The Golden Bough

A nineteenth century classic written by the Scottish anthropologist James Frazer. A large tome whose content is the mythology of northern and southern Europe, with an odd tale from elsewhere as well. Like almost all of his contemporaries, Frazer does not write all that well, and often it's hard to see where he's coming from and what relevance his tales have to a theme. But once you've persisted through to the end you get the power and the glory (pun intended) of his message.

It is this: religion is a cultural phenomenon and is best understood thus, rather than as a theological banquet of accepted faiths.

There are many EP people (no offence to any individual or their belief systems) who could do a lot worse than set themselves a month long task to wade through this volume. The point of de-centering christianity would either be lost on some or deeply offend others, but so be it. Like bitter medicine to an ill person, you would be the better for imbibing and digesting.

Underlined is the crucial historic role played by myth and legend in our cultural life, both past and present. Things like virgin birth and resurrection are dealt with in this analytical way, rather than as special events pertaining to the reality of some particular cultural past.

A fascinating read.

As a postscript; I bought this book in a campus second-hand bookstore, many decades ago, when I was a student. It sat dutifully on my book shelves from then till now. But I only got around to reading it in 2010, amid the leisure time of my dotage. I wish I had got into it 40 years before. It is a rich illuminating volume.
61-65, M
Dec 12, 2011