The Bible's alarming lack of platypus myths
Surely we can replace Second John or Haggai with a Bible book all about the egg-mammal Pokemon.
Episode two of Vacation Bible School is up, hopefully on every podcast platform.
We’re joined by Ryan Nanni and Michael Felder to break down the insane Darren Aronofsky movie about Noah’s ark (PIRATES VS. KORGS) and the differences between growing up Catholic and Protestant (WINE VS. JUICE), along with the revelation that John Mayer’s “Drone Shot of My Yacht” accurately depicts both the Hebrew and Babylonian flood myths.
Flood myths, like the creation myths in episode one, abound all over the world. Many of the localized ones could be true, but if they all happened, our planet would just be so very incredibly wet. There are lots of Asian ones in which floods not only fill the earth, but bump against the top of the sky, for example.
Many of us grew up in systems that encouraged us to take exactly ONE of these flood myths literally and to discard the rest.
So: what if we tried that, but chose a flood myth besides Noah’s?
Here’s a good candidate, coming from Indigenous Australians.
It’s the only flood story from this huge list that reckons with creation’s toughest question: what the hell is a platypus?
(Note: this version comes from Myths and Legends of the Australian Aborigines, a 1930 book credited to a Scottish anthropologist who lifted the work of Indigenous Australian author and inventor David Unaipon. I don’t have access to 2001’s restored version under Unaipon’s name, so I’m quoting from the Scottish guy’s.)
Mainly, I would enjoy following a religion in which animals have long, formal debates. I’m skipping over SO MUCH Business Procedure stuff, just for space.
The [mammals], birds, and reptiles multiplied so rapidly that the country in which they lived could not support them in comfort […]. They therefore agreed to have a meeting of representatives of the various tribes.
The [mammals] decided that they would send along the kangaroo as their chief, and that the wise koala should accompany him as their advocate and his adviser. The bird tribes agreed to send their chief, the eagle-hawk, with the crow as advocate and adviser. The reptile tribes were represented by their chief, the goanna, accompanied by the tiger-snake. […]
The tiger-snake rose and began his speech, ‘O representatives of the [mammals] and birds, […] one or both of the tribes which you represent should go into some other country. Both of you are better fitted to travel than we are. […] The legs that you are blessed with are fitted to carry you with great speed. […] O chief of the bird tribe […], you and your families are blessed by the God of Flight. […] But we of the poor reptile family are unable to change our abode as quickly. […] You are aware that we are gifted with the sting of death, but we are anxious to avoid any clash of hatred.’
The kangaroo then rises to blame overcrowding on the booming platypus population. Some Thanos-minded lizards try to get rid of the platypus via floods, and “the conference ended in desolation and death” as “nearly all life was destroyed in the great flood.” The kangaroo is distraught to realize platypuses are gone.
Three years later, they have another meeting near where they think the last platypuses are hiding, this time welcoming the lowly insect tribe, because the flood softened the kangaroo’s heart.
They all wonder whether the platypus should join the mammal, bird, or reptile tribe. A duck points out the platypus has a beak, and a pelican notes platypuses lay eggs, “more like the eggs of the reptile family,” though. A kookaburra laughs at the idea of an animal without feathers being a bird. The reptiles and mammals are likewise confused.
After another round of Agenda Items, the platypus elder arrives to speak.
“There was a time in the long, long ago when I was closely akin to the reptile family; then, as the years went on, I became related to the [mammals], and later on to the birds.”
After one last series of Parliamentary Squabbles, the platypus declines to become a mammal, a bird, or a reptile.
Can we enjoy this story without demanding it conform literally to 2020 science?
On one level, this story of animals Doing Politics Business tries to explain why the world has a creature this bizarre:
This story’s explanation of such an adorable abomination is as good as any.
Besides the platypus’ shifting classification, the story’s long-necked emu reveals it has allied with reptilian snakes … and hey, we’ve since learned birds can be considered the last dinosaurs.
Some of nature’s works are just hard to classify, as Leviticus’ authors must’ve felt when they lumped bats in with birds. Imagine if the Bible’s authors also had to figure out what to do with Australian duck-lizard-gophers. (Alternate theory: platypuses are Nephilim.)
We can also appreciate the three animal tribes’ determination to resolve this conflict with words (except for the rogue lizards who turned this into a flood myth), along with the lesson that it’s ok to just be a platypus.
In that light, if we treat the Noah story as one of hundreds of flood myths and not necessarily as the sole description of an event that definitely happened …
… we get a story that tries to explain why rainbows exist, why people shouldn’t kill each other, what happened to the sky-ocean firmament from earlier in Genesis, why people don’t live for 900 years, why rain doesn’t last for weeks at a time, where wine came from, and most importantly: that our planet’s temperamental Ruler is capable of error.
Explaining stuff in an evocative way, a way people will remember and pass along to their children, could be considered the whole point of mythmaking.
So I think it’s fair to say this: anyone who argues Noah’s ark definitely did or didn’t happen as described in Genesis is missing the point, the point likely intended by the writer(s) 2,500+ years ago, whoever that was.
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Read up for next time: Genesis 12-50.