On a recent vacation we stumbled across an old used book store. We love books, and especially old books. I enjoy old books because they provide a glimpse into the past and what we as humans may or may not have found to be true at the time.
J found a book Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology. It was published in London in 1959. For the most part the book is simply what it says in the title, an encyclopedia. What caught my attention was one of the opening paragraphs.
“Mythology is the study of whatever religious or heroic legends are so foreign to a student’s experience that he cannot believe them to be true. Hence the English adjective ‘mythical’, meaning ‘incredible’; and hence the omission from standard European mythologies, such as this, of all Biblical narratives even when closely paralleled by myths from Persia, Babylonia, Egypt and Greece” and of all hagiological legends. “
Of course the part that I find interesting and most amusing is that the author admits to Biblical narratives closely paralleling other hagiological legends, but then states they will not be documented in this book.
The introduction continues;
“Myth has two main functions. The first is to answer the sort of awkward questions that children ask, such as: ‘Who made the world? How will it end? Who was the first man? Where do souls go after death?’ The answers, necessarily graphic and positive, confer enormous power on the various deities credited with the creation and care of souls – and incidentally on their priesthoods.”
The author specifically points out that the questions come from children. This would lead one to imply that once grown a person would not be asking such questions because reason and logic would provide the correct answers to replace the childish fairytales. Second the author specifically labels the questions as awkward. I find this interesting simply because it would be the grownup answering them and at some point the adult should have obtained the correct answers which they could then provide to the child thus rendering them “non-awkward” I’m not sure why this author finds these questions to be awkward.
The author continues;
“The second function of myth is to justify an existing social system and account for traditional rites and customs. “
This would lead one to believe that a society is using the myth to justify something that is not reasonable. If something is reasonable and serves a purpose then no justification should be required.
One thing I have always maintained is that religious books should not have a separate place within book stores or libraries. At best they belong in a subsection of philosophy but I would rather see them shelved in the fiction section or a section for mythological studies.
The Biblical mythologies and all the documentation associated with them should be regarded with the same reproach and skepticism as is given to every other story of fancy and frivolity. For the most part the Jewish Torah, the Muslim Qur’an, and the Christian Bible are horrific accounts of human indecency inflicted by man upon man, with all the credit given to an imaginary monster. The perpetuation of these myths does little more than provide support and justification to the priesthoods that preside over said myths.
It is time to put away the childish things…