Chris Smith Posted October 19, 2006 Share Posted October 19, 2006 This is a spin-off from another thread. CK Salmon inquired as to why I think the early parts of Genesis are more myth than history.Wikipedia defines "myth" this way: "A myth is often thought to be a lesson in story form which has deep explanatory or symbolic resonance for preliterate cultures, who preserve and cherish the wisdom of their elders through oral traditions by the use of skilled story tellers." I think this is a good definition, and it is partly the "explanatory" and "symbolic" power of the early Genesis narratives that causes me to classify them as myths. The Tower of Babel, for example, explains why there are different languages. The flood explains why there are rainbows. The story of Adam and Eve is full of powerful archetypes. The genealogies are full of wordplay: city-builders have names rooted in the verb "to create", Abel's name means "fleeting" (pointing to his premature death), Ham's is rooted in "violence". Three female names, "Naamah", "Adah", and "Zillah", have explanatory power-- they refer to musical instruments, which presumably indicates their respective contributions to the progress of human culture. The name "Eber" presumably explains how the Hebrews came to bear that name. "Canaan" similarly expains the origin of the Canaanite people. While many of these names are genuinely ancient-- they date to the right time period-- the way they have been arranged indicates an artistic flair rather than a concern for real history.Additionally, many of these stories have apparently been adapted from Ugaritic or Sumerian mythology (cf. here). The strength of the Hebew stories is that they strip the myths of their surrounding cultures of all the nastiness, all the raunchiness. They replace the Sumerian pantheon of fickle and angry gods with a single God who is loving and compassionate. It's rather like what I do when I take the Big Bang and the theory of evolution and say that God rather than randomness is the guiding force behind it; the Hebrews took the creation story that was current in their day and adapted it for their own religious purpose. In my probably-not-humble-enough opinion, most of the Bible stories prior to Abraham have a sort of ethereal quality, like a half-remembered dream. They may contain a remnant of objective history, but little more. -CK Link to comment
This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.