The Bible as Myth. Can the Bible survive modernity?

I am not a Biblical scholar and in many ways I am astoundingly ignorant about the specifics of the Bible. Having said this, however, it seems that every few months or so I am reading about some new anthropological / historical discovery that more or less contradicts or otherwise impugns (or claims to at least) the historical accuracy of the Bible’s Old and New Testament versions of history. I know Biblical scholars have dealt with this and other contradictions for some time and have a fairly “sophisticated” view of the entire Bible as history that allows for a great deal of leeway in accuracy so long as the “big picture” issues remain intact.

Out of curiosity though, I do wonder how long an accepted view of the world is going to maintain itself as a cogent system of faith while the historical under pinnings the faith is founded on are slowly revealed to be about as accurate and fanciful as a Marvel comic book of the ancient world. Isn’t there a limit to how how far you can stretch the limits of “sophistication”, regarding how faithful one can be, if your system of belief is eventually revealed to be 90% constructed myth?

Mods, I wanted this to be a IMHO type question but if this turns into an instant GD please move it there post haste.

I can already tell you that this belongs to Great Debates. I can’t see this developing into a calm discussion.

Disclaimer: The vast majority of this is personal opinion

I’ll try to handle this one intelligently but I’m not making any guarentees.

First off you have to get an understanding of the term myth. Well then what is a myth exactly? It’s a story passed down generation by generation to others for some benefit. Whether it be that it’s a moral benefit (i.e. good vs. bad) or a social benefit (learning how to live with others). Now that we’ve got the term myth defined we can cover some others points about it. A myth is usually based on some fact. So with that given so far it doesn’t seem like disproving everything in the Bible will make people think OH GOD MY RELIGION HAS FAILED ME! Instead they should rationally think that it doesn’t matter if my religion is based on a falsehood as long as I can gain values from it and I realize that just because the book is proven wrong that it doesn’t necessarily mean my idealogy is wrong.

On to another point I can begin to talk about certain parts of the Bible seeming false whether you believe they are is up to you. Jesus himself fits the typical role of the hero archetype nearly perfectly. The only problem is this archetype is 23 steps long and is VERY difficult for any actual being (deceased or alive) to fit into. Some other gods that fit this archetype are Zeus, Quetzacoatl, and Izanami. Some non godlike figures that fit into this stereotype, if you will consider it that, are King Arthur, Lancelot, and Odyseus (sp?). Granted that doesn’t sound like too good a company to keep if you wanted to prove your existence, although think of it what you will it’s merely a stereotype and does not mean that the person (if qualified by these steps) is in fact non-existent.

So right there we have incriminating evidence that puts a fair amount of the Bible in the myth category. Now the thing is does it matter if the Bible is based on falsehoods (some may say lies but I believe that to be too harsh a term)? Or should we just take the messages of good out of it and say to heck with it being real or not? I think if eventually the Bible is proven to be completely false it will calse alot of turmoil and trouble within it’s own community. But I think that if everyone does band together and gets the message out of the Bible (i.e. the really important part) then it does not really matter whether it be true, false, based on a real person, or based on someone from Mars for that matter.

All I’m saying is either way it doesn’t matter to me which ever way they prove it. I know there is alot of good to come from it if you read it and understand it.

(Wow I never though taking 2 Classic Culture classes dealing with Religion, Myths, and other tales would come in so handy. I guess this college book learning is a good thing after all)

Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong wrote a book on this subject that you might be interested in reading, called Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism. His idea is that the Bible can only survive if the literalism gives way to thoughtful interpretation of messages and themes (like Tiki was talking about). Interesting read.

It all depends on what the definition of is… is.

Really, even of we go back to the most primitive times, things in the Bible were easy to disprove as “factually incorrect.” I mean, ever heard a snake talk?

But spirituality will always find a way to prevail because no matter how many times modernity manages to answer a “how,” it can never answer the untilate “Why?” that mankind always craves.

And you might think that Fundamentalist views of the text would become less popular with modernity, as evidenced by your OP?

Well, read the excellent The Battle For God by Karen Armstrong. This book makes the case that modernity brings out fundamentalist movements (and has in the three prominent monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam) because advancing modernity is a frightening thing to many people. She points out events which coincide with the rise of fundamentalist movements from ancient to very modern times, and also shows how in societies where modernity was embraced to the point where spirituality was marginalized or even removed entirely, that those cultures enevitably suffered because (to paraphrase) people ceased to care anymore.

