When it comes to the Bible, there are two terms that are thrown around by non-believers, particularly sceptical atheists. Those two terms are: myth and legend. The unlearned will typically claim that the Bible is pure myth, whilst the more educated will claim that certain portions are myth (particularly Genesis) whilst the portions that purport to be historical are 'legendary'. However, how are these terms actually defined in critical Biblical scholarship? Whilst the term 'legend' is fairly well-understood, albeit perhaps not formally defined, the term 'myth' does not yet have a generally agreed upon definition. Now, in Biblical scholarship, the term 'legend', more particularly, 'legendary embellishment', usually refers to fictitious material that was added onto an account to give it more "flair". When critical scholars of a sceptical bent claim that certain events in the New Testament are 'legendary', what they mean is that that particular portion of the general account never occurred and was added in. These legendary embellishments can range from peripheral details of an account, to larger segments of purely fictitious narrative.
For instance, the first chief biography of George Washington contains a false account of his chopping down of a cherry tree. This is an example of the former category. Whereas an example of the latter category would be Philostratus' biography of Apollonius of Tyana. This account is almost entirely full of false reporting. Another term for this sort of account is 'hagiography', which was originally a term principally used to refer to Medieval accounts of past saints and is more widely being used to refer to accounts that are overly fanciful, inaccurate, etc.. More recently, historians have begun using the term 'hagiography' to refer to minor legendary embellishments, and even non-literal historical reporting, such as accounts that use exaggerated language. For example, many accounts of battles during the Crusades claim millions of casualties and reports of the siege of Jerusalem claimed that the streets ran red with blood that reached the bridle and reins of knights on horseback. No historian believes that this was literally the case, as it is recognised as clear exaggeration meant to highlight how brutal the battles were.
However, whilst there is generally broad agreement to the definition of the term 'legend' (as well as derivative terms, such as 'legendary' and the related term 'hagiography'), there is little agreement over what constitutes 'myth'. Rather than mull over various definitions, it might be more prudent and useful to rather look at some examples universally considered to be 'mythology'. The best examples of 'myth' are the epics, poems, and sagas of ancient civilisations, such as those from Greco-Roman and Ancient Near Eastern pagan religions. Works such as Enuma Elish, The Iliad, The Odyssey, or The Aeneid. However, I contend that these works are not too dissimilar to example of modern fiction, specifically fantasy and sci-fi literature with deeply fleshed out 'worlds'. Indeed, it is not uncommon to hear individuals refer to works of fiction with a shared continuity and universe as belonging to a 'mythos'. Such works often seek to expound on deep social, cultural, political, religious, theological, and philosophical questions. One point to make, however, is that a work need not have supernatural elements to be considered 'myth'. Nor does the inclusion of supernatural elements automatically make something 'myth'. To insist on such a criteria would simply be question begging.
There is a marked difference between myth and mere legend. It is hard to see where the difference lies, but I don't believe this prevents us from recognising the two. To say that we are incapable of identifying examples of things because the differences between them aren't easily defined is to commit the continuum fallacy, such as those employed in the Sorites paradoxes. A good example of this kind of fallacy is described by Richard Dawkins in his book The Greatest Show on Earth. Any genetic mutant will be sufficiently similar to its parents as to be virtually indistinguishable from its parent species. Yet we can nevertheless identify members of different species and genuses, and so forth. I don't know if this sheds any insight on how myths are created, however. Moreover, there is still room for debate; is poetry necessarily 'myth'? What of ancient genres such as wisdom and apocalyptic literature? That's not easy to tell. Hopefully, however, this does show that there is a difference between myth and legend.
Thursday, 23 March 2017
So, the subject of last night's youth/young adult service at Churchill Baptist last night was on the subject of testimony. One form of testimony mentioned was testimony of the way God has worked in our lives. Well, I thought I would list the ways in which God has worked in my life. However, I will start two generations back with my mother's mother. My grandmother survived two near-death encounters. In one case, her family decided against heading to the bomb shelter during an air raid during WWII and instead hid under the dining room table and layered mattresses around the edges. Well, a bomb struck nearby and shattered the glass in the windows... which were blown inwards and tore through the mattresses. Yet, these shards either failed to penetrate all of the way and/or missed the people hiding under the table. The second incident occurred when my great-grandfather had moved his family to Wales (again, during and just after WWII) and lived as a farmer. Well, one time, the farm's sow had recently given birth... in the middle of the only road to their farm. My great-grandfather and the other men were debating on how to handle the situation, since sows are notoriously aggressive after giving birth towards any perceived threat. Well, my grandmother didn't understand why the men were so apprehensive about trying to move the sow, and so walked right up to her and started poking the sow with a stick. However, instead of attacking my grandmother, the sow got up, and took her piglets with her.
