Friday, October 13, 2006

Does Bible Present Us With Myths? A Response to Peter Enns.

Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation
I am finally enjoying reading Peter Enns' book, Inspiration and Incarnation, about which I had a brief post earlier this fall. Prof. Chris Heard also has a review of Enns in his Higgaion blog. The book appears to be selling like hot-cakes (under 50,000 now in the Amazon rankings). Congratulations Peter!

Peter Enns raises core hermeneutic issues that all serious theological thinkers need to wrestle with, and it is well worth blogging on at least a few of them here.

Peter Enns has a very informed and very intelligent discussion in the first half of the book on the topic of the "Old Testament and Ancient Near Eastern Literature." He does a superb job of identifying why this topic constitutes a "problem." In fact the topic has been, and continues to be for many, wrought with pain.

I want to differ with Enns when he joins the majority guild opinion that we should understand chunks of Bible as Myth. On p. 53, Enns asks why the opening chapters of Genesis look so much like myth. His answer: Because they are myth. Many of his readers are shocked!

Enns writes, "Different cultures had different myths, but the point is that they all had them."

I would argue, in contrast to Enns, that Bible makes a critical appropriation of myth. Myth appears in Bible only in "broken," "demythologized," or "faded" form. To be sure, Bible uses mythic images to help convey deep truths, but incorporates them only with what Jacob Milgrom calls "clipped wings."

I know most of the guild will resist me on this tooth and nail, when I maintain that Bible lacks the genre "myth," but I am sticking to this assertion. One of the best books on this is still Brevard Childs, Myth and Reality in the Old Testament. I also have Hermann Gunkel and Gene Tucker on my side. For a good, brief summary of all of this, see Tucker's Form Criticism of the Old Testament, pp. 26-29.

But why does Bible keep mythology at arms length? Discussion to be continued...


Blogger Dr. Joseph Ray Cathey said...


You are in good company no matter what the guild says. As far as I can read the tea leaves, the old myth and ritual school is fastly fading. The Golden Baugh and other myth related works have faded from contemporary scholarship. If anything, I believe that modern scholarship is postulating just what you do in this post. Namely, that the Yahwist, and Elohist to be specific made use of old Canaanite myths and completely rewrote them with normative Yahwistic theology. In essence, as you said, they broke, demythologized, and distanced themselves from the old myths. I am particularly taken with both Kikawanda and Quinn (cf. Before Abraham was – The Unity of Genesis 1-11). Likewise, I am indebted to the older works of Speiser and Sarna's works. I believe that scholars that are truly interested in scholarship of the HB will bear out this criticism of the old mythos school.


Fri Oct 13, 08:42:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post is a real highlight of recent posts; and I eagerly await a fuller treatment in your blog.

Fri Oct 13, 12:22:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Joe & Larry,

Fri Oct 13, 02:29:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Fat Man said...

Depends on what you mean by "myth."

Wed Nov 01, 06:45:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Hi Robert. Thanks for this link---that's quite a wide-ranging and helpful survey. It's good to have it here for reference. I'm sure you've seen my subsequent post on this topic, where I move to discuss how biblical scholars such as Bultmann seem often to be going with such understandings of myth mentioned in your link as that of Malinowski, who sees all myths as charter myths, reinforcing social customs, and that of Lévi-Strauss, who sees the task of understanding myth as one and the same task as understanding the society in which it functions. Remember, in contrast to those who argue that the Bible presents us with myth in these senses of Malinowski and Levi-Strauss, I argue that Bible and Culture must be kept distinct! Peace, ---SLC

Wed Nov 01, 07:43:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Edwardtbabinski said...

Being a former inerrantist Christian, I had a lot of difficulty coming to terms with the primeval history chapters of Genesis. If there is no revealled historic truth in them, then we are left interpreting them in other ways, as sacred myths perhaps, but all mythical stories about origins can be interpreted in various ways, some flattering, some not so flattering. There are places in the primeval history portions of Genesis that don't seem very flattering or very ethical when interpreted in rational ways that are not driven by a desire to only see what's best in such stories. Therefore, when interpreted as sacred literature they may hold meaning for believers, but less than flattering questions and interpretations don't simply vanish as a result of seeking the most flattering possible interpretations. In the end, more questions remained for me than answers.

Tue Dec 19, 09:08:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Edward, if you read my posts on Bible and Myth carefully, you will see that I disagree with your premise that the Primeval History can be read as "sacred myths." I'm afraid also that I must heartily disagree with the false choice between modes of interpretation that you set up. I would strongly caution both against interpretations that are reductionistically "rationalist" and those that are "driven by a desire to only see what's best." What is needed, I would instead assert, is biblical interpretation that is serious, critical, heremeneutical, and theologically sensitive. That is the sort of interpretation that is attempted in this blog. I hope that if you spend some time reading here, you will become less disheartened about the Bible than you appear to be at present. Peace, ---SLC

Tue Dec 19, 10:08:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Edwardtbabinski said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Wed Feb 28, 05:04:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Edwardtbabinski said...

Dr. Cook: "What is needed, I would instead assert, is biblical interpretation that is serious, critical, heremeneutical, and theologically sensitive."

Ed's reply: We do not disagree that both "serious" and "critical" studies are required in order to understand the Primeval History chapters of Genesis. I also agree that to a degree we can even be "sensitive" to whatever were the orignal "theological" leanings of the author of those portions of Genesis (chapters 1-11). (I am supposing that is what you meant by being "theologically sensitive.")

However, the stories themselves also contain elements of ancient mythological notions, and also contain less than flattering notions concerning "god" and as such you are stuck with the good, the bad, and the silly. Recognizing such, I decided to leave the Christian fold. Speaking again of "theology," I no longer believe that a "systemtic theology" exists than can convincingly reconcile all the views found in all the different books of the Bible.

Lastly, stories such as are found in the "primeval mythical history" portion of Genesis 1-11, can be interpreted in different literary, theological and philosophical ways, including ways that raise unflattering questions concerning the so-called "deity" they depict. (Just listen or read Bill Moyers's PBS interviews with a variety of scholars on Genesis. But that program and the interpretations discussed therein only scratch the surface.)

Wed Feb 28, 05:11:00 PM GMT-5  

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