From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

MYTH. —Neither the word μῦθος nor the conception of a myth occurs in any of the Gospels. Outside of the Gospels the word appears in the NT several times (in plur. μῦθοι.) in the Pastoral Epistles ( 1 Timothy 1:4;  1 Timothy 4:7,  2 Timothy 4:4,  Titus 1:14), and once in 2 Pet. ( 2 Peter 1:16). In all these cases a myth is a story unworthy of credence, a foolish tale without sufficient foundation in fact or significance in principle to make it worth while to give heed to it. This is not, however, the ordinary meaning of the word in the Classic period or in modern usage. A myth in the Classic writers is either (1) akin to parable or legend; i.e. a story constructed with a specific design or conveying a moral or philosophical truth—aesop’s Fables  ; Plato’s Phaedo , 61 B, Prot. 320 C, 324 D; or (2) a story in which, through a process of growth, has come to be embodied a truth of nature or of conscience. Of this class of myths, illustrations are such as those in Plato, Legg. 636 D, Rep. 330 D [Note: Deuteronomist.] (cf. Grote, Hist. Gr. i. 480). Modern historical terminology would make myth a story whose basis is past verifying. An account is said to be mythical when external evidences for its being a true narration of facts are not forthcoming, and when its internal characteristics render it incredible.

In the Platonic sense of the word no myths can be said to exist in the Gospels unless, contrary to all usage, the parables of Jesus be called myths (against this cf. Trench, Parables ). In the modern sense it has been alleged that the Gospels are a tissue of mythological material (Strauss, Leben Jesu ). This was the mythical theory of Gospel history, which for a time disputed the ground with the Tübingen hypothesis of ‘tendency’ literature, on the one side, and the earlier traditional view that the Gospels should be taken as precise and accurate history, on the other.

With the rise of the critical method all these theories have been compelled to yield the field to the view that the Gospels are the sources of history rather than history strictly so called; and that they are to be used as sources precisely upon the same principles as all other first-hand documentary testimony. But this view does not exclude the possibility of some mythical elements in these sources. The question, then, is whether there actually exist mythical accounts in the Gospels, and, if so, whence and how they came there. Whereas, therefore, the mythical theory propounded by Strauss has been entirely set aside, a new one has arisen to take its place.

The grounds on which the Straussian theory had been set aside were that the age of Jesus was not a mythopœic age in the sense assumed by its pro-pounder. No matter what the truth may be about a mythology in the OT, where a prehistoric period certainly comes into view, the age of Jesus falls within a clearly lighted historic period, and the conditions for mythological growth of the nature assumed do not exist.

Accordingly the new mythical theory does not posit that these Gospel myths are the creation of the period and country in which Jesus lived. It rather undertakes to affiliate the narratives with the mythology of the environing heathen world. They are not creations of, but importations into, the Christian tradition. The age of Jesus was not a myth-making age, but a large stock of myths was already in existence among the peoples to whom the gospel came. These myths were diffused in the atmosphere, and could not but be absorbed into the very texture of the history. The search for the origin of Gospel myths is therefore not to be made in the Gospel story itself, but in the field of Comparative Religion.

The special passages of the Gospel history where, according to the new mythical theory, these myths were drawn in and found ready lodgment, are the account of the birth of Jesus, the accounts of His miracles, and the accounts of His death and resurrection. The accounts of the birth ( Matthew 1:18-25,  Luke 1:34 f.) are to be regarded not as parts of the original story of Jesus, but as 2nd cent, additions to it. They owe their origin to Gentile-Christian imagination. Like all true myths, they embody an idea, that of the Divine sonship of the founder of a great religion. The conception and phrase of Divine sonship are not foreign to the more direct Hebrew and Jewish antecedents of the gospel ( Psalms 2:6 ff., Enoch 45–51, 2 Esdras 13). Yet it is among the heathen that the idea was more commonly ascribed to great personages, especially rulers and sages. In Egypt, even to the latest days, the Pharaohs were regarded as incarnations of the deity (Wiedemann, Egyp. [Note: Egyptian.] Rel. p. 92 ff.). Alexander the Great deemed it wise, upon conquering Egypt, to permit himself to be called the son of the god Ammon-Ra. In Babylon, from the time of Sargon I. onwards, the kings were considered emanations of the godhead (Radau, Early Hist. of Babylon , p. 308 ff.). These incarnations are, moreover, often associated with a virgin birth. Pythagoras and Plato were both regarded as born of virgin mothers and the god Apollo (Olympiodorus, Vit. Plat. p. 1). The mother of Alexander the Great was believed to have been visited by Zeus in the form of a serpent before king Philip had consummated his marriage with her. In the narratives of the birth of Buddha (which are of pre-Christian origin) there are some marked similarities to the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus.

