On Myth and Meaning
In this video, John Walton talks about ancient myth and how we might better understand it if we think about its intended functionality—that is, myths were a way to explain a culture’s origin and universal significance though they lacked the advances of scientific discovery.
For example, the concept of mythology is often a “trigger word” , Walton says, for contemporary readers because we don’t define even the term myth properly. The term myth refers less to the narrative’s content and more to its genre, that is, the framework used as the vehicle to convey meaning.
Walton explains that the people of the ancient world believed their mythology. Myths weren’t false stories, fairy tales, or fables to them—they were real. Those myths were vital to the way that they understood themselves and their world.
But the idea that Genesis answers the kind of questions we would expect a 21st century human to ask is misguided. Similarly, the notion that Hebraic scriptures were derived from other ancient myths is also flawed—it was simply their “cognitive environment”—just the way that they thought and approached the bigger questions.
Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.
John Walton is a professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College in Illinois and an editor and writer of Old Testament comparative studies and commentaries. Throughout his research, Walton has focused his attention on comparing the culture and literature of the Bible and the ancient Near East. He has published dozens of books, articles and translations, both as writer and editor, including his latest book The Lost World of Genesis One.