Galloping Toward the English Bible:
God’s Providence Traced to a Fateful Equestrian Accident
God’s providence has many details: would you have guessed that a horse played an important role in the providential “domino chain” events that led to the English translation of the Holy Bible?
Truth is often stranger than fiction, and the quest for an authorized English Bible includes an equestrian episode that is both unexpected andunforgettable. This multi-generational example of God’s providence is a series of events, collectively improbable.
The equestrian part of this epic adventure starts in the late AD800s, during the Viking Age. It was a fateful gallop over 1100 years ago, that causally catalyzed a chain of providential events, in Europe, that led to the most-published, most-studied, and best-loved English translation of the Holy Bible that the world has ever known.
So, saddle up for an adventure!
I. Why Did Aud the Deep-minded,the Viking Matriarch, Flee to Iceland?
During the late 800s (A.D.), many Norwegians emigrated from Norway, for various reasons, depending on a person’s concept of “opportunity”. Among those migrating south and/or west were Norse Vikings Ketil, Ketil’s daughter Aud, and Sigurd. Those Norwegian emigrants’ lives would later interact with a Norwegian emigrant named Olaf, and also with a Scot named Maelbrigte the Deadly-toothed, eventually impacting a ruler of Orkney, Thorfinn Skull-splitter. (The names themselves show this is an interesting family history!)
Most of the action (that we are now concerned with) occurred in “Orkney”. Under Norway’s king Harald Fairhair, the kingdom of Norway asserted itself as a Viking super-power in the North Atlantic world, actively trading (and raiding) all over the Baltic Sea shorelands, including the islands of the North Atlantic. One such island dominion was the Orcadian archipelago, which are located just north of the island of Britain. The term “Orkney” once referred to the islands today known as the “Orkney Islands” plus the neighboring islands now known as the “Shetland Islands”.
During A.D. 874, when Harald Fair–hair was Viking king of Norway, these islands became the possession of a Norwegian nobleman named Ragnvald (“the Wise”) of More, Ragnvald, not wanting to rule those islands, gave them to his brother, Sigurd “the Mighty”. (Sigurd, we shall see, had an ally, Thorstein, son of Aud the Deep-Minded.)
Sigurd I “the Mighty”, Norwegian Earl of Orkney, aggressively set out to conquer northern Scotland, using Viking pirate tactics to acquire desired resources. Sigurd took control of Orkney in about A.D. 874, and ruled there till his death in 892. Sigurd, with the help of a close ally, Thorstein the Red Olafsson1,conquered much of northern Scotland, including Pictland’s Caithness, Sutherland, and parts of Ross and Moray. The most colorful episode in Sigurd’s career is recounted in the Orkneyinga Saga, in its chapter 5.
Sigurd challenged a regional mormaer (Gaelic equivalent of “earl”) of Moray, Maelbrigte, for control of Moray (in Scotland), the eastern “bulge” region which includes the land around Aberdeen and the Moray Firth coastal area. A meeting was arranged, with an agreement that each would bring 40 horsemen as bodyguards (to keep the negotiations “honest”). Sigurd decided to deceive Maelbrigte, so his 40 horses each carried two men! The “negotiations” quickly turned into a battle, and Maelbrigte was killed, along with all his warriors.
An Equestrian Accident that “Took a Bite Out of Crime”
To “shock and awe” the people of Moray, Sigurd rode his horse throughout the countryside with mormaer Maelbrigte’s severed head hanging offhis saddle, to signify the intended fate of all who challenged Sigurd’s rule over northern Scotland. Sigurd likewise directed his men to display the other battle-severed Scottish heads. The Viking saga recounts:
Sigurd had their heads strapped to the victors’ saddles to make a show of his triumph, and with that they began riding back home, flushed with their success.
On the way, as Sigurd went to spur his horse, he struck his calf [i.e., his bare lower leg] against a tooth sticking out of Maelbrigte’s mouth[,] and it gave him a scratch.