The myths alleged to have grown about the career of Jesus as a wonder-worker are prefaced by parallel accounts of a temptation and a conquest of the power of evil. The prince Siddhartha was tempted by the spirit of evil, who urged him to abandon his foolish and futile purpose of living a simple and abstemious life, and to return to the comfort, glory, and power of the royal palace; but he resisted. The prophet Zarathustra had been urged by the evil spirit Ahriman to ‘renounce the good law of the worshippers of Mazda,’ and thereby to win dominion over the nations of the earth. But he had declined to do so. All the subsequent miracles recorded of Jesus are said to be abundantly paralleled in the legendary lore of the Orientals. The miraculous element did, in fact, persist through the Patristic age and down into the mediaeval period.

The last portion of the Gospel story is said to be specially overlaid with myths of this genus. All that is apparently distinctive and remarkable here is represented as the reflexion and counterpart of the myths current among pagans. The idea of the death of Christ as the propitiation for sin is paralleled by the numerous instances of vicarious human sacrifices. The burial and resurrection are the Christian equivalents of the Egyptian myth of Osiris, who was slain by his brother Set, ‘the demon of the withering heat of summer,’ and who lives again in the person of his son Horus. Likewise the fabled death, resurrection, and translation into heaven of Adonis, the rape of Persephone, and her rescue upon the compromise that she thereafter spend part of the year with her mother upon earth and part in Hades, are expressions of the same thought.

These cases are associated with mystic rites. In fact, it seems to be a peculiarity of mysteries that death and restoration to life again should be symbolically represented in them. In their best form these rites occur in the Dionyso-Orphic festivals. Here the death of the god was enacted in the sacrifice of a bull, whose flesh was then torn and devoured by the worshippers without being drained of its blood. Thus, it was supposed, the immortal life of the god passed into and conferred immortality upon the worshippers (Clem. Alex. [Note: Alexandrian.] Protrept. i. 12, 17; Frazer, Golden Bough 2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , ii. 165).

If the death of Jesus is pictured as a voluntary descent into the realm of shades that He might there conquer death, the same thought is seen to run through the Babylonian myth of Ishtar (Schrader, Höllenfahrt d. Istar ), the Mandaean myth of Hibil Ziwa (Brandt, Mandäische Religion , p. 213 ff.), and the myths of Orpheus and Herakles, both of whom accomplished descents into Hades, and, according to the Greek classical mythology, achieved conquests there.

The Gospel account of the ascension is paralleled first of all in the OT by the ascensions of Enoch and Elijah, then in the Graeco-Roman legendary lore by the ascensions of Romulus and Herakles. Legends of ascensions were, in fact, common even in the later periods. Some of the Roman emperors were said to have been raised at their death into equality with the gods (Rhode, Psyche , p. 663). The case of Peregrinus Proteus, recited by Lucian, is quite noteworthy. Peregrinus took Herakles as his ensample. As Herakles had made his exit from the world by consigning himself to a funeral pyre, so Peregrinus built a pyre and cast himself into it; but at the moment of his doing so a trustworthy old man reports that he saw an eagle issuing from the flames and flying up into the heavens. Further, the same old man testifies that he beheld Peregrinns clothed in a white garment, and with a garland of victory on his head. Apollonius of Tyana is also reported to have disappeared quite mysteriously, either in the temple of Athene at Lindus or in that of Dictynna at Crete. Philostratus, his biographer, appeals to the fact that nowhere on earth could a grave of him be found, in proof of his ascension and deification.

