1. Function of Myth
|Gerard Seghers, Christ and the Penitents, 17th century|
“Myths do many things. Among the most obvious functions that they fulfil is; myths often explain, justify, instruct, or warn.” (1)
So, the various functions of myths are categorized as follows:
- Explanatory Myths
- Warning Myths
- Instructive Myths
- Justification Myths (2)
“Explanatory myths are often called etiological myths. The word etiological comes from the Greek word ‘etion,’ which means ‘cause.’ Explanatory myths may explain why things are as they are, how certain events or entities came into being, why conditions in the world are the way they are….Another function that myths fulfil is to offer a justification for certain rites and social institutions…Myths that provide justification for social rites and institutions are very frequently called, charter myths. Myths may also instruct their audience in how their audience ought, or more frequently, ought not to behave. Myths very frequently instruct through presenting horrible warnings of what is likely to happen to people who transgress the boundaries of proper human behaviour.” (3)
Christian Myth as Explanatory
The Christian myth, notwithstanding the first few verses of the Gospel of “John” (see “John” 1:1-5) is not an etiological myth in its own right, yet it was built, both exoterically and later esoterically, upon a portion of the Hebrew etiological myth found in the book of Genesis (see Genesis 2 & 3).
In the book of Genesis, we are told that the human condition, specifically relating to the existence of evil, sin, suffering and death, stems from Adam’s (man’s) “original sin.” The Old Testament does not expressly support the doctrine of original sin, that is, a sin which is universal and inherent, yet a few passages throughout the Old Testament, aside from those in Genesis 3, may be seen as implying it (see Jeremiah. 5:23; 17:9-10; Ezekiel. 36:26 and Isaiah. 29:13). Naturally, the doctrine of original sin implied from the story of the fall of man is an important etiological myth for Christians, as their entire foundation rests upon it.
Jesus, we are told, was born the sinless son of Yahweh, the great savior and redeemer, sent by Yahweh to save and redeem his creation, in the face of a sinful existence, stemming from the initial fall of man, or so we are told! Thus, without the original Hebrew etiological myth found in Genesis, the Christ myth would make no sense. Why would we need a redeemer if we had not fallen? Thus, we are begged to believe that Jesus is the yin to Adam’s yang, and his virgin mother, Mary, the most blessed female (“Luke” 1:28) is the exemplary female, in place of Eve, the first woman to be cursed by Yahweh (Genesis 3:16). In the words of the second century church father, Irenaeus:
“As Eve was seduced by the word of an angel and so fled from God after disobeying his word, Mary in her turn was given the good news by the word of an angel, and bore God in obedience to his word. As Eve was seduced into disobedience to God, so Mary was persuaded into obedience to God; thus the Virgin Mary became the advocate of the virgin Eve.
Christ gathered all things into one, by gathering them into himself. He declared war against our enemy, crushed him who at the beginning had taken us captive in Adam, and trampled on his head, in accordance with God’s words to the serpent in Genesis: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall lie in wait for your head, and you shall lie in wait for his heel.
The one lying in wait for the serpent’s head is the one who was born in the likeness of Adam from the woman, the Virgin. This is the seed spoken of by Paul in the letter to the Galatians: The law of works was in force until the seed should come to whom the- promise was made.
He shows this even more clearly in the same letter when he says: When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman. The enemy would not have been defeated fairly if his vanquisher had not been born of a woman, because it was through a woman that he had gained mastery over man in the beginning, and set himself up as man’s adversary.
That is why the Lord proclaims himself the Son of Man, the one who renews in himself that first man from whom the race born of woman was formed; as by a man’s defeat our race fell into the bondage of death, so by a man’s victory we were to rise again to life.”(4)
Theologians and church fathers like Irenaeus, have even gone so far as to attempt to tie Jesus directly into a part of the Hebrew’s Genesis myth, claiming that he was mentioned, albeit esoterically, by the author, “Moses,” a matter which carries insurmountable evidentiary problems.