I have recommended this great book numerous times on this board, but in reading the OP, I think it would do the best to answer those thoughts than any other time I’ve brought it up.

Buy it immediately…

Tell you what, guy, Why don’t you tell us some historical Biblical things that happened post- hmm, say 900BC- that have been proved a “myth”? That is some 2/3rds of the Bible- and is most of the stuff that happened within the era of good archeological evidence. (Before that- archeological evidence is very scanty in the Holy land). Or- is all this based on “something I read somewhere”?

** Daniel ** is right, a lot of the general history of the Bible is fairly historically accurate starting around when King David enters the picture. From there it talks of various things, including the Maccabbee uprising against the Greeks (in the Catholic version, anyways).

However, the Bible isn’t a literal history nor is it meant to be taken literally. The important thing is the lessons and guidelines it offers for living a virtuous and good life, at least from the Christian point of view, so I don’t think that any inconsistencies between what the Bible says and what archaelogical evidence says will matter a whole lot.

The time frame is irrelevant. Furthermore, there is much of the New Testament that, while emotions run high, cannot be substaniated.

There are two different stories of Jesus’ birth. The accounts in Matthew and Luke cannot both possibly be true.

Jesus’ geneology given in Matthew and Luke are not the same. Which is correct?

Jesus himself could quite possibly be a mythological figure. Consider the writing of Josephus. Josephus writes almost nothing about the figure of Jesus, yet goes on for pages on John the Baptist.

I seriously doubt the Sanhedrian would be meeting on Passover. I’m not Jewish, but wouldn’t that violate some Passover rules?

I could go on, but I don’t have time. I recommend the book, Putting Away Childish Things, for a thorough look at myths in the New Testament.

Well, yes, most Christian sects recognize that there are inconsistencies. But that happens when things are passed down orally for 70 to 100 years before being written down. Also, different Gospels look at different aspects of Jesus life. For instance, the book of John focuses mostly on the divine nature of Jesus.

Also, different Gospels were written with different populations in mind. For instance, one of the Gospels (I can’t remember which is which, I’ll have to look this up) is written for a mainly Greek audience, another for a mainly Jewish audience, etc., etc.

I realize this really hasn’t much to do with a literal history of the New Testament, but really, most Christians don’t go to their Bibles for a history lesson. They go there to seek guidance. That is what you are supposed to get out of the Gospels, an example of how to live and what a good Christian should be doing, and that was the point of my earlier statements.

By the by, another myth is that the Pharisees were bad. In reality, they would likely have had no real problem to Jesus’ teachings, as they corresponded quite a bit with their own.

But they loved money. They didn’t like the same aspects of Jesus’s teachings 99% of people who call themselves Christians don’t like today. Do you have any evidence they taught what he taught?

Well there’s this from Salon re recent archeological discoveries.

"King David was a nebbish
And Exodus never happened and the walls of Jericho did not come a-tumbling down. How archaeologists are shaking Israel to its biblical foundations.

By Laura Miller

small part of article below

““The Bible Unearthed” is the latest salvo fired in a pitched battle between those who consider the Old Testament to contain plenty of reliable historical facts, and those who, at the opposite extreme, say it’s pure mythology. The debate reached the general population of Israel, sending what one journalist called a “shiver” down the nation’s “collective spine,” in late 1999, when another archaeologist from Tel Aviv University, Ze’ev Herzog, wrote a cover story for the weekend magazine of the national daily newspaper, Ha’aretz. In the essay, Herzog laid out many of the theories Finkelstein and Silberman present in their book: “the Israelites were never in Egypt, did not wander in the desert, did not conquer the land [of Canaan] in a military campaign and did not pass it on to the twelve tribes of Israel. Perhaps even harder to swallow is the fact that the united kingdom of David and Solomon, described in the Bible as a regional power, was at most a small tribal kingdom.” The new theories envision this modest chiefdom as based in a Jerusalem that was essentially a cow town, not the glorious capital of an empire.”

**jmullaney **

Well, I was actually referring to some of their broader teachings, I would imagine that they might have a problem with Jesus’ claim that He was the son of God.

