Friday, December 10, 2010

mythos (pl, sing mytho)

I was sitting in the car this morning, explaining to my daughter about the word narcissistic and its connection to Greek mythology (didn't I know all this stuff already by the time I was her age?) and a thought hit me. Bam, it said.

The cultural myths from many cultures seem to share a particular theme -- explaining elements of the natural world by tying them to events or people in the myth. How did the elephant get its trunk, the giraffe its long neck, or the zebra its stripes? Read the cultural myth. How did Devil's Tower come to be? Read the story from the Native Americans. Why is that constellation shaped that way, or does that flower grow that way? Read about the mythological characters who inspired that natural thing.

So I aimed that lens at my own culture and I discovered something -- Jewish cultural myths do not seem purposed to explain elements of the natural world. They aim to explain the behavior of people. What is the Amaleki mindset? Why do liars act the way they do? Torah stories rarely give the origins of things, but of nations.

Now I could be wrong, and if you ask certain people, odds are I am wrong, but what's important is that I'm not wrong. Unless I am.


  1. Probably because we as a people are content with the following "explanation" of natural phenomena: "God made it that way." HG

  2. that begs a couple of questions:
    1. why not use the same logic to explain why people act as they do?
    2. other cultures also ascribe to god but give a process about why god made it that way
    3. other cultural myths explain that which jews often accept as a scientific phenomenon effected by god. why?

  3. 1 - Jews believe people have free will. God didn't make them behave the way they do.

    2 - Those cultures allow for same. Jews do not. Our elders feared questions they could not answer.

    3 - I don't understand the question.

  4. 1. but that's precisely what jewish myths DO - instead of ascribing to god, they DO try to explain behavior.

    2. if our elders did not want questions they could not answer, then they should have created myths to explain things instead of leaving so much unexplained and relying on faith as an answer (in those selective cases).

    3. the jewish response is often "god uses nature" or "god sets natural processes in motion" instead of saying that nature is the result of mythological actions the way other cultures do. why not create the mythos to support an explanation of process instead of accepting that science has a role?


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