Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Urban Legends - How Old Are they?
The Vanishing Hitchhiker
A friend of a friend and his daughter were driving along a lonely country road at night and happened upon a female hitchhiker. The woman asked for a ride to her home just a few miles up the road. The travellers obliged and continued on with the woman riding silently in the backseat. As they approached their destination, the driver turned to inform the passenger they were arriving, only to discover she had vanished from the backseat without a trace! Thoroughly spooked, the travellers inquired at the house and learned that a woman matching the description of the hitchhiker had indeed once lived there, but died several years earlier in an automobile accident. Her ghost, they were told, was sometimes seen wandering beside the highway...
So how old is the story. Hitchhiking requires cars so one might expect it to be about the 1920s/30s when cars became widespread and the collected stories do seem to start around then. But there are earlier versions from the time of carts and..
Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognising him.
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
19 “What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
Luke 24:13-32 On the Road to Emmaus
That is the Vanishing Hitchhiker story in all essentials - Meeting a traveller. Gives mysterious prophecy. Disappears, in this case literally before their eyes, Turns out to have been dead all along. It is even part of a subgenre where the traveller is a local godlike figure.
The story is also told in much less detail in Mark 16; 12-13
Snopes also reports a section of Acts which they regard as another variant on the hitchhiker story - Acts 8; 27-39 . This involves a disciple meeting a high Ethiopian official, hitching a ride on his chariot and converting and baptising him. Personally, despite the use of a vehicle to hitch on I don't regard this as a true VH story since both parties are identified and living so there is no inherent mystery.
I don't know don't know enough mythology to tell if there are any other such. Is there a section in the Epic of Gilgamesh where he looks down and finds an unnoticed Hook or dragon's claw in his chariot wheel. Wouldn't be surprised.