The Bible is literary and sometimes literal Part 1: Talking animals

Dear Johnboy

As a diligent Bible reader you know Jesus likes to tell stories to communicate an important point. Parables, as they are known, are literary devices. When Jesus tells the story of the 10 bridesmaids, we miss his point if we try to find out what their names are and where they lived. Even when Jesus mentions a location, like the good Samaritan from Samaria, we know that trying to figure out which road he was on and which Samaritan village he was coming from is a wasted effort. Even when Jesus tells a story with a guys name, like the poor beggar Lazarus, we again miss the point if we try to figure out who this guy might me literally, or if it literally happened. The literary point is what matters, not the literal point.

Knowing all this, why are you wasting energy trying to find the literal garden of Eden? It is very obvious within the story itself that it is a parable, myth, or fable with a purpose. What is that obvious indicator? The talking snake is a literary device known around the world for ages.


In the Jungle Book, Mowgli talks to a snake, among other creatures in the forest. Even though the boy has a name and the snake has a name and the bear and the tiger, etc. at no time do you think, "Huh, I wonder if Rudyard Kipling really met this kid and these creatures?" Actually, when you were little, before you understood that none of your stuffed animals were ever going to talk to you, you did think stories like this were literal.

Talking animals are an obvious way to distinguish a (literary) story from a (literal) event. The bible is not unique in this way. Because so much of your upbringing emphasized the literalness of the bible, you tried to make it fit into reality, a process known as cognitive dissonance. It gets harder as a scientist who knows a little about how sound is produced and the need for skeletal sturcutres, soft tissue structures, and neurons to make it all work. To read the story of the Adam's fall into sin as literal news is to ask the story to do much, much more than it was intended.

I have one more example, Balaam's ass. What is so interesting about this talking donkey is how much less weight this story is burdened with than the snake story. In fact, in most of the sermons you have heard about Balaam's donkey have referenced it in a literary application. Such as, "what foolish way is God trying to speak to you and get your attention?"

These are good literary stories, but they are not literal. Donkeys and snakes are not, nor have they ever been capable physically of communicating orally with humans using words. When you get bogged down wondering how this actually and literally happened all you are doing is bogging yourself down. Get out of your scientific left brain and enjoy the multiple layers of meanings in your right brain.



Comments

Popular Posts