This alleged reference to Christ has been dubbed, ‘The Proto-Evangelium’ and is asserted to apply to the following passage in the book of Genesis:
And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. Genesis 3:15
The verse above relates to the talking snake in the magical Garden of Eden that tempted Eve, who in turn, tempted Adam to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, thereby condemning our species to a life of misery and suffering, which Christians believe, Jesus came to redeem us from. So, we have the charter myth of the ‘Fall of Man,’ which serves to explain the presence of suffering, hardship and ultimately human mortality and we have the Christian myth, later tied into that myth as a kind of promise, or ‘get out of jail (mortality) free card,’ attempting to offer hope in the face of this fallen state of affairs. This is one of the ways Christianity has attempted to further entrench itself within the etiological myth of the ancient Hebrews and at the same time, sell its belief-system to a frightened and credulous species.
Myths that Warn
When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened….Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. Matthew 24:15-22/29
This is just one passage from a multitude within the canonical (official) texts, not to mention the various passages found in the apocryphal (non-official) literature, which forewarn its audience of the terror that awaits our species. I could run through all of the various canonical and non-canonical passages that demonstrate this function of the Christian myth, but I think most people are familiar with the Christian myth of the future Apocalypse and Armageddon. I think it would be more useful to investigate why these myths warn audiences.
What function do such warnings really serve?
Following the Apocalypse, many Christians believe that the final judgement will take place and those who believe in Christ, will be taken up into the clouds, to enjoy an eternal bliss in heaven. How anything eternal could remain blissful forever is beyond me, however, that is not the point to be addressed here. Non-believers, as opposed to believers, won’t be so lucky come the catastrophes that await us. They, according to both scripture and tradition, will be cast into the fiery pits of hell to suffer an eternal torment. Ah! So, if I want to come out of this impending doom in good shape, I should believe in Christ and submit to the Church, his body here on earth. If do not, I will be tortured by the all-loving god Yahweh, for an eternity without parole. I see!
These warnings are a form of mind control, manipulating the audience via two common fears; the fear of the unknown and the fear of death. By employing these fears in conjunction with one another, the creators and administrators of these myths have had a high level of success in not only maintaining their flocks, but gaining new converts, who do not wish to gamble against such certain claims. It comes down to a simple carrot and stick incentive scheme. Join and follow us, believe as we believe and you will live forever in bliss. Refuse to submit to both us and our god, and you will die horribly and suffer an eternity of torment. Thus, the function of the warning in Christianity is to gain and maintain converts, it is that simple. The only problem is that Islam, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and various other religions carry the very same Apocalyptic warning, leaving the open-minded and uncertain thinker, scratching their head and wondering whether or not they should just join them all and cover their bases, or simply pay their manipulation no mind!
Charter Myths: Myths that Justify
The Christian myth contains quite a few charter myths. These charter myths justify ecclesiastic (church) rites and ceremonies, as well as many social institutions as well. The Eucharist is one such ecclesiastic rite, which derives its legitimacy from traditional interpretations of the Christian myth, found in the Gospels.
The Eucharist is a kind of symbolic cannibalism and vampirism, which symbolizes the eating of the flesh and drinking of the blood of Jesus Christ. It acquires its legitimacy from both the Gospels and the Epistles of Paul, but in truth it pre-dates even these sources and the Christian religion itself.
One of the most popular religions of the Roman Empire, which preceded Christianity, was a religion known as Mithraism. This religion worshiped a demiurge (divine intercessor/god-man) called Mithras. Mithras was a sun-god (5), whose ancient headquarters are buried directly beneath the very location where the Vatican sits today. (6) Long before the myth of the Lord’s Supper was invented by the mythographers of the Christian scriptures, this “pagan” religion was already practicing the same exact Eucharistic rite. Participants of this ancient religion believed in the transubstantiation (actual changing of the bread into flesh and wine into real blood) of the bread and wine. Initiates into this religion would eat the body of their earthly incarnated god-man, in the form of bread and drink his blood, symbolised by the sacred wine.(7)
In the Gospel of “John” Jesus is alleged to have said:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.
The Eucharist, or “Lord’s Supper” is also echoed in the earlier Gospels of “Mark,” “Matthew” and “Luke.” (see “Mark” 14:22-25, “Luke” 22:14-22 & “Matthew” 26:26-28). And further supported by Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (see Corinthians 11:23-26).
