John N. Oswalt has spent much time specifically researching and studying the Ancient Near East. His work in this field began after he was first introduced to it in the 1960’s while taking a course called, “The Literature of the Ancient Near East”. After his time at Asbury Theological Seminary, Oswalt began further study in the Mediterranean Studies Department of Brandeis University. While there, he further developed his knowledge and understanding of the Ancient Near East and later, further developed said knowledge by means of thinking them through with his own students. John Oswalt has now, per this book, taught at Asbury Theological Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Wesley Biblical Seminary. In his introduction, Oswalt discusses how roughly sixty years ago it was widely agreed upon in academic circles that the Israelite religion stood apart from their neighbor’s Semitic religion. However, the tide has now turned, for the world of academia largely affirms the Israelite faith is just another religion in the sea of Ancient Near Eastern mythology and religion. Oswalt questions why this drastic change has come. He believes the data from the past is no different then the data used today. Therefore, the problem is how one interprets the data. He discusses the use of “accidentals” and “essentials” while studying the similarities and differences between the Old Testament and mythology. In brief, Oswalt discusses how, in the past, scholars focused on the essentials while now, it seems, they put more emphasis on the accidentals. He uses the example of temples in the Ancient Near East. The Israelite’s and their neighbors shared similarities in how they constructed their temples. This would be defined as an accidental. However, the Israelites had no idols or graven images of worship in their temple while their neighbors did. One should focus on the essentials when comparing Israel to other faiths and mythologies. In closing, Oswalt basically leaves his reader knowing that he believes one cannot effectively separate historicity from theological truth. For example, he says our understanding of the Doctrine of Election is a product of the history we have in scripture regarding the Exodus. This does not work in the other direction. His view is that God has revealed himself through the history of Israel so that we can know who He is and what He would have us do.
The Bible in its World
In chapter one, Oswalt discusses the world that we find the Old Testament being written in. First he gives a brief contrast between the Greek polytheistic religions and the Greek philosophers. He describes how the religious culture of the day believed they lived in a polyverse. In this polyverse, reality is determined by multiple forces that converging on each other. Any number of possibilities could come to be and there is no way to determine how or why anything that happens has happened. There was no true cause and effect in the world.
In opposition to the Greek culture he finds the philosophers. In direct contrast to the polyverse, Oswalt writes that they believed they existed in a universe. In this universe, they could, through rational thought, determine the effect of any cause. He says they believed all effects were observable and nothing was left to chance. However, he finds the thoughts of the philosophers were never adopted, in large, by the culture and their religion based on myth’s won the day.
While the Greek philosophers were fighting for rational thought over the polytheistic religion of their day, the Hebrew people were struggling with their understanding of YAHWEH. With the rise of the Assyrian and later the Babylonian empires Israel found themselves wondering of their God was capable of delivering them from their enemies. More or less, he is saying Israel began worshipping other gods along the side of their God and in some cases removed the worship of YAHWEH completely.
Due to the...