A good many folks, including Church people, have some deeply held beliefs that are simply not true. These beliefs have a basis in facts but have evolved into myths. Four of these are the following:
Jonah and the Whale. The Bible never says that Jonah was swallowed by a whale. The story is told that “God prepared a great fish.” Whales, of course, are mammals and not fish, but it is true that the ancients may have considered a whale a member of the fish family. It is true that there are some mighty gigantic fish, or other sea creatures, in the world.
The largest freshwater fish ever confirmed was a catfish. This particular fish was nine feet long and weighed in at 646 pounds. The fish was caught in Africa and fed an entire village. The largest saltwater fish recorded was a great white shark, caught off coast of Australia in 1959. This monster weighed 2,664 pounds and makes me feel good about the fact that, when I visited Australia, I stayed out of the ocean!
As far as whales go, the largest of the whales is the Blue Whale which can grow to a length of 100 feet and weighs a massive 200 tons, or 400,000 pounds. So, when the Bible says that God prepared a Great Fish, it doesn’t stretch the imagination too much to see the possibility that Jonah really was the first submariner.
Goliath the Giant. The myth comes when Goliath is presented as 20-30 feet tall as he was in an illustrated children’s Bible story book that my mother read to me when I was small. In that picture, David was seen as tiny while Goliath towered over him like a small skyscraper.
Well, David was probably much smaller than the average man today. For one thing, David was likely a teen, and, for another, he possibly wasn’t fully grown. One source says that the average male adult of that period was five feet, five inches tall and speculates that, because of his youth, David was about four feet, eight inches in height.
But what of Goliath? There we do have some idea. Back in those days, one of the measurements was a “cubit.” Translated into modern measurements, Goliath was actually nine feet, nine inches tall. And, to a person not even five feet tall, he must have seemed massive. But can people get that tall?
The tallest man in recorded history was Robert Wadlow, who was born in 1918 in Alton, IL. Wadlow was measured at eight feet, eleven inches. Shy of Goliath‘s height, but still gigantic to the average person. About 2,800 living people in the world are known to be seven feet tall or taller. There are twenty-one people in modern times, including Wadlow, that have been logged in at being over eight feet tall. The tallest living person is Sultan Kosen who is eight feet, three inches tall as verified by the Guinness Book of World Records. Nine feet, nine inches doesn’t seem like too great a stretch
The Nativity Scene. All over the world every Christmas season, the myths are observed in the presentation of the manger scene. One common rendition is Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in the stable, the shepherds gathered around the child, the angel in the sky overseeing the event, and the three wise men riding on their camels bringing gifts.
An angel (just one) appeared to the shepherds in the field to announce the birth of Christ. The solitary angel was then joined by a multitude of heavenly hosts who sang a song of praise. The shepherds then make their way to the village of Bethlehem to visit the Holy Family. No mention of angels being present at that scene.
The wise men, the “three kings,” the Magi – whatever – were never at the manger and they were not present on that night. For one thing, when they saw the star (some believe they were pagan astrologers) they were in a far country, perhaps Persia, or modern Iran or Iraq. Even if they set out that night, which they likely did not, it would have taken at least weeks, perhaps much longer, to reach Bethlehem. One supposes they would have had to make preparation for the journey, which would also take time.
When they brought news to King Herod, he ordered the slaughter of every male child under the age of two, which indicates that Jesus could have been almost two years old by the time they saw him. And when they did see him and present gifts, the New Testament records that they saw him in a house, not in a stable. And why do we think there were “three wise men?” There were three gifts, but the number of the visitors is not mentioned. There could have been many more people in the caravan and more than three Magi.
The Crucifixion of Jesus. The New Testament records that Jesus was crucified between two thieves. Most depictions of the crucifixion present only three crosses as though only three people died that day. But the Romans crucified hundreds of thousands of people. In 7 A. D., Rome crucified 3,000 people in one day. In 71 A. D., there were 6,000 crucified on one day alone. Is the Bible wrong? No, but rather all that is recorded is the suffering of Jesus and two other men. They were central to the narrative.
All this is not to deny the truths of scriptures or to diminish faith. I, for one, believe that Jonah was swallowed, that young, small David killed a massive warrior, and that the angels, shepherds, and wise men all visited Jesus and his family, just not at the same time. I certainly believe that Jesus was murdered after a mock trial (and that He rose from the dead and ascended to heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father), and that the placement of his cross was between two unnamed thieves.
I also believe that it is important to understand the likely facts and not buy in to every story or myth that arises from those facts. There are other unsubstantiated stories such as the names of the three wise men, the name of the repentant thief on the cross, the story of Joseph of Arimathea taking the Gospel to England, the hiding of the communion cup of Christ in a church in England, and others that cause speculations that I think are pointless.
The stories that are told need no embellishment. They are powerful enough, as they stand, to teach divine and eternal lessons.
[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). During the pandemic, the church is open at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays but is also live streaming at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life) He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]