I’m reading a very interesting book for my Old Testament Introduction class, The Bible Among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature by John N. Oswalt. I read a lot. It goes with the gig of being a seminary student. I love to read, but sometimes with the reading load, I begin approaching books, even great ones, as raw pages to devour in order to pass a test or gather the appropriate information for a research paper. This book, however, has been a pleasure to read. As the name suggests, it compares the OT and the culture of Israel to other ANE writings and cultures, and really dives into what differentiates Israel’s religion and the OT from that of its neighbor’s myths.
I went through a similar class when I was an undergrad, but this one goes further. What captured my attention in particlular was Oswalt’s chapter on transcendence as the basis of Biblical thinking for Israel, and the basis of the Jewish religion. It was the concept that God was not simply a part of this world to be manipulated by the magics of men, or a force to be harnessed, or a god whose fortunes are mirrored by our reality by continuity. God revelaed Himself to be something completely other than the reality of this world, not tied to it, not a force of it, but the Creator of it. He is immanent in it in some ways, but He is also sitting on a throne above it. It is one of the basic principles of Israel’s monotheism, and it is woven into Israel’s culture and reality. Oswalt wrote, “Above everything else it is the principle of God’s relation to the cosmos. In mythical thinking God is the cosmos – or, to put it the other way around, the cosmos is God” (Oswalt, 81). But God is not the cosmos. He is the Creator of it, the Sustainer of it, He is sovereign over it, but He is not, as the mythical pagan gods of Israel’s neighbors, a force of it to be controlled.
God being something completely other than matter we can manipulate as the ancient’s attempted is awe inspiring, but on some primitive levels, it’s also a scary proposition. It’s easier to have a god you can control, a god connected to your rituals, your practices, such as magic, omens, and reading the entrails of court animals. It’s a much riskier proposition to accept God as other than the cosmos, something uncontrollable by human manipulation, yet sovereignly in control of creation. This is an aspect of Israel’s religion unique to the Hebrews. They would, of course, from time to time fall back into the notion that they could control the powers of this world and adopt the pagan practices of their neighbors. It is, after all, much easier to control the god sitting on your mantle rather than the One which spoke the mantle into being.
This is just a sneak peak of Oswalt’s book. I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to understand why we hold the Bible as the Word of God as opposed to myth. It discusses issues of myth, history, continuity, transcendence, and so much more. It deserves a place your library.