The Ancient Near Eastern Context of Genesis – 2

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series The Ancient Near Eastern Context of Genesis

Enuma Elish, commonly known as the “Babylonian Genesis”, was unearthed between 1848 and 1876 in the ruins of old Ninevah in the library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (668-627 BCE). This story, written on seven tablets is widely accepted as being much older than the version discovered in the Assyrian royal library, dating between the 12th and 18th centuries BCE.

While there are many similarities between Genesis and Enuma Elish such as darkness prior to creation and the division of water, there are also significant thematic differences. The evangelical Christian and OT scholar Peter Enns observes:

 “One of the chief differences is that the Babylonian story depicts the creation of the world as a cosmic battle between the god Marduk and his great-great-grandmother; the goddess Tiamat. Tiamat and her husband, Apsi, were the parents of all the gods. Apsu intended to kill his divine offspring, but his grandson Ea intervened and, in an act of trickery killed Apsu. In time Tiamat grew angry and planned to go to war agaisnt the other gods. Ea’s son Marduk then fought Tiamat and killed her. From her slain body Marduk created heaven and earth, an act that won him notoriety and thus eventually the head seat at the Babylonian pantheon.”1

Here at least, the differences can be seen in the fact that whereas Enuma Elish (and Atrahasis as we will see later) describe the creation in context of a dispute between rival deities, Genesis has but one God who is in complete control of creation. The moral tone of the Babylonian and Hebrew creation stories differ markedly.

Still, at a fundamental level, these narratives share much. As Enns puts it:

“Despite these differences, however, the problem remains. However different the two stories may be, they unquestioningly share a common way of speaking about the beginning for the world; both Genesis and Enuma Elish “breathe the same air”. Whether or not the author of Genesis as familiar with the text known to us as Enuma Elish, he was certainly working within a similar conceptual world. So, as unwise as it is to equate the two, it is also ill advised to make such a sharp distinction between them that the clear similarities are brushed aside. The Genesis account must be understood in its ancient context, and stories like Enuma Elish help us glimpse what that context looked like.”2

If one wants to approach the original meaning of the Genesis narratives, reading them according to modern standards of historiography is unwise at best.

Series Navigation<< The Ancient Near Eastern Context of Genesis – 1The Ancient Near Eastern Context of Genesis – 3 >>
  1. Enns, Peter. Inspiration and Incarnation Grand Rapids : Baker Academic, 2005  p 26 []
  2. ibid, p 26-27 []

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