Christian mythology
Christian mythology is the body of myths
The term mythology can refer either to the study of myths, or to a body or collection of myths. As examples, comparative mythology is the study of connections between myths from different cultures, whereas Greek mythology is the body of myths from ancient Greece...

 associated with Christianity. In the study of mythology, the term "myth" refers to a traditional story, often one which is regarded as sacred and which explains how the world and its inhabitants came to have their present form.Classicist G.S. Kirk defines a myth as a "traditional tale" or "traditional oral tale" (Kirk 57). Folklorist Alan Dundes defines a myth more narrowly as "a sacred narrative explaining how the world and man came to be in their present form" (Dundes, "Introduction", 1).

Christian attitudes toward myth

In ancient Greek, muthos, from which the English word "myth" derives, meant "story, narrative." By the time of Christianity, muthos had started to take on the connotations of "fable, fiction, lie". Early Christians contrasted their sacred stories with "myths", by which they meant false and pagan stories.

Within contemporary Christianity, the appropriateness of describing Christian narratives as “myth” is a matter of disagreement. George Every
George Every
Brother George Every SSM was a British historian, theologian and writer on Christian mythology, and poet.He was a member of the Anglican religious community the Society of the Sacred Mission at Kelham, Nottinghamshire from 1929 to 1973...

 claims that the existence of "myths in the Bible would now be admitted by nearly everyone", including "probably all Roman Catholics and a majority of Protestants". As examples of Biblical myths, Every cites the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2 and the story of Eve's temptation. A number of modern Christian writers, such as C.S. Lewis, have described elements of Christianity, particularly the story of Christ, as "myth" which is also "true". However, other Christian authors assert that Christian narratives should not be categorized as "myth". Opposition to the term "myth" stems from a variety of sources: the association of the term "myth" with polytheism, the use of the term "myth" to indicate falsehood or non-historicity, and the lack of an agreed-upon definition of "myth".

Old Testament

According to Bernard McGinn
Bernard McGinn (theologian)
Bernard McGinn is a theologian, historian, and scholar of spirituality, affiliated with the University of Chicago, where he is Naomi Shenstone Donnelley Professor Emeritus of Historical Theology and of the History of Christianity in the Divinity School and the Committees on Medieval Studies and on...

, "mythic patterns" such as "the primordial struggle between good and evil" appear in passages throughout the Hebrew Bible
Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible is a term used by biblical scholars outside of Judaism to refer to the Tanakh , a canonical collection of Jewish texts, and the common textual antecedent of the several canonical editions of the Christian Old Testament...

, including passages that describe historical events. Citing Paul Ricoeur
Paul Ricoeur
Paul Ricœur was a French philosopher best known for combining phenomenological description with hermeneutic interpretation...

, McGinn argues that a distinctive characteristic of the Hebrew Bible is its "reinterpretation of myth on the basis of history". As an example, McGinn cites the apocalyse in the Book of Daniel, which he sees as a record of historical eventsspecifically, "the experience of the Jews of the Second Temple period under the sway of Babylonian, Median, Persian, and Hellenistic rule" (McGinn 20) presented as a prophecy of future events and expressed in terms of "mythic structures", with "the Hellenistic kingdom figured as a terrifying monster that cannot but recall [the Near Eastern pagan myth of] the dragon of chaos".

Mircea Eliade
Mircea Eliade
Mircea Eliade was a Romanian historian of religion, fiction writer, philosopher, and professor at the University of Chicago. He was a leading interpreter of religious experience, who established paradigms in religious studies that persist to this day...

 argues that the imagery used in some parts of the Hebrew Bible reflects a "transfiguration of history into myth". For example, Eliade says, the portrayal of Nebuchadnezzar
Nebuchadnezzar was the name of several kings of Babylonia.* Nebuchadnezzar I, who ruled the Babylonian Empire in the 12th century BC* Nebuchadnezzar II , the Babylonian ruler mentioned in the biblical Book of Daniel...

 as a dragon in Jeremiah 51:34 is a case in which the Hebrews "interpreted contemporary events by means of the very ancient cosmogonico-heroic myth" of a battle between a hero and a dragon.

A number of scholars argue that the Old Testament incorporates stories, or fragments of stories, from extra-biblical mythology. According to the New American Bible
New American Bible
The New American Bible is a Catholic Bible translation first published in 1970. It had its beginnings in the Confraternity Bible, which began to be translated from the original languages in 1948....

