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Christian and Jewish myth systems

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  • Christian and Jewish myth systems

    Before I begin, when discussing mythology, it's important to define terms. The myths discussed are for the most part religious narratives that transcend the possibilities of common experience and that express any given culture's literal or metaphorical understanding of various aspects of reality. In this sense myths have to do with the relation of the culture, or of human beings in general, to the unknown in the cosmos.

    To so-called fundamentalists of any given culture the religious stories of that culture are literally true, while stories of other cultures and religions are understood to be mere folklore—what in common usage we in fact mean by "myth." For others, both within given cultures and outside of them, myths are important metaphorical constructs reflecting understandings that cannot be expressed in any other way. For many mythologists these literally false stories are "true" in the sense that they form an actual, real part of any culture's identity.

    What are Hopis without the kachina myths, the ancient Norse people without Odin, the Greeks without the deeds of Apollo, Dionysos, and Odysseus, the Jews without Yahweh's covenant, the Christians without the resurrection?

    Understood in this way, it is possible to speak of the "myths" of the three monotheistic Abrahamic religions just as we speak of the "myths" of the ancient peoples whose sacred stories are no longer treated as the scripture of viable religions.

    The Israelites brought with them a mythology in the process of development that—although influenced at various periods by the mythologies of Egypt, by the indigenous religions of Canaan, and later by the traditions of the Babylonians—would follow a highly individual course.

    Are closer in spirit to the mythology of the Hebrews were those of other small neighboring clan-based tribes such as the Moabites, the Ammonites, and the Edomites, for instance, who spoke Canaanite languages related to Hebrew and who all had dominant patriarchal clan gods. A still more specific influence on the religion and mythology that would become Judaism and that of the Midianites in the northwestern Arabian Peninsula (Hijaz), people who were said to have provided the biblical hero Moses not only with a wife but with important elements of the Yahweh cult.

    The Midianite connection is suggested mythologically by the fact that the story of Yahweh speaking to Moses from the burning bush takes place in Midian (Exodus 2). The god of the Hebrews was the god of the Habiru, the many foreign nomads—including the Israelites—who for a time inhabited the Sinai and Negev regions.

    The mythology of the Torah or "law," technically the first five books—the Pentateuch—of the Hebrew Bible, is traditionally attributed to Moses. Given the various versions of events and obvious changes in emphasis, style, and chronology in particular books, however, the actual composition of the Torah is now generally traced to several sources. The earliest is referred to as the Yahwist author, or simply J, because of his use of the name Yahweh for the creator god in Genesis. J apparently wrote in southern Israel (Judah) during the early monarchy, that is, around 950 B.C.E. a rival document by an Elohist writer (E, because of the use of the term Elohim for the high god) was written in northern Israel in about 850 B.C.E., although it clearly makes use of much older oral material. The material of J and E were combined in about 750 B.C.E. Finally, exilic and post-exilic (587-400 B.C.E.) priestly writers, usually designated as P, assimilated and somewhat altered the J and E sources and added a great deal of material on genealogies, liturgies, temple ceremonies, and rules. To the original Torah were added eventually the other books of the Jewish Bible, compiled by several writers, including 8th cent BCE figure labeled by scholars as the Deuteronomic Historian or DH.

    The Pentateuch and the added books—the Nevi'im (Prophets), the Ketuvim (Writings), and the Apocrypha— form what some refer to now as a whole as the Torah and what Christians call the Old Testament to differentiate the Jewish scriptures from the purely Christian ones (New Testament) in the Christian Bible.

    The Christian form of the Bible, then, is a combination of Jewish and Christian scriptures. Much of the mythology of the Hebrews, who in Canaan became known as Israelites and who established the foundations of Judaism, was clearly intended to justify the Hebrew conquest and settlement of Canaan eventually described in the first part of the Nevi'im, the "Former Prophets," containing six biblical books: Joshua, Judges, I and 2 Samuel, and I and 2 Kings. The justification of conquest is based on the belief in a single god who gradually emerged from the clan and tribal "god of Abraham."