The wound began to swell and ache, and it was this [blood-poisoning infection] that led to the death of Sigurd the Powerful. He lies buried in a mound on the bank of the River Oykel” [which flows into the Dornoch Firth, just north of Moray Firth].2
Although this is not where the expression “taking a bite out of crime” began, it does seem like Maelbrigte got his just revenge! Sigurd’s son Guthorm succeeded him as Orkney’s earl, but he died childless within a year, so the earldom reverted back to Ragnvald the Wise of More.
Now the spotlight turns to Aud the Deep-Minded (a/k/a “Unn”), daughter of Ketil Flat-Nose. Aud was the wife of Olaf “the White” Gothfrithsson, Norwegian king of Dublin (an ally of Ragnvald of More), until Olaf divorced her.
What caused Olaf to divorce Aud?
3. This was an awkward arrangement, because Ketil, was taking orders from King Olaf, his own son-in-law. Ketil so enjoyed conquering the Hebrides that he styled himself as “king of the Hebrides”, an honor not previously “authorized” by Olaf. Domestic strife unsurprisingly followed. King Olaf divorced Queen Aud, although Ketil remained in control of the Hebrides for a time until his mysterious death soon afterwards.Ketil allied himself with Dublin’s Norwegian king Olaf the White, giving his daughter Aud in marriage (but she was not to be the only wife Olaf ever had). Thus, for a time, Aud the Deep–Minded was a queen of Norwegian Dublin on the east coast of Ireland. Aud’s husband (Olaf) delegated a task to her father (Ketil), to “clean up” and subjugate the islands just west of Scotland, the “Sudreys”
However, in God’s wonderful providence, before their “royal” divorce, Aud had given birth – many years before – to Olaf’s son, Thorstein “the Red” Olafsson, who would make a famous Viking reputation in the region of northern Scotland. (Aud herself would become famous in Iceland, as a devoted Christian known for her prayer habits, and as a matriarch of Iceland’s Laxdale region, i.e., the Salmon River Valley, with her later years being reported in parts of the Laxdaela Saga.)
Aud’s son, Thorstein “the Red”, now led the administrative affairs of Aud’s extended family, including their dozens of household “thralls” (slaves), as well as his own children (i.e., Aud’s grandchildren). Thorstein had married Thorida, granddaughter of king Cerball of Ossory (in Ireland), an old ally of Thorstein’s father (Olaf the White). The clan lived in northern Scotland. Thorstein was a famous Viking himself, often allied with Sigurd the Mighty (the Earl of Orkney who died from Maelbrigte’s tooth-wound), governing much of Caithness and Sutherland from about AD875 to about AD900.
After Many Losses, Aud Ketilsdottir Decides to Flee with her Remaining Family to Iceland
But when Thorstein was ambushed and killed by an enemy in northern Scotland, Aud knew her prospects in northern Scotland were bad. So, Aud, a grandmother of at least two marriageable granddaughters at that time, secretly had a great Viking ship built in the forest, then sailed north, toward Iceland, where two of her brothers lived after they emigrated from Norway.4
En route to Iceland, Aud’s seafaring group stopped, providentially, to over-winter in in the Orkneys. While there, with Aud’s encouragement, Groa, one of Thorstein’s daughters, married Duncan (also “Dungad”), a mormaer from Caithness. In time, Groa gave birth to Grelod, who eventually grew up to marry a later Earl of Orkney, Thorfinn I “Skull-splitter”5, a grandson of Ragnvald the Wise6. So, the marriage of Earl Thorfinn “Skull-splitter” (grandson of Ragnvald “the Wise”) and Grelod (great-granddaughter of Aud “the Deep-Minded”) fatefully joined the “House of the Wise” with the “House of the Deep-Minded”.
