The Genesis Myth
There is a belief among many today that the early chapters of Genesis are myth. The creation account given in Genesis 1-3 is equated with the creation myths of the Ancient Near East (ANE). I will show that while there are superficial resemblances between the accounts, there are also substantial differences.
The Enuma Elish
The Enuma Elish is the Babylonian account of creation. For some years, it was believed that the Old Testament was written after the Babylonian captivity of the Israelites, therefore, all the theology of the Old Testament was derived from Babylonian mythology. One of the main accounts of Babylonian mythology is the Enuma Elisha, also called the Seven Tablets of Creation.
The Enuma Elish is a theogony; it gives an account of how the gods came to be and is an account of their actions. Within the Seven Tablets, there is one tablet that tells of the creation of Earth.
The first tablet tells of the creation of the gods. There are waters existing in a single mass, and nothing is happening. Out of the waters, which were the gods Apsu and Tiamat, the other gods emerged. Of interest is the statement “Long were the days, their years were increased”. Contrast this with the idea of 24 hr. days given in Genesis 1. At a council of the gods, the god Apsu says:
38. By day, I find no peace, by night I have no rest.
39. Verily I will make an end of their way, I will sweep them away,
40. There shall be a sound of lamentation; lo, then we shall rest.
This is hardly the “It was good” found in the Genesis account. The council decides on the destruction of the lesser gods. The preparations for the destruction are detailed. In Genesis, there is no battle.
The second tablet concerns the exaltation of Marduk to be the champion of the gods.
The third tablet tells of Marduk’s preparations. In the fourth tablet, we have the great battle. The goddess Tiamat is defeated, and dividing her in half Marduk creates a shade for the heavens.
The fifth tablet is the “creation” tablet. Here Marduk creates the Zodiac, he establishes times and seasons, but most of the tablet is missing or fragmentary to the point of being unreadable. It is not like the Genesis account where it records of God “he made the stars also”. The fifth tablet is a detailed account of the origins of Babylonian astrology.
The sixth tablet is concerned with the creation of man. Man is made of blood and bone. The god Kingu, son of Tiamat, is sacrificed for his sin in supporting his mother, and his blood is used for the creation of man. Man is then made to do work instead of the gods, to free the gods from their labor. It is the minor gods, the Annunaki, who then make bricks and build the city of Babylon with its ziggurat. A major difference from Genesis is that man is brought to life with the breath of God rather than with blood. The first city in Genesis is credited to Cain, not to angels or giants, or some other spiritual being.
The Seven Tablets of Creation are therefore, seen to be substantially different from Genesis. Genesis provides a detailed and sequential account of creation, while telling us very little about God. The Enuma Elish tells us a great deal about the gods while telling us very little about creation. Genesis 1 gives the impression of a very brief period of time, the Enuma Elish of a very long period of time.
The Egyptian Creation
In recent years, more attention has been given to the relationship between Egyptian myths and the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament). As the weight of evidence has shown that Pentateuch is pre-Exilic, scholars have sought for contemporaneous links between it and the religion of surrounding cultures. If Israel exited Egypt in the New Kingdom period, then its literature should show some signs of that contact.
Those signs come in the Genesis creation account. In the Egyptian creation account, a watery abyss precedes the creation of the gods, who were made out of the water. The Earth appears out of the water, although in the Egyptian account, it is more specifically a hill, and that hill is the hill that the temple stood on. You see, there are three Egyptian creation accounts, each credited to a different pre-eminent god, each with his own temple. The creation account then is not simply the creation of the cosmos, but the creation of the particular temple and grounds of a particular god.
The Egyptian creation myth also has the creation of a firmament in the midst of the waters. What the Egyptian myths do not have is the creation of animals and man, that is a separate myth. What that means is that the Egyptian myth is a more of a theogony than a cosmogony. It may share elements with Genesis 1, but in its structure and purpose, it is different. The Egyptians worshipped various elements of nature, deifying either animals or stars associated with those elements. It has been suggested that Genesis 1 was written as a polemic against the Egyptian myths, but all truth is a polemic against untruths.
The Principle of Elaboration
There are some scholars who believe in a Principle of Elaboration. Simply stated, when a myth is borrowed from one culture to another, the borrowing culture elaborates the myth to make it unique from the borrowed culture. If this principle is true, then looking at which accounts are more elaborate should indicate what is borrowed. Both the Babylonian and Egyptian myths are more elaborate than the Genesis account. There are multiple gods, there are conversations and rationalising speeches in both. In the Babylonian myth there is also a great conflict. It would therefore appear that the Genesis account is the simpler of the three, and if there was any borrowing, it was from the original Creation account, the one that we find in Genesis 1.
The Literary Account
Even though Genesis 1 is recognized as being different in structure from the ANE myths, there are still some who regard it is a myth. These scholars recognize that the language requires six normal days, but they declare that the story is theologically true rather than literally true. In ordinary language, this requires Genesis 1 to be myth.
The myth is structured like this, God creates the universe as a building in three steps, these are the first three days. God then fills the building in three corresponding steps, these are days four through six. The seventh day God inhabits his building, the cosmic temple. This format follows the common ANE temple building format, with one major difference, in the ANE actual temples were built, in the Genesis account of creation there was no earthly temple.
If there was no temple being constructed to mirror the supposed cosmic temple, what is the relevance of the creation account in Genesis? According to the Literary Theory, Genesis 1 shows God bringing order out of non-order, but the sequence is irrelevant. This despite the fact that sequence is an important part of any narrative. Of course, the argument is that the sequence is necessary to maintain the narrative, but it is only relevant as part of the literature. This may be true of the Babylonian and Egyptian accounts, which are narratives without a chronology, but Genesis gives us not only a definite chronology through an ordinal numbering of the days, but also a chronological meaning for the word day. God did not simply do things within the narrative, but the narrative indicates when God did them, in addition to the sequence they were accomplished in within the narrative. Thus we have not only the time indicated, but the passage of time.
Interpreting Genesis 1
How then are we to understand the creation account of Genesis? Unlike the ANE myths, Genesis shows God as a creator outside of creation. He does not simply organize the matter within creation, but he brings it into being. The dependent theologies of ANE myths establish the authority of the priests and their temples, but we have no such establishment in Genesis. The creation account of Genesis shows God as supreme over all creation without the aid of priests or spiritual beings. In Genesis we are not only given a sequence to creation, we are told of a definite passage of time, and a definite sequence to creation within that time. To ignore the seven days of creation account in Genesis is to ignore the most obvious difference between Genesis and ANE myths.
The first chapter of Genesis is a literal account of the creation of the universe. God created specific things on specific days of the creation week. God used six days of the creation week to create and one day to rest. When God was finished, he proclaimed his creation “very good”.
- Ancient Days:: Comparison of Genesis with Creation Stories of the Ancient Near East :: by David Livi
The Biblical account of the creation by God is compared with the stories of the ancient near east. The author explains the origins of the ancient near eastern versions and how they originate from the need to validate the authority of the divine kings
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