A myth can also be a hit, with multiple applicability in different contexts and at different times and places. Unfortunately, when some people today say that something is a ‘myth’, they mean it isn’t true. The original and true meaning of ‘myth’, however, is just the opposite. Myths are stories containing ‘supernatural’ elements, which paint pictures of truths that take us to places beyond the ability of words themselves to fully encompass and describe. This is why the world’s great myths endure throughout the generations.
At the beginning of the book of Genesis, there’s an echo in the ‘sacred’ literature of Israel of a myth that’s found in the previous creation stories of surrounding nations. One of these was Babylon to which, in the 6th century BCE, the Jewish people were exiled for around seventy years. There they would have encountered the Babylonian New Year Festival, and heard the story of the patron deity of Babylon, the god Marduk. He it was who overcame in battle the sea monster Tiamat, the representative of the forces of disorder and chaos. With chaos once again ritually defeated, a safe and secure New Year could be anticipated.
And so, in Genesis 1:1 there’s a stormy, wind tossed, watery ‘deep’, the Hebrew word being ‘tehom’, which is related to the name ‘Tiamat’. Although no struggle between God and a Sea Monster is mentioned here, descriptions of just such a battle, in which the sea monster is called Leviathan, do exist in other parts of the Hebrew Bible. In Isaiah 27 we read that, “The Lord will use his powerful and deadly sword to punish Leviathan .. and kill the monster that lives in the sea.” In Psalm 74 it’s said of God that “you divided the sea .. you crushed the heads of the monster Leviathan.”
We should keep this myth in our minds, when we turn to the New Testament. There we encounter a storm on the Sea of Galilee, which is so fierce that even followers of Jesus who are seasoned fishermen are fearful for their lives. Their leader Jesus, however, treads down the raging billows and instantly quells not only the wind but the waves as well, which constitutes a ‘nature miracle’. It’s small wonder that his followers are said to ask, “Who is this man, that even the wind and sea obey him?”
The very same myth is carried forward yet again into ‘Revelation’, the last book of the Bible. Here we encounter the initially mystifying statement that, after this world has reached its end, there is “a new heaven and a new earth – but there was no longer any sea.” The Viking blood in my Inkster veins didn’t take too kindly to that idea, until understanding dawned via the ubiquitous, age-old myth.
The sea, especially in stormy, raging, tsunami mood, represents the threat from disorder, disturbance, destruction and chaos, which is always there for individuals, relationships, families, organisations, nations, and the world itself. The myth encourages us to look for, identify and bring to bear whatever resources we can find to best restore order, harmony, security and peace of mind.
For some people that might be religious faith. For other people it might be a cup of tea. For all of us, in these Covid times, it might be our first vaccination. Whenever life becomes ‘stormy’, may your ‘gods’ be with you.