Don’t Open That Box – 01.It’s All Greek

Posted by on March 18, 2012 under Front Page Posts, Sermons, Uncategorized

Click Here For Audio

Must we really discuss mythology in church?  I don’t know if we must, but we probably should.  You see, the ancient myths of the Greeks never went away.  They took root in our western culture and have become the stories that we tell with gusto.

For example . . .

  • Percy Jackson – Based squarely on Greek myth, this book rivaled Harry Potter in popularity and a movie was soon to follow
  • Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins says that she was inspired by the Greek myth of Theseus and reality television.
  • Wrath of the Titans – If you don’t have a book, just dust off the old tales and add in some great CGI!

"I Bring You Fire!"

Even the names of the old myths still evoke meaning.  Consider “Prometheus.”  His image was huge in the age of electricity and his statue was placed in Rockefeller Center in 1934.  Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo were our help in the space age.  These old stories haven’t gone away at all.

My goal in pointing this out is not for us to become a Christian Taliban and destroy anything that smacks of idolatry.  No, we need to understand the power of myth and when we are aware of it we might be able to discern when a myth points us to commonly accepted “truths” (which may be no truth at all) or when it points to the absolute truth.

Myth functions similarly to philosophy and faith.  It is a structure through which we explain ourselves and the world.  We can explain truth through story.  In actually, ancient myths may help us understand how we typically view the world and ourselves (for better or for worse).  Christian faith and the stories of the Bible give us the most truthful way to see ourselves and our world.  Ironically, it is because we do not understand this, that some are rejecting the Christian worldview as just another fairy tale or ancient myth.

The Myth of Pandora

The Greeks gave us a story that explains how misery, sin and evil came into the world.  It was combined with the story of Prometheus (a Titan who championed mankind) and the origin of the first woman.

Prometheus stole fire for mankind.  He gave knowledge to mankind and is always looking out for mankind.  It’s all man-kind too.  According to the myth, everything is great on earth as long as it’s just men on earth.

Zeus creates a secret weapon: Pandora.  Zeus is upset with Prometheus and punished him, but also punishes mankind with a secret weapon called Pandora.  She is “all-gifted” by the gods.  They give her beauty and skill that makes her attractive to men, but they also give her a conniving mind and make her suspicious and greedy.  She is deceitful and lies with enticing words.

The myth of Pandora assumes that women are clever creatures.  Men love them but they are the source of many problems and conflict.  In his poem Theogeny, the Greek poet Hesiod wrote of Pandora:


From her is the race of women and female kind:
of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who
live amongst mortal men to their great trouble,
no helpmates in hateful poverty, but only in wealth.

"Wait! Don't Open That Box! D'oh!!"

In addition to the many traits that the gods bestow on Pandora, they also give her a jar.  Later it is called a box.  Pandora is told not to open the box, which aggravates her suspicious nature and she cannot help but open it.  The box contains all the evil in the world.  Pandora releases it and this is how sickness and sorrow and tragedy come into the world.  She gets the lid back on at the last second and traps hope inside the box.  That’s either a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you look at it.  The tragedy-loving Greeks are ambiguous about hope being trapped in the box.  The message of the myth is that Pandora is quite the troublemaker and she ruined the perfect world.

Our Myth-Understanding of Genesis

Pandora sort of reminds us of the story of Eve in Genesis, doesn’t it?  Eve is tricked into taking the fruit from the forbidden tree and because she is so weak and easily tempted she leads Adam and the rest of the world to ruin.  So familiar, yet there’s just one problem . . . that’s not how the story in Genesis goes!