To the question how these myths filtered into the Gospel story there is no clear answer given. It is simply assumed that they were in the air, and that a new religion must somehow adopt them, and embellish the life and personality of its founder with them. This is a serious difficulty with the new mythical theory. For it is precisely the manner of their infiltration into the Christian tradition that is the crucial point in it. The existence of the myths themselves among the pagans has always been known, and is no new discovery. It is not by simply re-telling these stories that the theory can gain support to itself, but by substantiating the claim that they actually passed from the world of heathen thought into the Christian tradition. This difficulty is enhanced and made practically insuperable when it is further borne in mind that the Hebrew antecedents of the Gospel had resolutely and effectively resisted the incorporation of such myths for a thousand years. Moreover, there is no room in the time interval between the life of Jesus and the writing down of the Gospel accounts of Him for such a process as is assumed, unless we except the birth-narratives of St. Matthew and St. Luke upon purely textual grounds. Criticism has been busy with the origin of the Gospel story as found in the extant narratives, and the more light it throws on the subject the more clearly it appears that the main data come from eye- and ear-witnesses. The old Strauss theory, assuming that the myths were constructed by the disciples of Jesus under the power of an excited and vivid imagination, was at this point stronger than the new one.

Furthermore, when these parallels are closely scrutinized, the first aspect of plausibility given to the mythical theory by them vanishes. The parallels are in most cases far-fetched. In some instances the resemblances are striking indeed. But a relation of derivation of one from the other or from a common source seems to be out of the question. In other instances where a genetic connexion might be possibly established, the parallelisms are forced.

In the case of the birth-narratives ( Matthew 1:18-25,  Luke 1:34 f.), the question is one of evidence. The effort to reduce these to mythology is based upon the a priori conception that they are mythical. If it could he proved, apart from the theory itself, upon purely critical grounds, that these accounts are of later origin, a basis for the theory might be found; but, as a matter of fact, the assumption that they are mythical furnishes the strongest consideration for their critical rejection—a process which can scarcely be called scientific.

Literature.—D. F. Strauss, Das Leben Jesu , 1835–1836 (4th ed. 1840), also Das Leben Jesu, f. d. deutsche Volk bearbeitet , 1864 (4th ed. 1877); Gfrörer, Die Heilige Sage , 1838; Ullmann, Historisch oder Mythisch? 1838 (2nd ed. 1864); Schenkel, Charakterbild Jesu 4 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , 1873; Luthardt, Die modernen Darstellungen des Lebens Jesu 2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , 1865 (for products of the Strauss controversy, see, further, Grimm, Glaubwürdigkeit d. Evang. Gesch. 1845, pp. 128–131); Pfleiderer, Early Christian Conception of Christ , 1905; J. May, Miracles and Myths of NT , 1901; Kalthoff, Entsteh. Christenthums , 1904. For the influence of the Babylonian Marduk myth and other myths on Jewish thought, and indirectly on the Gospel history, cf. Gunkel, Schöpfung u. Chaos , also Bousset, Antichrist , and A. Jeremias, Babylonisches im NT . For incarnation parallels, R. Seydel, Das Evang. in sein. Verhältnissen z. d. Buddha-Sage u. Buddha-Lehre , Leipzig, 1882, Die Buddha-Legende u. d. Leben Jesu , 1884; Verus, Vergleichendc Uebersicht d. vier Evang. in unverkürztem Wortlaut , Leipzig, 1897.

A. C. Zenos.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology [2]

The word "myth" (Gk. muthos [   1 Timothy 1:4;  4:7;  2 Timothy 4:4;  Titus 1:14;  2 Peter 1:16 ). All of these were translated in the King James Version as "fable." More recent versions (such as Rsv, Nasb, Neb and NIV) have almost uniformly used the word "myth."

In all of these occurrences, the context makes it plain that Paul and Peter are using the term in its common sense of something false. Thus, it is what is contrary to sound doctrine ( 1 Timothy 1:4 ), particularly in relation to asceticism and spirit-worship ( 1 Timothy 4:7 ). Those who leave the Word of God and its sound teachings will choose myths and not truth ( 2 Timothy 4:4 ). If people are to have a sound faith, they must not listen to myths taught by those who reject the truth ( Titus 1:14 ). Finally, the gospel narratives are not fictional tales, but actual eyewitness reports ( 2 Peter 1:16 ). In each case, muthos [Μῦθος] is used to describe something that is contrary to the truth, whether that truth be the doctrines relating to Christian behavior or the accounts of Christ's life, death, and resurrection.