    The mythology suggests that this god, later identified as Yahweh, favored the Hebrew-Israelites, and therefore the Jews, above all peoples of the earth. He favored them so much that even though Canaan was heavily populated by other peoples— most of them fellow Semites—it was only right that they should take it for themselves.

    This was so because the Lord had promised this land to his chosen people in a covenant made with the patriarch Abram (Abraham) and reaffirmed with Isaac, Jacob (Israel), and Moses. The special relationship of a sole and living deity directly with a whole people marked a significant change in the religion and mythology of the Middle East. Deities such as those of the Sumerians, Assyrians, Hittites, Canaanites, and Philistines were clearly metaphorical and therefore easily assimilated by various peoples at various times (including many of the pre-exilic Hebrew-Israelites who required the teachings and admonitions of the patriarchs, judges, prophets, and priests to turn them away from "pagan" worship).

    But for Judaism as it developed, the divine was represented only by a jealous and not always compassionate god who had no divine rivals or companions. To the extent that they are fundamentalists, Jews, and later Christians and Muslims, tend to take the monotheistic god as a literal rather than metaphorical fact. For Jews especially, whose religion and nationhood are so intricately tied to a mythology that stresses lineage and the exclusivity of the race or tribe, the perceived reality of a covenant with the deity in the mythological past continues to affect the concept of nationhood and land rights in the Middle East today. The concept is clearly symbolized mythologically by the establishing by the patriarchs of altars to Yahweh specifically on sites sacred to the Canaanites in Hebron, Bethel, and elsewhere.

    Christian Mythology as for the Christians, their mythology, in the New Testament and various noncanonical or apocryphal gospels and writings and traditions, centers on the person of Jesus of Nazareth, a Jewish reformer whose god and "father" was the god of the Jews. As it evolved, Christian mythology was able indirectly to incorporate various aspects of Middle Eastern and Greek mythology, especially in relation to dying god and hero motifs and that of the mother goddess.

    Most of all, however, Christianity is a religion that looks back to its Jewish roots but in so doing expands the possibility of redemption by extending the "kingdom" and the "promised land" beyond the Hebrew race or Jewish religion to the world at large. To the extent that the religion has insisted over the centuries that its way is the only way and/or that its myths are literally true, it has developed a militancy and a tendency toward fundamentalism that have often placed it at odds with the actual teachings of its de facto founder by instigating or supporting violence, abuse, and repression.

    The Pantheons Central to the Canaanite pantheon in its many local versions is a movement toward an understanding of deity that includes a high god associated with weather and storms who is somewhat distant from everyday life, a fertility god who is more present, and a feminine form of that deity. The Arameans, too, had their storm god with a strong fertility aspect, and they assimilated several goddesses from Mesopotamia and Phoenicia. The Hebrews developed a god who reigned alone as at once a weather-storm deity, a god of judgment, and a war god, but who contained within himself aspects of the old deities who concerned themselves with fertility and life on earth.

    For the Christians that god became a somewhat distant figure whose nevertheless more loving purpose was to be accomplished by Jesus, a figure eventually seen as both human hero and an aspect of God. Christians, perhaps inadvertently, would over the centuries restore something of the feminine to the godhead through the esoteric understanding of Sophia, or divine wisdom—even for some the Holy Spirit aspect of God—and especially through the person of the Virgin Mary. The High God a Semitic word for "god" is el or Elohim and al-ilah or Allah.

    In second-millennium B.C.E. god lists found at Ugarit there are several Els or versions of El. There is the El of the holy mountain Sapan (Tsafon); the Ilib (Elib), or "father god," who contains the spirits of the dead; and the El who, like so many Near Eastern high gods, is associated with the bull and is perhaps the creator. The Greeks thought of El as Kronos, the father of Zeus. Dagan (Dagon) is another vehicle for the high-god concept, perhaps an early personification of El. He has fertility aspects, as his name seems to mean "grain." Dagan existed at Ebla as early as the third millennium B.C.E. and was assimilated as the high god of the Philistines in the late second millennium. It can be argued that the most important expression of the high god in Canaan, however, was Baal in his many forms.

