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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

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The Forms of Folk Narrative. Myth has a broad and
a narrow sense: the transcendent sense of its total
ambience and meaning, and the tangible sense of the
documents in which it is studied. Only by beginning
with the narrow sense can we move securely to the
broad. Tangibly considered, myth is only one form of
folk narrative, an oral tale written down. Viewed from
outside the sphere of belief as pure fiction, it is often
confused with the wider sphere of folktale, or said to
be the ancestor of all other folktales.

Folk narrative, however, contains many genres.
Halliday (1933) found many varities in the Greek
mythic texts, and Gunkel (1901) long before did the
same for Genesis. Folklorists speak of animal tale,
proverb, riddle, Märchen, novella, jest, local legend,
saint's legend, and saga. Ancient Mediterranean culture
contains them all: animal tale in Aesop, Noah's dove
and raven, an Egyptian text on the origin of unclean
animals (Pritchard [1950], p. 10); proverbs in Ecclesi
astes and Proverbs and Ecclesiasticus, in Heraclitus,
the Egyptian Ani, the Aramaic Ahiqar (Pritchard, pp.
412-30); riddles in the stories of Samson (Judges 14:8),
Oedipus and the Sphinx, Solomon and Sheba (II
Chronicles 9 and a Muslim version in the Arabian
); the novella or realistic tale in the Egyptian
Two Brothers (Pritchard, p. 23) and Joseph and Poti-
phar's Wife or the Egyptian Rhampsinitus in Herodo-
tus (ii, 21); the Märchen or fairy tale in other parts
of the Two Brothers, the Greek Perseus story, the
Babylonian Gilgamesh and Etana (Pritchard, pp. 72,
114), the poison maiden (vagina dentata) and Grateful
Dead Man of the apocryphal Book of Tobit; the jests
of Aesop, Aristophanes and the parables of Jesus, the
Ugaritic tale of Aqhat (Pritchard, p. 149) and Jacob's
tricks with Laban; the local legends describing the
origin of places in Jacob's wrestling with the angel at
Bethel, Lot's Wife and the Destruction of Sodom,
Theseus and the Minotaur in the Cretan labyrinths,
Marduk and the building of Babylon in the Akkadian
Creation epic Enuma Elish (Pritchard, p. 68) and the
Tower of Babel; the saints' legends of Elijah, the Acts
of the Apostles, the Seven Sleepers, the apocryphal
Martyrdom of Isaiah (Charles [1913], II, 159); and the
sagas or linked hero-tales of Hercules, Theseus, Jason
and the Argonauts, Samson, David, Abraham, Moses
and Gilgamesh. Gunkel and Mowinckel (Gunkel, 1901;
Rowley [1951], p. 162) have shed great light on the
Old Testament, especially the lyrical Psalms, with the
approach known as “form-criticism.” Seen in its folk-
loristic and literary aspects the Bible has vastly differ-
ent meaning than when its books were thought to have
been composed all of a piece by a Moses, a David,
or a Solomon.

Though all these forms are in the Bible and in other
Mediterranean narrative collections, as well as in mod-
ern oral tales and what we call the Bible of the Folk
(pseudepigrapha, Muslim and Mandaean writings,
Rabbinical and patristic legend), the crucial question
of myth is best understood if we concentrate on three
types: myth, Märchen, legend. Regarded not by the
“neutral” scholar but by the participating believer
myth is sacred truth, legend adorned history, and Mär-
plain fiction. Only to the alien or the too-late
born is myth fiction. Regarded in the light of function
and purpose myth and ritual are religious rein-
forcements of the social bond; legend, which informs
us of our ancestry and of the migration of peoples,
is instructive; Märchen is purely for entertainment. To
say that the Bible is rich in all of these is not to impugn
its contents, for all are true to man as myth is true
to the God or gods in whom he believes.

The Problem of Myth in the Bible. Since myth is
sacred tradition, not fiction, the word can be applied


to the biblical story by devout Jew or Christian with
no loss of faith or respect. Chadwick ([1932-40], II,
629-77) said we rarely go to the Bible for myth because
there is so much saga and history in it. To claim it
all as sober history would be to destroy its poetry, yet
there is much history or “metahistory” there, for the
Creation and Flood are about beginnings which cer-
tainly did begin, the Crucifixion refers to a historical
event whatever one might say of the Incarnation and
Virgin Birth, and to the Last Judgment we would deny
the name of “future history” to our peril. In myth the
most profound history is that of the psyche of the men
who made it, of the societies which it strengthened,
of the religious power it has always commanded. Bult-
mann, Tillich, and other de-mythologizers of the New
Testament do not destroy the “kerygma” or preaching
of the gospel of Christ (Throckmorton [1960], p. 115);
the Wellhausen analyses of the books of the Old Testa-
ment into Jehovist, Elohist, and Priestly documents
merely bring the myths back a stage or two without
destroying their force of mythic thought (Wellhausen,
1878; Pfeiffer, 1941). Each man sees Jesus in the way
he needs: Matthew (27:46) saw him in his human qual
ity (“My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”), Luke
(23:34) in his mercy as judge (“Father forgive them;
for they know not what they do”); Saint Paul and Saint
Augustine as the incarnate junction between flesh and
spirit; the early Catacomb paintings as the good shep-
herd who leaves “the ninety and nine, and goeth into
the mountains, and seeketh that which hath gone
astray” (Matthew 18:12); the Byzantine tympanum
frescoes and mosaics heralded by Henry Adams turn
the shepherd into the stern judge of Doomsday; Ezra
Pound's Ballad of the Goodly Fere views him through
the eyes of Simon Zelotes as a strong hero who drives
the money changers out of the Temple and eats of the
honeycomb; Bruce Barton sees him as the first adver-
tising man; Piero della Francesca's Resurrection and
the Old English Dream of the Rood make him the
warrior who overcomes the sleeping soldiers (Figure
1); the sentimental nineteenth century sees him as a
beardless boy and Michelangelo's Pietà as a corpse
converted to the bambino in Mary's arms; Woody
Guthrie sings a ballad to the tune of Jesse James in
which he is an outlaw who loves the poor and who
was killed by the landlords and a dirty little coward
called Judas Iscariot. By itself each of these is a reduc-
tion of the myth; together they are holistic. Thus the
strength of myth lies not in doctrine but in its perpetual
re-creation. Myth is “that haunting awareness of trans-
cendental forces peering through the cracks of the
visible universe” (Philip Wheelwright, Daedalus
[1959], p. 360).

