An essay donated by
Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys
Bible Myths, Metaphors and Allegories
This is one of a trio of related articles by Susan Humphreys. The others are:
Free Will or Duped, Coerced or Manipulated
"Brains, Brawn, or Both"
"Myth" has become a derogatory, dismissive term in the minds of some religious folk as well as some Atheists.
For some religious folk, the Bible is either all TRUE or it is a myth. Also, myth means worthless, unimportant, childish, fabricated, arbitrary, meaningless.
For many Atheists the Bible is a myth and myth also means worthless, unimportant, childish, fabricated, arbitrary, meaningless.
Dr. Peter Kreeft is a religious person that appears to take the first position: the Bible is all TRUE. He has written a series of essays for the website strangenotions.com titled "5 Possible Theories that Explain the Resurrection of Jesus."
By "explain" he means to show that the resurrection is a TRUE actual event, not a myth.
Bradley Bowen has written a series of essays for the patheos.com website blog that show the problems with Kreeft's arguments. It was Bowen's essays that alerted me to the Kreeft essays. I suggest that you read both series.
I pointed out in the comments section of Bowen’s series that there are lots of problems with Kreeft’s arguments. First he presents five possible theories that he claims are the:
"... only possibilities, unless we include really far-out ideas that responsible historians have never taken seriously, such as that Jesus was really a Martian. ..."
I hope you will look up and read Kreefts arguments so I won’t mention his five possible theories here. I will simply point out that these five theories are NOT the only possible theories. There are other possibilities that are NOT: "far-out ideas that responsible historians have never taken seriously, such as that Jesus was really a Martian….."
For example, in two of his theories, he says the apostles were either deceived or were themselves deceivers. Since he assumes that the stories in the Bible were actually written by the apostles, he concludes that the information they contain are facts -- actual data. However, it is possible that the stories were written by other followers of Jesus -- not the apostles -- who were deceived or were themselves the deceivers.
Another problem is that Kreeft claims:
"We do not need to presuppose that the New Testament is infallible, or divinely inspired or even true."
Then he builds his arguments around the biblical stories being true, with arguments built around the idea that the apostles actually wrote the stories in the Bible that have been accredited to them. So they were either telling the TRUTH or they were deceived.
Another one of the problems with Kreeft is his fourth argument "Refuting the Myth Theory: 6 Reasons Why the Resurrection Accounts are True." This argument shows me that Kreeft doesn’t understand the very nature of stories, Myths, Metaphors and Allegories. As I mentioned above, many Atheists and other religious folk also don’t understand the nature of stories, myths, metaphors and Allegories.
A myth is sometimes defined simply as a folk tale, or traditional story about the origins of a people, or important events and people in their story. A second definition is that it is a widely held but false belief. It is this second definition that I think Kreeft uses and I am not sure -- but I think -- Bradley Bowen also uses.
Joseph Campbell has a different understanding of myth. He presents his ideas in a wonderful series of books that I highly recommend to others who want to have a better understanding of the myths that have shaped our world.
For Campbell, myths are the stories and legends that explain the universe and our place in it. In an article about Joseph Campbell on billmoyers.com he says:
"Mythology was to him the song of the universe, music so deeply embedded in our collective unconscious that we dance to it, even when we can’t name the tune."
For me the words "true" and "false" don’t apply to myths. They were never meant to be understood as literal, factual TRUTH. The "truth" of a myth lies in the underlying meaning the story carries. This is where the words "metaphor" and "allegory" apply.
In this case, a metaphor is simply a story about one thing that is representative of something else. An allegory is basically the same except it is considered to carry a specific moral or political message.
The "truth" lies in the value of the message that the story conveys.
Some ancient myths carry messages that still resonate with us today. Their message is timeless and cross-cultural.
In a preliterate world, story tellers were experts at both entertaining their audience and in getting their message across to their audience. The story might be modified from audience to audience by including names of local people or heroic figures from the group's past, actual places to make the story seem real to the local audience, and actual events from the group's past. In the days before books and TV stories were sometimes told simply to entertain an audience.
Stories were also told to impart important historical information to a people and include lists of kings/rulers, battles, natural disasters, etc. This was information the elders felt it was important for the next generation to know. Stories also taught moral lessons about right and wrong, taboos and sins. A story might have a mix of factual information -- names of real people, places and events -- which are then embellished, exaggerated, modified, or mixed with parts from another story or stories to fit the needs of the story teller and his particular audience. This captured and kept the audience’s attention and/or made a moral message easier to remember.
All of these kinds of stories can be found in the Bible and in the sacred literature of the other world religions.
To argue that these stories must either be understood as literal, factual TRUTH or they are worthless, unimportant, childish, fabricated, arbitrary, meaningless, etc. is to miss the important, valuable, underlying metaphorical or allegorical message the story contains.
See also the article by Susan Humphreys titled: "How to Understand the Resurrection Stories in the Bible.
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Original posting: 2019-MAY-13
Author: Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys