Myth, epic, or what?

We will be covering Genesis in class beginning Wednesday.  I’ve been using the word “myth” to some extent in class.  It’s a word I’m not uncomfortable with as Pope John Paul II used the language of myth (paragraph 3), though some are uncomfortable with it.

However, beyond the issue of being comfortable with the language, it is possible that “myth” is potentially not the right word.  You can check out this post and see that some have proposed other terms like “epic.”

So, how do you define “myth”? And, is it a good word to describe the early parts of Genesis?

* Disclaimer – any time that I link to a site on this blog I’m not endorsing everything there or even everything in the articles.

PS – I’m not ignoring the game … it’s half-time. Who Dat!

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About Jeremy

I work at Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Hammond, LA. I teach part-time classes from time to time, through Loyola University in New Orleans, Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans and St. Joseph's Abbey and Seminary College. I also just finished a doctoral degree in Biblical languages through the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa.
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15 Responses to Myth, epic, or what?

  1. Cameron Cates says:

    My definition of a myth is a false story told as if it is true. Many myths, especially the good ones, are difficult to decide between true or false, but in the end a myth is false. Similar to a “legend.” I do not believe the early parts of Genesis are mythical because I have been taught to believe that what the bible says is true and I believe that. The term myth also refers to make-believe such as mythical creatures and such.

    • Jeremy says:

      Cameron,
      You are right that this word has taken on these connotations in modern times. We think of myths as false ideas that need to be “busted.” And certainly, that is one reason I am reluctant sometimes to use the term, but the word didn’t always have those negative connotations.

  2. Jessica Williams says:

    I view Genesis as an epic, since most of it has these subtle forms of poetry that have been lost in translation. The true/false thing is something that we discussed already in the historicity post – I believe that the entire Bible was inspired by God. Whether it is literally true, or only relatively true, I take it as that.

  3. Darrinton Moncrieffe says:

    When I think of the word myth I think of a story that might be true but most likely isn’t. I dont think that it is a good word to describe the beginning of Genesis because it makes the normal person who doesnt know the other definition of the word think that you are saying that the creation story is not true. I think epic might be a good term to use.

  4. Taifa Goff says:

    Prior to attending class, I had never heard the word myth used before in reference to the Bible. Now that I know the different definitions for the word, I don’t see ‘myth’ as something that is entirely false. Seeing as there is no rock solid evidence, in the theological sense it is okay to use the word ‘myth’. I, however, will not use that word when referring to the Old Testament because as far as I’m concerned everything is true.

  5. Ruth Carter says:

    The dictionary definition of a myth is: “a traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some being or hero or event, with or without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation, esp. one that is concerned with deities or demigods and explains some practice, rite, or phenomenon of nature. ” Although we are used to hearing myths of Egyptian and Greek gods, which we dismiss because we believe they are simply fiction, they are also just stories placed under the umbrella of this term. Because we have imposed our modern view on this word, this does not change the meaning of this word. I think that myth is an appropriate word to use for the stories in the Bible. I believe all of the elements described in the definition of a myth are more closely related to the stories in the Bible than those described in the definition of an epic.

  6. Amber Donewar says:

    I define a myth that has been told for centuries that has underlying truths, but is not true in itself. Certain aspects of Genesis I believe and most I don’t. I believe that myth and legend are synonymous with each other and that the Greek and Roman stories of the gods fall into these categories. Just like this is our religious history, that was theirs. Who are we to say that their myths aren’t true and our story of creation is? For me the bottom line is, a story is a story is a story, and the way it is classified depends on the person classifying it.

  7. Sean Hart says:

    It’s all fiction, but you could say its myth and also an epic. In some bookstores the bibles might be under myth, but I think mostly they would be put into the epic section.

  8. Marielly Abzun says:

    In my opinion I do not see the fuss about using the word ‘myth’. Myth is just a narrative (validity has nothing to do with the definition) told orally or passed down from an ancestor. The negative connotation that the word ‘myth’ has in our society seems a bit outrageous. I would consider the Book of Genesis a myth. I would not consider Genesis an epic; it is not written as a long poetic writing.

  9. Robin Takami Tanner says:

    Myth in my mind has the connotation of a story that is generally considered false, like myths of dragons or the Greek gods. Epic seems to have a cleaner slate in terms of being false or true. Considering Genesis as an epic does seem to sit more pleasantly in my mind, though really it’s all semantics, and so I think either can work when redefined as being non-verifiable.

  10. Andrew McDaniel says:

    When I think of the term myth I think of an ancient passed down story describing an important event. While most myths cannot be proved, they often cannot be proved wrong either. Considering this I would feel alright considering Exodus a myth.

  11. Melissa Raymond says:

    My defintion of myth is a story that has been passed down for generations, and that has survived over significant amounts of time. To me what makes a myth different from other ‘stories’ is that is contains subject matter of some sort of event or person that is extremely important to the group of people that choose to keep the myth alive for so long. It can tell the tale of a hero or person that is well loved, or it can help explain some sort of huge event that people can’t explain themselves. I think that myth is the appropriate term to use in regaurds to the book of Genesis in the Old Testament. I do not think that the story of creation found here should be taken literally, that God created the world. But within this myth you can find truths ABOUT God, like everything is created in his image, or he loves all things on earth. I think myth is an appropriate word when talking about the creation story in the Old Testament.

  12. Naomi Stewart-Rubik says:

    I do believe myth is a good word for describing the early parts of Genesis. I often consider myth to be about creation or divine intervention. Not necessarily false, but certainly embellished. Genesis tells the story of the beginning of Earth and all life on it. I feel as though it’s no surprise it would be somewhat mythical.

  13. John Hickey says:

    My defintion a of myth or mythic story, is a story passed down through a culture, and is unique to the people which tell the story. This story maybe true or false, but the story does have cultural significance to it, and is usually meant to entertain, and usually has a moral attached to it. And I would say its a good way to describe Genesis.

  14. Jade Tang says:

    I think myth is not a bad word choice when used to describe Genesis. To me, a myth is something that has at one point been believed to be true but is later disproved like the “myth” that the world is flat. Out of all parts of the Bible, I think Genesis is something that could be seen as mythical because I find a lot of that section very difficult to fathom as being possible.

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