book summary the bible among the myths

The book opens with an introduction comparing the study of the Old Testament and the other religions and cultures of other peoples from the Ancient Near East. Scholars used to believe that the Old Testament was unique among other beliefs in the Ancient Near East but they now view the Old Testament as identical to other religions of its day and time.

The author also discusses the vital philosophical distinction between “essence” and “accident.” When removing an essential feature of an object, it will cease to be itself but if you remove an accidental feature of an object, there will be no change in the object’s essential being. The author also introduces the characteristics of myth.

1) That human beings have little or no real value.
2) The relative lack of interest in historical studies.
3) The practice of magic and the occult.
4) The refusal to accept responsibility for individual actions. The final part of the introduction claims that the trustworthiness of the theological issues is contingent upon the trustworthiness of the historical claims.

In the first chapter it is told that there are many contributors that the Western world has of looking at reality. The Bible is the single most important of these contributors. The Greeks brought a type of thinking that had an impact on society. Three of their significant contributions were: the belief in a “universe” instead of a “polyverse,” simple cause and effect, and non-contradiction. At the foundation of this thought was the conviction that something could not be so and not so at the same time.

The Hebrew people were also unique in their view believing that there was only one God, that God is the one and only creator of all that is, God exists apart from the creation, God made his will known to people and revealed himself to humans in the context of their unique experiences in space and time, and that God rewards and punishes people on the basis of following or disobeying his will.

Many people thought they could live by the pagan worldview and give lip service to the biblical one but because of the work of Ezra, Nehemiah, Malachi and many others whose names we do not know came the conviction that the only way to avoid more divine punishment was to worship Yahweh only. As scripture states, “(For the Lord thy God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the Lord thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth.” Deuteronomy 6:15 and with that said, the survival of the biblical understanding of reality was assured.

The combining of Greek and Hebrew thought came to pass when the gospel of Jesus was forced into the Greco-Roman world. From that combination came the explanation for the Greek idea of a universe. That there is one Creator who gave rise to the universe and though his creative will it finds its unity. Now there is a basis for the Greek belief in the law of non-contradiction in recognizing that God is not the world and the world is not God. There is such a thing as truth because the Creator is absolutely reliable and faithful to his Word.

As for the necessity of the biblical worldview it can be maintained that logic and science alone can lead to self-destruction. They cannot stand on their own. Without the transcendent creator of the universe to direct humanity’s path, people will only look to serve themselves and not the God of all creation.

Here is the attempt to find a suitable definition for the word myth. First the Bible is the holy guide of Christians and a Myth is a legend or fable. The question is whether the Bible has a distinctive view of reality; in other words whether the Bible is real or made up. Since the ‘60’s there have been claims that the characteristics of the Bible and its contemporary belief systems have more in common than opposition even though the data used to support these claims have remained the same.

As the author tries to apply the appropriate classification to the Bible to address whether or not the Bible should be viewed as a myth one had to consider the definitions by scholars today. One of the groups of definitions falls under the category of the historical-philosophical definition. The first definition of myth in this category is the etymological definition. This definition stresses the falsity of the deity or event or thing being described. The second is the sociological-theological definition where the truth is seen as relative and something is considered true if it is seen as true by others. The third is the literary definition.

These kinds of definitions claim to make no value judgment about their material. The events are not seen as right or wrong and the narrative makes use of symbolism to express it meaning. The many definitions of a myth have one thing in common; they all give to the philosophy of continuity. Continuity assumes that all things are not only related to one another, but are literally one another in some fashion. Overall it can be said that whatever the Bible is, whether symbol or literal, true or false, it is not myth.

As the title of this chapter is Continuity: The Basis of Mythical Thinking the author gives further details about what he touched on at the end of chapter two. The presence of continuity is the one thing that myths have in common. The way of thinking in continuity views all things as part of each other in some way. Humanity, nature, and the divine are the three major forces and all exist on a circular continuum. There are various and numerous effects of the continuity worldview.