What is not clear is whether any of these references have in mind the ancient legends of the gods that we commonly think of in reference to the term "myth." With regard to the references in the Pastoral Epistles, the answer seems to be no. In fact, in one case ( Titus 1:14 ), they are specifically labeled "Jewish myths, " which certainly did not include any legends of the gods. While it is possible that  2 Timothy 4:4 may speak of Christians who will abandon the truth of their religion and turn to the pagan religions, the two references in 1Timothy (1:4,4:7), along with the one in Titus, seem to be referring to the kind of Jewish mysticism described in   Colossians 2:16-23 . This was an elitist kind of piety that emphasized secret religious knowledge and rigorous self-denial. Part of the secret knowledge involved knowing the secret names of a whole hierarchy of angels ( Colossians 2:18;  1 Timothy 1:4 , "genealogies" ). This concept of a hierarchy of angels was almost certainly the result of the contamination of Jewish thought by pagan thought, but there is little reason to think that Paul was thinking of that derivation when he called these ideas "myths." It appears that he is only describing them as falsehoods. So, in Goodspeed's version of the New Testament the translation used is "fictions."

It is somewhat more likely that Peter does have in mind the classical myths when he says that the Gospel accounts are not myths, but eyewitness reports. On this reading, he would be saying that the gospel narrative is not like the pagan myths. The myths are merely fictional and fantastic tales, but the gospel, while it incorporates the miraculous, actually took place. At this place the New International Version has "stories" and the New English Bible has "tales." But even here where there may be some connotation of the pagan stories of the gods, the chief emphasis is upon falsehood versus truth.

This unrelenting use of "myth" by the Bible as a synonym for lies and falsehood is ironic, given the present positive valuation put on the term. While the common person still uses the word as the Greeks did, to describe something that is untrue, this is not the way sociologists of religion use it. With the rediscovery of the ancient world, especially in the nineteenth century, there arose a certain fascination with the stories of the gods and with the power of those stories to convey a meaningful vision of reality to those who accepted them. A number of studies of myth were undertaken, one of the most famous being Frazier's The Golden Bough . These studies suggested that myth should be understood as a vehicle by which extrascientific truth may be expressed. Of course, this represents an almost complete reversal in the understanding of myth. Instead of being false because of its failure to conform to a scientifically derived view of reality, it is true precisely because it does not!

According to this view, whenever a people express their views of reality in other than mechanistic and naturalistic terms, they are speaking mythically. Thus, to speak of God as a person who causes the rain to fall is to speak in mythical terms. While the statement may be "true" in some sense, it is false, scientifically speaking, because it cannot be verified. Used in this way, "The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a myth" would say that while the body of Jesus remained in the tomb and was not seen by the disciples, the narrative serves to express the Christian conviction that the human spirit perseveres after the death of the body. This point of view would argue that ultimate truth has no connection with historical facts.

As this way of defining myth has become more popular, it has become increasingly common, even among some Christians, to refer to the Bible as part of the world's great mythic literature. The reasons for this are not hard to find. First, there are the questions about the historical reliability of the Bible. If it can be granted that historical reliability is really of no consequence to the meaning or value of the Bible, those questions are no longer troublesome. A second reason is the growing distaste for exclusivism of all sorts. If the Bible can be defined as one more of the world's religious tales, then its embarrassing particularity can be disposed of. Finally, although the death of the enlightenment is frequently announced, the idea that there is a personal deity who transcends all our means of containing him, and to whom we are accountable, is still unacceptable to many. If the language can be reduced to a merely figurative expression for a generalized life force that inhabits the universe, it is more palatable.

