Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Myth and Scripture

Myth and Scripture: Contemporary Perspectives on Religion, Language, and Imagination

Edited by Dexter E. Callender
  • Book Info
    Myth and Scripture
    Book Description:

    An interdisciplinary collection for scholars and students interested in the connections between myth and scripture

    In this collection scholars suggest that using "myth" creates a framework within which to set biblical writings in both cultural and literary comparative contexts. Reading biblical accounts alongside the religious narratives of other ancient civilizations reveals what is commonplace and shared among them. The fruit of such work widens and enriches our understanding of the nature and character of biblical texts, and the results provide fresh evidence for how biblical writings became "scripture."


    Essays that explore how myth sheds light on the emergence of scriptureExamples drawn from the Ancient Near East, Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and Greco-Roman worldArticles by experts from a range of disciplines

    eISBN: 978-1-58983-962-5
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  2. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Scholarship between Myth and Scripture
    (pp. 1-12)
    Dexter E. Callender Jr. and William Scott Green

    This is a book about how scholars make sense of what we study.¹ As a field of research whose primary focus is a fixed and finite set of data, biblical studies innovates less by discovering new objects of study than by finding fresh ways—or refining old ways—to examine its basic subject matter. Scholars investigate by designing categories of analysis and interpretation to achieve understanding. Regular assessment of the value of these categories—however recondite it may appear to a field’s outsiders—provokes scholarly self-consciousness and thereby strengthens the quality of research and advances knowledge.

    “Myth” and “scripture” are...

  5. Part 1: Myth in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East

    • “Myth” in the Old Testament
      (pp. 15-26)
      J. W. Rogerson

      For the sake of clarity, I begin with an attempt to define the main terms that I shall use in this lecture. I wish to distinguish between the termsmyths, mythological elements, andmyth. The easiest term to define ismyths. Myths are literary phenomena. They can be transmitted either orally or in writing, and can be recognized as myths on account of their content. They are often stories about gods or narratives about the origin of the world and the human race, or attempts to explain the fate of humanity, attempts that are placed in the context either of...

    • Myth and Scripture: Dissonance and Convergence
      (pp. 27-50)
      Dexter E. Callender Jr.

      The termsmythandScripturehave often been galvanizing terms when applied to the Bible. In biblical studies, serious interest in myth typically falls under the domain of the secular academy, whereas serious interest in “Scripture” has typically been the concern for communities of faith and the academic institutions they support. This has been most clearly articulated in Robert Oden’sThe Bible without Theology, subtitledThe Theological Tradition and Alternatives to It, in which Oden eschews questions of theology in his treatment of myth, in support of what he refers to as “the process by which biblical study is moving...

    • Covenant and Contingence: The Historical Encounter between God and Israel
      (pp. 51-70)
      Robert S. Kawashima

      However one chooses to define myth—and as this volume demonstrates, there exists more than one viable option—it is an intrinsically comparative concept, designating as it does a broad class of cross-cultural phenomena. Consider, for example, Georges Dumézil, that great Indo-European mythologist, who made of comparison a type of fundamental intellectual principle: “On ne définit très bien les choses que par comparaison avec autre chose.”¹ To employ the concept of myth in biblical studies, then, is to situate some aspect of biblical literature in relation to “the mythical.” These comparisons may be conceptualized concretely in terms of more or...

    • Is Genesis 1 a Creation Myth? Yes and No
      (pp. 71-102)
      Mark S. Smith

      Is Gen 1 a myth? The answer to this question depends on what one thinks a myth is and also on what one think about Gen 1. For believers in the Bible, the answer is, of course not. For many readers of the Bible, the idea of biblical stories as myths became a critical issue because of the discovery of tablets with stories from ancient Mesopotamia. For centuries, the Bible was considered the word of God, but texts emerging from excavations in Mesopotamia challenged the idea of the Bible as unique. When the Bible was studied in the context of...

