Old Testament Introduction Book Review

John N. Oswalt, The Bible among the Myths, Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature? 

Submitted to Dr. David Maas

in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the completion of

OBST 510 – DO2 Old Testament Introduction

by Joyce Gerald April 10th, 2016






Oswalt introduced the book by reminiscing about the process that brought the book into existence. Oswalt suggested that a philosophical and theological paradigm shift occurred regarding the thought processes of the nation of Israel (G. T. Wright as cited by Oswalt 6-7).  Furthermore, Oswalt presented arguments by scholars that demonstrated that Hebrew thought processes were not the result of evolution through time (7).

Oswalt iterated that sixty years later the same scholars contended that it is now a construct deduced through the process of evolutionary thought (7).  Oswalt argued that even though scholars purported that the religion of the Israelites is a permutation of eastern mysticism with “similarities and differences” the major difference being the monotheistic belief of the Israelite religion is not a happenstance (8).

Oswalt laid a foundational premise for the reading by stating that the similarities and differences presented by modern scholars are the focal points of the book (9).  Oswalt proffered arguments to support the theory that researchers are still solidifying the concept (9). Oswalt contended that the question of the veracity of the Old Testament and its relative theology compared with the myths of Israel’s neighbors warranted clarity (9). Oswalt also portended that the inerrancy of the Old Testament canon as God’s Word to His people rather than people’s stories about mythological deities was another question to be answered by the book (9). Oswalt posited that the book would demonstrate that current worldview negated the existence of an all-knowing deity and devalued all of the creation as well as the creator (10).   Furthermore, the historicity of the Bible and biblical prophecy provided evidentiary proof that the God of the Hebrews is not a conglomerate of eastern thought but a deity that provided a book that is a “starting place” from which a scholarly discussion about the God of the Hebrews can begin (10).

Chapter 1

Chapter one presented the Bible as a crucial contributor to the “Western” world’s concept of reality (21). Oswalt detailed the historical conceptualization of the Greek philosophical ideology of a juxtaposed reality of existence and non-existence to the “Western world” (21). Greek philosophy presented the construct of the singularity of the universe as opposed to the plurality of the universe (the law of noncontradiction); the “Western” world refused to accept this methodology of conceptualizing reality (21).  Oswalt also discussed the conflict between the “Greek thought” the theology of the “Hebrew thought” and that of their captors (24). The “Hebrew” culture of a “universe” created by “monotheistic” God, who revealed Himself to His people through humans and was not limited by “time and or space” (24). However, the capture of the Hebrews by the Assyrians and Babylonians created a “crisis of faith” (23).

According to Oswalt the “crisis of faith” occurred as biblical evidence that Yahweh’s prophetic utterance, through the prophets, became their current reality rather than the reality of their captors. Oswalt continued the argument by proposing that multiple factors prevent the Hebrews from fully accepting the worldview of their captors (24).  Furthermore, Oswalt proffered evidence that existence of the Hebrew canon of scripture supported the Hebrew worldview (25). Oswalt concluded chapter one by stating that combining Greek thought with Hebrew thought paved the way for the gospel of the Messiah (26).  Oswalt demonstrated that the combination provided evidence for a biblical worldview that negated the need for “relative rationalism,”  and offered evidence that it supported the existence of logic and science as constructs that cannot exist outside of the biblical worldview (26).  Furthermore, Oswalt declared that the purpose of the book is to present evidence that the Bible is not a myth, and the Christian worldview is correct to be exclusive in its theology and belief system (28).

Chapter 2

Oswalt presented Wright’s contention that  “the God of Israel has no mythology” (Wright as cited by Oswalt, 29).  Oswalt continued his discourse of separating the Bible from myths by presenting definitions for the word myth and (29).  The two focal definitions for myth submitted by Oswalt were “historical-philosophical and the phenomenological, or descriptive.” (33).  The Historical-philosophical perspective on myths provided three elements of myths (33).  First, the basis of the falsification of the described objects: in short a fake story or an event that never occurred or second a sociological construct believed to be true therefore it is genuine and part of a literary process that equated symbolic values to transmit serious realities to the reader (33-36.)

As presented by Oswalt, the phenomenological definitions of myths utilized characteristics that are typically equated to human beings and applied them to the natural world to explain its existence even though that existence was part of a continuum and continually changed over time (40-43).  Oswalt posited that the concept that the reader of the myth lost their identity to become a part of the myth presented itself as a challenge to the construct of continuity (42-45). Furthermore, as Oswalt compared the rationale for the definitions for myths, it became evident that none of the definitions for myths applied to the Bible (ibid).

