Why Building an Ark also Built a Myth
- By tracyhigley
There are so many mythic elements that surround and embody the Flood Story, no wonder it has captured the imagination of the entire human race and been repeated, enlarged, and passed on for millennia.
But the biblical account – is it another myth or is it fact?
I will say this: it’s a strange blend like no other version, with dates and details. Perhaps one of the biblical stories that moved C.S. Lewis to say that “nothing else in all literature was just like this. Myths were like it in one way. Histories were like it in another. But nothing was simply like it.”
Let’s look at just a couple of the larger-than-life elements that will persist through generations…
Though it could be argued that the elemental significance of blood begins in Genesis 3 when God makes garments of skin to cover Adam and Eve (by inference causing the death of an animal), and it is clear in Genesis 4 that Abel pleases God with his animal offering, it is really here in Genesis 9, when God gives every living thing to Noah as food, that we have the first mention of the importance of blood. First, Noah builds an altar and offers at least one of every clean animal. An incredible amount of blood, to which God responds with a promise to never again destroy every living thing by flooding the earth. Noah is enjoined not to eat meat with the blood in it. The idea of the “lifeblood” is established and will become vitally important as we move through the One True Story.
The covenant and symbol of the rainbow. All cultures and peoples speak of gods with the power of destruction, poised to wreak havoc on the domain of man. I know of no mythic system that bears a god’s promise to not destroy the world.
Today I am thinking on the significance of the rainbow as a symbol. Rainbows are pretty, yes? They belong with prancing ponies and sparkly unicorns and puffy white clouds.
Or do they? Why a “bow”? Did you think it was a pretty ribbon-bow, tied up around the gift of the world? Look at it again. It’s an arrow-bow, a bow of violence, an arc stretched up over the world, taut with promise. An invisible arrow pointed toward heaven, not toward earth, as the covenant is made.
There are shades here of another covenant yet to come – in which God walks between the bloody halves of a heifer, a goat and a ram as He makes a promise to Abraham, a ritual whose meaning seems to be “let it be to me as these animals if I break the covenant.”
A God who enters into covenant with man, with the violence of covenant-breaking directed toward Himself? Amazing. Mercy intertwined with judgment yet again.
These are just two of the mythic elements – the blood and the nature-symbol – that we find in this story. Does the presence of these elements in other myth cultures trouble you? Our worldview, our faith, is a lens through which we see the world. Like a kaleidoscope lens, our worldview refracts and splits what we see. When we look at the story of the Flood, we see a universal anchor-point of nearly all cultures, we see literary symbol and metaphor, we see myth. But can it not also be fact?
Some would remove all the supernatural from Genesis, postulating natural causes for everything from creation, to flood, to rainbow, to the confusion of Babel, the fiery destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the late-life conception of Isaac, the mystical dream interpretations of Joseph. Cannot we have both?
If we are to believe that Scripture is the One True Story, than we must allow for the myth-become-fact, and for the manifold interpretations, imitations, and parallels as man seeks to create an Alternate Story. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Great Flood.
A larger-than-life epic of destruction and redemption, tragedy and promise, a story to be repeated through the ages, but only a fraction of the One True Story.