    • Moses’ Death
      (pp. 103-118)
      Susan Ackerman

      In the opening lines of his article “The Rod of Aaron and the Sin of Moses,” William H. C. Propp provocatively quotes the comment of S. D. Luzzato: “Moses our Teacher committed one sin, but the exegetes have loaded upon him thirteen sins and more, since each of them has invented a new sin” (Propp 1988, 19). Luzzato’s quote here refers to the many scholarly attempts to interpret Num 20:1–13, the story in which Moses, with Aaron at his side, draws water from a rock to provide drink for the thirsting Israelites, yet brings forth that water in such...

    • Myth and Social Realia in Ancient Israel: Early Hebrew Poems as Folkloric Assemblage
      (pp. 119-128)
      Hugh R. Page Jr.

      In this paper I will assess the strengths, weaknesses, and implications of the use of early Hebrew poems as a control group for the testing of single theories and methodological paradigms aimed at the reconstruction of myth, folklore, and social reality in ancient Israel. Here I build on the work done within the Albright-Cross-Freedman tradition on Gen 49; Exod 15; Num 23–24; Deut 32, 33; Judg 5; 1 Sam 2; 2 Sam 1, 22, 23; and Pss 18, 29, 68, 72, and 78 (see, e.g., Cross and Freedman 1952, 1997; Geller 1979; Cross 1973; Freedman 1980). Holding in abeyance...

    • Myth and History in Ezekiel’s Oracle concerning Tyre (Ezekiel 26–28)
      (pp. 129-148)
      Marvin A. Sweeney

      Scholars generally recognize the importance of Ezekiel’s oracles concerning the downfall of Tyre in 26:1–28:19 among the oracles concerning the nations in Ezek 25–32. Like the oracles concerning Egypt in Ezek 29–32, the oracles concerning Tyre constitute an inordinately large block of material when compared to the smaller oracles concerning Ammon in 25:1–7, Moab in 25:8–11, Edom in 25:12–14, Philistia in 25:15–17, Sidon in 28:20–23, and even Israel/Jacob in 28:24–26. The importance of Ezekiel’s Tyrian oracles is generally assessed in relation to Nebuchadnezzar’s alleged thirteen-year siege of the city, which ultimately...

    • Myth and History in Daniel 8: The Apocalyptic Negotiation of Power
      (pp. 149-176)
      Amy C. Merrill Willis

      In an essay exploring the often antagonistic relationship that scholars have imposed between myth and history, Elie Wiesel (1980, 20–21) tells the story of his encounter with an old Hasidic rabbi, his former teacher, sometime after the Holocaust.

      “But what are you doing?” he asked. “What were you doing for so many years?”

      “I am writing,” I replied. …

      “What are you writing?”

      I said, “Stories.”

      “But what kind of stories?”

      I said, “Stories.”

      He said, “True stories?”

      I said, “What do you mean, Rebbe?”

      He said, “Stories of things that happened?”

      And then I caught him. I said,...

  6. Part 2: Myth in the New Testament and the Greco-Roman World

    • Recast, Reclaim, Reject: Myth and Validity
      (pp. 179-200)
      Steven J. Kraftchick

      In a nutshell, the inherent tension between these two quotations defines any conversation about myth and the Bible.¹ Either Midgley is correct and interpreting the Bible is all about myth, or Evans is, and the endeavor is about anything but myth.

      These are not the first set of conversations devoted to this tension nor the first convened under the auspices of the AAR/SBL.² It is likely not to be the last either, since the questions surrounding myth—its definition, its forms, how to study it in comparison to other myths and literature—as well as claims for its truth, are...

    • “God Was in Christ”: 2 Corinthians 5:19 and Mythic Language
      (pp. 201-212)
      Luke Timothy Johnson

      Without question, 2 Corinthians is the hardest of Paul’s letters to read and understand. This is partly due to the complex character of its composition: even if we do not accept its segmentation into several fragments,¹ thelogosrhetoric, especially in its arrangement, remains opaque.² Paul’s extraordinarily dense language intertwines the specific circumstances of Paul and his readers with the work of God in Christ. Readers have always found it difficult to discern precisely where Paul speaks to the very human situation of alienation existing between him and the Corinthian church and the very concrete project of his collection for...