Oswalt argued against applying the definition of  “myths” to the Bible and presented evidence that the Bible is the opposite of the tales of Near Easter theology and it is not is rooted in myths and untruths that take the continual reality of the unseen world and brings it into the seen (43-45). Oswalt finished this chapter by positing that because the Bible’s purpose is to prompt humanity to establish and maintain a lasting relationship with its creator neither of the previous definitions of myths applied the Bible.

Chapter 3

Oswalt continued the dissection and analysis of the thought process behind myths by iterating that Near Eastern myths presented the construct of continuity as the theoretical manner of viewing (47)Oswalt stipulated that the construct of continuity or the oneness of deity, nature, and humanity permeated myths and is “panentheistic” in nature; therefore, all members of this tryptic relationship experienced reality in the same manner (48-49). Furthermore, Oswalt demonstrated how the reference allowed a degree of security because people envisioned that they controlled nature by performing rituals or acts within the proximity of a symbolic statue of the god that represented that force of nature i.e. Baal the god of weather (49-50).

Oswalt further refined the concept of continuity by explaining the “blurring of source and manifestation” and utilized a story about how Moses on the mountain with the invisible God resulted in the construction of the symbolic golden calf (52-53). Oswalt showed how magic permeated myths, how participants in myths were obsessed with fertility and potency and how those activities resulted in visual representations of fertility goddesses and fertility rites (56). Moreover, Oswalt posited that continuity is a construct without boundaries and proffered evidence of its impact on human behaviors that would be abhorrent within a biblical worldview (56). Oswalt then presented the salient features of myths and explained its implications on the mythical thought processes: Oswalt concluded this discussion by citing how the worldview of myths represented continuity as a wheel that emanated from nowhere and had no particular destination and voiced concerns about the principles supporting mythmaking (56).  Oswalt concluded this chapter by iterating how myths conceptualized and represented the invisible world and how myths facilitated reality through human eyes as a part of continuity versus transcendence (62).

Chapter 4

Oswalt continued to build a case for the inerrancy of Scripture and the oppositional nature of the biblical worldview when compared with Near Eastern thought (63).  Oswalt compared the  Bible and Near Eastern thought by describing attributes of the biblical worldview(62-63). Oswalt further extended the concept that God’s holy word the Bible is not a myth, humanity and nature are not equal in identity and or reality, and the posited on the difference with the construct of continuity where man, nature, and God are all one (63-64).

Oswalt’s denotation of the theological differences between the views began with the pivotal discussion of the role of the Bible and its non-mythical classification (63-64). Oswalt proffered an understanding of transcendence, as implicated throughout the Bible. Oswalt defined and monotheism and iconoclasm and argued for the stark difference between the two constructs (62-66).   Oswalt bolstered the previously mention difference with a discussion on the absence of conflict in the creation process and postulated that chaos existed in the universe because of rebellion and sin (62-66). Furthermore, Oswalt proffered a contrast between the high view of humanity and proposed how the creation of humankind translated into the freedom to choose placed humanity on a higher plane than that of Near Eastern thought (69).  Oswalt argued for the reliability of God and His love for humankind, and how His use of causality and punishment is justifiable; He implemented causality as an outcropping of “ethical obedience” (71-77).  Oswalt then presented a stellar argument of comparison between the gender-specific gods of the Near East and the God of the Hebrews God and the place of sex in the worship of the Hebrews compared with their neighbors (71-73).  Oswalt defined other terms that set apart the relationship between historical human activity as well as how humanity created situations that required cause and effect actions by God, and how those causal correlations prevented history from repeating itself is the essence of human-historical activity (75-79). Oswalt posited that transcendence superseded any theological and or philosophical construct of Near Eastern and continued the discussion on transcendence in the next chapter. 

Chapter 5

Oswalt refined the concept that the Bible is not a myth by revealing the two forms of ethics that existed in the Ancient Near East and the Bible (85). Oswalt submitted that the ethics of the Ancient Near East offer two separate sets of rules: one governed the people’s behavior towards the gods and the other governed their behaviors towards each other (85).  Furthermore, Oswalt delivered arguments about behavioral consequences for non-biblical unethical behavior and the regulatory weights preferred by the gods as he detailed their authority over a universe that operated without a purpose (86). Oswalt chronicled how biblical ethics were a part of the transcendent nature of God and offered the suggestion that biblical ethics intertwined with God’s covenantal relationship with his people (87-90). Moreover, Oswalt demonstrated the relationship between violating biblical ethics and how that breached the relationship between God and his people compared with the correlation between the gods of the Near East and Israel’s neighbors (87-90).

