Re: Fable telling

mortongr@flash.net
Wed, 03 Nov 1999 18:16:24 +0000

I am going to give you some examples of actual legends which are known to
be associated with known geologic events which occurred prior to writing
and prior to history. I will show that your conception of how legends were
treated by the ancients is not what the actual case is.

At 11:49 AM 11/01/1999 -0600, John_R_Zimmer@rush.edu wrote:
>How do we appreciate the details that are recorded in a legend?
>Do the details have to correspond to actual particulars "directly",
>or can they correspond "indirectly". Take, for
>example, the detail that Noah's flood lasted for 40 days. That may
>correspond directly (or literally) as 40 days or may correspond
>indirectly as "a really long time for a flood in this region"
>or indirectly as "so long you cannot imagine it".

Yes it is true that the phrase 40 days could be an idiom for 'a long time'
just as 'raining cats and dogs' is an idiom for 'a torrential rain'.
Which illustrates why knowledge of a language is very important before
interpretation. In Chinese the phrase 'green water white clouds' is an
idiom for a beautifel nature scene. I told my teacher that to us green
water was yucky.

>
>I suspect that if Glenn examined the 'aboriginal' legends, he would find
>a lot of details that would not directly match the corresponding
>time (when the islands formed a penninsula). However, the key association
>(or detail that one is wont to look at) is the direct correspondence of a
>"description of the mainland in a legend" with "a penninsula that once
existed".

Actually that is not true. It is an a priori attempt to impose your view on
unwilling data. Here is the myth (today one can not wade across these waters):

"Ngurunderi was a great ancestral figure of the southern tribes in South
Australia, who established Tribal Laws. After death, the spirits of men
follow his ancient travel paths to the island of Nar-oong-owie (Kangaroo
Island) and thence to Ngurunderi's home in the sky.
"Long ago, Ngurunderi's two wives ran away from him, and he was forced to
follow them. He pursued them and as he did so he crossed Lake Albert and
went along the beach to Cape Jervis. When he arrived there he saw his
wives wading half-way across the shallow channel which divided
Nar-oong-owie from the mainland.
"He was determined to punish his wives, and angriliy ordered the water to
rise up and drown them. With a terrific rush the waters roared and the
women were carried back towards the mainland. Althought they tried
frantically to swim against the tidal wave they were powerless to do so and
were drowned. Their bodies turned to stone and are seen as two rocks off
the coast of Cape Jervis, called The Pages or the Two Sisters.
"Ngurunderi dived into the water and swam out towards the island. As it
was a hot day he wanted shade so he made a she-oak tree which is said to be
the largest in Australia. He lay down in the shade and tried to sleep but
could not for as every breeze blew he heard the wailing of his drowning
wives. Finding he could get no rest, he walked to the end of the island and
threw his spear out into the sea. Imediately a reef of rocks appeared. He
then threw away all his other weapons and departed to his home in the
skies, where those who have kept the Laws he gave the tribes will some day
join him.
"to this day anyone who tries to sleep under a she-oak tree will hear the
wailing that Ngurunderi heard beneath the giant tree on Kangaroo Island,
the sacred island of the spirits of the dead."

"This story seems to be based on fact. Aboriginal oral history provides us
with many accounts of the great climatic and geological changes that have
taken place on the continent. There is a fascinating myth of the time when
the earth blew up, which seems almost certainly to describe the volcanic
eruption of Mount Wilson in the Blue Mountains near Sydney. Since erupting
volcanoes have not been seen in the Sydney region for several thousand
years this testifies to the incredibly long persistence of oral tradition.
And on the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland, stories about volcanic
eruptions seem to have lasted more than 10 000 years. if memory of
volcanoes can persist over thousands of years, there is no reason why
traditions of rising seas drowning the land should not also persist. It
has been estimated that Kangaroo Island was separated from the mainland
about 10 000 years ago, but the drowning process continued until the sea
stabilized at its present height between 5000 and 7000 years ago." ~
Josephine Flood, "The Archeology of the Dreamtime, (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1989), p. 123

Of Kangaroo Island, the legend mentions a time when the waters could be
waded across then the sea rose. After the sea rose a reef grew just off the
island. Both of these are clearly what happened. Reefs require a certain
depth of water to grow. THere is nothing that I can see from a later time.

And I might point out that this tale remembers a time at least 10,000 years
ago. That is quite a long time. I can't find the reference now but there
are myths among the aborigines of an animal that is believed to have been
the giant kangaroo which went extinct around 10,000 years ago.

Gamble speaks of the cultural use of legends.

"Among modern fisher-gatherer-hunters such partnerships based on exchange,
marriage, and family extend over huge areas. They involve time being set
aside for visiting, feasting, and competitions such as song contests and
poetry recitals. As Leah Minc has shown, these story tellings not only
confer prestige on an individual but also serve as a repository of survival
information is coded in such oral traditions it is common to find it
sanctified and linked to ritual performances. Unlike ordinary storytelling
this leads to accurate repetition so tht the vital information is not lost
or embellished by the present generation. Periodic crises in the Arctic
may not always happen in an individual's lifetime, but on a longer
timescale they certainly will. Social communication of this nature
represents an extreme example of how information is stored and survival
enhanced through a group memory. John Pfeiffer has called this the tribal
encyclopedia. Obtaining, updating, and preserving such knowledge thus
involves complex and timeconsuming social practices understood to be
indispensable for longterm survival." ~ Clive Gamble, Timewalkers,
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994), p. 119-120

>For example, the whole earth (or all the land) was flooded according
>to the Biblical story. That claim would fit the dynamics of exaggeration
>that are found in many legends.

