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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Bible among the Myths, by John N. Oswalt

Not long ago, a young lady, educated in one of the nearby liberal arts colleges, asked about the Bible’s relationship to pagan myths. Her teacher had asserted that Genesis 1 was just Jewish mythology based on earlier near-eastern writings. I had written a bit about pagan mythology in my book, The Beauty of God for a Broken World, and I knew somewhat more that I wrote. She seemed satisfied, but I wish I could have placed The Bible among the Myths in her hand.

I have often described the Bible’s creation account as an anti-mythology. Oswalt provides new depth for that description. He begins, in one sense, with the end of the story as he reviews how the combination of the Greek and Hebrew worldviews led to the unique understanding that we find in Western civilization.
As a result of that combination there was now an explanation for the Greek intuition of a universe [instead of a “polyverse”]: there is one Creator who has given rise to the universe and in whose creative will it finds its unity. At the same time the Greeks showed the Hebrews the logical implications of their monotheism (25).

Chapter 2 shows that to call the Bible a myth or a collection of myths stretches the definition of myth so much that it ceases to be a useful term. Chapters 3 and 4 highlight the fundamental contrast between the biblical and the mythological worldviews. Mythological thinking sees a continuity between the gods and human beings and all of nature. The Bible insists that God is transcendent. He stands far above His creation. There is no gradual scale of beings between God and the world.

“The Bible versus Myth” (chapter 5) examines a number of parallels between the Bible and its surrounding culture. It would be surprising if there were no such points of contact, but Oswalt shows that they function in entirely different ways in the pagan worldview than they do in the Bible.

The next two chapters argue that the biblical worldview provides the only solid basis for a truly historical perspective on life. Genuine history, as opposed to king lists and royal annals, is not found in the ancient near east.

The final chapter is perhaps the least interesting for the general reader. In it Oswalt reacts briefly with proposals by other Old Testament scholars who offer other explanations for the Bible’s worldview. I highly recommend this book for people who have heard that the Bible is just a bunch of myths.

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