How History Becomes Mythology Part One |

When your children ask where the fantastic legends of the Greeks came from, you can tell them that most legends have people and events in them that are exaggerated and impossible, but usually they begin with a grain of truth somewhere. For example, even though America is such a young country, we even have legends of Paul Bunyan with his big blue ox. The legends of Paul Bunyan illustrate in an exaggerated way the strength and skill of America’s early lumberjacks, and show how Americans must have been proud of their hard work and courage in doing such a difficult job.

While children need to learn classical mythology to be culturally literate in Western Civilization, the main point to communicate to them is that myths arose from a confused half-remembrance of true history. Bits of true history became mixed with false stories; the false stories came from willful rebellion at Babel which in time degenerated to foolish ignorance.

The Greeks, the descendents of Noah through Javan, forgot their true history and the true God, and all they had left of it was bits embedded in their mythology. In this way children will find it difficult to romanticize the Greek myths, and their appreciation for the accurate history contained in the Bible from the very beginning will be strengthened. (See Athena and Eve for a fascinating theory on the origin of the Greek pantheon and the patron goddess of Athens.)



  1. You might also want to note in your discussion of how myths develop that in societies that communicate history orally, it is impossible to accurately remember all the details that we do today. We can consult a written record. Oral cultures didn't have a written record to consult, so the story had to be structured in a way that preserved the essential truth of the matter (not the details of the matter) and then communicate that. Hence the myth preserves what we might call the moral of the story in a way that people could remember and repeat.

    I don't think that really has anything to do with the Tower of Babel, but rather with the fact that most people around the world did not have the opportunity to learn to read and write (too busy working in the fields, herding livestock, etc) and thus communicated information over distance and through time in stories told orally in blocks of time less than four hours.

    You can see that time block in the individual stories inside longer myths…see the 1001 Nights for instance.

    When folks began writing stories down, their form became fixed. Subsequent editors had the opportunity to compile various forms and rationalize the story either by embellishing and explaining certain parts in greater detail or cutting out confusing parts and now we have the opportunity to argue about how one is the "true" story and other editions of it were "broken" or confused. In fact, we often have the same story (same heart) encapsulated in a different rememberable and tellable shell. I think this is less decadent and degenerative and more purposeful and natural on the the part of the oral tellers than you suggest.

    1. You are of course entitled to your opinion Anonymous. It all revolves around the unproveable assertion that no history was committed to writing at all. We have evidence that in fact Genesis was a very early written history and not transmitted orally at all, from the first ages.

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