The response of Paul or Peter—or Isaiahto the idea that the Bible is myth is unmistakable. They insist that their theology is true precisely because it has been validated in the world of time and space, the world of facts. They would vigorously resist any attempt to make their assertion about what God has done in this world merely figurative. But beyond this, the Bible is at odds with the ancient stories of the gods at every point. This is not an enclosed, cyclical existence where the forces of nature have been turned into deities. It is not a shadowy stage where timeless, placeless stories of the gods must be acted out in order to appropriate divine power for an otherwise meaningless existence. Rather, God has broken into the world of time and space in unique, nonrepeateable events that have revealed his character and his grace. Real human persons have seen the evidence, have received divine interpretations of that evidence, and have recorded it all under supernatural guidance. As Peter would tell us, these are not myths; they are the reports of people who have been visited by the holy God. Whatever the Bible is, it is not a myth.

John N. Oswalt

Bibliography . B. Childs, Myth and Reality in the Old Testament  ; T. H. Gaster, Myth, Legend and Custom in the Old Testament  ; G. Stahlin, TDNT, 4:762-95.

Webster's Dictionary [3]

(1): ( n.) A story of great but unknown age which originally embodied a belief regarding some fact or phenomenon of experience, and in which often the forces of nature and of the soul are personified; an ancient legend of a god, a hero, the origin of a race, etc.; a wonder story of prehistoric origin; a popular fable which is, or has been, received as historical.

(2): ( n.) A person or thing existing only in imagination, or whose actual existence is not verifiable.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [4]

a Greek term ( Μῦθος ), which, however, is not to be found in the Sept. Even in the Apocrypha the word occurs but once ( Μῦθος Ἄκαιρος , Eccles. 20:19, A.V. "an unseasonable tale"), and that in a general sense; while, in one other passage ( Baruch 3:23), Μυθόλογοι , "authors of fables," has a somewhat doubtful meaning. In the N.T., however, the word occurs five times, and always in a severely disparaging sense, and in every instance is rendered "fables" in our version. Thus Timothy is warned against "Jbbles and endless genealogies, which minister questions rather than godly edifying" ( 1 Timothy 1:4); and itgainst "profane and old wives' fables" ( Βεβήλους Καὶ Γραωδεῖς Μύθους , 4:7). These "fables" are opposed to "the truth," and Titus is forbidden to give heed Ι᾿Ουδα Κοις Μύθοις . Lastly, in  2 Peter 1:16 they are characterized as Σεσοφισμένοι I, "cunningly devised," and are contrasted with the sober testimony of eye- witnesses (comp. Πεπλασμένοι Μύθοι , Diod. Sic. 1:93). Just so in Greek Μῦθοι are opposed to Ἱστορία (comp. Auson. Prof. Carm. 21, 26, "Callentes mython plasmata et historiam").

It is obvious, therefore, that in the N.T. a myth is used in its latest sense to express a story invented as the vehicle for some ethical or theological doctrine, which, in fact, has been called in later times an ethopceia or philosopheme. Yet the condemnation is Special and not general, and cannot point with dissatisfaction to myths, which, like those of Plato, are the splendidly imaginative embodiment of some subjective truth, and which claim no credence for themselves, but are only meant to be regarded as the vehicles of spiritual instruction (see archbishop Trench On The Parables, chapter 2, where he distinguishes between "myth," "fable," "parable," "allegory," etc.). That there is nothing in such "myths" to deserve reprobation, nay more, that they are a wise form of teaching, is clear from the direct quotation of mythical stories by Jude ( 2 Peter 1:9;  2 Peter 1:14), and from the use of strictly analogous modes of conveying truth (allegory, fable, parable, etc.) in other parts of the Bible, as well as in the writings of all the wisest of mankind. It must, then, have been the doctrines involved, and not the "mythical" delivery of them, which awoke the indignation of the apostles; and if, as Tertullian thought (Adv. Valent. 3), and as is now generally believed, the "myths" alluded to were the Gnostic mythology of the "'Eons," of which the seeds may have been beginning to develop themselves when the pastoral epistles were written, we can easily understand how they would appear to bear the stamp of "philosophy and vain deceit." Theodoret, however, on  Titus 1:14, refers the "Jewish fables" to the Mishna ( Τὴν Ὑπ᾿ Αὐτῶν Καλουμένην Δευτέρωσιν , Alford, ad loc.).