Before reaching Iceland, Aud stopped briefly in the Faeroe Islands, and a second granddaughter (Thorstein’s daughter Olof) stayed there, marrying one of the Faeroese men. Their descendants include the household of the Gotuskeggjar. Imagine how human history is irrevocably impacted by the providential flight of Aud the Deep–Minded, to Iceland, and by her interlocutory stops en route (in Orkney, and the Faeroes). The earls of the Orkney Islands, for example, would bear Aud’s genes for generations, as would also the Faeroese House of Gotuskeggjar.7
Furthermore, other historic sources record an Ingibjorg as a daughter of Orkney’s Earl Hakon Paulsson. In time, Ingibjorg (wife of Manx king Olaf the Red) became the mother of Ragnhild Olafsdottir, who in turn (upon marrying Somerled, another Manx king) became the royal mother of Ragnald Somerledsson (another Manx king), — and their family line continues on, dozens of generations later, even unto today, including this article’s author, thanks be to God’s providence!
In other words, despite all of the danger and death of the violent Viking generations, God providentially preserved many family lineages, one of which (Aud the Deep-minded’s lineage through Grelod, her great-granddaughter who married Thorfinn Skull-splitter) facilitated the authoring of these very words you are now reading.
Can you even imagine the terrible possibility of you never being born? What if you had never been conceived inside your mother? (Surely you would not be reading this sentence, much less thinking about the answer to that question!)
And yet, much more was necessary, biologically speaking, than just your own two parents biologically conceiving you, — because both of them had to themselves be conceived, biologically speaking, with the exact biogenetic identities that each of them had, — and the same is true for each of your four biological grandparents, and also for each of your eight biological great-grandparents, and also for each of your 16 biological great–great–grandparents, and so on!
In many cases, our ancestors lived at great distances from one another (in Ireland, Norway, Scotland, Orkney, the Faeroes, Iceland, or wherever!), yet God providentially brought them together, physically (and socially), so that they could and would together procreate someone who is one of your ancestors, and thus is biologically part of why you are exactly you.8
In the history of human biogenesis, there are no “superfluous” ancestors – they all “count”, or else the next generation (of that genetic lineage) would never come into being! So, due to dangerous lifestyles, it was, time after time, conception after conception, one providential miracle after another, that many of your (and my) ancestors lived long enough to procreate a critical part of your family lineage (and/or mine). Yet here we are, by God’s providence, existing as human beings – created as a direct result, biologically speaking, of many, many, many generations of fore-fathers and fore-mothers, most of whom we don’t even know the names of — and yet, without them we would not even exist!9
II. How Did Aud’s Offspring Become a Providential Part of British Royalty?
Now we return to the adventures of Aud’s Orcadian descendants (i.e., Aud’s offspring who lived in the Orkney Islands, while her other descendants lived in the Faeroes and Iceland).
From Aud Ketilsdottir to Stamford Bridge-survivor Paul (Pål) Thorfinnsson to the King James Bible’s Translation
Aud’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandson, Paul (Pål) Thorfinnsson (F7 = Aud’s filial generation #7) came very close to dying before the next “leg” in this procreative “relay race” was completed.10 Why? Because Paul participated in what was perhaps the most disastrous (from the perspective of the losers) Viking battle ever fought by Norse Vikings, the famous battle of Stamford Bridge.
Paul (Pål) Thorfinnsson was a military ally of Norway Viking kind Harald “Hardrada” (meaning “harsh ruler”) Sigurdsson, during September of AD1066. Specifically, Harald Hardrada decided to invade England, in AD1066 (climaxing on September 25th), less than a month before William the Conqueror did the same thing (on October 14th: “Battle of Hastings”), farther south, invading England from Normandy.11
King Harold [i.e., Harold Godwinsson, defending Saxon king of England] defeated a huge Viking invasion near the Humber River in the Battle of Stamford Bridge on September 25. In that battle, the future destiny of James Stuart (later Britain’s King James)—who would not be born for about 500 years—hung in the balance, subject to God’s procreative providences (Psalm 102:18). The invasion was led by a direct ancestor of King James, the Viking king Harald Hardrada of Norway, who assaulted the English coasts with thousands of Viking warriors and local allies who opposed King Harold Godwinson’s regime.
