When you get down to it, how else can you really teach many of the predeluvian stories in Genesis? This is something we run up against all the time in religious studies and biblical studies. At my orientation meeting for Literature of the Humanities, in which we will be reading Genesis, some preceptors from other departments were a bit worried about how to approach biblical materials. It is always important to define your terms: myth, from the Greek, Mythos, means "story." In terms of religious studies, it does not mean what it has come to mean in modern society--something that is false. So, with Genesis, we are going to tell a story that has some "truth" to some people, but may not actually be "factual." In a sense, all "myths" try to articulate some sort of "truth" (something highly ironic in the modern sense of "myth"). We have this strange tendency in modern times, or at least since the 19th century, to equate truth with facts, when factual truth is one of many types of truth. This is a mistake made by people who seek the literal truth of the Bible and the people who reject the Bible for the same reason--both are reading things too literally, in ways that probably would not make sense in antiquity. As such, when teaching texts like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, one should be careful to define one's terms. Moreover, in a class like mine or perhaps an intro to Western Civ, one should emphasize that the text is a piece of great literature that can be appreciated as such by people who are believers and by people who are not. Draw out its literary qualities, compare and contrast it with Genesis 1:1-2:3 (which, interestingly enough, is a later composition), and compare and contrast it with other related texts in antiquity (Enuma Elish, Gilgamesh, and Atrahasis). Appreciation of the Bible need not stand upon literal truth, but upon literary truth.
July 14, 2008
College Settles With Instructor Fired for Teaching Adam and Eve as Myth
Southwestern Community College in Iowa has agreed to pay an undisclosed amount of money to settle a wrongful-termination lawsuit filed by an instructor who said he was fired last fall for teaching the biblical story of Adam and Eve as a myth, rather than as a story to be taken literally.
The instructor, Steve Bitterman, taught Western civilization but said the college had sided with students who complained about the content of his course.
A lawyer for the college, in Creston, Iowa, told The Des Moines Register that Mr. Bitterman was no longer on the college’s faculty and that the settlement would be made final this week.
Mr. Bitterman has taught this summer aboard the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower, an aircraft carrier berthed in Norfolk, Va., through a program for sailors run by Central Texas College, the Register reported. He said he had used the same textbook from his Iowa class. —Andrew Mytelka