Folklore vs. Biblical God

Whatever happened to Jewish myths, fiction and parables? In the manner that we speak of indigenous Indian, African, or Greek cultural fables?

Did Israelites have romantic myths, or folklores for that matter? Myths they could enjoy, and entertain without considering it history, or the law of God. If so how would it be next to the Good Book?

Surely these myths would have a “culture conscious” effect on Israelite/Jewish culture and thinking the way other tribes, cultures and nations fables have on theirs to teach, to scare to preach or to guide.

We experience the of the power of myths, spoken through everyday parables, through art-forms, through visual media like films. Their influence can show in our thoughts, and beliefs when we are in the same situation that the myth or fantasy is based. For example when a child is acting in the manner of his father it would be said to him; “like father like son.” Which reflects the mythical parables and famous stories about sons that acted in their father’s footsteps. And because Hollywood is the mouthpiece for myths in our day when we find ourselves in a situation similar to a Hollywood story/plot we say to each other that it “was just like in a film.” The modern teller of fables.

Looking to the Hebrews what effect can we imagine cultural myths, fantasies and folklore had on Jewish, and Israelite thought back then? And how can we suppose the influence would have to the inspired writers of the Bible?

Reading the Bible I gather that Hebrews, Jews had pure traditions. Pure in the sense that almost all aspects of life had laws covering it, as St.Paul points out.
Does this mean Jewish Israelite people were the first or only people on earth to have no culture of thought based on myths, fantasies, folklore and mystical metaphors? Or did God become that metaphor?
That their teachings and understanding of life was based solely on the history and the law which the Bible writers their forefathers taught?

Did God’s involvement with the Israel nation replace for them what every other nation has in folklore, myths, romantic tales, and so on?

This question has weighed on me for some time and it isn’t the easiest task for anyone convicted with the writings of the Bible to communicate without sounding like a heretic or blasphemer. This being the case isn’t it so that anyyone who has ever asked where did the writer of the beginning get there history asking where is the folklore in it?


Join the Conversation


  1. These questions are absolutely brilliant. A few random thoughts:

    1) There are examples (in this protestant’s humble opinion – you’re welcome to think different!) of folklore in the Apocrypha, that you might be interested to read. Bel and the Dragon, for instance.

    2) The Bible more-or-less refers to other sources which include or may have included folklore. eg Jude alludes to the Book of Enoch, which is interesting reading. The historical books in the OT refer to a string of sources such as the Book of Jashar, the book of the annals of Solomon, the book of the annals of the kings of Israel, the book of the annals of the kings of Judah, and the book of the annals of King David. These may have been pure history, or not – who knows.

    3) A more edgy question. Can we see some of the OT as folklore? This doesn’t need to mean that it isn’t true – we can see God inspiring authors, in the context of a race and culture, to write down folklore as other cultures do, but in this case it could be genuinely speaking about what is truly the case. At any rate, parts of the OT probably *functioned* in the same way as folklore for that society – being passed on from generation to generation, acting as the stories and wisdom which people listen to and live by.

    Examples I’m thinking of for ‘true folklore’ elements might include: the creation narrative, which I think is a symbolic but trustworthy way of talking about what happened; the story of Job; maybe Noah and Jonah; the book of Esther. Then in a possibly different sense, Jesus’ parables might take a folklore role for early Christians.

    I’m not quite sure what I think about what I’ve written, but it’s a related approach to the one you were asking about above, and both intrigue me. You’re asking, “What folklore influenced the authors?” whereas I’m asking, “To what extent are these inspired writings taking the form and function of folklore themselves?” I guess this is similar to when you ask, “Did God’s involvement with the Israel nation replace for them what every other nation has in folklore, myths, romantic tales, and so on?”


  2. I Thank God I have not been challenged as a heretic so far!

    It is the debates, which Star-Wars movies can bring that encouraged me to post this.

    I find the term “true folklore” helpful, because it works as something new to this argument. That is to say folklore in the sense of fantasy and yet true in the sense of history. Perhaps some might find both unacceptable. This is why I say something new. To me the story of Esther serves as that perfect folklore.

