The quest for a single overarching definition having long been given up, “mythology” and “myth” have provided a touchstone for a variety of issues that cut across humanistic and social scientific disciplines, and in certain respects the natural sciences as well. However one approaches the terms, in the context of biblical interpretation the territory includes conceptions of theism, the divine realm, and the fundamental structures of human experience. Such an assessment holds in view of the early use of the term by Plato and Aristotle; the distinction the Greeks made between mythology as the factual recounting of mythological events and myth as visceral impact (Dörrie 1980, p. 109); and its place in patristic polemics and reception among rabbinic commentators. Whatever one’s perspective, the terms raise questions of consciousness, the self, and the other.

History and Practitioners.

Perceived absurdities of the gods of Homeric tradition and Greek tragedy were resolved in allegory and through other interpretive lenses by Aristotle and commentators like Sallustius. Similarly, fundamental questions of theistic language and of the imagery surrounding the God of the Bible continually occupied those who sought understanding of the notion of one God, a particularly acute problem in view of the “God” of Greek philosophy. These issues included questions of transcendent or immanent, anthropomorphic or abstract, universal or particular, and one or many (for discussion, see S. Cohen, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, esp. pp. 86–87). Michael Fishbane details how Jewish exegesis approached the anthropomorphic and anthropopathic language applied to God in the Bible by qualifying, filtering, and reinterpreting passages in order to rescue the Bible from any semblance of what had come to be understood as irrationality and imaginative excess in myth. These approaches characterize a tradition of interpretation that was averse to mythic language and was thereby given to rescuing from it (often by allegorizing) the God-given truth the community believed it to contain (Fishbane 2003, p. 4).

In addition to allegorizing, patristic writers appealed to Euhemerism (interpreting stories of divine beings as embellished biographies of human rulers or philosophers) in polemic against pagan mythology, and this hermeneutic strategy continued throughout the Middle Ages. Any valuable elements in pagan myths they considered stolen from Judaism (“Plagiarism”), while counting any elements in Judaism that seemed pagan as an intermediate phase in God’s plan. Throughout the medieval period, the Christian community avoided applying the term “myth” to its narratives (R. Chase, The Quest for Myth, 1949; Scarborough 1994, pp. 4–5).

Eighteenth Century.

The Mythical School.

Enlightenment ideas and values produced a view of myth as operating in the absence of modern science, while the rising tide of Romanticism ennobled such thought by valorizing “primitivism.” The classicist C. G. Heyne (1729–1812), following Robert Lowth (1710–1787) and J. G. Herder (1744–1803), considered myth the earliest mode of human speech and thought. In his early writing on the topic, Heyne’s student J. G. Eichhorn (1753–1827) presents a view of Genesis 2–3 as “historical myths,” that is, a mythical portrayal of actual events (Rogerson 1974, p. 3). For Eichhorn, humanity actually descended from an original human pair who lived in a garden and interacted with God. What the present narrative relates as conversations with God, however, were encounters with misunderstood natural phenomena or, in the case of the woman’s conversation with the serpent, internal ruminations. In later writings in which he revised his position, Eichhorn considered the narrative an example of philosophical myth, describing the loss of a golden age (Rogerson, p. 4). Other rationalistic interpreters found ways of incorporating the knowledge of the times into theistic discourse. J. P. Gabler (1753–1826), a student of Eichhorn who edited and wrote the introduction and notes to Eichhorn’s Urgeschichte (1790–1793), argued there that Genesis 2–3 reflects a polytheistic background, evidenced in the compound name Yahweh Elohim. The account of Adam’s naming of animals, for Gabler, marks the development of speech and reason, and the newly acquired awareness of good and evil is (as Kant argued) a reflection of the rise of reason.

Related Philosophical and Theoretical Issues.

Attempts to reconcile Enlightenment rationalism with faith or true religious knowledge increasingly looked to primal human experience, witnessed also in the influential writings of Kant and Schleiermacher. In 1786 and 1793, Kant interpreted the opening chapters of Genesis as a reflection of human beings’ relationship to nature and of the rise and consequences of reason, and in the second Critique (1788) he relocated the source of religious experience and expression from external revelation to something within humanity. For Kant, the realm of religious truth is the internal sense of duty. Schleiermacher (1768–1834), whose call for a science of understanding established the modern field of hermeneutics, in Reden über die Religion (1799) (On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers) identified “intuitions of the universe” as the essence of religious truth and distinguished the communicative forms that convey these intuitions as “empty mythology” when dissociated from them in any way—that is, divested of the immediate experience of infinity or when extended by speculation. This further placed the Bible alongside other cultural works that pointed to the primordial past.

