Genesis – Hebrew Creation Myths in Context

Genesis – Hebrew Creation Myths in Context

Introduction

The term cosmogony stems from the two Greek words kosmos and genesis.[1] Kosmos refers to the order of the universe and genesis denotes the process of coming into being.[2] Thus, a cosmogony, at least in the non-scientific sense of the term, is concerned with myths that describe the coming into being of the gods, the universe, the world and all of its inhabitants.[3] Ancient cosmogonies come in several forms. There are cosmogonies that describe creation from nothing (ex nihilo), creation from chaos, creation from a cosmic egg, creation from world parents, emergent creation, and creation through the intercession of an earth-diver.[4] Some cosmogonies are a combination of more than one of the above mentioned models. Each of these mythological models, however, and the variations within each of these models, reveals a great deal about the people who created them.

This essay will examine, compare and contrast the cosmogonies of three civilizations: the ancient Egyptians, the ancient Mesopotamians, and the ancient Israelites.  The Egyptian and Mesopotamian cosmogonies will be explored and compared in light of their influence upon the authors of the first two chapters of Genesis, whose two competing cosmogonies are a compilation of both Egyptian and Mesopotamian mythical models and motifs that were seasoned with Persian influences and some unique contrivances of the Hebrew authors.  The unique aspects of the cosmogonies of the authors of Genesis will be argued to be the result of specific cultural, political and social circumstances.

To what extent do these creation myths reveal the beliefs held regarding the role of the gods in the process of creation? What do they tell us about the perceived relationship of each of the civilization’s gods with humanity?  What similarities exist between these three cosmogonic systems? How do we account for these similarities? How do these creation myths differ? What are some possible reasons for the variations that do exist between the three?  This essay will attempt to offer answers to all of the questions above by critically examining the extant primary sources as well as the available secondary sources.

 

The Book of Genesis – In the Beginning

  The book of Genesis begins, ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth’,[5] but a more accurate rendering of the original Hebrew reads, ‘When in the beginning the gods created the heavens and the earth’.[6]  Here, in this very first sentence can be found not only a linguistic parallel between the first chapter of Genesis and the first sentence of the more ancient creation myth of the Babylonians contained within the Enuma Elish,[7] but also the first ideological distinction between these two ancient cosmogonies.  The title given to the Enuma Elish is also the opening words of this cosmogony – ‘When on high’/’When in the height’.[8] So we have ‘When on high’ versus ‘When in the beginning’- both opening the cosmogonies in a linguistically similar fashion but at the same time drawing an important ideological distinction between the two. The beginning of the Enuma Elish is emphasising space, or place,[9] whilst the creation myth in Genesis is placing importance upon time.[10]  This distinction between time and place/space is consistent throughout these cosmogonies. The Enuma Elish ends creation with the building of the city of Babylon [11] and the second chapter of Genesis begins with the closing of the first account of creation, following which God rests on the seventh day,[12] marking the Hebrew Sabbath.[13] If one carefully reads these two creation myths side-by-side, numerous parallels present themselves, and for good reason.

 

Genesis in Exile & Creation in Babylon

A large portion of the book of Genesis was either first written or finally redacted whilst the Jews were in exile in Babylon, sometime around the sixth century BCE.[14]  This is one explanation for why many of the earlier myths of the Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians and Chaldeans found their way into this multi-source collection of Hebrew texts we now call the book of Genesis.[15] For the Jews in exile it isn’t hard to imagine that they were waiting for the time in which they would be able to return to their homeland.[16] The Babylonians, on the other hand, at home in their great city and having inherited the urbanistic theology of their ancient Sumerian ancestors, emphasised their gods’ role in creating the great city, Babylon – whereas the Jews, probably preoccupied with their wait to return to Israel, emphasised their god(s)’ preoccupation with time – each civilization projecting its own image and desires onto its creator(s). Thus, the first chapter of Genesis and the Enuma Elish both reveal a detail about the perceived relationship with the respective creators. The Babylonians’ relationship with their gods was based on place – specifically – the city of Babylon, whilst the Jews’ relationship with their god(s) was heavily underscored by time, which is a motif that carries on throughout the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and into the expression phenomena of modern Judaism, with its ceremonies, festivals, rites and rituals all marked by specific moments in their lunar calendar.[17]

 

Tiamat & the Watery Deep

  Creation in the Enuma Elish begins with the mingling of the pure waters of the primeval father Apsu with the salty waters of Tiamat, the goddess who anthropomorphically represented chaos.[18] Following the creation of the gods and a war between Tiamat and the patron deity of Babylon, Marduk, Marduk summons the winds to inflate Tiamat, following which Marduk cuts her in half, using her upper body as the firmament to separate the waters from above from the waters below, and with her lower-half he fashions the earth.[19] The author of the first chapter of Genesis appears to have taken this Babylonian story of creation and adapted it to his own people’s theology.  Genesis 1:2 reads: ‘And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters’.[20] This beginning act of creation in which Elohim (Eng. Gods) creates the universe from a watery chaos accords in numerous ways to the beginning of the Enuma Elish.[21] In both instances the role of the gods was to create the universe from a chaotic ‘nothing’ – Apsu and Elohim were the primordial begetters, whose job it was to bring everything into existence. It’s also interesting to note the philological comparison between the Hebrew word for deep, tehom, as in ‘darkness was on the face of the deep’, and the Babylonian Tiamat, for they both share a common etymological root and mean, in essence, the same thing.[22]