, a Catholic Bible translation produced by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine
Confraternity of Christian Doctrine
The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine was an association established at Rome in 1562 for the purpose of giving religious education. Its modern usage, often abbreviated CCD or C.C.D., is a religious education program of the Catholic Church, normally designed for children.-History:Until the...

, the story of the Nephilim
The Nephilim are the offspring of the "sons of God" and the "daughters of men" in Genesis 6:4, or giants who inhabit Canaan in Numbers 13:33. A similar word with different vowel-sounds is used in Ezekiel 32:27 to refer to dead Philistine warriors....

 in Genesis 6:1-4 "is apparently a fragment of an old legend that had borrowed much from ancient mythology", and the "sons of God" mentioned in that passage are "celestial beings of mythology". The New American Bible also says that Psalm 93 alludes to "an ancient myth" in which God battles a personified Sea. Some scholars have identified the biblical creature Leviathan
Leviathan , is a sea monster referred to in the Bible. In Demonology, Leviathan is one of the seven princes of Hell and its gatekeeper . The word has become synonymous with any large sea monster or creature...

 as a monster from Canaanite mythology
Canaanite religion
Canaanite religion is the name for the group of Ancient Semitic religions practiced by the Canaanites living in the ancient Levant from at least the early Bronze Age through the first centuries of the Common Era....

.In a footnote on Psalm 29:3, the New American Bible identifies Leviathan as "the seven-headed sea monster of Canaanite mythology".Forsyth 65: "[In Job 26:5-14] Yahweh defeats the various enemies of the Canaanite myths, including Rahab, another name for the dragon Leviathan." According to Howard Schwartz, "the myth of the fall of Lucifer" existed in fragmentary form in Isaiah 14:12 and other ancient Jewish literature; Schwartz claims that the myth originated from "the ancient Canaanite myth of Athtar, who attempted to rule the throne of Ba'al, but was forced to descend and rule the underworld instead".

Some scholars have argued that the calm, orderly, monotheistic creation story in Genesis 1 can be interpreted as a reaction against the creation myths of other Near Eastern cultures.David and Margaret Leeming contrast the "structured, majestic, logical, somewhat demythologized" creation story in Genesis 1 with the "high-paced, capricious, ritualistic, magic-filled drama" of other Near Eastern creation myths (Leeming, A Dictionary of Creation Myths, 113-14). They add, "One could [...] say this story was written in reaction to creation myths of nearby cultures [...] In other Near Eastern mythologies, the sun and moon are gods who have names and rule. P [i.e. the textual source from which Genesis 1 is drawn] tells of their creation on the fourth day as simply luminaries without name or function except to keep time. [...] While in the Enuma Elish
Enûma Elish
The is the Babylonian creation myth . It was recovered by Austen Henry Layard in 1849 in the ruined Library of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh , and published by George Smith in 1876.The Enûma Eliš has about a thousand lines and is recorded in Old Babylonian on seven clay tablets, each holding...

 the earth and its inhabitants are created almost haphazardly, as needed, Elohim
Elohim is a grammatically singular or plural noun for "god" or "gods" in both modern and ancient Hebrew language. When used with singular verbs and adjectives elohim is usually singular, "god" or especially, the God. When used with plural verbs and adjectives elohim is usually plural, "gods" or...

 creates with an unalterable plan in mind" (Leeming, A Dictionary of Creation Myths, 116).
John L. McKenzie calls Genesis 1 "a deliberate polemic against the [Near Eastern] creation myth. Polytheism is removed, and with it the theogony
The Theogony is a poem by Hesiod describing the origins and genealogies of the gods of the ancient Greeks, composed circa 700 BC...

 and the theomachy
Theomachy in Greek means battle of the gods.It is a reference to battles fought against or among the Greek Olympians.-The Olympus Rebellion:...

 which are so vital in the Mesopotamian form of the myth. [...] The act of creation is achieved in entire tranquility" (McKenzie 57).
In connection with this interpretation, A Dictionary of Creation Myths describes Genesis 1 as a "demythologized myth", and another scholar asserts that the writer of Genesis 1 has "excised the mythical elements" from his creation story.

New Testament and early Christianity

According to a number of scholars, the Christ story contains mythical themes such as descent to the underworld
Descent to the underworld
The descent to the underworld is a mytheme of comparative mythology found in a diverse number of religions from around the world, including Christianity. The hero or upper-world deity journeys to the underworld or to the land of the dead and returns, often with a quest-object or a loved one, or...

