Our Bible readings are true but not factual.

Monday, 12/19/16

Our first reading recounts the miraculous events that led to Sampson’s being conceived in the womb of the wife of Manoah. That was eight centuries before the conception of John the Baptist in the womb of the wife of Zechariah.  

From to time you might wonder whether or not those were factual accounts of what happened. As kids we were raised to hold that as good Catholics we were bound to believe that things really happened that way. However, the Church at Vatican II told us that such accounts need not have been historical. While insisting that they were true, it said  they could have presented the truth in a poetic way.

Like, the poet William Wordsworth that Lucy was a “Violet by a mossy stone, half hidden from the eye,” but he was not implying that the girl actually with a flower with real roots in earth.
Let me quote what Vatican II said about this matter.

‘In determining the intention of the sacred writers, attention must be paid among other things to the literary forms. For the fact is that truth is differently presented and expressed in the various types of writing: in historical, or prophetic, or poetic texts, and other forms of literary expression.

One literary form that much favored in the ancient world was myths, and the Bible at times presented some special blessing from God in the guise of a myth.

For instance, back before there were any bridges, a big healthy fellow made his living by knowing where a river could be forded, and by ferrying travelers across.  And many myths were concocted around the tricky doings of such porters. Chapter thirty-two of Genesis gives us a version of such a myth to explain how the people came to be called Israelites. (Isra-el means to struggle with a god, and Jacob struggled with a God-sent guardian of the Jaboc.)

In the ancient world when a man of super-human importance came along, his followers, truthfully believing his greatness came from God, would sometimes they clothed that conviction in a myth purporting to recount the way the hero’s conception came from  a  heavenly intervention.

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