One is the emphasis of looking for signs in nature. There have been attempts at explaining reality from plagues, floods, fire, weather patterns and the celestial bodies. Another is the use of magic to influence and affect the cosmos. The last of the long list of effects of continuity includes people’s fixation on fertility. To end the chapter we have a list of five of what is believed to be the common features of myths: 1) Polytheism

2) Images
3) Eternity of Chaotic Matter
4) Personality Not Essential to Reality
5) Low View of the Gods.
Except for exemptions, myths all share the same belief that there exist a multitude of gods. They also believe in the heavy use of icons and symbols to interact with the divine and nature. The gods themselves are seen as fallible beings and viewed lowly. The creation accounts involve some kind of major conflict in order to bring about the universe. The last common feature of myth is the low value placed on humanity, which stems from the belief that no single standard of principles exist.

Dealing with the topic of Transcendence: Basis of Biblical Thinking was transcendence refers to the aspect of God’s nature and power which is wholly independent of the material universe, beyond all physical Laws. Some common characteristics are:

1) Monotheism where the belief is that there is only on God.

2) Iconoclasm is the insistence that God may not be represented in any created form.

3) First Principle Is Spirit meaning God the Spirit is prior to everything.

4) Absence of Conflict in the Creation Process thinking the world exists merely because God wants it to, not because of some cosmic struggle between the forces of order and the forces of disorder. [67]

5) Humanity is another characteristic that sets biblical thought apart from other religious beliefs. It makes sense when a person reads Genesis 1:27 that God made humans in his own image because people believe they were the “apex” of God’s creation and given dominion over it.

Other characteristics that set biblical worldview apart from others is the belief that God is supra-sexual, the prohibition against magic or sorcery of any kind, and the ethical code that God expects obedience. Transcendence can be viewed as the foundational principle among the key characteristics of biblical thought.

As this chapter continues to show why the Bible should not be characterized as myth, it goes in depth with the issue of ethics. The non-biblical view held two sets of ethics in the Ancient Near East, one dealt with offenses against the gods and the other dealt with how people interacted with each other.

As for the Bible, god alone defined ethical behavior and was not subject to the whims of societal change. The similarities between Israelites and non-Israelite peoples will be listed but not defined, they are areas similar in practice, similarities in Expression, and in the way they thought.

As it is with the definition of myth, the term history has been defined differently by the scholars. History is past events as well as the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about these events. This definition along with other definitions can have important components such as the idea of connectedness among events, the centrality of human activity, the concept that significance is to be found in time and space, that accuracy in reporting is essential, that completeness is striven for, that evaluation is necessary, and that human self-knowledge is the end product. [113] Certain ways of thinking must take place in order for one to understand the reality on which history writing depends. 1) The belief that humans are free and responsible must occur.

2) The belief that causes and effects are linked and traceable in space and time. 3) The belief that falsification of data is inimical to understanding. 4) The belief that human experience is dynamic and goal-oriented.

5) The belief that relationships within space and time have fundamental significance.

6) The belief that some consistent standard by which behavior may be evaluated. There are various types of non-biblical writings about the human past in the ancient Near Eastern literatures, they are: Omens – they attempt to use signs from nature to determine the course of action that a leader should take. Kings – these writings include genealogies of significant people but often greatly exaggerate information. Data Formulae – this writing includes a list of key events in the progression of a society but does not relate the events in a way that gives people a deeper knowledge of the culture.

Epics – these are typically narratives of certain events in the life of a hero in Greek literature. Royal Annals – these are more thorough kinds of collections and recordings of data from the past. Chronicles – these are the writings of ancient Near Eastern literature that most nearly accords with what we think of as history writings. Some reasons why ancient peoples failed to use historic writing are as follows:

1) Focus on “Now” – ancient people did not see the importance of recording information for the benefit of others since they were concerned about the here and now.

2) Subjective Orientation – they had a self-centered viewpoint. They did not care to remove themselves from their situations while writing about events. 3) Multiplicity of Causes – believing in multiple causes when simple causes were sufficient, subscribed to a belief that they could not control their destinies, and were more concerned about maintaining order. The Bible is unique in how it handles historical events.

It deals with individuals as real people. While non-biblical writers would have made no mention failures in their narratives, the writers include these failures. One example is the story of King David and how he committed adultery with the wife of one of his generals and followed it with a murder to cover it up. Other examples of things that make the Bible unique in its depiction of history is the emphasis on human relationships and choices.

There were some issues that were used against the Bible concerning its historicity. Some relate to revelation, supernatural events, and whether Israel was unique in these areas. It was put in this way that Revelation is not confined to divine action and that divine action in history is not unique to Israel. Some concepts that God used when he supernaturally revealed himself to humanity and caused the Israelites to ensure they were accurate with their writings were these concepts: 1. Sin causing non-achievement of goals

2. Denial of eternal entities
3. Disinterested providence (no favorites)
4. Outworking of divine purposes in history
5. Apocalypse
6. Periods
7. Universalism
The validity of the interpretations cannot be separated from the factual persons and events, but facts are no guarantee of the validity of the interpretations.

In this chapter the important case is made that the Bible is a historically accurate document. It is very important for all to realize that the whole Bible is historical. It is realized that the Pentateuch, Prophets and books of poetry are historical when looking at the Old Testament. While careful not to marginalize weaknesses, failures and improprieties, they describe people and flesh out of their relationships with one another. Also introduced in this chapter is a more toned view of history and the definition is split. The German word Geschichte connotes narrative while Historie deals with the actual event. Concluding this section shows history to be inseparable from theology in the Bible – for the theology belief stems from the historical event. A great example in the resurrection is used to support this conclusion. The Apostle Paul states in his epistle to the church in Corinth that one’s faith cannot exist without a historical belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Alternative views concerning the biblical narrative as it is known today can be summed up by the argument of four scholars. First critic is John Van Seters who contends that Jewish priests altered the Bible after the Babylonian exile. Second critic is Frank Cross’ claims the Bible used to be an epic poem but was changed at some point to the Old Testament’s current state. Third critic is William Dever who believes that Israel’s belief systems were identical to Canaanite beliefs and the Christian scholars have overlooked certain facts throughout history to paint an inaccurate picture of ancient Israel. Last critic is Mark Smith who argues that Israel’s beliefs originated out of the Canaanite’s polytheistic beliefs.

The conclusion of the book, The Bible Among the Myths, ends in the last chapter, chapter ten, and restates his main points from the previous chapters. The contrast between biblical and non-biblical views of reality
is the major theme that is stressed. Basically put, the biblical view is rooted in transcendence while the non-biblical view is rooted in continuity. It cannot conclude without restating some of the points that were from the discussion from week one which states, “If the historical basis on which the supposed revelation [the Bible] rested was false, then why should we give any special credence to the ideas resting on that basis?” And as it was summed up there are many assumptions that the bible is a myth but as Bible believing and Bible reading Christians not only should we believe the Bible not to be a myth and not just that the Bible is true but that it is the Inspired Word of God. In other words, God actually wrote the Bible using humans as His authors.

The Old Testament is about real people who went through real situations, not some mythical characters that man made up into a story. From the Book of Beginnings, Genesis, we get the historical reference from which all revelation proceeds and many of the things we are doing and partaking of today. Genesis was the beginning of the Universe, man and woman, human sin and of the nation Israel as God’s chosen people. From the book of Genesis we learned about Adam and Eve, Satan, Noah and the flood, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.

We also learned about the beginning of marriage, family, work, sin, murder, sacrifice, races, languages and more important events that would shape our lives to the present day. The Bible is the historical revelation and is the account of Gods activities in history and someone had to have lived the ways in the Old Testament to have witnessed and written about it. As long as it is known the Jesus died on the cross and rose on the third day, then there should be no hesitation that the Bible is not a Myth but very Real.

Groovychristian. June 6th 2012. John Oswalt Book Review. John N. Oswalt. 2009. Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Lieterature? The Bible Among The Myths Ibid. 67

Ibid. 113
Deuteronomy 6:15

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