, the heroic monomyth
Joseph Campbell's term monomyth, also referred to as the hero's journey, is a basic pattern that its proponents argue is found in many narratives from around the world. This widely distributed pattern was described by Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces...

, and the "dying god
Life-death-rebirth deity
A dying god, also known as a dying-and-rising or resurrection deity, is a god who dies and is resurrected or reborn, in either a literal or symbolic sense. Male examples include the ancient Near Eastern and Greek deities Baal, Melqart, Adonis, Eshmun, Attis Tammuz, Asclepius, Orpheus, as well as...

" (see section below on "mythical themes and types").

According to Howard Schwartz, the "myth of Lucifer's fall" underwent a new development in the New Testament: because of Jesus's statement "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven" (Luke 18:10), Lucifer became identified with Satan, although they were originally "two entirely separate mythic figures".

Some scholars have argued that the Book of Revelation incorporates imagery from ancient mythology. According to the New American Bible, the image in Revelation 12:1-6 of a pregnant woman in the sky, threatened by a dragon, "corresponds to a widespread myth throughout the ancient world that a goddess pregnant with a savior was pursued by a horrible monster; by miraculous intervention, she bore a son who then killed the monster". Bernard McGinn suggests that the image of the two Beasts in Revelation stems from a "mythological background" involving the figures of Leviathan and Behemoth
Behemoth is a mythological beast mentioned in the Book of Job, 40:15-24. Metaphorically, the name has come to be used for any extremely large or powerful entity.-Plural as singular:...


The Pastoral Epistles
Pastoral epistles
The three pastoral epistles are books of the canonical New Testament: the First Epistle to Timothy the Second Epistle to Timothy , and the Epistle to Titus. They are presented as letters from Paul of Tarsus...

 contain denunciations of "myths" (muthoi). This may indicate that Rabbinic
Rabbinic literature
Rabbinic literature, in its broadest sense, can mean the entire spectrum of rabbinic writings throughout Jewish history. However, the term often refers specifically to literature from the Talmudic era, as opposed to medieval and modern rabbinic writing, and thus corresponds with the Hebrew term...

 or gnostic
Gnosticism is a scholarly term for a set of religious beliefs and spiritual practices common to early Christianity, Hellenistic Judaism, Greco-Roman mystery religions, Zoroastrianism , and Neoplatonism.A common characteristic of some of these groups was the teaching that the realisation of Gnosis...

 mythology was popular among the early Christians to whom the epistles were written and that the epistles' author was attempting to resist that mythology.Barrett 69-71 mentions both Rabbinic and gnostic mythology as a possibility.A footnote on 1 Timothy 6:20-21 in the New American Bible refers only to the possiblity of gnostic mythology, not of Rabbinic mythology.

The Sibylline oracles
Sibylline oracles
The Sibylline Oracles are a collection of oracular utterances written in Greek hexameters ascribed to the Sibyls, prophetesses who uttered divine revelations in a frenzied state. Fourteen books and eight fragments of Sibylline Oracles survive...

 contain predictions that the dead Roman Emperor Nero
Nero , was Roman Emperor from 54 to 68, and the last in the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Nero was adopted by his great-uncle Claudius to become his heir and successor, and succeeded to the throne in 54 following Claudius' death....

, infamous for his persecutions, would return one day as an Antichrist-like figure. According to Bernard McGinn, these parts of the oracles were probably written by a Christian and incorporated "mythological language" in describing Nero's return.

Middle Ages

According to Mircea Eliade, the Middle Ages witnessed "an upwelling of mythical thought" in which each social group had its own "mythological traditions". Often a profession had its own "origin myth" which established models for members of the profession to imitate; for example, the knights tried to imitate Lancelot or Parsifal. The medieval trouveres developed a "mythology of woman and Love" which incorporated Christian elements but, in some cases, ran contrary to official church teaching.

George Every includes a discussion of medieval legends in his book Christian Mythology. Some medieval legends elaborated upon the lives of Christian figures such as Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the saints. For example, a number of legends describe miraculous events surrounding Mary's birth and marriage to Joseph.According to one legend, Anna, Christ's maternal grandmother, initially cannot conceive; in response to Anna's lament, an angel appears and tells her that she will have a child (Mary) who will be spoken of throughout the world(Every 76-77). Some medieval legends about Mary's youth describe her as living "a life of ideal asceticism", fed by angels. In these legends, an angel tells Zacharias, the future father of John the Baptist, to assemble the local widowers; after the widowers have been assembled, some miracle indicates that, among them, Joseph is to be Mary's wife (according to one version of the legend, a dove comes from Joseph's rod and settles on his head) (Every 78).

