The Genesis Account and Ancient Myth
Daniel H. King, Sr.
Does Genesis 1-2 represent the vestiges of a primeval myth of the origin of the world? Comparative features are the most potent ally of the liberal scholar.
Some people are satisfied with such an explanation. But what are the consequences of such a view? They would certainly be that all of the Bible is suspect on the same ground. That is sufficient for some people; but not the apostle Peter: we have not followed "cleverly devised fables" (muthois; "myths" 2 Pet. 1:16). The Bible is not a dependable revelation of the mind of God for man if it is subject to the false notions of the time or if mythological thinking helped to create the final product of the biblical writers in any way.
biblical account of creation recorded in Genesis 1 and 2 compares very favorably with those of the ancient world. Anyone who reads these pagan speculations about what their gods and goddesses may have done at the dawn of the world and then contemplates the magisterial eloquence of Genesis will quickly come to understand why these pagan materials were completely forgotten for centuries, only to be rescued by the spade of the archaeologist, while the Bible account has endeared itself to readers throughout the world for twenty- four centuries or more. A summary of a few of the major views of the origin of things from those nations around ancient Israel will give evidence that the Genesis account truly stands alone among the cosmologies of the ancient Near East. The few parallels which exist between incidental details of some of the accounts and the story found in the Bible have led some scholars to hope for dependency links between the materials. But evidence for such has not been forthcoming in even a single instance. The Bible account both stands out and stands alone.
1. The Sumerians and Creation. Sumerians settled in Mesopotamia immediately before 3000 BC. Their earliest records are written in a very primitive pictorial script. This gradually developed into cuneiform, in which was written from then on both Sumerian and the Semitic languages.
Among the Sumerians there were two views of creation as expressed in their mythological treatises. According to the first, which has its home in the nomadic culture of the north, there was first an embryo-like universe (sometimes clearly treated as a mountain) from which the heaven, An, rose; heaven united with earth in cosmic marriage, and then separated from earth, while gods and men grew up as the fruit of this marriage.
The second basic type, which has its home at Eridu in the south, starts from the water of Abzu, or Nammu and Mother Earth, as representing the origin of life and of the world. In this system man was formed from earth.
These two presentations were gradually conflated together to form a monolithic view. When the rest of the Sumerian myths are examined, it is noticeable that two themes are strongly dominant, those of the ordering of the world, and of the struggle against evil powers.
The myth of 'Enki and the World Order' describes creation in this way: after certain rites in the sanctuary of the gods have been described, we hear how Enki orders all things well in Sumer, makes its laws exalted, and determines the destiny of Ur. After this he orders other lands and gives each of them its natural resources and its character, fills the Tigris with water, creates the swamp lands and provides them with fish and reeds, arranges for rain, looks after the fields and creates agricultural tools, and gives the plateau its vegetation and livestock. He entrusts each phenomenon to a god who is responsible for it. He fixes frontiers on earth, and sets the sun-god Utu 'over the whole universe.' The final part describes Inanna's discontent with her part, and assigns her certain tasks.
The creation of man is dealt with by the myth of Enki and Ninmah. It begins with the gods lamenting how difficult it is for them to get food. They expect help from Enki, but he is lying down asleep. His mother Nammu wakes him up, however, and bids him stand up and create a servant for the gods. Enki grants her request, binding upon this new creation 'the image (?) of the gods'.
2. Creation Among the Babylonians and Assyrians. In Akkadian literature there exists a Creation Epic, which was both recited and re-enacted at the New Year's Feast. This is why we possess copies of this from several different places.
The Chaldaean Cosmogony: this brief text is a bilingual one from the 6th century BC, which appears to go back to older sources. It tells of the time when there was no temple, no reeds, no brick, no house, no city, and no men, and "when all lands were sea." Then Aridu arose in Apsu (the ocean), with its temple and the god Marduk, and Babylon, the holy city. Then Marduk made a form of reeds and created mud--clearly the earth is formed of this--and to "let the gods dwell in a dwelling place that they take delight in, he created men; (the goddess) Araru created with him the seed of man." Then cattle and other beasts, gardens and forests, cities and temples are created.
