The Bible Among the Myths – Part 5

6a0133f0b2fdc2970b017c376df839970bIs the Bible Truly Historical? (Ch. 7)

Oswalt began analyzing the Bible as historical with two clarifications. First, divine intervention does not nullify the significance of human choice, thus upholding a crucial element of Oswalt’s definition of history. Second, the accuracy of the Bible’s history in regards to the supernatural is difficult to prove, but the point of the analysis is to determine why biblical Israel and the nonbiblical ANE vastly differ in their handling of past information.

G. Ernest Wright and William F. Albright were acclaimed to assert that for biblical Israel, “history is revelation.”[1] Oswalt addressed two rebuttals to this concept, clarifying that 1) God’s intervention into the human-historical experience as well as the testimony to that event must be revelation; and 2) although divine intervention is not a unique concept to biblical Israel, the extent of the intervention’s purpose and value as viewed by biblical Israel is not found in any other religious literature. In regards to the latter point, moreover, there is a broader point to be emphasized: “continuity does not rule out transcendence of a sort; it only rules out genuine transcendence.”[2]

In one motion, utilizing R. G. Collingwood’s seven concepts necessary to historical writing, also exposing how he wrongly limits their origin to the New Testament and not the Old Testament as well, Oswalt explained how all of the prerequisite necessities for ‘history writing’ were found in Israel – i.e. Israel’s worldview provided a solid foundation that perfectly accommodated ‘history writing.’ Moreover, because of this foundation in a transcendent worldview, Israel’s understanding of history was diametrically different than the nonbiblical ANE’s understanding of history.[3] Thus, where did Israel’s unique understanding of history originate? Genius or heightened intellect does not fit with the biblical description of Israel; and comparing their ANE neighbors, one would place cognitive and cultural genius elsewhere – e.g. the Sumerians or Old Kingdom Egyptians. The only possible explanation, therefore, is that Israel “started somewhere different from everybody else,” which the Bible claims to be “direct revelation from the transcendent One himself.”[4] And since this revelation came through human-historical experience, the history writing must have a high degree of accuracy, which ought to be read in such a balanced way as to pursue the meaning within that account.

Does it Matter Whether the Bible is Historical? (Ch. 8)

This discussion is wholly futile, however, if biblical faith does not depend on biblical history. Therefore, as to provide any amount of significance to the analysis, Oswalt set out to determine whether biblical faith and biblical history are inseparable. He summarized and critiqued two prominent attempts to answer this question: 1) the Bulmannian approach and 2) process theology.

The first view was so named after Rudolph Bultmann, and Oswalt focused on four crucial elements in regards to his view of biblical faith and biblical history. First, Bultmann analyzed the problem of history from an existentialist foundation, marking history as “a part of one’s consciousness rather than the determiner of one’s existence.”[5] Second, the very idea of an objective ‘history’ was wholly outside Bultmann’s scope because he viewed objective truth as offering no existential meaning. Third, Bultmann separated narrative (Geschichte) from the event (Historie). Fourth, Bultmann strongly opposed turning God into an object to be studied, which he believed was the necessary result of studying the Bible as Historie. Oswalt noted that although Bultmann was sincere and serious, his terminology was ambiguous and his view suffered from wrongly using a modern philosophical understanding to comprehend biblical material. More damaging, however, “Bultmann virtually removes God from the natural order of reality,” and employed an incoherent notion of history, which marks the past as meaningless.[6]

The second view, ‘process thought,’ claimed that God is actualizing himself as history progresses. While this historical perspective has several positive elements – e.g. the relational intervention of God, true human freedom, etc. – the major defect is that process thought belittled or completely negated God’s transcendence, thus identifying God with the world, excluding God’s personhood, removing all purpose form life, and providing no standard of evaluation. Both the Bultmannian view and ‘process thought’ fail, and reinforce the truth that the theology of the Bible is necessarily tied to its historical accuracy.

[1] John Oswalt, The Bible Among the Myths (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 140.

[2] Ibid., 144.

[3] See the five differences noted by John Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature in Its Cultural Context (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989), 233-34.

[4] Oswalt, Bible Among the Myths, 148.

[5] Ibid., 156.

[6] Ibid., 162.

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