In many cases, medieval mythology appears to have inherited elements from myths of pagan gods and heroes. According to Every, one example may be "the myth of St George" and other stories about saints battling dragons, which were "modelled no doubt in many cases on older representations of the creator and preserver of the world in combat with chaos". Eliade notes that some "mythological traditions" of medieval knights, namely the Arthurian cycle
King Arthur
King Arthur is a legendary British leader of the late 5th and early 6th centuries, who, according to Medieval histories and romances, led the defence of Britain against Saxon invaders in the early 6th century. The details of Arthur's story are mainly composed of folklore and literary invention, and...

 and the Grail theme
Holy Grail
The Holy Grail is a sacred object figuring in literature and certain Christian traditions, most often identified with the dish, plate, or cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper and said to possess miraculous powers...

, combine a veneer of Christianity with traditions regarding the Celtic Otherworld. According to Lorena Laura Stookey, "many scholars" see a link between stories in "Irish-Celtic mythology" about journeys to the Otherworld in search of a cauldron of rejuvenation and medieval accounts of the quest for the Holy Grail.

According to Eliade, "eschatological myths" became prominent during the Middle Ages during "certain historical movements". These eschatological myths appeared "in the Crusades, in the movements of a Tanchelm
Tanchelm , also known as Tanchelm of Antwerp, Tanchelijn or Tanchelin, was a heretical itinerant preacher, critical of the established Roman Catholic church, active in the Low Countries around the turn of the 11th and 12th centuries....

 and an Eudes de l'Etoile, in the elevation of Fredrick II to the rank of Messiah, and in many other collective messianic, utopian, and prerevolutionary phenomena". One significant eschatological myth, introduced by Gioacchino da Fiore
Joachim of Fiore
Joachim of Fiore, also known as Joachim of Flora and in Italian Gioacchino da Fiore , was the founder of the monastic order of San Giovanni in Fiore . He was a mystic, a theologian and an esoterist...

's theology of history, was the "myth of an imminent third age that will renew and complete history" in a "reign of the Holy Spirit"; this "Gioacchinian myth" influenced a number of messianic movements that arose in the late Middle Ages.

Renaissance and Reformation

During the Renaissance, there arose a critical attitude that sharply distinguished between apostolic tradition
Sacred Tradition
Sacred Tradition or Holy Tradition is a theological term used in some Christian traditions, primarily in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox traditions, to refer to the fundamental basis of church authority....

 and what George Every calls "subsidiary mythology"—popular legends surrounding saints, relics, the cross, etc.—suppressing the latter.

The works of Renaissance writers often included and expanded upon Christian and non-Christian stories such as those of creation and the Fall. Rita Oleyar describes these writers as "on the whole, reverent and faithful to the primal myths, but filled with their own insights into the nature of God, man, and the universe". An example is John Milton
John Milton
John Milton was an English poet, polemicist, a scholarly man of letters, and a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell...

's Paradise Lost
Paradise Lost
Paradise Lost is an epic poem in blank verse by the 17th-century English poet John Milton. It was originally published in 1667 in ten books, with a total of over ten thousand individual lines of verse...

, an "epic elaboration of the Judeo-Christian mythology" and also a "veritable encyclopedia of myths from the Greek and Roman tradition".

According to Cynthia Stewart, during the Reformation, the Protestant reformers used "the founding myth
Founding myth
A national myth is an inspiring narrative or anecdote about a nation's past. Such myths often serve as an important national symbol and affirm a set of national values. A national myth may sometimes take the form of a national epic...

s of Christianity" to critique the church of their time.

Every argues that "the disparagement of myth in our own civilization" stems partly from objections to perceived idolatry, objections which intensified in the Reformation, both among Protestants and among Catholics reacting against the classical mythology revived during the Renaissance.


The philosophes of the Enlightenment used criticism of myth as a vehicle for veiled criticisms of the Bible and the church. According to Bruce Lincoln
Bruce Lincoln
Bruce Lincoln is Caroline E. Haskell Professor of the History of Religions in the Divinity School of the University of Chicago.For many years his primary scholarly concern was the study of Indo-European religion, where his work came to criticize the ideological presuppositions of research on...

, the philosophes "made irrationality the hallmark of myth and constituted philosophy—rather than the Christian kerygma
Kerygma is the Greek word used in the New Testament for preaching . It is related to the Greek verb κηρύσσω , to cry or proclaim as a herald, and means proclamation, announcement, or preaching.The New Testament teaches that as Jesus launched his public ministry he entered the synagogue and read from...

—as the antidote for mythic discourse. By implication, Christianity could appear as a more recent, powerful, and dangerous instance of irrational myth".

Modern period

Some commentators have categorized a number of modern fantasy works as "Christian myth" or "Christian mythopoeia". Examples include the fiction of C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L'Engle
Madeleine L'Engle
Madeleine L'Engle was an American writer best known for her young-adult fiction, particularly the Newbery Medal-winning A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time...

, J.R.R. Tolkien, and George MacDonald
George MacDonald
George MacDonald was a Scottish author, poet, and Christian minister.Known particularly for his poignant fairy tales and fantasy novels, George MacDonald inspired many authors, such as W. H. Auden, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, E. Nesbit and Madeleine L'Engle. It was C.S...

.An example of this kind of "mythopoeic" literary criticism can be found in Oziewicz 178: "What L'Engle's Christian myth is and in what sense her Time Quartet
Time Quartet
The Time Quartet/Quintet is a fantasy/science fiction series of five young adult novels written by Madeleine L'Engle.Those novels are:*A Wrinkle in Time , , ISBN 0-374-38613-7*A Wind in the Door , ISBN 0-374-38443-6...

 qualifies as Christian mythopoeia can thus be glimpsed from both critical assessment of her work and her own reflection as presented in interviews and her voluminous non-fiction."

In The Eternal Adam and the New World Garden, written in 1968, David Noble
David W. Noble
David W. Noble is a professor of American Studies at the University of Minnesota. He is an historian of American intellectual trends and thought, and is a historiographer....

 argued that the Adam figure had been "the central myth in the American novel since 1830".The full title of Noble's book is The Eternal Adam and the New World Garden: The Central Myth in the American Novel since 1830. As examples, he cites the works of Cooper, Hawthorne, Melville, Twain, Hemingway, and Faulkner.

Ascending the mountain

According to Lorena Laura Stookey, many myths feature sacred mountains as "the sites of revelations": "In myth, the ascent of the holy mountain is a spiritual journey, promising purification, insight, wisdom, or knowledge of the sacred." As examples of this theme, Stookey includes the revelation of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, Christ's ascent of a mountain to deliver the Sermon on the Mount, and Christ's ascension into heaven from the Mount of Olives.

Axis mundi

Many mythologies involve a "world center", which is often the sacred place of creation; this center often takes the form of a tree, mountain, or other upright object, which serves as an axis mundi
Axis mundi
The axis mundi , in religion or mythology, is the world center and/or the connection between heaven and Earth. As the celestial pole and geographic pole, it expresses a point of connection between sky and earth where the four compass directions meet...

or axle of the world. A number of scholars have connected the Christian story of the crucifixion at Golgotha with this theme of a cosmic center. In his Creation Myths of the World, David Leeming argues that, in the Christian story of the crucifixion, the cross serves as "the axis mundi, the center of a new creation".

According to a tradition preserved in Eastern Christian folklore, Golgotha was the summit of the cosmic mountain at the center of the world and the location where Adam had been both created and buried. According to this tradition, when Christ is crucified, his blood falls on Adam's skull, buried at the foot of the cross, and redeems him. George Every discusses the connection between the cosmic center and Golgotha in his book Christian Mythology, noting that the image of Adam's skull beneath the cross appears in many medieval representations of the crucifixion.

In Creation Myths of the World, Leeming suggests that the Garden of Eden may also be considered a world center.

Combat myth

Many Near Eastern religions include a story about a battle between a divine being and a dragon or other monster representing chaos—a theme found, for example, in the Enuma Elish
Enûma Elish
The is the Babylonian creation myth . It was recovered by Austen Henry Layard in 1849 in the ruined Library of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh , and published by George Smith in 1876.The Enûma Eliš has about a thousand lines and is recorded in Old Babylonian on seven clay tablets, each holding...