Hardrada had already won battles in Russia, Eastern Europe, Greece, Italy, Sicily, Jerusalem, Scandinavia, and the British Isles. But on September 25, 1066, with a fleet of about 300 Viking ships, Hardrada invaded eastern England, only to meet Harold Godwinson at Stamford Bridge. At the end of that wasteful, bloody day, only about 8 percent of the Norwegians [along with their Orcadian allies] survived, and only 24 ships were needed to carry them home.
Thankfully, for all who appreciate the King James Bible and its impact around the world, one of those few survivors was Olaf Kyrre, King Hardrada’s son. Kyrre had been assigned to guard the boats [along with his Orcadian friends Paul and Erlend Thorfinnsson] during the disastrous battle. About seven years later, he fathered Magnus Bare-legs, through whom descended King James.12
Thus Paul, with his brother Erlend, guarded the Norse Viking boats, along with Olaf (III) Haraldsson (i.e., Olaf, the son of Norway’s king Harald Hardrada), while King Harald Hardrada fought and died at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, on (September 25th of AD1066).
Paul Thorfinnsson and Olaf III Haraldsson’s13 joint survival led to seriously impacting world history.
Providentially, God ruled the details of human history and geography so that both Olaf III (Hardrada’s son) and Paul Thorfinnsson survived 9-25-AD1066 by at least long enough to extend their lineages to allow (eventually) for a common descendant, James Stuart or James VI king of Scotland.
James VI (king of Scotland), who later became also “James I” (as king of England, i.e., the first English king named “James”). Amazing! The “King James” of Great Britain, who authorized what became famous as the “King James Bible”, was an F24 descendant of Viking matriarch Aud (the Deep-minded) Ketilsdottir, through her son Thorstein, the ally of the vengeful-tooth-killed Sigurd the Mighty! (This impacts the whole world!)
· The Holy Bible is the most-published and most-sold book of all time, with more than 6,000,000,000 copies (excluding mere portions, which in aggregate would further increase the statistics).
· Of the 6 billion copies of the Holy Bible, the most-published and most-sold version of the Bible is the English translation known as the “King James Bible” (a/k/a “King James Version” and the “Authorized Version”).
· The largest amount of Bible-based missionary work, missionary literature, and Biblical education around the world, since the time of Christ, has been provided in English (e.g., from British missionaries, American missionaries, etc.), and the King James Bible is the most popular version of the English Bible around the world.
Ironically, the English language of the King James Bible resulted from Viking demographics.
As shown above, this means that Great Britain’s King James was directly descended from Groa Thorsteinsdottir (Aud’s granddaughter) who married Duncan in Orkney (and eventually parented daughter Grelod in Orkney) as a direct result of the winter stop-over in Orkney, as Aud’s getaway boat journeyed toward a permanent refuge in the Salmon River Valley of Iceland.
Yet without Groa providentially meeting and marrying Duncan, there would have been no daughter Grelod Duncansdottir to later (in God’s providence) meet and marry Orkney’s Thorstein I “Skull-splitter”, -- and so on, and so on, -- eventually leading to Paul Thorfinnson, generations later, -- who himself was one of the just 8% to survive losing the bloody Battle of Stamford Bridge (on September 25th of AD1066), in order to later father a son (Håkon Pålsson), through whom eventually (i.e., 17 generations later) descended James Stuart, the “King James” of the King James Version of the English Bible!
Considering Contingencies: What If King James’ Family Lines had Snapped Too Soon?
Thankfully God controls every “what if” scenario, even “accidental” injuries while riding a galloping horse!
Summing it up, the King James who sponsored the English Bible, that we call the “King James Bible”, was biogenetically of Norse Viking stock (among other ancestral contributions) that depended upon God’s special providence during Aud’s flight and during the Battle of Stamford Bridge.14
Due to Viking lifestyles, it would have been very easy for Aud’s lineage (leading to King James) to have become broken before it successfully stretched to the authorization and sponsorship of the King James Bible.
So what does all this show, and why is it important? What does this biogenetic history prove about God’s sovereign interventions in Viking times? What if some of this Viking history had occurred differently, such as if Paul Thorfinnson had died (with the other 92%) at Stamford Bridge?
