How Can We Believe in the Bible? Part 4 - Heroes of the Bible
I feel the need, at this point, to make an important distinction between the material found in Genesis 1-11 and the rest of the Bible. Why? Well, because among the various forms of feedback that I received from last week's entry, one very important question was raised - if the stuff in Genesis 1 didn't REALLY happen, how do we know that anything else in the Bible REALLY happened. Why should we believe in any of it?
By the way, this is not to say that these events DIDN'T happen - as I argued in the last entry, the issue is that they might not have, but it doesn't matter, because the SPIRITUAL TRUTH of these stories is what is important, not their historical or scientific accuracy.
What's Different About Genesis 1-11
We can because the material found in Genesis 1-11 is in a special category that separates it from MOST of the rest of the Bible.
In case you didn't know, Genesis 1-11 includes
-Six Days of Creation
-Adam and Eve
-The Fall of Man
-Cain and Abel
-Tower of Babel
-Geneology of very old people from Adam to Noah
-The Tower of Babel
-The Table of Nations down to Abraham
What makes these stories different? Well, the purpose of these stories is basically to set the stage for what happens next - to explain why things are the way they are for the main hero of the Book of Genesis, Abraham, and then his descendants. This is why many scholars call Gen 1-11 "Pre-historical."
They are written in a special language, with special symbols, to explain how and why things are the way they are. This language is called MYTHOLOGICAL language, which originates in something called the Collective Unconciousness. The rest of the Bible uses this kind of language too, but its particularly prevalent here.
Myth, by the way, doesn't mean the story isn't true - that's a fallacy. The word MYTH refers to the story upon which a religion is based. All religions have myths, including ours - ours is in the Bible.
And the thing about Gen 1-11 is that scholars believe it to be a compilation of the CREATION myths of the world and cosmos - they are written by a variety of sources, sometimes with different motivations, put together into one text.
Gen 1-11 is about explaining the Spiritual realities of the ancient Israelite and their relation to the cosmos - what Abraham believed about the universe and so on. Personality characteristics of its heroes, historical data about Israel and its people - these things are NOT AS IMPORTANT in Gen 1-11, as they are not these verses' intent.
This makes it VERY DIFFERENT from EVERYTHING that follows. The rest of the Bible, without exception, is about particular people, and their relationship with God - Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Jeremiah, and so on.
This also makes the rest of the Bible VERY DIFFERENT from mythological stories of other religions - like the Greeks, the Eqyptians, the Babylonians, the Hindus, etc., which are not concerned with actual people AS PEOPLE so much as they are with their metaphorical and mythological significance.
Heroes of the Bible - Real or Not?
The heroes of the Bible are DELIBRATELY depicted as fully rounded characters, complete with strengths and weaknesses, faith and doubts, as they each develop a personal and community relationship with their Creator, a being that reveals himself to each of them in their own challenging ways. No other religion has a book or story or mythology like it, except maybe Islam.
And the reason for this indepth portrayal of these flawed human characters is so that we, the reader, can identify with them - can see OURSELVES in them.
So were they real? Did they have an historical basis?
Well, lets take one very important, very well known example - David and Goliath. Is the story of David and Goliath a TRUE story?
Archaologists have a few bits and pieces of material that indicate the existance of King David, once upon a time. There isn't any written text about King David mind you, besides the Bible. Could it be that this encounter he had with the Philistine Giant was just a legend, a fish story?
First I think its valuable to examine the story for its Spiritual truth - is there truth in this story?
- Do all Goliaths eventually fall? What other Goliaths have existed historically? Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler - what happened to them?
-What Goliath's have I faced in my own life? Bullies, final exams, fear of dating, emotional pain, peer pressure. Does God give me the ability to conquer them?
Maybe David and Goliath is a true story about my life - but maybe it isn't. Maybe Goliath will conquer us, maybe we don't stand a chance against him, as we would expect from a confrontation between a shepherd boy and a giant.
Here's the central question them - how do I know I can conquer MY GOLIATHS had there not once been a Shepherd boy to conquered his.
As such, some kind of a historicity for this story gives it its credibility - there's no reason to believe it FOR ME TODAY otherwise.
So in my view, we can be reasonably certain of an historical basis for the HISTORICAL Bible - that is in contrast with the "pre-historical Bible" of Genesis 1-11, which is also infallible in its communication of SPIRITUAL truth, but not as dependent on its historical accuracy.
Myth of Babe Ruth and David and Goliath
Here's another example of a myth. The great baseball player goes to see this little boy, lying in a hospital. While he's there he promises to hit a home run for him at the baseball game the following day. Seems like a tall promise, because in addition to being the home run king of the major leagues, he is also the strike out king. Nonetheless, for the little boy, Babe Ruth hits not only one, but TWO home runs, with the little boy listening on the radio. Some say this gave the little boy the courage to get better.
This is a factual story. It happened, and is well documented. But a lot of things happened to Babe Ruth. We aren't talking about them anymore. This story continues to be retold because it parallels a UNIVERSAL story, full of universal, mythological themes, themes of heroism, hope and faith, the strong advocating for the weak, that make the story resonate with its listeners at an unconscious level, making us want to pass it on and on.
The story of David and Goliath was probably very similar. The boy conquers the giant resonates with its tellers and its listeners, and that's WHY they passed it on. If it hadn't happened - no historical core, probably nothing to pass on would exist.
Now, could it have been EMBELLISHED? Well, maybe, we'll never know for sure - but we can know that it has an historical basis, and we can evaluate by simply asking TWO QUESTIONS - one, would it have been passed on if it HADN'T happened? and two, does it STILL happen, to US? is it a UNIVERSAL story?
The bottom line is - the Bible is about us - it is intended to be a book that we can read, and relate to, to find ourselves in, so that we will learn by comparison to recognize God's activity in our own lives, much like his activity in the life of Abraham, Ruth, David, Moses, Mary.
Now this having been covered, I feel compelled to deal with the next big question about belief in the Bible - the presence of miracles, and their apparent ABSENCE in our lives today.