Saturday, February 9, 2008

Reflections on Revelation and Mythology

Fundamentalists generally view historical narratives in their scriptures as actual, factual retellings of events, true to life in regard to detail. Such a view of sacred history results in the elevation of historical narrative into sacrosanct holy cows. Despite archeological and historical evidences to the contrary, these enshrined cows remain aloof—immune to the touch of skeptical inquiry.

The primary fundamentalists that I have in mind are Muslim fundamentalists. Oh, how quickly and gleefully the Christian fundamentalist will delight in my criticisms, but reader beware: the same criticisms applied to the Quran constitute the opposite end of the same two edged sword when applied to the Bible.

The quranic portraits of biblical history betray its sources. While the traditional biblical narratives might form a foundation to a given quranic retelling, the Quran is also quick to incorporate folk and apocryphal sources as well. For example, the Quran draws from midrashic traditions when it tells of the holding of Mt. Sinai over the heads of the Children of Israel or of Abraham being a stargazer. Similarly, apocryphal sources constitute likely analogues and sources for the pericopes of Jesus making birds out of clay (compare to the Gospel of Thomas) and the deliverance of Abraham (compare to the Book of Jubilees).

When evaluated beneath the lens of historical accuracy, such narratives are found to be obviously non-historical and mythological. Most of the sacred history incorporated into the Quran is myth, not history. Does this make the Quran any less of an inspired book? My answer is no.

The Quran’s purpose was not the retelling of accurate history. Incorporation of mythic material from the faith traditions of Judaism (e.g., the Exodus from Egypt, the kingdom of Solomon) and Christianity (e.g., the virgin birth) serve not as a stamp or seal of historical reliability but rather as a means of rooting the infantile faith community of Islam into the ever-evolving complex of Judeo-Christian or Abrahamic religion.

The Bible is mythical as well. Most assuredly the 7-day creation story, the misunderstood Eden epic, the Flood of Noah, the tower of Babel, the call of Abraham, the Exodus, the Sinai theophany, the kingdoms of David and Solomon, the virgin birth, and the Easter tomb are the stuff of myth. It shocks me that so many today still accept these narratives as literal history. And, in so far as the intent of these stories was to retell accurate history, thus far these books are mundane and uninspired. Yet, I find inspiration and the veiled face of Ultimate Reality in these narratives.

Frustrated with the mundanity of the Bible and the Quran, I could readily reject belief in God. Disappointed with biblical law and quranic jurisprudence, I am ready to give up. Having given up on reconciling science with scriptures, I consider further attempts a waste of breath. But, I choose to hold on with the hope that underlying inspiration will one day enlighten me. For the record, I am considering Universal Sufism…albeit, as a Christian agnostic who meditates on the Hebrew Bible and the Quran.

22 comments:

Tandi said...

Hello Peter,

Don’t give up!!

Matisyahu has some wise words for you.....

Stripping away the layers and reveal your soul
You’ve got to give yourself up and then you become whole
You're a slave to yourself and you don't even know
You want to live the fast life but your brain won’t slow
If you're trying to stay high you're bound to stay low
You want G-d but you couldn’t deflate your ego
If you’re already there then there's nowhere to go
If your cup's already full then it’s bound to overflow
If you're drowning in the waters and you can't stay afloat
Ask HaShem for mercy and He'll throw you a rope....

You can bound from God, you’ll say He couldn’t be found
Searching up to the sky looking beneath the ground
Like a king without his crown
You keep falling down
You really want to live but can’t get rid of your frown
Trying to reach up to the heights and wound bound down on the ground
Giving up your pride, then you heard a sound
Out of Night comes Day
Out of Day comes Light
Nullified to the One Light
Sunlight in a ray
Make room for His love....


Yes, the beginning of the song needs to become your sentiments once again (or for the first time, whichever the case):

You’re all that I have and You’re all that I need
Each and every day I pray to get to know You please
Want to be close to You, yes I'm so hungry
You’re like water for my soul
And it gets thirsty
Without You there’s no me
You’re the air that I breathe....
Sometimes the world gets dark and I just can’t see....

Giving myself to You now from the essence of My being...

Hear the Lamb....Hear your Yah...