    But usually Baal took second position to a father, sometimes El, sometimes Dagan. Baal was at once a weather-storm god of great power and a dying god and fertilizer of the earth. For the Philistines he was Beelzebub, a healer, whom the Greeks associated with Asklepios. In a list of Phoenician deities contained in a 677 B.C.E. treaty between the king of Assyria and the king of Tyre he was the chief god, Baal-Shamen, the "lord of heaven," the El, the storm god, Baal-Safon of the Holy Mountain, Zeus of Phoenicia. The Aramean high god, Hadad, was a counterpart of the Mesopotamian-Assyrian weather-storm-fertility god Adad. He was sometimes combined with or displaced by the anaanite Baal—as Baal-Hadad or at least as the baal, or "lord." Later he was associated with the Greek Zeus and Roman Jupiter.

    The god of the Hebrews dominates the myths of the Hebrew scriptures. This god, too holy to name, was expressed in the form of the tetragrammaton YHWH (usually transliterated as Yahweh or Yahveh), based on the verb for "to be"—thus he reveals himself to Moses as "I am." In later times the name of this god was not to be spoken, since to speak the name might release its power and bring about destruction. Rather, he is addressed as Adonai ("my Lords") or Elohim ("the gods").

    At first, he may have been, like the Moabite Chemosh or the Canaanite Baal and numerous other Middle Eastern gods of the third and second millennia B.C.E., a tribal god among many gods. It seems apparent both from scriptural and historical sources that in common practice the Hebrews assimilated the gods and goddesses of Canaan. The lack of cohesion among the early Hebrews in Canaan made even monolatry—the exclusive worship of one god among many—an impossibility.

    The pull of polytheism was so strong that even the monarchy frequently succumbed to it. Monotheism (as opposed to monolatry) among the Israelites was not common until the time of the exile in Babylon and the reestablishment of Israel after the exile, that is, not until the sixth century B.C.E. And even then it can be argued that the firm establishment of monotheism in Judaism required the rabbinical or Talmudic input of the first century B.C.E. to the sixth century C.E. Whether one among many or one alone, the god of the Hebrew Bible possessed many familiar Middle Eastern characteristics. He was a storm or weather god who could push aside the sea and lead with a pillar of fire. He was a god of war who could mercilessly kill the enemies of the Israelites. He was a fertility god who could create the world, replenish the earth after the flood, and make even the barren Sarah bear a child. And he was a jealous god of judgment who expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and punished his chosen people for their sins. He was the god who denied humans a common language—through which they might become too powerful—by destroying the Tower of Babel, the Babylonian ziggurat-temple (Genesis 11:1-9). He was the angry god who answered the much-maligned Job "out of the tempest," asking him sarcastically, "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundations?" (Job 38-41). It seems almost certain that the god of the Jews evolved gradually from the Canaanite El, who was in all likelihood the "god of Abraham."

    In Genesis 17, an 8th century B.C.E. text, God introduces himself to Abraham as El Shaddai (El of the mountain), and that El's name is preserved in such words as Elohim, Israel, and Ishmael (Armstrong, History of God, 14). In Exodus (6:2-3) the deity introduces himself to Moses as Yahweh and points out that he had revealed himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai and that they had not known that his name was Yahweh. The early Christians in the Middle East were Jews for whom the high god was the god of the Hebrew Scriptures. In his appearances in the New Testament (the Christian books of the Bible), however, he was less of a war god than in the Old Testament, less of a weather or storm god.

    Rather, he was the loving and approving father of Jesus. And it was Jesus as the Son of God who took up much of the role of the old Jewish god who had concerned himself directly and sometimes in person with the activities of humans. In the Gospel of John (1:1) he is seen as the Logos (the Word), or divine ordering principle, which had existed from the beginning of time and which was equated with God and was incarnated ("became flesh"), took human form, as Jesus.

