Mythology – Mythology – Mythology – are dealing with a living culture fully equipped

At the approach to the central point of the canon of the Mass, when the priest, lifting up his hands, utters the Sursum corda, he raises the whole pattern of action together with the worshippers to the heavenly sphere, symbolized by the ciborium with the starry canopy. In the myth, the spoken words describing the original scene, the historical event is detached from the stream of history and eternalized. In its place in the ritual it fulfils the true function of the myth; it becomes a word of life-giving power, able, as the priest’s words at the moment of communicating indicate, to preserve the body and soul of the communicant unto eternal life. Here the myth reaches the utmost limit of its meaning and its function, and our study of its history may fitly have its ending.

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Mythology – Mythology – are dealing with a living culture fully equipped

blessed and broken and distributed to be eaten by them was his body, and that the cup of wine which he had blessed and told them to drink was his blood. He said that by his death a new covenant was inaugurated, a new relationship established between God and man. He signified that in what he was about to do and suffer, the divine activity of redemption prefigured in the ritual and cult myth of the Passover was now to be fulfilled in him. Whether he intended his symbolic acts and significant words to become a rite to be continuously repeated is uncertain; but the Pauline account of what took place on that Passover night shows that even before the earliest gospel was written, the primitive Church had come to regard that as his intention. [3] In the early Christian treatise known as The Didache, [4] and in Justin Martyr’s Apology, [5] we can see the early stages of development of a eucharistic ritual which may be seen in its full splendour in such a sacramentary as the Sarum Missal which represents a typical Western Mass as it was celebrated in England during the Middle Ages. We have seen that in the most important occasion of the Babylonian religious year, the New Year Festival, there was a dramatic re-enactment of the death and resurrection of a god, his triumph over the forces of chaos and darkness, and its result in the subsequent ordering of creation. The ritual was accompanied by the recitation of the Enuma elish, a sacred chant which constituted the myth, or spoken description of the situation, enacted in the ritual. Other elements forming part of the ritual pattern were a triumphal procession and a sacred marriage. The king played an important part in the ritual, and the renewal of the kingship, upon which the well-being of the community, its salvation, depended, was the central feature of the whole proceeding. We also saw that the spoken part, the myth, was not a mere description of the situation, but had magical power to restore life to the dead god. We saw that a real situation, the deliverance of Israel from the Egyptian bondage, acquired a cultic significance. It became an annual ritual in which certain symbolic acts were performed and a cult myth was recited which described the original situation, not in historical terms, but in terms calculated to enhance the power and glory of Israel’s God and to celebrate his redemptive acts. The death of a victim formed part of the ritual, and the Kingship of Yahweh was reaffirmed in the triumphal song which accompanies the cult myth, ‘The Lord shall reign for ever and ever’ (Exod. 15:18). Now in the Eucharist we have all these elements centred and transformed in a situation whose ultimate reality transcends the merely historical level. The simple but profoundly significant scene in the upper room in Jerusalem has, in the course of centuries, been expanded and developed into a tremendous dramatic ritual representing in unending repetition the saving mystery of the passion, resurrection, and triumphant vindication of the Suffering Servant who is also the King of Glory. The details of the ritual and the differences between East and West belong to liturgiology. The point which concerns us here is that into the four-action pattern of the liturgy, repeating the actions of Jesus at the Last Supper, there was introduced at a very early date the myth, the spoken part of the ritual, describing the original situation. The words used are the words in which St Paul described the actions and words of Christ at the Last Supper in his letter to the Corinthian Church. Paul says that he has ‘received of the Lord’ the account which he here gives of what took place on that occasion. This can hardly mean that he had received the information by a special revelation. It should rather be understood to mean that when he was received into the early Christian community and received instruction as a catechumen, this account of the Lord’s actions and words was given to him as an essential part of the sacred tradition of the Church resting upon apostolic testimony.

