Posted by: Billy Marsh | January 30, 2009

The Bible Among the Myths: A Book I Wanted to Write

The Bible Among The MythsWhile I was browsing through some online book distributors the other day, I stumbled upon this new book as I was looking for critical works on J. R. R. Tolkien and his concept of myth. The name of the work is called The Bible Among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature?, and the author is John N. Oswalt. Here is the product description from the publisher:

Many modern scholars say Israelite religion simply mirrors that of other West Semitic societies. Dr. John N. Oswalt believes the root of this attitude lies in hostility to the idea of revelation. This accessible book reasserts the biblical concept of a transcendent God who breaks into time and space and reveals himself in and through human activity (see the above link for a fuller description).

For those of you who don’t know me as well as others, I am fascinated by Tolkien’s and C. S. Lewis’ concept of myth and its relationship to Christianity; however, this is not to be mistaken for the Bultmann sense of the “Christian myth”. Tolkien’s and Lewis’ approach to Christian myth is not equivalent to the historical-critical method, in fact, in Tolkien’s and Lewis’ understanding, Christianity sets itself apart from the other myths for the reason that it is actually true, and is true historically.  

After I had been mesmerized by Tolkien’s fiction and work as a storyteller, I found myself digging deeper and progressively discovering the many levels of foundation on which his “sub-creation” of MiddleEarth rests, such as its language, history, philosophy, and Christian theology. This, in turn, led me to be exposed to Tolkien’s view of “faerie-stories” and how they are useful in explaining and supporting Christianity, over and above other religions.

Here, Oswalt, a well-respected Old Testament theologian, has taken up the task of doing something similar by means of demonstrating that the OT is more than “just another” sampling of Ancient Near Eastern literature. Although Bultmann and others have famously imposed their theories onto the NT, the OT as well has been the recipient of similar treatment since so much of its many genres are found elsewhere in ancient writings. Unfortunately, from what I can glean from the brief product description I’ve found, Oswalt has already written one of the books that I had hoped to write in the near, distant future. Yet, I’m sure he has done a much better job than I ever would have. Another disappointing factor is that it hasn’t been released yet. It isn’t available for purchase until August, 2009. I would really love to have this one to read over the summer. Nonetheless, it will be an opportunity for the Lord to teach me more about patience.

Keep an eye out for this one! I’m sure it will be a very intriguing and enlightening study. I guess now that Oswalt has written this type of book for the OT, I will try my hand at doing one for either the NT as a whole, or one on the Gospels in particular (I’m sure Bret Rogers is hissing under his breath right now that what is a theologian doing writing on the NT, haha). Also, Oswalt is a great writer and sound, evangelical-scholar, and has written a massive-two volume commentary on Isaiah in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament series which are two of the most incredible commentaries I have ever used or read (Volume I and Volume II). He also has a condensed version of his commentary on Isaiah in the NIV Application Commentary set.


  1. I have a question for you.

    What are your thoughts about my blog entry about Yeshua HaMashiach?

    Thank you,

    James 2:1-13
    1 Timothy 4:16
    Luke 15:4
    1 Timothy 1:3-7
    Titus 1:9

  2. Billy, you should be the first one to know that such a kind of “hissing” only occurs when theological conclusions are drawn from poor handlings of the text of Scripture.

    Concerning Bultmann: It seemed that Bultmann’s demythologizing of certain events in Scripture was not rooted merely in his historical-critical commitments, which he did use to reconstruct the “phenomena” of the early church, but also in his commitment to existential philosophy, whereby he wanted to make the message (kerygma) of Scripture relevant to a people who largely dismissed the supernatural. No doubt, the man’s treatment of the text was dangerous (deadly?) for the people of God.

    And by the way, would you not consider every Christian a theologian. I have been wondering if it would be better for us and more healthy for the church to stay away from professionalizing the title, “theologian.” Instead, let us encourage all to become better theologians in accordance with the Scripture. What are your thoughts here?

  3. Billy, the last comment was from me. Rachel forgot to logout of her account, and before I realized it I posted this comment under her name.


  4. Bret,

    Well, I’m glad that I hear very little “hissing” from you in our many conversations. However, there always seems to be a lot of grunting and eye-rolling, though I’m sure that isn’t due to your perception that I have mishandled Scripture . . . hopefully.

    I’m unclear as to how to take your comments on Bultmann. Were you correcting my thoughts in the post or were you expanding upon them? Either way, I am aware of Bultmann’s existential Christianity and the major influence of Heidegger on his work and philosophy. Since I have such a wide array of readers for my blog, I was just trying to clarify for my “seminary” audience that there is a difference between Tolkien’s concept of myth and how the word “myth” is used in NT studies, primarily from Bultmann with whom the word is often associated. The very fact that some of that era dismissed the supernatural, their beliefs immediately set their concept of myth drastically apart from what Tolkien and Lewis were trying to articulate in terms of writing stories. In reality, though both groups use the same word, these are two completely different discussions.

    As for how we should use the word “theologian,” I get your point and concern, but I’m not sure if that’s a necessary distinction. Are all Christians theologians? Yes. Are all theologians Christians? No. Can we encourage other believers to be better theologians? Yes, and we should, and that is something that I believe churches in our generation are attempting to do with more substantial Sunday school programs and curriculum where theological education is no longer left only to the work of the seminaries. This, at least in my view, is part of the reason why the term “theologian” has been so professionalized, namely, our churches haven’t been teaching very much theology and our people are theologically ignorant, and in a lot of ways, expect to be. Personally, I don’t have a problem using the term generically and professionally so long as one is not exclusive to the other. I believe that “theologian” is a worthy and sufficient term for someone who has labored in a particular theological discipline. The same goes for the word minister, or even missionary. We use these terms professionally for those who have studied to be vocational in those fields, however, we are also obligated to encourage non-vocational Christians to see themselves both as ministers and missionaries. All in all, as I stated earlier, it would be an unnecessary distinction, and we would be better off training ourselves not to treat the use of the word exclusively in either regard.

  5. Regarding Bultmann: just expanding. I am not familiar with the whole myth idea of Tolkien and Lewis.

    Regarding “theologian”: hmmmmm…I’ll think on it more.

  6. I think instead of using the word “fuller” you should have said “more complete”. That kind of sounded like “worser”.

  7. full, fuller, fullest . . . sounds like someone needs a refresher on his or her Greek.

  8. the last comment was from me.

    I did a few double takes as I was reading Bret’s pseudonymous comment.

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