From these various passages within these ancient texts can be found the justification for the Eucharist as a ceremony, demonstrating how charter myths form the constitution of certain rites and practices within a religion.
The next charter myth contained within the Christian texts worthy of mention is the story of Christ declaring the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman (see “Matthew” 19:3-12, “Mark” 10:2-12, for example). This declaration has permeated not only the religion of Christianity, but the laws of western society as well. Such laws we are told and assured by other laws, underscore a legal and political system which is separate from the superstitious reach of the Church. So, how is it that the Church’s laws, which stem from its various charter myths, have become the law, even for those who do not believe in or follow the Christian belief-system?
When I first moved to the ‘bible bashing’ state of Tasmania (a state of Australia) in the 1990’s, homosexuality was still a crime. It was illegal for a man, or a woman, to have sexual relations with another person of the same sex, the punishment for which was imprisonment. It is absurd when we consider that this law was built upon myth. As ridiculous as this situation is, the foundation of most societies’ laws and customs, are built upon myth, to some degree at least. There are still many states in the U.S that do not recognize gay marriage, and other western and Christianised countries still have not been able to surpass the tremendous pressure of this myth-based tradition, to allow consenting adults to formalize their love.
The final charter myth of the Judeo-Christian religion I wish to discuss pertains to the laws prohibiting murder. Thou shalt not kill! Now, this particular law is one of my favourites and helps balance our argument a little, that is to say; some laws and customs derived from ancient myths are useful, but even this one is quite nuanced, not only today, but when it was allegedly first written.
We are told that as soon as Moses returned from the top of Mt. Sinai, he relayed The Ten Commandments to the Israelites, one of which was, do not kill (see Exodus 20:13). This charter myth has been incorporated into the west via Christianity, but is certainly not unique to Judeo-Christian countries. This law’s somewhat flexible and pragmatic application reflects the tenuous nature of its application in the original charter myth of the Hebrews. We find in both the original story and its modern application, many exclusion clauses. Shortly after Moses exhorted “God’s” rule not to kill, he commanded:
Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour. And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men. Exodus 32:27-28
Just as the case is today, with capital punishment, the laws of self-defence and provocation, military laws, the laws governing police conduct, etc.; the rule against killing is not so much an immutable principle established to preserve the sanctity of life in all circumstances, but rather, a pragmatic one, intended to protect the ruler’s power and his religion, or his ideology (means of control), as the case may be.
Myths that Instruct
Even though many of the instructive aspects of the Christian myth are geared toward persuading people to suspend their rational faculties, switch off their minds and believe without evidence, I thought I might balance this article with a positive instructive myth from the Gospels.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
The author of the Gospel of “Luke,” or their source, constructed a dialogue between Jesus and the Jewish authorities, relating to the idea of loving one’s neighbour. According to the somewhat xenophobic Jews at the time, the concept of the ‘neighbour’ was a concept only extended to one’s immediate family, tribe and or nation. “Jesus,” by way of a platonic styled parable, extends the definition of this word ‘neighbour,’ to compassionately include anyone in need. When pressed by a certain Jewish leader, to explain his take on loving one’s neighbour, “Jesus” is said to have replied with the following parable:
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, "Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend." Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
This is a beautiful instructive parable, teaching the audience, whose ears are more often in attention, at times when promises are made for their own salvation, to help the poor and the needy, to show mercy to those in need and to assist strangers. Of course, there are other beautiful parables and messages in the Gospels, yet unfortunately, they have often been ignored, rationalized, re-interpreted and perverted by power-mongers, to the detriment of their true instructive beauty. Also, we must recognize here that such sentiments and teachings found within the Christian Scriptures are not original to Christianity and in fact, date many centuries before. Nevertheless, this instructive myth is one of my favourites within the corpus of the Christian Canon.
2. Myths and the Supernatural
On this final element in professor Vandiver’s definition of myth, she says:
“Myths, very frequently involve gods and the supernatural. They do not have to involve gods and the supernatural, but they very frequently do.”(8)
Unfortunately, Professor Vandiver hasn’t given us a definition of the term, ‘supernatural,’ possibly because it is a word commonly understood by most people. However, for the sake of prudence, we should begin by defining what exactly the word ‘supernatural’ means, and how such a definition might impact upon our understanding of what a myth is and ultimately, whether or not the Gospels fit the category of myth in this regard.