As S. H. Hooke says (1963, pp. 11-16) “Myth is a
product of human imagination arising out of a definite
situation and intended to do something. Hence the
right question... is not 'Is it true?' but 'What is it
intended to do?'” He subdivides myths into five: ritual
myths like the Divine King, the slain and resurrected
God; origin myths like the invention of music and
civilization by Tubal and Jubal; cult myths like Exodus
and Passover; prestige myths which “invest the birth
and exploits of a popular hero with an aura of mystery
and wonder” (Moses, Samson, Jesus); eschatological
myths like Armageddon and Antichrist. Such classifi-
cations heed origin and function, and their elaboration
and adornment from further pagan sources is signalized
by Clement of Alexandria (150?-220): “I will give ye
understanding of the mysteries of the Logos by means
of images with which you are familiar” (Rahner [1963],
p. 12). In all cultures myth reinforces the community,
but in the great salvation religions like Judaism, Islam,
and Christianity it extends the community by conver-

The Chain of History. We must distinguish between
myths in the Bible and myths about the Bible. For
every theorist there is something: sky-gods, fertility


ritual, Jungian archetypes. Myth and ritual, eloquently
defended by Frazer and Hooke, have under attack been
modified somewhat from their original reductionism
(Utley, 1960; Fontenrose, 1966); seen now in perspec-
tive they have done much to place Old and New
Testament in the Mediterranean and Asia Minor reli-
gious milieu. But the divine kingship of these historians
is fundamentally a matter of origins alone, and though
Israel and Christianity were perpetually subject to new
injections of the pagan patterns, to stress them as the
only aspect of Myth in the Bible is to fall into the
genetic fallacy, admired in the nineteenth century but
deplored in the configurational and “structural” twen-
tieth. Though we shall not scant its insights, we shall
find the rival theory of Heilsgeschichte, Salvation-
history, or the Chain of History a better scheme by
which to present the Bible's variety. Its plenitude, or
making of significance in each event in the Bible, is
parallel to that plenitude in the universe which Love-
joy called the Chain of Being. The center of the
Hebrew Torah and its Christian sequel is the history
of God's chosen people and of those who chose to be
with Christ. The Christian scheme, so brilliantly out-
lined in Augustine's City of God (413-25 A.D.), is Crea-
tion, Fall, Incarnation, Passion, Crucifixion, Atone-
ment, Resurrection, and Last Judgment. This pattern
leaves its mark on medieval drama, Piers Plowman, and
possibly King Lear, Beowulf, and William Faulkner's

Less clearly realized is that the same kind of histori-
cal philosophy lies behind the sacred books of the Jews,
who like the Christians had a religion of development
rather than stasis, a “before and after” rather than a
mere annalistic account. “The Lord of Creation is also
the Lord of History,” no local cult god but One bring-
ing victory over all nations (Robinson, I, 406). In the
Law and the Prophets we find Creation, Fall, Redemp-
tion through Moses, Lawgiving and the Exodus to the
Promised Land, the Suffering Servants of Job and the
Prophets, the Messianic Hope and the Apocalypse (for
the last see Charles, 1913, and above all the Book of
Daniel). The Old Testament is a series of the Covenants
with God's People. Though the covenanting is eternal,
it is dramatized by Noah and his dietary precepts, by
Abraham and circumcision, by Moses and the Deca-
logue, by that travelling shrine, the Ark of the Cove-
nant, which was often believed to contain Yahweh
himself, by Aaron and David and the priesthood and
the kingship, and by the prophets Jeremiah and
Ezekiel, who are unconscious witnesses to the Christian
scheme and the Son of Man.

Hundreds of rabbinical legends testify as well to the
Chain of History (Ginzberg, 1912-38). Adam's gar-
ments, made of light and given him by God before
the Fall or made of the serpent's skin thereafter, de-
scended to Noah through Enoch and Methuselah, were
stolen from the Ark of Noah by Ham, were secreted
by Ham's son Cush and thence passed to Nimrod.
When he wore them he was invincible and irresistible,
and man and beast fell down before him (Ginzberg,
I, 79-80; V, 102-04). Aaron's rod, which blossomed
with ripe almonds and was created by God before the
first Sabbath, was inscribed with the Ineffable Name;
Moses conserved it with the Ark of Covenant, and the
Judean kings used it unto the destruction of the Tem-
ple, when it disappeared. Elijah will recover it and
hand it to the Messiah (Ginzberg, II, 335-36; VI,

The same idea of plenitude is found in the medieval
Christian legend of the Cross. Instructed by Adam on
his deathbed and by the angel who guarded Paradise,
Seth sets out to find the Oil of Mercy, sees a vision
where Tree of Life and Fall are one, in which a dry
tree gives way to the Child (Oil of Mercy) in its
branches. The angel gives him three apple seeds, which
he plants under Adam's tongue, and which grow into
a trinity of trees, the high cedar or Father, the sweet
cypress or Son, and the fruitful pine or Holy Ghost.
Moses draws forth the twigs and they become his
miraculous rod; he replants them and David finds them
growing as one tree; Solomon trims it to a beam which
will not fit the Temple since it has another destiny.
Told by Sheba to preserve the beam, he throws it as
a bridge across a fish-pool; it floats on a healing well
which springs forth and there the enemies of Christ
find it and manufacture the Holy Rood. This complex
legend is vivid typology become literal history, just as
Adam's skull, carried by Noah's ark to Calvary, causes
the place to be called Golgotha and rests beneath the
Cross, where it is baptized by the Savior's blood
(Quinn, 1962).

Given this tendency to fill history to proportions
worthy of the Almighty, we shall arrange the Bible's
myths in an order which allows them both their indi-
vidual, archetypal significance and their place in the

From Jewish eschatology, transformed in the mind and by
the experience of Jesus, Christianity has inherited a moral
interpretation of history and of human destiny, a sense of
the profound moral crisis arising from the antinomy between
the “present age” and the “age to come,” and a conviction
that God will not rest until the antinomy has been resolved
and the creation has been redeemed

(Hooke [1956], p. 201).