If Paul Thorfinnson had died in AD1066 he would never have become the father of Håkon Pålsson, and one of the indispensable line to King James would have snapped before there ever could have been a King James. (Talk about Romans 8:28!)
Since our every ancestor counts, and without all of our ancestors we don’t arrive, the providential implications for all descendants are obvious! In a sense, all of our own descendants are “waiting” to be created. (God’s providence in all of this directly pertains to Psalm 102:18 and Psalm 139:16.)
And one more providential detail needs to be remembered: Sigurd the Mighty’s bumpy horse-ride -- if not for that bizarre equestrian accident, with Sigurd supposedly triumphant galloping around with Maelbrigte’s severed head (and the political upheaval that soon followed), would Aud have ever fled (with her remaining family) to Iceland, when she did, leading to her granddaughter’s marriage to Duncan, extending one family line toward King James, etc., etc.?
Even bizarre accidents when horse-riding are part of God’s sovereign control over humans (and horses), illustrating the stranger-than-fiction details of God’s historic providence!
1. Son of Aud and of her husband, Dublin’s king Olaf the White, who acted at times as an ally to Harald Fairhair’s right-hand man, Ragnvald of More - Back
2. Quoting pages 27–28 of Orkneyinga Saga: the History of the Earls of Orkney (Penguin Books, 1981), as translated by H. Pålsson & P. Edwards. - Back
3. Today called the Hebrides – a place where Leif Eriksson would later father a son. - Back
4. Dr. William R. (Bill, a/k/a Nandad) Cooper, the esteemed Laird o’ Lochaber, has doubts that Aud’s old homestead was really called “Dunraidin”, although it might have resembled the Dunraidin Viking longhouse scale-replica so expertly constructed years ago by Dr. Cooper. - Back
5. Earl of Orkney from about A.D. 947 to 977 - Back
6. (i.e., a son of Ragnvald’s illegitimate son Turf–Einar, who had succeeded to Guthrom’s earldom when Guthorm died childless around 893) - Back
7. This fascinating biogenetic history is casually documented within the Orkneyinga Saga (Penguin Classics 1981 ed., trans. by Hermann Pålsson & Paul Edwards), at page 225, showing Earl Thorfinn Skull-splitter’s son (via Grelod, Aud’s great-granddaughter) Hlodvir as Orkney’s earl, plus Hlodvir’s son Sigurd as earl, then Sigurd’s son Thorfinn (“II”) the Black as Orkney’s first Christian earl, then his son Paul as earl, then his son Hakon as earl, etc. - Back
9. The foregoing portion of this article is adapted from James J. S. Johnson’s “For Viking Descendants, it’s a Providential Miracle that We were ever Procreated, Considering the High–Risk Lifestyles of our Viking Forefathers and Foremothers”, Norfolk Heritage Review (October AD2006, Nordtex Short Paper #AD2006-11-05), pages 1-6, and “Maelbrigte’s Revenge, Aud the Deep-minded, and Other Highlights from Norse Viking History, Viking History & Heritage Review (March AD2005), presented to the Norwegian Society of Texas, 30th Jubileum (Dallas). [© AD2005-AD2013, used by permission.] - Back
10. See James J. S. Johnson, “Family Lines Are Like Relay Races” (Home Educating Family Association Blog, October 29th , AD2012), posted at http://hedua.com/blog/family-lines-are-like-relay-races/ . - Back
11. See the brief comparison of these two world-changing Viking battles, and how God’s providence is recognizable in retrospect, as summarized in James J. S. Johnson’s “Christmas, Vikings, and the Providence of God”, Acts & Facts, 41(12):8-10 (December AD2012), posted at www.icr.org/article/7097. - Back
13. Specifically, Olaf III would not father his own son Magnus (III) till ~AD1074, so the next biogenetic link in King James’ Hardrada-descended lineage comes about 7 years after Olaf III survived the Battle of Stamford Bridge. - Back
14. And you know that there are a lot more biogenetic details than this . . . ! - Back