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Mythology – are dealing with a living culture fully equipped

are dealing with a living culture fully equipped with an extensive literature, and at the same time having its roots deeply laid in antiquity. Moreover, inasmuch as Christianity was a product of the welter of the religious movements that characterized the Greco-Roman world at the beginning of our era, it gave a new functional significance to the various ancient strands that are embedded in the new culture pattern.’ [1] In the course of the Christian religion as it has developed through the centuries, the focal points of the individual life, the great central moment of national life in the coronation of the sovereign, and, above all, the corporate life of the Church, have all been surrounded with a pattern of ritual consisting of significant acts accompanied by spoken words which are regarded as having power, sacramental efficacy. The spoken part of the ritual is its myth, its muthos, and describes a situation in which divine activity is operative to effect the purpose of the ritual. In the Christian rite of baptism certain symbolic acts are performed and certain words are spoken which, for those who regard baptism as a sacrament, have power to bring about a change in the condition of the baptized person, child or adult. For those who undergo the ritual it is a rite de passage, a rebirth into a new life, and the myth, the spoken part of the ritual, describes the original situation, the reception of children by Christ, which is reproduced by the words and actions of the priest in the ritual. In the Christian ritual of marriage, the myth describes the original creation of mankind as male and female, and repeats the divine words which declare that in marriage the man and the woman become ‘one flesh’ and are indissolubly united. The words and acts of the priest in the ritual have power to bring about the union described in the myth. The various rituals of ordination of priests and deacons, and of the consecration of bishops, all have this character in common of bringing about through symbolic acts and spoken words a fundamental change in the condition of the persons undergoing these rituals. The coronation of a sovereign has a long and complicated history. Its roots lie far back in the coronation rituals of Egypt and Babylon. A description of the English ritual lies beyond the scope of our study which is concerned primarily with the myth; but a full account of its history has been given by Professor E. O. James in his book Christian Myth and Ritual, Chapter 2. But it is in the great central ritual of the Eucharist that the relation of the myth to the ritual is most clearly seen. Here the function of the myth as the sacred word of power is fully displayed. Like the coronation ritual, the. ritual of the Eucharist has a long and complicated history which we shall not attempt to follow here. It has been fully dealt with by the late Dom Gregory Dix in his monumental work The Shape of the Liturgy. The first point which concerns us is that the Christian Eucharist is, in its origin, a transformation of the age-long Jewish ritual of the Passover. We have already seen that the celebration of this annual ritual meal was accompanied by the recitation of the cult myth of the Exodus. According to the Synoptic gospels, immediately before his death Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples at Jerusalem. It may be remarked here that many scholars, following the account in the Gospel of John, do not regard the Last Supper as a Passover meal; but recent discoveries relating to the different calendars in use among the Jews in the time of Jesus have removed the grounds for this view, and there is no longer any reason to doubt that Jesus did celebrate the Passover with his disciples. [2] The accounts of what happened at the Last Supper vary in details, but common to them all is the central fact that Jesus, by certain symbolic acts and significant words transformed the Passover ritual into a: new thing. He told his disciples that the Pascal bread which he had

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Mythology – Mythology – Mythology – terms closely resembling the description of the sufferings

