More on myth

My previous post generated a series of  hearty responses from Alan Lenzi (whom I am sorry to see will no longer be blogging). He has a number of good points which I do not have the time or desire to address individually, it has been a very busy week with another one starting tomorrow, but I followed up by asking him simply, “Do you consider “myth” as in some fundamental sense untrue?” His response was as follows.

Myth is paradigmatically true for those who have accepted it. It is both the model of some aspect of their communal flourishing and a model for its future perpetuation. And therein lies the dynamic.

(I added the emphasis.)

This is why although I certainly accept the term “myth” as a suitable literary description of Gen. 1-3 I do not use the term since, as Alan has affirmed, most understand that term is meaning that the text is fundamentally untrue. Saying that it is true “for those who have accepted it” while also rejecting explicitly or implicitly the truth that the text is conveying is simply condescending.


As I have said in my earlier posts I do believe that Genesis 1-3 are true on many, many levels. In so doing I realize that Alan and others may think that I have “unduly privileged the Bible,” which would be true if I were claiming to treat the Bible and Enuma Elish as the same. But I am not. So I do not use the term myth, not because I am mollycoddling my audience where I should be educating them, but because as defined I do not think the term applies.

Finally, Alan tried to make a comparison of the use of the term “myth” with that of “theology.”

Consider your use of “theology” with regard to rabbinic texts. It would be suspicious if you called rabbinic ideas about the deity “superstition” and reserved “theology” for only Christian texts. Rabbinic notions of the divine are theology for you, even if you don’t believe it all, because that is the label you use to mark out certain notions. And by doing so, you implicitly align your findings with and thereby participate in a broad, inter-cultural conversation about human thoughts through history of super-human entities. Likewise when I talk about the theology of enuma elish or whatever. If we reserved “theology” for only Christian theology (i.e., “true theology”), then we have failed as scholars to deal even-handedly with the data.

The fundamental difference here is that “theology” is a descriptive term, whereas “myth” has become freighted with judgment about the narrative under consideration. Theology is “the study of the nature of God and religious belief.” [mfn]New Oxford American Dictionary[/mfn] So we can talk about the study of any “theology” and that is a very different thing than “doing” theology. When we employ the term myth we are immediately placing upon the texts in consideration certain value judgments.

PS – Chris Heard of Higgaion recently suggested “cosmogeny” instead of myth. I think that could work. Any other suggestions?

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