The value of myths

Myths are not lies, but stories.  Story telling is an important human activity and essential to the life of any society.  Myths awaken and maintain an experience of awe in the face of the ultimate religious mystery.  Myths explain where the world came from and where it is going.  Myths promote virtues and a certain social ethical order.  Myths give individuals a role and identity much like our modern psychology.  Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) and Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) have shown that myth is not a negative, but a positive part of life.  If we did not have religious myths, people would create their own secular myths, like in sports, such as baseball and football.

 

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The power of foreign gods (Dan 11:38-11:39)

“He shall honor

The god of fortresses,

Instead of these,

A god whom his ancestors

Did not know.

He shall honor

With gold,

With silver,

With precious stones,

With costly gifts.

He shall deal

With the strongest fortresses

By the help

Of a foreign god.

Those who acknowledge him,

He shall make more wealthy.

He shall appoint them

As rulers over many.

He shall divide

The land

For a price.”

Gabriel went on to tell Daniel about how King Antiochus IV worshiped foreign gods, probably the Greek gods of Jupiter at Olympus, not the Syrian gods of his ancestors. Apparently, King Antiochus IV had more respect for these Greek gods. Jupiter was a god of strength. His ancestors knew nothing about these Greek gods. However, he honored them with gold, silver, precious stones, and costly gifts. He relied on these foreign gods to maintain his stronghold positions. King Antiochus made people wealthy, if they agreed with him. In fact, he may have practiced a form of bribery, by dividing up the land for a price.

The end for buyers and sellers (Ezek 7:12-7:13)

“The time has come!

The day draws near!

Let not the buyer rejoice!

Let not the seller mourn!

The wrath is upon

All their multitude.

The seller

Shall not return

To what has been sold,

As long as they remain alive.

The vision concerns

All their multitude.

It shall not be revoked.

Because of their iniquity,

They cannot maintain

Their lives.”

As in Jeremiah, chapter 32, buying and selling land and other things assumed a stable society. The time was coming as the day drew near when buyers and sellers would not rejoice or mourn because of the chaotic conditions. The wrath of God was to be upon both of them. The seller could not return his goods as long as he was alive. Everybody was going to suffer the consequences of those who had committed iniquities. No one would be able to maintain their lives.

Yahweh blesses the happy ones (Isa 56:1-56:2)

“Thus says Yahweh.

‘Maintain justice!

Do what is right!

Soon my salvation will come!

My deliverance will be revealed.

Happy is the mortal

Who does this!

He holds this fast.

He keeps the Sabbath.

He does not profane it.

He refrains from doing any evil.’”

This is the beginning of what is often called Third Isaiah, after the Israelites had returned from the Exile and settled in Israel. Here we have a brief description of the happy blessed ones. Yahweh set out the rules they were to follow. They had to maintain justice and do what is right. Salvation and deliverance were soon to come. These happy ones would have to keep the Sabbath, by not profaning it. They also had to refrain from doing any evil. This seems simple enough.

Value of skilled workers (Sir 38:31-38:34)

“All these workers rely

On their hands.

All are skilful

In their own work.

Without them,

No city can be inhabited.

Wherever they live,

They will not go hungry.

Yet they are not sought out

For the council of the people.

They do not attain eminence

In the public assembly.

They do not sit

In the judge’s seat.

They do understand

The decisions of the courts.

They cannot expound discipline.

They cannot expound judgment.

They are not found using proverbs.

They are not found among the rulers.

But they maintain

The fabric of the world.

Their concern is

For the exercise of their trade.

Their prayer is

In the practice of their trade.”

Sirach emphasizes the importance of skilled manual workers. No inhabitable city can exist without them, so that they will never go hungry. However, they do not serve in the city council or in public assemblies. They are not judges, since they do not understand the decisions of the courts, their discipline, or their judgments. They are never found among the rulers or using proverbs. Yet they maintain the fabric of society. Their concern and prayer is found in the exercise of their skilled manual trades.

The letter of Lysias to the Jews (2 Macc 11:16-11:21)

“King Antiochus’ letter ran thus.

‘King Antiochus to his brother Lysias,

Greetings!

Now that our father has gone on to the gods,

We desire that the subjects of the kingdom

Be undisturbed in caring for their own affairs.

We have heard that the Jews

Do not consent to our father’s change to Greek customs

But they prefer their own way of living.

They ask that their own customs be allowed them.

Accordingly, since we choose

That this nation also should be free from disturbance,

Our decision is that their temple be restored to them,

That they shall live

According to the customs of their ancestors.

You will do well, therefore,

To send word to them.

Give them pledges of friendship,

So that they may know our policy.

They may be of good cheer,

Let them go on happily in the conduct of their own affairs.’”

The young King Antiochus V noted the death of his father, King Antiochus IV, since he had gone on to the gods. He did not want people in the kingdom disturbed. He had learned that the Jews did not like the Greek customs imposed on them by his father, but they preferred their own customs. The 10 year old king decided that the Temple should be restored. They should be allowed to follow the customs of their ancestors. He was pledging his friendship so that they should be of good cheer and happily conduct their own affairs. Everything seems to be in good order with this agreement.