Does it matter if Bible stories are true?

Posted: July 23, 2011 in Because I love Judaism I can never be a pure rationalist, My moral code
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Unless you have read Joseph Campbell’s “The Power of Myth” or Neil Gillman’s “Sacred Fragments”, it’s likely that your definition of the word “myth” is something akin to “fiction”, “story”, or “the opposite of ‘fact'”. Conversely, if you have read up on the subject, then you know that the word “myth” is hundreds of times more complex than that. Especially, if you read Rabbi Gillman, then you know that myths are not just stories but are foundational narratives about beginnings, communities, the how and why of rituals and actions, the aggregate of signs and symbols, and the “master stories of societies”.

Frequently, myths involve supernatural beings, function on a cosmological scale, and have some kind of escatological component. All of those aspects of myth can serve as tools for teaching and learning and, because we don’t have to treat them as truth, we can learn best from interpretation. This is where I think the real power of myth lies; especially in Judaism where we acknowledge interpretation and augmentation (Midrash) as valid mechanisms for learning; but for everyone else too, if they decided to follow that path.

If you leave your mind open to interpretation and discussion, rather that taking things literally, then you can view the Bible as a tool for understanding your culture. Instead of thinking that God really made a guy named Adam and a gal named Eve (two DIFFERENT ways – by the way – depending on whether you believe Genesis 1 or 2!!!); or that the penalty for diss’ing your parents is really death; or that 600,000 guys actually ran around the desert for 40 years, eating manna, assembling and disassembling a tabernacle, and leaving not a shred of archaeological evidence; or that the number of species in the time of Noah was so much smaller than it is today that they’d all fit on an ark; you can look at them and try to figure out what they really mean for you in the 21st century.

I think there is value in doing that. I believe that it makes you think and that it makes you wrestle with some very big and important questions. If that is true then it does not really matter whether the stories in the Bible are true. True or not true, they are the master stories of a people and can serve as a unifying foundation. So, to me personally, I don’t believe those stories are “true” but I do believe that they have value. I can question them, study them, and interpret them; and, it really doesn’t matter if they are true. All that matters is that are educational and that they unify a culture of which I’m part.

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