    Through Jesus and the spiritual presence of God as the Holy Spirit, the Christian god evolved in post New Testament times into a complex philosophical construct known as the Trinity, in which God has three aspects or "persons"—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thust he Christian child learns that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not each other but that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are mysteriously all God.



  • #2
    Originally posted by Shamash View Post
    Before I begin, when discussing mythology,
    Bla, bla, bla.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Bob Carabbio View Post

      Bla, bla, bla.
      Very Christian of you.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Shamash View Post

        Very Christian of you.
        I'm GLAD you appreciate that. Christians HAVE NO INTEREST in "Mythology" babble.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Bob Carabbio View Post

          I'm GLAD you appreciate that. Christians HAVE NO INTEREST in "Mythology" babble.
          oh hahahaha, man I can't take anything you post seriously. hahahaha, get into comedy, you are good at it.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Shamash View Post

            oh hahahaha, man I can't take anything you post seriously. hahahaha, get into comedy, you are good at it.
            The accounts are written as history according to their intent and reasoning. Myth is opinion as opposed to fact. Also loaded definitions. Historians try to get to truth based on what they have to work with. That means gleaning away parts considered unreliable. What part do you consider myth? Is Moses myth? The Exodus from Egypt myth? Because the accounts are written as history, not myth. These are treated as history in further generations.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by lightbeamrider View Post

              The accounts are written as history according to their intent and reasoning. Myth is opinion as opposed to fact. Also loaded definitions. Historians try to get to truth based on what they have to work with. That means gleaning away parts considered unreliable. What part do you consider myth? Is Moses myth? The Exodus from Egypt myth? Because the accounts are written as history, not myth. These are treated as history in further generations.
              Good question I think we can discuss from here. Even I struggled with the term "myth" for the longest time, being that I am religious as well I consider myself a semi-academic I found it hard to accept a "myth" so to speak.

              I do want to make something explicitly clear though, the Abrahamic faiths are of interest for me because they are the closest thing to some Cuneiform I can get my hands on, aside from what is available on ETCSL and a few other online resource centers. I will occasionally look through Academia or Researchgate and NIH articles are all scholarly as well. The reason I say this is because I have an interest in Babylonian medicine. Of course in Babylon when someone was afflicted with a headache (and this applies to the rest of the ancient world) the Babylonian's would prepare a medicine for the person, and perform a ritual to get rid of the "headache evil spirit" that is causing the affliction, the spirit was banished to "Edin" and the person was cured. There is obviously a lot more to this, but that is Babylonian Medicine and practice in a nutshell.

              The term "myth" should be somewhat defined. In this sense myths collected and discussed are for the most part religious narratives that transcend the possibilities of common experience and that express any given culture's literal or metaphorical understanding of various aspects of reality. In this sense myths have to do with the relation of the culture, or of human beings in general, to the unknown in the cosmos.

              To so-called fundamentalists of any given culture the religious stories of that culture are literally true, while stories of other cultures and religions are understood to be mere folklore—what in common usage we in fact mean by "myth."

              For others, both within given cultures and outside of them, myths are seen as important metaphorical constructs reflecting understandings that cannot be expressed in any other way. For many mythologists these literally false stories are "true" in the sense that they form an actual, real part of any culture's identity.

              Another way of viewing "myth" which applies to me specifically, is that myths usually involved actual events surrounding mythical outcomes in order to define a historical, possibly even religious epic. So if I said a man named Ziusudra was told by his Enki to build an ark, the "myth" portion is that there was based on Ice Ages a flood, now how much of the event has an effect on other writings such as the epic of Noah is the associated myth part that is adopted into other belief traditions, such as from Mesopotamia all the way to the subsequent Abrahamic faith traditions. In other words I know there was a flood, but its impact on writings that came much later is clearly seen.

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