The Fourth Gospel has no account of the birth of Jesus or his baptism, and the passion and resurrection narratives of that gospel differ in many respects from those in the Synoptic gospels; but the character of the Fourth Gospel raises theological, rather than historical, issues, so that we shall not pursue the question of the Christian use of myth in that gospel. But enough has been said to show that round the two focal points of the entry of Jesus into the world and his departure from it mythical elements tended to gather from a very early date. To the Hebrew writers who recorded the history of Israel the creation of the universe, the redemption of Israel from Egyptian bondage, and the epiphany of Yahweh on Sinai, were real events which had happened in time, but their character as supreme examples of divine activity placed them beyond the range of ordinary historical narrative. The telling of them became part of an act of worship, a cultic activity, and the language in which they were clothed was such as to magnify the glory of Yahweh, and to remind Israel at the great seasonal festivals of Yahweh’s creative and redemptive acts. After the settlement of Israel in Canaan, the myths which related the mighty acts of the gods of the surrounding nations and of the Canaanite deities became part of the early Hebrew traditions, and the Hebrew writers made use of the language of these myths to describe the mighty acts of Yahweh. This has been described as a process of ‘demythologization’. [4] But it is better described as the creation of a new relation between myth and reality. We can see myth in the process of acquiring a new function, the function of mediating divine activity to the human mind in terms of analogy and symbol. This process reaches its fullest development at the point when divine activity in redemption reaches its climax in the Incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. To say, as we have done, that the gospel writers used the forms and language of myth to describe the events which had taken place before their eyes, is not to deny the reality of these events, but to affirm that they belonged to an order of reality transcending human modes of expression; belonging, indeed, to what Berdiaev has called ‘metahistory’. This, of course, is a Christian point of view, and will only be acceptable to those who accept the reality of the Incarnation and its consequences. —- 1. Goulder, M. D., and Sanderson, M. L., ‘St Luke’s Genesis’ (Journal of Theological Studies, April 1957). Also Evans, C. F., ‘The Central Section of St Luke’s Gospel’ (Studies in the Gospels, ed. D. E. Nineham). 2. For a full discussion and sources see Meyer, E., Ursprung and Anfdnge des Christentums, Vol. 1, pp. 52ff. 3. Dodd, C. H., The Fourth Gospel, p. 425, n. I. 4. Childs, Brevard S., Myth and Reality in the Old Testament, pp. 95 ff. ———————————– Christian Myth And Ritual Chapter 8 The last aspect of myth which will be considered here is the relation of myth to Christian ritual. Here the wheel has come full circle, and we return to the earliest function of myth, its use as the muthos, or spoken part, of the dromenon, the pattern of significant acts which constitute a ritual. A modern scholar has said, ‘In Christian ritual and its associated beliefs we

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Mythology – Mythology – terms closely resembling the description of the sufferings

and the grave empty. They saw a young man in a white robe sitting by the grave; he told them that Jesus was not there but was risen, and gave them a message to deliver to the disciples to the effect that Jesus would meet them in Galilee as he had told them at the Last Supper. There is no account of any appearances of Jesus, and the mythical element is entirely absent. In Luke the young man seen by the women has become two men clothed in shining garments whom the women take to be angels. The message given by the young man is considerably modified and the instruction to meet Jesus in. Galilee is omitted. The disciples, who are still in Jerusalem, refuse to believe the women’s account of what they have seen. Jesus, unrecognized, accompanies two disciples on their way to Emmaus, and reveals himself to them in the breaking of bread. They at once return to Jerusalem to bring the news to the disciples, and find them gathered together debating the report that Jesus was risen and had appeared to Peter, though no account of this appearance is given in any of the gospels. At this point Jesus himself appears in the midst of the assembled disciples and with difficulty persuades them of his reality by partaking of food. Then, according to Luke, on the same evening, Jesus leads the disciples out to Bethany, lifts up his hands to bless them, and in the act of blessing them is parted from them and is carried up into heaven. The words ‘and was carried up into heaven’ are omitted by some MSS, but the best authorities retain them. Luke has, however, a variant form of the tradition in his second book, the Acts of the Apostles; according to this, Jesus was ‘seen’ (Gk. optanomenos) by the disciples for forty days after his resurrection; at the end of this period, we are told, ‘he was taken up and a cloud received him out of their sight’ (Acts I:9), and the context shows that this took place on the Mount of Olives. Ten days then elapse till ‘the day of Pentecost was fully come’ (Acts 2:1), and we have the account of the descent of the Spirit. The time-table has clearly been adjusted to make the resurrection, ascension, and the descent of the Spirit coincide with the Jewish calendar period of fifty days from Passover to Pentecost. At the moment of the Ascension Luke introduces two men in white garments who tell the disciples that Jesus will return in the same way that they had seen him go into heaven. Here he is evidently offering a parallel to the two men in shining garments whom the women had seen at the grave. This is the extent to which Luke, or the source, oral or written, which he was using, has invested the resurrection narrative with the element of myth. Matthew’s mythicization has gone much further. According to his account the women do not come to the grave to anoint the body of Jesus, as they do in the other Synoptists, but to watch. They see, descending from heaven, an angel whose appearance is described as like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow; at the sight of him the keepers shake and become like dead men; he removes the stone from the mouth of the grave and sits upon it. He then gives the frightened women a message which is a modified version of the young man’s message in Mark. Mark had said that the women fled from the grave in fear, and told nothing to anyone; but Matthew says that they ran from the grave with fear and great joy to bring the news to the disciples. As they went Jesus met them and greeted them. They held him by the feet and worshipped him. He told them not to be afraid, but to tell the disciples to go to Galilee, where they will see him. Matthew ends his account with the statement that the eleven disciples went away to a mountain in Galilee, ‘which Jesus had appointed them’. There he came to them; some were doubtful when they saw him; but the rest worshipped him. He told them that all power had been given to him in heaven and on earth, and commissioned them to preach the gospel to all the Gentiles, and to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

