by Andrew Simmons Thursday, April 10
“The content of myth is always concrete; in myth it is a question not of God in general and humankind in general but of a definite form or instance of a definite divine revelation…For this reason, myth is or rather must be the negation of any subjectivism or psychologism…” –Sergius Bulgakov, Unfading Light: Contemplations and Speculations, p. 65
It goes without saying that the film “Noah” has stirred up a significant amount of controversy due to views of the film’s politics, theology, and accuracy to the narrative. This is not one of those critiques. To be honest, the film was rather disappointing for me, and I would much rather go beyond critique for the sake of this article. What will be focused on is what has been brewing within and around events such as the Ken Ham and Bill Nye debate: the validity of myth. For many, myths are merely viewed as being synonymous with lying; others treat myths as being literal history based on a misunderstanding of the reality portrayed in myth. Myths are fundamentally a real presentation or unfolding of values cemented within a society. According to Joseph Campbell, myths find meaning and continuation through metaphor and religion (Campbell, 8). From assessing this definition, not only can “Noah” be properly explicated, but myth itself can be properly understood by a society that seemingly has lost its mythic mentality.
Mythological stories arose from a time in history in which the polis or communitas was the fundamental way of life for the various tribes and kingdoms around the world. The more individualistic and self-autonomous society we live in today is the byproduct of the Enlightenment which in itself has a basis in the end of the communal space during the Renaissance. Since even modern myths such as the Lord of the Rings find a firm foundation in the myths derived from the old Anglo-Saxon polis, there is a connection between myths and a communal way of life. Aeneas, even if he does not create the city, is the great mythological figure of the Roman people. He is the great paterfamilias (father) that both exemplifies the values and instills the value in his people. What Virgil is not doing is creating simple propaganda, but, rather, is embarking on the creative journey that one day assumes him in the myths of Dante.
For Dante, Virgil is the objective presentation of pagan virtue who finds his meaning throughout the whole of the pagan (or at best Roman) communitas. In much the same way, Aeneas is made to reflect the values that the entire community holds to. Their objectivity is grounded within a communal way of living, and, as such, they do not reflect the subjective psychological views of the individual (Bulgakov, 65). The same can be said of Noah, Abraham, and the other mythic figures of the Old Testament. It is Kierkegaard who has to ponder the psychology of Abraham in his Fear and Trembling for the myth does not. Abraham can be a titanic figure of faith that does not question God’s word for he is the father of his people and objectively reflects them. The same goes for Noah of which there is no account of his subjective views in the narrative itself. When Babylon conquered Assyria and brought an end to their polis, they presented a mythological account of their god Marduk making the cosmos from the corpse of the Assyrian god Tiamat; when they brought down the Assyrian community, they ended their world and replaced it with their own. But with this comes a serious question: is the myth of the people or imposed on the people?
The answer to the question is placed within the context of the myths themselves. When Aeneas travels from the ruins of Troy to Italy, he is always under the pressuring auspices of Fate. When he seeks his own individual pursuits, Fate is always present through the god Jupiter who takes away friends, family, and the aspirations of Aeneas. In Roman society, the rule of Fate through the gods exemplified their emphasis on right and wrong (verum and falsum) (Zuckert, 58). From it, the great legalists and ethicist such as Cicero emerge to expound upon morality and the rule of law. Within the Greek polis, truth claims were bound up within the word aletheia which means the disclosure of being (Zuckert, 38). From this, the mythological stories of the Greeks present a means of disclosing being (Zuckert, 58). Aristotle and Plato mention Homer and critique him, but they are indebted to Homer and wish to expound upon what he has set in motion. The God of the Biblical myths provides an intriguing impasse for He offers both commands, but there is also a mystery interwoven throughout the narratives.
Despite the commandments, the Biblical myths have continued to maintain a tradition of commentaries that further pass on the narrative even if they are not myths themselves. The commentaries are referred to as the Midrashim of which Father Robert Baron considers the Noah film a part of. Additional texts include the Babylonian Talmud, the Dead Seas Scrolls, and possibly the Medieval Jewish philosophers. Now, I would, as a Christian, say that this tendency has continued within the Christian community. Whether it is the stories of saints, medieval theological dramas, or even the works of writers such as Dante, the faith has not found itself within a static horizon as seen among fundamentalists. The culmination of Biblical myths is grounded within Jesus Christ who has brought forth a new community in the Kingdom of Heaven. Christianity does not annihilate the polis, but perfects it; the Christian may find himself as a lonely individual in the world, but he is of a divine community. The Christian is one oriented towards being immersed in myth, not contrary to it.
Bulgakov, Sergius. Unfading Light: Contemplations and Speculations. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2012. Print
Campbell, Joseph. Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor. Novato, California: New World Library. 2001. Print
Zuckert, Catherine H. Postmodern Platos. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press. 1996. Print.
Andrew Simmons is a graduate from Aquinas College. He studied for a double major in History and Theology with a minor in Catholic Studies. In 2010, during his freshman year, he converted to Catholicism. After what the responses were to Noah, he is worried that Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings” will bring the controversy scale up to a whole new level.