The Bible: Fact, Myth or Both?

Have you noticed that there has been a recent surge of Bible based movies coming out? You’re not alone. According to this article (http://bit.ly/1fKlDuQ) there has been a rapid increase in the amount of movies made from Bible stories and that there are plenty more still to come. The article speaks of how Hollywood has always been attentive to specific interest groups, feminism or environmentalism for example, but has only just recently discovered the power of targeting the Christian viewership in America. The article also describes how Hollywood studios have targeted the pastors of large mega churches to endorse their movies in hopes that their multi-thousand congregation will respond by viewing the movie. Such was the case when Rev Billy Graham endorsed Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, which helped make it such a great success, and one of the first movies to show just how strong the audience for Bible movies is.

With all of this public interest surrounding Biblical stories it raises the classic question of, “Just how much fiction is there in the Bible?” Some theologians, such as Rudolph Bultmann have relied on a concept called demythology. This is a system of interpreting texts, specifically religious texts, that seeks to separate cosmological and historic claims from philosophical, ethical and theological teachings. In other words, it seeks to find what is fact, faction or metaphor. Many practicing Christians may (and do) take offence to the idea that the stories they have grown up with are considered to be myths. However, they can take comfort in the knowledge that not all myths are false. A useful definition for a myth is, “a story with culturally formative power that functions to direct life and thought.” In that definition there is nothing saying that the story must be false. In fact by this definition, many historical stories that are known to be true can be considered myths because of their ability to shape the way people think.

Based on that definition I believe that it is quite clear that many (if not all) of the Bible stories are myths, because of their culturally formative power. Most Christians will tell you that the Bible has had some amount of impact on the way they live their life. Take the story of Noah for example. The Bible says that God put a rainbow into the sky as a sign that He would never destroy the earth with water again. Many Christians believe that that is why we see a rainbow after it rains. The story of Noah has affected the way people think, therefore it is a myth.

With regards to whether or not these Bible stories are true or not, I believe that I am in the same camp as most North Americans, I do not know, but I am curious to find out. It is this curiosity that is feeding Hollywood’s production of these movies, as more and more Americans try to find out for themselves whether these myths are fact or fiction.

Tommy Douglas

#349

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One thought on “The Bible: Fact, Myth or Both?

  1. RELS 349
    ID: 10104212
    Identifier: 5leggedstarfish
    Response to: http://bit.ly/1ts8FWM

    I enjoyed reading your blog Tommy.

    However this was only possible, with you explicitly identifying the term ‘myth’ as “a story with culturally formative power that functions to direct life and thought”. In contrast, unfortunately it seems like the normative definition of the word myth is some sort of story that is deemed to be as false. Even upon searching up a common dictionary (not based on social science textbooks) it first defines it as: a traditional story. It then subsequently further attempts to define it as: a widely held but false belief or idea with bullet-points underneath explaining that a myth is a misinterpretation of the truth, a fictions or imaginary person or thing, an exaggerated or idealized conception of a person or a thing.

    Therefore, had you not clearly defined the word ‘myth’ by borrowing the definition from our Religious 349 class, and had you used the word ‘myth’ without religious and anthropological interpretations of that word, I would have absolutely stood against your argument, as I have showcased above there is ‘negativity’ revolving around this definition; accusation of a story as something being false. Whereby classifying religious doctrines according to the above description strictly implies that the religion is false and wrong. In another words, to say such is an offensive remark; an insult.

    Now, using the story of Noah in the Bible as an example to suggest that it “is a myth” showcases indirectly your assumption that the Bible in its entirety “is a myth”. I reckon that it is most likely that for people who adhere to this particular religion may find it rather offensive for the Bible to be identified as a myth. Nevertheless as you do, I also see a reasonable justification for why a bible— or any other type of religious doctrines— may be classified as a myth.

    As you mentioned, in Dr.Hexham’s class and his textbook myth is defined as “a story with culturally formative power that functions to direct life and thought”. There are two parts to this definition: what it is, and what it does. What myth is, is a story with culturally formative power. This in no way, shape, or form present the term ‘myth’ as something false but neither does it imply that a myth is true. The focus of this definition does not revolve around the hotly contested debate on whether the story is true or false. Rather it suggests that whether a certain myth be true or false, it empowers individuals. Furthermore, what myth does is that: it functions to direct life and thought— in another words it serves as a guide for people to move forward in their lives. When these two parts are taken in conjunction, a myth is: a story (regardless of it being true or not) that empowers individuals as it allows them to proceed with their everyday lives.

    The overall message that I am suggesting is that any religious doctrine can justifiably be defined or classified as a myth. Only if it is appropriately defined—“a story with culturally formative power that functions to direct life and thought”. The big picture I am portraying is that we should not waste time in investigating religious doctrines with goals to criticize and prove it false and wrong. What matters is that religious doctrines— myths— “enable people to make sense of their lives and their world (past and present) but also be used to direct them for the future” as Middleton denoted.

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