(King Without a Crown lyrics)



I don’t see why you can’t put your questions and doubts about historical accuracy, scientific facts, etc. on the back burner for a while and just read the Bible from the perspective of its main purpose: The Story of Redemption. Spiritual life is more like an epic poem than a math problem.

If God chose to use myth and scientific blunder to relate the Grand Story, what is that to you? You are missing the message. God loves you and has provided a way for you to be brought into intimate fellowship with Him. You can be a friend of God, just like Abraham. But it has to be His way, not yours. God is a Jealous God. You cannot split your loyalty between Yah-Ahavah (The God of Love) and the distant, unknowable Allah. Regardless of generic terminology (El or Al), they are not the same God in concept. Thus, one is Baal (Allah) and One is the True God. “Choose ye this day whom you will serve.”...If Y-H-W-H be God, serve Him...if Allah be god, serve him. The True God will not share His glory with another (Isaiah 42:8). And a double minded man cannot receive anything from the LORD (James 1).

“Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3)

Why not remove the Quran from your domain for one month. If Allah is indeed an idol, his book would be a magnet, just as any other trinket of idolatry. I know you don’t believe this is possible, but why not test my theory. Take all your “bad books,” put them in a box, and put them in storage somewhere.

Try a cleansed home for a period of 30 days, even 7 days. Do SOMETHING to test the spirits.

Your life needs to start spiraling in an upward direction.

“LORD, raise me up from the ground, I’ve been here too long....” (Lord Raise Me Up; Live at Stubbs)

I’ll be praying Matisyahu songs for you today, as led of the LORD.

Love in Yeshua,

Maureen

Jamie G. said...

Maureen,
You said, "I don’t see why you can’t put your questions and doubts about historical accuracy, scientific facts, etc. on the back burner for a while and just read the..."

Can't the same be said by a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist?

You said, "If God chose to use myth and scientific blunder to relate the Grand Story, what is that to you?"

You reduce belief in "God" to faith, and again, what makes your god and the call for faith unique among the billions of religions among the world?

Sounds intellectually dishonest to lower your level for acceptance as truth what you would not grant the next religion. Dishonesty doesn't win converts.

Tandi said...

Hi Jamie,

I was just thinking of you today. I was wondering whether the Alister McGrath books would have an impact on you. (Former atheist, refuted Dawkins).

I wondered if I would be misunderstood in my post to Peter. I think he will understand me. I'm not lowering my standards...just trying to encourage him to take a break from his intellectual quest for answers. A good understanding have they who fear the LORD and do His commandments (Psalm 111). That is the first step. There is nothing but frustration apart from a right relationship with the LORD and he seems to be expressing that frustration in this post.

I believe and cherish the Bible as the Word of God. I don't see it as myth and historic/scientific blunder. But I have come to realize that Peter is not the only one who has issues with the Bible while acknowledging underlying inspiration. There are plenty of Christians/Messianics who doubt things yet still enjoy relationship with God. The Christian life is an ongoing theological journey.

We discovered some excellent essays by Steve Jones. He writes honestly of his own theological journey. Just google "My Theological Journey" and it should be the first hit. We liked "Christianity for Those Who Don't Fit the Template" and several others. You may find yourself relating to some of his insights.

Hope you are well.

PeterS said...

Hello Tandi/Jamie

The inspiration of holy books is purely human. Holy book revelation is an attempt of humanity at reaching out to connect with and explain Ultimate Reality. Whether this Ultimate Reality is personalized (theism, deism, pantheism, etc.) or not (agnosticism, atheism), Ultimate Reality is the same.

The penultimate revelation of truth is the book of nature. This is revelation raw and unadulterated. My appreciation for this book is not sufficient grounds to loose all appreciation for holy books. So I continue to enjoy the superlatives of the Quran and the narratives of the Bible.

It is utter sectarian foolishness to hector one deity over another on the basis of arbitrary sectarian standards. What makes one person’s Allah another’s idol? Really, it is all arbitrary pride, foolishness…. No, I will not remove my Bibles or my Qurans. I might use one for a stool if necessary (as I do not believe there is any pneumatic significance to either), but I will not enshrine them either.

Jamie G. said...

