Genesis Among the Creation Myths   2 comments

There are well recognized parallels between Genesis 1 and 2 and other ancient Near Eastern creation myths. Archeologists tell us that the Mesopotamian and Egyptian myths predate the Biblical account.

imageOh, my! I’ve been wrong about this faith thing all this time! Thank you for setting me straight!

No, seriously – my faith does not rest on scientific or archeological research. I find the study of these things interesting, but the study of creation should never take precedence of the Creator.

Before the mid-19th century it was possible to read the Old Testament in isolation and marvel at the creation stories in Genesis, to believe without equivocation that they were a unique special perfect revelation delivered to Moses during the sojourn in the wilderness.

Multitudinous discoveries over the last two centuries have challenged this view in deep and profound ways. Tablets were found dating from the mid-7th century BC along with earlier fragments that relate creation and flood myths from Mesopotamia. These Ancient Near East (ANE) stories are both obviously different and unnervingly similar to the stories of creation, flood, and re-creation in Genesis 1-11. What’s more the ANE myths appear to date much earlier than the Genesis accounts.

You can take these discoveries as a challenge to the inspiration of Genesis and, more generally, an attack on the validity of scripture as any sort of divine book. This worldly wisdom could be just another nail in the coffin of an outdate religious superstition or …

Perhaps a better way of think about the issue is to introduce the phrase “genre” calibration”. Placing Genesis side by side with the primordial tales of other ancient cultures helps us gain a clearer understanding of the nature of Genesis and thus what we as contemporary readers have a right to expect from Genesis. Such comparisons have made it quite clear that Israel’s creation stories are not prepared to answer the kinds of questions that occupy modern scientific or even historical studies. Genesis is an ancient text designed to address ancient issues within the scope of ancient ways of understanding origins. (The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Does Not Say About Human Origins, Peter Enns, pp. 35-36)

There’s no denying the similarities between the Genesis Flood and Gilgamesh and Adam and Atrahasis. This does not mean the Scriptures are not borrowed myth. The apparent influence of NE creation myths on the Biblical accounts is, well, apparent.

Except …

Where did Abraham come from?

Ur of the Caldese… which is where?

The Caldean mountains are in Iraq and Iraq used to be known as … yes, Mesopotamia.

There is a shared culture between the ancient Near East peoples. The Bible and other ancient Near East texts draw on a common history. That is not saying that the Bible borrowed from Gudea or any other piece of ancient Near East literature. The Israelites shared certain basic concepts about creation with their cultural cousins because Abraham came from the same region. Of course, there are similarities.

Significant parallels do exist between Genesis 1 and Enuma Elish. Darkness precedes creation, light exists before the celestial bodies, a barrier is formed to keep the waters above where they belong. The sequence of creation is similar, but in Genesis God creates the earth while in Enuma Elish, the god orders chaos.

Scholars are no longer eager to draw a direct line of dependence from Enuma Elish to Genesis. Instead the two texts participate in a similar conceptual world concerning the nature of beginnings. Enuma Elish is older than Genesis and so sets the stage for Genesis 1. But the similarities between Genesis and Enuma Elish are due to a matrix of cultural factors that are bigger than both. (p. 40)

The ANE creation myths were seemingly constructed as polemics against competing religions and that is what sets apart the Biblical account. In a world full of stories about gods’ creating through violence and conflict with other gods, the Israelites “bucked the trend” by ascribing to their one God a complete and utterly effortless act of creation. The God of Genesis 1 was not like other gods. He alone can claim the title of Creator, which means He alone is worthy of allegiance and worship.

The cultural world of the ancient Near East assumed a pantheon of gods. The Babylonian creation myths found in Enuma Elish are often framed as divine conflict.  In the Bible, there is no conflict. God is solo and He acts. Other gods (little g intentional) exist later as the idols of other peoples, whom the Israelites are commanded to set aside to worship only THE God alone.

imageOf course, Christians believe that, irrespective of when Genesis was penned, it reflects the earliest history best because it was given by God. Similar stories may have been penned earlier, but they are still corruptions of the original memories of the actual events. It might be noted that the rainbow promise only appears in one ancient flood myth and that is the Bible.

