Of Myth and the Bible – Part 2: Modern Cultural Imperialism

Facebook

MythStatues

In the last post, I looked at the most famous Biblical genealogy of Jesus Christ to prove that the Biblical notion of history is always very literary, but not always very literal. We must understand the Bible in its own ancient Near Eastern context, in the perspective of the original writers and readers to whom the text was given.

I believe that the Bible is God’s Word and as such, it is breathed out of God through the writings of men inspired by the Holy Spirit. So, while the Biblical writers are very human and therefore very much creatures of their time and culture, there is also another author who is operating providentially behind the writing of the text to communicate transcendent truth, and that is the author and finisher of our faith, God Himself.

How He actually does this, I am not sure, but the divine authorship does not reduce the human authorship to dictation or automatic writing. God uses the genre conventions and mindset of the ancient time period within which to communicate His transcendent truth.

This is what is called “accommodation” by theologians. In the same way that Jesus Christ is God incarnate within human flesh, so the Scriptures are God’s message incarnate within human writings of the ancient Jewish world. A major part of that Jewish worldview was the special calling of a nation out of the nations of the earth to be His own people. God does separate Himself from the gods of the pagans, but at the same time, he utilizes much of the mythopoeic imagination that Israel shared with its pagan neighbors to communicate that separation (I will give examples of this in upcoming posts – fun, fun, fun!).

Ad300x250-WordPicturesOne of the complaints of Christian theologians and apologists about the use of imagination and poetics in articulating or defending the faith is that it tends to lack the clarity of logical argumentation and rational discourse. They claim the fuzziness and ambiguity of images, stories, metaphors and symbols tend to obscure or dilute the message of the Gospel. My book Word Pictures: Knowing God Through Story and Imagination deconstructs this rationalistic modernist fallacy as unbiblical. God uses so much imagery, symbolism, metaphor and poetic figurative language throughout the Scriptures (about 80% of the Bible) that one could even say he prefers it to abstract logical propositions (about 20% of the Bible).

Jesus is famous — or should I say infamous — for using parables to teach about the Kingdom of God instead of rational sermons of doctrinal exposition. Ironically, He quotes the Old Testament as explanation for why He used such fuzzy ambiguity in His parables:

Matthew 13:10–17
Then the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And He answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”

The use of parables by Jesus had the two-fold purpose of revealing the truth to those who were repentant and therefore had “ears to hear,” while concealing truth from those who were unrepentant in rejecting him. Imagination was used to separate those who would “get it” from those who didn’t want to get it.

But the parables used the commonly understood terms of the ancient Jewish agrarian culture: wheat and chaff, farmers and fishermen, kings and servants. God accommodated his message through the thought forms of that time.

The problem for some is that the Bible also refers to other ancient mythical constructs like sea dragons, satyrs, and sphinxes (of which, we will discuss in upcoming posts). The list of people who do not “get it” include those who see such mythopoeic imagery in the Bible and say, “See! The Bible contains foolish antiquated myths and is therefore irrelevant to our brilliant godlike modern minds that finally perceive the true nature of reality.” This hubris is called “demythologization.” It is the attempt to discredit the Bible by reducing it to ignorant mythological thought. It amounts to cultural imperialism, the arrogant exaltation of the modern naturalistic worldview as superior to the ancients. And it completely misses God’s message. It is that blindness that Jesus spoke about.

As John Calvin wrote of “anthropomorphites” who try to demythologize the Bible:

The Anthropomorphites also, who imagined God to be corporeal, because the Scripture frequently ascribes to him a mouth, ears, eyes, hands, and feet, are easily refuted. (For who, even of the meanest capacity, understands not, that God lisps, as it were, with us, just as nurses are accustomed to speak to infants? Wherefore, such forms of expression do not clearly explain the nature of God, but accommodate the knowledge of him to our narrow capacity; to accomplish which, the Scripture must necessarily descend far below the height of his majesty.
(Institutes of the Christian Religion, I, xiii)

So God “lowers” himself, if you will, to the understanding of those he is communicating to. This makes sense as being the most effective means, since ancient Near Eastern minds were steeped in very common images, symbols, and other thought forms. I will address some examples of ancient Near Eastern imagination redeemed by God’s mythopoeic accommodation in the next few posts.

