Exaggerations, Weather, Miracles, and Tall Tales

I spent a good many of my growing-up years in the rolling hills and hollows of southern Indiana. I married a girl from that land of caves and creeks and trees who was fully immersed in the traditions and customs of that land. One of her favorite lines that kept me and my New England relatives laughing was "Where's it at?"--with the at added to a wide range of sentences (where's that car at?, where's that house at, etc.). I not only grew to love that girl and her Hoosier ways, but also grew to love the people and their expressions.

One of the things that I have learned since those early days is that all regions of the country have their own colloquialisms, but the one thing that is common is that all regions have a common way of dealing with uncomfortable changes in the weather. That method is the exaggerated and tall tales about the weather that are so preposterous that everyone knows that the speaker is not serious. Examples of statements of this nature are legion, but here are a few:

It was so hot, farmers had to feed their chickens ice so they wouldn't lay hard-boiled eggs.

It was so dry, I saw a cottonwood tree following a dog.

It was so dry, a catfish came up to get a drink out of my well.

We got 12 inches of rain last year and I was lucky enough to be home that night.

The other kind of thing that is typical of all cultures is first-person weather stories--again so exaggerated that the listener knows that the story is bogus. Some examples of this follow:

I saw a storm coming, hopped in my truck, and headed for home. I just beat the storm to the house, but my dog was exhausted from dog-paddling in the water in the back of the pickup.

I went into town after the big rain and saw an expensive hat in a puddle. I picked it up and there was a man under the hat! "Are you O.K.?" I asked. The man said, "yeah, I guess so, but I'm sure glad I'm on horseback."

All of us are familiar with these kinds of stories. Even though they are false, we do not classify those who tell the stories as liars. We understand by the nature of the story and by the teller that the exaggeration is deliberate and honest and has no malicious intent nor attempt to deceive. Critics of the Bible maintain that key Bible stories are the very same thing. They would suggest that things like the Flood and Noah's ark, the story of Moses, the Exodus of Egypt by the Israelites, the creation of Adam and Eve, the resurrection of Christ, and all of the miracles of the Bible are folklore and exaggerations. We would suggest that there are some flaws in this assertion and that the implications of these arguments are more negative than most skeptics would really want to maintain.

Are the accounts written as folklore? When you read the account of the Flood, of the Creation, of the Exodus or of any of the miracles, the writing is not written as a deliberate exaggeration! The account is written as a history, proper names are used, and geographic localities are specifically identified. This is not to say that all the things described have normal physical explanations. If something is described in the Bible as a miracle, we should not look for physical explanations. The resurrection of Christ is not portrayed as a normal event. While it is not normal nor is it physical, it is claimed to have been historical. It is nothing like the rain stories we looked at when we began this discussion.

You can deny that the miracle occurred, and/or you can assert that the author is a deliberate liar who is maliciously trying to mislead people. What you cannot logically do is to assert that this is a story cooked up to make a harmless fictitious diversion from life.

Is there verification? The second question to answer when looking at biblical accounts is the question of whether we can verify in any way that the story told is true. In folklore, there is no attempt to verify the story that is told. There may be something that is explained in a tongue-in-cheek way in the story, but no documentation is attempted.

Documentation can come about in a myriad of ways. There can be archaeological evidence, anthropological evidence, eye witness accounts, evidence from the physical sciences, or evidence from the social sciences. In virtually all biblical stories, there is documentation. In the flood story, for example, there is supporting evidence from a wide range of sources. Virtually all cultures have a flood account and, in many cases, it is very close to the biblical narrative. Evidence of massive flooding exists in virtually all parts of the world--although no sediment layer is continuous. Dilution of large bodies of salt water and various flood features of a topographic nature also assist in supporting the probability that the event took place. Similar methods can be used in all biblical accounts.

These supportive evidences are not absolute proof. The events took place so long ago that there are always unanswered questions. The point is that the accounts do not qualify as folklore because they have enough documentation to make them at least legitimate as possibilities. If all this were not true, we would not have to have faith at all. The point about faith is that we are not called to blind faith. Blind faith can accept any folklore as valid. We are called to a reasoned faith bolstered and supported by a mountain of evidence. You can intelligently believe in the Bible as God's Word.


Back to Contents Does God Exist?, March/April 1996