No satisfactory definition of the word "myth" has ever been given, partly because of the manifold varieties of myths, and partly because the word has been used in several distinct senses. In Homer it is equivalent to Λόγος (Ii. 18:253), and Eustathius remarks that in later times it came to mean Ψευδὴς Λόγος (Ii. A, 29), to which definition Suidas adds that it was Λόγος Ψευδής , Εἰκονίζων Τὴν Ἀλήθειαν . Plutarch, less accurately, confounds it with Plausible fiction ( Λόγος Ψευδὴς Ἐοικὼς Ἀληθινῷ ), and in the Etynnologicum Mag nunz it is made, in its technical sense, to mean a veiled or enigmatical narration ( Μῦθος Σημαίνει Δύο ... Τόν Τε Σκοτεινὸν Λόγον . . . Καὶ Τὸν Ἁπλῶς Λόγον ). Neither the etymology nor the history of the word help us much. It is derived from Iuvew, To Initiate, or Μύω , to shut, and archbishop Trench thinks that it must therefore have originally meant the word shut up in the mind, or muttered with the lips (Synon. of the N.T. [2d ser.] page 174), though he admits that there is no trace of this in actual use; and as, at first, Μῦθος merely means "word," we may even derive it from an onomatopoeia of the simplest consonantal utterance (m). It is not until Pindar's time (01. 1:47; Nem. 7:34; 6:1) that it is used of that which is "mentally conceived, rather than historically true;" and in Attic prose it assumes its normal later sense of any legend or tradition of the prehistoric times. If, however, we analyze the modern use of the word, we shall find that these historical myths, or amplified legends of the remote past, generally mingled with the marvellous, do not properly represent our notion of myths any more than the wellunderstood philosophemes to which we previously alluded. We must learn, too, to distinguish between the myths and the rationalistic explanations thrust into them by the critical knowledge of a later age. If we would understand the true nature, for instance, of the Greek myths, we must discard from them the timidly rationalistic suggestions of Hecatseus, the severely common-sense views of Palcephatus, and the unsympathizingly sceptical rashness of Euemerus, no less than the profound moral intentions which have so often been transferred to them by the, speculative genius of a Bacon or a Coleridge.

A myth proper, then, is neither a philosopheme nor a legend. It is best described as a spontaneous product of the youthful imagination of mankind the natural form under which an infant race expresses its conceptions and convictions about supernatural relations and prehistoric events. It is neither fiction, history, nor philosophy; it is a spoken poetry, an uncritical and childlike history, a sincere and self-believing romance. It does not invent, but simply imagines and repeats; it may err, but it never lies. It is a narration, generally marvellous, which no one consciously or scientifically invents, and which every one unintentionally falsifies. "It is," says Mr. Grote, "the natural effusion of the unlettered, imaginative, and believing man." It belongs to an age in which the understanding was credulous and confiding, the imagination full of vigor and vivacity, and the passions earnest and intense. Its very essence consists in the projection of thoughts into the sphere of facts ("der Grund-Trieb des Mythen das Gedachte in ein Geschehenes umzusetzen" [Creuzer Symbolik, page 99]). It arises partly from the unconscious and gradual objectizing of the subjective, or confusing mental processes with external realities; and partly from investing the object with the feelings of the subject that is, from imaginatively attributing to external nature those feelings and qualities which only exist in the percipient soul.

The myth, then, belongs to that period of human progress in which the mind regards "history as all a fairy tale." Before the increase of knowledge, the dawn of science, and the general dissemination of books, men's fancies respecting the past, and the dim conjectures of nascent philosophy, could only be preserved by these traditional semi-poetic tales; to borrow the fine expression of Tacitus, "Fingunt simul creduntque." So far from being startled by the marvellous and the incredible, they expected and looked for it; while discrepancies and contradictions were accepted side by side, because the critical faculty was wholly undeveloped. "The real and the ideal," says Mr. Grote, "were blended together in the primitive conception;... the myth passed unquestioned, from the fact of its currency, and from its harmony with existing sentiments and preconceptions" (Hist. of Greece, 1:610). To the intensity of a fresh imagination, and the necessary weakness of the youth of language, we can trace the origin of a vast number of myths. In those early days men looked at all things with the large, open eyes of childish wonderment. The majority of phenomena which they saw and enjoyed were incapable of other than a metaphorical or poetical description; and even if language had been more developed it would have responded less accurately to their thoughts, because they seriously transferred their own feelings and emotions to the world around them, and made themselves the measure of all things. Thus the hunter regarded the moon and stars which "glanced rapidly along the clouded heaven" as a "beaming goddess with her nymphs;" and