But yes, the Pharisees were the first Jewish group to begin talking about life after death, and the transcendence of the soul. They also taught that, while the Temple is certainly important, it wasn’t necessary for that to be the only place that a person could sacrifice and all that fun stuff. Which is why the Sadduccees weren’t fond of them, either. Most of Jesus teachings (aside from the son of God thing) correspond quite nicely with the teachings of the Pharisees.

Give me some time to root around my old religion textbooks under my bed and I’ll try and come up with some specific cites.

astro you have to keep in mind that the OT was written by the Hebrews, and like most people of the era, had a tendency to fiddle with the facts a bit, much like most American history textbooks have a nice positive spin to them. For instance, I was watching the History Channel or A&E the other day and they were talking about the Philistines. While it is generally accepted that the Philistines were in the area around when the Bible says they were and that the Hebrews probably fought them a time or two, they certainly weren’t the artless barbarians that the Hebrews portray them as in the Bible.

So, I suppose one can excuse the Hebrews for exaggerating the importance of their beloved capital. :smiley: They were only human after all.

Here is another review to go along with Astro’s Salon magazine review. This is evidently very controversial to many people, expecially those dedicated zealots who were busy using their trowels to locate the last position of Noah’s Ark.

I, for one, have no illusions that this research will suddenly change anything. I have watched Mormons become more devout in the face of ever-diminishing hopes of validating the Book of Mormon through archaeology. I conclude that they are just waiting for another, more credible, religious movement to join.

What part of “post 900BC” did you not understand? Pre 900BC the archeological evidence is very scanty- it will be very hard to prove anything- pro or con. So show me: that a good part of the Post 900 BC HISTORY in the Bible has been shown to be false or mythological. Heck- show me ONE important later historical item that has been proved false. All that stuff you posted is Pre-900, and just educated guesses.

Homebrew- I asked for “HISTORY that has been PROVED a MYTH”- not inconsistancies in the text. The OP postulates that the History in the Bible has nearly all been shown to be a myth by recent archeological discoveries. I want to see what “archeological discoveries” has shown the Post Solomon history to be a myth.

They didn’t teach how to enter the kingdom of heaven, nor did they enter themselves, and they tried to stop people from entering it. See Matthew 23. Their way of life was most certaintly not holy. And they were rather upset at Jesus for pointing this out.

Well, Jonah is traditionally identified with a historical figure of that name who lived around 785 B.C.E.; however, the Book of Jonah is blatantly mythical from start to finish. Admittedly, Jonah’s only a “minor prophet”, so perhaps that doesn’t count as an important historical item.

As to a broader point: What “good things” does everyone think we should take from the Bible, assuming we all agree that it’s a “myth”, in the various senses of the word? The Golden Rule? Total non-resistance to evil? The complete rejection of material goods and worldly ties, including family and friends? That men should be the heads of their families? The universal brotherhood of all people? A belief that everyone who rejects Christ as savior is eternally doomed?

Ok, ** jmullaney ** what are you basing this assertion on, other than Biblical references? So far, I have provided a bit of independent research to assert my opinions, you have not. Unless you are saying that they didn’t show them how to get into heaven because they didn’t teach people to accept Jesus into your heart. That is the only way that your argument has any merit.

Second, apparently the Pharisees DID teach them how to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, look at Matthew 23:3 where he tells his disciples to obey the teachings of the Pharisees. So why would Jesus tell his followers to obey the words and teachings of men who locked the gate so others aren’t able to go in like it says in 23:13. There’s a contradiction there. It’s obvious which passage you have chosen to accept, but who’s to say that the first passage I cited has more weight to it?

Danielinthewolvesden, per your apparently aggrieved tone please realize I do not have a dog in this fight. I was asking for information on the reconciliation of the the mythic parts of the bible with the day to day reality of maintaining faith as the historical representations of the bible diverge from the increasing body of archeological data. I have gotten several good answers, including yours. In referencing the article I was not keeping track of the specific timeline it referred to, so I do beg your pardon re the “post 900 BC” requirement you posited.

With respect to your request for post 900 BC info re inaccuracies I did a google search and, ironically, per your request for new testament historical inaccuracies here is a discussion of same by what appears to be a site promoting Biblical Judiasm.

small part of article below
The Four Gospels, it is claimed, were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, two of them apostles, and two companions of the apostles of Christ. I wish that were true, but it is not. If this claim be true the other writings of the apostles, the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, and the writings of the early Christian Fathers, ought to contain some evidences of the fact. We will see shortly that the silence of such writers is quite troublesome to the early dating of such documents. This means that they did not exist at such times and it would have been impossible for the actual apostles of Yeshua to have been their authors.