Nineteenth Century.

Hegelianism and Strauss.

A key philosophical development that followed Kant and Schleiermacher came when Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind (1831) confronted the ontological and epistemological dualism that dominated philosophy, providing a dialectical model of consciousness in relation to the world and to the idea of history. D. F. Strauss (1808–1874), seeking an authentic approach to theological ideas, incorporated Hegel’s approach into New Testament interpretation in The Life of Jesus Critically Examined (1835). In it he described myth as the synthesis emerging from the conflict between the ideas of “sacred legends” frozen in writing and the thinking of later generations, who represented “more advanced periods of mental development.” Driven by a desire to write from a thoroughly modern perspective that embraced science as the firm ground upon which to build, Strauss invoked Hegel’s distinction between Vorstellung (representation) and Begriff (pure concepts of philosophy), equating myth with pictorial Vorstellung. Strauss defined myth as a “representation of an event or of an idea in a form which is historical, but at the same time characterized by the rich pictorial and imaginative mode of thought and expression of the primitive ages” (Strauss, Life of Jesus, 1892, p. 53). The mythical reflected an ongoing “naturalistic process by which legends are originated and developed” through seeking ideas that conform to “the spirit and modes of thought of the people and of the age” (p. 65). In Strauss the struggle over the nature of history and its relation to religion and theology and the question of the historical Jesus versus the Christ of faith came to the fore.

Comparative Mythology.

The discovery of the linguistic principle popularized by Jacob Grimm in 1822 as “Grimm’s Law” established comparative philology, which reconstructed a proto-Indo European ancestor tongue through a comparative analysis of Germanic and other languages. With it also came comparative mythology, brainchild of the German linguist F. Max Müller (1823–1900), who considered stories of the gods to be the product of misunderstood remnants of crude words and poetic phrases that had belonged to the earliest stages of speech but had fallen into disuse. According to Müller, the earliest stage of language was characterized by “polyonymy” (many terms name a single phenomenon) and a wealth of synonyms, which produced homonyms (one term names many phenomena). In time, language became more efficient by the reduction of terms, and humans began to misconstrue utterances that had originally named or described natural phenomena but whose original meanings were partially forgotten, taking them as the names of beings. Müller espoused a natural religion and related earliest language to a “primordial spark,” an intuition of God captured by utterances that diverged as language progressed historically. In this qualified sense, religion emanates from an essential and original human relation to the world or the infinite and proceeded through language development into monotheistic and polytheistic conceptions (Olender 1992, p. 83–84). Natural religion develops through an innate human capacity to perceive the “Infinite” or “Divine,” which “manifests itself…under three different aspects… discovered either in nature, or in man, or in the self” (Stone, The Essential Max Müller, New York, 2002, p. 16). Thus Müller’s conception of myth as a “disease of language” approximates Schleiermacher’s “empty mythology.” Ernest Renan regarded comparative philology as “the exact science of the things of the spirit” and described it and comparative mythology as sciences ranking between history and geology with the potential to bring us back “almost to the beginnings of human consciousness.” (Olender, p. 636). The philological distinction between Aryan and Semitic languages combined with nationalistic impulses to provide a staging ground for newly forming ideologies of race. Against claims that the Hebrews, despite being recipients of the first spark of religion, were incapable of developing mythology (which had come to be seen as a sign of civilization), Ignaz Goldziher (1850–1921), a Hungarian Jew known primarily as an Islamic studies scholar, endeavored to demonstrate the universality of mythological types, setting forth examples of the mythological expression of solar and other natural phenomena within the Hebrew Bible. Citing the German Idealist and Romantic philosopher Friedrich Schelling, whose ambitious Introduction to the Philosophy of Mythology (1854) attempted to provide a systematic philosophical account of myth, Goldziher argued at the outset that all peoples must begin with a mythology, which is the foundation for “a common view of the world,” which in turn is the foundation for “community of consciousness between the individuals” that constitutes the people (Goldziher, Mythology among the Hebrews and its Historical Development, 1877, xxii). Unlike Müller, he argued that the development of myth was governed first by psychological laws shared by all peoples and then by particular cultural histories.