. A number of scholars call this story the "combat myth". A number of scholars have argued that the ancient Israelites incorporated the combat myth into their religious imagery, such as the figures of Leviathan and Rahab
Rahab, was, according to the Book of Joshua, a woman who lived in Jericho in the Promised Land and assisted the Israelites in capturing the city...

, the Song of the Sea
Song of the sea
The Song of the Sea is a poem that appears in the Book of Exodus of the Hebrew Bible, at . It is followed in verses 20 and 21 by a much shorter song sung by Miriam and the other women...

, Isaiah 51:9-10's description of God's deliverance of his people from Babylon, and the portrayals of enemies such as Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar. The idea of Satan as God's opponent may have developed under the influence of the combat myth. Scholars have also suggested that the Book of Revelation uses combat myth imagery in its descriptions of cosmic conflict.

Descent to the underworld

According to Christian tradition, Christ descended to hell after his death, in order to free the souls there; this event is known as the harrowing of hell
Harrowing of Hell
The Harrowing of Hell is a doctrine in Christian theology referenced in the Apostles' Creed and the Athanasian Creed that states that Jesus Christ "descended into Hell"...

. This story is narrated in the Gospel of Nicodemus and may be the meaning behind 1 Peter 3:18-22.Every also sees New Testament references to the general resurrection (e.g. in John 5:25-29) as connected with the harrowing of hell, because he believes that early Christianity did not distinguish clearly between the Christ's liberation of souls from hell and the general resurrection (Every 66). According to David Leeming, writing in The Oxford Companion to World Mythology, the harrowing of hell is an example of the motif of the hero's descent to the underworld
Descent to the underworld
The descent to the underworld is a mytheme of comparative mythology found in a diverse number of religions from around the world, including Christianity. The hero or upper-world deity journeys to the underworld or to the land of the dead and returns, often with a quest-object or a loved one, or...

, which is common in many mythologies.

Dying god

Many myths, particularly from the Near East, feature a god who dies and is resurrected; this figure is sometimes called the "dying god". An important study of this figure is James George Frazer's The Golden Bough
The Golden Bough
The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion is a wide-ranging, comparative study of mythology and religion, written by Scottish anthropologist Sir James George Frazer . It first was published in two volumes in 1890; the third edition, published 1906–15, comprised twelve volumes...

, which traces the dying god theme through a large number of myths. The dying god is often associated with fertility. A number of scholars, including Frazer, have suggested that the Christ story is an example of the "dying god" theme. In the article "Dying god" in The Oxford Companion to World Mythology, David Leeming notes that Christ can be seen as bringing fertility, though of a spiritual as opposed to physical kind.

In his 2006 homily for Corpus Christi
Corpus Christi (feast)
Corpus Christi is a Latin Rite solemnity, now designated the solemnity of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ . It is also celebrated in some Anglican, Lutheran and Old Catholic Churches. Like Trinity Sunday and the Solemnity of Christ the King, it does not commemorate a particular event in...

, Pope Benedict XVI noted the similarity between the Christian story of the resurrection and pagan myths of dead and resurrected gods: "In these myths, the soul of the human person, in a certain way, reached out toward that God made man, who, humiliated unto death on a cross, in this way opened the door of life to all of us."

Flood myths

Many cultures have myths about a flood that cleanses the world in preparation for rebirth. Such stories appear on every inhabited continent on earth. An example is the biblical story of Noah. Leeming notes that, in the Bible story, as in other flood myths, the flood marks a new beginning and a second chance for creation and humanity.

Founding myths

According to Sandra Frankiel, the records of "Jesus' life and death, his acts and words" provide the "founding myth
Founding myth
A national myth is an inspiring narrative or anecdote about a nation's past. Such myths often serve as an important national symbol and affirm a set of national values. A national myth may sometimes take the form of a national epic...

s" of Christianity. Frankiel claims that these founding myths are "structurally equivalent" to the creation myths in other religions, because they are "the pivot around which the religion turns to and which it returns", establishing the "meaning" of the religion and the "essential Christian practices and attitudes". Tom Cain uses the expression "founding myths" more broadly, to encompass such stories as those of the War in Heaven and the fall of man; according to Cain, "the disastrous consequences of disobedience" is a pervasive theme in Christian founding myths.

