Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Speculation on Old Literature

One of my interests is folklore, myth, and old literature. It is interesting to speculate how they came about, whether they have some historical basis, and how they reached their current condition. This is an fun way to spend a weekend afternoon. But while I hesitate to say so, as many scholars have based their careers on such speculations, I have to ask whether such theories are really demonstrable.

Take, for example, Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur. Would anyone claim that given just Malory, they could trace the twist and turns of the Arthurian legend? The fight with Anglo-Saxon invaders which was the main point in the beginning has vanished. Lancelot, whose affair with the Queen brings about the downfall of the kingdom, is a later development. The grail quest was originally the quest of Percival until Galahad supplanted him. Could any of this be deduced from the story in its final form?

Let's face it; it may be fun to try to figure out if Hercules was a real man who killed a lion and a boar, found a clever way to drive off the birds menacing some farmer's crops, and bagged some unusual kind of deer, a man whose deeds were blown way out of portion. Or perhaps these stories were the explanation of some religious ritual or some sort of allegory. I have read multiple versions of the Celtic pantheon, including the idea they had two pantheons and the idea they were animists and had no pantheon but it was imposed on them later. But can we without external evidence conclude any certain answer to these questions?

Now there would be little point to this post, other then beating up on a few academics, if it were not for one thing. For many years people have used this same kind of approach in dealing with the Bible and have put forth their findings dogmatically as unquestionable. Now there are arguments that can be made against particular theories, but I am not going into them here. What I am questioning is whether anyone, no matter how intelligent, no matter many years of study they devote to it, can really, with absolute certainty, figure out from internal evidence how a story came to be in its final state, even with no theological bias involved. Yet we are being asked to stake our theology, our understanding of the universe, and ultimately our eternal destiny on the theories of these men whose ability to do what they claim to do I must seriously question. Now if there are things in Scripture that it is claimed are contradictory or anachronistic, we need deal with them. But quite frankly, if tomorrow I were to go back to being an agnostic, except in the places where it would be necessary not to believe in Christianity, I do not think I would even consider the claims of higher criticism. I am convinced they cannot do what they claim to do.

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