Prefiguration is no mere rhetorical device or inter-
pretational method: “The Lamb is slain before the
tragedies of history ever begin, and the whole of history
is viewed at a glance” in God's Eternal Present
(Throckmorton, p. 172).


Creation. All the Mediterranean cultures have
anthropomorphized Creation as history become myth:
Hesiod and Ovid, the Egyptian masturbatory Atum
(“thou didst spit out what was Shu, thou didst sputter
out what was Tefnut”—Pritchard, p. 3), the Akkadian
Enuma Elish with ritual combat and copulation be-
tween Apsu and Tiamat (Pritchard, p. 60), the accounts
of creation in Genesis 1 and 2, Fiat lux climaxed with
the Sabbath and reinforced by the philosophic In prin-
of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the
Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was
God.... In him was life, and the life was the light
of men.” It is found in the great tragedy or divine
comedy of Job: “Then the Lord answered Job out of
the whirlwind, and said... Where wast thou when
I laid the foundations of the earth?... When the
morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God
shouted for joy?” In Genesis 1, God made sun and
moon to rule over the universe, and man to rule over
the beasts and whales and cattle (Figure 2); in Genesis
2, He once more created man and planted the primi-
tivistic Eden and let man name them, and “then he
made him Eve.” Critics speak of these two stories as
a priestly ritual account (P) climaxed with the Sabbath,
and a more anthropomorphic account (J) of Yahweh,
man-centered (Pfeiffer, pp. 129-209; Skinner, pp. 1-70;
Speiser, 1924). Yet the subsequent mythic history can
treat them as one.

The Fall of Man, Cain and Abel. To the man and
woman, naked and unashamed, came the serpent to
tempt them to eat the Forbidden Fruit. They fell, both
for the sake of pleasure and of wisdom: “And the eyes
of them both were opened, and they knew that they
were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and
made themselves aprons.” In true oriental fashion the
Lord, “walking in the garden in the cool of the day,”
in his own desert oasis, comes to cross-examine them
and show them the folly of their abandoning Innocence
for Experience, to use Blakean and Rousseauistic terms.
The serpent (not yet clearly Satan) is cursed: “upon
thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the
days of thy life”; the “seed of man shall bruise thy
head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” Woman is con-
demned to pain and sorrow in childbirth and subjection
to man; Man, exiled in a land of thorns and thistles
must earn his bread “in the sweat of his face” and must
return to the dust from which he was created. Fearing
that “the man is become as one of us, to know good
and evil... lest he put forth his hand and take also
of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever,” Yahweh
drove Adam out of the garden and placed Cherubim
with a flaming sword “to keep the way of the tree
of life.” And Adam knew his wife and she conceived
and bore Cain, “a man from the Lord.”

With all its man-centered naiveté, the story reflects
brilliant speculation. At base a simple origin tale or
“just-so” story, it goes to the heart of the problem of
evil and the loss of immortality. In Greece Prometheus
had made man from clay, and after the Flood his
fellow-Titan Deucalion had made him once more by
throwing stones over his shoulder; such stories are
widespread (Frazer [1919], I, 3-44). The Fall, found


in Greece as Pandora's Box, in Assyria forms part of
the myth of Adapa, who broke the wing of the South
Wind and created dissension among the gods, and
though deeply repentant, was cursed by death and
disease (Pritchard, p. 101). In the epic Gilgamesh the
hero seeks Utnapishtim, hero of the Flood, to obtain
the secret of immortality, which lies in a thorny plant.
“Gilgamesh saw a well whose water was cool. He went
down to bathe in the water. A serpent snuffed the
fragrance of the plant; it came up from the water and
carried off the plant. Going back it shed its slough.”
Thus, despite the ritual cleansing, all was lost to man.
According to Frazer ([1919], I, 45-77) this is the wide-
spread folktale of the perverted message and the cast
skin, in which the snake, immortal because of his an-
nual sloughing off, steals immortality from his rival
man (see Krappe, 1927 and 1928). The Tree of Life
itself is a massive concept, akin to the World-trees of
Siberian and Norse mythology (Harva, 1938 and 1952).
The Fall of Man finds resonance in the fall of the King
of Tyre, “Thou” who “hast been in Eden the garden
of God” (Ezekiel 28:13) and that of the King of Baby-
lon, who became identified with Lucifer (Isaiah 14:12):
“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of
the morning!” (Bamberger, 1952; Graves, p. 57). Yet
Adam's tragic calamity is a felix culpa, a blessed sin
which leads to the Atonement:

Ne hadde the appil take ben, the appil taken ben,
ne hadde neuer our lady a ben heuene quen;
Blyssid be the tyme that appil take was,
Ther-fore we mown syngyn, 'deo gracias!'

(Lovejoy, 1948, p. 277; Weisinger, 1953; fifteenth-
century poem).

Once the primitive oasis with trees and living waters
was violated by the noble savages (Lovejoy and Boas,
1935) the wickedness of man increased, and the first
brother slew his sibling rival. The Hebrews saw this
as a feud between farmer and shepherd, the settled
agriculturalist of Canaan and the wandering Semitic
nomad (Graves, p. 85). A modern structural anthro-
pologist sees it as a homosexual incest myth, paralleling
the fall of Adam and Eve (Leach, in Middleton [1967],
pp. 8-13, 65). External exegesis has explained where
Cain's wife came from, why God was so harsh as to
refuse Cain's vegetable sacrifice and so kind as to
provide him with a protective mark, and how he was
slain by Lamech (Frazer [1918], I, 78-104). A notable
parallel is the Sumerian Dispute between Shepherd-
God and Farmer-God (Pritchard, p. 41). Fratricidal
quarrels continue with Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and
Esau, Joseph and his brethren. We still kill our brothers.