Maureen,
I am familiar with McGrath and his work. If by refuting Dawkins you mean using the same ol' worn out theistic logical fallacies, then you are correct. And if by 'former atheist' you mean that at birth ALL humans are atheists (in the weak atheist sense) then I will buy it.

Time and space does not permit how silly are McGrath's counter-arguments. Education doesn't guarantee critical thinking skills. His specious reasoning doesn't impress me.

Your response reminds me of a dear friend of mine who tried to 'save' me from myself. He wrote that I needed to read the entire book of John through the eyes of faith, and then 'God' would open my heart to receive him. In other words, believe so that you may believe. Circular reasoning that is used by many religions as 'evidence'. But it's wrong.

Come on Maureen. For everything else you make effort to think critically to make good and right and true choices. Why not do the honest thing and apply those same skills to religious belief?

Tandi said...

Hello Peter,

The PENULTIMATE revelation (Nature) points to the ULTIMATE revelation...THE WORD OF GOD! All other writings and philosophies are ANTIPENULTIMATE at best.

Don’t be so petulant, Peter.... REPENT!

Tandi and Dave

(Dave’s favorite word is antipenultimate, so he came up with the first line of this response. The last line is mine. Please do not use the Bible as a stool! That statement makes me feel alienated and estranged from you. I don’t know why this disturbs me more than other outrageous things you have said.

You are making it increasingly difficult for me to continue my hope that you will return from Infidel-land. It is a good thing “Hope in My Heart” won the race at Tampa Bay Downs yesterday. Kind of a longshot too. “Trace of Faith” was also in the race. The trainer’s name is Peter. I look for “signs” of encouragement wherever I can find them.

Tandi said...

Jamie,

So did you try your friend’s advice and immerse yourself in the Book of John?

It is not a matter of believing so you may believe. It is more like allowing yourself to be found. Faith IS the evidence of things not seen. You cannot make yourself have faith, but when you have it, no one can talk you out of it by logic or any other method. I challenge both of you to read the Bible through chapter by chapter (KJV). I think you both are afraid that you just might truly encounter the Living God and find yourself surrendering. It could be a life changing experience.

Jamie G. said...

Tandi,
Yes, I did go back and reread the book of John, and I have to admit that it was quite a different experience reading it as a non-believer. I use to get excited about the book of John. This time I was bored, disgusted, and annoyed. According to him I wasn't doing it right. I really, really tried to "get it", but I couldn't help laughing out loud about how silly it all sounded. Do you remember the feeling you felt when you read the works of Shakespeare or Greek mythology? That's how reading John felt to me. Kind of interesting, but pretty lame.

"Believe, so that you may believe." Those were his words verbatim, not mine.

You said, "It is more like allowing yourself to be found." What does that mean? Even as a Christian this sounded profound, but it didn't really make a lot of sense.

You said, "Faith IS the evidence of things not seen. You cannot make yourself have faith, but when you have it, no one can talk you out of it by logic or any other method."

EXACTLY! And that's the problem. You are asking me to believe something without sufficient evidence, just take someone's word for it. Illogical, impractical, and foolish.

I can hear your retort now, "But didn't you trust you parents when they said don't touch the stove without having to prove it?" Yes, however, I could easily test their claims. When they told me to accept that Santa Claus existed I did, until I matured and was able to develop enough critical thinking skills to test it. And I found that there was no convincing evidence for a belief in Santa. The same goes for Yahweh, or any god for that matter.

Yet, I know people who swear to the power of magnetic bracelets, Vitamin C/Coral Calcium/Enzyte, but when the claims are put to the test they are found wanting. But you can't convince these people otherwise. It doesn't matter if a billion people believe something is true (like a few hundred years ago when everyone was convinced the sun went around the earth), it doesn't make it truth. And your arguments could be used by any religion. What argument can your religion use that no other religion can use to the efficacy of its dogma/tenets/truth claims?

You said, "I challenge both of you to read the Bible through chapter by chapter (KJV). I think you both are afraid that you just might truly encounter the Living God and find yourself surrendering. It could be a life changing experience."

