Myths and Miracles
Christianity is often dismissed by critics as another collection of Ancient Near Eastern myths, recycled and refitted for Israelite use. While a cursory study of religious records and cultural legends may lead one to concede this charge to be true--that the corpus of Scripture is nothing more than a canonized collection of ancient myths preserved by primitive peoples--the Judeo-Christian tradition says differently when held under careful examination, transitioning from fiction to fact.
The Bible's texts contain sharp distinctions when compared with its contemporaries, distinguishing it from myth to mystery and grounding many of the fanciful superfluities of ancient lore in sobering pros, revealing a divine retrofitting for evangelistic use. Moreover, it should be recognized that the Bible is composed of documents from virtually every literary genre, expressed through evolving worldviews over the course of 1500 years, and therefore, should be approached according to its context and genre.
Nevertheless, though the biblical texts display a domestication of local Ancient Near Eastern lore--some of which is rooted in biblical history such as the Babylonian Epic of Elish--Christians should not dismiss the idea of "myth" completely from their hermeneutics. Myth makes up a part of biblical literature and popular myth is often appropriated by the biblical authors to host divine truth.
An example of this can be found in Jude's use of the Book of Enoch and the Assumption of Moses, two well-known mythical tales he used to carry over his point. If the Bible was written in modern times, it would be like making reference to some popular movies to help illustrate one's argument.
Moreover, myths give people the unique privilege of expressing their creative DNA as God's image bearers, being able to joyfully take to the driver's seat as sub-creators, and materialize fantastic worlds to the glory of God (Epperson and Hall 407; Lewis 622)--reflecting the narrative structure of the redemptive story. This pattern of creation--fall--redemption is evident in virtually every work of fiction in history when examined at their skeletal level.
That said, divine revelation is the intercourse between Christianity and myth, God's word expressed through the conventions of human art and culture.
Following the Enlightenment, some have followed Bultmann's hermeneutical approach in discarding the so-called "mythical husk" from the pages of Scripture to get at the meat of its essence; however--like any organism--removing such from its literary shell will leave it lifeless. God's truth is greater than our terrestrial experience; it is best enshrined in images of the ideal, of the perfection that only the arts can point us toward (Lewis 620). Such is the stuff of Romanticism, which has largely been lost to this current generation. This does not mean, however, that every mythic account in the Bible is a work of fiction.
As Fee and Stuart put it, God
"chose to speak his eternal truths within the particular circumstances and events of human history. This also is what gives us hope. Precisely because God chose to speak in the context of real human history, we may take courage that these same words will speak again and again in our own 'real' history, as they have throughout the history of the church" (26).
That God manifested--and continues to manifest--himself in human history, is, in my opinion, what enthrones Christianity as God's true revelation. And it is that transition from myth to miracle that gives teeth to our faith. In other words, the Biblical world is imminent and accessible. It transcends the province of fantasy and spills over into reality with miracles, signs, and wonders.
Epperson, William, and Mark Hall, eds. Encounters: Readings for Advanced Composition. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt, 2001.
Fee, Gordon D., and Douglas Stuart. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. Fourth Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014.
Lewis, C.S., “The Weight of Glory.” Epperson and Hall 619-625.
The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.
Tolkien, J.R.R. "Leaf by Niggle." Epperson and Hall 433-441.