The Bible Among the Myths – Part 4

6a0133f0b2fdc2970b017c376df839970bThe Bible versus Myth (Ch. 5)

The presented data leads to a vivid comparison between the Bible and myth. Firstly, Oswalt compared and contrasted Israel with their ANE neighbors in regards to their ethics. The ethical offenses of the nonbiblical ANE fall into two categories: the offense against the gods and the offense against another human being.[1] Importantly, these two offenses are of a different sort, where the latter offense “has no final cosmic significance.”[2] The biblical ethic, however, presents a covenantal context to man’s behavior and provides four implications that directly contradict the ANE ethic: 1) all ethical behavior is tied up in one’s love for God and their obedience to him; 2) there is an objective standard by which all are judged; 3) “there is a traceable chain of cause and effect;” and 4) there is an essential and real element of human freedom and choice.[3] Conclusively, the ethic of biblical Israel and the ethic of the mythical ANE are essentially and fundamentally opposed to each other.

Secondly, Oswalt analyzed other areas of possible similarity and dissimilarity between Israel and their ANE neighbors – e.g. in practice, in expression, and in thought patterns. Next, he looks at two biblical passages that are often paralleled with ANE myth: the Genesis account paralleled with the Enuma Elish, and Psalm 29 paralleled with Ugaritic literature. These sixteen pages of analysis are rich, concise, and provide the greatest argument against ‘comparative crazies,’ where Oswalt profoundly concluded: the Bible is “unique precisely because being a part of its world and using concepts and forms from its world, it can project a vision of reality diametrically opposite to the vision of that world.”[4]

The Bible and History

            The second part of Bible Among the Myths is entitled ‘the Bible and history,’ and it constitutes the final four chapters before the conclusion of Oswalt’s work. Part two progresses from identifying the proper definition of history (ch. 6), determining whether the Bible falls under such a definition (ch. 7), questioning whether the answer to the former question matters (ch. 8), and unto an assessment marking the origins of the Biblical worldview (ch.9).

The Bible and History: A Problem of Definition (Ch. 6)

Oswalt noted the complexity of the definition of history, and provided his own paragraph to summarize his understanding. This definition includes several components, but the most important are that history is a 1) science of evaluation, 2) concerned with human beings, 3) for the purpose of human self-knowledge.[5] Oswalt’s definition is only permissible, however, if six understandings of reality are present: 1) humans have real free choice; 2) there is a perceptible link between cause and effect; 3) profitable conclusions are contingent upon factual data; 4) humans can change and move towards a better outcome than what has previously happened; 5) human relationships are significant; and 6) there is an unchanging standard by which human behavior is appraised.

Next, Oswalt noted six ways by which the nonbiblical ANE’s used and documented past information: “omen texts, king lists, date formulae, epics, royal annals, and chronicles.”[6] Importantly, though the nonbiblical ANE gathered past information, collecting historical data, the purpose was not for human self-knowledge. Therefore, because of Oswalt’s definition of history, it would be correct to assert that the ANE did not produce ‘history writing.’ Why did the ANE lack such history writing? In the continuous worldview, 1) there is only an emphasis on the now; 2) there is no objective or ‘outside’ analysis, thus there is a subjective orientation; 3) there exists a multiplicity of causes; 4) human choice is illusory because all events are predetermined; and 5) there is an overwhelming concern for order and security.

In contrast, the Bible has a unique approach to human-historical experience. Humans are treated as real individuals, where their failures and defeats are not glossed over. Relationships and human choices have a fundamental significance to reality; and there exists ‘developmental relationships.’ The entirety of Israel’s view of history stems from their understanding of transcendence, where there exists 1) the possibility of transcending events, 2) impossibility of misleading God, 3) a simplified understanding of causation, and 4) speech as a mode of accomplishing divine purposes. These implications, rooted in the fundamental disagreement with the ANE’s worldview of continuity, generate a radical dissimilarity between Israel and their ANE neighbors; and this is not merely a difference in ‘vehicles,’ because Israel is using their vehicle towards a different aim.

[1] John Oswalt, The Bible Among the Myths (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 85; see Oswalt’s example of Ishtar and Gilgamesh.

[2] Ibid., 87.

[3] Ibid., 88.

[4] Ibid., 107; for the specifics of the analysis, see pages 91-107.

[5] Oswalt’s full definition: “A history is a narrative of a series of events revolving about human beings acting in time and space. Existing for the purpose of human self-knowledge, it purports to be a accurate account of all significant elements in the series and includes an attempt to evaluate the relative importance of these elements for the eventual outcome.” Ibid., 113.

[6] Ibid., 116.

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