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Mythology – terms closely resembling the description of the sufferings

terms closely resembling the description of the sufferings of Jesus during his passion. It is one of the generally accepted results of New Testament studies that Jesus regarded the figure of the suffering Servant of Yahweh depicted in the Servant passages of Deutero-Isaiah as the pattern and prefiguration of his own destiny. The story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in the eighth chapter of Acts shows how early this passage was understood by the Church as referring to Jesus. Hence, in the resemblances between the passion narratives and these Old Testament passages, we find, not mythological elaboration, nor the borrowing of a Tammuz myth, but the working of that tendency, to which we have already referred, to find fulfilments of prophecy in the events of the life of Jesus. Secondly, it may be said that, on a long view, the existence of these ancient myths of a suffering, dying, and rising god, is evidence of a deep-rooted element in religious experience, a sense that something is wrong with the moral order of the universe, and that only the expiatory death of a divine being can meet the situation; and, finally, that in the passion and resurrection of the Son of God the myth finds its realization and justification. It is mainly in the gospel of Matthew that the mythical elements with which we are concerned appear. There is one detail common to all the synoptic gospels which it is difficult to regard as historical, namely, the statement that at the moment of Jesus’s death the veil of the Temple was rent from top to bottom by supernatural agency. Of this incident so eminent a New Testament scholar as Dr C. H. Dodd has said, ‘The rending of the veil I take to be purely symbolical.’ [3] The three Synoptic gospels also relate that immediately before the death of Jesus there was darkness over the whole land for three hours; Luke adds, according to the best MS. evidence, that the darkness was due to an eclipse of the sun, but, as Origen pointed out long ago, an eclipse of the sun is not possible at full moon. The darkness, like the rending of the veil, is symbolical. In Matthew the mythical element is intensified. In addition to the two incidents already mentioned, he relates that the rocks were rent by an earthquake, the graves were opened, and many bodies of sleeping saints arose and came into ‘the holy city’ (Jerusalem), and appeared to many ‘after his resurrection’. This statement seems to imply that Matthew, or his source, regarded the resurrection of Jesus as taking place immediately after his death, although this is inconsistent with his subsequent narrative. The next mythical element included by Matthew is the story that the priests induced Pilate to place a guard of soldiers at the grave and to seal the stone which closed the mouth of the grave. When the grave was discovered to be empty the Jewish authorities are said to have bribed the soldiers to say that the disciples of Jesus had come and stolen his body while they slept. This curious episode ends with the statement that the soldiers did as they were instructed, and that this belief was current among the Jews at the time when the gospel was written. The story would seem to reflect current controversies at an early period between Jews and Christians concerning the body of Jesus. We have an echo of this in the words attributed to Mary Magdalene in John 20:13, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him: As is well known, the original form of the gospel of Mark ends abruptly, either intentionally, according to some scholars, or accidentally, according to others, at the eighth verse of Chapter 16 with the words, ‘For they were afraid.’ The last twelve verses of Chapter 16 are a later addition. All that Mark relates concerning the resurrection of Jesus is that the women came early on the morning of the first day of the week to the grave, and found the stone rolled away

