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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.

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