The Bible Among the Myths – Part 3

6a0133f0b2fdc2970b017c376df839970bContinuity: The Basis of Mythical Thinking (Ch. 3)

Such a proposed definition certainly has large consequence in the present discussion, thus Oswalt further elucidated this worldview of continuity. The worldview essentially means that all things are connected to one another – the divine, humanity, and nature – and there are several implications stemming from this truth that constitute mythic characteristics.

He noted seven implications of the continuity worldview: 1) reality only relates to the ‘right now’ or present; 2) reenactment is the actualization of timeless reality; 3) there is no distinction between the subject and the object, the source and the manifestation; 4) the key expression is found in nature symbolism; 5) there is great significance in sympathetic, imitative, magic; 6) sex and sexuality, fertility and potency, are integral to ultimate reality; and 7) there is a denial of boundaries between divine and humanity, humanity and nature, and nature and divine – e.g. bestiality, incest, prostitution in the temple.

Oswalt also noted nine common features of myth: 1) polytheism, 2) images and idols, 3) eternity of and origins from chaotic matter, 4) personality not essential to reality, 5) low view of the gods, who even have to submit to the ‘meta-divine’ or some continuous force, 6) conflict between the forces of construction and the forces of chaos is the source of life, 7) low view of humanity, 8) no single objective moral code or ethics, and 9) cyclical concept of existence: from nonexistence, to dependence, to independence, to dependence, and back again to nonexistence.

Oswalt summarized the mythic implications and features, asserting “all of them begin with the same starting point – the visible world – and operate on the same premise: this world takes the shape it does because it is a mirror image of the invisible world.”[1]

Transcendence: The Basis for Biblical Thinking (Ch. 4)

Moving on, having observed the common characteristics of myth, Oswalt asserted, “on every one of these points the biblical worldview differs – and not merely slightly, but diametrically.”[2] In direct contrast to the mythic characteristics, he put forth eleven common characteristics of biblical thought: 1) monotheism is the unique claim of Israel; 2) iconoclasm is rejected because God is not to be identified with the world; 3) the first principle is spirit not matter, because God is prior to everything; 4) there is an absence of conflict in the creation process, moving from simple to complex, non-existence to existence; 5) there is a high view of humanity, being made in the image of God; 6) God is reliable, unchanging, and always faithful and true; 7) God is supra-sexual, yet personal; 8) since God is supra-sexual, human sex is desacralized; 9) since God cannot be manipulated and there is no ‘meta-divine,’ ritualistic and sympathetic magic is prohibited; 10) ethical obedience is a religious response, a reflection of God’s covenant with his people, and a cosmic concern; and 11) there is an emphasis on the importance of human-historical activity, intimating humanity’s free will and relation to God in their existential experiences within time and space.

All of these common characteristics culminate in viewing transcendence – “God is wholly other than the cosmos” – as the underlying principle of biblical thinking, as opposed to continuity, which is the underlying principle of all ANE myth.[3] Oswalt clearly and profoundly exposed the essential and irreconcilable difference between the bible of Israel and the myths of their ANE neighbors, making a strong claim against calling the Bible ‘myth.’

[1] John Oswalt, The Bible Among the Myths (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 62.

[2] Ibid., 63.

[3] Ibid., 81.

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