An essays donated by Susan Humphreys
Good stories: myth and reality in the Bible
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I read with interest the four essays in this web site by R.C. Symes about “Jesus-from myth to god-man.”I appreciated the thoroughness of his arguments and found myself thumbing through my Bible so I could read the passages he referred to for myself.
There has been a movement among some Atheists to deny the existence of Jesus. The ones I have chatted with on Atheist web sites are very adamant about their position. I think they believe that if they can prove that he never existed, the beliefs and the religion will crumble into dust and the “true believers” will collapse in a whimpering pile of dejected humanity.
I, for one, am willing to accept that there probably was a real person named Jesus, that he was an itinerant and probably an apocalyptic preacher, and that he was crucified. It is an argument I admit that neither I nor anyone else can prove, beyond a reasonable doubt. I am willing to accept that he had some “good” ideas about how we should behave towards others and the nature of mankind. IF that is we can believe any of the reports in the Bible about what he said.
I also accept that the real man wasn’t anything like the disneyesque caricature he has been turned into by some modern Christians. He has been de-ethnithicized. Pictures of him have removed any trace of his Jewish (semitic) heritage. He has been portrayed as the perfect man, of never having an angry moment (yet the Bible tells us he overturned the tables of the money changers at the temple). He is portrayed as never having any doubts about God (yet we are told upon his death that he cried out to God “why have you forsaken me”).
I also think that whether the man existed or didn’t exist doesn’t matter. Those that get caught up in the arguments are fighting “straw dogs” or are “tilting at windmills”, they are arguing about a “moot” point and have lost sight of what does matter.
I just finished reading “Don’t Know Much About Mythology” by Kenneth C. Davis, published in 2005.I have read several books about mythology, “The Golden Bough” by James G. Frazer, and all of Joseph Campbell’s books. I read the books by Thomas Cahill and Karen Armstrong and have enjoyed all of them. I have also read the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis and the Ring Trilogy by Tolkien and those delightful Harry Potter books.
I liked the format of Davis’ book, and the connections he made between similar ideas found in the many different myths and in many different cultures and the timelines he gave for each section of his book.
In my online discussions with many fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians I have come to realize that they simply don’t understand myths or stories. Perhaps their parents never read to them when they were kids, the Grimm brothers fairy tales, or the stories about Uncle Remis and Br'er Rabbit, or of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, or about Babe the Big Blue Ox and Paul Bunyan, or….
Or perhaps they are simply afraid that if they admit that some parts of the Bible aren’t literal, inerrant, absolute TRUTHS they will be left wondering if there is any truth to be found in the Bible, even whether their beliefs about God or Jesus are True, and whether their hopes of resurrection and life after death are nothing more than wishful thinking. Biblical Truth is an all or nothing proposition for them.
Or perhaps they are afraid that if the Bible isn’t literally true there will be no excuse for their bad behavior and they will be held accountable for their actions. If you are convinced that what you are doing is demanded by God and can point to a Biblical passage as proof, then any bad consequences are God’s intention and you are off the hook. Or so I think, they think.
Or perhaps they are afraid that if the Bible isn’t the word of God, it is only the work of men, they will realize that they and their religion are really no different from all the other folks in the world and their religions. With their sense of superiority and entitlement removed what will they have left? With no appreciation for or understanding of their foundational myths/stories/legends they will be left adrift.
I learned to love stories/myths/legends from an early age. I learned to appreciate them for what they are, beautiful stories with a wise lesson to remember and think about. The concepts of inerrancy and literal truth simply don’t apply to stories.
I have had no problem accepting that the Bible is just another collection of beautiful stories. That it is the work of men who claimed divine inspiration. It isn’t any more sacred or less sacred than the texts of other religions or of the writings (secular and non-secular, fictional and non-fictional) of our world’s great thinkers, philosophers and theologians. It is filled with great wisdom for those that read it thoughtfully and critically. AND for those that can find the hidden truths, contained within a good story!
Many fundamentalists and other evangelicals of all stripes (not just Christians) seem to me to have made a major error, they have tried to turn abstract concepts, subjective truths into concrete, objective TRUTHS/realities. By doing so I think they have, in too many cases, missed the “punch line”, lost the message the stories are trying to convey.
There seems to be a belief that something is either TRUE or it is a Lie. There is no concept of metaphorical truth, or abstract truth, or that a story can contain a true message even though events and people are imaginary, or that in some cases stories can contain elements of truth, historical facts about people, places and events, though those people, places and events have been modified (exaggerated) to fit the needs of the story teller.
I also think that some Atheists, especially the Jesus deniers and Bible haters don’t understand stories. They also act as though the stories must either be True or LIES and their arguments are focused on proving they are lies.
Good story tellers have always and still do, weave familiar names and places into their tales, to attract and hold the attention of their listeners, to make the story “more real”, and to make the lessons contained within the story more memorable!
And it is those lessons contained within the stories that matter. Sometimes the stories teach us about human nature, about our shortcomings and about how even small people can rise to the occasion, overcome adversity and do great things. Stories can teach us about friendships and love and the necessity of joining forces for the common good. Stories tell us about who we are, where we came from, what makes us special, how the world works and how we work. Even “bad” stories can teach us “good” lessons. We can learn that people that are very different from us in appearance or language or customs are still very much like us in their feelings and fears.
Stories can tell us “truths” that we have difficulty understanding, or don’t want to acknowledge, and that is why much of the Wisdom of the World, of the ancients, is passed down to us, in stories, myths and legends.
I just wish that more people understood and appreciated stories for what they are and wherever they are found in the Bible, the Upanishads, the Qur'an, the Book of Mormon, the writings of Hemingway and Aldo Leopold, and .....
Good stories need no claims of divine authorship or other scholarly credentials to prove their worth, they stand or fall on their own merits. It is the claims of divine authorship and literal, absolute truth that actually undermine the value and worth of the stories in the Bible.
Originally published: 2015-FEB-19
Last updated 2015-FEB-20
Author: Susan Humphreys.