Review of El Mito-Simbolo y el Mito-Relato by J. Severino Croatto

  1. Nombre y apellido del alumno Bert Amsing
  2. Fecha May 18, 2016
  3. Título del texto leído J. Severino Croatto

El Mito-Simbolo y el Mito-Relato

  1. ¿De qué trata el artículo o capítulo leído?
  2. Severino Croatto, in his chapter, “El Mito-Simbolo y el Mito-Relato” in the book by Cullen et. al., called Introducción al Mito y la Hermenéutica, provides a fascinating summary of the concept of Myth, Symbols and Signs and the relationship between Myth as a Symbol and Myth as a Story.
  3. ¿Cuál es la idea central del autor?

Croatto demonstrates that understanding the nuances of Myth as Symbol and Story can help us to understand the role of Myth as a literary reality in the Scriptures.

  1. ¿De qué nos quiere convencer?

Croatto wants to convince us that a proper understanding of Myth as Symbol and Story will help us to appreciate the literary form of Myth in the Scriptures without giving up its hermeneutical value and significance.

  1. ¿Cuáles son los puntos fuertes y los puntos débiles del texto?

The greatest weakness of this chapter is its brevity.  The topic is important and interesting but also full of potential misunderstandings and outright rejection of its potentially fascinating hermeneutical insights.  Although the writing is concise and clear, the subject matter itself needs further clarification and examples both from within the Scriptures and in other religious “primordial” stories are needed.
His question at the beginning is provocative.  He asks, “¿Podemos hablar de “mitos” en la Biblia?  Es el mito un escándalo o un fenómeno normal en toda literatura religiosa? También podemos preguntarnos si el lenguaje de la fe puede renunciar a las representaciones de origen y estructura míticos; en tal caso, ¿cabe una “desmitologización”?  Sin embargo, ¿qué sentido tiene para el hombre de hoy un lenguaje mitologizante? (p. 85).”  The question is whether or not he answers his own questions adequately within his own philosophical and theological framework and whether any of it can be transferred into an Evangelical framework and understanding of the Scriptures.
In general, the material is difficult to grasp at first (or second or third) reading and needs many more specific examples to illuminate each element better.  In addition, his final comparison between the Biblical “myth” and the “myths” found in other religious literature was not convincing in that it did not deal with the fundamental question of history (not just truth) which the entire Biblical message claims to be rooted in.
Finally, in his brief mention of the “demythologizing” of the Biblical “myths” as a hermeneutical task to uncover the “kenosis” of God for modern man, he does not distinguish his approach very clearly from that of Bultmann.  One is left in “limbo” as to how his contribution answers the essential question of the relationship between myth and history.  The concepts of myth as Symbol and Story go part of the way but does not seem to arrive at a destination that would be acceptable to an Evangelical scholar.
Of course, we are not his primary audience.  He claims right from the beginning that he starts from a different place than Evangelicals do when he says, “De otro modo, nos preguntamos: ¿cómo entender el mito en sí, y cómo interpretarlo existencialmente? (p.85).”  The first is interesting, the second problematic.
Still, it is interesting to try and unpack Croatto’s thinking with regards to the distinctive nature of the Biblical “myth.”  He says, in his conclusions, that “el mito no es el relato de una historia simplemente pasada (p.93).”  Leaving aside for the moment the issue of whether God can take over the literary genre of mythology and impregnate it with new significance by rooting it in the reality of history and thereby giving it new power as “true truth” in the life of his people, still, at this point, that is not Croatto’s point.  He is saying that “myth” has a present, “situational” purpose.  He says, “La estabilidad del cosmos, la subsistencia del hombre, dependen de la “memoria” del “suceso” narrado en el mito con una fuerza sacramental y recreacional (p. 93).”
From a covenantal theology point of view which traditionally has expressed itself in a history of redemption (through biblical theology) based hermeneutic, we could understand this to mean that there is something fundamental wrong with the world and with humans within the world (“ser-en-el-mundo”).  Rather than seeing it as a quasi-magical effort of keeping the “gods” alive through memory (or happy with us through appeasement) we could see it relationally (as the Bible relates it to us) in which the fundamental problem with the world/mankind is that we are not in right relationship with our Creator and that has put the cosmos in danger (curses of the Fall).  Even more, that our very sustenance, our daily providence comes from this same source (i.e. not merely nature but something within and beyond it) and therefore our relationship with that source must be resolved positively (enter here the concepts not of manipulation/appeasement of “capricious” gods (an often unconscious reflection of our “dilemma” with the “capricious” nature of the creation they left us with) through a covenant reconciliation with our Creator God).  Our very survival depends on it.
In that sense and with those “theological/doctrinal” modifications which arise from the Biblical text/story itself, we can agree with Croatto that “El hombre se “encuentra” ontológicamente en el mito.  En él, se interpreta a sí mismo en las zonas más hondas de su existencia (p. 93,94).”  It isn’t that we deny the “existential” nature of our experience of the divine through the Word and in the sitz-im-leben of our contemporary situation, but rather that we define that experience humbly within the Biblical framework.  We do so because we believe, by definition, that our faith is historically based first (it actually happened in history) and experientially verified second.
In that sense, we would even agree with his next comment where he says, “Por lo tanto, el mito tiende a ser hermenéutico (p. 94).”  This has been the Evangelical contention all along, that the Scriptures as a whole (not just the “myth” part) interprets us and our “ser-en-el-mundo” not because of its literary nature as “myth story” but because of its revelational nature as “redemptive history” that incorporates certain mythological elements in the communication and apprehension of the primordial truths of our existence and God’s redemptive solution to the “ontological/existential” problem of man as rooted in his separation from his Creator.
When Croatto discusses the distinctive use of the “myth story” in the Bible, he says “En ésta, el momento hermenéutico tiene una relevancia mucho mayor que en el mito (p. 94).”  We would agree but the question is in what sense does the “myth story” have a greater relevance in the Biblical worldview?  His answer is less than satisfactory, both in brevity and in nature.  He says, “El hecho de la valoración del tiempo y de su integración contínua en un “futuro” pleromático impide fuertemente la coincidencia que persigue el mito (p. 94).”  Why is it so?  I believe that Croatto’s own philosophical presuppositions have entered into his analysis precisely at this point.  Apparently, he is suggesting that the “coincidencia” of the “myth story” with our contemporary situation is “strongly impeded” because of the intrinsic value of the passing of time (and apparently the development and sophistication of the thinking of humans who need other methods of expressing their “ser-en-el-mundo”) and the need to “integrate” the “myth story” in the ever continuing and unfolding “future” sitz-im-leben of contemporary man.
Admittedly, I am trying to interpret Croatto´s words at this point but this is a key moment in his discussion and it appears to be full of pre-suppositions and unexplained evaluations that color everything that follows.  Not that it isn’t hard to understand why he might have these presuppositions (especially those related to his “existential” hermeneutic) but, as an Evangelical, this is the point at which we must take exception.
It also must be noted that he lacks elements of his biblical “myth story” that we enunciated earlier, such as, it being rooted in a historical reality within a history of redemption framework and biblical theology that accentuates the broken/reconciled covenant relationship between man and his Creator as the primordial cause/solution for his present “existential/ontological” problems of which the biblical “primordial story” is a constant reminder.  It isn’t so much that Croatto isn’t correct in his analysis of the literary nature and elements of the “myth symbol” and “myth story” (in fact, it is brilliant) but rather that he lacks the philosophical and biblical framework to understand the “divine” use of “myth” as an integral part of human religious language when talking about primordial and cosmological elements of human reality.
That is why he goes on to say “En realidad, ya no hay coincidencia sin re-interpretación (p.94).”  How he comes to this conclusion is never discussed but given his presuppositions, it is understandable.  Here is where we part company.  Precisely because the biblical “myth story” is rooted in history and in objective truth about the reality and existence of God and the nature of his relationship with mankind, there continues to be “coincidencia sin re-interpretación” (to use a play on Croatto’s own words).
Croatto goes on to give three consequences of this re-interpretation of the biblical “myth story” which also are problematic.  First of all, he says “esta (re-interpretacion) “modifica” el suceso primordial (p.94).”  He adds a comment in a footnote where he points out that “De hecho, esta tendencia ya aflora en el mito por cuanto éste es releído en cada cultura o en distintas épocas.  Las diversas recensiones de muchos mitos orientales son una indicación de ello (p.94 footnote no. 64).”  The footnote simply reveals elements of Croatto’s philosophy of religion which Evangelicals would not agree with.
We would always maintain, on the basis of the Biblical text itself, that the mere existence of other primordial stories does not make the Biblical “myth story” just another one among many without distinction.  In addition, it is the very distinctiveness of the biblical “myth story” (as enumerated above) that keeps it from being “modified” throughout its transmission over time within the context of the people of God in the Old and New Testament.  The fact that it is “modified” from one culture to another or over the process of time in cultures outside of the Biblical worldview/culture does not adhere to the biblical “myth story.”  Until such modification in essence and nature can be shown within the distinctiveness of the biblical worldview and redemptive/historical nature of the people of God, we would want to reserve the right not to “modify” it as part of the hermeneutical process.
Secondly, Croatto points out that “este (the first consequence), a su vez, es enriquecido (lejos de ser empobrecido, es ampliado en su horizonte de significación) (p.94).”  The fact that we are not in agreement with the first point would normally make the second point mute since it is based on the first.  But more could be said.  There is no disagreement that a “modification” over time (presumably based on the evolution of the understanding of man’s existential issues) of the biblical “myth story” may be enriching because it broadens the original meaning to meet the needs of our contemporary situation.  That is not the issue.  All that it betrays is a different approach towards the Biblical text and its purpose in answering man’s existential/ontological needs.  Rather than the bible being a history of man’s interpretation of himself, the Evangelical position is that the bible is God’s self-revelation and interpretation through history of the relationship between man and his Creator.  As such, it maintains an objective nature that cannot be assailed by modern existential questions or methodologies.  In that sense, the enrichment of man’s self-interpretation over time is replaced by the incomparable riches of God’s self-revelation and divine interpretation of man which transcends time.
Finally, almost as an extension of his second point, he says, “se tiende a elaborar otros arquetipos, esta vez más intrahistóricos (por ejemplo, el éxodo retoma los rasgos de la creación-arquetipo, y así sucesivamente) (p. 94,95).”  Given our previous comments, we would reserve the right to allow the bible to maintain the “arquetipos” that God has chosen to use to communicate his message to us and leave the development of other “arquetipos” to other cultures and religions to develop as a counterpoint and apologetic/evangelistic point of departure for a discussion rooted in the distinctive biblical “myth story.”
Still, his comment about the exodus deserves mention.  Croatto wants “arquetipos…más intrahistóricos (p. 94)” apparently in order to preserve the “coincidencia” of the “myth story” through its “arquetipos.”  But the Evangelical contention is that the “arquetipos” chosen by God to communicate his message to man are already “intrahistóricos” and have an ongoing “coincidencia” in every age because of the “analogy of being” or essential ontological/relational nature of man in relation to God unchanging over time (except through Christ) that no amount of human understanding or modern presuppositions about reality can ever change.  In addition, due to the “divine” nature of the authorship of the text (an admittedly theological/doctrinal position which arises from a humble “presuppositionally aware” approach to the Biblical text) which provides a unity of purpose (i.e. history of redemption) as God’s solution to man’s problems throughout time and space, the biblical “myth story” or, better, “primordial story” (to rid ourselves of the unhistorical connotations of the word “myth”) is already “intrahistorical.”  The development of “typology” as a hermeneutical principle within a redemptive-historical framework already provides us with the same hermeneutical insights about the exodus, for example, that Croatto suggests here in his article (with the appropriate modifications within the redemptive historical framework).