My grandmother also went to Kenya and Lebanon on mission trips later on in her life. Well, this was during the end of the Lebanese civil war. My grandmother was with some Lebanese people when they were stopped by an individual whom my grandmother was informed was a member of the 'Syrian secret police'. Anyway, the locals were terrified of this man, and he demanded my grandmother's passport. She acquiesced, and the man, apparently satisfied, let them on their way. However, he pocketed the passport... which led to my grandmother to demand, very vocally, for her passport back (much to the horror of the locals she was with). However, he just gave the passport back and went on his way, much to the amazement of the locals. Whilst in Kenya, she was at an event where local Kenyans were being asked to step forward for prayer. A man stepped forward to my grandmother for prayer. When asked what was wrong, he simply told her that his 'eyes hurt'. After praying for this man, the fellow burst into tears. When my grandmother asked him what was wrong, he answered: "I can see!" The man had been blind, previously, yet now could see. Lastly, when at a prayer meeting in London, my grandmother began speaking in a language she could not understand. A woman nearby, however, understood what she was saying and informed her it was an obscure Russian dialect and that she had been praising God.
Both of my parents have survived near-death incidents. My mother was on a school trip somewhere, and the students were standing near a steep drop. The teacher, however, tripped and, as he fell, grabbed my mother's neck to break his fall. However, instead of falling off the edge with him, she successfully broke his fall. My mother also survived being thrown from a horse as a teenager. My father survived falling down a small cliff he had tried to climb as a child. My cousin, who was born a month after me, had the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck as she was being born. My grandmother was outside where my aunt was giving birth, praying. She heard an audible sound of angels wings, and my cousin was born without incident. I myself survived several near-death incidents. When I was 2, my father had taken my cousin and I to a park. As he was putting my cousin in a swing set I had become distracted by some model boats being piloted down a nearby river. I, for some reason, got it into my head that I wanted to ride one of the boats and so jumped in the river. By the time my dad noticed I was gone, he turned to see me already mid-dive into the river. Fortunately, a fellow nearby who saw me dive in was able to pull me out before I could drown.
I also survived cracking my skull open on a concrete step as a toddler, and have had several times where I was almost struck by motor vehicles, only to notice and jump backwards at the last possible second. When I was a child, I was prayed for at a Bible camp I attended regarding my asthma. Since then, I have never had to use an inhaler. When I attended middle school, I was bullied relentlessly by my history teacher, who had a profound hatred of children with special needs (I have Asperger's Syndrome and Dyspraxia). However, my interest in history was rekindled during high school. When I was in college (which, in the UK, in in between high school and regular university - since we finish mandatory schooling at 16), I came into contact with a number of dreadfully awful videos. First was the Richard Dawkins TV series 'The Root of All Evil?', then there was the abysmal and hopelessly inaccurate 'Zeitgeist', and then finally there was the historically illiterate 'The God who Wasn't There'. During this time I also befriended a girl in London who had recently returned to Christian faith, and who I would discuss these movies with.
Anyway, so, I decided I was going to write a book taking down the so-called 'New Atheists', and said friend suggested meeting up in London and going to the British Library to do research. However, afterwards, said 'friend' basically cut off all contact with me and accused me of 'stalking' etc., which led me to become rather depressed. It was also around this time that my dad had introduced me to the apologetics ministry of JP Holding, 'Tektonics Apologetics'. Well, JP Holding was a member of a theology forum called TheologyWeb, which I joined. At college, I had studied IT and then opted to study music instead of going to university right away. After my London venture fell through, I discovered that the University of Chichester offered a joint honours degree in Music and History. I applied and received an unconditional offer to become a student there. I did my dissertation on the resurrection of Jesus, and also went on to do my MA in Cultural History there. Anyway, during my study I did all the research for my 'book', which ended up becoming three books (all of which I have self-published finally on Amazon), and, during that time, I met my wife through TWeb and am now living in the United States as a legal permanent resident, where I am becoming involved in the youth ministry of a church here. So, a series of seemingly unrelated, disparate events led me to meeting my wife and moving to not just a new country, but a new continent, whilst simultaneously building up my apologetics skills and scholarly ability.
But wait, there's more! I have been struggling for years with a particular problem, as well as with depression and, more recently, extreme anxiety. Well, the youth pastor at the church I go has gotten me started on my way to recovery through said problems and my involvement in the church's youth services has greatly reduced my depression and anxiety. Moreover, one of the friends I made on TWeb is the son-in-law of Christian historian and apologist, Mike Licona. He invited my wife and I to their home in Georgia where I got to meet not just Mike himself, but his friends Gary Habermas and William Lane Craig. Moreover, said friend also introduced me to Gary Habermas' material on emotional doubt, which has also been instrumental in helping me get through my depression and anxiety. Incidentally, my battle with anxiety and depression has spurred me to go through a large number of books on certain subjects which has inspired one of my future book projects (amongst other things). This is where I am at now, so goodness knows what amazing things God has in store for me. Moreover, one of the key lessons I have learned is that God IS with us during our times of suffering and He IS subverting the evil of suffering and turning it to suit His will and purpose and, in turn, to strengthen us.