Thursday, September 29, 2011

Is Genesis Mythopoetic & Does it Matter?

 A challenge was issued to discuss the Mythopoetic nature of the first few chapters of Genesis. Below is my initial reaction to the discussion. Please feel free to leave comments below the post.

I, for one, will begin the discussion on the "Mytho-Poetic" nature of the scriptures with a definition and subsequent analysis. (Naturally, these are my opinions regarding what I understand of the topic.)

Taken from Merriam-Webster online
1 a : a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon b : parable, allegory
2 a : a popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone; especially : one embodying the ideals and institutions of a society or segment of society myth of individualism — Orde Coombs> b : an unfounded or false notion
3: a person or thing having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence
4: the whole body of myths

It is important that we clearly define what is meant by the term "Myth." I assume my audience is all Christian and as such, we base our belief on the scriptures that we are placing under this type of criticism. In no way are we suggesting that definition 2b or definition 3 are applicable to the beginning of Genesis. To do so would be to undermine the authority of the scriptures by saying that they are worthless fables at best and bold-faced lies at worst.

We can also strike definition 4 since that is too broad for our discussion. We are not discussing the validity of other creation myths, only whether the genesis as described in Genesis follows a Mythopoetic format.

Definition 2a comes closer to what is meant by this terminology. The Hebrews accepted this Creation Story as evidenced by the fact that it is included in their scriptures.They have traditionally held to this explanation of events for the origin of the world.

However, only definition 1a (and clarification 1b) serves true justice to the topic at hand. Truly, Genesis 1 does not begin with any disclaimer stating that it is a myth. What kind of myth does that? None! That would be poor story telling. Further, this creation story is not just a factual retelling of how things came about, it is intended to show a greater truth.

In Church Speak, we tend to use the words parable and allegory rather than myth. Who used the parabolic form most in scripture? The Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, he was the master story-teller of the entire Bible. He knew how to weave a story that is simple enough to teach children, yet deep enough to prick an adult heart. Was there really a vineyard? Perhaps. But did there need to be a vineyard for his parable to work? No.

As for the poetic nature of Genesis 1, the author (probably passed down orally) uses mnemonic cues to share the story. Repeated phrases like: "And God said," "Evening and morning were the __ day," "And God saw that it was good." These cues helped keep the poet on track when recounting the story. Hebrew poetry is traditionally dependent on repetition for art. Brother Steve has shared an essay on chiasmus which illustrates this point. Perhaps he has it on hand for those who have not read it yet.

As for the point of this story, I would have to break this Myth into two.
  1. The first Myth is from Gen.1:1-2:3. The point is that God orchestrated creation. We know one of God's characteristics to be that of a creative force. He is an artist who is separate from his artwork (eliminating pantheism). Any denial of God's active role in creation would be unchristian (obviously, the extent of said role is the issue in question).
  2. The point of the next story, which begins in Gen. 2:3 and ends (arguably) with the close of chapter 3 is God desires relationship. Here we have illustrated God placing man in a specific place, Adam's need for a help-meet, God walking with mankind, the broken relationship and God's promise of restoration. So while we have a creative God who is apart from His creation, this God also is intimately involved with his creation.
I would venture to say that the poetic form is much more beautiful, graceful and meaningful than what the process may look like on a calendar. The intent of scripture is to tell us about God in relation to man and vice-versa. By focusing on the truths within the story we gain more than just a cold set of facts. An allegory allows the passage to take on meaning beyond words on a page.
Christopher M. Jimenez. Powered by Blogger.

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