God’s Chosen People: dangerous narratives in Early Medieval ‘history’

Authors: Russell, M.

Start date: 16 December 2019

Origin myths can shape cultural identity, sometimes by simply attempting to explain the world or outline a certain order to things, at others being used to stoke intolerance and an unjustified sense of political or religious supremacy. Despite recent advances in archaeological and biological science, foundation myths continue to exert a formidable hold on the popular imagination, being constantly recycled and reformed at times of political or economic stress.Multiple origin myths have been recorded from across the British Isles, but it is stories of the English, frequently depicted as heroic pioneers arriving in the chaos of post-Roman Britain, that appear most commonly in the Press, popular history books, TV, radio and across social media. The emotive and powerful tale of “God’s chosen people” finding “the promised land”, first established in the writings of Bede and the anonymously authored Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, has become an irrefutable part of England’s national story. The fact that it is largely untrue hardly seems to matter.Kings, queens, leaders and governments have constantly reshaped the distant past to suit their own needs, origin myths being a powerful weapon in the political canon, especially at this present time. Such stories are, it must always be remembered, nothing more than ancient works of fiction, and, as this paper will explain, should only really be understood within the context they were written and the audience for whom they were originally intended. If used today, without adult supervision, foundation myths can be not only dangerous, but also extremely hazardous to health.

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