Mythology and the Bible
|by||Eric Lyons, M.Min.|
Over the last several centuries, many have attempted to mythologize the inspired Word of God. Atheists vigorously attack the Genesis account of creation, calling it nothing more than a fictitious story that should be placed alongside (or even “behind”) myths like the Babylonian creation account. Liberal theologians similarly labor to make Scripture conform to secular sources, claiming that the Israelite religion is a mere “Yahwization” of pagan religions (i.e., attributing to Yahweh what pagan religions attributed to their gods). Such attempts to mythologize Scripture represent a blatant attack upon God’s Word and should be refuted with every ounce of energy we possess. In defending the Bible against such attacks, however, Christians must realize that even though the Bible is not based on pagan mythology, on occasion it does contain allusions to it.
Sometimes Bible believers go the extreme and claim that the Bible never would contain such highly imaginative and creative language. But consider Isaiah 27:1. In this passage, Isaiah wrote: “In that day Jehovah with his hard and great and strong sword will punish leviathan the swift serpent, and leviathan the crooked serpent; and he will slay the monster that is in the sea.” Here, the inspired writer makes reference to leviathan in a prophetic passage depicting the future victory of God over His foes. From his book, we can be assured that Isaiah was a strict monotheist. But he did “draw upon the common stock of poetic imagery known to his people just as contemporary writers allude to mythology to illustrate a point without thereby expressing or encouraging faith in the story so used” (Pfeiffer, 1960, 32:209). In explaining the language of Isaiah and other Bible writers who may have alluded to mythology from time to time, John Day commented: “Canaanite mythic imagery was the most impressive means in that ancient cultural milieu whereby to display the sovereignty and transcendence of Yahweh, along with His superiority over Baal and all other earthly contenders. Although the Hebrews did not borrow the theology of Canaan, they did borrow its imagery—here the imagery of Baal’s enemy…Leviathan” (1998, 155:436).
A mythological element also can be seen in the poetic language of Job 3:8: “Let them curse it that curse the day, who are ready to rouse up leviathan.” [The KJV rendering “who are ready to raise up their mourning” misses the reference to leviathan, which is obvious in the original language.] In this verse, leviathan can be identified properly with a mythological creature described in Ugaritic myths called Lotan. According to such mythology, a marine monster named Lotan was capable of altering the entire world order by eclipsing the Sun or Moon with its body. Does this mean that Job was a believer in mythology, or that the book of Job is a mythological production? Certainly not! Throughout the book that bears his name, Job is presented as a devout monotheist who rejected then-popular mythological concepts (cf. 31:26-28). Within the context of chapter 3, Job, who is “cursing” the day of his birth, employs the most vibrant, potent, and proverbial language available to call for the elimination of that day. Job was “probably doing nothing more than utilizing for poetic purposes a common notion that his hearers would understand. This would have been similar to modern adults referring to Santa Claus. Mentioning his name does not mean that one believes such a person exists” (Zuck, 1978, p. 24).
Even though the Bible may make allusions to mythology, “neither the book of Job nor any of the Old Testament has the slightest hint of belief in any such mythology” (Smick, 1970, p. 229). To suggest that the godly men and writers of the Bible believed in these mythological creatures is to make an abrasive and completely unwarranted assumption that should be avoided at all costs.
Day, John N. (1998), “God and Leviathan in Isaiah 27:1,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 155:423-436, October-December.
Pfeiffer, Charles F. (1960), “Lotan and Leviathan,” Evangelical Quarterly, 32:208-211.>
Smick, Elmer (1970), “Mythology and the Book of Job,” Sitting with Job, ed. Roy B. Zuck (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Zuck, Roy (1978), Job (Chicago, IL: Moody).