Establishing the Ancient Near Eastern Context of Genesis 1

There are some times where I read something which infuriates me with it’s ignorance. Such is this article by a certain Ostrich at Answers in Genesis called Simon Turpin. In it he critiques the commentaries of John Walton (and other evangelical commentators) by saying this:

By using ancient Near East literature, Walton is going outside of the Bible, which is committing eisegesis—reading meanings “into” the biblical text as opposed to “out of” the biblical text exegesis, this is to substantiate what he wants the Bible to say in order to accommodate those views.

There is much dissimilarity between the ancient Near Eastern accounts and the BibleFor example, how does one explain the polytheism, the theogony (creation of the various gods) the cosmic wars, the magic that is at the center of these epicsThese are not found in the BibleThe Scriptures on the other hand give a true historical, chronological account of the event.

Nice try Turp, but to deny that the Bible, particularly Genesis 1 has parallels with ANE literature you need to pretend that 200 years of Archaelogical discoveries in Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, Sumer, Ugarit, Hattusa, Mari, Ebla, Mittani and more never happened. Period. That’s just the way it is.

Before we establish the connection which Genesis has to other ANE literature we first need to explain the dissimilarities between Genesis and these works:

how does one explain the polytheism

The Israelite worldview held that no one among the gods was like Yahweh (Exodus 15:11). Which explains away why other Gods are relegated to nothing in Genesis (sorry Michael Sherlock) and most of the Tanakh (though their existence was not denied). Writing literature which supports the notion that other gods were akin to Yahweh would be blasphemous both to an Orthodox Israelite and to God himself. Including other aspects of ANE worldview would not be.

the theogony (creation of the various gods)

Perhaps the only ANE element which does appear to be completely absent. Then again the Israelite worldview held that God (and maybe the other gods) were uncreated beings (Exodus 3:13). Either way, this does not make the parallels null and void.

the cosmic wars

It absolutely exists in the account of creation found in Psalm 74, as well as Isaiah 27, whether you like it or not. More on that in another post. It doesn’t exist in Genesis 1, but nor does it exist in Egyptian or even most Mesopotamian creation myths. I only know it exists in the Enuma Elish. Moreover, the notion of theomachy against the Gods of Egypt and Canaan is found in the plagues of Egypt and Elijah’s curse against the Baal Worshippers in I Kings 17:1, which are direct attacks against the powers of the respective pantheons. (More on that in a future post). Finally, God sentences the gods to die in Psalm 82.

the magic that is at the center of these epics

Define ‘magic’, and differentiate it from God’s use of miracles.

The Scriptures on the other hand give a true historical, chronological account of the event.

As far as Genesis 1 is concerned, this is not the case, as we shall see it contains many of the prescientific elements contained in ANE creation accounts. Sumerian accounts also played even closer detail to ‘Chronology’.

Now let’s examine what the parallels are:

Image result for ostrich

Tehom:

The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Gen 1:2

Egyptian and Mesopotamian creation accounts also claim the earth was covered by water at the beginning of creation:

Enuma Elish Tablet 1:

When in the height heaven was not named,
And the earth beneath did not yet bear a name,
And the primeval Apsu, who begat them,
And chaos, Tiamut, the mother of them both
Their waters were mingled together,

Sumerian Prayer from Eridu: (1)

No holy house, no house of the gods, had been built in a pure place; 

No reed had come forth, no tree had been created; 

No brick had been laid, no brickmold had been created; 

No house had been built, no city had been created; 

No city had been built, no settlement had been founded; 

Nippur had not been built, Ekur had not been created; 

Uruk had not been built, Eanna had not been created; 

The depths had not been built, Eridu had not been created; 

No holy house, no house of the gods, no dwelling for them had been cre- ated. 

All the world was sea, 

The spring in the midst of the sea was only a channel, 

Then was Eridu built, Esagila was created

Here we also see that scripture is not giving ‘a true historical, chronological account’, since we know that seas formed millions of years after land. Not that YECs care, but science doesn’t care about their feelings.

Light before the sun:

Another clearly prescientific part of Genesis 1’s cosmogony is the creation of light before the sun, which is also found in Egyptian and Mesopotamian cosmogonies (2). This order of creation may seem bizarre to our eyes, but in an Ancient Scientific worldview it makes sense, for the Ancients saw no connection between sunlight and daylight (3).

Naming the realms of creation:

God names the light day and the darkness night, the expanse ‘sky’, the ground ‘land’ and the waters ‘seas’. A similar association between naming and creation is found in the Enuma Elish:

When in the height heaven was not named,
And the earth beneath did not yet bear a name,

Order of creation:

Genesis 1’s order of creation has parallels with both Egyptian (2) and Mesopotamian creation accounts. Day 1, 2 and three concern the establishment of time, weather and food respectively, a parallel is found respectively with lines 38-40, 47-52 and 53-58 of Tablet 5 of the Enuma Elish. (1)

Seven days:

We have discussed the vast amount of temple imagery found in Genesis 1 before (here and here), and how it is very likely that the seven days of creation are therefore associated with temple construction. This link is found elsewhere in the ANE as well (5). The number seven also has a mystical significance in general in Mesopotamia, as shown by the Seven Tablets of the Enuma Elish and the Seven Heavens and Seven Earths (Which I plan on tackling in a ‘No that’s not a miracle’ post) (4).

Separation of Heaven and Earth

No need to reinvent the wheel here, just read this and this post.

Creation of Dry land:

Much like in Genesis 1, Egyptian texts mention the primordial dry land appearing from receding waters. (2)

Image result for head in the sand ostrich

Conclusion:

There are many more parallels, be found, such as the separation of waters, creation via spoken word and the ‘wind’ blowing over the primordial ocean (2), yet I think that here alone we have established that Genesis 1 has ‘heavy; parallels to ANE creation myths. Not only that, but it shares their prescientific worldiew, contrary to AiG’s claim that:

The Scriptures on the other hand give a true historical, chronological account of the event.

It seems AiG is just as bad at exegesis as it is at science. There is a reason why no serious scholar disputes this stuff. Now I don’t think Genesis was in any way ‘copied’ or ‘plagiarised’ from earlier sources, only that it;s writers thought the same way, and most scholars will agree with me here. As it happens Genesis 1 still has a message relevant today with it’s cosmic temple imagery, and it stands out in  stark contrast to all other ANE creation myths by giving great respect to man, we are not God’s slaves, we  are his image, and we rule his creation. And for that our civilisation should be grateful.

References:

  1. Benjamin R. Foster, Before the Muses: An Anthology of Akkadian Literature, 3rd ed. (Bethesda, Md.: CDL Press, 2005), p. 488. 
  2. Genesis 1 and Ancient Egyptian Creation Myths,” Bibliotheca Sacra 165 (April-June 2008): 178-194.
  3. Wayne Horowitz, Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography, Mesopotamian Civilizations 8 (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1998). p 230
  4. ibid. p. 208
  5. The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 78-85.

 

 

 

 

 

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