I admit I don't read the Bible much, if at all, anymore. I don't read Emerson, Whitman, Twain, or Nietzsche much either. When I was a Christian I read the Bible all the way through at least once a year, sometimes three times, depending on my schedule. I still quote scripture very well when need be. If it takes just reading the Bible I think you would have a far larger portion of the world's population to claim as Christians.

As far as being afraid, you have totally misjudged me. I admit that I am fully open and willing to believe and accept as god any being that can and will prove itself as such. I am not an atheist because I enjoy sin or love to rebel. I am an atheist because by definition there just isn't any convincing evidence to think otherwise. Your god, as well as all others, just haven't produced the goods. And if he/she/it truly exists, then he/she/it knows exactly what it would take to convince me, and would and SHOULD do so, especially your god, by definition. As of yet, the jury is still out.

Jamie G. said...

Oh...

Let me add this. Since you are throwing down a challenge, let me do likewise. May I suggest a few books (far less than the 66 of the Bible): John Loftus' "Why I Am An Atheist", Dan Barker's "Losing Faith In Faith", David Mills' "Atheist Universe", Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion", Christopher Hitchens' "god Is Not Great", Victor Stenger's "God: The Failed Hypothesis", and Sam Harris "End of Faith" and "Letter to A Christian Nation".

Or is it that you are afraid of encountering reality and finding yourself no longer able to believe? This, too, could be a life changing experience.

PeterS said...

Amen Jamie...

thank you

Tandi said...

Very discouraging posts, both of you. But I will not give up. As usual, this is how I will continue to sing and pray Paul Wilbur’s “Watchman” ..............

God has placed a watchman on your walls, Peter Tzuriel
She will not be silent day or night
Of your name she makes constant mention
She will give no sleep to her eyes
Until God establishes grace
There will be no peace in her nights
Until the LORD makes Peter a praise (to His Name)
He is able by His strength.

If we lift up our voices and call on the LORD He will come
And the nations will see that salvation comes from Zion
[Gentile inclusion; a universal faith to “whosoever will”]
No more waiting, the anointing of God has begun
Blind eyes will see as the captives go free [Peter and Jamie]
If we lift up our voices He’ll come.

Behold the LORD has proclaimed to the ends of the Earth
And though there’s fear in their hearts tonight
Something’s already birthed
Tabernacle is rising right now
In the hearts of those who believe
There’s the sound of a freedom shout
Rising up from under your feet

If we lift up our voices and call on the LORD He will come
And the nations will see that salvation comes from Zion
No more waiting the anointing of God has begun
Blind eyes will see as the captives go free
If we lift up our voices He’ll come.

May the readers of this blog join me in prayer for these two formerly zealous believers who have somehow been caught up in a satanic snare.

PeterS said...

Hello Tandi,

Discouraging posts? :-) You sound like a teacher or a parent. You may be discouraged if you wish, but, speaking for myself (and likely for Jamie), my intent is not to please anyone. I welcome all comments and replies, but I post as I wish on my blog. I am not pursuing the "praise of men" (allusion to the book of John). I can stand on my own two feet.

Tandi, are you willing to take up the very same challenge that you propose? This question is the essence of Jamie's reply. If Jamie commits to reading the Bible cover-to-cover, would you be willing to read from an alternative perspective? Sorry to commit Jamie, but I think that he needs that "old time [KJV] religion" more than I do--especially since he is geographically embedded in the Bible belt regions of conservative bumpkinville. (Jamie, I am joking, somewhat.)

I take a somewhat different approach to my "infidelity" than Jamie. While both Jamie and I maintain intellectual development, I continue to read the Bible often. Despite my statements above, I do not fault Jamie or find his approach lacking. My studies of the Bible amount to ongoing attempts at understanding its textual developments, the evolution of Israelite religion, changes in understanding biblical morals, intersections with archeology and history, and disparities with science.

I read from the Bible almost daily. Last night I was studying passages in Isaiah correlated with use in the writings of Luke-Acts. I find Luke's creative "exegesis" of Isaiah to be just that, creative. He certainly was comfortable with reapplying Scripture in ways that stretch historical-grammatical hermeneutical allowances. I hope that those who desire to maintain reverence for a holy book will learn to do so as well in relation to biblical paradigms that deprive significant portions of humanity from basic rights. Time will tell.

