Myth Versus Theology!
In this post, I want to try to talk in general about the nature of myth. Indeed, I want to attempt some theological talk about myth as a category of interpretation of the Bible. (This will be tough going, but bear with me---it's important.)
Why does a theological exegesis of the Bible almost instinctively step back from interpreting the Bible as myth? There are two common but wrong answers. (1) Many say that it is just because lay definitions of myth are not critical enough. All would be well with using the term "myth" if we could simply avoid defining myths as misguided explanations about reality. Simply using a more critical definition would clear the way for acceptable talk about the Bible as myth. (2) Others (e.g., Robert Oden) often say that most all the nervousness about myth comes from a misguided assumption that the importance of the Bible lies in its uniqueness. To avoid speaking of myth in Bible for that reason is silly, because it's impossible and naive to think of Bible and its cultural surroundings as discontinuous with each other. I am willing to grant that there is some truth to these two common apologies for myth. However, they have nothing to do with my qualms about granting that the Bible presents us with myths.
Neither of these points, I hold, really gets to the bottom of the theological problem with myth. I would be fine if Myth just meant "truth in poetic form," but Myth is much more pernicious than that! Myth, at least as Rudolf Bultmann understood it, is a culture's projection of itself. Myth is the way that a human culture objectifies and symbolizes its (outdated!; primitive?) worldview as a whole. Since our modern worldview is radically different from the ancient Israelite one, myth is what has to be deconstructed before anything in Bible becomes applicable for the here and now. If this is what myth is (and I believe Bultmann is simply accepting what modern secular anthropology is telling him), then we need to pause and consider if we really want to characterize key parts of Bible as mythic in essence.
This definition subsumes "myth" within the category of culture and history-of-religions, not the category of kerygma and theology. Myth is what is human, cultural, and anthropological. It is not that which conveys kerygma / Word / witness. In fact, myth is what must be demythologized in order to get theological truth from the Bible, since it is not itself a possible bearer of God's word. I see Bible having theological force to temper and critique the religion and culture around it. Thus, I do not identify Bible with simple cultural expression. Rather, I perceive that it has (relative) "critical distance"; it does not merely offer us the symbols that support the culture of its milieu.
It is too widespread an assumption, I assert, that Bible and Israelite religious culture are one and the same.