[b-hebrew] Mythology (Was: Nooo! Don't go!)

James Spinti JSpinti at Eisenbrauns.com
Wed Jul 21 09:03:28 EDT 2010


Arnaud,

What Barry is saying is technically correct among people who study
"mythology" and History of Religions. The popular mind equates mythology
with fiction, which is where the problem comes. I run into this all the
time. In the U.S. there are several very strong myths that we tell
ourselves, besides the Washington cherry tree incident. The Big Bang,
while a scientific statement, is actually a creation myth (don't start
an argument over whether it is true or not! That is not the point). 

Myths are very powerful, which is why they are used. If you follow
post-modernism, you might call them metanarratives. 

And now, perhaps some Hebrew :)

James
________________________________
James Spinti
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Specializing in Ancient Near Eastern and Biblical Studies
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-----Original Message-----
From: b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org
[mailto:b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of Barry
Sent: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 7:50 AM
To: b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] Nooo! Don't go!


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Arnaud Fournet" <fournet.arnaud at wanadoo.fr>
To: "Barry" <nebarry at verizon.net>; <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 4:23 AM
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] Nooo! Don't go!


> This strikes me as being a complete fallacy.

Good morning, as it is here, Arnaud.  Thanks for your response.  You
have 
precisely the reaction that many students give when faced with the 
assertion, which allows me to start quite a discussion on the subject.

> Evolution is about scientific knowledge. There are explicit criteria
to 
> know if something is scientific or not.
> And Evolution doubtless has nothing to do with "mythology" unless one
has 
> a very idiosyncratic and hyper-extensive approach of that word, which 
> would nearly amounts to equating any kind of knowledge with mythology.

Not at all.  A standard definition: " mythology, myths collectively; the

body of stories associated with a culture or institution or person..."

The Wikipedia article correctly points out:

The term mythology can refer to either the study of myths or a body of 
myths.[1] For example, comparative mythology is the study of connections

between myths from different cultures,[2] whereas Greek mythology is the

body of myths from ancient Greece. The term "myth" is often used 
colloquially to refer to a false story;[3][4] however, the academic use
of 
the term generally does not pass judgment on its truth or falsity.[4][5]
In 
the study of folklore, a myth is a symbolic narrative explaining how the

world and humankind came to be in their present form.[5][6][7] Many
scholars 
in other fields use the term "myth" in somewhat different ways.[7][8][9]
In 
a very broad sense, the word can refer to any traditional story.[10]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mythology

I would add to this the purpose that mythology serves in the culture --
it 
often has explanatory and didactic force.  George Washington chopped
down a 
cherry tree, a story now universally acknowledged to be a fiction, but
it 
was long believed, and even now, historians will say that it appears to
have 
captured nicely Washington's character.

> In all cases I tend to think that the word "mythology" is somewhat
flawed 
> from the start.
> This word is tainted by the Greek mythology and the major problem is
that 
> the Ancient Greeks no longer "believed in" their own "mythology" in
the 
> first place. They dealt with it as entertainment and moralistic fairy 
> tales.
> Normally we would expect people to believe in their own "myths" and
take 
> them in earnest, not to laugh at them. It should be a cultural given
with 
> an emotional and personal involvement.

This is a vast oversimplification, actually.  It is true that by the 
classical period, the philosophers and literrati are viewing myths in a
way 
closer to what we call metaphor, but that doesn't meant they don't
believe 
them.  Plato's philosophy is, in my opinion, impossible to understand
unless 
you see the mythological underpinnings. Cicero, in De Deorum Natura,
writes:

Velut in hac quaestione plerique, quod maxime veri simile est et quo
omnes 
duce natura venimus, deos esse dixerunt...

[Everyone should learn Latin.  No funny little letters]

"In the question now before us, the greater part of mankind have united
to 
acknowledge that which is most probable, and which we are all by nature
led 
to suppose, namely, that there are Gods."

Now, as to precisely what Cicero meant by this and how he incorporates 
"mythology," one must read the rest of the treatise.

You might also want to consider the ways in which classical mythology 
interacts with the mystery religions as they begin to pervade the 
Greco-Roman world, and the popularity of these religions, including 
Christianity, with their many mythic elements (some incorporated from 
"traditional" Greco-Roman religion, which is itself not necessarily the
same 
as the literary forms of the myths).  Particularly of interest is the
way in 
which non-Christian influenced gnosticism incorporates and expresses 
mythological elements.

> I don't know if there is another word that would not convey the
implicit 
> idea that it's just fake and absurd stuff that hangs in the distance.

By the standard definition(s) above, shared by most scholars of the
subject, 
evolution does fit the bill.  It is an integral part of the culture with

tremendous explanatory force.  It works its way into popular writing,
both 
fiction and fact.  It has largely the same function as myths have in any

culture.

Feel free to disagree.  While this has some impact on biblical studies,
of 
which Hebrew is a part, we should really get back to a discussion of the

language, so this will be my last post on the subject.

N.E. Barry Hofstetter
Classics and Bible Instructor, TAA
http://www.theamericanacademy.net
(2010 Savatori Excellence in Education Winner)
Mentor, TNARS
http://www.tnars.net

http://my.opera.com/barryhofstetter/blog
http://mysite.verizon.net/nebarry

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