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Creation "myth"?


Chris Smith

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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

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Just to make a few points. The earliest Hebrews were not monotheistic, but believed in multiple gods, such as El and Yahweh. Of course, don't forget their consort, Asherah.

We learn that some parts of the Garden of Eden story are symbolic only, such as Eve being made from Adam's rib. Brigham Young also suggests that even the being born of the dust is symbolic, so there are things in the Bible that definitely are not accurate as to historicity. Adam and Eve are historical, according to LDS theology, but not all the stories about them are accurate.

Many of those stories from the Bible may have come via Sumerian stories. According to many scholars, much of the early Bible was not written down in the form we have, until the days of King Solomon and the Divided Kingdom (J and E). If that is the case, which I believe it is, then there is a great chance that many of the oral traditions were influenced by similar stories passed on by other nations, and were also affected by political views (Moses goes to Meribah twice to get water from a rock, once an angel stands on the rock and okays the effort, the other time the Lord chastises Moses for not giving Him the glory). J (tied to Jerusalem and the throne) wanted to make Aaron look good by diminishing Moses somewhat. Meanwhile, E was from the Northern Kingdom and sought to make Moses look good. Guess which Meribah story is tied to whom (J/E) in the Bible?

Interestingly, the BoM shows only the E version of Meribah, which ties it to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, as it should be. Here we then have a conflict as to which story is more accurate. The Redactor ®, Ezra, was unable to determine which story was more accurate, so he included both as if they were separate events. The same occurred with two Flood stories which are combined into one story. We even have two Creation stories (chapter 1 versus chapter 2). Either one is wrong, or both are wrong. Still, the symbolism is useful for teaching us about God.

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the scriptures do not teach history, they use events in history to teach gospel principles. The story of the creation was not written to teach how the earth came to be but rather to teach the plan of salvation. The author used history as an analogy to our salvation.

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I agree with all this.

At the same time, though, I also believe that they are stories about real people.

The symbolism and mythos is there. But so are the actual events.

Beowulf

So real people but not real events? is that what you are saying? Noah, but no boat with all the world's animals? Just wondering what you really mean. :P

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So real people but not real events? is that what you are saying? Noah, but no boat with all the world's animals? Just wondering what you really mean. :P

I would guess that he takes a "maximalist" view of the Bible not unlike Nibleys. For example, Nibley argued that the flood was local rather than global, which makes the story of the Ark somewhat more acceptable as historical. I personally side more with California Kid's view. The earlier traditions are much more abstract and appear to be taken from earlier traditions like Gilgamesh.

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So real people but not real events? is that what you are saying? Noah, but no boat with all the world's animals? Just wondering what you really mean. :P

I know you aren't asking me, but I would have to say (for me) Yes. Noah, as a prophet, who was trying to save his people, took the animals he would need after the flood, and his family and got on a boat he built; and all the world (as far as he was concerned) was flooded.

The lesson from the scriptures: If you follow the prophet, you will be saved both spiritually and temporally. If you don't, well, how long can you tread water.

All of the other details aren't really important. I personally can't take the story that literally:

  • Unless there was massive divine intervention, a boat of that dimensions wouldn't be able to hold together. There is a reason that no ships that size were ever built (again?) until the age of metal ships.
  • The logistics of caring for all of the animals that were supposedly on the ark doesn't work: Shem, you give them food, Ham, you give them water, and Japeth... well you know what to do.

As was stated earlier, one way to look at Genesis is using history to teach the plan of Salvation, not to look at it as a complete and accurate history.

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Could it be that the story is told in such a way as to teach a deeper meaning that just the surface story? And doing this all without being a myth?

I remember in high school english class where we were studying a novel. It was written with forshadowing, symbolic phrasing, metaphors and imagery. We were to take away from the novel more than just the story.

I actually believe the story of the creation to be fact as well as insightful and symbolic writings with a message on many levels for those who can dig and find these hidden nuggets of insightful knowlege.

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So real people but not real events? is that what you are saying? Noah, but no boat with all the world's animals? Just wondering what you really mean. :P

I know you aren't asking me, but I would have to say (for me) Yes. Noah, as a prophet, who was trying to save his people, took the animals he would need after the flood, and his family and got on a boat he built; and all the world (as far as he was concerned) was flooded.

