The Ancient Near Eastern Context of Genesis – 5

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

Wenham observes that a creation story quite similar to Genesis existed in Mesopotamia no later than 1600 BCE, which predates both the early and late dates for the Exodus (1450 and 1250 BCE). In its written form, the creation narrative in Genesis is younger than the Babylonian narrative. However, irrespective of when both were written, the underlying ‘plot’ likely predates both. This raises the question of ‘who got it right’ and suggests that Genesis may well be written as a riposte or polemic against the ANE creation myths common to that time. As C.C. Walker said, Genesis was written not to instruct Israel on the mechanics of creation, but to tell them that Yahweh was the creator, and do so against the claims of the surrounding deities. The OT scholar James McKeown observes:

The main difference is that Enuma Elish is unashamedly polytheistic while Genesis is not only monotheistic but is actually anti-polytheistic. Genesis takes every opportunity to deny divinity to heavenly bodies, referring to them as simply lights. In the same way, the account denies divinity to sea monsters, listing them as creatures God created in the same category as ordinary fish and fowl. Further evidence of the apologetic and polemic nature of the Genesis account is found when we compare it with the other Old Testament references to creation…In contrast to these references, Genesis leaves not a vestige of mythical language or thought; Genesis is a complete denial of the polytheistic and mythological worldview…Isaiah and Job asserted the superiority of Yahweh over the hypothetical mythological creatures and over every putative supernatural power, while in Genesis their very existence was denied.1

To argue as do the special creationists that Genesis is a scientifically accurate account of creation not only forces the Bible into conflict with hard evidence from the natural world that the Earth is 4600 million years old, and that the diversity of life has arisen progressively over this time. It completely ignores the ANE context of Genesis and the real reason it was written. Genesis makes sense when read against the polytheistic creation myths of the ANE. Genesis shares the common view of the ANE that the earth was flat with a solid firmament and a sun that revolved around the Earth. Where Genesis differs is in its powerful polemic against polytheism. Genesis satirises this idea, and completely subverts it. Whereas the creation myths of the ancients had warring Gods making humans as their slaves, Genesis has but one God, creating order from chaos, and making the covenant man in His image. When reading Genesis, we need to avoid reading it as science, but instead read it as theology and polemic. To do otherwise is to miss its powerful message.

Series Navigation<< The Ancient Near Eastern Context of Genesis – 4
  1. McKeown, James. Genesis. The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008. p 15 []

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