Flood and Second Creation. Murder may be a relic
of primitive violence or the gruesome beginning of
civilization. The nine patriarchs after Adam, with both
Cainite and Sethite forms, are climaxed by the Cainite
Lamech (Genesis 4) who invents bigamy, kills his an-
cestor Cain, and sings the ancient fragment of a
Bedouin Sword Song to his wives. Fittingly his sons
were culture-heroes: Jabal the tentsman, Jubal the
inventor of harp and organ, and Tubal-Cain the metal-
worker. Their sister was Naamah, the lovely one, whom
the Middle Ages made the wife of Noah and inventor
of clothmaking. Such accounts of the inception of
culture, which recall the Greek Prometheus and the
American Indian Coyote, are greatly elaborated in the
Books of Enoch and Jubilees (Charles [1913], II) and
in one of the Dead Sea Scrolls. There is also a good
Lamech (Genesis 5), who gives birth to Noah “saying,
This son shall comfort us concerning the work and toil
of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord
hath cursed.” Probably this passage reflects the later
Noah who brought the vine, Noah the agricultural
hero. There follows an undoubted fragment of poly-
theistic myth, of how “the sons of God saw the daugh-
ters of men that they were fair; and they took them
wives of all which they chose.... There were giants
in the earth in those days; and also after that, when
the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men,
and they bare children to them, the same became
mighty men which were of old, men of renown.”

God repents that he has made man and punishes him
with the catastrophic Flood, which has probably
caused more exegesis and expansion in the Bible of the
Folk than any other story in Genesis (Figure 3). Merg-
ing as the Bible does the ritualistic priestly account,
concerned with the seasons, and the earlier Yahwist
writing, we may recall that the righteous Noah and
his three sons and all their wives were saved along with
two or seven of each animal, while those outside the
Ark were drowned, that the Ark landed on Ararat after
an episode with bird messengers, and that Noah sacri-
ficed on an altar newly built, whereupon God spoke
to him the first great Covenant, a set of precepts
promising no further flood, demanding an end to mur-
der and to eating meat without proper bloodletting,
and setting the rainbow (the sky-god's weapon?) in the
clouds as token of the bargain. Thus the world was
brought once more to order in a Second Creation.

This story is the inspiration for hundreds of further
patristic, Jewish, Muslim, and European accessions to
the Bible of the Folk (Dähnhardt, 1907-12; Ginzberg,
Gaer, 1951; Allen, 1949; Utley, 1960, 1961, 1968).
Apart from these Bible-derived legends it has countless
parallels all over the world, which Frazer thinks are
local flood stories, only occasionally reflecting the Bible
tale ([1919], I, 105-361). The biblical accounts are
themselves based on some form of the Gilgamesh epic:


Sumerian, Babylonian, or Assyrian, either brought in
by Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees or experienced
in Jewish exile in Babylonia (Pritchard, pp. 42, 72, 109).
In the Middle Ages Noah is a type of Christ, with the
wood of the Ark prefiguring the Cross, his saving Rem-
nant, his waters of baptism. To the peasants of the
Balkans his ark is destroyed by the devil, inventor of
brandy and seducer of Noah's wife; it is rebuilt by
angels, entered by the proper eight and also by the
devil, who hides in the skirts of Noah's wife; as a mouse
the devil gnaws a hole, which is plugged by the snake's
tail for the price of a man per day after the flood;
the snake is burnt and his ashes turn into the lice, fleas,
and other vermin which still exact the price (Utley,

In the narrow sense the Flood is legend, and not
myth, since it owes something to a Mesopotamian flood
or series of floods; yet its firm place in the Chain of
History, as a demonstration of God's mastery over the
wicked and his mercy for the righteous and a rein-
forcement of the tribal laws, make it as powerful a
myth as the Bible contains. In their art Michelangelo,
Poussin, Benozzo Gozzoli, Marc Chagall, and the great
creator of the Ghiberti doors in Florence have made
its force apparent. The visual power of the mighty ark
on the waters, the pathos and shame of drowning men
and animals, the rainbow as a sign of order in the skies,
the altar and sacrifice, and the Canaanite fragment of
a Dionysian myth in which Noah, unconscious inventor
of wine, awakes to his shame, is derided by Ham or
Canaan as Christ was by his tormentors, and curses
his wicked progeny, has in his massive undraped body
given inspiration to hundreds of artists, as well as to
racists attempting to defend black slavery—all of these
reveal the potent social, artistic, and religious myth
(Altmann [1966], pp. 113-34).

The Great Migrations. Almost every race in its “oral
history” has its own migration myths, biased in favor
of the chosen tribes but bearing marks of earthly reality
as well. The cursing of Canaan was one of these, and
Noah, second father of mankind, is natural begetter
of all races. The divine blasting of the presumptuous
Tower of Babel, an iconic legend based on the sight
of some Babylonian ziggurat in ruins, is the classic
account of the Confusion of Tongues, in which the
Hebrew spoken by our first fathers gave way to the
three thousand languages of present time (the biblical
commentators would call them seventy-two) (Graves
and Patai [1964], pp. 120-33; Frazer [1918], I, 362-90).
The Noachian genealogies which lead to Abraham,
with their shadowy tribes and eponymous name-giving
heroes, the wars of Isaac with Ishmael and Jacob with
Esau, are topped by the Exodus, in which Moses leads
his people through the miraculously divided Red Sea
to Sinai. There we have the epiphany of Yahweh in
the burning bush and the pillar of cloud, the tablets
of the Law, the destruction of the Golden Calf, and
the death of Moses on Mount Nebo in sight of the
Promised Land (Ginzberg, III, 1-48; VI, 1-168). The
conquest is left to Joshua, who made the sun stand still.
Such wanderings, which recur in the historical Baby-
lonian Exile and in the later history of the Jews, lie


subtly behind the Christian story of the Wandering
Jew (Anderson, 1965). Whether Moses invented
monotheism or got it from the Pharaoh Aknahton, as
Freud (1939) thought he did, he is the classic hero,
from his divine childbirth (his name means “drawn out
of the water”—see Jung and Kerényi, 1949) to his
mysterious death and lost sepulchre (Raglan, 1949;
Rank, 1959). His Yahweh, Lord of Horeb and Sinai and
the high places, is a new god, whatever his Semitic
and Canaanite origins (Peters [1914], pp. 89-91;
Rowley, p. 289). Judaism is Moses' religion and the
Torah his record; we shall meet him again as the great

