Short History of Myth Part I

So back to Karen Armstrong. I've also read her books The Age of Transformation and A History of God. This one, though, stirred me actually to write a post about it.

I was listening to the book on CD from the library. Then it came to the weekend, and I was not going to be in the car for a few days, so I borrowed the hard copy from the library because I didn't want to wait!

(My memory is a little fuzzy now, because since then I've read a couple more books. Most recently, I went through the same CD-first-book-later deal with Jared Diamond's Collapse, which I would also highly recommend. It is a very long book indeed, compared with Armstrong's history of myth, which is very short indeed. Speaking of which, this post is starting to remind me about the Monty Python sketch interviewing the Shakespearean actor, who knows exactly how many words are in each of the plays but doesn't necessarily grasp their content.)

Here are some passages and then I'll try to synthesize. This book is already a synthesis of longer works by the likes of Mircea Eliade, Joseph Campbell, etc. (At least one review I read of this book criticized it for that reason.)

Pages 106-108:
Unless a historical event is mythologized, it cannot become a source of religious inspiration. A myth, it will be recalled, is an event that -- in some sense -- happened once, but which also happens all the time... A myth demands action: they myth of the Exodus demands that Jews cultivate an appreciation of freedom as a sacred value, and refuse either to be enslaved themselves or to oppress others. By ritual practice and ethical response, the story has ceased to be an event in the distant past, and has become a living reality.

St. Paul did the same with Jesus. He was not much interested in Jesus's teachings, which he rarely quotes, or in the events of his earthly life... What was important was the 'mystery' (a word which has the same etymological root as the Greek mythos) of his death and resurrection.... Jesus was no longer a mere historical figure but a spiritual reality in the lives of Christians by means of ritual and the ethical discipline of living the same selfless life as Jesus himself. Christians no longer knew him 'in the flesh' but they would encounter him in other human beings, in the study of scripture, and in the Eucharist. They knew that this myth was true, not because of the historical evidence, but because they had experienced transformation.
This dovetails well with my understanding of Quaker Christianity: That we encounter Christ in other human beings, in scripture, and in the communion of meeting for worship.

I'm also reminded of Walter Wink's book, The Human Being: Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of the Man. He writes that the actual, perhaps subconscious focus of much contemporary New Testament scholarship is the construction of the "myth of the human Jesus," in part as a reaction to the "myth of the divine Jesus." (That is, there is no scientifically compelling and convincing historical evidence about the details of the life of Jesus; hence scholars rely on textual analysis and clues, or "warrants," to build up their theories about who the human Jesus was. I'm saving up some Wink material about this for later.)

I have already typed up some more passages, and intend to reflect on mythical reality vs. physical reality, and to look at what it means to live in a seemingly "mythless" age.

No comments: