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Ms Paul

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Bible Among the Myths

English 093
Ms. Smith

Introduction The book is an analysis of the Biblical view of the world and compares it other works in the Ancient Near East of that time with the development of the Bible. This is done by an in-depth analysis of the underlying beliefs inherent in mythology and the Biblical text. Of primary significance is the author's portrayal of the Biblical insistence on monotheism and divine transcendence compared to the polytheistic underpinnings of mythology. The author compares the ethically based Biblical view of the divine/human relationship with the ritualistic and magical view of that relationship found in mythology. With these and other comparisons (and with due consideration given to the various similarities between Israel and her neighbors), the author gives an excellent overview of the subject matter of the thought. In The Bible Among the Myths,Oswalt takes the conversation further by illuminating the fact that Israel's faith couldn’t have simply evolved out of nowhere. Oswalt shows that the surrounding Ancient Near East cultures had a worldview known as Continuity. This view maintained that all things that exist are a part of each other (such as the gods, nature, and humanity), the existence of polytheism, that the gods could be manipulated through nature and natural artifacts(which was the point of idol worship), the significance of magic, the obsession with fertility which led to sexual imitation rituals, and that the gods were formed from chaotic matter. Oswalt then explains Israel's worldview which was in direct opposition to their neighboring cultures. Israel believed that there was one God, that God transcends nature and cannot be physically manifest in nature, cannot be manipulated through nature, that God forbade sexual imitation rituals, that God forbade the use of magic, and that God formed the world and was not formed from chaotic matter. So Oswalt asks where this unique understanding came from.
Summary of Chapters Overview
Part One and Part Two Description and Summary Part 1 (“The Bible and Myth,”19-107) consists of five chapters establishing the differences between Scripture and myth. Part 2 (“The Bible and History,” 109-94) presents five chapters dealing with the issues involved in the Bible’s relationship to history and historiography. Oswalt declares that changes in scholarly opinion resulting in the classification of the Bible as myth have come about through a shift in theological assumptions and worldview. This is not be any scholarly pursuit or new information
Chapter One – The Introduction The Bible Among the Myths stands boldly as a piece of work that has been divinely inspired of the Old Testament and its distinct character as compared to ancient Near Eastern literature. In Oswalts the introduction which is from pages 11-18. Oswalt asks for openness and the acceptance and defense of the historical and theological veracity of the Old Testament. This is the most controversial parts of the Bible. In this part of the Bible, there are a lot of details of God as Omniscience, miracles, and Godly intervention. This is detailed from pages 16-17. The Bible claims to be divine revelation. Oswalt defends that biblical claim and argues that it ought to be given the attention it deserves, instead of allowing disbelief in the Bible to occupy a privileged position in the discussion (18).

Chapter One In chapter one which is pages 21 – 28. This section details the Greek and Hebrew thought during the time of the Old Testament. This and the end of the book are the sections that I had the most difficulty with how he viewed the world.
Chapter Two In this chapter, titled the Bible Myth: The problem. This was on pages 29- 46.
He defines the first step one must take to respond to this shift involves establishing a definition for myth (31-46). After dealing carefully and exhaustively with the potential definitions of myth and identifying the best definition, he proceeds to demonstrate that “Whatever the Bible is, whether true or false, symbol or literal, it is not myth” (46). In reality, Oswalt concludes, “Similarities between the Bible and the rest of the literatures of the ancient Near East are superficial, while the differences are essential” (47).
Chapter Three The very features common to myths (especially in the ANE) prove the distinct nature of biblical revelation (57-62). The biblical worldview differs diametrically from the views of extrabiblical cultures and their myths (63). The characteristics of biblical thought was defined in this chapter(e.g., monotheism, iconoclasm, the Spirit as first principle). Continuity: The Basis of Mythical Thinking” is a short (15 pages) but impressive analysis of the fundamental aspects of continuity in religious thought. A close study of this chapter alone would stimulate a great deal of thought and would open the eyes of many a reader who has not been able to put their finger on the common elements in pagan world-pictures.

Chapter Four There is no conflict in creation, a high view of humanity, God’s reliability and supra-sexuality, etc.) prove the distinction (64-81). Scholars repeatedly appeal to correspondences between ANE literature and the Bible. For example, the Enuma Elish (a Babylonian creation account) supposedly proves that the writer(s) of the biblical creation account in Genesis aligned it with the Babylonian account.
Chapter Five A basic comparison of the elements and characteristics of both accounts reveals that the similarities are artificial. Oswalt reminds his readers, “In fact it is important to point out that the Enuma Elish is not about ‘creation’ at all” (101). Genesis speaks of God creating something that did not exist before; Enuma Elish recounts the emergence of the world from pre-existent chaotic matter. Some scholars associate tehom (“the deep”) in Genesis 1 with the Canaanite chaos monster Tiamat because of similarity due to lexical origin. However, the potential association only demonstrates that Hebrew is a Semitic language, not that the writer conscientiously made either direct or indirect reference to Tiamat (102). Overdrawn similarities often continue outside Genesis in other OT literature like the Psalter. No matter how many claims some scholars make regarding Canaanite influence on the literature, imagery, and concepts of the biblical psalmists, evidence in the Ugaritic literature consistently manifests a clear distinction from anything in the biblical text or a total absence of any analogue (104-7). As Oswalt puts it, “the undoubted similarities . . . do not indicate a common way of thinking” (107). This reviewer admits to a certain frustration with The Bible Among the Myths. in chapter 5, entitled “The Bible Versus Myth.” These three chapters are really outstanding. The author continually brings out the way Biblical monotheism has produced unique understandings in the conception of Deity (64, 71f.), the importance of being human (70), with the principle of Biblical transcendence (not philosophical transcendence) found in the Creator – creature distinction (to use Van Til’s term) underlying the whole (81); including the nature of ethics (89). My copy is filled with notations throughout these pages. This also completes Part One of the book.