Twenty books—nearly all of the remaining books of the New Testament—are said to have been written by the three apostles, Peter, John, and Paul, a portion of them after the first three Gospels were written; but it is admitted that they contain no evidence whatever of the existence of these Gospels.

There are extant writings accredited to the Apostolic Fathers, Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Hermas, Ignatius, and Polycarp; written, for the most part, early in the second century. These writings contain no mention of the Four Gospels. This also is admitted by Christian scholars. Dr. Dodwell says: “We have at this day certain most authentic ecclesiastical writers of the times, as Clemens Romanus, Barnabas, Hermas, Ignatius, and Polycarp, who wrote in the order wherein I have named them, and after all the writers of the New Testament. But in Hermas you will not find one passage or any mention of the New Testament, nor in all the rest is any one of the Evangelists named” (Dissertations upon Irenaeus).
"The First Epistle of Peter and the First Epistle of John have generally been accorded a higher degree of authority than the others; but even these were not written by apostles, nor in the first century. Dr. Soury says that First Peter “dates, in all probability, from the year 130 A D., at the earliest” (Jesus and the Gospels, p. 32). Irenaeus, the founder of the New Testament canon, rejected it. The Dutch critics, who deny the Johannine authorship of the Fourth Gospel, and assign its composition to the second century, say “The First Epistle of John soon issued from the same school in imitation of the Gospel” (Bible for Learners, Vol. m, p. 692).

Second Peter is a forgery. Westcott says there is no proof of its existence prior to 170 A.D. Smith’s Bible Dictionary says, “Many reject the epistle as altogether spurious.” The brief epistles of Second and Third John are anonymous and of very late origin. They do not purport to be the writings of John. The superscriptions declare them to be from an elder, and this precludes the claim that they are from an apostle. The early Fathers ignored them. Revelation is the only book in the Bible which claims to be the word of God. At the same time it is the book of which Christians have always been the most suspicious. It is addressed to the seven churches of Asia, but the seven churches of Asia rejected it. Concerning the attitude of ancient churchmen toward it, Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria, says: “Divers of our predecessors have wholly refused and rejected this book, and by discussing the several parts thereof have found it obscure and void of reason and the title forged.”

Ah, here we are. Philo Judaeus gave three levels of interpretation for holy scripture:[list=1]
[li]Historical Level- The lowest level of interpretation, what we’re debating about here. There was a flood. Only Noah, his family, and the animals they resuced escaped.[/li][li]Moral Level- Looking deeper into what the story is trying to tell us to do. Don’t be a sinner. Or else.[/li][li]Spiritual Level- The deepest level, looking past the words into the inner, transcendental truths the deity is trying to relate through the tale. Although God will impose consequences for sin, ultimately He loves His creation and will never wipe it out in totality. There will always be an “ark”.[/li][/list=1]
The Jews knew of this theory, and used it when writing their history.

The historical level is being blown to hell. So be it, that’s the most superficial level anyway. The “truth” of the tale lies much, much, deeper. So maybe there wasn’t a snake (if I may torture another parable), but at some point humanity crossed a boundary where they became cognizant of good and evil, and we’ve been struggling with it since. The New Testament is explicit in its use of parable! Was there ever a Good Samaritan, or a Prodigal Son? Does t really matter? They’re tools that Jesus (or the Gosplers, if you prefer) used to make a point. It’s that point that should be debated.

Another thing to reemember is that the practice of writing down events as they actually happened was still in its infancy at the time of the New Testament, never mind the Old. The tales of the past were for entertainment and for the lessons that could be passed down from generation to generation. “Facts”, in the sense that a modern day chronicler or historian would record, were not as important.

Bravo ** menocchio ** So basically, what astro and MEBuckner call myths, one might also call parables. Slight difference in connotation between the two.

So, when looking at the Bible as a series of parables, one could make the argument that that is where the importance lies. If this is true, then historical inaccuracies don’t really matter, since the history of the Bible is not what is important.

As for what lessons we should take from the Bible? What’s wrong with universal brotherhood? What’s wrong with not being so material? What’s wrong with striving to do the right thing, even if it means that you alienate some people who you thought were your friends?