  1. ¿Qué aspectos no entendí? ¿ó qué preguntas tengo todavía?

Although much time was spent on the relationship of Croatto’s concept of “myth as symbol” and “myth as story” and the relationship it has with biblical hermeneutics, most of his time was spent on explaining the concepts in and of themselves.  He says that his goal is to ask the question, “¿cómo entender el mito en sí, y cómo interpretarlo existencialmente? (p. 85).”  And he has done so.  It is less clear whether he was able to answer his opening questions about the application of his analysis to the biblical text itself.  It was almost as if he used the comments about the Bible as a “lost leader” to get the readers interest but to leave them wanting more at the end.
In that respect, there is much about his analysis of myth and the difference between “el mito-simbolo” and “el mito-relato” that I need to continue to study.  There is something brilliant about his study that needs more attention especially as it relates to and is distinctive in the biblical text within an Evangelical understanding of the Scriptures.  Concepts such as the “creation as myth” (especially in light of recent advances in cosmological studies) and the use of Old Testament and New Testament “sacraments” as well as the relationship with “typology” as a hermeneutical tool, needs to be explored further.
One task that needs more work is to find a better definition or even a replacement for the word “myth” which brings, in our present contemporary context, all of the 19th and 20th century connotations of a dis-association with history by its very nature (i.e. a priori).  All of the distinctiveness and modifications that we must make to incorporate it into our biblical hermeneutic within the Evangelical world, changes the very nature of the word itself.  I have chosen the word “primordial” as an alternative since most discussion revolves around “creation myths” but it does not capture the wider literary use of the concept even in the Biblical text.  More work needs to be done.

  1. ¿Cómo se puede aplicar el contenido a la tarea hermenéutica?

Given the above discussion, it remains to give an Evangelical context (and language) to the advances in our understanding of the unmistakable role of the “myth symbol” and “myth story” in the language of the biblical text.
Bert Amsing
Master’s Program – FIET