One online dictionary defines the word supernatural in the following manner:
- of, pertaining to, or being above or beyond what is natural; unexplainable by natural law or phenomena; abnormal.
- of, pertaining to, characteristic of, or attributed to God or a deity.
- of a superlative degree; preternatural: a missile of supernatural speed.
- of, pertaining to, or attributed to ghosts, goblins, or other unearthly beings; eerie; occult (hidden).(9)
And the Collins World English Dictionary defines it as:
1. Of or relating to things that cannot be explained according to natural laws
2. Characteristic of or caused by or as if by a god; miraculous
3. Of, involving, or ascribed to occult beings
4. Exceeding the ordinary; abnormal(10)
I think given most peoples’ familiarity with what we might all agree, constitutes a supernatural event, state, or being, I should draw upon the bolded aspects of the definitions above to give us a working definition for the purpose of this investigation.
The word ‘supernatural’ relates to something above and beyond nature; generally, but not exclusively, related to a ‘god,’ which cannot be explained by natural laws, exceeding the ordinary and is also, miraculous.
If we define the word supernatural this way, we find many supernatural tales in the Gospels.
I think no one, at least no one in their right mind, will see as natural, the impregnation of a virgin by a ghost. Angels visiting people in their sleep, or a star which breaks its regular orbit to travel east to Jerusalem, stopping there for a while, then going on to Bethlehem, to signify the birth of a child who is a god and human hybrid. They might also be hard-pressed to find a natural explanation for this god-son walking on water, or stoping a storm with his words, let alone, instantly turning water into wine, a trick which we might assume, many liquor companies would have seized upon, if natural. The bringing to life a dead person, and many dead people, the death and resurrection of this god-man himself and his ascension into the clouds, etc.. I think it is pretty safe to say that, the stories in the Gospels contain many supernatural tales and even safer to say that, most people reading this article would be familiar with this fact.
What many people may not be familiar with is the fact that many of the supernatural tales from the Gospels are simply re-scripted myths, taken from earlier “pagan” religions. The divine announcement of the savior’s birth was a common motif, attached to the story of Alexander the Great’s birth, Pythagoras and a few others. The virgin-born earthly incarnated god-man, was also fairly common in much earlier Hellenistic myths, along with the death and resurrection of the god-man, first recorded amongst the ancient Egyptian texts regarding Osiris. The bringing of the dead back to life, utilized by the creators of the Hercules myth, a thousand plus years earlier, the healing of the sick, commonly associated with the healing god Asclepius, the turning of water into wine, written into the Osiris-Dionysius myth many centuries before “Jesus Christ,” and on and on it goes, until we are left with virtually nothing original in the supernatural accounts of Christ. In the second volume in the three volume series I have authored, entitled, ‘I Am Christ,’ I list these similarities with primary and ancient sources, along with the leading scholarship in the field of mythology and comparative mythology, to demonstrate the probability that the stories of Christ written in the Gospels are not merely myth, but second-hand myth.
So what do we, or should we make of these plagiarized, miraculous events, which defy the laws of nature and were hidden in obscurity and remoteness, from the majority of people of that day and everyone living today?
I think Thomas Paine put it best, when he said:
All the tales of miracles with which the Old and New Testament are filled, are fit only for impostors to preach and fools to believe.(11) Thomas Paine
In this series of articles I have attempted to apply one of the best working definitions of myth to the narratives which underscore the Christian religion. In so doing, I have demonstrated that the stories of Jesus Christ are just that, stories, which were set in the remote past and in a remote location and that these remote accounts changed over time. They were and still are, believed by Christians to represent true historical facts, to varying degrees and the tales serve the four primary functions of myth, set out by Professor Vandiver. Finally, they were built upon a supernatural theme and contain many accounts of miraculous and unnatural phenomena. The only reasonable conclusion one can draw from such evidence is that; the Christian religion was built upon myth, propagated by lies and believed by fools.
I would like to leave the reader with a few brief quotes from some of my favorite free-thinkers, pertaining to the mythical nature of Christianity, in order that the reader might draw inspiration from the words of the holiest and most righteous kind of human; the free one!
