I’ve been doing a lot of reading and writing lately on the use of myth and mythic language in the Bible. Some people view the Bible as entirely myth (do not fear, I am not one of them), while others cringe at the thought of the word myth being used in the same sentence as the word Bible (I am not one of them, either).
Either side seems to be using myth as a bad word; either they are purposefully insulting the Bible by calling it a myth or a book of myths, or they are scared of such a terrible word being used to refer to the Holy Scriptures. My questions is this: why is the word myth viewed so negatively?
John Oswalt has written a book on the topic, attempting to break the ties between myth and the Bible, which relies somewhat on an early book by Brevard Childs. Oswalt, a former seminary professor of mine, goes too far by declaring the worldview of myth completely incompatible with a biblical worldview. Certainly, those behind the writing of the Old Testament were saturated with the culture that surrounded them (just ask John Walton)!
It is apparent that the people behind the Old Testament appropriated myths and mythic language from surrounding culture. Certainly they applied new meanings to the myth, but they were not always the devotional, monotheistic re-appropriations that Oswalt wants them to be. Sometimes, they viewed sea monsters like Leviathan to be mere play-things, created by Yahweh with no more power than your average kitten. Other times, however, they were viewed as serious opponents that Yahweh had to battle to fend off chaos and restore the restful state of the cosmos. There is a full range of appropriation when it comes to ancient Near Eastern myth in the biblical text.
My question for you, my readers, is this: Does myth fit in your understanding of the biblical text? How does it, or why doesn’t it? Please respond in the comments section!