The Bible and Myth

I mentioned in a post the other day that one of the books I’m currently reading is Roger Corless’ I am Food: The Mass in Planetary Perspective, a commentary on the Mass. (Given my own history, I’m always interested in reading the thoughts of others who write about Christianity in a way that reflects their experience with Buddhism.)

Talking about the Liturgy of the Word, Corless talks about what it means to call the material in the Bible myth.

The Bible speaks to us from nonordinary reality….In ordinary language, myth means something which is not true, but to the scholar of religions it means something which is more true than the information of ordinary space-time, because it gives meaning to it.

This is an important point that people often lose sight of: that something can be true even if it is not factually accurate. Corless gives the example of the story of Adam and Eve. He writes

The events in the story did not happen, but they are true. We are all Adams and Eves, that is to say, we were all intended by God to be his companions, his co-workers on this planet, but we have all gone wrong by trying to take over in our own right. The book of Genesis tells us this in the form of a story which happened…”once upon a time.” Children knew quite well that “once upon a time” cannot be dated on the calendar. It means “once in nonordinary reality.”…As we grow up, we lose this sense of a timeless nonordinary reality, demand that everything be dated, find that Adam and Eve cannot be dated, and reject the biblical story as pure fantasy.

The Bible is not history, but myth. If people could understand that, they would avoid the mistake that encourages insistence on literal interpretation of the Bible to the point of absurdity.

Once we get over the error of “allowing only History as evidence” and understand that it is not the case that the only two alternatives are history and fantasy, we can better appreciate the truth in the Bible.