John Van Seters writes in his work The Pentateuch: A Social-Science Commentary about the use of the word myth. He discusses in his work how the J – writer, the Yahwist author treats the history of humanity, and the use of “myth.” He states the following:
“Long before nations like Israel and Greece began to write history as a way of explaining the present by references to causes in the past, they had their myths to account for origins. In myth, present reality is based upon what happened to gods and heroes in the primeval time and this establishes an eternal precedent or paradigm. There is an explanation in myth and legend for every custom, institution and other important aspect of life….they are basically symbolic stories.”
So the question is, why does it matter so much if the Torah is and the stories within are taken literally? Ancient Greece, which proved to be an incredibly intellectual and philosophical culture, relied upon myth to explain present day, and to live by values taught through stories. Did it matter if Zeus was real or not? Did it matter if the plays of Sophocles and Euripides were taken as fact or fiction?
We teach our children lessons and morals through the usage of fairytales and legends in our cultures. Are moral lessons less effective if they begin with “once upon a time”? Surely not.
This is why I speak so confidently in my belief that the stories in the Torah and the Bible were not divine, but told and, eventually, written down by man. These stories, whether written by a deity, or a human, are powerful life-lessons. Have we forgotten the power and influence of myth in our lives, and chosen to focus on only what we or others regard as truth?
I often teach that it does not matter if the world was created in 7 days or 7 billion years. The question, when we read Genesis, is “what is it trying to teach us?” The answer is not, “That this story is fact.”
Looking forward to your thoughts.