Reclaiming Mythology

05.01.2012 by Reed Dunn


This post is part of the contours in genesis series (click to view the other posts in this series).

I believe that Genesis is mythological, and you should too.

That statement sounds heretical I know, but I think it’s real and important for us understand. 

We are taught that for something to be mythological it inevitably means it isn’t true.  When we hear the word “myth,” most of us think of Zeus, dragons, or even Superman.  But I want to think about another aspect of myth that we often overlook.  There is one thing that Zeus, dragons, and Superman have in common.  They represent something significant to the people who believed in them.  You can hardly think of Ancient Greece without Zeus, China without dragons, or America without Superman.  They have been inseparably woven into these different cultures and, more importantly, they have contributed to each culture.

Wyatt Earp and the Gunfight at the OK Corral
Wyatt Earp was a true, historical person.  The OK Corral was a historical place.  On Wednesday, October 26, in 1881 at 3:00 pm, a gunfight erupted in the streets of Tombstone.  That gunfight is as real as anything you or I have done today.  But here’s the deal, that gunfight is MORE than real. 

I am completely convinced that Wyatt Earp also went tinkle on October 26, 1881.  But that event, like the countless tinkles before and after, went unnoticed.  No other event that day contributed to the larger narrative of what it means to be American.  But the gunfight did.  It was more than real in that it didn’t just happen, it actually became part of the American mythology.

What images were being recalled as President Bush stood on the rubble of the Twin Towers and called for justice?  It was the image of the American West - that is one reason it resonated so deeply.  It was justice at the end of a Colt Revolver!

Why could the Marlboro Man sell cigarettes?  Why was Brett Favre called a gunslinger?  Why do we love rugged individualists?  The answer is because of the American West.  It represents something to us as Americans.  It contributes to who we think we are - it contributes to our world view.  It is both mythic and true.  And the gunfight at the OK Corral is part of that mythology.

Back to the Old Testament
It seems as though we are headed for another round of struggle in understanding just how historical the book of Genesis is.  Once the “guns start blazing,” it will be tempting to think that proving Genesis to be reliable is good enough.  It will be tempting to think that the most important thing Genesis can be is true.

I believe Genesis is historically accurate.  But I also think that isn’t enough.  I believe it needs to be more than real.  It needs to contribute to our fabric of ideas and the way we see ourselves and the world.  A whole lot more ink is spilled on whether Genesis is true than in trying to get us to see the Genesis patterns in our own life and faith as believers. 

As more and more books will question things like the historicity of Adam, it will be tempting for us to circle the wagons around the truth of Adam and forget the meaning of Adam.  It may get uncomfortable for conservatives to discuss the mythological significance of Adam for fear of sounding like a liberal.  In the past, many wonderful teachings of the Bible were rejected because they sounded too much like the liberals.  But God went to great lengths to ensure that Adam had mythic influence over history - let’s not undo that in an attempt to guard the truth.

Using the categories of mythology may not be the best, I understand that.  But I have yet to find a better one.  So as the battle begins anew over issues of historicity, lets not forget that Wyatt’s tinkling was not nearly as historically important as his gunfight.  Let’s fight for historicity and mythology all at the same time.  Even with a Colt Revolver if need be...

Just kidding, don’t kill anyone over this.

This post is part of the contours in genesis series (click to view the other posts in this series).