Oswalt continued the discussion by reporting that there were indeed similarities between the worldviews of biblical ethics and non-biblical ethics such as religious practices, expressions, and even the fact that the structure of the biblical covenant and ideas came from the “ancient Near Easter world” (91).  Some examples proffered by Oswalt included passages from Habakkuk, Isaiah, Psalms, and Genesis (93). On the other hand, Oswalt developed an argument that the similarities were not tenable as evidence that the worldviews were the same and offered suggestions the showed the trivial nature of the differences (92). Oswalt posited that the writers of biblical ethics utilized constructs that were familiar to the Hebrews but those constructs were not pivotal to comprehending the biblical worldview.  Oswalt concluded the chapter by iterating why the biblical worldview and how its perception of reality differed from the reality of the Near Eastern world (107).

Chapter 6

Oswalt began the chapter by positing that defining history was problematic due to the numerous definitions of the word (111-113). Oswalt expounded that the biblical worldview of history, as demonstrated by the Old Testament, represented God’s relationship with humanity as “unique” and not replicable or “confined within time and space” (111). Oswalt provided a definition of history. History is a sequence of events brought about by human behavior within time and space; these events exist for the purpose of personal knowledge; it is a precise rendering of all essential elements in the sequence and provided the individual with an opportunity to evaluate the importance of the events on behavioral outcomes (113).  Oswalt declared that the application of this definition hinged on six frames of reference that were contingent on the writing of history (113-115).

Oswalt mentioned a variety of written records from the ancient Near East that recorded human events; however, those records offered many lists of historical events but proffered no correlation between actions and or future choices based on the facts presented in the writings (116-122). Furthermore, Oswalt explained the relationship between the methodology of recording history and the construct of continuity where the present is all that matters; the past was irrelevant to the present, and or the future (122). Oswalt compared how the Near East recorded historical events with the Old Testament where history is closely attached cause and effect (124-125). Oswalt expanded the concept of transcendence and how it governed the covenantal relationships between Israel and God through time (127-129).  Oswalt stretched the idea of the covenantal relationship, and offered an argument for the writing of history, as represented by the text of the prophets, and detailed how that history correlated to current goals, plans, and desires as implicated through the construct of transcendence (130-137).

Chapter 7

Oswalt proposed an answer to the question “Is the Bible truly historical?” within the pages of chapter seven.  Oswalt, also proffered an answer to the question “Is it fair to call the biblical accounts history, and does it matter in the end whether these accounts are historical or not” (138)?  Oswalt proceeded to answers the questions by correlating the replies to dependency on the acceptance of God’s purpose for the writing of Israel’s history, causation, and God’s intervention in the history of the nation of Israel (139). Oswalt presented biblical historians thoughts on the historical nature of the Bible by arguing that the historians concept of historical writing has changed over time from one of acceptance of God as “Lord of History” to revelation as presented in the Bible as not contingent on the divine action; neither is divine action the sole purvey of Israel (140-142).

Oswalt mentioned that God determined the history of Israel for his purposes and explained how the writings demonstrated cause and effect relations between the sequence of events depicted in the Bible (142-143). The dialogue of comparing the writings of the history of the ancient Near East with the history presented in the Bible continued in chapter seven. Oswalt discussed seven pivotal concepts considered crucial to the writing of the history of the Bible that R. D. Collingwood developed and hypothesized that the New Testament provided the data points for the points (144). Oswalt dissected the concepts and proffered evidence that supported the similarities of the worldview in both testaments namely the same person constructed both testaments and formulated the construct of historical writings based on human experiences to facilitate humanity’s knowledge of Him through the sequence of events recorded in the Bible (146).  Oswalt submitted an argument for the active involvement of God in the recording process of the biblical sequence of events of Israel’s history (149-150).

Chapter 8

Oswalt proffered an answer to the question, “Does it matter whether the Bible is historical?” (152). Oswalt continued by proffering arguments about the substantive nature of the Pentateuch, the Prophets and the writings and how meaningless if read without the historical events contained within the documents because the sequence of events demonstrated the causal nature of the developments in the theological lifestyle of Israel as a nation (153). Furthermore, Oswalt continued by showing how the historical incidents in the Bible demonstrated God’s purpose for His people and His personal relationship with them as they nation evolved (ibid).