Once again I would argue that you are fitting your apriori expectations
upon legends. The aboriginal legend above doesn't have that dynamic
exaggeration. And the Bible only has a dynamic exaggeration when
interpreted to mean the whole earth rather than the whole land. Shoot, the
whole land of the mississippi River basin was flooded in 1993 and that is
no dynamic exaggeration.

>
>Because of this, the original event cannot be fully reconstructed
>by the details of a legend. However, the association of the legend
>with an event in prehistory can be made - and that association may
>be regarded as valid or invalid.
>
>Classifying Noah's flood story as "legend", sets a standard
>by which the association will be judged. Glenn's claim that the
>'details' of the this sacred story must match the 'details' of
>the corresponding event indicates that Glenn does not regard
>the story as legend.

The aboriginal legends mentioned above fit the facts pretty well. Why do
you think that the Hebrews were less smart than the aborigines?

>
>At the same time, Glenn has been criticized by Paul Seely as imposing
>preconditions on the text. Glenn's claim that one particular
>association must be "true" (ie the association of the flood
>with the Mediterranean infill), only asserts that one particular
>perspective concerning the "details" of the flood is allowed.
>That perspective is really a classification of the story, not
>as "legend" but as "historic or scientifically accurate account".

It is a fact that not all perspectives are as good as others. My
perspective on how much radiation to give a cancer patient is probably not
as good as your perpsective. But to carry this analogy further, maybe if
we imagine hard enough we can believe that my perspective is as good as
yours. The association of a particular dose of radiation with healing is
only one particular perspective. I prefer to radiate the heck out of
people. Cures the cancer because it kills every cell in their body.

So, if one perspective is as good as another, then break out the cobalt-60
and lets have a party.

I prefer the historic viewpoint just as ethnology has found that events
long ago are remembered in fairly good detail. Here is another example.
Some artist at Catal Huyk painted a picture of a volcanic eruption 1000
years after it's eruption. He painted the correct peak according to the
geologic evidence. Here is the passage from Ryan and Pittman:

"Neil Roberts pointed out the checkered imprint left by these rugs in the
burnished plaster. Archaeologists found nearby Asikli and closer to the
volcano the remains of open-air shops in which workmen knapped blades,
scrapers, and knives from the obsidian for export to the Levant. Present
in the scrap piles were fragments of polished mirrors still shiny in
defiance of the long passage of time.
"Roberts described how Asikli came to a sudden end during an eruption
of Hasan Dag that buried the village and its tilled fields under a blanket
of volcanic ash. He asked the tour group to stand in a simicircle on one
of Askili's streets and look over his shoulder at the summit of Hasan Dag.
It appeared as two peaks. Pointing to thte slightly higher cone on the
right, Roberts said, "That is where I climbed to the crater and found signs
of the last eruption."
"Roberts then pulled from inside his jacket a piece of paper that he
displayed for everyone to see. It was an enlargement of a photograph of
the famous landscape painting from the north and east walls of shrine
VII.14 at Catal Huyuk, another Neolithic farming village eighty miles to
the southwest and on the opposite side of the ancient Konya Lake. The
nine-thousand-year-old painting showed the same twin-peaked panorama that
filled the horizon before the group. Its Stone Age artist had drawn the
taller right-hand peak in the midst of an explosion, volcanic rock flying
upward in an arching trajectories from the crown, a mushroom cloud of smoke
high in the sky above, and incandescent flows of tuff rolling down the
flank of the ten-thousand-food edifice. The muralist had also depicted the
planview of a village at the foot of the volcano, the floors of its
rectangular houses laid out in a rigourous orthogonal street plan just like
the one at Asikli.
"'This is the remembrance of their demise," said Roberts. 'The scene
was painted maybe a thousand years after the event by an artist who could
only have known of this history either from stories passed down through the
ages or from other murals.'"~ William Ryan and Walter Pitman, Noah's Flood,
(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998), p.180-181

My point in all this is that legends usually were based upon real events
and their memory can be traced quite some distance in time.

>
>That is what I was getting at when I say the "logic
>of legend" and the "logic of historically accurate accounts"
>are different.

No they are not. Look at the above!

If you look at the story of Noah's flood as "legend",
>then different details become important. Glenn may ridicule
>the notion of 'picking an choosing details'.

I frankly find it very ad hoc! One can pick the details he likes and ignore
the details he doesn't like. In that way an almost infinite variety of
scenarios can be constructed--all but one totally false.

However, the
>judgement as to 'what details are important' follows how one
>classifies the literary context.

Logic of legends can pick the ones they find easiest to correlate and
ignore the rest

The historical view must deal with all the details.

>I think that ultimately, my version of concordism differs from
>both Glenn and Dick Fischer's in that it does not confound the Biblical
>text and the evolutionary and archaeological record. It only asks
>an aesthetic and admittedly nonsensical question: If the early
>chapters of Genesis and the evolutionary record pertain to a
>single reality, then how would they match? As we are all finding
>out, a 'match' is not easy to achieve because a 'match' must relate
>the Genesis text and the evolutionary record - as well as - respect
>the social and literary context of the Bible itself.

What about the type of literature as I demonstrated the aboriginal legends
were--religiousized history?
glenn

Foundation, Fall and Flood
Adam, Apes and Anthropology
http://www.flash.net/~mortongr/dmd.htm

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