King and Tyrant. Though Moses lived among the
Mediterranean cultures which created the pattern of
divine kingship, Moses was never the King. At the
outset of Israel's chain of history the king was a tyrant,
in the shape of Nimrod, idolater and enemy of Abra-
ham, mighty hunter before the Lord who built Babel
and founded cities—symbol of the tyranny of the
mighty East to the simple nomads and farmers of Israel
(Rappaport [1928], I, 223-45). Israel had its petty
kings, the Judges; it had its later monarchy with Saul
and David and Solomon and the epigones who came
after them (Gaer [1951], pp. 207-50); and the idea of
kingship continues in the Messiah whose conception,
literal and figurative, gave to Christianity its crucified
King of the Jews. Whether the myth-ritual pattern is
universal or not, it is certainly part of the perpetual
ambience of the Jewish commonwealth, the domains
of Attis and Adonis and Osiris of which Frazer writes
so alluringly in his Golden Bough. Hooke finds it in
Egypt and Babylonia and Canaan, in the temple at
Jerusalem and in Hebrew ritual and festival (1933); and
yet “the most fundamental idea, that of the dying and
rising god, was... so completely incompatible with
the prophetic conception of Jahveh, that it could not,
at least in the early stages of the prophetic movement,
be transformed or spiritualized” (Hooke [1956], pp.
108-11, 250-57). The Akkadian New Year's Festival
of Bel and Marduk, with the death and resurrection
of the god in the ritual form of priest-king, with sacred
marriage and the keeping of the destinies, was always
neighbor to Israel, and often intruded upon it (Prit-
chard, p. 331). Jeremiah and Ezekiel, leading a pre-
Christian enlightenment against priestcraft and mon-
archy, inveigh against such contaminations of the pure
faith of Yahweh, and have set the tone for social con-
science among Jews and Christians ever since.

Yahweh and Canaan. Yet Yahweh himself was the
Divine King.

For God is my king of old, working salvation in the midst
of the earth. Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength:
thou breakest the heads of the dragons in the waters. Thou
brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him
to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness....
The day is thine, the night also is thine; thou hast prepared
the light and the sun. Thou hast set all the borders of the
earth: thou hast made summer and winter

(Psalm 74:12-17).

Such a poem reflects the seasonal rituals, the sacred
dramas of the Canaanite Baal and Aquhat, whose di-
vine bow reminds of the bow Yahweh placed in the
clouds for Noah; “While the earth remaineth, seedtime
and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and win-
ter, and day and night shall not cease.” The dragon
recalls the Hittite slaying of the dragon in the Puruli
festival. Gaster finds further parallels in Egypt, Greece,
and elsewhere in the Psalms (Thespis, 1950). Though
Mowinckel has perhaps urged the case too strongly,
the Babylonian New Year's festival is surely reflected
in the Psalms as much as Canaan is; Hooke sees it
reflected in the ritual flight of Cain after his murder
of Abel (1963, p. 121).

Ritual Combats. The confrontations of gods, heroes,
and monsters thus affect Yahweh worship in spite of
monotheism, and live on until the Harrowing of Hell,
the battle of Christ and Satan (M. R. James [1924],
pp. 1-41). Satan himself, adversary of the suffering Job,
is viewed in the Old Testament variously as the emis-
sary of Yahweh, the opponent of such emissaries (in
the Balaam episode), and as one of the sons of God
(Kluger, 1967). The primeval monsters are personifica-
tions of chaos, against which Yahweh strives for order:
Leviathan and Rahab come from Canaan, Tehom of
the Creation story from the Babylonian combats of
Marduk and Tiamat the sea-monster; Jonah's Great
Whale is half cosmological; and dragons breed in Egypt
as well as Assyria (Altmann, pp. 1-30; Pritchard, pp.
11, 14). The tormentors of Christ's passion reduce the
struggle to the human level, as does the strong man
Peter when he cuts off Malchus' ear at the Betrayal.
When Christ was crucified the veil of the Temple was
rent, and “the earth shook and the rocks were split;
and the tombs were opened” (Matthew 27:51; Throck-
morton, pp. 154-55). Thus chaos threatens at Creation
and at the Atonement; at Doomsday it will do so once
more. But as in Zoroastrianism, to which both later
Judaism and Christianity are indebted for their dualis-
tic developments, the combat always ends in the vic-
tory of the Lord. Such mythic combats reflect real
antagonisms: El against Baal in Canaan; Elijah's routing
of Melkart and Baal in a massive combat on Mount
Carmel, with two bullocks as contesting sacrifices and
the Lord's epiphany in fire and cloud as once before
on Sinai (I Kings 18:21-46; Robinson [1932], I, 300-07;
Oldenburg, 1969). Paulinus of Nola (A.D. 353-431) uses
classical imagery for the Hero of Easter morning:
Salvem O Apollo vero, Paean inclyte,/ Pulsor draconis


inferi! (“Hail, O true Apollo! Renowned Healer! Victor
over the dragon of hell!”)

The myth of the Harrowing of Hell grew out of the
deep necessity of reconciling Old and New Testament
heroes, finding an equivalent for baptism of the patri-
archs and prophets, and explaining the three days
between Resurrection and Crucifixion. It is a clear
reflex from Psalms (24:7-10); the Gospel of Nicodemus

And again there was a cry without; Lift up, ye princes,
your gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the
King of glory shall come in. And again at that clear voice
Hell and Satan inquired, saying: Who is this King of Glory?
and it was said unto them by that marvellous voice: The
Lord of Hosts, he is the King of Glory. And lo, suddenly
Hell did quake, and the gates of death and the locks were
broken small, and the bars of iron broken, and fell to the
ground, and all things were laid open. And Satan remained
in the midst and stood put to confusion and cast down,
and bound with a fetter about his feet

(M. R. James [1924],
pp. 133-35; Kroll, Gott und Hölle, 1932).