Next Oswalt discussed the arguments presented by scholars that the Bible contained an inaccurate record of the past. First, the Bultmannian Approach developed by Rudolf Bultmann; Bultmann coined the terms Geschite and Historie: Geschite-tells us what is going on in the history of people from the theological standpoint whereas Historie defined what happened and is the territory of the historian (157).  According to Oswalt. The Bultmann Approach attempted to separate Geschite and Histore when researching the history of biblical writing and defined subjectivity as the only mechanism to view history; Oswalt proffered evidence of what happened to history through the utilization of utilized of the mechanism and detailed its impact on the subject-object distinctions (159). Secondly, Oswalt discussed the theory of Process Thought/Open Theism developed by Whitehead (166).  Oswalt pointed out that Process Thought presented a God that was personally involved in every facet of human life; this detailed the fact that freedom and responsibility for one’s actions must be accepted when they are the violations of God’s law of love (167). Oswalt continued by discussing the defects of this thought process and its impact on historical writing; the main point was the disconnect from transcendence (167).  Oswalt concluded the chapter with by asking a question about theology and historical witness then provided an emphatic answer (169).

Chapter 9

            Oswalt reiterated in this chapter the reoccurring thread presented throughout the book; the biblical worldview is sufficiently different from the worldview of Israel’s neighbors due to the theoretical framework that supports both worldviews (171).  Oswalt suggested that presenting the transcendence construct without first investigating recent theoretical constructs for understanding the biblical reasoning and clarifying those thoughts against the biblical worldview would leave two possible conundrums (171). First, explanations of the biblical writer’s purpose would be warranted, and second, a reexamination of the originality of biblical thoughts would ensue (171).

Oswalt proceeded to examine the current trends presented by researchers who theorized that the JE of JEDP proposed by Wellhausen was nothing more than a historical novel created by literary mastermind (172-173). Oswalt juxtaposed that argument against another scholar who contended that the parts of the Hebrew canon were just rewrites of Near Eastern epics (175).  Oswalt continued to present detailed current literary theories that posited that the historical content of the Bible was not unique to Israel and that Israel’s worldview evolved from continuity to transcendence historically and theologically (176-183). Oswalt buttressed the arguments by providing evidence that duality in constructs would present literary duality, but written records from the Near Eastern literary culture did not support that premise.  The investigation into each theory is not comprehensive, but it does give the reader enough comparative data to draw a conclusion (184). Oswalt concluded the chapter by positing that the arguments were without merit. The arguments were not theologically based, Israel’s history and theology are inseparable, therefore, the biblical explanation of the transmission of biblical history is the best explanation (184).


Oswalt concluded the parallel discussion of the Bible and mythical thinking, the validity of its history and the difference between the construct of continuity and transcendence by summarizing the content present in chapters one through ten (185). Oswalt reiterated the positions of historians experts from other disciplines and suggested that they failed to present a tenable argument for mythical thinking (186).  Oswalt continued by purporting that the inability of enlightenment to enlighten humanity created neopaganism and that science’s inability to answer the why of human existence resulted in a world of intelligent beings without a moral compass (188). Furthermore, Oswalt continued his argument that concept of continuity spurned a deeper yearning to explore myths to the extent that it developed a philosophical and psychological school of thought as presented by Jung (189). Oswalt proffered the modern impact of continuity as evident in the work of Campbell, Moyer, and Segal and contended that there is two opposite point of views when discussing the Bible and Near Eastern thought: transcendence and continuity (190-191).  Oswalt presented an argument for the final state of humanity as continuity continued to infiltrate schools of thought and erased the concept that the invisible world and the preeminence of the invisible world over human behavior as seen through causality faded into the background (191).  Oswalt advanced that continuity would erode the moral fiber and theological beliefs of humanity; he proffered ten demonstrable predictions of human behavior that would present themselves as humanity’s relationship with the transcendent nature of God gave way to mysticism (191-192). Oswalt concluded the book by answering the question that began the discourse on the similarities and differences between the writings of the Bible and the ancient Near East and presented two question to the reader that determined how the contents of the book would impact their thought processes.




Oswalt, John N. The Bible among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature?

I prefer “Word,” as it refers to the proper name of a book, the Bible, and also to show respect to its author. Other conservative scholars, however, will leave it uncapitalized, so it really is a matter of preference.

Formal writing rarely uses a semi-colon. A semi-colon is usually an indication that your sentence can be rewritten for stronger writing. Occasionally it can be effective when you are juxtaposing two clauses, but be careful about overusing it.

“Bible” Bible is capitalized whereas “biblical” since it is an adjective is not. You will occasionally come across something in print that fails to make this proper distinction.


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