And you just won’t understand it if you’re unimaginative. You’ll be one of those blind dullards Jesus and Isaiah talked about. So open up your imagination a little.

MythReleaseBanner

Of Myth and the Bible – Part 1: The Lie of Modern History

Facebook

LionCherubim

Whenever I consider that I have something important to say about faith, imagination, and/or apologetics, I usually discover that C.S. Lewis has already said it long before I could, and he has said it better than I will. True to form, the title of my book Myth Became Fact, is actually the title of a famous essay by the late Lewis that describes the heart of Christianity as a myth that is also a fact. He comforts the fearful modernist Christian whose faith in the Bible as a book of doctrine and abstract propositions is suddenly upset by the frightful reality of the interaction of holy writ with legend, pagan parallels, and mythology.

Rather than deny the ancient mythopoeic nature of God’s Word as modern Evangelicals tend to do, Lewis embraced it as a reflection of God’s preferred choice of concrete communication over abstraction (the worshipped discourse of the modernist). He understood myth to be the truth embedded into the creation by the Creator in such a way that even pagans would reflect some elements of that truth. Thus, when God Himself incarnates truth into history in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it is no surprise that it takes on mythopoeic dimensions reflected in previous pagan notions of dying and rising gods.

He concludes his essay with these memorable words:

We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology. We must not be nervous about “parallels” and “pagan Christs” — they ought to be there — it would be a stumbling block if they weren’t. We must not, in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome. If God chooses to be mythopoeic — and is not the sky itself a myth — shall we refuse to be mythopathic? For this is the marriage of heaven and earth: perfect myth and perfect fact: claiming not only our love and our obedience, but also our wonder and delight, addressed to the savage, the child, and the poet in each one of us no less than to the moralist, the scholar, and the philosopher.[1]

Now, any Christian post that uses the word “myth” in its title and attempts to address this concept in a Biblical context had better define some terms, because a common reaction of many Christians is often one of mistrust. In their minds, “myth” means “false,” and since the Word of God can never be false, the category of myth is anathema in relation to the Bible.

But this is not an accurate assessment of the varied understandings of myth. Because of a modernist bias of anti-supernaturalism, some scholars define myth as “a necessary and universal form of expression within the early stage of man’s intellectual development, in which unexplainable events were attributed to the direct intervention of the gods.”[2] In some critical and liberal quarters of theology, this connotation has stuck to the meaning of myth and certainly warrants critique in light of its prejudicial definition that assumes a materialist universe without supernatural agents.

But a more specific and recent definition of myth is appropriate to our discussion. In this sense, myths are, as Northrop Frye has explained, “stories that tell a society what is important for it to know, whether about its gods, its history, its laws, or its structures.”[3] In this sense, mythical stories, whether historically factual or fictional, do the same thing; they reveal true transcendent meaning. By this definition, calling the Bible mythical in some of its characteristics or imagery is not to jeopardize its historical claims. In fact, the Bible often claims to reveal the unseen transcendent meaning and purposes behind imminent historical events. Thus, Lewis’ phrase, “myth became fact.”

The problem comes when Christians seek to protect the Bible’s reliability by demanding it be “historical” or “factually accurate” according to modern definitions of history writing and factual reporting or observation. They conclude that if the Bible is not accurate according to the “plain reading” of the text, then it cannot be relied upon to be truthful about the more important issues of God and salvation.

Let the reader be careful to note that I did not deny the historicity of the Bible, but I did make a distinction between our modern notion of what constitutes historical writing (historiography) and the ancient’s notion of what constituted historical writing. For us to demand that the Biblical text be scientifically or historically “accurate” as we define those terms is not a high view of Scripture, it is a low view of Scripture. It is in fact imposing our own prejudices upon the text by refusing to understand it within its context. This is called cultural imperialism and it is the height of hubris, or human pride.