History of Religions, Phenomenology, and the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule.

The end of the nineteenth century witnessed sweeping changes in the academy that included the rise of the social sciences and the separation of religion from theology. Already with Hegel (following Hume and Kant), philosophy of religion had emerged as an autonomous modern discipline, separate from its patristic and medieval precursors and Christian theology (Tracy 1990, p. 12–13). In the Netherlands, the writings of P. D. Chantepie de Saussaye (Manual of the Science of Religion, 1891) and C. P. Tiele (Elements of the Science of Religion, 1897) outlined a comparative historical approach to religion, treating it as a science by focusing on typologies—an approach eventually dubbed both “history of religions” and “phenomenology of religion” (coined earlier by Saussaye). The comparative study of religions broke ties with confessional theology, supplanting its relative authority within the university, and subjecting it to its new “scientific” program of comparative analysis. Religious experience as described by Schleiermacher, and then Rudolf Otto, became central to the movement. Myth became suitable as a concept central to the nascent history of religions owing to its long heritage of use in relation to the phenomena claimed to constitute “religion” (Dubuisson 2003, p. 143).

In Germany, a different variety of comparative study arose in the religionsgeschichtliche Schule, the “history-of-religion” school, whose primary interests lay in illuminating the origins of early Christianity against the backdrop of the Hellenistic world and the development of the Old Testament in the context of the ancient Near East. Pioneering figures of the movement included Hermann Gunkel (1862–1932), Hugo Gressmann (1877–1927), and Albert Eichhorn (1856–1926). Gunkel considered religion a matter of piety, the experience that gave rise to the representations and concepts of the texts, and in this sense equated religion with theology, separating it from dogmatics (Ollenburger, in Knight 2004, p. 253). The deciphering of cuneiform and the emerging discipline of Assyriology produced new comparative materials with implications for the study of myth as an interpretive category. Gunkel’s Schöpfung und Chaos in Urzeit und Endzeit (1894) demonstrated the prevalence of the cosmic battle motif in ancient Near Eastern literature, shedding light on the broader historical and cultural milieu of both the cosmogony of Genesis 1 and the eschatological material of Revelation 12. Gunkel’s approach led, most significantly, to the development of Form Criticism. Further, P. Machinist argued that the value of Schöpfung lies in part in “demonstrat[ing] the importance of myth as a fundamental category in the religions of the ancient Near East, including that of biblical Israel” (see Gunkel, Creation and Chaos in the Primeval Era and the Eschaton, 2006, p. xvii) At the same time, however, we must keep in mind Gunkel’s inconsistent use of the term “myth” (see Rogerson, pp. 57–65).

Anthropological Myth.

The emergence of disciplinary anthropology in the late nineteenth century through the work of Edward Burnett Tylor (1832–1917) and Lucien Lévy–Bruhl (1857–1939) brought developments that would eventually shape discussions of mythology and biblical interpretation. Tylor defines the source of religious ideas as “by human reason, without supernatural aid or revelation; in other words, as being developments of Natural Religion,” stating further, “Animism is the groundwork for the Philosophy of Religion, from that of savages up to that of civilized men” (Primitive Culture, 1871, p. 385). Tylor’s intellectualist theory, based in the “doctrine of survivals,” which ultimately explained belief in God among moderns as a survival of animism, understood myth to be the naïve science of ancients and primitives. Lévy-Bruhl conceived myth as a type of thought, primitive mentality based in mystical participation, the “opposite of scientific thinking…involv[ing] the projection of mystical qualities onto the world and…oblivious to contradictions” (Segal 1999, pp. 81–82). The influence of both Tylor and Lévy-Bruhl would later materialize in essays by H. and H. A. Frankfort published in the 1946 volume Before Philosophy, through which it passed into discussions of myth in biblical studies.

Twentieth Century.

Astral Mythology.

