The Scapegoat

This sometimes gruesome story of the Hebrew trek to Babylon after the fall of the temple (2 Kings 25:8-11 and 2 Chronicles 20) and of life during the Babylonian captivity mirrors the Bible’s most violent and brutal descriptions enunciated in Lamentations. It is Breen’s only first person story, told by Abba,6 to his grandson. Perplexed at their fate, the Hebrews try to make sense of their misfortune and hear one elder compare the consequences of the sins of Israel to the mark of Cain. As a forgotten people they attempt a complex ritual sacrifice involving two goats to bring JHWH back to them. The first goat is successfully sacrificed to JHWH, but the second intended for Azazel7 escapes leading to additional hardships. The desperate Israelites engage in a crescendo of sacrifices which fail to bring divine forgiveness. At last the sudden overnight appearance of an obelisk at the edge of their village heralds a series of unexpected events again displaying the metaphysic of opposites.

The Last Anchorite8

Breen departs from the manuscript of the Bible starting with this story of a young 14th century Irish woman seduced by a man from whom she hears and then repeats “a blasphemy of the Holy Ghost” from which there is no divine forgiveness. When she learns of her eternal damnation, she pleads to become an anchorite, wherein she will be sealed in a 10 foot cube cell at the Church of the Blessed Virgin for life, without offering an explanation to the Bishop, who nonetheless agrees to permit her seclusion. Breen’s descriptions of her isolation are horrific, including the fact that the only opening to the outside world is a slit (called a squint) in one wall looking into the Church. She becomes famous for her sacrifice ostensibly to the Church and her community and receives many gifts from her grateful admirers. Towards the conclusion of the story she learns the Church is turning away from such martyrdom, and Breen relates her tragic end.

The Lake of Fire Church

In this story set in the near future, a traveling evangelist named Ahab Bale9 and his wife are given a gold charm – the saharon – to support their mission by a poor, elderly follower named Anna Faunel10. They sell the priceless piece, once touched by the infant hand of Jesus, for $100,000,000 at auction and use the proceeds to fund an electronic ministry which becomes the greatest in America. Events in the world and in Christianity portend the story of Revelation, and Ahab decides to deliver the most important sermon of all time. Despite warnings from his aide, Micah,11 Ahab delivers his millenarial sermon full of gruesome descriptions of the fate of non-believers and half-believers. An ending worthy of a horror film completes the tale.

(3rd continuation next post)


6Abba is the Aramaic word for Father.

7Azazel in Jewish legends was a demon to whom the ancient rite of Yom Kippur (day of Atonement), a scapegoat was sent bearing the sins of the Hebrews (from Wikipedia).

9In 1 Kings 16:29-34, Ahab was the wicked king of Israel who married Jezebel and eventually worshipped Baal instead of Jahweh.

10In Luke 2:37, Anna Phanuel was a prophetess descended from the tribe of Asher, who at age 84, with St. Simeon, was witness to the infant Jesus at the temple of Jerusalem. In ancient Hebrew, saharon means a crescent moon or crescent shaped ornament (Bible Hub website).

11Micah was the sixth of twelve minor prophets in the Hebrew Bible (and has an eponymous book in the Old Testament). His prophecies were directed at leaders in Samaria and Jerusalem particularly regarding injustice toward the unfortunate, but also included the foretelling of the birth of Christ and the coming of the millennial kingdom.


We return now to Michael Breen’s, Modern Myths: Stories from the Bible, with synopses of his stories. So as not to be a spoiler, I will avoid discussing the end of any of these short works.

An Evening at the Club

This science fiction-like short fictional piece imagines the gods of humanity as members of a divine club called the Cosmogony Society meeting on a distant planet. The treasures of the club are modern and prehistoric hunting trophies, living tapestries, and its polyglot library with precious original religious and philosophical masterpieces.  The main speaker, a god named Hadad,1 recounts in brief the narrative of the Old and New Testaments. We are told that when the gods divided up Earth, JHWH insisted he would create humans as immortal beings (by their eating fruit from the Tree of Life) in a separate paradise (Eden). Hadad mocks JHWH who was repetitively surprised by human disobedience which he punished by driving them out of paradise and forcing them deeper and deeper into the realms of the other gods where they become progressively morally depraved. However Hadad seems to express admiration for JHWH’s solution of sending a deus ex machina2 to redeem mankind.

The Mark of Cain

This remarkable story, the author’s favorite, retells the story of Cain and Abel from Genesis (4:1-24) including God’s act of marking Cain on the forehead to protect him from the violence of his fellow humans. However Breen expands the story after Cain’s expulsion to Nod beyond the mere chronicle of his descendants listed in the Bible. At one point, Cain comes upon Adam’s image originating from Sheol 4 but seen in a pool of water at the root of the mountain, Ekur.3 Their conversation is perhaps the most poignant of Breen’s entire book as Adam pleads with Cain to find a means of redemption and hope for humanity in the face of inevitable sin, death, and damnation. It is also here that Cain asks Adam about the mark on his forehead and is told, “It is a strange mark, it is one I have not seen before. I do not know it. Did God place it on you? If He did, then joy and sorrow and day and night are yours.”5 There is so much to this rich story, including the unfolding significance of Cain’s mark of opposites, but I will leave it for the reader to discover this treasure for himself of herself.


1Hadad, whose name derives from the Semitic word for “thunder” was the Western Semitic god of thunder and storms, often called Ba’al in the Bible (from Wikipedia).

