Christian Euhemerism and Ancient Mythology

Steven Dilday:

Many of the oldest civilizations on earth have a Flood Story; it is not unique to the Bible. This has made its way into public education in the West, with argumentation along these lines: “Many ancient civilizations preserved a story of a Great Deluge among their myths; and, although interesting, no one takes these old stories as anything but mythology. The Hebrew people were participants in this milieu; it is not particularly surprising that they have a version of the Flood Story. But, their version is worthy of no more credit than any of the others.” All of this seems purposely contrived to undermine confidence in the Scriptures, and to weaken the faith of the godly.

However, there is an older view that is worthy of attention and consideration again. Euhemerus, a fourth century BC Macedonian mythographer, argued that the ancient myths have historical roots in real people and actual events, the accounts of which have been corrupted and/or exaggerated over time. As Christianity began to spread through the Greco-Roman world, a school of Christian Euhemerism began developing almost immediately, and continued in some strength into the early modern era. The basic structure of Christian Euhemeristic thought:

1. The narrative of the history of the ancient peoples, as given in Genesis 1-11, being inspired by the God of all Providence, is true and reliable.

2. If the epochal events surrounding the Great Flood, as portrayed in Genesis 6-9, are true (and they are), those events would long be remembered in the families of Shem, Ham, and Japheth (Noah’s three sons).

3. If the tongues of the families were confused at Babel, about a hundred years after the flood (and they were), it would not at all be surprising to find the history somewhat confused and corrupted linguistically and substantially.

4. By the families of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and only by these three families, was the earth overspread and populated; and they took with them confused and corrupted versions of the history of the great events of the Flood.

5. The passage of time would likely lead to further corruption of the narrative.

6. Given the preceding points, the situation stands as one would expect: The oldest civilations (China, Babylonia, Egypt, etc.), all descending from the three Noahic families, have a Flood Story; but the Stories have been corrupted linguistically and substantially by subsequent events (especially Babel) and the passage of time.

This older view disarms the contemporary critic of the Scripture, and the contemplation of the ancient myths, far from shaking the faith of the godly, confirms it, being fully consistent with what one would expect to find. Perhaps Christian Euhemerism was too early set aside.

This introduction is intended to present the marrow of the argument, but much of the interest and persuasive power of this type of study rests in the details. In the excerpt that follows, Poole takes up just one of these myths, the Greek fable of Saturn and his sons, and provides a wide-ranging linguistic and substantial comparison between it and the Biblical narrative of Noah’s Flood. Could it be that the Saturn-myth is a corrupted and skewed version of the history of the Great Flood of Genesis? Let the attentive reader give careful consideration to the details of the argument, and then judge.

This same sort of careful, detailed comparison, other Christian Euhemerists perform with the myths of other ancient peoples. For those interested in this area of study, Theophilus Gale’s The Court of the Gentiles and Pierre Jurieu’s A Critical History of the Doctrines and Worships (both Good and Evil) of the Church are particularly worthy of attention, and a good place to start.

There are two pieces in this link: De Moor’s treatment of the derivation of Jove and Jupiter from Jehovah; and Poole’s treatment of the genesis of the pagan myths from the story of Noah and his sons. Enjoy.

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