The Bible Among Myths
Old Testament Introduction July 6, 2014 Introduction The author, a research professor at Wesley Biblical Seminary by the name of John N. Oswald, attempts to explain the similarities and differences of the Holy Scripture and its teachings from that of the neighboring Ancient Near East beliefs.
Moreover, he attempts to answer the question of how scholarly opinions of the disagreements found between Genesis and Babylonian accounts of the origins of the world. He points out how the modern-day scholars are now comparing the Bible to other religious documents and considering it as Just another mythical belief. Oswald credits this world-view change to a study of similarities between the Bible and like Near Eastern writings rather than before when perhaps more interest was placed on viewing the differences.
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These studies are explained in the first half of this publication and sub-titled The Bible and Myth. Within the second part of the book sub-titled The Bible and History, he solicits the reader to ask questions about the authenticity of the Old Testament, or is it even important that the Bible be historically accurate? Even if those inaccuracies are proven, does it hold any significance in the theological beliefs presented within? To summarize the books overall theme, Oswald desires that his reader gives any evidence of accuracy the credit it is due.
Not to be swayed by unsubstantiated conjectures that might diminish the focus of what is fundamentally true. His is not a request for us to look past the inaccuracies or to take a stance that if the Bible says it’s so then that’s all there is to it. Mr.. Oswald asks the reader to allow the possibility f ‘harmonistic’ and not Jump to any conclusions without allowing for the truth to reveal itself in the scripture. Part I The Bible and Myth Chapter One The Bible In Its World In the opening chapter, Oswald looks into the diverse views of world creation and being.
He compares and contrasts how Greek philosophy influenced the monotheistic culture of the Israelites which ultimately contributed to the Western world beliefs we know today. Early Greek philosophers reasoned that there is but one “universe” with a sole point of unification and not a “powers” with variable sources of creation. They taught that everything could be reasoned and that something could be so and not so at the same time. This belief conflicted with that of the world view of the Ancient Near East (ANNE).
The world view supposed that existence on earth was the result of many unseen forces in the realm of the invisible. Apparently the Greek philosophers proposing this message didn’t win over the acceptance of that culture and they found themselves forced out and into hiding, some taking their own lives thus ending the age of Greek philosophical thought. This struggle was displayed in he play Beach by the Greek playwright Euripides wherein the conflict is played out between the rational human-nature component acted out by men who were pitted against the women that played the part of the irrational side of Human existence.
The men were killed by the women depicting the two opposing views could not coexist and the polymers of many deities would dominate cultural thought. At about the same time, it seems that the Israelites were experiencing a similar battle of faith. The Hebrew believed that there was a sole Creator that rewarded and disciplined based on obedience to God’s will. This view was quite the opposite from that of the polymers thinkers and against the beliefs of the Ancient Near Eastern cultures that trusted in the parallel invisible world.
Even them, the Hebrew held to their conviction of a monotheistic God and the prophet’s ability to predict the exile and return of the Israelites strengthened that resolve. Christianity was to be the compilation of Greek thought and Hebrew belief. The Greek logic provided cause and effect for the Hebrew creation theory of God. Finally acknowledgment that God is not the world and the world is not God. Logic and science working together. Oswald writes here that an important conclusion is derived in that science and logic are not self-evident, neither able to stand alone.
Together, the system provided value to the individual and the importance of history and why things are as they are. Closing out Chapter one Oswald laments the apparent modern reliance on rationalism and less on our God. History and the people are becoming less relevant and there is more emphasis placed on comfort, pleasure and self-preservation. Assault’s hope is that the younger readers will realize this direction and reconsider the turn away from God and toward the enemy. Chapter Two The Bible And Myth: Oswald lays out the root for Biblical reality.
He questions how the Bible can be included with the Ancient Near Eastern arguments as a myth when it is so radically different. The true question being the actual definition of a myth. Oswald allows that this question fully depends on the definition of the term. It is also important to grasp why there is a desire to place it in the mythological category to begin with. Here Oswald compares the many definitions of a myth. He assembles all the similarities possessed by each to redefine a true myth. Oswald provides allegory reasoning to establish that a definition too broad will result in a loss of validity.
He explains that only to broaden the scope of the definition to suit (or include) the Bible does nothing to add credit to the validity of the meaning. Oswald ends this chapter with a compilation of definitions and has primarily grouped them into two categories. Within this the first, we find etymological, sociological and the literary. Primarily, Oswald wants the reader to know that to appropriately define a myth, you must have narrowed down the definition. In this category, the definition is narrowed down to hat of Just characteristic rather than function or quality.
Something with order and predictability. This section summarizes the attempts to provide more adaptive definitions and theories to define a myth led to commonality or continuity to describe the world-view. He offers that the philosophy of continuity states that all things are continuous and are one, defining that God and earth are one but separate. That said, an item made from earth is God. This is true for all religions except those beliefs which have derived from the Hebrew being Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Chapter Three Continuity: The Basis Of Mythical Thinking
In this chapter we follow Oswald as he delves into the ideology supporting the supernatural aspects of myth. It provides that myth views are Just another way of tuning into reality than what we accept using Westernizes logic. By defining myth as “all things continuous”, there can be no distinction between the three realms of human, nature and divine. Oswald describes the term pantheism and how things that look and sound alike are considered the same therefore to worship an idol is to worship a God. Through this logic, mankind can alter the outcome of natural events by way of their idols.
He states that this is the single most important aspect to the way of thinking that characterizes myth. It is believed that in Myths, a magic spell can disrupt the continuous nature of things, bringing chaos and disorder between the realms. Myths are polytheism meaning many Gods. They are often represented through symbolism. It is fundamental in myth that all things begin with matter. In myth, humans exist to serve the gods. They have no significance in the mythical world. Personalities are exceptions to the norm creating chaos to the continuity.
That world is a continuous circle coming and going nowhere at all times. Chapter 4: Transcendence: Basis Of Biblical Thinking The Bible, when compared to the surrounding ANNE, is radically different in how it approaches reality. The Old Testament, regardless of the historical statements being true or false, is consistent. Common Characteristics Of Biblical Thought: The two biggest differing traits in the Old Testament are monotheism and iconoclasm. Monotheism maintains that Heehaw is the sole creator and separate from the world.
The Hebrew people are the only culture ever to exist that believed in monotheism. Israel, which was less advanced in all aspects of culture then the surrounding ANNE, insisted on a monotheistic religion above all. Iconoclasm states that God cannot be made in any image or any created form. It is clearly stated and defined in the Old Testament (Ex. 20-4-5); muff shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them. ” This belief is the basis of transcendence.
God is not the world, God cannot be identified to the world, God cannot be recreated and God cannot be manipulated by the world. Other distinct characteristics that separate Hebrew thought from all other belief systems are: 1 . God is spirit and not matter which is the polar opposite viewpoint of myth. Myth states that matter is the basis of everything. 2. ) There was no conflict during the creation process. In myth creation evolves from chaos but in the Old Testament the world exists only because God spoke it into existence. 3. ) The Old Testament has a very high viewpoint of humanity.
In fact man is made in the image of God. God created man last and man is the apex of all creation. In myth humanity is an afterthought and the only purpose is to provide for the gods. 4. ) God is reliable and consistent. Heehaw will bless people and be there for his people even when it is not to God’s advantage. In myth the gods are fickle and only self-serving. 5. ) God is supra-sexual which simply means God is not sexed. He is neither male nor female. He is spirit being and does not take on any traits of sexuality and sex played no part in the creation process.
In myth gods comes into existence by sexual means. They have sex with each other to make other gods and also have sex with desirable women to make semi-gods. 6. ) Since God is not sexed in the Bible, sex is dissocialized in the Old Testament. God set clear boundaries o establish what is acceptable and what is forbidden when dealing with sexual relationships. Mythology uses all types of sexual rituals so that they can influence and manipulate the gods. There are no boundaries and anything goes. 7. ) The Old Testament also prohibits the use of magic.
Sorcery of all kind is forbidden and may not be used to attempt to manipulate God in any ritualistic way. The attempt to manipulate God to gain self-interest is vile to God. You maintain a personal relationship with God though prayer and obedience. In mythology magic, sorcery and rituals are common and essential to dealing with the gods. There is no individual as the individual is Just part of the continuous nature. The gods are only influenced through the rituals of society. 8. Humans relate to God though ethical behavior and to the disciplined obedience of God.
What matters most to the Israelites is how people treat their parents, their children, their neighbors and strangers. They show their commitment to God by how they interact with others. God gives strict laws for his people to uphold and follow. Strict obedience to this covenant will create holiness for oneself bringing one closer to the holiness of God. Transcendence As The Underlying Principle: The underlying and most important distinction in the biblical understanding of reality is how God is in relation to the cosmos.
In mythical thinking god is the cosmos or the cosmos is god. The source and the manifestation are indistinguishable and are continuous. In Biblical thought God is transcendent. God is not the cosmos and the cosmos is not God. God is separate and apart from the creation. This belief is completely contrary to continuity and distinguishes that God and heaven are not part of the natural world. The world is separate and only exists cause God willed it into existence by his word. This is the law of transcendence that clearly shows God is other than the cosmos.
Oswald established in this chapter that all the reasons which make something a myth are opposite from the biblical worldview of the Old Testament. The Bible can therefore not be considered a myth. This does not say that the Bible is true but it is definitely not a myth. One thing is true; the Bible is unique and consistent which gives credence to the approach. Chapter 5: The Bible Verses Myth Ethics: In mythology there are two kinds of ethical misbehaver, offenses against gods ND offenses against people. Most offenses against the gods deal in the magical realm with rituals or spells.
It is an attempt to ward off the gods from interfering or to manipulate the gods to gain favors. The repercussion of the offense depends on the mood, reaction and the personality of the god at the time. Offenses against other people are another matter. It is a crime against the laws of society that have predetermined punishments. In myth the laws are understood to be human creations. Therefore Judgment is by the people and there isn’t reason to appeal to gods for help. In biblical thought, God has a covenant with man and all the laws for how people relate to God and to each other come from God through transcendence.
One is either obedient or not to the law of God. There is no distinction between sin against God and crime against society. They are both lack of obedience to the written commands from God. What is unique is that the standard of the law and covenant with God is formed from the character of the one true Heehaw. Another biblical thought on ethics to consider is that the expectations are clear to all. There are clear results from compliance or noncompliance by the individual. One can gain more insight into God’s nature by how one reacts ethically in the physical world.
Things happen too person because of what that person has done or is doing. It is no longer an unknown act in the divine world. Lastly, is the free choice from allowed by God, a person’s choice can impact what happens; it is no longer Just a reflection from the other realm or from a cosmic event. Jerusalem fell not because other gods in the divine defeated Heehaw, but because the people broke their covenant with God and God allowed the fall. It was a result of free choices and the consequences from those hoicks.
The Significance of Similarities Between Israelites and Non-illustrates: Oswald now turns to similarities between the Israelite belief system and other surrounding cultures of the ANNE. There are five main topics that Oswald reviews: 1). Similarities in Practice: Without question there are similarities in the practices of the Hebrews and their neighbors. One obvious similarity is that both had laws that were delivered to them from God. Another similar practice is the ritual of sacrifice and the ceremonial cleanness associated with the practice.
Still further is the set-up of the tabernacle ND covenant with God which is almost identical to the Canniest sanctuaries. What makes the Hebrews stand apart is the obedience to the concept that if I do something to my neighbor it has a direct correlation to my relationship to God. The Egyptian, Canniest and Mesopotamia could not accept that if one stole from another person it was a violation to the creator. No matter how similar any of the beliefs or practices seemed, the deciding factor that separated the Hebrews was their relationship of the individual to God.
There is a system of ethics that affect by one’s behavior in all matters. 2. Similarities in Expression: There are references in the Bible to the cosmos and to other mythical things such as the Leviathan. Some argue that the Hebrews believed in the chaos of cosmos or continuity because of the mention of mythical things that are used as reference in the Bible. Oswald states the difference is that, “the transcendent God is accomplishing his will through an obedient nature in a specific historic event.
In a unique moment in time and space, never to be repeated, but also ever to be forgotten, God has worked redemption for his people. ” The Bible doesn’t necessarily believe the myth of the surrounding ultras, but makes the point of the myth, to only break the myths validity, to make it absolutely clear it is God who prevailed. 3,) Similarities in Thought Patterns: There is a scholarly consensus that believes the Israelite religion is based on the principle of continuity which is similar to the surrounding ANNE culture. The Israelites abandon the belief system of continuity because of a cataclysmic event.
It is further argued that the event was the exodus from Egypt and that all documented history of the Israelites prior to the exodus was rewritten to mirror the recent adopted reenactments God belief. The problem with this argument is that the Hebrew believes that God reveals himself through unique events and persons in time and space. The historical relevance is absolute and the inspired written word of God. It is contrary to the entire belief system of a transcendent God that defines the Hebrew thought. 4. ) Genesis: Is Genesis, especially the early chapters, written in myth?
The problem with this thought is that the characteristics that define a myth are absent. There are not multiple gods, there is no continual creation that the world reflects, sex is not a part f the creation story, there is a high view of man not a low one and there is no conflict between order and chaos. Scholars have attempted to say that in Genesis 1:1 “When God began to create the heaven and earth, the earth was without form and void. ” that Hebrews believed in a preexistent chaos. The second point scholars make to say that Genesis is a myth, is that the creation story is similar to the Babylonian.
When observed closely the texts of the two stories do not really match. The majority of the Babylonian creation story focuses on the creation of the gods and the battle between gods for a supreme rule. They are only similar in a logical progression of how things were made The bottom line is that there is no conflict between good and evil or any sexual deeds that transpired to make the creation process start. The world both in heaven and on earth are because God willed it and commanded it to be so by his word. Psalms: There are many Psalms that can be construed as similar and describing pagan gods and viewpoints.
Oswald demonstrates in Psalm 29, Psalm 68 and Psalm 104 the comparison that the author could be describing Ball instead of Heehaw. Both are cloud riders and both control the rain. In all accounts it is clear hat God is separate from the rain and storms, God is not the rain or the storm but apart from it. God is the maker and giver of all things. In myth there is no separation only oneness with all things. Ball is god, Ball is nature and Ball is the idol. Ball cannot be separate from the storm because of continuity Ball is the storm.
Chapter 6: The Bible And History: A Problem Of Definition The main distinction of biblical Old Testament thought is that God interacts in unique non-recurring events in a specific time and place. The Bible contends that the events are factual and happened as written. The idea that human choice and actions can effect outcomes in the natural world and that these choices are non-repeatable and are aligned toward a single measurable universal goal are all unique and recorded in the Bible. Definitions Of History: Like a myth, history needs a clear definition.
History can refer to the recording of an event, the study of the past or Just a connected experience of an event in time and space. Oswald reviews different definitions and interpretations of what history means and how it will refer to the Old Testament. Oswald then offers his own definition: “A history is a narrative of a series f events revolving about human beings acting in time and space. Existing for the purpose of human self-knowledge, it purports to be an accurate account of all significant elements for the eventual outcome. ” History is about the accurate account of human beings.
Understandings Of Reality On Which History Writing Depends: In order to establish the importance of history, it must be established that the belief in human free will and choice is absolute. If not then history doesn’t matter. Oswald reviews six theological points and six historical practices of the ANNE that historic writings depend on: 1 . Humans are free and responsible. If there isn’t free will and choice then everything is preconditioned and Just part of a continuous cycle. History and the knowledge gained from the study of history cannot change a predetermined fate of a future event. Choice is Just an illusion. . ) There is cause an effect to an event in time and space. Things are not Just by chance as a result from events in the invisible world. 3. ) Truth is absolutely necessary to establish order to study history. If an event in history never happened, what is the point of learning from the choices made by a person in that event? If there is only speculation and interpretation without fact, then the event is meaningless. 4. ) Humans are dynamic and goal- oriented. Humans must believe that we can change for the better. If we are Just part of a repetitive cycle there is no reason for goals and improvement. 5. Relationships within time and space have significance. If this is true then what happens in the physical world matters. If not relationships are all continuous and predetermined. 6. ) A consistent standard must be established to measure against. If there isn’t a standard there will never be agreement and it all becomes meaningless. Omens: An omen is a sign which foretells the results of a particular event or Journey. Omens diminish the value of free choice and lead to predetermination by the gods. In Babylonian culture much time has been spent on documenting all the different omens and meanings of their signs.
King Lists: Is simply the names, lineage and length of each king being documented. Date Formulae: In ANNE it was standard practice each year to document the name of the ruling king with his title and announce what he accomplished within that particular year. Epic: Epics are narratives that reveal events of a hero on a Journey. Many of the characters have been found to be based on historic individuals with the feats based in fact. E. G. Ulysses was an actual character who fought in Troy and did have difficulty getting home. Royal Annals: These annals record in detail the events in each a kings reign.
They describe in detail military conquest, building projects, interests and favorite topics of that king. Chronicles: Chronicles are an objective documented account of the life of a king describing his victories and defeats as well as his line of succession. It does not evaluate the value of the feats. Reasons For The Absence Of History Writing: Oswald outlines five reasons why there would not have been documented writings in the ANNE: 1 . ) Focus on “NOW’: If we conclude that the ANNE was founded on and believed in continuity then all that matters is the present.
Nothing in the past or future influence or effect what was happening today. There was no need to document it. 2. ) Subjective Orientation: Historical writings gain credibility when written by an outside person. In the ANNE all is connected and one with each other so there is no outside or subjective opinion. There was no point to have it written by a neutral person as there is only me. . ) Multiplicity of Causes: In continuity there are infinite causes to an event. How the stars line up in the sky have more impact on what happens then human free choice.
What happens in the invisible world effects the physical world giving infinite reasons why it happened. 4. ) Determinism: Choice is just an illusion because of the cyclical and interconnected nature of reality. In reality there are no choices because everything is dictated by outside forces. What a person does is predetermined regardless of what they believe. What is the point to document and study an event if they have no future choice? . ) Preoccupation with Order and Security: The forces in the cosmos are constantly battling each other over good and evil, creating and destroying at all times.
Chaos is always around whether in the physical, material or political world. Security is completely dependent on the outcome of the victory of order. The study of events from the past would have no impact on the battles waged in the cosmos which is where order and security is decided. The Bible’s Unique Approach To Human-Historical Experience: 1 . ) Humans treated as Real Individuals: The Bible is radically different from other literature of the ANNE. The Bible uses characters that are real and human. Truth is found in the individual not in the normalcy of things, but in the character of that individual.
The ANNE literature uses semi-gods and supernatural representatives which is contradictory to the Bible. The emphasis of the individual in the Bible is important and had no relevance in ANNE culture. 2. Failures and defeats Not Glossed Over: In the Bible both positive and negative traits of the individual character are highlighted. Failures are documented and Judged by God. There isn’t glory in failure as in Greek Eric literature, Just lessons to be learned. 3. Significance of relationships: The Bible deals explores in detail, relationships with individuals and with God.
It does not pass over them as insignificant, but rather goes into them in detail from a purely neutral perspective. Our actions and what we do to others matter. What David chose to do with Bathes was done and Judged by the transcendent Heehaw. Heehaw dealt with the result, but allowed the choice of the individual to be made. 4. Significance of Human Choice: The Bible states that it is human choice that shapes the events on earth, not a predetermined continuous force in the cosmos. A person can interact with God, but that person has the right to choose and the results are determined by the choice. . Developmental Relationships: The Bible relates past events to the present and compares the results. This is completely in contrast to the ANNE literature which only deals in the “NOW’. The writings are strictly to document the current reign. They do not demonstrate or compare one reign to the next one. There is no purpose to documenting as it is Just another repetitive report in an endless continuous circumstance. Implications of Transcendence For Israel’s View Of Human- Historical Experience: Transcendence is the belief that God is separate and not part of the world.
This concept is a major difference in approach to all the surrounding ANNE. Transcendence makes it impossible to believe that human events correspond to a mirror opposite invisible world. There isn’t a connection between the two, what happens in invisible world doesn’t affect the physical world. 1 . ) Possibility of Transcending Events: Since God is separate and apart from creation, there is a space beyond this created world. Since this world is purposefully created by God who judges all things, then there is a reason to act beyond ones own self-interest.
This concept is documented many times in the Old Testament with how the individual relates to the covenant presented by God. There is a force outside this world to Judge the events of the individual. 2. ) Impossibility of misleading God: God is all knowing and all is revealed to God. You can’t fool God. In the ANNE the gods are part of the system, so they can be manipulated. I can document things that are not true because I can trick the gods. Not so with a separate God who created all and is transcendent. God knows everything and will Judge according to integrity of the individual’s choices and actions.
God used the Prophet’s to write the history of the Bible and to uphold God’s integrity. All of Israel respected and knew that the Prophets were chosen by God. The Prophets could write the truth without fear of consequences of man. In the ANNE culture if a person wrote something the king didn’t like he could be killed. 3. ) A Simplified Understanding of Causation: In the Bible God is responsible for all and God has no rival. God is the only one to answer to and the cause of everything. Humans are personal and at the same time disconnected from God.
Everything that a person chooses to do is either in defiance or compliant to God. This makes relationships with humans to God and humans to humans very significant. God wants our obedience and more importantly God wants a relationship with people. That is something that cannot be predetermined. 4. ) Speech as the Mode of Accomplishing Divine Purposes: God chose to communicate to his people by entering the lives of individual’s through personal experiences and non-recurring historical vents. Since God is not continuous, but separate from this world, one cannot participate in God’s life.
Any attempt to do so is forbidden in the Bible as discussed in earlier chapters. So how does a person then participate in the life of God? By that person demonstrating an ethical character and obedience to God’s law, a person receives God’s blessing and approval. God reveals himself through the human historical experience at a specific time and space. Therefore what God does is very important and how it is truthfully documented is extremely significant. That is why commented history is captured. History writing As Myth-Making: ANNE culture used nature to express myth in culture.
Did Israel choose another mode for myth and use historical myth to express their faith? The answer is no. In pagan worship idols are made from nature and nature is the gods. All is continuous with each other. There is no separation. With Israel God is not the history rather the history is the people who experience God along the way. This is because God is separate and transcendent. Israel, like the neighboring ANNE, attempted many times to place God in a box to control God. Unlike the recurring continuous pagan gods of the ANNE, God liked to perform miraculous one-time events to keep the people on track.
God also used the prophets to constantly remind the people that they were different and God was different. The Hebrew therefore, does not witness faith by retelling a fictional story or by a ritual of drama to recreate an outcome. The Hebrew recites how God intervened with individuals and the nation of Israel that was directed by God through the prophets. Chapter 7: Is The Bible Truly historical? The Problem Of History (l) The Bible is thought by many to contain “historical-fiction”. Is the Bible history like or is it historical fact? The bigger question is, are biblical accounts history and does it matter?
Historians argue that history is accepted only if complete human responsibility for events and outcomes are present. Clearly events and outcomes of the Bible are not only human responsibility. Other historians now believe that history is accepted if the historical writing is for a divine purpose. Human involvement and choice is always involved but divine intervention explains what happened. Since there is no way to document the purpose and true nature of God, we are only left tit speculation. E. G. There is no way to prove biblical accuracy to the events of the exodus.
So does that make the Bible a myth or historical fact? History as Revelation: INADEQUACIES: The Bible can be considered as history revelation. That is the interpretations of God’s actions in the Bible are through humans and are flawed but still bear witness to the revelation of God. Revelation Is Not Confined to Divine Action: James Barr argued, the problem with this explanation is that the Bible doesn’t distinguish the division between revelation and witness to revelation. If there is a preference then the miracles all disappear and the reports of the events are not valid.
If the only access to the events is the witness, then that source isn’t trustworthy; there is no truthful access to the acts at all. If history is rooted in faith the history disappears. This argument states there is no revelation in the Bible. The Bible is Just speculation, a vehicle of history writing the Hebrew people chose to use. Divine Action in History Is Not Unique to Israel: Another attack on the uniqueness of the historical revelation of the Bible is that there are many other cultures that use gods o intervene on behalf of an individual in a specific event in history.
The thought that a god could act in history was not a new concept to the ANNE. Oswald stated the difference: “that this was the only place he acted that had significance for human beings, that those actions were according to a consistent, long term purpose, that he was using the details of human-historical behavior to reveal that purpose, and that he was Just as capable of using enemies as he was friends to accomplish his good purpose—that, I maintain, is not found anywhere else in the world, ancient or