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Mythology – Mythology – Mythology – child. While he is considering putting her away

a human father, the taint of Adam’s sin was therefore not transmitted. This theological argument was later applied to the birth of Mary as being the mother of God, and the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary developed during the Middle Ages until it was established as an article of faith in 1854 by the Papal Bull ‘Ineffabilis Deus’. It would seem to have been overlooked that Mary had a human mother, and that the process must go on ad infinitum. In the second place, it has been maintained by many scholars that the current existence of many myths of the divine birth of various heroes of antiquity, such as Herakles, Alexander, and others, played a part in the development of the belief in the virgin birth of Jesus. Whether pagan myths are likely to have influenced Jewish Christian writers may be questioned; but we have seen that Hebrew writers drew on heathen mythology in describing the divine activity in Creation, so that the larger question of the use of myth in describing the divine activity in New Creation cannot be disregarded. Lastly, a factor in the growth of the cult of the Virgin which must be taken into account is the wide-spread feeling among the uneducated masses for a female object of worship, for a Mother-goddess. This motive was greatly strengthened after the conversion of the Empire to Christianity, bringing into the Church vast numbers of half-educated or wholly illiterate barbarians. The issues involved in the question of the virgin birth can only be decided on theological grounds, and this is not the place for such a discussion. The main point which we are concerned to stress here is the possibility that we have in the birth narratives of the gospels an extension of the function of myth as a vehicle for conveying truths which lie outside the range of historical evidence. The Resurrection Narratives The second focal point round which mythological elements appear to gather is the point of departure of Jesus from the scene of history: In the birth narratives the apocryphal gospels show in an exaggerated form the tendency to use mythological material, so, in a similar way, the resurrection narratives of the apocryphal gospels, as, for instance, the apocryphal gospel of Peter, show the tendency to magnify the mythical element which already appears to some extent in the canonical gospels. One of the most important elements in the ancient myth and ritual pattern was the myth of the dying and rising god, seen in its earliest form in the Tammuz myth, perpetuated through the ages, and appearing in the various eastern mystery-cults so widely current in the Greco- Roman’ world in the New Testament period. Some scholars have put forward the view that the .gospel narratives of the passion and resurrection of Jesus have been modelled on the pattern of the Babylonian ritual myth, and that, for instance, the ritual humiliation of the king in the Babylonian New Year Festival ritual furnishes the pattern for the account in the canonical gospels of the mock kingship and humiliation of Jesus. This point of view was presented many years ago by the French scholar M. Couchoud in an article in the Hibbert Journal. With regard to this, two things may be said. First, if any non-historical factors were at work in shaping the pattern of the passion narratives, they are rather to be looked for in such Old Testament passages as Ps. 22 and Isa. 53, where the sufferings of the godly Israelite, and of the Servant of Yahweh, are described in

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Mythology – Mythology – child. While he is considering putting her away