Tandi said...

Peter, I saw your Hebrew name in today’s Bible Pathway installment (Numbers 35:3-Zuriel). I never noticed this before. Every time through the Bible, something new stands out to me, shining like a gem. I will continue fighting this tug of war for your soul with this latest word of encouragement. This is the only place in Scripture Tzuriel appears...just one time...and it happened to be in today’s reading. Interesting.

More tomorrow maybe....I’m tired from being up in the middle of the night praying and posting at this blog (your time stamp is two hours off; it can be changed in settings.)

Here’s the rest of the Paul Wilbur lyrics.....the prophetic prologue to Watchman....

And behind the veil of what is seen to the natural eye
A great event is being prepared
A war and a wedding feast will have their place in time
Soon and not yet is the word that the watchman gives
As he strains his eyes through the darkness of the night mist
He can sense that just beyond the horizon
A great brightness is preparing to break forth
Arise you sleepers
Shake off your slumber He calls
Come and fill your lamp with fresh oil
Trim your wick
Cry out in the streets and do not let your voice be silent
For the coming of the Great King is at hand
Arise and shine for your Light is come
And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you
Only wait for the LORD
Be strong and of a good courage
And wait for the LORD

Jamie G. said...

Peter,
I admit I am a little disappointed with Maureen. I can't figure out if she is even listening to my attempts to at least reason with her or is she being patronizing. She knows our backgrounds, that we both have applied many hours of study and thought into religious belief. You have brought up some very interesting and telling points in this post, and in her responses it seems she wasn't paying attention. The same goes for her responses to my comments.

There have been several times back when my wife and I were believers when she has shared her frustrations with her mother. Dee would respond with, "Well, you need to pray about it and trust the Lord." Charity would get frustrated because she had been already praying and trusting God for an answer, and she wanted more from her mother. I feel that same frustration. Maureen ought to know that you and I have already done everything she has suggested and more.

Maureen, don't interpret that frustration with you as being frustrated with "God" because I haven't got the answers I wanted. I am fine with the fact that there is no proof for a god, that life doesn't necessarily have a "purpose", and that in a billion years there will be no record of humans having ever even existed. I don't need a god belief or a promise of an afterlife to have purpose and meaning. No, my frustration is with religious people who just aren't paying attention, who condescendingly say, "but if you'll just do this...". This isn't my blog, but Maureen, if you want to engage in the conversation, great, but I don't find Matisyahu lyrics very convincing.

And Peter,

Though I admit there are some very beautiful and poetic words in the Bible, it certainly isn't in the forefront of things on my list to read often. I am burnt out on the Bible. There is so much literature in the world that I have missed out on that I am now only learning to enjoy. I am ready to experience the majesty and holiness in the works of the cultures of the world. My worldview has been limited far too long.

Tandi said...

Jamie,

Your Amazon wish list is 99.9% atheist books and has been for the past year. So much for expanding your appreciation for the literature of the world.

I do not mean to sound patronizing in my postings. I think YOU are the one "playing" us....when your real agenda is trying to convert your old acquaintances to atheism. You posted the same anonymous message on multiple blogs for example.

What kind of response are you looking for from me? Your mother-in-law had perfectly sound advice...."pray and trust the LORD."

If you cannot hear from God it could be as simple as unconfessed sin hindering communication. It doesn't take much logic to figure that out. And the most odious sin of all is pride...thinking we can live without God in our lives.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

The only sin that cannot be forgiven is the one not confessed and forsaken.

Try the Paul Wilbur lyrics....you might like them more than the Matisyahu lyrics. Better yet, download the song and listen. The old Jamie would have loved this music. Days of Elijah is another good one by Wilbur.

PeterS said...

Hello Jamie,
I was not suggesting that my approach is better. I am worn out as well. For me, I regularly come to theological aspirations that come back dry. Current I am looking into a number of paradigms for understanding world theologies and how they relate to that the various meanings that people have made and continue to make for themselves today. Again, I generally find myself discouraged…just last night I said that I was ready to give up theology and comparative religion and just study psychology and politics. I just feel as though I know so much about multiple models of religion, and I do not want to toss all of my learning aside despite my frustrations.
So, I continue to learn, research, and apply to the end of better understanding myself and religious psychology….

