Late last night when I was debating a theist, a skeptic claimed that “Genesis 1 was “borrowed” from the Babylonians during the captivity and is the enuma elish”. When I challenged that claim, he gave a link to this website.
Well, I was pretty appalled. Of course I have known about this speculation for a long time, as it is hardly new, but it has been discarded a long time ago as baseless. So it’s not pleasant to see it used by well-meaning skeptics, though I don’t blame them. It’s an attractive hypothesis, and without being a specialist in the field, one that sounds very plausible.
So what is wrong with it then? Quite a lot. But let’s start by comparing the two narratives:
1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
6 And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8 God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
9 And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made the two great lights — the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night — and the stars. 17 God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
20 And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” 21 So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” 27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29 God said, “See,I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.
- NRSV Bible
(As the Enuma Eliš is much longer than Genesis 1, I will post only the relevant parts of it.)
[deleted: Tiamat wanting to destroy the gods, the birth of Marduk and battle between Marduk and Tiamat]
Then the lord paused to view her dead body, that he might divide the form and do artful works. He split her like a shellfish into two parts: half of her he set up as a covering for heaven, pulled down the bar and posted guards. He bade them to allow not her waters to escape.
He constructed stations for the great gods, fixing their astral likenesses as the stars of the Zodiac.
[badly damaged lines]
After he [had appointed] the days [to Šamaš], [and had established] the precincts of night and d[ay], [Taking]the spittle of Tiamat] Marduk created […] He formed the c[louds] and filled (them) with [water]. The raising of winds, the bringing of rain (and) cold, making the mist smoke, piling up her poison: (these) he appointed to himself, took into his own charge.
Putting her head into position he formed the[reon the mountains, opening the deep (which) was in flood, he caused to flow from her eyes the Euphrates (and) T]igris, stopping her nostrils he left[...], Tiamat’s.
He formed at her udder the lofty m[ountain]s, (therein) he drilled springs for the wells to carry off (the water). Twisting her tail he bound it to Durmah, [...].. .Apsu at his foot, [...]her crotch, she was fastened to the heavens, (thus) he covered [the heavens] (and) established the earth.
[...].. .in the midst of Tiamat he made flow, [...]his net he completely let out,
(So )he created heaven and earth[...], [...]their bounds [...] established.
[deleted gods complaining about having to work]
To impart the plan he had conceived in his heart:
The king addressed a word to the Anunnaki: “If your former statement was true, now declare the truth on oath by me! Who was it that contrived the uprising, and made Tiamat rebel, and joined battle? Let him be handed over who contrived the uprising. His guilt I will make him bear. You shall dwell in peace!”
They bound him, holding him before Ea.
- J. Pritchard (ed.): Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament
Reading both narratives shows that if there is any the relationship between the two, it must be at best a distant one. The most important difference between the two accounts is that Enuma Eliš belongs to the category of the conflict tradition, which is entirely absent from Gen. 1. In the former, the god Marduk first summons the other deities and, after killing the primordial goddess Tiamat, creates heaven and earth by splitting Tiamat’s body into two and using her other body parts to create different features of the skies and the earth. The Genesis narrative does not have even a hint of conflict in it as God is portrayed alone (yes, I know that ĕlōhîm is plural, but the verbs associated with it are in masculine singular) and supreme. Instead of using the body of a dead goddess like Marduk does, God creates everything out of nothing.
The similarity of separating the heavens from earth in both accounts is not as significant as it would seem at the first glance. A separation of heaven and earth is present in all ancient Near Eastern mythologies, and by no means unique to these accounts:
- Sumerian mythology tells that the “earth had been separated from heaven” by Enlil, the air-god, while his father An “carried off the heaven.”
- The Hittite Kumarbi myth depicts that heaven and earth were separated by a cutting tool: “When heaven and earth were built upon me (Upelluri, an Atlas-figure) I knew nothing of it, and when they came and cut heaven and earth asunder with a copper tool, that also I did not know.”
- In Egyptian mythology Shu, the god of the air, is referred to as he who “raised Nut (the sky-goddess) above him, Geb (the earth-god) being at his feet. Thus heaven and earth were separated from an embrace by god Shu, who raised heaven aloft to make the sky.”
- In Phoenician mythology the separation is pictured as splitting the world egg.
It has been argued since 1895 that the term ‘the deep’ — ṯəhōm in 1:2 — is related to the name Tiamat. This has several problems with it. The word occurs 35 times in the OT, but in none of them is in any sense a personification of the deep – or the sea. And as already stated above, God is in no conflict with the deep in Gen. 1. Linguistically ṯəhōm seems to be far more closely related to the Ugaritic thm, ‘deep’ than the Akkadian ti-amat, though they all appear to derive from a common Semitic root. This shows especially when ṯəhōm is compared to known Akkadian loanwords in Hebrew. The second radical of the Hebrew word ṯəhōm, the letter ה (h), would have to be an א (‘) and the Hebrew term would have to be feminine whereas it is masculine. If Tiamat had been taken over into Hebrew, it would have been left as it was or it would have been changed to ti/e’ama, but in no case would it have morphed into ṯəhōm.
The Genesis narrative does not explicitly explain why God created the world, but as there is a major emphasis in the creation of mankind, it seems apparent that God created everything for Man, who is the climax of his creation. In direct contrast to this, Marduk creates mankind – not out of nothing, but from an executed god, Kingu/Qingu – to appease grumbling gods who are fed up with having to work. After the creation of men, the gods can rest while men do all their work.
From the above evidence, about the only thing Genesis 1 and Enuma Eliš have in common is that both are Semitic creation myths, and the claim that Genesis is just an Israelite rewriting of Enuma cannot be sustained.
- J. Barton and J. Muddiman (eds): The Pentateuch (Oxford, 2001)
- V. P. Hamilton: The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17 (Eerdman’s, 1990)
- G. Hasel: The Significance of the Cosmology in Genesis I in the Relation to Ancient Near Eastern Parallels (Andrews University Seminary Studies 10, 1-20., 1972)
- New Revised Standard Version Bible (1989)
- J. Pritchard (ed.): Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament with Supplements (Princeton, 1969)