Robert G. Ingersoll
• If, then, there are mistakes, misconceptions, false theories, ignorant myths and blunders in the Bible, it must have been written by finite beings; that is to say, by ignorant and mistaken men.
• Voltaire approached the mythology of the Jews precisely as he did the mythology of the Greeks and Romans, or the mythology of the Chinese or the Iroquois Indians. There is nothing in this world too sacred to be investigated, to be understood. The philosopher does not hide. Secrecy is not the friend of truth. No man should be reverent at the expense of his reason. Nothing should be worshiped until the reason has been convinced that it is worthy of worship. Against all miracles, against all holy superstition, against sacred mistakes, he shot the arrows of ridicule.
John E. Remsburg
• “The Jesus of the New Testament is a supernatural being. He is, like the Christ, a myth. He is the Christ myth.”
• “It was not "according to the Divine purpose" that Jesus was slain at the Passover, but it was according to a human invention that he is declared to have been slain at this time. These attempts to connect the crucifixion with the Passover afford the strongest proof that it is a myth.”
• “It may surprise and maybe grieve many good and zealous Christians to know that all their pious observances, prayers, hymns, baptism, communion at the altar, redemption, salvation, the celebration of Christmas as the birth of their God in mid-winter, and of Easter, his resurrection as spring breaks, all, all, are pagan practices and myths, thousands of years antedating what they fondly think is their wonderful Jesus-religion.”
• The Gentiles believed already in virgin-born gods and in resurrections from the dead: the Myths of Attis, Adonis, Isis, and Tammuz were accepted articles of their Pagan Faiths. Fertile ground for a new Faith with little or nothing new or strange about its beliefs and dogmas. So to the Pagan Gentiles the Propagandists turned, and fortified their propaganda with marvellous tales of venerable "Prophecies" wonderfully fulfilled.
• The immediate companions of Jesus appear to be, on the other hand, as mythical as he is himself. Who was Matthew? Who was Mark? Who were John, Peter, Judas, and Mary? There is absolutely no evidence that they ever existed. They are not mentioned except in the New Testament books, which, as we shall see, are "supposed" copies of "supposed" originals. If Peter ever went to Rome with a new doctrine, how is it that no historian has taken note of him? If Paul visited Athens and preached from Mars Hill, how is it that there is no mention of him or of his strange Gospel in the Athenian chronicles? For all we know, both Peter and Paul may have really existed, but it is only a guess, as we have no means of ascertaining. The uncertainty about the apostles of Jesus is quite in keeping with the uncertainty about Jesus himself.
• The Egyptians, who were the authors of the mysteries and mythical representation., did not pervert the meaning by an ignorant literalization of mystical matters, and had no fall of man to encounter in the fallacious Christian sense. Consequently they had no need of a redeemer from the effects of that which had never occurred. They did not rejoice over the death of their suffering saviour because his agony and shame and bloody sweat were falsely supposed to rescue them from the consequences of broken laws; on the contrary, they taught that everyone created his own karma here, and that the past deeds made the future fate.
1. Professor Elizabeth Vandiver. Classical Mythology. Lecture 2: What is Myth? The Teaching Company. (2002).
4. Irenaeus. Against the Heresies. Book 2.
5. Roger Beck. The Religion of the Mithras Cult in the Roman Empire: Mysteries of the Unconquered Sun. Oxford University Press. (2006). p. 5.
6. http://www.world-archaeology.com/travel/vatican-cults-christianity-and-the-vatican/ ; http://www.italymag.co.uk/italy/roma/romes-underground-treasures-show ; http://freethoughtpedia.com/wiki/Jesus_and_Mithra
7. J.M. Robertson. Pagan Christs: Studies in Comparative Hierology. Watts and Co. (1911). p. 318; Paul J. Achtemeier. Harper-Collins Bible Dictionary. Harper Collins (1996). p. 723; Guy de la Bedoyere. The Romans for Dummies. John Wiley and Sons Ltd. (2006). p. 159.
8. Professor Elizabeth Vandiver. Classical Mythology. Lecture 2: What is Myth? The Teaching Company. (2002).
11. Joan Konner. The Atheist’s Bible. Harper Collins. (2009). p. 138.