Interest in materials from Mesopotamia also gave rise at the turn of the twentieth century to the relatively short-lived “Astral Mythology” school, represented by H. Winckler, A. Jeremias, and H. Zimmern. The movement is closely associated with the Babel und Bibel controversy, sparked by lectures delivered between 1902 and 1904 by Friedrich Delitzsch, who argued the Babylonian origin of monotheism and other religious teachings within the Bible as part of his desire to promote Indo-Aryan superiority through the Babylonians, whom he counted as Indo-Aryan. Critics derided the diffusionist approach, calling the group “pan-Babylonian,” and today the school has largely been forgotten. Three items, however, merit attention here. First, its influence contributed to undermining the historicity of patriarchal and early monarchic narratives (see Rogerson, p. 48). Second, its racially informed devotion to the idea of Aryan superiority provides a parade example of the ideological dimensions of myth within scholarship. A third aspect regards the relation of myth to experience. Winckler understood Mesopotamia to be the point of origin not merely of literary myth but of myth as the embodiment of a mystical worldview (Weltanschauung), a way of apprehending the world that was shaped by astrological speculation. Within this view, the world of the gods is a macrocosm of human experience. The visible world is an emanation or materialization of the one transcendent God, who manifests in a multiplicity of forms. This knowledge of the cosmos was revealed at the beginning of time and all wisdom comes from the knowledge of the heavens (Parpola, 2004 p. 237–239). Critics, however, dismissed the esoteric interpretation on methodological grounds as a projection of later Hellenistic doctrines and the movement died with Winckler. Its influence on biblical scholarship was restricted to superficial parallels (Rogerson, p. 50) and the experiential dimension of the theory has since gone unexplored.

Rudolf Bultmann.

Rudolf Bultmann (1884–1976) reflects a generation of the religionsgeschichtliche Schule that arose in the 1920s. In keeping with his interest in Gnostic influence on early Christianity, Bultmann initially used “myth” to denote a particular salvation narrative whose history, geographical locus, and literary qualities could be empirically discerned. Thus one could compare the forms of expression of primitive Christianity with the myths, that is, the religious and philosophical formulations, of Hellenistic syncretism (Roger Johnson, The Origins of Demythologizing, 1974, pp. 90–91). Later in his career, Bultmann saw myth as a world picture, a particular view of reality that is shaped by the times, with the Bible’s mythological world picture at odds with the scientific world picture of modernity. Starting from this Enlightenment view of myth and drawing upon the existential phenomenology of Heidegger, Bultmann forged a new existentialist interpretation in which this mythological view of the world is obsolete and, in the interest of preserving the truth of the biblical text, must be removed from the text (as opposed to selecting from it or ignoring it). Bultmann argued that the purpose of myth is not cosmic but existential, though it gives rise to its own criticism by addressing fundamentally transcendent issues in the language of the empirical world. New Testament mythology enshrines an understanding of existence whose truth value is a matter of faith. For Bultmann, an existentialist interpretation alone can provide satisfactory answers where other attempts to demythologize the New Testament have failed. As a concrete historical figure presented in mythical terms, Jesus represents a combination of myth and history. The mythological expresses the meaning of the historical. The event of the cross takes on cosmic dimensions and in its redemptive aspect is “not just an event of the past which can be contemplated, but is the eschatological event in and beyond time, in so far as it is an ever-present reality” (Bultmann, Kerygma and Myth: A Theological Debate, 1961, p. 36).

Myth and Ritual.

The myth and ritual school had its origins in William Robertson Smith’s insight in Lectures on the Religion of the Semites (1889, 2d ed. 1894) that religion is fundamentally grounded not in belief but in practice. Smith’s approach, which Segal (pp. 37–38) calls “behaviorist,” found the heart of ancient religion in habitual practices that acquired vague meanings. Robertson Smith called these explanations “myths,” distinguishing them from dogma or statements of creedal belief, citing the variety of expression and apparent lack of concern for orthodoxy.

The publication of tablets containing ritual prescriptions and commentary pertaining to the Babylonian akitu new year festival, persistent diffusionist influences, and the newly articulated ritual theory of myth in the Cambridge school of Jane Harrison, Gilbert Murray, F. M. Cornford, and A. B. Cook led S. H. Hooke to argue for the presence of a similar ritual pattern in ancient Israel. Scholars of the so-called Uppsala School were the most ardent advocates of the myth and ritual approach in the twentieth century. Ivan Engnell, Sigmund Mowinckel, Geo Widengren, Aage Bentzen, and F. F. Hvidberg saw the rituals as particularly significant in ancient Israel and considered the king to play a special role in securing the welfare of the people. Mowinckel, a student of Gunkel, argued that certain psalms were used in an ancient New Year’s festival celebrating and renewing the victory of God over his enemies in the enthronement of the king. An interesting experiential question arises in whether the king simply plays a sacral role or is counted as divine. For some like T. Gaster, myth not only explains the ritual but gives it a spiritual dimension. Gaster, following folklorists like J. G. Frazer, proposed the Ritual Combat as a traditional “rite of invigoration” and mimetic struggle between life and death. The myth of the god’s victory over the dragon is a projection of the Ritual Combat, which is historicized in the psalms as the victory of Yahweh over Israel’s enemies.

