Literalistic imagery

Most people know the story of Prometheus. He took pity on mankind and so he stole fire from the gods and used it to teach man, especially in technology and the sciences. For this, the gods chained Prometheus to a rock where his liver was picked apart by birds everyday. Because Prometheus was immortal, he suffered immense pain, but could never die. And thusly he suffered until a Greek hero named Heracles rescued him.

Prometheus also becomes a time-traveling robot who helps save the world and eventually sacrifices his life in a vain attempt to stop Fate from taking over humanity's destiny.

Prometheus also becomes a time-traveling robot who helps save the world and eventually sacrifices his life in a vain attempt to stop Fate from taking over humanity's destiny.

Prometheus plays a proto-type trickster figure, representing both the good and bad of humanity. He became a symbol of technology and progress, willing to defy the very gods in order to improve the lives and lots of common humans everywhere. There are symbols and imagery within this myth, rich and glorious, which convey important lessons and warnings to future generations.

There’s much in the Prometheus story for the modern-day reader to swallow in order for it to be true. For one thing, Prometheus was a titan, and we’re pretty sure titans don’t exist. Also, supposedly, the gods lived on Olympus, but we’ve had people hike up the mountain and have not found any pantheons yet. There’s not a lot of scientific evidence for it, even though we know many people back then believed this story to be factual. We try not to fault our ancestors too much for believing such an outlandish story, but if someone said they truly believe the Prometheus story to be absolutely factual, we would laugh. Still, despite the fact that this myth is not true, we can still derive much from it. The fact that this story is fiction does not take away from its timelessness or lessons taught.

So how come when somebody tells us that Noah’s global flood is probably not factual, that the Abraham sacrificing Issac story makes no sense within the Abrahamic narrative and could just be made up, or that Job might not have been a real person or Jonah probably didn’t actually spend three days in the belly of a whale, we as members of the Church become defensive about it? Like Prometheus, a lack of factual evidence certainly doesn’t detract from the morals of the story – such a parameter for usefulness would have rendered Aesop’s famous fables completely void.

When my wife tells me that she doesn’t believe the Garden of Eden is a factual situation but is instead an allegorical representation of every human’s experience being cut off from God’s presence, why does it bother me? I know that the fact that it might have never happened doesn’t take away from the spiritual significance of the story; it certainly doesn’t bother my wife. In fact, I’ve had spiritual experiences which tell me that such an interpretation is not only fine, but commendable. So why does it nag at the corners of my prideful, foolish heart?

"Guys, you should totally think about maybe wearing some clothes sometime - oh, never mind. I'll tell you about it when you're older."

"Guys, you should totally think about wearing clothes sometime - oh, never mind. I'll tell you about it when you're older."

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Literalistic imagery

  1. The only thing I have to disagree with is the concept that sacrificing Isaac “makes no sense.” That is a matter of opinion. I think it makes brilliant literary sense, especially within the context of Abraham’s early history as outlined in the Book of Jerash, a dead sea scroll.(You’d love it, if you haven’t already read it) The sacrificial scene is part of the Muslim tradition as well, except they maintain that Ishmael was to be the sacrifice. “Take thy son, they only son….” and Ishmael was the only son for 12 years or something.

    Now, I don’t think knowing *which* son was almost sacrificed makes much difference. But I do think it really happened, and was an important part of Abraham’s life. And I do think he really existed. Abraham is part of a rich cultural tradition that extends from Turkey to Western China. There’s this one pool in Turkey people claim is the site of Abraham’s own near-sacrifice. The story goes that when the angel appeared to save Abraham, the knife was thrown into a nearby pool and turned into a bunch of fish. You can see the fish to this very day. My religion professors at BYU maintain that Turkey is a more likely site of Ur than Iraq, based on archaeological evidence.

    Just sayin’.

    • Ted

      The reason why the Abrahamic sacrifice makes little sense to me is because this was something God had explicitly commanded him not to do. Sacrificing children is A Really Bad Thing on almost unequivocal terms. On top of that, one of the big catalysts in Abraham’s life was God saving Abraham from the exact same situation. To me, it’s like asking an almost rapist victim to rape someone to prove their faithfulness or something and being stopped at the last minute. The very fact Abraham was saved from such a situation and then commanded to do it only compounds the trauma of the command. This is why it makes so little sense to me within the larger context of Abraham’s life. What he is asking for is not only A Very Hard Thing but also a really despicable thing, in my opinion. There are significantly less traumatic ways to teach about the Savior’s pending sacrifice (like, say, a vision in Nephi’s case).

      I have heard only a few suggestions that seem to placate my sense of justice. One woman suggested that Abraham is the type of person who learns best by example. He argues with God (this we see in Sodom and Gomorrah) and is relentless in his pursuit for greater knowledge and wisdom. Perhaps he had reached a level that could only be surpassed by such a test as this, but I cannot help but feel this was a cruel way to test him. Abraham may have been ready, but was Sarah ready for her husband to try and sacrifice her son? Was Issac that advanced to be ready to be sacrificed? Perhaps Abraham thought that this sacrifice was for Issac and God would save Issac like he saved Abraham? But whenever I suggest that perhaps Abraham knew some divine intervention was going to occur, they say that would take away from Abraham’s faith. These explanations do not satisfy me.

      I also am not sure how much I can take a 6000 year old story at face value. We can barely get today’s news without some kind of spin or skewing of the facts. Could a 6000 year old story really remain factual at all? Perhaps God used a really graphic example to explain the coming of the Messiah and His impending sacrifice which then became exaggerated to fit the purposes of the storytellers over time. Would this not be more likely than God commanding Abraham to contradict his entire life’s purpose?

      The kind of faith that leads us to do truly horrendous acts of violence simply because God told us so can only bring sorrow, not happiness or greater faith. I feel like the only reason we as Church members can talk about such a traumatic story so glibly is because of the rule of humor – it’s funny until someone gets hurt. Since nobody really got hurt at the conclusion of the story, we can talk about it with a sigh of relief. But what if Abraham really did ritualistically slaughter and sacrifice Issac? Would we be so quick to talk about this story still?

    • Ted

      Also, I just want to add that I think something to the effect of “I’m going to send my Son and he will be sacrificed for the sins of the world” did happen (in that, Abraham was taught such a thing). And I do think Abraham did exist as a person. But I don’t know how much of it was a literal acting out the sacrifice with the intention of following through with such a gruesome act.

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