The martial climax of Yahweh's war with the mon-
sters is fought in Revelation (Chs. 12-16) at Armaged-
don, with the red dragon, now clearly the Old Serpent
and Satan, attendant beasts, and the Whore of Babylon
and another figure, a kind of anti-Madonna: “... a
woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her
feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars” who
“brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations
with a rod of iron.” Yahweh, storm god of high places,
warrior god and king, giver of victory, enemy of the
agricultural gods or Baals of the land, the ethical god
whose etymon is unknown (Temenos [1969], p. 107),
the faceless god of Sinai who once had snake and bull
form but became the enemy of graven images, the cult
god who would tolerate no rivals in the neighboring
cultures, gave rise ultimately to the anointed Christ,
warrior god of Armageddon whose greatest mark was
mercy and meekness, and whose disciples preached the
Gospels everywhere, but whose righteous indignation
led to a Church which triumphed over the Western

Mother Goddess and Divine Child. In that Church
the vessel of mercy inevitably became the Blessed
Virgin, mother and intercessor, who resembles the
many virgin mothers of the heroes (Raglan, 1949;
Throckmorton, pp. 176-81; Hooke [1963], pp. 168-73).
She was Christianity's unique contribution to the uni-
versal Mother who lives in all religions, and whose
nature is sometimes benevolent and sometimes malev-
olent (Neumann, 1955). The dark mothers are well-
represented in Jezebel, Delilah, and the Whore of
Babylon. Hebraism has usually been characterized as
lacking female goddesses, as rejecting the sacred mar
riage (hieros gamos) of the Divine King, with its temple
prostitutes and obscene rituals (Peters, p. 121). Patai
(1967) has recently amassed controversial but impres-
sive evidence for Judaic parallels to Allah and Allat,
Baal and Baalat, the Canaanite Asherah, Astarte, and
Anath (see the important Ras Shamra poem in Prit-
chard, pp. 129-42) in the Cherubim, the Shekhina,
cabbalistic pairings, Matronit, Lilith, and even “the
Sabbath—Virgin, Bride, Queen and Goddess.” Much
of this may be metaphor, but the line between living
metaphor and myth will never be securely drawn.
Another mystery is how the beautiful series of love
poems known as the Song of Songs ever got attached
to the biblical canon. Soon, however, it was allegorized
by the Jews as a poem about God's love for Israel,
and Christianity kept it as the inspiration for monastic
poetry by interpreting it as the love of Christ for his

As the offspring of numinous marriages, the Divine
Child who is Apollo, Hermes, Zeus, Dionysos, or
Herakles appears in the Bible as Moses, Samson, David,
and as one who lay in a manger, worshipped by the
lowly shepherds and by the lordly Magi alike (Jung
and Kerényi, 1949; Frazer [1918], II, 437-54). The
Virgin or mysterious birth is paralleled by miraculous
adventures and by a mysterious death (Raglan, 1949;
Rank, 1959; Utley, 1965). Here too the metaphors
continue, as in the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew
25:6): “And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold,
the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then
all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.” In
Revelations (21:9) one of the seven angels with seven
vials says: “Come hither, I will shew thee the bride,
the Lamb's wife.” The moon-goddess of ancient
Semitic belief is reflected in Passover ritual (Hooke
[1933], p. 190; Reik [1964], pp. 69, 93) and in Christ-
mas and Easter rite (Rahner, p. 160), where Christ is
Sol invictus, “The Conquering Sun.” Maria Stella Maris
may have pagan antecedents (Krappe, 1948).

Magic, Miracle, and Morality. Most early religions
show a faith in mana, the divine spirit power owned
by gods and heroes, shamans, and prophets. Samson
bore his in his hair and Delilah cut it off, just as the
Norse Loki found out Baldur's vulnerability. Solomon
ruled the demons, who are scarce in the early Old
Testament, but become common in the Apocrypha
(Tobit) and in the Pseudepigrapha (Enoch and Jubilees;
for all these see Charles, I and II). Joshua's power stops
the sun so that he can better fight the battle of
Jericho; the Magi bring gifts to Christ. Moses and
Aaron battle the Egyptian sorcerers in a typical Magus
conflict; they cross the Red Sea between walls of water
and draw refreshing water from the rocks in the wil-
derness. So Jesus turns water into wine, multiplies the


loaves and fishes, exorcizes demons from men into
swine, walks on water, is transfigured, rends the veil
of the Temple, and appears after his death to his disci-
ples. The miracles are often for a clear and universal
ethical end (as opposed to manic mystery): Sodom is
destroyed to punish an inhospitable people (like the
reward for Philemon and Baucis and the punishment
of their neighbors in Ovid); Daniel and his three com-
panions are saved in the lion's den because they refuse
to eat nonkosher food (Hooke [1963], p. 151); Moses'
mountain miracles are climaxed by the Decalogue and
the Torah (Figure 4); and Christ's greatest preaching
is the ethical Sermon on the Mount.

Though there are other “Religions of a Book” (Islam
and Hinduism), no other two great world religions
share the same book. On the discovery of Deuteron-
omy, one portion of the Law, Josiah in 621 B.C. cleared
the temple of altars, asherah, and prostitutes (Peters,
p. 259). The function of priests is to give Torah, “the
decision” (Peters, p. 136), and Moses is the hero of
lawgivers as David and Solomon are of brilliant judicial
verdicts (Conway; Gaer, pp. 230-50). The role passes
to Christ: “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath
committed all judgment unto the Son” (John 5:22; II
Timothy 4:1). Though the Bible from Philo Judaeus
and Augustine on needs exegetical glossing, it remains
the Word of God, the Old linked to the New through
prefigurative typology. Noah like Christ saves men by
wood and water; Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac prefigures
the Crucifixion; the Prophets speak of the Son of Man,
the Messiah, the great days of judgment to come. Saint
Paul rejects the binding nature of the external Law,
and for it substitutes conscience and the Spirit of
Christ, yet “... the law is holy, and the commandment
holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12; Moore [1932],
II, 131). It was dualists like Marcion who heretically
rejected the Law and kept only the Gospel (Moore
[1932], II, 155).

Priest and Prophet. The priest was guardian of the
shrine in Temple and in the Ark of the Covenant, that
extraordinary moving shrine which formed the perfect
antithesis to the sanctuaries of the local gods who were
driven out by Yahweh. Early in Genesis the myth of
the priesthood forms itself around the meeting between
Abraham and Melchizedek, king of Salem, who “...
brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest
of the most high God” (Genesis 14:18). Christ himself
was subject to the priestly rites of circumcision and
baptism, and Melchizedek remained the model of the
medieval cleric.

