Saturday, February 12, 2011

Myth Trump Reality

I recently attended a lecture on Exodus - you know the second book of the Bible, not the movie. The distinguished professor who was discussing Exodus made it quite clear that there was absolutely no evidence that the events described in the book took place - Jews as slaves in Egypt and their consequent "exodus" which entailed some millions (using biblical references to arrive at this number) of people wandering through the Sinai desert for some 40 years. There is no archeological evidence supporting this. There is no reference to such events, or to Israelites, in any Egyptian documents of the time. These conclusions are shared by a number of other investigators and are not only those of the lecturer. If you are a believer in God and that the Bible is in fact the word of God, then any evidence to the contrary is meaningless to you. This essay will not persuade nor dissuade you one way or the other - nor is that its intention.

Let us assume that these conclusions were true and the lack of evidence for an "exodus" story is truly incontrovertible. Do you believe that Judaism and Christianity would disappear, or their traditions be significantly altered by these facts? If it were proven beyond any reasonable doubt that there never was an exodus, there never existed a Moses - or there never was a manger-birth of a baby to a mother who was a virgin, or there never existed a Jesus as detailed in the New Testament - do you believe that Judaism and/or Christianity would be cast aside?

I doubt it. True of false, the story would go on. True believers would "clarify" these "incontrovertible" truths with words such as "we humans are incapable of understanding the ways of God," or "the absence of evidence can never indicate that it didn't occur," or some other specious arguments too numerous to list.

I will conclude that the entire biblical story is a myth. But what of it? Myths fulfill a human need. We mythologize so as to attribute explanations where none may yet exist; we mythologize to create a credible and honorable history where none may exist. The reality of the "myth" is that the "myth" helps create an acceptable "reality" - even if this "reality" in fact, never existed! Humanity needs its myths much as it needs water to drink and air to breathe!

Other Examples:

We have mythologized Abraham Lincoln.

If you research his life and actions you will find that 1) he did not believe in the equality of races, though he did believe slavery was wrong. 2) the Emancipation Proclamation did not free all the slaves. Slaves in border states and areas of the south not in secession were not required to free their slaves. The Proclamation applied only to areas in secession that came under control of Union forces. Had an uninvaded state of the Confederate States of America decided to rejoin the Union, slavery need not have been abolished. 3) he illegally confined prisoners by abrogating the habeas corpus clause of the Constitution. 4) his purpose for going to war was not to end slavery, but to preserve the Union. As a matter of fact, when reading certain works describing Lincoln and the Civil War, comparisons to George W. Bush and the Iraq War seem totally appropriate.

We have mythologized our Declaration of Independence.

Do you believe the intent truly was "all men are created equal," Were blacks equal, were women equal? Was slavery mentioned? Are you aware that the document cites the following reason for referring to King George as an oppressor: "He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions."

Realities are lost in myths. We have a need to ignore the bad in order to uphold the good. Let the myths reign! Long live mythology!

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