The Myth That the Bible is Just a Myth

by Robin Schumacher

Rice Broocks recent opinion piece on FoxNews speaks about the strong popularity of the History Channel’s “Bible” miniseries and describes how it has once again unearthed the debate over whether the events chronicled in Scripture are history or fiction. Atheists and skeptics have consistently answered that question with the assertion that the Bible is nothing more than a collectivized set of fairy tales whose historical validity is on par with Aesop’s fables.

But is this the case? Pushing aside the bias that exists between those holding a wholly naturalistic vs. supernaturalistic worldview, is there a neutral, historical way to examine the Bible to determine whether it fits within the purview of legend and myth?

The Differences Between the Bible and Myth

Historian and Old Testament expert Dr. John Oswalt thinks that there is. In his book, The Bible among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature?, Oswalt builds a case for the Bible not being myth by carefully identifying and comparing the characteristics of mythology and Scripture. Oswalt says, “If one simply lists the component parts of a dog alongside those of a man, one might conclude that they are essentially the same. But if one takes ‘dog’ as a whole and ‘man’ as a whole, what can one conclude but that they are in their essences different? So also, if we look at the Bible as a whole, where else is there anything like it in its world, or indeed, in the world?”[1]

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One must be careful, says Oswalt, of confusing essentials and accidentals when looking at the Bible and mythology. Accidentals involve similarities in two things that are not of major importance where the essence of a thing is concerned, whereas essentials are the exact opposite. So, for example, hair might be an accidental and self-consciousness an essential for human beings.

In chapters three and four of his book, Oswalt carefully chronicles various differentiators between the Bible and myths, and leaves little room for doubt about how they diverge from one another. He sums up his analysis by stating, “Whatever the Bible is, it is not myth. That is to say, I have concluded that the similarities between the Bible and the rest of the literatures of the ancient Near East are superficial, while the differences are essential.”[2] This conclusion dovetails well with Harvard professor G. Ernest Wright’s statement: “The God of Israel has no mythology.”[3]

Three other observations by Oswalt are worth noting. First, although the idea of one God is dominant today, this has not always been the case. Noting the uniqueness of the Bible, Oswalt declares: “The single most obvious difference between the thought of the Old Testament and that of Israel’s neighbors is monotheism. How many monotheistic religions are there in the world today? There are only three: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And where do these three get their monotheism? All from one source: the Old Testament…

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