Re: [XTalk] Myths as Sacred Narratives
- In a message dated 10/25/2000 10:38:37 PM Canada Central Standard Ti,
> My only quibble with Dundes' definition is that myths are not only aboutKeep in mind that Dundes adds "in their present form," too. So a myth would
> origins, as his definition implies, but also about the human existential
> condition (a la Bultmann). But perhaps Dundes' phrase "came to be" can be
> construed in this sense as an existential statement.
not be only about origins but about "how things came to be the way they are."
That would include universal origins, local origins (how Krishna and Radha
made the mountain range, e.g.), and existential conditions such as alienation
or separation from the divine.
Continuing our discussion re the concept of myth, its analytic utility
and applicability to the gospel accounts of the HJ, in your 10/25 post
you cite the definition I offered, *i.e.,* "traditional stories, usually
viewed as sacred, of interactions between humans, gods/supernatural
beings, and/or man-gods, often in a set-apart time and/or place." You
then imply that because Alan Dundes, an "authority" to whom I had
referred, gave a different definition, *i.e.,* "a myth is a sacred
narrative explaining how the world and man came to be in their present
form," this constituted a refutation of my definition. I disagree.
First, I would contend that my definition can be incorporated into
Dundes broader definition. Second, I would point out that Dundes is
offering *a* definition, not *the* definition of myth. As he points out
himself later in his introduction, " there are disagreements about what
myth is and how it should be analyzed it is essential that one become
familiar with the rich variety of theoretical approaches to the
subject," *Sacred Narrative,* 1984, pp. 2-3. I therefore continue to
insist on the utility and applicability of my definition. I think Dundes
would agree that it refers to a major genre of myth.
Combining my definition of myth with that of Dundes, the term would
certainly apply to the gospel accounts. They are certainly sacred
narratives. The are set in a set-apart time and place (the life-time and
life-place of Jesus). Jesus, a god-man, is described as interacting with
men and supernatural beings, as well as with God. In terms of explaining
how the world and man came to be in their present form, it can hardly be
denied that Christianity looks to the NT for answers to these questions.
You stress that Dundes "rejects the idea that myths are false by
definition [and] that myth may constitute the highest form of truth,
albeit in metaphorical guise." I agree, but would direct your attention
to the words "may" and "metaphorical" in the quoted passage. The word,
"may," indicates that there are also myths that *do not* constitute the
highest form of truth. In other words, a myth *may* contain elements,
or, in fact, may as a whole deal with matters, that are mundane, far
from "the highest form of truth," or even literally false or fictional.
Likewise, the characterization of a myth as "metaphorical" means that
it may not be literally true. As I have previously indicated, and as
many others, including Mack, have noted, a work even of pure fiction
may still contain very deep truths (*Hamlet,* and, for some reason, the
film "Dr. Strangelove" spring to mind).
This relates to your previously expressed concern (in your post of
10/22) that some might use comparative-religious methodologies to "sow
doubt and dissension, and to create the impression that the whole of the
NT is nothing but mythology and, therefore, not to be taken seriously
by any Thinking Person." These assertions carry some troubling
implications, not the least of which is that the phrase, "sow doubt and
dissension" raises the image of protecting a body of knowledge that is
uniform and certain, but under threat. Such a concern may be appropriate
in those who see themselves as defending an absolutist thought system,
but it is hardly a legitimate attitude in those who claim to value the
methods of scientific and/or historical studies.
The suggestion that I might be contending that the NT is "nothing but"
mythology implies: 1) that mythology is not really significant (an
assertion which I would totally reject), and/or, 2) that the NT is
something much, much more than the *mere* mythology characteristic of
other "lesser" cultures (this, of course, would be to fall into the trap
of ethnocentrism, a high sin for an anthropologist). Am I reading you
By the way, are you now contending, on the basis of your review of the
literature on mythology, that the concept of myth, either as defined by
Dundes or as represented in Segals treatment of Bultmanns and Jungs
conceptions of it (re your 10/22 post), does indeed have analytic or
cross-cultural utility, and applicability to NT studies? And, how would
*you* evaluate B. L. Macks *A Myth of Innocence*? It struck me as being
very much in the tradition of an anthropological approach.