Hero myths

In his influential work The Myth of the Birth of the Hero, Otto Rank
Otto Rank
Otto Rank was an Austrian psychoanalyst, writer, teacher and therapist. Born in Vienna as Otto Rosenfeld, he was one of Sigmund Freud's closest colleagues for 20 years, a prolific writer on psychoanalytic themes, an editor of the two most important analytic journals, managing director of Freud's...

 argued that the births of many mythical heroes follow a common pattern. Rank includes the story of Christ's birth as a representative example of this pattern.

According to Mircea Eliade, one pervasive mythical theme associates heroes with the slaying of dragons, a theme which Eliade traces back to "the very ancient cosmogonico-heroic myth" of a battle between a divine hero and a dragon. He cites the Christian legend of Saint George
Saint George
Saint George was, according to tradition, a Roman soldier from Syria Palaestina and a priest in the Guard of Diocletian, who is venerated as a Christian martyr. In hagiography Saint George is one of the most venerated saints in the Catholic , Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and the Oriental Orthodox...

 as an example of this theme. An example from the later Middle Ages is Dieudonné de Gozon
Dieudonné de Gozon
Dieudonné de Gozon was the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes . He was born to a noble family in Languedoc, France. He carried the nickname Extinctor Draconis which means "The Dragon Slayer" in Latin.-The Dragon of Rhodes:...

, third Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes, famous for slaying the dragon of Malpasso. Eliade writes, "Legend, as was natural, bestowed upon him the attributes of St. George, famed for his victorious fight with the monster. […] In other words, by the simple fact that he was regarded as a hero, de Gozon was identified with a category, an archetype, which […] equipped him with a mythical biography from which it was impossible to omit combat with a reptilian monster."

In the Oxford Companion to World Mythology, David Leeming lists Moses, Jesus, and King Arthur as examples of the "heroic monomyth
Joseph Campbell's term monomyth, also referred to as the hero's journey, is a basic pattern that its proponents argue is found in many narratives from around the world. This widely distributed pattern was described by Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces...

", calling the Christ story "a particularly complete example of the heroic monomyth". Leeming regards resurrection as a common part of the heroic monomyth, in which the heroes are resurrected, often as sources of "material or spiritual food for their people"; in this connection, Leeming notes that Christians regard Jesus as the "bread of life".

In terms of values, Leeming contrasts "the myth of Jesus" with the myths of other "Christian heroes such as St. George, Roland, el Cid
El Cid
Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar , known as El Cid Campeador , was a Castilian nobleman, military leader, and diplomat...

, and even King Arthur"; the latter hero myths, Leeming argues, reflect the survival of pre-Christian heroic values—"values of military dominance and cultural differentiation and hegemony"—more than the values expressed in the Christ story.


Myths religious and mythological systems contain myths about a paradise. Many of these myths involve the loss of a paradise that existed at the beginning of the world. Some scholars have seen in the story of the Garden of Eden an instance of this general motif.


Sacrifice is an element in many religious traditions and often represented in myths. In The Oxford Companion to World Mythology, David Leeming lists the story of Abraham and Isaac
Binding of Isaac
The Binding of Isaac Akedah or Akeidat Yitzchak in Hebrew and Dhabih in Arabic, is a story from the Hebrew Bible in which God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, on Mount Moriah...

 and the story of Christ's death as examples of this theme. Wendy Doniger
Wendy Doniger
Wendy Doniger is an American Indologist and Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago Divinity School, the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, and the Committee on Social Thought...

 describes the gospel accounts as a "meta-myth" in which Jesus realizes that he is part of a "new myth [...] of a man who is sacrificed in hate" but "sees the inner myth, the old myth of origins and acceptance, the myth of a god who sacrifices himself in love".

Attitudes toward time

According to Mircea Eliade, many traditional societies have a cyclic sense of time, periodically reenacting mythical events. Through this reenactment, these societies achieve an "eternal return
Eternal return (Eliade)
The "Eternal return" is, according to the theories of religious historian Mircea Eliade, a belief, expressed in religious behavior, in the ability to return to the mythical age, to become contemporary with the events described in one's myths...

" to the mythical age. According to Eliade, Christianity retains a sense of cyclical time, through the ritual commemoration of Christ's life and the imitation of Christ's actions; Eliade calls this sense of cyclical time a "mythical aspect" of Christianity.