Salvation History.

For myth and ritual adherents, myth was an aspect of continuity between Israel and the ancient Near East. Other scholars opposed “myth” to “history” more sharply to define an essentially radical break between Israel and its environment. This history, however, was Heilsgeschichte, “salvation history,” a concept with roots in the nineteenth century. At the center of these debates lay questions not only of religious experience, worldviews, and modes of consciousness but also of science and theology. Biblical theology attempted to reconcile the myth and history dichotomy by focusing on the interpretation of historical events as divinely guided. George Ernest Wright (1909–1974) upheld the idea of biblical theology as a descriptive enterprise that probed the meaning of events in the biblical record for the original witnesses. “It is… the objectivity of God’s historical acts which are the focus of attention, not the subjectivity of inner, emotional, diffuse, and mystical experience” (God Who Acts: Biblical Theology as Recital, 1952, p. 55). Wright takes great pains to demonstrate the distinctiveness of the Old Testament. Drawing heavily upon the Frankforts (mentioned above), he argues Israelite monotheism represented a “radical break” and its literature was “utterly different” from the traditional “mythopoeic” mode of thinking in the Ancient Near East. Unlike Greek philosophical monism derived from speculation, “the experience of their people led them to know it almost intuitively. They recognized their God in the first instance as authoritative and decisive power. And the point where that power was apprehended led them to an entirely different faith from that of the polytheist” (p. 23). The gods of polytheism arose from the experience of power in nature with no distinction drawn “between reality and the force behind it” (p. 17). “The God of Israel has no mythology” and any borrowings were “radically transformed”—myth was historicized to describe actual historical victories, most significantly the exodus event (pp. 26–28).

A position strikingly similar to Wright’s from a Jewish perspective is articulated by Yehezkel Kaufmann (1889–1963). “The basic idea of Israelite religion,” he argues in The Religion of Israel: From Its Beginnings to the Babylonian Exile (Eng. trans. 1960), lies in its “non-mythological” intuition of God as all-transcending or, in less anthropomorphic terms, as “an unfettered divine will” (pp. 60, 121). “Mythological” for Kaufmann means “polytheistic.” Ancient Israel’s sense of one God was radically different from the pagan conception of many deities who constantly vied for supremacy. Although biblical passages occasionally reflect pagan thought, such fragments were simply the “debris” of myths and not a matter of systematic dogma. References to demons were merely a reflection of the moral world of sin, not of a metaphysical world where God’s authority could be subject to challenge. They are “creatures” that entice humans to act but not true gods who could be a metaphysical source of evil. Monotheism was, in fact, a worldview shared by all Israelites, and its disjuncture with the polytheistic worldview of their pagan neighbors was the cause of frequent misunderstanding.

Frank Moore Cross.

The approach to myth of Frank Moore Cross in Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic (1973) stands in stark contrast to the views of those like Kaufmann and biblical theologians, whose systems of theology and metaphysics uphold Israel’s religious consciousness as distinctive and unique on dogmatic grounds. Against Kaufmann he writes that “the empirical historian must describe novel configurations in Israel’s religion as having their origin in an orderly set of relationships which follow the usual typological sequences of historical change” (p. viii). This statement reflects an orientation to the history of religions and phenomenology of religion, which by this time had come to fruition in the Netherlands under G. van der Leeuw, B. Christensen, and C. J. Bleeker and was becoming established in the United States in the work of J. Wach and M. Eliade at the University of Chicago. To account for Israel’s apparent distinctiveness within an empirical model of historical change, Cross begins with the opposition of myth, which is “concerned with ‘primordial events’ and seeks static structures of meaning behind the historical flux” (p. viii), and history, which features only human actors and precludes divine agency. The religion of Israel, he finds, is based upon the “epic” form that “combines mythic and historical features in various ways and proportions…to recreate and give meaning to the historical experiences of a people or nation” (p. viii). Israel’s religion stepped forth as distinct from mythopoeic Canaanite tradition when particular historical experiences inspired a new form of expression in the epic cycle, accompanied by covenant rites in the ritual drama of the cult. Later, in the period of the monarchy, a mythopoeic orientation was reintroduced in support of the Davidic dynastic succession. The prophets, however, in their campaign against the influence of the Baal cult, suppressed it, subordinating it to their own visionary experience. In the period of the exile Israel witnessed another recrudescence of myth in proto-apocalyptic visions of Second Isaiah, the Isaianic apocalypse, and Ezekiel. This reconstruction of a “perennial and unrelaxed tension between the mythic and the historical” (p. viii) reconciles problems in the Myth and Ritual desire to emphasize the mythic patterns as primary and the tendency of the Heilsgeschichte approach to minimize the presence and importance of Canaanite mythological lore (pp. 79–90). Cross’s ideas contributed to Paul Hanson’s The Dawn of Apocalyptic (1975), which in turn has given rise to numerous treatments of apocalyptic literature in which myth is a central category.