Chapter Six The second half of the volume presents a contrast between a conservative and biblical historiography as opposed to a non- conservative or postmodern historiography. The discussion is valuable, but leaves the reader hanging with unanswered questions about whether the Bible utilizes ANE myths. One of the most helpful aspects of Oswalt’s comparative analysis of the Bible’s approach to history vs. the ANE’s approach to history (146-47) replicates differences identified by John Walton in Ancient Israelite Literature in Its Cultural Context (Zondervan, 1989). The tenth chapter of The Bible Among the Myths concludes by describing the views of four scholars with regard to biblical history: John Van Seters (172-75), Frank Cross (175-77), William Dever (177-81), and Mark Smith (181-84). Oswalt concludes that these scholars (and others) have not presented “a convincing explanation for the unique features of the biblical worldview and the ways in which that worldview affects the understanding of reality in the Bible” (184). The only satisfactory viewpoint regarding the nature of biblical revelation resides in its uniqueness in the world, not its apparent similarities to ANE literature and worldviews (192, 194). This volume represents a distinct and high view of Scripture, its inspiration and veracity. Oswalt exposes the evolutionary, humanistic, and antisupernatural characteristics of opposition to the Bible’s uniqueness as divine revelation. He makes a significant contribution to the discussion of myth and history related to the Bible. With each passing page, he kept expecting a treatment of the matter of the Bible’s borrowing or employing ANE myth, mythical characters, and mythical imagery. A quick check of the “Author Index” (203-4) found that Oswalt makes no reference to the work of Elmer Smick on mythology in the Book of Job. Smick’s work must be considered foundational to such a discussion, so why its conspicuous absence? With the transition from the superb treatment of the topic of myth in the first half of the book to the topic of history, the direction of investigation continues down a separate path. Having established that the Bible is not myth, Oswalt does not resolve how biblical writers might have employed ANE myths.
Part Two
Chapter Six
This chapter defines history and the problem with history. Oswalt points out the following representative: a. An account of what has happened; narrative; 2) a) what has happened in the life of a people, country, etc., b) a systematic account of this; 3. All recorded events of the past; 4. That branch of the knoledge that deals systematically with the recording, analyzing and coordinating of the past events 5) a known or recorded past; as this coat has a history.
Chapter 7 This chapter is called the Bible Truly Historical? The Problem of History? This section and the next section details the historical approach and theory to the Bible. It opened my eyes to how the Bible really fits into history. There is no lack of books that argue that the Bible is no different from any other ancient mythology. From one perspective, there seems to be logic to such a theory. The Bible shares with ancient myths a belief in divine beings, miracles and heroes performing fantastic deeds. Perhaps the only difference is that the “biblical myth” continues to have believers today.
Chapter 8 John Oswalt deals with these questions in his book: The Bible Among the Myths. It would be tempting to tackle this issue by simply comparing biblical stories with mythological stories. However, Oswalt takes a more useful route by looking at the different worldviews found within the Bible and ancient myths. Building from this foundation, Oswalt provides a persuasive argument that the Bible is fundamentally different than ancient myths.
Chapter Nine This section is concluded by a chapter (chapter 9) which critiques several unbelieving liberal scholars like John Van Seters, William Dever and Mark Smith. Their theories about the origin of Israelite religion are shown to be elusive and unsatisfactory. A final chapter summarizes the findings in the book.
This book isn’t that long and although technical it did add a lot of thought provoking ideas. I would have liked to see Oswalt elaborate on some of the chapters. However, the points he did make, he delivered with a strong message that made it resonate with me nonetheless. Towards the end of the book Oswalt deals with competing hypotheses about Israel's unique understanding. The scholars he deals with are Frank Cross, Mark Smith and William Dever. This is the part of the book that I was disappointed in this aspect of the book. Oswalt attempts to deconstruct their hypotheses in only a few pages which was not enough time spent on the topic to do the topic the way it needs to be done. He tried to show that Israel was not really that unique after all. But, the amount of space utilized to refute these points were not enough. I wish Oswalt would've gone into more depth when conversing with them. Overall, this book definitely strengthened my faith and clearly helped me put the religious aspect of my thought into perspective. Oswalt did an average job of demonstrating that Israel had a unique understanding of the world, and that its extremely difficult to account for this understanding apart from some type of revelation. In summary, this book, while somewhat technical, is an excellent resource for understanding not only the uniqueness of Biblical revelation but also the underpinnings of why our culture seeks to devalue the Bible and the exclusive claims of Scripture. He gives a very interesting prediction of what to expect if our culture continues to go down the path it is presently on. I think this is a must read for Christians and people with questions about the Bible.

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