One example of this kind of modern hubris in defining history can be found in the notion of genealogies. In the Bible, genealogies are often used as apologetic tools to prove chosen lineage. The modern notion of historical precision and chronological accuracy is not always a part of the Biblical understanding of genealogy that prioritizes theological truth over historical veracity. The genealogical formula of Genesis, “X is the son of Y” that once was interpreted as the “plain reading” of literal sons is now universally acknowledged to involve historical gaps which renders the term “son of” as often figurative and not literal. “X is the son of Y” often means, “X is a descendent of Y.” This is not liberal denigration of the Bible, it is the Bible’s own context of meaning when it comes to genealogies.

The most important genealogy to Christians is of course that of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and “Son of David.” In Matthew chapter 1, Matthew details Christ’s genealogy and concludes, “So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations” (1:17). So Matthew uses Christ’s genealogy as an apologetic by exegeting the symbolic number of 14 as being historically symmetrical in the lineage. There’s only one problem: It’s not “historically accurate” — at least by our definition of history. And it is the Bible itself that proves this, not liberal theology.

As Bible commentator Craig Blomberg explains,

The actual number of generations in the three parts to the genealogy are thirteen, fourteen, and thirteen, respectively… When one compares the genealogy with Luke’s account (Luke 3:23–37) and with various Old Testament narratives, it is clear that Matthew has omitted several names to achieve this literary symmetry.[4]

As Blomberg hints at, Luke’s generations that match up with those Matthean segments are even more off the 14/14/14 mark. His are 14/21/21!

Hyper-literalists beware: the Bible itself shows us that Biblical genealogies are not always historically accurate by our modern definitions of history (which actually operate upon false naturalistic presuppositions and false notions of objectivity). They are first and foremost theological in their interpretation and only secondarily are they historical. I call this the difference between literal and literary. Genealogies are often more literary than literal.

So to suggest that the way the Bible treats history sometimes includes figurative or mythopoeic dimensions that are not “historically accurate” or precise by our reckoning is not liberal subterfuge but Biblical fidelity. I will show later that their historical writing also involved subversion of pagan imagination. It is an unbiblical and humanistic belief to assume that the understanding of the Bible’s approach to historical writing matches our understanding of naturalistic historical writing. I show in Myth Became Fact that there are quite a few more elements of mythopoeic writing that God uses that may make the modern Christian uncomfortable, but are clearly Biblical.

I will explore some of those examples of redeemed pagan imagination in future posts.

MythReleaseBanner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, (Fount Publishing, 1998, 1970), 67.

[2] Brevard S. Childs, A Study of Myth in Genesis 1-11, (Dissertation, zur Erlangung der Doktorwurde der Theologischen Fakultat der Universitat Basel, 1955), 1-2.

[3] Robert A. Armour, Gods and Myths of Ancient Egypt (Cairo, Egypt and New York, NY: The American University in Cairo Press, 2001), 2.

[4] Craig Blomberg, vol. 22, Matthew, The New American Commentary, 53 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992).

Antiviral, the Movie: The Horror of Celebrity Worship.

Facebook

Antiviral

On Netflix Streaming. Sci-fi horror about the near future, when drug companies create a new way for fans to get even more intimate with their celebrities: injections of viruses directly from sick celebrities into their obsessive fans.

The story follows Syd March, who works for the Lucas Clinic, that creates cultures of pathogens directly from the blood cells of sick celebrities, and sells them to fans who seek to have the very cells of celebrities fuse and mutate with their own in a twisted form of identification. Lucas Clinic custom designs the molecular structures of the sicknesses so they are not contagious and therefore not transferable. They want to maintain their patent and profits after all. It’s positively diabolical and absurd in its notion, yet, not far from the truth of the spiritual sickness of our culture of celebrity worship. Indeed, watching this film, I actually think it is quite prescient of where we are going as a culture.

One more gruesome corollary of this dystopian future is that celebrities also sell their normal body cells to be clone-cultured and grown into slabs of meat, that are also sold and eaten by the adoring public. It’s quite literally a science-justified form of cannibalism, since the cultures are not persons, but just meat made from their cells. Of course, its all done in a very clean and white environment, so the hideousness is hidden behind the veneer of “safe science.”