A different approach to the combat myth and to the relation of myth and history is evident in Jon D. Levenson’s Creation and the Persistence of Evil (1988). Like Cross, he rejects Kaufmann’s claim of absolute distinctiveness and, further, takes issue with Kaufmann’s argument for the absolute sovereignty of Israel’s God. But perceiving more than Cross’s mythologizing of historical events, he argues for a dialectic of myth and history, in which the defeat of chaos in the myths is contradicted by an experience of evil in the historical present, with the resulting dissonance resolved through an act of worship. The combat myth was reiterated ritually by the cultic community in a move to counter the experience of evil through the anguished cry that is also a confession of faith (pp. 47–50; see esp. p. 132). Such an instantiating of myth, where myth and history “rise to the level of consciousness” as faith and realism, presents a type of myth and ritual approach that focuses on the religious experience of the individual.


In the past two decades, scholars have taken up myth in its political dimensions. Within what has come to be known as the minimalist position, myth becomes a form of expression in the service of (or equated with) ideology. Rejecting what is taken as a theologically motivated acceptance of the general historicity of the biblical materials as given, a number of these works focus on the patriarchal and Exodus narratives as political founding myths (G. Garbini, Myth and History in the Bible, 2003; T. Thompson, The Mythic Past, 1999). Keith Whitelam integrates scholarly reconstructions of the biblical past with contemporary political realities in The Invention of Ancient Israel: the Silencing of Palestinian History (1996). David Rosenberg uses historical fiction in works such as Abraham: the First Historical Biography (2006), an imaginative reconstruction that explores mythology and the creation of the present from materials of the past, presenting, for example, biblical Abraham and modern Zionist Theodor Herzl in the context of the Sumerian Dilmun myth as “promised land.” Such approaches shade into ideological criticism.

Wendy Doniger observes how scholars in recent decades have become increasingly aware of the extent to which myth theorizing is imbued with the properties of its objects of study, making the student of myth the mythmaker. Doniger, however, finds intellectual merit in “perpetuating the mythical within the confines of contemporary academic life,” in which myth theorizing is explored as myth, viewed against the political and intellectual context of the theorist toward a “more vibrant conceptual picture” (Patton and Doniger, 1996, p. 6).

Phenomenological and Narrative Hermeneutics: Paul Ricoeur.

The writings of Paul Ricoeur (1913–2005) embrace many of the fundamental issues of myth: its relation to history, to human behavior (ritual/social), to experience and, perhaps foremost, to language. His work engages a wide variety of approaches, including the philosophical phenomenology of Husserl and the existentialist Hermeneutics of Gadamer but also structuralism and psychoanalysis. His mediating tone, bringing opposing viewpoints into fruitful conversation, is well known. He addresses myth in numerous writings, frequently in the context of biblical texts. Among these are The Symbolism of Evil (1967) and Essays on Biblical Interpretation (1980), which contains an essay on Bultmann. His treatment of myth leads in his later writings to the concept of narrative identity.