2deus ex machina in ancient Greece and Roman drama, a god introduced into a play to resolve the entanglements of the plot. Also means any artificial or improbable device resolving the difficulties of a plot. (Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary)

3Sheol is the Hebrew word for the abode of the dead or departed spirits, equivalent to the Greek Hades or Christian Hell.

4 Ekur also known as Duranki is a Sumerian term meaning “mountain house.” It was the site of the assembly of the gods, a divine paradise (parallel to Mount Olympus in Greek mythology). The actual structure was the most revered sacred building of ancient Sumer (from Wikipedia).

5Breen Michael, Modern Myths; Stories from the Bible. Self-published, 2018. ISBN 978-0-692-14254-7, page 35.


Modern Myths: Stories from the Bible by Michael Breen, published 2018.



“All mythological elements in the Bible, the doctrine and liturgy, should be recognized as mythological, but they should be maintained in their symbolic form and not be replaced by scientific substitutes. For there is no substitute for the use of symbols and myths: they are the language of faith.” – Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith.

Only twice in the last 30 years have I been contacted by a childhood friend. The most recent occurred in May of this year when the author of this book sent me a text. Mike and I were beneficiaries of the Jefferson County Public Schools ‘Advanced Program’ in the 1970s and as such were classmates for five years from 7th to 11th grade (at which time I graduated). I cannot express how significant this educational experience was for me nor the importance of the relationships I had with my mostly constant classmates in that formative period of life. In any case, Mike contacted me through one of his relatives who was my patient, and we quickly were reacquainted in a one-hour call. Much to my surprise, Mike too had been studying philosophy and theology for many years and even completed a masters in academic theology (as opposed to a divinity track). He has self-published this book and another called Bad Faith in Kentucky. Now retired, he made a four-hour round trip drive to share dinner and some fascinating discussions with me one week later at which time he presented me with this book.

Mike is a theist and religious, but not a churchgoer, nor particularly attached to a denomination. In addition to philosophy and theology he has an interest in mythology and psychology. He has been working on what he calls ‘counter-intuitive theology’ wherein the world is viewed as dominated by opposites (e.g. good and evil) and pervaded by a ‘paradoxical’ God who may not be aware of his omniscience and who is not fixed or static, but in the process of ‘becoming.’ God in his model is an invisible being manifested in time and space, and amoral, even reckless, perhaps without being conscious of this.

A few other comments may enhance our understanding of the text. Mike is dubious of absolutes in religion, philosophy, and even science. As a result he tends to a more ecumenical approach to theology. He is fascinated by the logos of the Greeks, and has studied extensively Eastern philosophies, particularly Hinduism and Zen Buddhism. He has also immersed himself in the psychology and philosophy of Carl Jung. We should not be surprised should some of these interests show up in our reading.

Modern Myths: Stories from the Bible consists of 8 short stories ranging from 8 to 38 pages comprising a total of 195 pages. The stories are mostly written in the third person and are predominately conversational. The intriguing titles range from The Full Immersion Baptist Church to An Evening at the Club and CERN. Only one, The Mark of Cain, uses a Biblical allusion in the title. I will present them briefly in the next two posts, followed by a critique in a final post.

(continued next post)


In his theory of the Forms, Plato argues that not only are the ideal versions of everyday entities real, but that they are more real than those entities themselves. The perceptual world, he believes, is not fully real nor fully unreal, but continually changing and ultimately unknowable. Only the unchanging Ideas are real and knowable, though the latter only with great effort. In Plato’s own words, from Timaeus:

“If intelligence and true belief are two different kinds, then these things – Forms that we cannot perceive but only think of – certainly exist in themselves… There is, first, the unchanging Form, ungenerated and indestructible, which neither receives anything else into itself from elsewhere nor itself enters into anything anywhere, invisible and otherwise imperceptible; that, in fact, thinking has for its object…Second is that which bears the same name and is like that Form; is sensible; is brought into existence, is perpetually in motion, coming to be in a certain place and vanishing out of it; and is to be apprehended by belief including perception…Third is space which is everlasting, not admitting destruction; producing a situation for all things that come into being, but itself apprehended without the senses by a sort of bastard reasoning, and hardly an object of belief.”4

We are left perhaps befuddled by Plato’s theory. Does Plato actually believe that our mental understanding of the properties of reality is more real than the world from which we abstract those ideas? Plato himself challenges the theory of the Forms in later dialogues (for example, Parmenides). His most famous student, Aristotle, certainly rejected this ethereal view of reality. However, in modified form, Plato’s theory survived into Neoplatonism and Christianity, and reverberates to some extent in Berkley, Kant, and Schopenhauer among others. Bertrand Russell however thinks Plato is conflating the Forms with the ‘universals.’5

For myself, I think Plato is at least partly correct to assign ultimate reality to the Forms. At the level of some concepts – for example mathematical ones –  existence seems to be independent of the human mind. Just as we assume that the universe was real prior to our existence even though we were not here to witness it; similarly, it is reasonable to assume should humans become extinct, other rational beings will be able to recognize the concept of a perfect circle or the number 2. Plato seems to be the first philosopher to endorse a more expansive view of nonphysical reality – the principle that not just ‘Thought” but specific ‘thoughts’ or Ideas have ‘being.’ In a different sense, Plato’s Forms represent the never quite reachable limits of perceptual reality, such as we understand in a differential equation or the notion of infinity.

In conclusion, it seems to me we owe to Plato two novel nuances of the meaning of ultimate reality: the somewhat abstract concept of the divine as the Supreme Good, and the output of the mind as fundamentally real, if not more real, than the material constituents of the world.


4Allen, Reginald E., Greek Philosophy: Thales to Aristotle. The Free Press, New York, NY, 1966. Page 252-253.