This cosmogony clearly presupposes the circumstances of the lower course of the Euphrates and the Tigris; Marduk makes the foundation for a dwelling place from reeds and mud, as we can picture the inhabitants of these regions doing. It is a recurrent theme that man is created to serve the gods. The most important cosmogonic text is the Epic of Creation, often called from its first words enuma elish, 'when on high'. It's purpose is to show that their patron god Marduk is superior over all of the other gods of the various pantheons.
The epic begins with a statement that in the beginning, when there was neither heaven above nor earth beneath, when there were no temples or gods, then there was only Apsu, the sweet water ocean, and Tiamat the salt water ocean , and Mummu, a third figure. The first two commingled their waters with one another, and so the gods Lahmu and Lahamu were born, then Anshar and Kishar, and finally Anu and the other gods. It is clear that this introduction reflects the natural circumstances in the delta region of Mesopotami, where sweet and salt water meet.
Immediately, however, disunity appears between the younger generation of gods and their first parents, which ends with Ea vanquishing Apsu (and Mummu). The Eridu temple is built over Apsu. Ea's son Marduk is born and is praised with enthusiastic language.
Tiamat takes the offensive to avenge Apsu. She brings forth eleven enormous monsters, and sets the god Kingu at the head of their ranks, and fixes upon his breast the 'tablets of destiny', symbol of absolute authority. Neither Anu nor Ea dares to meet him. Marduk undertakes the task on the condition he receive the position of leadership within the assembly of the gods, along with unlimited authority. They agree to his terms. They acclaim him so with the cry, 'Marduk is king.' When Ea opens her mouth to shallow him, he sends a terrible wind into her open mouth, so she cannot close it, shoots an arrow into her belly and slays her. He fastens Kingu's tablets of destiny to his breast, and cuts the body of Tiamat into two halves: one he lifts up, and places the firmament of heaven as a protection against 'her water'; the lower half is clearly the ocean here below. Marduk arranges the constellations of the heaven, and then creates man from the blood of the rebel Kingu as a slave to serve the gods. We may safely assume that it intends to say that man has within himself the blood of rebellion, the blood of Kingu. But the text clearly aims to exalt Marduk as the chief god.
3.Creation in Egyptian Religion. The only Egyptian gods that had the power to create were Atum and Ptah, whose temples lay close to each other at Heliopolis and Memphis, although separated by the width of the Nile. Their methods of creation were different. Atum lived alone and brought forth the first divine pair of children from his own semen or sputum, whereas Ptah made use of all the organs of the body: the heart which is the seat of knowledge, the tongue which repeats everything which has been thought by the heart, and the limbs which execute all actions. Khnum fashioned men and their protective geniuses on his potter's wheel, while Hekat, his wife in Middle Egypt, helped women in childbirth (see Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, p. 3ff).
4. Creation In Canaanite Religion. Our knowledge of Canaanite and Phoenician mythology was extremely limited until discovery of the Ras Shamra texts. All we had was a couple versions of the Phoenician cosmogony, which were found in the classical authors: Philo Byblius, and one in the philosopher Damascius.
From the Baal cycle in the Ugaritic texts there is the story of Baal's struggle with Yam, the sea. Yam attacks Baal with the approval of El. He sends his messenger to the terrified assembly of the gods, and El gives his consent to Baal being handed over. Baal, however, seizes his weapons and attacks the first messenger and then Yam himself. He acquires weapons with magic powers from the skilled craftsman Kothar-wa-Hasis, and succeeds in defeating his enemies with them. The text breaks off here. If we had all the story we would undoubtedly have the story of their creation beliefs. Some texts suggest this: 'Yam is dead, Baal shall be king.'
Another text tells of Baal defeating a serpent called Lotan: "When you crushed Lotan, the swift serpent, and made an end of the coiled serpent, the tyrant (?) with seven heads, the heavens drooped and hung loose like the belt on your clothes; and I was consumed like blood-red funeral meats and died. Truly you shall climb down into the mouth of Mot the son of god, into the miry throat of the hero, the beloved of El."
Lotan is described in exactly the same words in Isa. 27:1, evidently in an attempt to say that the Lord overcome the forces of chaos to create the world. Lotan/Leviathan manifestly stands for the forces of chaos.
5. The Biblical Account Stands Out in Contrast with These Pagan Schemes:
Truly there is little in the way of fair comparison which may be made between the mythological scenarios portrayed in the pagan stories which we have described above and the account of the creation given in Genesis. The following are some of the points of distinction in the Genesis record which ought to be noted:
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