The lesson from the scriptures: If you follow the prophet, you will be saved both spiritually and temporally. If you don't, well, how long can you tread water.

All of the other details aren't really important. I personally can't take the story that literally:

  • Unless there was massive divine intervention, a boat of that dimensions wouldn't be able to hold together. There is a reason that no ships that size were ever built (again?) until the age of metal ships.
  • The logistics of caring for all of the animals that were supposedly on the ark doesn't work: Shem, you give them food, Ham, you give them water, and Japeth... well you know what to do.

As was stated earlier, one way to look at Genesis is using history to teach the plan of Salvation, not to look at it as a complete and accurate history.

Just to assuage my ignorance where does it say Noah was a prophet?

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Real people, real events, the account is not a histical account. For example, I might go to a monster truck show with my son and that Sunday use this event as an example of some gospel principle. that recounting would not reflect the actual event because I would be leaving out significant details to teach a principle. I might say 'the trucks flew through the air' and 5 thousand years later a reader would think that I was talking about airplanes.

Adam was in the garden, but rather then nude, I prefer to translate the word as ignorant. The eating of the fruit represents puberty or coming of age. The garden represents our life at home as children. Eventualy we are mature and must move out on our own. Our loving parents will give us council and send us on our way to live by the sweat of our own brow. The story of Adam and Eve, to me, are a lesson on parenting, not on the formation of life on this planet.

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[Just to assuage my ignorance where does it say Noah was a prophet?

number 6 is a perfect fit, likewise # 1 and 2

prophet (from dictionary.com)

â??noun 1. a person who speaks for God or a deity, or by divine inspiration.

2. (in the Old Testament) a. a person chosen to speak for God and to guide the people of Israel: Moses was the greatest of Old Testament prophets.

b. (often initial capital letter) one of the Major or Minor Prophets.

c. one of a band of ecstatic visionaries claiming divine inspiration and, according to popular belief, possessing magical powers.

d. a person who practices divination.

3. one of a class of persons in the early church, next in order after the apostles, recognized as inspired to utter special revelations and predictions. 1 Cor. 12:28.

4. the Prophet, Muhammad, the founder of Islam.

5. a person regarded as, or claiming to be, an inspired teacher or leader.

6. a person who foretells or predicts what is to come: a weather prophet; prophets of doom.

7. a spokesperson of some doctrine, cause, or movement.

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[Just to assuage my ignorance where does it say Noah was a prophet?

number 6 is a perfect fit, likewise # 1 and 2

prophet (from dictionary.com)

â??noun 1. a person who speaks for God or a deity, or by divine inspiration.

2. (in the Old Testament) a. a person chosen to speak for God and to guide the people of Israel: Moses was the greatest of Old Testament prophets.

b. (often initial capital letter) one of the Major or Minor Prophets.

c. one of a band of ecstatic visionaries claiming divine inspiration and, according to popular belief, possessing magical powers.

d. a person who practices divination.

3. one of a class of persons in the early church, next in order after the apostles, recognized as inspired to utter special revelations and predictions. 1 Cor. 12:28.

4. the Prophet, Muhammad, the founder of Islam.

5. a person regarded as, or claiming to be, an inspired teacher or leader.

6. a person who foretells or predicts what is to come: a weather prophet; prophets of doom.

7. a spokesperson of some doctrine, cause, or movement.

I haven't any problems with the definition I am just wondering where the Genesis account calls Noah a prophet. He is called a perfect man, but a prophet?

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I think the Bible says he is, in sense of the 1st defenition listed.

I would buy that, but Israel had not yet begun. Certainly, Noah had some communication with God, but I doubt that we can qualify him as a prophet by any stretch of the imagination. In alternate accounts of the flood Noah has been called a king who was told by the water god, Ea/Enki to start building an ark because all life will be destroyed. Noah was called "perfect" which has a different meaning than it does today. It meant

  1. 1. complete, whole, entire, sound
    a. complete, whole, entire
    b. whole, sound, healthful
    c. complete, entire (of time)
    d. sound, wholesome, unimpaired, innocent, having integrity
    e. what is complete or entirely in accord with truth and fact (neuter adj/subst)
    A prophet is far different.
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