting counterparts throughout European and British legend. What his particular reasons were, we’ll never really know.

What Makes a Legend Legendary

The legend of Thor’s kingdom, with its 540-door palace, is just a legend. It amounts to one man’s belief about the past, undocumented, unverifiable.

Extant, there are four independent partial genealogies of the Saxon/Norse people, preserved in four independent people groups, which makes some parts of their history more authoritative. This is not one of those parts.

With history, we can’t go back and observe it; we can’t test it or repeat it, at least not scientifically, though there is that rumour about ignorance and repetitive doom. We can only look for supporting documents or other ancient artifacts, particularly those that show evidence of being independent sources.

But it makes for great fun with storytelling. So I chose to pick up on minor clues in the old narratives–the idea, for instance, that Odin dragged his magnificent self-deifying statue “back” to Byzantium. That was the single line that started me on this chase for a story.

“Back” to Byzantium? Really? Hmm.

And if Thor is older than Odin, why is he called Odin’s son?

The threads of myth suggest that perhaps Odin became considered the highest, though he wasn’t the first, in part because he separated from his originating culture and went into northern Europe. He’s called the Father of All because he and his wife had a powerful occult gift as seers, for which they were exalted above others in the pantheon.

One way or another, Odin stole someone else’s name: Allfather. Why isn’t Thor called father of all, though he’s listed farther back in independent genealogies, though Sturluson assigns to him the founding of the proto-Saxon people as a distinct nation?

It might mean something more than “founding father.” I suspect this curious name is somewhat accidentally restored to its true owner in Beowulf.

What Makes History Historical

It might be easy to view the mix of my Christian understanding and Norse legend as just a blend of two myths. The key difference between the two is in textual verification.

The discovery of the Qumran scrolls, inscribed approximately 200-150 BC to 60-70 AD, verified that in fact the Old Testament has remained essentially unchanged since at least that time. Archaeology continues to compare the ancient Hebrew text against the ancient records and evidences left by long-gone nations in contact with the Israelis.

The New Testament comes with a stunning level of support from extant manuscripts. Some of these texts were written from a position hostile to biblical faith. Nonetheless, they help to corroborate its existence and its consistency.

As my friend Jackie put it recently, “…what’s also important is that the small treasures we hold, unbroken, remain precious and are acknowledged as our own.”

One of those unbroken treasures – the chief of all – is the verified and well-corroborated biblical text, and the verified, well-corroborated biblical faith. This is the pearl of great price.

Thor’s kingdom is a wisp of mist, a whisper of things that may or may not have been. It’s a delight to play with in story form; but it is, in the end, unable to prove itself more than a fairy-tale.

Not so the faith from which I write about these things.

“For faith is the substance of things not seen, the evidence of things hoped for.”


Heb. 11:1

In order to be the substance and evidence of anything, faith must have some substance and evidence in and of itself. We do not go blindly into a darkness of the mind and heart.

We evaluate what can’t be verified against what can; we evaluate legend by history. We continue to discover and probe, to examine relationships between doctrines and evidences, verifiable teachings and those which depend upon them.

And while we do, may those in disagreement continue to quote the Bible, in or out of context, with any and all viewpoints appended, and so independently establish the record of what this text consists of and what it’s doing in our time. In a historian’s view, there’s great strength in the corroboration of dissenting voices.