    • Ancient Greek Demythologizing
      (pp. 213-228)
      James E. Miller

      Mythis a term and concept that has been used and analyzed in a variety of biblical studies for more than a century. However, the term is often poorly defined, and often this is because it is poorly understood. On the one hand, within modern cultures we may define the termmythas we please, and study the concept as defined. On the other hand, we struggle to understand precisely how the term was used in ancient literature, and all too often apply modern definitions to the ancient term.

      One method for understanding an ancient term or concept is to...

    • Myth, Allegory, and the Derveni Papyrus
      (pp. 229-242)
      John T. Fitzgerald

      One of the most notorious aspects of ancient Greek myth was its frequent depiction of the gods as engaging in conduct that is morally problematic. The scandalous manner in which various myths portrayed the gods was doubtless one of the factors that made them popular in many social circles, but these same immoral depictions raised a number of serious intellectual and ethical questions that were debated at length throughout antiquity. The fundamental question was whether these common depictions of the gods were true. If so, the gods were often exemplars of vice rather than of virtue, and human morality was...

  7. Part 3: Myth Theorizing and the Bible:: A Conversation

    • The Life of King Saul as Myth
      (pp. 245-274)
      Robert A. Segal

      The study of hero myths goes back at least to 1871, when the Victorian anthropologist E. B. Tylor argued that many of them follow a uniform plot: the hero is exposed at birth, is saved by other humans or animals, and grows up to become a national hero (see Tylor 1871, 1:254–55).¹ In 1876 the Austrian scholar Johann Georg von Hahn used fourteen cases to argue that all “Aryan” hero tales follow an “exposure and return” formula more comprehensive than Tylor’s (see von Hahn 1876, 340). In each case the hero is born illegitimately, out of the fear of...

    • Response to Robert A. Segal, “The Life of King Saul as Myth”
      (pp. 275-278)
      Adela Yarbro Collins

      I very much enjoyed reading Professor Segal’s paper and learned much from it. It seems odd to me, however, that Segal never defines the termmyth, although by the end of the paper it is clear that it includes quite a bit more than “stories about the gods.” It would have been helpful if he had included some discussion of the nature and range of this category.

      If we follow Hooke and define “myth” as the story that a ritual enacts, we then have to decide what counts as “ritual.” Do we limit the termritualto gestures that seem...

    • Theory of Myth and the Minimal Saul
      (pp. 279-284)
      Ivan Strenski

      Fans of Robert Segal will find him in classic form here, working the permutations and combinations of both mythical narratives and theorists that he has applied to them. Novel here is Segal’s claim that the biblical narrative accounts of the life of King Saul conform to mythical patterns. Closely examined, that is, they show themselves exemplifying classic mythical themes such as the son’s desire to kill the father. As interpreted by two major classical theorists, psychoanalyst Otto Rank, and myth-ritualist Lord Raglan, Segal works over the biblical text to show how the perspectives of both Rank and Raglan can be...

    • The Indispensability of Theories of Myth for Biblical Studies: A Response to Robert Segal
      (pp. 285-290)
      David L. Miller

      Professor Segal’s paper, “The Life of King Saul as Myth,” was originally embedded in a longer presentation entitled “The Indispensability of Theories of Myth for Biblical Studies.” It was given to a joint session of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature at their annual meetings in 2009. Professor Segal had attempted to demonstrate his thesis about the indispensability of theories of myth for biblical studies by giving a reading of the Saul narratives in the Hebrew Bible, which was informed by the hero theories of myth in the work of Otto Rank, Lord Raglan, Joseph...

    • Replies to Ivan Strenski, Adela Yarbro Collins, and David Miller
      (pp. 291-296)
      Robert A. Segal

      I thank Ivan Strenski, Adela Yarbro Collins, and David Miller for their exceedingly incisive comments on my paper. The version of the paper that I gave at the SBL session in San Diego in 2007 was much longer than the present version. Occasionally, the respondents discuss issues that for lack of space had to be dropped from the published version.

      In reply to Strenski, I do not assert that theories, to qualify as theories, must answer all three main questions about myth: those of origin, function, and referent. For me, Bultmann, Jonas, and Camus are still theorists even though they...

  8. Index of Primary Sources
    (pp. 301-309)
  9. Index of Authors
    (pp. 310-312)