Syd engages in some blackmarket moonlighting by injecting himself with pathogens that enable him to remove the copy protection on the virus, that he then sells to his shady contact. But when Syd injects himself with a deadly pathogen of famous celebrity Hannah Geist, he now must try to save his own life before he follows the young woman to the grave.

Coming from the son of David Cronenberg, one must be aware there will be some influence of dad on this filmmaker. Thus, it is all a bit bloody and physically repulsive at times, artsy and opaque at others. But the directing and acting is excellent, and the beautiful cinematography lent a powerful irony to the eerie darkness beneath the surface. I found it a quite truthful picture of the nature of celebrity worship and how it is a form of idolatry that leads to bizarre self-inflicted degradation on the part of the populace, as well as the willingness on the part of celebrities who are virtual and willing house slaves to those who “cannibalize” them.

This movie was weird, but it really had a profound spiritual truthfulness to it that remains an echo in my memory, long after I’ve forgotten whatever big stupid movie I’ve seen in the theaters this week has dissolved.

What in Hell Happened to Satan?

Facebook

jesus_banner5

In the last post, I explained how the nations had been allotted to the fallen Watchers (“Sons of God”) as territories over which they ruled (Deut. 32:8-11). The satan, as the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4), was most likely the Watcher of Rome, because Rome ruled the known world at the time, AND it was the oppressor of Israel.

So how are we to understand the Biblical tension of the satan being “cast down” (Jn. 12:31) and without power (Heb. 2:14), while simultaneously having the ability to prowl around and devour people (1Pet. 5:8)?

Through the entire Chronicles series, I have used a concept called “binding” of angels, demons, and Watchers through either supernatural restraint or imprisonment in the earth or Tartarus.

This binding notion originates theologically from the binding of the satan in the ministry of Christ as noted in Matthew 12, as well as the binding of angels in Tartarus in “chains of gloomy darkness” in Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:4.

And these New Testament Scriptures are paraphrases of the Enochian narrative of the antediluvian Watchers who, at the Flood, were “bound” “for seventy generations underneath the rocks of the ground until the day of their judgment” (1 Enoch 10:12).

Ad300x250-BookofEnochBinding spirits is a common idea in ancient religion and magic. Michael Fishbane notes that in the ancient Near East, incantations and spells were used by sorcerers and enchanters to bind people and spirits in spiritual “traps, pits, snares, and nets,” using venomous curses from their lips like serpents.

In response to some of these verbal sorceries, the Biblical Psalmist himself calls upon Yahweh in similar utterances to reverse the spells upon his enemies that they would be trapped, ensnared and bound by their own magical devices (Psalm 140; 64; 57:4-6).[1] Reverse binding!

Exorcists of the first century used incantations to cast out demons in Jesus’ name (Acts 16:18), the same incantation used by Demons against Jesus before being cast out (Mk 1:27).[2]

Ezekiel 13:18 refers to a specific form of hunting and binding spirits in a practice of women “who sew magic bands upon all wrists…in the hunt for souls!” I reversed this pagan version of using magical armbands by creating a heavenly version of the archangels with armbands of indestructible Cherubim hair for their hunting and binding of evil spirits. The hair is wrapped as bands around the arms of archangels and used like a rope to bind the Watchers’ hands and feet. A fantasy genre incarnation of a spiritual reality.

Scholars have pointed out that the binding of Satan that occurs in Matthew 12 during the ministry of Christ is evidently not an exhaustive or absolute binding, since he is still active after the ministry of Christ and even into the New Testament era (Acts 5:3; Rom. 16:20; 2Cor. 12:7; 1Thes. 2:18; Rev. 2:13).

Satan as he appears in the novel Jesus Triumphant, as Belial.

But then how does this continuing satanic activity fit with the notion that the satan “was thrown down to the earth” (Rev. 12:9), “fell like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18), was disarmed and overthrown in triumph (Col. 2:15), destroyed along with his power of death (Heb. 2:14), and all of this accomplished through the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ (Matt. 12:28-29; Heb. 2:14)?

