The Bible among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature?
Author: John N. Oswalt
Publisher: Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2009
Ive been trying multiple times to write a review but gave up as the posts became way too long and found myself frustrated trying to summarize the authors views and my own. But when reading a review the other day$ of this book at the Review of Biblical Literature blog I found something missing which I realized would have been the most interesting part of the review I was reading: the reviewers opinion.
Reading a summary of the book is nice but Im more interested in what the reviewer thinks of it and while not knowing whether this sentiment is shared Ill try to write my review in that way.
In this book J. Oswalt takes on the question of the subtitle. The book is divided in two parts: 1. The Bible and Myth and 2. The Bible and History. In the first part he looks at the context of the Bible and whether its proper to classify the Bible as myth. He argues that myths in the Ancient Near East (ANE) are characterized by “Continuity” thinking. Which at it root holds that there is no fundamental distinction between the divine, human and natural realm. He shows the implications of this and how this kind of thinking cannot be found in the Bible. He argues that the basis of Israelite religion was Transcendence and that this radically differed from Israel’s neighbours, and even though they may have utilized some of the same forms as their neighbours they were essentially different. In a footnote he relates as an illustration that even though a dog may have two eyes, one nose and one mouth, similar to a human, when comparing them they remain essentially different.
In the second part he examines the question whether its possible to retain the theology of the Bible without its history. He argues that this is not the case. He examines Bultmann’s approach to history as well as the one offered by Process theology. In the last chapter he takes a look at explanations for the origins of the Biblical worldview and reviews four scholars; John van Seters, Frank Cross, Mark Smith and William Dever. These all, in his opinion, fail to provide a coherent and compelling account of the origins of the Biblical worldview.
I had an up and down relationship with this book. At times I liked it very much and other times I was frustrated at the apologetic parts that were contained in it. In all it was a good book. When reading other books its common to see scholars refer to parallels in texts of the ANE and having no first hand knowledge you just have to take their word for it that they know what they are talking about. Actually this problem is not overcome inasmuch as he does not really quote texts but still he tries to examine the basis of these texts and what they share with the Biblical Scriptures and where they differ. This I enjoyed even though I found him a bit conservative and would have enjoyed a more open approach.
Nevertheless on the whole I think he made a good argument and a timely one (for me). The way he distinguished between Continuity and Transcendence was helpful and the examples he gave quite convincing. I was a bit dissappointed to see that alot of the works he cited were kind of dated; ranging between the 60s and end 80s. I dont think scholarship stopped developing after that so in that sense it would have been interesting to hear more recent voices. Especially I would have been interested to read about how the idea of revelation has been dealt with by more recent philosophers that hold to the idea that the Bible is a unique divine revelation.
For me personally this book does not seal the deal but is more a motivation to take a look at those myths myself and see whether his approach of distinguishing between the underlying paradigms (Continuity vs. Transcendence) works.
7.5 out of 10
Creative and worthy attempt to counter the prevailing mood of those who treat the Bible as myth and those that try to so that while saving its theology.