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An essay donated by D.L. Henderson

The Bible: The greatest myth ever told

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There was a time when I would have rejected as pure heresy even the mere thought that the Bible is in any way whatsoever a mythical narrative.  Having been raised to trust the Bible as authentic history, even the least speculation that the holy writ was in any way less than such would have dealt a severe blow to my most sincere faith. My mind was so firmly conditioned as to  the validity of the scriptures that  I sincerely regarded all events recorded within -- no matter how unbelievable those events may have seemed -- to be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  I furthermore had no doubt as to the legitimate historicity of every Bible character, even if such were a serpent of sly speech or a dialoguing and disputing donkey.

Yet, as I applied reason to my research, and contemplated both the content and nature of the Judeo-Christian scriptures, and furthermore considered the basic qualities of the literary art known as “the myth”, I was lead to conclude that the one is in fact the other.

My issue at that time then;  as I see it now, is that I had failed to recognize the qualities of a myth, as distinguished from an authenticated historical account.  In assuming that the Bible was in  all places the latter, I was in fact obtuse as to just how much of its content is the former.  In essence, I had failed to apply common sense to my research and study of the Judeo-Christian scriptures.

When reading literature of a narrative nature, the material merits recognition as that of a literal historical account unless and until the content therein indicates otherwise. So long as the material presents itself as an historical account, then there is no reason to assume otherwise. At the same time, there is no reason to assume the accuracy of any account without confirmation from other sources. In this regard, ancient history must be interpreted judiciously.  Although a single account of an event may very well be true, it is not necessarily wise to accept the accuracy of such an account since there is no confirmation beyond the account itself. Single source historical accounts then should likely be regarded as questionable or unconfirmed unless other source material is discovered to confirm said questionable account.

Furthermore, whenever the concept of the supernatural is introduced into any particular account, then that account must surely be regarded as mythical.  In such a circumstance the account itself must not be interpreted literally.  Consequently, neither characters nor locations mentioned within the text of a myth should be considered real unless their historicity is confirmed in other reliable texts.  Granted, myth and fact may be introduced into the same account, nonetheless it is unwise and hermeneutically irresponsible to assume the accuracy of any aspect of an account  when the concept of the supernatural is introduced into the text. And even in the cases where the historicity of a location or a person alluded to within a myth is confirmed; nonetheless the myth remains but a myth.

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The purpose then of the myth is not necessarily to relate a factual account of actual characters.  Rather, the intent and purpose of the mythical tale is to either entertain, speculate, and/or educate as to a moral lesson.  The fact that the myth may not relate true events, or depict true places or persons, does not render the story dishonest, but rather merely untrue.  And thus the concept known as mythical fiction.

In fact, myths are oftentimes related for the sake of entertainment, yet at the same time there may be a moral lesson to the story as well. Another common source of entertainment is to speculate as to the unknown in the form of mythical fiction. Then again, legendary accounts regarding historical characters may be employed to exalt their greatness and place in history by adding somewhat of a mythical element in order to popularize the image of a cultural hero being so lauded.  Mythical fiction then may be employed in a number of fashions for a variety of reasons.

Speculation as to the unknown is a natural curiosity of our species; as is the desire for imaginative entertainment.  The embellishment of the deeds of cultural hero types; some historic and others fictional, is a tendency not exclusive to any particular people.  Our culture has its Twilight Zone and Star Trek, its Columbo and MacGyver, its Santa Claus and Paul Bunyan; not to mention our embellished tales and idealistic representation of celebrated personalities past and present such as sports figures, actors, and singers;  frontier heroes, founding fathers and of course; our favorite political leaders.  Our own culture’s obsession with mythical fiction and cultural legends is but an example of the basic tendencies of all cultures; to one degree or the other.  In the case of the ancient Hebrews, they had their Creation Myths and their tales of a global flood; their David slaying Goliath, their Moses parting the Red Sea, their Joshua stopping the sun, their Priests sacrificing, their Prophets preaching, and yes; even their virgin born Jesus the Nazarene rising from the dead. Thus, urban legends and mythical fiction are a natural element to any and all cultures, ourselves and the ancient Hebrews being no exception.

The fact is that the Bible is a synthesis of mythical fiction, cultural folklore , sacred poetry, and  muchly unconfirmed ancient history of the Hebrew people.  Acknowledging that fact in no way demerits the value of the Judeo-Christian scriptures, but rather merely more properly classifies the nature of its writings and the character of its content. Furthermore, reading the Bible as a product of the human intellect in my mind allows for a deeper respect for the skillful writing and the thoughtful creativity of those who actually wrote the book which is reportedly still among the most highly distributed in the world.

Granted, its cultural bias and blatant bigotry is undeniable. Granted, it records barbaric atrocities too gruesome for justification. Granted, it embellishes whatever truth lies within and stretches the imagination beyond the limits of reasonable belief.  Yet such is the nature of cultural folklore and mythical fiction.  The prejudices of its writers merely confirms its human touch.  On the other hand, the moral base within any person who ponders its content allows the reader to sift the wheat from the chaff in an effort to harvest what good lies within the book known as the Bible.

Whatever else I might say either on behalf of or in criticism of the Bible; this one thought comes to mind:

The Bible is the greatest myth ever told.

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Originally posted: 2012-DEC-23
Latest update: 2012-DEC-23
Author: D.L. Henderson

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