If one views this discussion from a man-centric viewpoint, you might think the Israelites just had a different understanding of God than their neighbors, but if you take a step back and ask youselves from the assumption that God is real … well … it makes total sense that God SUPPLIED a description of Who He is, who man is and why man existed and then allowed the people of that era to cast it into terms that they could understand rather than in terms that we would readily recognize in the 21st century.

2 responses to “Genesis Among the Creation Myths

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  1. Very lucid and interesting post, Lela.


  2. Reblogged this on Messiah For All and commented:
    When we look at different myths about creation we can see that in several of them that though details may differ the essential lines of the stories or the elements of the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same. For people it was found important to tell what happened in the past and by the years the stories grew. Having continents getting out of each other, spacing out by sees in-between people got estranged from each other and stories went their own way.
    Those who want to analyse the beginning of the world will always come to a point where there shall be something which they are not able to place. Some of them may think that there is nothing that exists that they cannot analyze under the rules of science, say the Big Band theory can only be explained by other theories that sound like faith. Honest and maybe agnostic scientist should come to realise that in the previous centuries it where humans who did not want to see what was really explained in the Bible being close to the theories they scientifically could find. Man has to agree that the Bible said it all a long time before science got there.
    That the Big Bang theory proposes that the universe started from a singularity – a dense wad of matter that for reasons not yet known suddenly exploded outward in an immense pulse of energy and light, is in a way not contradiction with the void spoken of in the Holy Scriptures. Scientific consensus has pretty much decided that is how the universe we currently live in started, but they still cannot explain more or say what made the mass to have a black hole or an action taking place somewhere in time.
    That time could be placed under the name of day or phase, but at the start there was not such an indication because light and darkness were the elements to be forming the differences in time. The book of Genesis wants to give the synopsis of Creation in a few sentences, saying it took six periods or phases of coming into existence. In the later books of the bible it is indicated that people do have no idea about the space and about the time in God’s eyes. Time for God is totally different than for the creatures who can find darkness and light as elements dividing the space in countable or measurable units to give an indication of the now, before and after. the indication of that time also changed in the course of history, bringing it to seconds, minutes and hours, days, weeks, months and years which may be divided differently or follow another calendar. Man should know, according Scriptures, that for the eternal Creator our time indications are like nothing to hold on, because what is a day to an eternal Being when there was no sun to calculate a time period and when there is no beginning and no end to Its existence.
    The gods we may find in all the different myths are not self consistent and are not exactly creators of all elements. Though the God presented in the Scriptures and presented by the Israelites, the people of God, is One God Who was before everything and Who is responsible Himself for everything. The oral tradition brought the history of mankind and the Word of God from one person to the other. That it was penned later than other stories of the beginning of the world does not make it less believable or untrue. The way the story was presented had to bring understanding to all, educated and non- educated and it should have been able to tell it from one generation to another. Short lines were the easiest to get it recounted; told over and over again, making sure it got through time with the same lines. That not everything is exactly the same in the genesis stories we can find by the different cultures takes not away that we can see the ‘grosso mode similar line’. The perspective by which is looked at the beginning of the elements says a lot of the people but also can give an indication of the connection of the people with that Creator, having the Israelites having kept their relationship on good terms and seeing human being as major part of creation and as the only elements being in the image of that Creator, placing them more in the centre than in other cultures. For them it was also more important to know what their function is in this creation and where they stand opposite the Creator.
    In the God’s People version of the beginnings of the universe the Elohim as Most High All-knowing Supreme Being wanted Him to be known and supplied a description of Who He is, who man is and why man existed and then allowed the people of that era to cast it into terms that they could understand rather than in terms that we would readily recognize in the 21st century.


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