A relevant example of Ricoeur’s thought appears in The Conflict of Interpretations (1974), in which he addresses the “war of the myths that invites us to attempt the passage from a simple exegesis of myths to a philosophy through symbols” (p. 296). He subsequently outlines three stages of understanding. The first is the phenomenological, the stage of comparativism, where a symbol is understood in relation to other symbols. The second is the hermeneutical stage, in which “you must understand in order to believe, but you must believe in order to understand.” Here he explains hermeneutics as “the expression of modernity’s distress and cure for this distress” and “the ‘modern’ modality of belief in symbols,” which constitutes for modernity a “second naïveté” that recovers the Sacred for the modern mind. Being no longer speaks to the individual in the precritical form of immediate belief but as a “second immediacy” which is “the postcritical equivalent of the precritical hierophany” (p. 298). The third stage is the philosophical. Space does not permit us to explore this stage adequately except to point out that Ricoeur cautions that it is not rationalizing—that is, “repeating the symbol in a mime of rationality,” which is no more than a “dogmatic mythology”—but neither is it allegorizing, in which “the philosophical meaning rises victorious from its imaginative shell” (p. 299).

Future Directions.

The future direction of myth and biblical studies must continue to engage the perennial and overlapping issues of myth and history (see Doniger 2011, pp. xiii–xv), myth and ritual (Weitzman 1997), myth’s relation to experience, and its place with respect to ideology (Lincoln 1999). Scholars of myth must continue to raise the question of how language relates to experience and, with respect to experience, must consider more closely the dualism, ontological and epistemological, that has typified Western theological and philosophical thought. As scholars have reconstructed the discourse and world of the Bible, such unexamined dualism has obscured fundamental questions of identity, pervading conceptions not only of the sacred but of the self and of society, with consequences that are only recently being appreciated.

One avenue of this exploration is by way of philosophical phenomenology, particularly as expressed in the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who refined Husserl’s phenomenology and whose writings have enjoyed widespread popularity across disciplines. In addition to the phenomenologically informed work of Ricoeur, who also engaged Merleau-Ponty, examples are found in Sanford Krolick (1987), Milton Scarborough (1994), and Gavin Flood (1999). The phenomenological concepts of “life-world,” “attitude” and “intersubjectivity” are providing further lines of inquiry into the problematic notion of “worldview” that resonate across disciplines. Such studies of consciousness are no longer the exclusive domain of psychoanalytic and Jungian approaches but belong to the many varieties of “cognitive” studies that have emerged in linguistics, anthropology, and the life sciences.



