by Luke Nix
The Bible among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature? by John Oswalt $2.99
It is quite common to hear or see people include the Bible as just another piece of ancient near east mythology that may be rejected as having no applicability to reality. John Oswalt decided to investigate this claim and address it directly in his book The Bible Among The Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature? This book comes to me by recommendation of several people, and the introduction alone sparked great excitement to dig in quickly and deeply. This review will be a chapter-by-chapter summary and will include some of my concluding thoughts.
Part 1: The Bible and Myth
Chapter 1: The Bible In Its World
Oswalt begins by providing the historical context. He takes the reader quickly through Greek philosophy, which was based on the idea that something cannot be and not be at the same time (the law of non-contradiction). The Greek philosophers struggled (and lost) for acceptance of this radical idea in their culture. At roughly the same time the Hebrew idea of a single God, who created the universe, (an idea also unique among cultures of the time) was under attack in the mind of the very people who carried the tradition because of the rising military powers, which affirmed contradicting theologies, that eventually overtook the nature of Israel. However, this "set the stage" for Jesus Christ to come on the scene and bring these two culturally independent yet correct understandings of reality together into one consistent worldview that is now known as "Christianity." A single God, who created the universe, is the metaphysical foundation for the law of non-contradiction that his creation (and the rest of reality, for that matter) adheres to. The Christian worldview was necessary for logic and science to fully develop and fully function (seemingly) independently.
Chapter 2: The Bible and Myth: A Problem of Definition
Many people want to classify the Bible as myth. However many definitions for "myth" exist. If one is to place the Bible in a mythical category, it must be determined which one. Oswalt takes the reader through many different definitions that can all be classified into two primary types: historical-philosophical and phenomenological. The first defines myths by truth value or function value of the story, while the second focuses merely on ascribing human characteristics to nature to explain it. Oswalt compares the purposes and philosophies of the different definitions. He explains that some of the definitions are so broad that they include stories that are not accepted as myths, while others are so restrictive that they exclude stories that are accepted as myths, but they all capture some elements of myths, so it is difficult to determine which one is the best.
Oswalt, though, believes that landing on a single definition is not necessary to determine if the Bible truly is myth. Rather it can be determined if necessary characteristics that are common to all the definitions can be identified and shown to be either present or not in the Bible. One such necessary characteristic common to all the definitions is the idea of continuity- meaning that all distinctions within reality (including individual objects) are illusions- only one reality exists, and the goal of existence is to lose all distinction (say, between the reader and a tree) and be one. This is the necessary characteristic of all the possible definitions of myth that Oswalt will test the Bible against: does the Bible teach such a worldview? If the Bible does not teach this worldview, it cannot be classified as myth, regardless of which definition one wishes to use.
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