PeterS said...

Unanswered prayer?
The Bible offers some very far-reaching promises related to prayer. Then, I John throws in the condition of unconfessed sin. So the suppliant supplicates and searches her soul for the secret sin that prevents God from answering. She blames herself while the God who is not there laughs.

Jamie G. said...

Peter,
I understand your approach. Religion still very much interests me. I think the question of the existence of a god or gods is the ultimate existential question. And religion tends to be the spring board toward philosophy and even the sciences. But I find myself putting my 'toys' down more often since I have taken up a new position at work, and the baby is growing up so fast.

Tandi,
Could you be more ignorant? You don't know me. You've never been to my house. You haven't seen my private Amazon wish lists, and you obviously exaggerate about my public one.

I don't wish to convert anyone. I would like to have meaty, yet practical....and heartfelt discussions. I obviously seem to be wasting my time with you.

Anyways, I love your blog Peter, and will do better to focus my attention.

Andrew T. said...

Hello Jamie,

Although I disagree with you on ontological questions and how to approach them, I really like your personality. Maureen is one of the most well intentioned people you could imagine, but she doesn't reason or compare alternatives very well. Thank you for being civil, and if you have time, we can talk again!

Tandi said...

Thank you, Andrew. Yes, why don’t you and Jamie go at it from the logic angle and I will offer my narrow-minded Biblical perspective. This will provide various views for consideration. Jamie, I do appreciate that you could have used worse language to describe your displeasure with me and I appreciate your restraint very much. : )

Peter, my heart is yearning and breaking to see your RETURN to faith. WE NEED YOU! GOD NEEDS YOU! THE KINGDOM NEEDS YOU! Your studies will not have been in vain if you return. Stop running from the call on your life. What you see as unanswered prayer has been a time of necessary testing to prepare you for the difficulties ahead. The future is awesome, but fraught with challenge and isolation.

Excerpt from today’s Bible Pathway commentary on Numbers 5-6.....

The LORD bestows a powerful blessing on all who dedicate their lives inwardly and outwardly to Him.

Taking the vow of a Nazarite meant separating oneself to God for a specific period of time—a month to a lifetime......The opposite of a Nazarite can be found in the following manifestation of a self-absorbed life: Pride – exalted sense of self-worth due to appearance or abilities; Independence – refusing to submit to authority; Discouragement – always expressing a negative attitude; Anger and Impatience – resentment and retaliation when others excel or things don’t go one’s way; Self-will – having a stubborn and unteachable spirit; Love of Praise – seeking to be noticed; and Deceit – evading and covering up the truth....All these result from a deadness of spirit (lack of love for God) which, in turn, is the result of an indifference to God’s Word and His plan for one’s life.

Sugggestion: By prayer, hold your heart open to the searchlight of God as you pray: Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23-24).

Thought for Today: What or who is keeping you from giving the LORD His rightful place in your life?

Nazarite is a Hebrew term meaning “dedication by separation.”


I will try to post Pat’s testimony on my blog later today in the hope that it will help others realize that God is Real and answers the prayer of the skeptic who is willing to humble himself and wave the white flag of surrender. And he who is not willing to humble himself....God has His own ways of humbling to bring him to that point. Whom the LORD loves, He chastens....for our good always (Pro. 3:12; Heb. 12:6; Deut. 6:24).

Tandi said...

Hello Peter,

Dave has a question. I told him I would ask you since you are widely read on theological subjects. Others are welcome to respond as well. I would like to hear a variety of views.

What was the purpose of the Tower of Babel? Is there archeological or historical evidence for it?

I posted Pat's testimony at my blog this morning. Readers can click on my name to get there. Then click on Ponderings.

PeterS said...

Hello Tandi,

Sarna has an excellent commentary on Genesis 10 and 11. This commentary is either in his JPS Bible commentary to Genesis or in his book on Genesis and pre-history. Both are great works. He demonstrates the manner in which Genesis 1 – 11 incorporate mythic motifs and materials. He does this while yet maintaining his belief in the supernatural inspiration of Genesis so he is not a liberal, minimalist conspirator. That is, you do not need to be afraid of him.