  • Assmann, Jan. Of God and Gods: Egypt, Israel, and the Rise of Monotheism. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2008. Discusses conceptions of theism in the ancient world, arguing the translatability of polytheism and its implications and varieties of monotheism, including “Axial Age” developments in ancient Israel, and tendencies to violence. Especially important for the concept of myth is Assmann’s concept of “cultural memory,” developed in Religion und kulturelles Gedächtnis (Munich, 2000; English Translation: Religion and Cultural Memory, Stanford, 2006).
  • Csapo, Eric. Theories of Mythology. Malden, Mass./Oxford: Blackwell, 2005. A general treatment of major theories of myth. Especially useful is the scope and clarity of the section devoted to ideology.
  • Detienne, Marcel. The Creation of Mythology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.
  • Doniger, Wendy. The Implied Spider: Politics and Theology in Myth. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011.
  • Dörrie, Heinrich. “The Meaning and Function of Myth in Greek and Roman Literature.” In Yearbook of Comparative Criticism 9 (1980): 109–31. Reprinted in R. Segal, ed. Philosophy, Religious Studies and Myth. New York: Garland, 1996.
  • Doty, William. Mythography: The Study of Myths and Rituals. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2000. Against a one dimensional definition of myth, presents a “polyfunctional” view, effectively developing an approach adumbrated in Percy Cohen’s influential 1969 essay “Theories of Myth” in Man (n.s. 4/3: 337–353).
  • Dubuisson, Daniel. The Western Construction of Religion: Myths Knowledge, and Ideology. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 2003.
  • Feldman, Burton and R. D. Richardson, Jr. The Rise of Modern Mythology: 1680–1860. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1972.
  • Fishbane, Michael. Biblical Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • Flood, Gavin. Beyond Phenomenology: Rethinking the Study of Religion. London: Cassell, 1999. An important reflection on the phenomenology of religion and philosophical phenomenology. Incorporates hermeneutic and narrative theory, particularly through Ricoeur and Bakhtin and engages of critical studies.
  • Gunkel, Hermann. Creation and Chaos in the Primeval Era and the Eschaton: a Religio-historical Study of Genesis 1 and Revelation 12. Translated by K. William Whitney, Jr. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 2006. The first English translation. Includes complete bibliographic information for the highly abbreviated documentation in the original. Especially useful is Whitney’s preface that sheds considerable light on background and arguments, augmented by P. Machinist’s foreword.
  • Hartlich, Christian and W. Sachs. Der Ursprung des Mythosbegriffs in der modernen Bibelwissenschaft. Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1952.
  • Jensen, Jeppe S. Myths and Mythologies: A Reader. Oakville, Conn.: Equinox, 2009. A selection of classic treatments of myth dating back to the mid nineteenth century, along with more recent seminal works, grouped as philosophical, sociological, semiological, and cognitivist approaches. Most selections date from 1946–1997.
  • Knight, Douglas A., ed. Methods of Biblical Interpretation. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 2004. Contains several excellent historical surveys grouped under “Folklore, Religion, and Myth” with extensive bibliography. Especially useful in the context of the many related approaches surveyed in the volume.
  • Krolick, Sanford. Recollective Resolve: A Phenomenological Understanding of Time and Myth. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1987.
  • LaCocque, A., P. Ricoeur, and D. Pellauer. Thinking Bibically: Exegetical and Hermeneutical Studies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.
  • Lincoln, Bruce. Theorizing Myth: Narrative, Ideology, and Scholarship. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.
  • Oden, Robert. “Myth and Mythology: Myth in the OT,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 4. pp. 956–960. New York: Doubleday, 1992. Along with the article “Mythology” in the same volume (pp. 946–956), provides a useful survey and exposition of methodological issues.
  • Olender, Maurice. The Languages of Paradise: Race, Religion, and Philology in the Nineteenth Century. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992.
  • Parpola, Simo. “Back to Delitzsch and Jeremias: The Relevance of the Pan-Babylonian School to the Melammu Project.” In A. Panaino and A. Piras, eds. Schools of Oriental Studies and the Development of Modern Historiography. Milan: Mimesis, 2004.
  • Patton, Laurie L. and Wendy Doniger, Myth and Method. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996.
  • Pongratz-Leisten, Beate, ed. Reconsidering the Concept of “Revolutionary Monotheism.” Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2011. Collected essays from a conference held at Princeton University in 2007 of the same title. Contributors include major voices on the subject in recent decades.
  • Ricoeur, Paul. Essays on Biblical Interpretation. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980.
  • Ricoeur, Paul. Figuring the Sacred: Religion, Narrative, and Imagination. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1995. Essays confront the idea of “religious” language, reflections on philosophers including Kant and Levinas and treatments of the Bible and specific biblical passages.
  • Rogerson, John. Myth in Old Testament Interpretation. Berlin and New York: De Gruyter, 1974. An important survey of major movements and theorists of myth as applied to the Old Testament prior to its publication. Rogerson’s prescient treatment of Ricoeur called attention to the philosopher’s potential impact on biblical studies, which continues to grow.
  • Scarborough, Milton. Myth and Modernity: Postcritical Reflections. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994. A thorough and engaging treatment of philosophical phenomenology in the tradition of Maurice Merleau-Ponty toward a new vision of myth.
  • Segal, Robert. Theorizing about Myth. Amherst, Mass.: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999. Segal has written extensively on theoretical aspects of myth. This volume and the essays it contains compare theories of myth in ways that scholars of many fields have found useful.
  • Smith, Mark. God in Translation: Deities in Cross-Cultural Discourse in the Biblical World. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2010. Continues his influential work on monotheism that began in earnest in 1990 with The Early History of God (2d ed., Grand Rapids, 2002). Fruitfully continues his dialogue with Egyptologist Jan Assmann. Includes a discussion of “academic location,” in which argues the need for an intellectual space to facilitate conversation between confessional theological and historical approaches.
  • Vanhoozer, Kevin. Biblical Narrative in the Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur: A Study in Hermeneutics and Theology. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
  • Vanhoozer, Kevin. Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion, and Authorship. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  • Von Hendy, Andrew. The Modern Construction of Myth. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 2002.
  • Wyatt, N. K. The Mythic Mind: Essays on Cosmology and Religion in Ugaritic and Old Testament Literature. London: Equinox, 2005. Includes essays “The Vocabulary and Neurology of Orientation,” which discusses cultural experience as a matter of semantic fields related to the structure of human mind and body, and “The Mythic Mind,” which presents myth as an archaic yet still present “mind-set” associated with ideology and emotion. Wyatt develops his treatment of myth and history, touched on in the latter essay, in “The Mythic Mind Revisited” Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament Vol. 22.2 (2008): 161–175, 2008.

Dexter Callender, Jr.