However, Judeo-Christian thought also makes an "innovation of the first importance", Eliade says, because it embraces the notion of linear, historical time; in Christianity, "time is no longer [only] the circular Time of the Eternal Return; it has become linear and irreversible Time". Summarizing Eliade's statements on this subject, Eric Rust writes, "A new religious structure became available. In the Judaeo-Christian religions—Judaism, Christianity, Islam—history is taken seriously, and linear time is accepted. [...] The Christian myth gives such time a beginning in creation, a center in the Christ-event, and an end in the final consummation."

Heinrich Zimmer
Heinrich Zimmer
Heinrich Robert Zimmer was an Indologist and historian of South Asian art, most known for his works, Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization and Philosophies of India. He was the most important German scholar in Indian Philology after Max Müller...

 also notes Christianity's emphasis on linear time; he attributes this emphasis specifically to the influence of Saint Augustine's theory of history. Zimmer does not explicitly describe the cyclical conception of time as itself "mythical" per se, although he notes that this conception "underl[ies] Hindu mythology".

Neil Forsyth writes that "what distinguishes both Jewish and Christian religious systems [...] is that they elevate to the sacred status of myth narratives that are situated in historical time".

Concepts of progress

According to Carl Mitcham, "the Christian mythology of progress toward transcendent salvation" created the conditions for modern ideas of scientific and technological progress. Hayden White describes "the myth of Progress" as the "secular, Enlightenment counterpart" of "Christian myth". Reinhold Niebuhr
Reinhold Niebuhr
Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr was an American theologian and commentator on public affairs. Starting as a leftist minister in the 1920s indebted to theological liberalism, he shifted to the new Neo-Orthodox theology in the 1930s, explaining how the sin of pride created evil in the world...

 described the modern idea of ethical and scientific progress as "really a rationalized version of the Christian myth of salvation".

Political and philosophical ideas

According to Mircea Eliade, the medieval "Gioacchinian myth [...] of universal renovation in a more or less imminent future" has influenced a number of modern theories of history, such as those of Lessing (who explicitly compares his views to those of medieval "enthusiasts"), Fichte, Hegel, and Schelling
Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling
Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling , later von Schelling, was a German philosopher. Standard histories of philosophy make him the midpoint in the development of German idealism, situating him between Fichte, his mentor prior to 1800, and Hegel, his former university roommate and erstwhile friend...

, and has also influenced a number of Russian writers.

Calling Marxism "a truly messianic Judaeo-Christian ideology", Eliade writes that Marxism "takes up and carries on one of the great eschatological myths of the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean world, namely: the redemptive part to be played by the Just (the 'elect', the 'anointed', the 'innocent', the 'missioners', in our own days the proletariat
The proletariat is a term used to identify a lower social class, usually the working class; a member of such a class is proletarian...

), whose sufferings are invoked to change the ontological status of the world".

In his article "The Christian Mythology of Socialism", Will Herberg
Will Herberg
Will Herberg was an American Jewish writer, intellectual and scholar. He was known as a social philosopher and sociologist of religion, as well as a Jewish theologian.-Early life:...

 argues that socialism inherits the structure of its ideology from the influence of Christian mythology upon western thought.

In The Oxford Companion to World Mythology, David Leeming claims that Judeo-Christian messianic ideas have influenced twentieth-century totalitarian systems, citing Soviet Communism as an example.

According to Hugh S. Pyper, the biblical "founding myths of the Exodus and the exile, read as stories in which a nation is forged by maintaining its ideological and racial purity in the face of an oppressive great power", entered "the rhetoric of nationalism throughout European history", especially in Protestant countries and smaller nations.

Christmas stories in popular culture

See Secular Christmas stories
Secular Christmas stories
There exists a wide range of secular Christmas stories, told in popular music, on television, and in the cinema, that are told about the Christian holiday of Christmas, that may be based on or allegorize the biblical Christian mythology of Christmas, as the birth of Jesus, but not necessarily...

, Christmas in the media
Christmas in the media
Christmas themes have long been an inspiration to artists, writers, and weavers of folklore. Moviemakers have picked up on this wealth of material, with both adaptations of literary classics and new stories.-Films:...

 and Christmas in literature
Christmas in literature
The following is a list of literary works which are set at Christmas time, or contain Christmas amongst the central themes.-Novels:*Howard Bahr, Pelican Road*Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot's Christmas*Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol...



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    Mircea Eliade
    Mircea Eliade was a Romanian historian of religion, fiction writer, philosopher, and professor at the University of Chicago. He was a leading interpreter of religious experience, who established paradigms in religious studies that persist to this day...

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