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.
The inability of science and religion to reconcile their points of view occurs in the first verse on the first page of Genesis. “When God began creating the heavens and the earth” is interpreted by literalists as the scientific beginning of the world as if these ancient monotheists were modern scientists publishing their findings. Science as we understand it today was not invented when Genesis was committed to parchment. Debunking their argument, the Bible is not a scientific text and should never be construed as one. Tanakh (Hebrew for “Bible”) is first and foremost, a proudly theological collection of books. The books are about Adonai God and the people of Adonai God, the children of Israel.
Theology and science are disparate disciplines, fundamentally different and incongruous. To read a compromise between theology and scientific inquiry on the first page of Genesis is an act of futility – there is no compromise because theology and science are two divergent disciplines. The battles we witness between the “the Bible is wrong” crowd and the “science is evil” crowd is the continuing failure to find compromise when none is available, plausible, or more to the point, necessary. The battle is the result of a categorical error.
Too many assume that the both approaches are attempting to answer the same question: how was the universe made? Science asks that question and has reams of exciting facts, theories, and emerging hypotheses. Science asks what is the process and how does it work. Science leaves the “why” or more precisely, “why was the universe created?” to philosophy and religion.
The author(s) of Genesis ask a different question: “Does the universe have meaning?” The typical-of-its-time mythology of the Greeks has Zeus chopping off the head of the monster and hoisting it up in the heavens as a bloody trophy called earth. There is no meaning for humans in crawling across the face of rotting skull like maggots. In contrast, the Genesis story argues that if God made the world, then the world has meaning. By being created by God, humans have a meaning for existence as well. To argue that our lives have meaning is a worthwhile theology to hold dear.
Science has nothing to say about the maker of the universe and Genesis has nothing to say about the science of creating universes. They are asking different questions. The fault of our thinking is assuming that science and religion are opposite of each other when they are actually working in two different, though parallel realms, answering different, though both worthy questions.