Between Two Gardens

The book Between Two Gardens by, James B. Nelson is about the most influential myths ever told and their significance for resolving some long-standing gender problems. The creation stories of Genesis are of central importance in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Being the source of revelatory life-styles and authoritative doctrines, the myths have continually been transmitted by the religious faithful. They have also had an impact on those whose orientation is secular. However, crucial points pertaining to gender have generally been missed because faulty traditional interpretations have been accepted uncritically.

Before a discussion of biblical texts and interpretations can properly get underway in the following chapters, a semantic confusion must be addressed. The term myth has provoked much controversy because it has at least two basic meanings in the original Greek and in other European languages. Both meanings share the awareness that myths are fictions. The significant difference in this: in popular talk myths are false fictions, but in scholarly talk myths are true fictions.

In common parlance a myth refers to a fabrication which ignorant people accept as true. For example, one "myth" about pregnancy is that it can be prevented by having intercourse while standing. Politicians sometimes prefer the soft word "myth" to the libelous word "lie" in referring to their opponents' positions. Old Myths and New Realities, the title of Senator Fulbright's book about government policies, suggests that myths are unreal outlooks which citizens should discard. Some second-century Christians denounced as myths those Gnostic accounts which denied what was clearly observable. Second Peter, for example, states: "We did not follow cunningly devised myths [Greek, muthoi] when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty." (Bible) In contrast to prevailing derogatory connotations, myth as used by critical thinkers from the ancient Greeks onward connotes a story about divine-human relationships which provides insight into the way things are or should be. Plato, for example, used mythos to refer to his literary creations which pointed to metaphysical realities.

Although an intellectual of the first order, Plato was convinced that vivid symbolic tales, fictitious though they are, can disclose truth unfathomed by the ordinary methods of logical discourse. His myth of the cave, for instance, has probably provided more insight into the purposes of liberal education than any essay ever written. Likewise, his androgyny myth sheds considerable light, as we shall see, on human sexuality. Thus myths thrust persons beyond abstract concepts and scientific analysis and enable them to obtain a synoptic vision on matters of fundamental importance.

There is no actual distinction in mythical time between the past, the present, and the future. Although the origin of time is projected into the past, to the primeval act of becoming, this is only a form in which an essentially timeless reality is clothed. Time is always present and yet to come. Myth is an expression of art, not science. Painters use their brushes to convey a dimension of depth, even though such cannot literally be accomplished on a flat surface. Likewise, literary artists with religious convictions use story forms to convey their perspectives on the external's interaction with the temporal scene. Myths are their vehicle for transcending mundane reality and envisioning what is at least as true as descriptive accounts of nature. Most people do not or cannot take advantage of the experience of viewing art masterpieces directly and are thereby limited to looking at reproductions of varying faithfulness to the original. In a parallel manner, many know about myths only through the perverting glosses of subsequent interpreters. The creation stories of the Hebrews and of other peoples are myths in the scholarly sense of the word. They abound in religion traditions as ways of expressing matters of ultimate significance. Many of these creation myths draw analogies from ceramics, one of the oldest technologies. A common presumption is that a transcendent power has formed physical things in a manner similar to the way potters make clay figurines and utensils. But unlike human potters, the divine Potter has a means for transferring life to forms. ...

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