One of the most prominent tasks that the redactor of the Bible undertook was teaching the lessons of monotheism, at least the monotheism of the Israelite Cult. His pedagogic skills are phenomenal. The redactor did not teach by pasting sermons and lectures into the text because he knew lecturing is a poor methodology for explaining to the illiterate masses who would hear the verses but not read them. (Most of the world, perhaps  98% or 99%, were illiterate.) The redactor taught using the method of storytelling, embedding the lessons within the tale. Theology, history, life lessons, and even genealogies could be recalled if the Israelite could remember the story.

Certain motifs or storylines were repeated to reinforce or to emphasize lessons. When the redactor repeated these motifs, they became mythos, recurring narratives that take on significant meanings above and beyond individual lessons.

Not only can mythos be found across the entire Hebrew text, but the narrative will appear from the most simplistic plot to some of the most complicated depictions of Israelite belief. The easiest example of a simple plot motif is the famine story forcing our patriarchal family to go to a foreign kingdom for food only to have the matriarch taken to the royal harem. Abraham and Sarah go down to Egypt in Gen. 12:10-20 and to the kingdom of Gerar in Gen. 20:1-18. Isaac and Rebecca go down to Gerar in Gen. 26:1-11.

All three are essentially the same story. If they are the same, then why did the redactor keep all three when one telling without contradiction would have been just as clear? First, he had three stories and he chose to keep all three. Second, the mythos of the three stories – the merit of worshipping Yahweh, the power of Yahweh God, and the reward of obeying Yahweh – are three fundamental lessons taught in the Book of Genesis about the belief system of the Israelite cult. Hearing these stories repeated, the Yahweh believers learned that these lessons have an emphasis over other teachings.

The use of mythos is one of the fundamental building blocks of the redactors of the corpus. Consider how almost every religious system begins teaching children the tenets of the religion – by telling stories. Therein lies the power of mythos in human culture across time, generations, and geography.

By Glenn Jacob

Rabbi, Community Leader, Fundraiser, Board Development, Non-profit management, strategic planning, educator, writer, and editor.

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