The Bible Among the Myths – Part 6

6a0133f0b2fdc2970b017c376df839970bOrigins of the Biblical Worldview: Alternatives (Ch. 9)

Subsequently, Oswalt moved to analyze how the biblical worldview of transcendence originated. First, he noted that the researcher must explain “why the biblical writers were at such pains to create other explanations for the origins of their ideas than the actual ones,” and secondly, he must “reexamine the claims to biblical uniqueness.”[1] Oswalt sought to determine the origins of the Biblical worldview by analyzing four scholars who offer alternatives to divine revelation.

John Van Seters claimed that Israel’s understanding of reality appeared as a late creative fiction. This view incorporated the controversial documentary hypothesis, and ultimately failed, ignoring ancient methodology for written forms and oral tradition. Frank Cross claimed that Israel’s understanding occurred by a prose rewriting of an earlier epic poem, moving “from poetic epic to prose chronicles.”[2] Cross was unconvincing considering the lack of purport for the epic’s translation into narrative history, as well as the lack of satisfactory evidence for any shift being conducted in Israel’s own time. In a somewhat different direction, William Dever asserted that Israel’s understanding was an imposition of a small elite, where the Yahwist elite took over Israel’s history writing after the exile. Nonetheless, whether it is evidentially true or not, Dever’s view only pushed the analysis deeper, still lacking in any elucidation of the origination of Israel’s worldview. Mark Smith affirmed that Israel’s understanding of reality originated from Canaanite polytheism, though remaining evidence for such an origin is now perhaps completely lost. However, the question still remains: if Israel’s challenges naturally led them to such an adaptation, then why did other ANE communities under the same challenges not produce similar adaptations?

With a flavor of academic humility, Oswalt concluded the inadequacy of these scholars’ views. None of them properly demonstrated how such “an orderly evolution from the thought of continuity and its implications to the thought of transcendence and its implications” has occurred.[3]

Conclusions (Ch. 10)

Oswalt set out to analyze the similarities and dissimilarities between biblical Israel and the nonbiblical ANE for the purpose of determining the nature of their relationship, and more specifically, determining whether modern scholarship’s claim is correct in asserting that Israel’s biblical worldview and content is an evolutionary development spawned from the ANE context of myth. He concluded that the Bible is essentially different from ANE myth and all other religions (except those that derived from it), and he supported this conclusion with three emphases.

First, the similarities between biblical Israel and the nonbiblical ANE are superficial, while the differences are essential. It is apparent that Israel ‘borrowed’ ANE’s forms and concepts, which is expected as Israel being part of its world, but the real significance arises by noting how Israel borrowed and expressed an essentially different worldview. Second, those notable differences between biblical Israel and the nonbiblical ANE are manifest due to the essential and irreconcilable difference in worldview, where the nonbiblical ANE functions from a worldview of continuity and biblical Israel functions from a worldview of transcendence. Third, since this essential difference of worldview is diametrically incompatible, there is therefore no possibility of evolutionary development in regards to Israel’s biblical portrayal of reality, resolving biblical origins to the self-attested concept of divine revelation.

The Bible is certainly a product of its world, but that product is one that is so foundationally opposed to the worldview of its world that it beckons the student to conclude that the Bible is indeed unique revelation, not just ancient literature.

[1]  John Oswalt, The Bible Among the Myths (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 171.

[2] Ibid., 175.

[3] Ibid., 184.

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