This instance illustrates the second tendency at work in gospel narratives, observable in Luke as well as in Matthew, to find in the life of Jesus a recapitulation of the experience of Israel, as well as that of Moses, since Jesus was for the gospel writers the new Moses as well as the new Israel. The slaughter of the children by Herod and the escape of Jesus and his parents recapitulate the slaughter of the male Hebrew children in Egypt by the Pharaoh and the preservation of Moses. That there was such a conscious or unconscious patterning of the birth narratives in Luke on Old Testament models has been well brought out in a recent article entitled ‘St Luke’s Genesis’, to which reference may be made. [1] The third tendency at work in the Matthaean birth narrative raises the larger question of the borrowing of mythological material from pagan sources. [2] We have already seen that, in describing the divine activity in Creation the Hebrew writers made use of Sumerian and Babylonian Creation myths, and that in their treatment of such material might be seen the beginnings of a new use of myth as a vehicle of revelation. We have, therefore, a precedent for the use of myth in a way transcending its original function in early religions. The problem meets us in its acutest form in connexion with the Christian dogma of the virgin birth. It is possible to read the statement in Luke I:35 as implying divine intervention of the same type as is found in the Old Testament accounts of the births of Isaac or of Samson, although the words in Luke 3:23, in the genealogy of Jesus, ‘being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph’, show that Luke himself believed that Jesus had no human father But the Matthaean statement is unequivocal. Mary is ‘found with child of the Holy Ghost’; and the gospel writer goes on to declare that the event is a fulfilment of an oracle of Isaiah which he quotes from the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament. This version reads, ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.’ Here the point turns on the Greek word parthenos, which is rightly translated ‘virgin’. The Hebrew word, however, ‘almah, which the Septuagint translators have rendered parthenos, does not mean ‘virgin’, but ‘young woman’, that is, any young woman of marriageable age. If the Isaianic oracle be examined in its context, it will be seen that, in a time of trouble and the threat of a foreign invasion, the prophet urged King Ahaz to ask Yahweh for a sign, and when he refused to do so, told him that Yahweh would give him a sign; this was to be the birth of a child to an unnamed young woman; the child was to be named Immanuel, and would grow up to experience the privations which would result from the Assyrian invasion of Judah predicted by the prophet. The primary reference of the sign was to the situation in which it was given. The name given to the child must be considered in connexion with the names given by the prophet to his own children as signs, and, its meaning, ‘God with us’, was intended to tell the king and his panic-stricken people that Israel’s God was in command of the situation. If the oracle in Isa. 9 :6-7, ‘Unto us a child is born’, refers to the same child, then the sign of Immanuel would seem to have had a Messianic significance for the prophet, and to have referred to a future Davidic king; but there is no suggestion in the Hebrew text of a miraculous birth from a virgin. Hence the Christian writer’s claim that the virgin birth of Jesus is a fulfilment of the Isaianic oracle is based on a mistranslation of the Hebrew. But the fact that Matthew or his source could interpret the oracle in this way shows that the belief in the virgin birth had already taken root in the early Christian community on other grounds. In the first place, it is clear that by the time the canonical gospels were in circulation the divine Sonship of Jesus had been fully recognized, carrying with it the implication of complete sinlessness. On theological grounds the sinlessness of Jesus was thought to be secured by his conception through the operation of the Holy Spirit without the intervention of

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Mythology – child. While he is considering putting her away

child. While he is considering putting her away privately, he is told by an angel in a dream that Mary is with child of the Holy Ghost. The angel tells him to take her as his wife, and to call the child Jesus, a name which in Hebrew means ‘Saviour’, for, says the angel, ‘He shall save his people from their sins: The narrator then adds that all this is happening as the fulfilment of the sign of Immanuel, given to King Ahaz by the prophet Isaiah. To this point we shall return later. Then the narrative goes on to relate that, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the time of Herod the Great, wise men (lit. ‘mages’) came to Jerusalem from the East, inquiring where the King of the Jews had been born, and saying that they had seen his star in the East and had come to worship him. Herod and all Jerusalem are disturbed at the news, and Herod calls the chief priests and scribes together and asks them where the Messiah was to be born. They tell him that, according to the prophecy in Micah 5:2, this would take place in Bethlehem. Herod sends the mages to that village, and, on the basis of their astrological calculations, plans to kill all the children in Bethlehem and the neighbouring district who are under two years old. Joseph is warned in a dream to take Mary and the child and flee into Egypt. The narrator then describes Herod’s slaughter of the children and says that this is the fulfilment of a prophecy of Jeremiah (31:15); he also says that the flight into Egypt is a fulfilment of the oracle in Hos. II:I, ‘Out of Egypt have I called my son: When Herod is dead, Joseph is again told by an angel in a dream that it is safe to return to the land of Israel. He does so, but, discovering that Herod has been succeeded by his son Archelaus, is afraid to return to Bethlehem, and, by angelic direction, goes and settles in Nazareth, in order to fulfil another prophetic word, which has never been identified, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene.’ It is generally recognized that the Lukan and Matthaean accounts of the circumstances under which the birth of Jesus took place cannot be harmonized. Luke has invested the historical circumstance with a mythological colouring which is intended to bring into strong relief the divine purpose directing the events, and to show that the pattern of divine activity in redemption, outlined in the Old Testament in those cult myths which we have been studying, has now reached its climax. The canticles which Luke has either composed or borrowed from the psalmody of the early Church are wholly Old Testament in spirit and expression, and are intended to glorify the God of Israel who has thus guided the course of world-history to its consummation. It is noteworthy that in his two chapters devoted to the circumstances attending the birth of Jesus, Luke does not once declare that this or that event was the fulfilment of some particular prophecy; yet he invests his whole narrative in these two chapters with an Old Testament colouring which is the result of a supreme art. In the corresponding chapters of Matthew, on the other hand, the mythological element is employed in a different way and with a different result. In the first place, we find here the beginning of a tendency which develops to an uncontrolled extent in early patristic literature, the tendency to seek for fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy in events of the life of Jesus. In this short section of the gospel no less than five passages from the Old Testament are cited as fulfilled by incidents in the early life of Jesus. The third of these quotations, from Hos. II:I, in its Old Testament setting runs, ‘When Israel was a child then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.’ Here the prophet is referring to the tradition that the beginning of Yahweh’s relations with Israel went back to the deliverance from Egypt. The early Christian writer saw in the word ‘son’ a reference to Christ, and drew the inference that the new Israel, embodied in Jesus, must have experienced an Exodus from Egypt.