"Sunbeams upon distant hills,

Gliding apace with shadows in their train,

Might, with small help from fancy,

be transferred Into fleet Oreads sporting visibly."

Wordsworth, Excursion, book 4.

Thus the manifold aspects of nature, imaginatively conceived and metaphorically described, furnished at once a large mythology; and when these elements were combined and arranged for the purpose of illustrating early scientific or theological conceptions, and were corrupted by numberless erroneous etymologies of words, whose true origin was forgotten, we have at once the materials for an extensive and sometimes inscrutable mythology. In the early stage of the myth, confined to the period when everything is personified, it is as difficult to distinguish between what was regarded as fancy and what was believed as fact as it is to this day in the rude and grotesque legends of Polynesians and North American Indians. But in a later time, when myths were preserved in writing and systematized into dogmas, the poetical imaginative faculties had often well-nigh evaporated, and that which had originally been meant as half a metaphor was prosaically hardened into a real and marvellous fact. Thus in many myths, as they were finally preserved, we may see the mere misconceptions of a metaphor, and the guesses of a most imperfect etymology, mingling in two distinct streams with the original simple poetic tale. Any one who considers the evanescent "tradition" of untutored polytheism as it is displayed among modern savages, may watch, even at the present day, the growth and swift diffusion of myths; but we must look into various histories of civilized people (and especially into that of Greece) to see such myths first erroneously systematized into definite narratives, to be deliberately believed then partially and timidly rationalized next contemptuously rejected and finally restored to their true rank as the most interesting relics of a primitive society, and the earnest teachings of a yet unsophisticated religious philosophy. This subject would require a volume to explain it adequately; and, indeed, it has occupied many important volumes. All that we have here attempted is to remove a groundless and injurious prejudice against the word. Whether or not there be any myths in the Bible, and especially in the earlier books, is a question which must be settled purely on its own merits. (See Mythical Theory).

It is, however, undesirable that the mere Word "myth" should be avoided by those who undoubtedly regard some of the Biblical narratives as containing mythical elements. Even men like Bunsen and Ewald bowed to popular prejudice in shunning the Word; and of the English theologians, who rely so much on their authority, scarcely one (with the exception of Dr. Davidson) has ventured in this particular to desert their guidance. Yet the word "myth" is far more reverent and far less objectionable than "fable," which some would substitute for it; and it is, as Dr. Davidson has pointed out, far more honest than circumlocutions which mean the same thing (Introd. 1:146). It will be observed that we are here giving no opinion whatever as to the fact of the existence of scriptural myths, but merely pleading that those Biblical critics who understand the true nature of myths, and, rightly or wrongly, believe that here and there in the Hebrew records a mythic element may be traced, should not hesitate to express their conviction by the term which is most suitable and most likely to secure for the subject a clear and fair discussion.

The following are a very few of the more important books on the subject of myths: O. Muller, Prolegomena zu einer Wissenschaftlichen Mythologie (Getting. 1825 [transl. by J. Leitch, Lond. 1844]); Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie; Buttmann, Mythologos; Hermann, Ueber das Wesen und die Behandlung d. Mythologie; Lobeck, Aglaophamus; Creuzer, Symbolik und Mythologie der Alten Volker;. Nitzsch, Helden-Sage der Griechen; Bottiger, Kunst-Mythologie d. Griechen; Kavanagh, Myths traced to their primary Source through Language (1856). The subject has of late years received three important contributions-Mr. Grote's History of Greece, volume 1; Prof. Max Miiller's Essay on Greek Mythology (Oxford Essays, 1856); and Cox, Mythology of the Aryan Nations (Lond. 1873, 2 volumes, 8vo). (See Mythology).