    It is funny you mentioned Noah, and Esther and not surprisingly Jonah. Of all the three Esther strikes me – quite healthily too – as something of a romantic tale, a perfect one, and I like it like that. But I think in present-day Jewish culture celebrations are made every year or so in remembrance of the events that took place in that story. This to me only goes to show how important it is we view or are suppose to view biblical narratives.

    Can we see some of the OT as folklore? I guess that is the challenge in this case. Can we see the OT in folklore tradition and yet hold it to be true? Yes, I believe in our day and with the growing number of Biblical scholars theories on God this is the challenge for our belief. Would we equally believe what we believe if we thought of it as nothing more than an educative story and not history? At the same time if what we read about God in the OT isn’t history then where does the God we know history with mankind start?

    If I may answer your question – “To what extent are these inspired writings taking the form and function of folklore themselves?” I would say in every form as far as education, prophecies and oral tradition like you mentioned goes. But it seems that of all the folklore from cultures we know of historically only the Jewish, Hebrew prophets is that which we take as a true and lawful guide even though we are not in their context.

    I’m not quite sure what I think about what I’ve written either, but I feel that with the debates films like Star Wars or Matrix can bring of the Bible, and with the growing multi-faith -God speaking to all cultures- beliefs that these questions will continue to mould.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts


  3. Great comments. I don’t really have much to add, but thought of two other snippets:

    1) Another Jewish folklore issue to throw into the mix is the Kabbala. This may not be relevant, as what we have now is from about the tenth century. However, elements are thought to originate much earlier, say 1st century AD. And while it’s fascinating, it’s so abstract that I guess it doesn’t function as folklore like, say, Esther would. But on the other hand, it does have a practical side, claiming ways to have authority over demons and diseases.

    2) This idea of ‘true folklore’ is related to one that C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien talked about – ‘true myth’. They saw Christianity as the ‘true myth’ – it is the truth, *and* it has structures in common with myths because all myths are hints and allusions fumbling towards it. I think this presents us with a very valuable way of talking about Christianity in relation to Lord of the Rings, the Matrix and Star Wars. The complication is that all three of these, as well as being self-consciously mythic, are also self-consciously relating to Christianity already – the similarities are intended, in a way which wasn’t the case for, say, the Odyssey.


  4. This also makes me wonder – do all cultures have folklore, myths etc.? I don’t think we really do in England any more, for example. We have entertaining stories, whether they’re the Three Little Pigs or Robin Hood or James Bond or Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, but we don’t really see them as part of our worldview. Is that just because we’re Christianised/secularised? I dare say that’s replaced a lot of our old superstitions and legends, and traditional story-telling isn’t central to our culture any more either.

  5. Ah, you’ll be surprised how far James Bond has reached globally especially with AOL screen names, I wonder what that says.

    Anyway i think if folklore in the traditional sense passes on from one generation to next then I suppose folklore interpretations are always evolving. Maybe all ancient cultures had folklore, I don’t think they could communicate without them, but England on the fringe of enlightened Europe to have so? There is a thought. One the other hand we still have the Christmas tree, as an ode to viking times I think.

    I think three little pigs, robin hood and such did do their job as far as being story form entertainment, but are you asking if they do the same as moral, or lawful guides? I guess the keyword would have to be lawful, as I think most ancient folklore/myths/tales served as passed on laws, governing as well as guides explaining things.

    Well you may be right that perhaps Christianity and Modernity has replaced it for us, but then as typical folklore’s cultures are viewed as superstitious maybe we could think about the era of superstition in England. Perhaps there was when they had their culture conscious myths and tales.


  6. Just a thought I have on culture’s evolving worldviews.

    When God (Biblical God), first spoke to the “Father of Nations” Abraham or more importantly “Law-giving” Moses, he wasn’t exactly speaking in tongues or an inexplicable language was he?

    Doesn’t this mean that God did not invent their language that this language he was speaking was influenced outside of him? The language that would later perceive him was shaped outside of his Law?

    Isn’t language a means of affirming myths, beliefs and ideas to communicate them?

    How this comes into the folklore argument is that most languages have a belief system about them to make people of the culture perceive what is what. So the Hebrews must already have had a language then that would mean they already had a belief system?

    Now how does this or did this affect or shape the Bible, like the previous poster said; who knows?


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *