Brief Review: THE BIBLE AMONG THE MYTHS by John Oswalt [Vol. 2, #46]

November 25, 2009


A Brief Review of

The Bible Among The Myths:
Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature?

John Oswalt.

Paperback: Zondervan, 2009.
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Reviewed by John Schaaf.

According to John Oswalt, modern scholarship states that “Israelite religion is simply one more of the complex West Semitic religions,” and its origins can be “explained on the basis of evolutionary change” (11). He, therefore, presents a case for reexamining such assumptions and calls for “the evidence supporting the Bible’s claims to have been revealed” to be “given the attention that it deserves” (18).

In part one, “The Bible and Myth,” Oswalt engages Greek and Hebrew thought before examining the varied definitions of myth. This provides a definition to work from before exposing the underlying bases for mythical thinking; namely continuity. In contrast to this worldview, Oswalt reveals the uniqueness of the Bible in comparison to surrounding ancient religions. Though he admits similarities, he draws attention to the differences in Israel’s underlying worldview. In part two, “The Bible and History,” Oswalt examines definitions of history and considers what understandings of reality history writing depends upon (113). This prepares the reader for his discussion of Israel’s uniqueness.

Oswalt later examines and evaluates the Bultmannian and Process approaches to history before presenting the alternative views of John Van Seters, Frank Moore Cross, William Dever, and Mark Smith pertaining to the origins of the biblical worldview. With each view Oswalt leaves the reader with questions concerning their theories which, he contends, do not “present a convincing explanation for the unique features of the biblical worldview and the ways in which that worldview affects the understanding of reality in the Bible” (184).

A strength of the volume is the author’s ability to familiarize the reader with basic understandings of the ancient world while exposing the reader to an array of modern scholarship that leaves fodder for discussion. Oswalt assumes, however, that discussion of the Old Testament necessarily flows into the New Testament but, in general, there is no true examination of the later Testament. This volume would be valuable to any lay person, budding seminarian, or minister looking for an alternative to some modern scholarship while also valuable to the scholar as Oswalt attempts to begin a dialogue with contemporary scholarship on the ancient world.