Moria Refugee Camp on Lesvos

Moria Refugee Camp on Lesvos
Moria Refugee Camp on Lesvos

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The nature of myth

‘I was reading a fascinating book on how the Bible may be read as Myth.’

‘Ha! I always told you it wasn’t true!’

The first speaker was me and the response was from one of my oldest friends. We were watching cricket, although that isn’t relevant. My question is whether his response necessarily follows on from my comment.

If something is myth, does that mean it isn’t true? Before you say, of course, the book I was reading could well provide something of an answer. It is called A Short History of Myth and is by Karen Armstrong, who, for thirty years, has been writing some very readable books on all kinds of religious subjects. The book, which was published in 2005, takes the reader through man’s relationship with myth from Palaeolithic times onward and how the telling of myth helped to make sense of what seemed a strange and often inhospitable world. She makes a great deal of the distinction between logical thought, largely the gift of Ancient Greece, and myth which is a product of the imagination, that part of the mind of which we are not conscious. She suggest that a myth is a story that surrounds an historical event in such a way that event the can come fresh with meaning to later generations. Some of her examples rest quite gently, whilst others shock. She speaks of the myth of the Exodus, the crossing of the Red Sea, and how it is retold year after year and how God’s saving hand thus becomes a reality to Jews. She uses similar language to talk of the Eucharist. Initially this jars, since she suggests that St Paul ‘transformed Jesus into a timeless, mythical hero who dies and is raised to new life.’ There is no sense in which she doubts the historical Jesus, she simply points to the stories and the actions that make Him a reality for us today. We know that the myth is true because we experience it.

I reach up as a massive six is hit into the crowd.

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