Mythology of the Bible

The few times I've sat down and perused the New Testament, I've been struck by the mythic feel of most of the stories. (Well, this applies to the Old Testament as well, but that's not my focus here.) In fact, in the parts that directly talk about Jesus, only the Semon on the Mount has a non-mythic feel. I suspect that, as in any mythology, many of the New Testament stories are borrowed from other cultures and mythologies. For example, a number of quotes are attributed to multiple historicoreligious figures, such as Jesus and Siddhartha Gautama. As mythic tales are passed down, they are applied to the receiving culture's heroes.

So many of the tales of the New Testament have little to do specifically with Christianity, and these same stories have an ageless, mythic quality to them. However, the Sermon on the Mount stands apart. It isan exposition, an analysis, a discussion of previous teachings. There are no action scenes to speak of, and it is highly philosophical. It has the feel of rhetoric, not story-telling. I suspect that it is far more historically accurate than the surrounding text -- it also has the feel of a belated transcription, like someone who was present at one of Jesus' speeches went home and wrote down what they remembered of it.

What I find intriguing about this explanation of the striking difference in style is that the Sermon on the Mount is also regarded as the core of Jesus' teachings. A number of non-Christians or non-standard Christians agree with the teachings in that particular story, but have doubts about the others. Some regard it as the true core of Christianity. (Perhaps the writing style is simply more believable, but could this not be due to the same logic I use here?) I don't have any particular position on its relationship with Christianity, but I do hold that of all the Jesus stories, it is the most likely to be historically accurate.

Responses: 5 so far Feed icon

  1. Anna says:

    Well, that's the most real part for me -- as one of those non-standard Christians, it is the section of the New Testament that really pulled me in, and I like to question everything.:)

  2. Shawn Anthony says:

    Great post Tim. Much of the narrative in the Gospels came at a much later date (from the life of Jesus). The earliest "gospel" was transmitted orally (oral tradition) and most likely only consisted of Jesus' short, pithy aphorisms. These aphorisms are most likely historical. They are also all through the synoptic Gospels (Matt. Mark. Luke) too. So, I'd personally make more room for Jesus sayings ... there's a lot more that is historical.

  3. Tim McCormack says:

    I'm sure there is much more that is historical, but it is so... modified... that I don't know what to make of it. The Sermon on the Mount is what I find the most compelling, the most believable, even though I don't necessarily agree with all of it.

    By the way, I think this has a lot to do with the appearance of credibility -- something web designers should take to heart.

  4. Shawn Anthony says:

    A lot has been modified Tim, you are so right. Take John, there isn't one parable in it. That's basic biblical studies stuff that most folk just don't give much attention.

    I am so curious about the last part of your comment. I think I know what you are getting at ... but I'm not quite sure. Can you say more? :)

  5. Tim McCormack says:

    Well, whether or not people agree with something or let it influence them depends highly upon the mode of presentation. I am intrigued by the differing styles within the bible and their differing effects upon me -- I find some more believable than others simply due to their structure, not so much their content. It's a credibility issue.

    A lot of what web designers worry about is related to credibility, and appearance of honesty. You don't want your site to be too flashy, or it will look suspect. At the same time, a site that looks messy can be a big turn-off, too. It all depends on your audience, of course -- flashy and messy are not a problem for the majority of web users. The ever-popular "grunge" look that designers like isn't always so popular with Mom and Pop, but it sure attracts the designers.

    I guess what I was saying in that too-brief aside was that religion and web design both have the "audience problem". Different styles turn different people on and off. What it says about me is that I'm attracted to the no-frills style (in both design and religion.)

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