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The Genesis Myth

Updated on September 5, 2013

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.

Marduk in battle.
Marduk in battle. | Source

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.

Nun, god of the waters of chaos, lifts the barque of the sun god Ra (represented by both the scarab and the sun disk) into the sky at the beginning of time.
Nun, god of the waters of chaos, lifts the barque of the sun god Ra (represented by both the scarab and the sun disk) into the sky at the beginning of time. | Source

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”.


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    • krillco profile image

      William E Krill Jr 

      3 years ago from Hollidaysburg, PA

      Faith is not hope, hope is hope. Faith is a WAY of 'knowing' and allowing oneself to be 'known' that is far afield from 'belief'. Christians who emphasize belief have only traded one set of Laws (613 of them to be exact) for another set of laws and requirements. Jesus set us free from both sets of laws. The Bible does not accurately record history, it is a book of faith (see above), not belief.

    • barrydan profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Calgary, Alberta, Canada

      Thank you for your comment Krillco. It is true that there is a difference between faith and believing. Believing has to do with events, faith has to do with hope. Believing that Jesus died on the cross will not produce salvation without a belief that his death provides a hope for eternity. We know this from the Bible. Although it is not a history book, it accurately records history. It can only reveal truth through the action of the Holy Spirit.

    • krillco profile image

      William E Krill Jr 

      3 years ago from Hollidaysburg, PA

      Perhaps 'believing' is not the real core of Christianity, but 'faith' is. Not many Christians know the difference. Just because something is a myth does not mean it is not true. The Bible is not a history book, it a living thing that is continuing to reveal ever greater depths of truth concerning God and Jesus Christ.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Let there be light , made plants, and then made the sun.When God said Let there be light , light came, hovewer, it did not have to come in the form of a sun or the stars. God later formed that light into sun and stars. He obviously split that great light up into stars later in the course of creation. If you set about to make aluminum sheets, will you not first need the natural aluminum and then form it, shape it, and cut into sheets? Or will you get in one remarkable gesture?If you notice in Genesis 1:2, it says the earth was without form . Without form implies that the earth was neither round nor square nor triangular nor solid when God created it first. It was the very first phase of the earth's creation.When in verse 3, God divided the light from the darkness it is clear that it was then He performed another phase of the earth's creation he made it round. And the evening and the morning were the first day .Notice how perfectly everything fits into place for the first day covered from verses 1 thru 5.In the first day, God made the light. He did not make them yet in the form of stars and the sun, but he made the light be . In the first day God also made the earth and gave it its shape. Isn't that an orderly way of doing things?Now look at verse 1: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth .That's the big bang the very first phase of creation.

    • barrydan profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Calgary, Alberta, Canada

      Thank you for your comment Johan. There is no evidence that the language of Genesis 1-2 is figurative, rather the opposite is true. The language used in these two chapters is the same as that used in other historical passages, which is different from that of poetry and figurative language. Making this passage figurative would be forcing the language to say something that it does not.

      As to losing respect from people in the world, basing our teachings on the respect of unbelievers is a slippery slope that will lead to the abandonment of what we believe. The early Christians taught that Jesus was God, losing the respect of many Jews. Paul taught the resurrection of Jesus to the Aeropagus, and they laughed at him. As mentioned in my earlier comment, some of the people at the time of John thought that God could not have come in the flesh, a belief which had to be rejected. We present what the Bible teaches, not what we believe unbelievers will respect.

      The message of Jesus included creation as taught in Genesis. If we exclude parts of the Bible because unbelievers find them distasteful, they will remain unbelievers. A literal Genesis is not undefendable, it just takes work. Not all believers are required to know all the facts, but they should know that there is no part of the Bible that is undefendable, all Christians should know that we can have confidence in what the Bible says, even (or especially) when unbelievers challenge it.

    • Johan Smulders profile image

      Johan Smulders 

      5 years ago from East London, South Africa

      The Bible uses figurative language to teach spiritual truth and to try to force this type of language into a different medium (i.e. figurative into history) cause us to lose respect from people in the world. Let's rather see the different types of language for what they are and not back ourselves into places that is not defend-able. Rather focus on preaching the message of Jesus.

    • barrydan profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Calgary, Alberta, Canada

      Thank you for your comment krillco. Your statement is interesting but leads to possible problems. God communicated with us using human language, and that language was intended to convey meaning. Either the meaning conveyed is accurate, or we are inventing our own image of God.

      In the time of John the Apostle there were people who taught that God was too holy to have manifested as flesh, they taught that the manifestation could only have been illusion. John replied "Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God." 1 John 4:2-3 We need to be careful about making God something other than he claims to be, and about making God say things he did not say.

      Allegory is definitely used in scripture, as in Jeremiah 18, where God teaches Jeremiah about repentance and predestination using the allegory of the potter and the clay. Jesus himself used many parables to teach, and Paul used allegory in Galatians 4. Note that in Jeremiah and Galatians, that although allegory was used, it does not prevent the events being used allegorically from being real events. In Jeremiah there was a real potter working with real clay. Paul believed that Abraham and Hagar were real people, but there also lessons that can be learned from them allegorically.

      We need to be careful in distinguishing what is being taught, and what is being used to illustrate what is being taught. Parables illustrate what is being taught, as do the allegories of Jeremiah and Galatians. In Genesis we have what is being taught, not an illustration. While it is true that in the academic sense of myth, a literal truth can be used, I believe that Genesis 1 is not simply a truth being taught us about God, but God is teaching us truth. The creation account in Genesis 1 is therefore history, it is accurate, and the language is intended to accurately convey the historical truth.

    • krillco profile image

      William E Krill Jr 

      5 years ago from Hollidaysburg, PA

      Creation, being so close to the heart and Oneness of God, is a fact that defies human language; language cannot hope to convey this deep truth with any real accuracy. Myth, literal, allegorical...all may speak of and point to the deep truth that is God.


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