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Mythology – Mythology – Mythology – Although the episodes related in this book are

Egypt and the epiphany on Sinai, the challenge of Elijah breaking into the dismal history of the Israelite monarchy, and, finally, the use of myth by Jewish writers to describe how God would wind up world-history. Similarly, when Jewish writers, whose minds had been moulded by these patterns, came to describe what they had been brought to regard as a new and overwhelming display of the might of Israel’s God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, seen in a new creation, a new exodus, a new epiphany, a new covenant, and a new future, they used the same mythological patterns to clothe the historical events in which the divine activity was expressed. The Christ-myth of Drews and Robertson is now little more than a curiosity of literature, but the presence of myth in Christianity continues to agitate the minds of theologians. The demand for a process of ‘demythologization’ associated with the name of that eminent New Testament scholar Dr Bultmann, has aroused a considerable controversy both in this country and on the continent; but it is very doubtful whether the attempt to purge Christianity of its mythical element can ever be successful. In religion, and above all in that form of it which is Christianity, we are confronted by realities of which it is impossible to speak without using the language of analogy; the mind must have recourse to the help of images and symbols, and of these myth is compounded. As in the Old Testament the first focal point round which mythological elements gather is the divine act of Creation, the beginning of things, so in the New Testament the first focal point is the beginning of ‘new creation’, the mystery of the Incarnation. The Birth Narratives Of the four canonical gospels only two contain accounts of the birth and childhood of Jesus, namely, Matthew and Luke. There is a wide divergence between their accounts. Luke, in his preface claims to have obtained his information from people who ‘from the beginning were eye-witnesses’, and his account has far less mythological colouring than that given by Matthew; but the story of the angel Gabriel’s appearance to Zacharias in the Temple to announce the birth of John the Baptist, his subsequent appearance to Mary to announce the birth of the Messiah, the angel’s announcement to the shepherds of the same birth, and the subsequent chorus of the heavenly host singing ‘Glory to God in the highest’, are all features of a mythological rather than an historical character. It is also noticeable that here Luke’s narrative shows a distinct tendency to be coloured by Old Testament narratives of remarkable births. There are parallels with the story of the announcement of the birth of Isaac to Sarah when she was long past childbearing; also of the announcement of the birth of the hero Samson to Manoah and his wife by an angelic messenger who declares that the child is to be a Nazarite from his birth, and who, after telling Manoah that his name is ‘secret’, ascends in a flame of fire from the altar. According to the Lukan narrative, the parents of Jesus bring him to be circumcized eight days after his birth; it does not say where the ceremony was performed. Then, after thirty-three days, the regulation period of ritual uncleanness for a woman who has given birth to a male child, the parents go up to Jerusalem for Mary’s purification and to present Jesus in the Temple as a first-born child, according to the law. Then they return to Nazareth. In the Matthaean narrative there is no account of the birth of John the Baptist; Mary is betrothed to Joseph, who discovers, before the time for their marriage arrives, that she is with

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