Most religions make some distinction between the
ordained priest and the rapt prophet, with his more
direct communion with heaven. The Hebraic prophets
are the most famous form of the shaman who exists
in all religions (Eliade, 1951; Jensen [1963], p. 214).
In Salvation-history the Prophets are the link between
the Law and the Gospel, and their trance-like visions,
part history and part prediction, make way for the
apocalypses of Daniel, Enoch, and John the Divine.
Jeremiah (Ch. 24) observed the two baskets of figs at
the gate of the Temple: one with rich and one with
rotten fruit, the first the good Jews who had accepted
exile, the other the renegades under Zedekiah who had
remained behind. Ezekiel saw the wheels within wheels
of Cherubim (Chs. 1 and 10); the multifoliate rose of
Dante's Paradise and the rose-wheels of Chartres
stained glass, with their still-point at the center of
which is God, are Ezekiel's heirs. Isaiah, recounting
his own awakening, reveals the spirit power of the
shaman: “Then flew one of the seraphims unto me,
having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken
with the tongs from off the altar: and he laid it upon
my mouth and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips;
and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged”
(6:6-7). Elijah and Elisha are the dramatic heroes of
the prophetic writers, enemies of Baal (Bronner, 1968);


the Christian Carmelites made them the first ancho-
rites, their own predecessors.

The Last Judgment. We cannot trace the intricate
lines which join the Jewish Messiah, Son of Man, Heal-
ing Remnant and Suffering Servant to Christ's ministry
and passion, or the various adaptations to real history
of the idea of the millennium. Christ the Healer also
brought suffering, as Paul said (Romans 6:4): “Are ye
ignorant that all who have been baptized unto Christ
Jesus have been baptized unto his death?” Like the
circumcision of Abraham and the Jews, baptism is an
initiation, a rebirth, to what Paul calls “newness of life”
(Eliade, 1958; Hooke [1956], p. 95). By substitution
ritual, as with the Old Testament scapegoat Azazel,
Christ attracts the sins of all men (Hooke [1956], p.
204). His Resurrection promises a resurrection to us
all, if we follow the holy pattern. Yet his own message
was often simpler: “The kingdom of God is at hand:
repent ye, and believe the Gospel” and “Thou art not
far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 1:15, 12:34).
Driven by the Pharisees' questioning he says: “The
kingdom of God cometh not with observation... for
behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke

Yet as time elapsed and Christ died, to be resurrected
as were Adonis and Orpheus and the Phoenix and
Psyche, to walk with God as Enoch and Noah and
Elijah did, new speculation arose (Throckmorton, pp.
40, 57, 199). The mystery cults of Asia and of Greece,
so vigorously warred against and perpetually revived
in Judaism, brought new strength to Judaea's child,
Christianity. The Fourth Gospel (A.D. 90-110) begins
Creation not with a bird-like Spirit of God on the
waters, but with the Word, the Logos. Jewish and
Christian apocalyptic catch the spirit of the mysteries
(Hooke [1956], pp. 102-43). Nearly contemporary with
the Fourth Gospel is the Book of Revelation (80-96?),
by a John who was probably neither the Beloved Dis-
ciple nor the writer of the Fourth Gospel (on the dates
see Peake [1919], pp. 744, 926).

Revelation is the last link in the Chain of History.
The Revealer sees many visions, among them a Lamb
surrounded by four beasts “full of eyes before and
behind,” like his own great poem. These beasts, like
a lion, a calf, an eagle, and a man, are either the four
Gospellers or a tetrad of cherubim (Ezekiel 1:10). The
Book with seven seals is opened because “the Lion of
the tribe of Juda” hath prevailed. The Four Horsemen
of war, bloodshed, famine, and death precede the
Lamb, who leads the saints and martyrs to “living
fountains of waters,” in the face of a plague of locusts
from the bottomless pit, led by the king Abaddon or
Apollyon (the abyss of tehom, the primeval chaos of
Creation once more—see Charles [1920], I, 240). Like
Ezekiel (3:3) the Revealer eats a scroll which tastes
like honey; but this latter-day pessimist finds the after-
taste bitter. Moses and Elijah prophesy in sackcloth
and ashes, but the Beast from the pit destroys them.
In heaven the temple is opened and there appears the
ark of God's testament which Jeremiah had hidden in
an earthly cavern (Peake, p. 935). There follow the
woman with the child, Michael in ritual combat with
the dragon, the Lamb on Sion and “the great winepress
of the wrath of God, the Scarlet Woman of “Babylon
the Great, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations
of the earth” who is drunk with the blood of the saints,
then the rejoicing of the saints, the marriage of the
Lamb, the binding of the old serpent Satan for a thou-
sand years, his revival, the battle with Gog and Magog,
and the Judgment. In the great hymn of the Franciscan
Thomas of Celano (ca. 1200-ca. 1255): Dies irae, dies
illa,/ Solvet saeclum in favilla,/ Teste David cum
(“The day of wrath, that day will dissolve the
world into ashes, as David and the Sibyl testify”) we
find not a Second Flood, but Fire Next Time. As the
Revealer's apocalyptic predecessor, the Book of Enoch
(ca. 161-64 B.C.—Charles [1913], II, 280-81) has it:
“their names shall be blotted out of the book of life
... and their seed shall be destroyed for ever... and
they shall cry and make lamentation in a place that
is a chaotic wilderness, and in the fire shall they burn.
... And I will bring forth in shining light those who
have loved My holy name, and I will seat each on the
throne of his honour” (Figure 5). Turning once more
to the Revealer: “And I saw a new heaven and a new
earth,” a New Jerusalem but without a temple now,
“for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the
temple of it... [and] a pure river of water of life,
clear as crystal... [with] the trees of life, which bare
twelve manner of fruits... and the leaves of the tree
were for the healing of the nations.... And if any
man shall take away from the words of the book of
this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the
book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the
things which are written in this book.” So the last book
of the Great Book ends, and the Chain of Salvation
is complete, with imagery of Fall and Water, Tree and
Salvation, Fire and War and Sacred Marriage, the
Father's Creation and the Mother's Child, Paradise
Lost and Paradise Regained. The Lost Eden of Genesis
was primitivistic. But with Christ and the Kingdom
of God within us Eden returned, the mysterious Fortu-
nate Fall is fulfilled. The Chain is cyclic now, and the
return will be as described in Revelation, a rebirth for
the saints by the Man who won us immortality instead
of losing it.



