How can something be "spiritually true" but "historically false"?

Periodically, I like to drag a topic brought up in a comment because I think the response to the comment deserves more attention that it would get buried in a common thread.

And so now I address the topic, which has sorely puzzled one of our commenters, as to how something can be spiritually true while historically false. To provide a relatively straightforward example of this phenomena, I offer the Circe episode from the Odyssey.

As you might recall, Circe was a "sorceress" who offered Odysseus's men a "magical potion," which turned those who partook of it into "swine."

Now, I will be so bold as to assert that no actual witch ever existed who literally turned men into swine. But isn't it rather obvious that this story is a mythical symbol of the spiritual reality that there exist women who have a seductive charm that can lead susceptible men to "act like swine" in their presence? Is there anyone who has spent any amount of time in bars who hasn't seen a modern "Circe" turning a number of men around her into "swine"?

This story about something which, historically speaking, certainly never "really" happened, nevertheless conveys a "spiritually true" archetype which manifests itself across thousands of years.

And we might note here Joyce's brilliance in mapping the spiritual truths contained in the Odyssey onto the quite quotidian adventures undertaken by his characters on an ordinary day in Dublin in 1904.


  1. Do you believe that Christian scriptures or traditions contain spritual truth but historical falsehoods in a manner similar to Greek mythology?

  2. Gene, could you please explain how this applies to Jesus? Specifically, what argument can you make for the "spiritual truth" that "The atonement took place in the first century." that doesn't rely on historical events?

  3. No. One of the other posters asked for an example "spiritual truth". You need to present a *spiritual* truth. The observation that men can act like fools when infatuated is a garden variety empirical truth. No-one ever disputed that fiction can illustrate examples of true things, only that it can establish (non-mundane) "spiritual" truth.

    And this really isn't germane to the gospels discussion anyway, since what you cite are artistic imaginings of *examples*. No-one denies that such samples exist. You could have cited one of Plautus's braggarts as conveying the truth that men like Trump exist. But the gospels aren't trying to illustrate yet another example of that common phenomenon, the saviour of mankind rising from the dead. They are meant as *testimony* for a unique event. And for that purpose their historicity does matter.

    Now if you cite the gospels as conveying for example the "spiritual truth" (that is, the mundane observation) that a convinced believer will accept the wildest story, then your analysis will be on point.

    1. You know what Ken: No to you. This is so a spiritual truth. You are just personally blind to spiritual reality. Sorry about that, but not much I can do about it.

    2. And it is a rather stunning piece of stupidity to claim spiritual truths are not empirical!

    3. "You know what Ken: No to you. This is so a spiritual truth. You are just personally blind to spiritual reality. Sorry about that, but not much I can do about it."

      *Thank you* for saying that, Gene. He has had that coming for a long time =\

  4. Yeah, I'm not seeing it either. I can see how your example could be called a "spiritual truth", but I'm not sure how it's of the same type as the Jesus' resurrection.