The Bible Among the Myths – Part 1

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Introduction

John Oswalt introduced his book with a personal touch. The content of The Bible Among the Myths constitutes a debate that has conducted an almost complete reversal since Oswalt’s studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in the middle of the twentieth century. In 1950, G. Ernest Wright claimed that the dissimilarities between Israel and their Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) neighbors were so substantial that “no evolutionary explanations could account for them.”[1] In the recent years, however, such a claim would be widely and adamantly contested. Importantly, Oswalt believes that the change was not summoned by newfound evidence or data; rather it reflects a change in the philosophical or theological convictions rooted in the assumption of Darwinian evolution. Moreover, the assertion that the Old Testament (OT) text is a product of ‘revelation’ has become extremely offensive to modern academia, because it intimates some sense of divine transcendence, which in turn supposedly cripples the adequacy of man’s power. Therefore, modern scholarship has disregarded revelation as a suitable reason for the OT’s composition.

Conclusively, modern scholarship claims that Israel’s religion is an evolutionary development from their ANE neighbors. Oswalt puts forth a convenient equation in order to determine whether modern scholarship’s progression is correct in their theory: if the similarities between Israel and their ANE neighbor’s are essential, then there is reason to conclude that Israel was an evolutionary development of their ANE neighbors. This constitutes the primary analysis of the book – i.e. determining the nature of the relationship between the OT (Israelite religion) and their ANE neighbors (myth).

The Bible and Myth

Oswalt divided his book into two parts: 1) the Bible and myth, and 2) the Bible and history. The first five chapters belong to part one, and the last five chapters belong to part two. Part one progresses from observing both the OT (ch. 1, 4) and the ANE myth (ch. 3) to a concluding analysis (ch. 5) of their similarities and dissimilarities, properly distinguishing between essential and superficial (or accidental) similarities, including a clarifying chapter of ‘myth’ terminology (ch. 2).

The Bible in Its World (Ch. 1)

Firstly, the Bible must be viewed in its combination of Greek and Hebrew thought. Greek thought in the seventh through third centuries BC emphasized reality as a universe rather than a polyverse. A ‘universe’ consists in a “single unifying principle in the cosmos,” implying cause and effect, and a discoverable and rational reality.[2] A ‘polyverse’ consists in an existence that is “the result of the conflict of many different forces,” implying the impossibility to determine causation, where rationale becomes obsolete and potentialities become infinite.[3] Hebrew thought was clarified in the context of Israel’s adversity in light of Assyrian and Babylonian power (625-400 BC). It asserted a monotheistic and transcendent creator God, who revealed himself, communicated his will, and asserted ethical reflections of himself by which men were held accountable. The Hebrew worldview clashed with its ANE context, and as such, Israel realized that the two could not coexist; and even in Israel’s captivity, the pagan worldview never conquered Hebrew thought. Therefore, in the fullness of time, the gospel of Jesus, “presupposing the Israelite worldview, penetrated into the Greco-Roman world,” combining Greek and Hebrew thought.[4] This combination provided explanations to the intuition of Greek thought and implications to the tenets of Hebrew thought.

[1] John Oswalt, The Bible Among the Myths (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 11; G. Ernest Wright, The Old Testament against Its Environment (London: SCM, 1950).

[2] Ibid., 21.

[3] Ibid., 22.

[4] Ibid., 25.

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