For biblical quotations the Authorized (King James)
Version is used.

D. C. Allen, The Legend of Noah (Urbana, 1949). A. Alt-
mann, ed., Biblical Motifs (Cambridge, Mass., 1966). G. K.
Anderson, The Legend of the Wandering Jew (Providence,
1965). B. J. Bamberger, Fallen Angels (Philadelphia, 1952).
L. Bronner, The Stories of Elijah and Elishah as Polemics
against Baal Worship
(Leiden, 1968). H. M. and N. K.
Chadwick, The Growth of Literature (Cambridge, 1932-40).
R. H. Charles, ed., The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of
the Old Testament in English
(Oxford, 1913). R. H. Charles,
A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Revelation
of St. John
(Edinburgh, 1920). M. D. Conway, Solomon and
Solomonic Literature
(Chicago, 1899). O. Dähnhardt, Natur-
(Leipzig, 1907-12). M. Eliade, Le Chamanisme et les
techniques archaïques de l'extase
(Paris, 1951); trans. W. E.
Trask as Shamanism:... (Princeton, 1964). J. G. Frazer,
Folk-Lore in the Old Testament (London, 1918); idem,
The Golden Bough (London, 1935). J. Fontenrose, The Ritual
Theory of Myth
(Berkeley, 1966). S. Freud, Moses and
(New York, 1939). J. Gaer, The Lore of the Old
(Boston, 1951); idem, The Lore of the New Testa-
(Boston, 1952). L. Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews
(Philadelphia, 1912-38). R. Graves and R. Patai, Hebrew
(Garden City, 1964). H. Gunkel, The Legends of
(New York, 1901; reprint 1964). W. R. Halliday,
Indo-European Folk-Tales and Greek Legend (Cambridge,
1933). S. H. Hooke, ed., The Labyrinth (London, 1935);
idem, Middle Eastern Mythology (Harmondsworth, 1963);
idem, The Siege Perilous (London, 1956); idem, ed., Myth
and Ritual
(London, 1933). E. O. James, Prehistoric Religion
(New York, 1962). M. R. James, The Apocryphal New Testa-
(Oxford, 1924). A. E. Jensen, Myth and Cult among
Primitive Peoples
(Chicago, 1963). C. G. Jung and C.
Kerényi, Essays on a Science of Mythology (New York, 1949).
R. S. Kluger, Satan in the Old Testament (Evanston, 1967).
A. H. Krappe, “Maria Stella Maris,” The Review of Religion,
13 (May, 1948), pp. 375-81. J. Kroll, Gott und Hölle, Studien
der Bibliothek Warburg
20 (Leipzig and Berlin, 1932). A. O.
Lovejoy, Essays in the History of Ideas (Baltimore, 1948);
idem and G. Boas, Primitivism... in Antiquity (Baltimore,
1935). J. Middleton, ed., Myth and Cosmos (Garden City,
1967). Edmund Leach provides “structural charts” describ-
ing the various versions of Creation, Fall, and First Murder
in accordance with the ideas of Claude Lévi-Strauss. G. F.
Moore, History of Religions, 2 vols. (New York, 1913-1919;
reprint 1932). Henry A. Murray, “Myth and Mythmaking,”
Daedalus (Spring 1959), 211-380. E. Neumann, The Great
(London, 1955). U. Oldenburg, The Conflict between
El and Ba'al in Canaanite Religion
(Leiden, 1969). W. O. E.
Oesterley and T. H. Robinson, A History of Israel, 2 vols.
(Oxford, 1932), I by Robinson. R. Patai, The Hebrew Goddess
(New York, 1967); idem, Man and Temple (Toronto, 1947).
A. S. Peake, ed., Peake's Commentary on the Bible (New


York, 1919). J. P. Peters, The Religion of the Hebrews
(Boston, 1914). R. H. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testa-
(New York, 1941). J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern
Texts Relating to the Old Testament
(Princeton, 1950). E. C.
Quinn, The Quest of Seth for the Oil of Life (Chicago,
1962). Lord Raglan, The Hero (London, 1936; 1949; reprint,
1963). Reference is to the 1949 edition. H. Rahner, Greek
Myths and Christian Mystery
(New York, 1963). O. Rank,
The Myth of the Birth of the Hero (New York, 1959). A. S.
Rappaport, Myth and Legend in Ancient Israel (London,
1928). T. Reik, Pagan Rites in Judaism (New York, 1963).
T. H. Robinson, see Oesterley. H. H. Rowley, ed., The Old
Testament and Modern Study
(Oxford, 1951). John Skinner,
A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis (New
York, 1910). E. A. Speiser, ed., Genesis, The Anchor Bible
(Garden City, 1964). Temenos: Studies in Comparative Reli-
4 (1969). B. H. Throckmorton, The New Testament and
(London, 1960). A. J. Toynbee, A Study of His-
Vol. VI (London, 1939). F. L. Utley, “The Devil in
the Ark,” Internationaler Kongress der Volkserzählungs-
forscher, Vorträge und Referate (Berlin, 1961), pp. 446-63;
idem, “Folklore, Myth, and Ritual,” Critical Approaches to
Medieval Literature,
ed. D. Bethurum (New York, 1960);
idem, “Noah, His Wife, and the Devil,” Studies in Biblical
and Jewish Folklore,
eds. R. Patai, D. Noy, and F. L. Utley
(Bloomington, 1960), pp. 59-91; F. L. Utley, “Rabghuzi—
Fourteenth-Century Turkic Folklorist,” Volksuberlieferung:
Festschrift für Kurt Ranke
(Göttingen, 1968), pp. 373-400.
H. Weisinger, Tragedy and the Paradise of the Fortunate
(London, 1953). J. Wellhausen, Prolegomena to the
History of Ancient Israel
(New York, 1878; 1957).


[See also Christianity in History; Cycles; God; Myth;
Prophecy in Hebrew Scripture;
Religion, Origins of, Ritual
in; Sin and Salvation.]