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3 Tutorials that teach Parable, Myth, and Allegory
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Parable, Myth, and Allegory

Parable, Myth, and Allegory

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This lesson discusses parable as a form of instructional religious narrative, and explains how and why parable differs from allegory.

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Welcome to this tutorial on parable, myth, and allegory. Our work parable comes from the Greek word parabole, which means analogy or comparison or illustration. A parable, generally speaking, is a story that is told for didactic or teaching purposes that is meant to get across a point.

Jesus spoke in parables to get across content that might have been controversial, that might have landed him in trouble with the authorities. And he also told parables to make his teaching more lively and to allow it to stick in his readers' minds or his listeners' minds. I don't know if he had readers in mind or not. This comes from Matthew chapter five.

I have here a small selection. This comes right after the salt of the earth passage in Matthew. The salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. You are a city built on a hill. No one after lighting a lamp puts it in the bushel basket. What we have here is a rapid fire of examples of what the Jewish community or the Christian community is supposed to be at this point in time.

By hammering away at those examples, Jesus hopes to get his point across that these people are to be different from the surrounding world. And maybe it was controversial. Because they're, of course, living in the Roman Empire, where it was dangerous to be different. Rome was a city built on seven hills. So perhaps there's a sort of veiled reference to the fact of a coming time when Roman oppression would be overthrown.

Next, let's take a look at myth. When we look at myth in a religious sense, it's important to note that myth does not simply mean false. A myth might be non-demonstrable in an empirical sense, but it can still be psychologically, sociologically, or anthropologically true. That is, it can tell us something about the human condition, about human existence and what it means to be human without necessarily being historically accurate.

Let's take a look at the creation story, the second creation story that happens. Well, really any of the creation stories-- let me just take a break. Let's take a look at the biblical creation myth. By piecing together various parts of Genesis, we can arrive at what we think is being talked about here. God puts this dome to separate the waters from the waters. So there's a dome in the sky that keeps out the water.

In many ancient cosmologies, the water represents the primeval chaos that God sets aside in order to create. We have the land, which is seated on the pillars of the earth, the floodgates in the heavens that God opened during Noah's flood. So this is what an actual biblical worldview would look like if we were to take the scriptures literally.

That frankly misses the point of the scriptures, which are about showing us an orderly creation in which humans are situated in the providence of God, a god who gives human origins and also brings order to the world. So the story is basically telling us that the world was created along with human beings. So it gives meaning and purpose more than just telling us where the world is coming from.

And of course, we also have many, many secular myths. For example, the Declaration of Independence says that all men are created equal. Well, this is certainly a phrase to aspire to. It is quite lofty rhetoric. Of course, we know that when it was written, we still had slaves. Women were certainly not equal. Thomas Jefferson probably had white, landowning men in mind when he wrote this. This is a profoundly influential phrase, but it's certainly not empirically demonstrable. It's hard to say how you exactly would demonstrate that all people are created equal.

Let's take a look now at allegory. We can say that allegory is a kind of extended metaphor. An allegory is similar to a parable, but it's generally longer and somewhat more complex than a parable. It normally requires some interpretation in order to figure out what it means, a sort of secondary key to the material. An allegory compares apparently dissimilar situations.

Probably one of the most famous allegories in English literature is John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, which was written in 1678. This book has never gone out of print. In this story, the main character Christian journeys from his hometown, which is called the City of Destruction, to the celestial city. And he meets many figures along the way and goes through many trials and tribulations. This is a metaphor for the soul's journey to God. It's an extended metaphor.

Thank you for watching this tutorial on parable, myth, and allegory. Prose is language that is written or spoken without poetic rhythm or structure. Poetry is non-prose speech or writing that typically expresses ideas indirectly and metaphorically and/or which uses specific forms of meter and rhythm. A parable is a story that typically aims to make a single teaching point rather than making extended comparison. An allegory is in an analogy or illustration that draws comparisons between two apparently dissimilar situations at many points, most often with the effect of casting the original situation in a different light.

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Prose

    Language that is written or spoken without poetic rhythm or structure.

  • Poetry

    Non-prose speech or writing that typically expresses ideas indirectly and metaphorically, and/or which uses specific forms of meter and rhythm.

  • Parable

    A story that typically aims to make a single teaching point, rather than make an extended comparison.

  • Allegory

    An analogy or illustration that draws comparisons between two apparently dissimilar situations at many points, most often with the effect of casting the original situation in a different light.