How much of the Bible is ‘Literal?’

Are we to take the Bible literally, especially tales like Jonah being in the belly of a fish for 3 days ? A pagan responds!

A recent letter to evangelical minister Billy Graham asks:

How much of the Bible is literal and how much of it is a myth? Take Jonah and the whale, for instance. Surely that must be a myth, because I can’t imagine anyone being swallowed by a whale and then living to tell about it.

A PAGAN response:

Dear Literal Doubter,

While Christian Evangelicals will insist the Bible is factual — cover to cover — and that it should be taken literally, do not be deceived. The Bible is full of myth! How do we know this? Because countless stories found in the Bible are also found in other Mediterranean mythologies. Not only that, but many stories clearly follow the archetypal patterns found in mythologies around the world. Add to this the archaeological evidence (amongst that of many other scientific fields) which has proved many of the Biblical tales are myths.

To call out all of the myths found in the Bible would be a huge undertaking and beyond the scope of this blog. However, allow me to start with just a few:

  • Creation of the world in Genesis – myth!
  • Adam, Eve and the serpent – myth!
  • The Tower of Babel – myth!
  • Noah and the Flood – myth!
  • Moses cast into the Nile as an infant- myth!
  • Moses leading the Hebrews across the parted Red Sea – myth!
  • Moses receiving the Ten Commandments – myth!
  • The Fall of Jericho – myth!
  • Jonah in the belly of a fish for 3 days -myth!
  • The Book of Job – myth!
  • The divine birth of Jesus – myth!
  • Jesus tempted in the desert – myth!
  • The passion and resurrection of Jesus – myth!
  • The Revelation of John – pure symbolism!
  • (…)

To use Noah and the Flood as an example — we know that the ancient Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians, and Babylonians all believed in the myth of the great deluge thousands of years before the Hebrews were even recognized as a people. The evidence is indisputable that this myth was adopted and redacted by the Hebrews to suit their own cultural objectives.

Moses being cast into the Nile has parallels with the Sumerian king Sargon the Great!

Moses carrying down the Code of Law from Mount Sinai has remarkable parallels to Hammurabi receiving the Code of Law from the Sun god Shamash.

Archaeological evidence proves that the city of Jericho would have been long abandoned and in ruins by the time Joshua and the Hebrews arrived.

The birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus all follow the pattern of the dying-god archetype which is shared by the elder deities Osiris, Dionysus, Mithras and many others.

The Bible is filled with myths and tall tales and it is spiritually dangerous to take the Bible literally. If you wish you utilize the Bible as a spiritual tool (which I would not recommend) recognize the symbolism found in the myths and do not take them literally.

As an example, the life of Jesus should be taken symbolically, not literally. His death and resurrection was symbolic of everlasting life — which we all possess via our spirits (or souls). This same symbolism was played out by the Egyptian god Osiris for thousands of years before Christ. Like Jesus, Osiris has a divine birth, performs miracles throughout his life, is crucified and resurrected so that he may judge the living and the dead in the afterlife. Other deities share these same qualities and Jesus is far from unique.

For more information, I recommend my book “Doubt after Doubt: Doubting the Christian Faith.” In chapter 2, “Doubting Christmas,” I investigate the parallels between Jesus and other gods born on the Winter Solstice. In chapter 3, “Doubting the Resurrection,” I investigate the archetype of the dying-god. In chapter 4, “Doubting the Creation Story,” I investigate the creation story found in Genesis. In other chapters I investigate the myth of the serpent, the tower of Babel, and so much more.

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