Revelation 20:2-3 provides a theological solution to the dilemma. It says that the satan is bound and thrown into a sealed pit for a thousand years, “so that he might not deceive the nations.” Deceiver of the world is a Biblical epithet of the satan (Rev. 12:9; 20:7), ever since the beginning in the Garden (1 Tim. 2:14; John 8:44).

So perhaps the binding of the satan is the muzzling of his deception over the world, as Jesus now has all authority, so that the Gospel can go forth into all the nations as it is now doing (Matt. 28:18).

This binding is also a legal restraining order on the satan. In the Old Testament, the satan is a divinely ordained legal role as a kind of prosecutor within God’s heavenly court. He would test God’s law and righteousness through accusation against God’s people (1Kgs. 22; Job 1, 2; Zech 3). He is not some kind of unanticipated evil, but rather part of the supernatural system of spiritual law justifying the righteous, and condemning the guilty.

In Rev. 12:10, it describes the satan’s fall from heaven as “the accuser of our brethren being thrown down,” also at the inauguration of God’s kingdom. With the advent of Christ, the satan/Accuser has effectively been exiled from the divine council of Yahweh and no longer has any legal power of accusation against God’s people (Rom. 8:1-4).

Ad300x250-ChroniclesNephilimThis notion of the satan’s binding is a problem for those who interpret that act as occurring in the Millennium, which they interpret as not having occurred as of yet. Revelation 20 is notoriously difficult to conclude any eschatological view. But we don’t need Revelation 20 to make the connection, because Jesus does in Matthew 12:

Matt. 12:26–29
And if the satan casts out the satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?…But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.

Jesus said that his ministry on earth of casting out demons from the Promised Land was a binding of the satan. The satan could not stop the kingdom of God (ie: the Gospel) from inaugurating on earth.

Yes, many nations are still in the lap of the evil one, but whereas the Kingdom of God under the Old Covenant was exclusively located in a small patch of land in the Middle East, surrounded by pagan Gentile nations, now under the glory of the New Covenant, people from every nation are getting saved from all over the earth. The Good News of Christ is currently drawing all nations into heavenly Zion (Isa. 2; Heb. 12:22). The kingdoms of man are right now becoming the kingdoms of God through the proclamation and victory of the Gospel (1 Cor. 15:24-28; Heb. 2:8-9).

The satan’s power to keep the world blinded and enslaved to sin has been bound.

For additional Biblical and historical research related to this post, go to www.ChroniclesoftheNephilim.com under the menu listing, “Links” > Jesus Triumphant.

jesus_banner2


[1] Michael A Fishbane, Studies In Biblical Magic : Origins, Uses And Transformations Of Terminology And Literary Form (Dissertation) Brandeis University, 1971. See also Edwin M. Yamauchi, “Magic In The Biblical World,” The Institute For Biblical Research Lecture, 1981, Tyndale Bulletin 34 (1983).[2] Graham Twelftree, Jesus the Exorcist: A Contribution to the Study of the Historical Jesus (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2010), 95, 139, 159-60.

Adapt Your Screenplays into Self-Published Novels: Workshop by Brian Godawa

Facebook

self-publishing-word-cloudBrian Godawa Workshop:
Adapt Your Screenplays into Self-Published Novels.

(This is not just for screenplays, it will be helpful for anyone who has an idea for a novel they want to self-publish)

This Saturday, June 20, 2015
9:00 AM to 12:00 PM (PDT)
Studio City, CA

http://bit.ly/1Gj0Qgb

Brian Godawa Workshop: Adapt Your Screenplays into Self-Published Novels

Facebook

self-publishing-word-cloud

Brian Godawa Workshop: Adapt Your Screenplays into Self-Published Novels.

(This is not just for screenplays, it will be helpful for anyone who has an idea for a novel they want to self-publish)

Saturday, June 20, 2015
9:00 AM to 12:00 PM (PDT)
Studio City, CA

http://bit.ly/1Gj0Qgb