Nevertheless, in our culture and even in the church throughout the ages we have viewed Eve as “The Original Sinner.”  We have declared her a “Bad Girl” in the Bible.  We remember her for being the mother of Cain (but we forget Abel and Seth oddly).  We have read the story of our first mother, Eve, through the lens of the Pandora myth and it has clouded the way we read Genesis and other Scriptures.  Consider these statements from Christian writers over the last 2000 years:

“Do you not know that each of you is an Eve? God’s sentence on your gender lives even in our times, and so it is necessary that the guilt must also continue. You are the one who opened the devil’s door; you unseated the forbidden tree; you first betrayed the divine law; you are the one who enticed him whom the devil was too weak to attack. How easily you destroyed man, the image of God! Because of the death which you brought upon us, even the Son of God had to die.” – Tertullian

 “Whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman.”– Augustine

 “Woman’s counsel brought us first to woe, And made Adam from Paradise to go.”– Canterbury Tales

I believe the Pandora myth is busted, but it is just so powerful.  So much so that it has subtly twisted the way we have understood Scripture.  And if there is any truth to the myth it is this . . . we find it convenient to blame everything on one woman.  And yet . . . have we forgotten someone?

"Did you forget about me?"

Let’s re-read Genesis 3:

  • Eve is tricked, misled, deceived by the serpent (Gen. 3:1) – Eve knows the truth.  She engages the serpent and tells him the truth.  Eve isn’t opening the devil’s door.  No more so than Adam.
  • Adam is with Eve (Gen. 3:6) – He isn’t putting up much of a fight and there doesn’t seem to be much counsel from Eve.  Nor is Eve the temptress.   She isn’t seduced by something naughty, rather she is tricked into thinking that this is a good thing.  It’s good food.  It leads to wisdom.  Eve is created to help Adam, perhaps the serpent is using that helping nature.  Do we ever consider that?  No, we just accept the idea that Eve is a temptress because of the influence of Pandora and Paradise Lost.  William Blake was influenced by the Pandora myth as much as anyone.
  • Adam’s defense: “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.” (Gen. 3:12)  – Isn’t that what these ancient writers were doing?  Shoving the bulk of the guilt on women?  How often do we do that?
  • Here’s absolute truth based on the story from Genesis: Adam starts out declaring Eve to be bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.  He ends up blaming God and blaming her for eating the fruit.  Ever since then the blame has continued and one of Adam’s descendents, Hesiod, wrote a story blaming women.

The Truth of Sin

Evil is not released into the world, rather sin is a corruption of the good creation.  Adam and Eve fall for a lie – a deception.  A closer examination of the Biblical teaching of who to blame for the entry of sin into the world, is informative:

  1. “. . . sin came into the world through one man [Adam]”Rom. 5:12
  2. “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor”1 Tim. 2:14
  3. Pandora is a cute story, but when combined with the Genesis story and when Eve is interpreted as a biblical Pandora, then we are all deceived and the Pandora story becomes what it was originally a way for men to pin their problems on women . . .

The influence of this misunderstanding of Biblical truth is all around us.  We should be concerned to be aware of it and overcome it.  One unfortunate outcome is disrespect for women.  It even shows up in our attempts at humor: “God made the world and rested, God made woman and no has rested since.”  That’s not only bad biblical teaching, it’s bad manners.

A more careful reading of the biblical truth about sin and humanity would teach us that Men and Women are both capable of sin.  We would be challenged to respect one another.  Ironically, when we allow the myths to warp our understanding of the Scripture, we are deceived just as Adam and Eve were.

Another important response to a clearer understanding is this: Men need to take responsibility and stop blaming our problems on women.  Women are a gift from God like Eve, not an instrument of punishment like Pandora.

The Real Eve

Unfortunately, the myth of Pandora has intruded on Christian interpretation of the Story of Eve.  Eve, and by extension all women, have become associated with original sin and women are regarded as the gender more vulnerable to sin.  We need to hear the story that points to the truth about Eve and women.  Doing that would teach us that Eve completes God’s good creation, hope comes from God and through Eve’s offspring, and God highly favors women in his redemptive work.  Consider how he worked in the lives of Sarah, Hannah, Esther, and Mary to name only a few.

Jesus and Truth

“. . .  at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” – Matt. 19:4-6

For further reading:  William E. Phipps, “Eve and Pandora Contrasted,” Theology Today 45 (April 1988): 34-48.  I appreciate Phipps’ article for providing the quotes from church history.  Phipps gives more examples of how the Pandora myth has influenced the interpretation of the creation story in the West in his article.