Regarding this philological and ideological comparison, King notes: ‘According to each account the existence of a watery chaos preceded the creation of the universe; and the Hebrew word tehom, translated “the deep” in Gen. i, 2, is the equivalent of the Babylonian Tiamat, the monster of the deep personifying chaos and confusion’.[23]

This parallel becomes even more pronounced with a comparative examination of the Hebrew translation for the following expression in Genesis 1:2 – ‘and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters’- and Berossus’ account of the Enuma Elish given in the fourth century BCE. Regarding this comparison, Heidel remarks: ‘Berossus says that “there was a time in which all was darkness and water”. The “water” he subsequently identifies with “a woman named Omorka”, who, he says, “in Chaldean [Babylonian] is thampte, meaning in Greek “the sea.” Then in the following paragraph he calls this same woman “darkness.” In other words, the “darkness and water” of which Berossus speaks at the beginning of his account is the Tiamat of the cuneiform original’.[24]

In both creation myths the role of the creator is to not only produce order out of chaos but also to bring light out of the darkness of that primordial chaos. In the case of Genesis, the God(s) creates the light whereas for the Babylonians the light was the creator Marduk, to whom was ascribed various solar epithets.[25]  The associations of darkness with chaos and light with order may betoken the agricultural origins of these mythological models, for the sun was both the fecundator and maintainer of agriculture, or order. Thus, the gods’ role was the bringer of the light which expelled the treacherous darkness of night and the chaos of winter.  Further, the Hebrew word for spirit, as in, ‘the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters’, is ruach, which also means wind.[26]  Thus, the text may be translated in a manner that shows a replaying of the drama between Marduk’s summoning of the winds upon the waters of the deep (Tiamat), and his subduing of chaos and creation of order with wind.

The primary difference between these two versions of creation is the obvious lack of anthropomorphism in the Hebrew version, with only the Elohim (gods) creating planets, luminaries, principles and elements, rather than the creation of the world through a war between gods and goddesses who were the anthropomorphised embodiment of these things.[27]   This resistance to the anthropomorphising of principles, elements, plants, planets and stars may explain why the author of the first chapter of Genesis has their God(s) create the light prior to, and independent from, the sun and the moon [28] – because these two celestial bodies were primary characters in the pantheons of their Babylonian captors.[29] Perhaps the author of the first chapter of Genesis was reinforcing their God(s)’ role as the prime mover(s). It may have also been a subtle message to their Babylonian captors that the Jews’ supreme God(s), Elohim, created the Babylonian sun and moon gods, who, according to the Israelite version of the creation, aren’t even gods at all, but inanimate and mundane luminaries.[30]

 

Mode of Creation – Divine Words vs Divine War

The mode of creation between the cosmogony in the first chapter of Genesis and that of the Enuma Elish also offers another distinction between these creation myths.  In Genesis everything is created by God(s)’ word,[31] but in the Enuma Elish the heavens and the gods are begotten by the mingling of the waters of Apsu and the waters of Tiamat,[32] and the earth and humans are fashioned by Marduk with the spoils of his war with Tiamat and Kingu.[33]   This distinction draws attention to the varied cultural influences that inspired the author of the first chapter of Genesis, for creation with words appears to have originally been an Egyptian motif.[34]

Egypt was an ancient civilization whose cultural influence spread throughout the ancient world, reaching as far west as Britain.[35] The neighbouring Levant, in which Israel and Judah are situated, lies between the great ancient empires of Mesopotamia, Egypt and Phoenicia. Archaeological and historical evidence demonstrates clearly that Egypt controlled this region in antiquity. One piece of this collection of evidences is the Merneptah Stele, which dates to around 1213 BCE.[36] This stele was discovered by Flinders Petrie in 1896, in Thebes.[37] On the stele are hieroglyphs that describe the various campaigns of King Merneptah, one of which was in Canaan, and on the twenty-seventh line of this stele the word ‘Israel’ appears.[38] There are other pieces of evidence, such as ancient Egyptian military outposts and various other ancient Egyptian ruins in Israel,[39] and the Amarna Letters that contain correspondence between Abdu Heba, a 14th century BCE prince of Jerusalem, and the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaton, in which Abdu Heba protested the continued presence of Egyptian troops in Jerusalem.[40]

The creation myth of the Memphite theology is contained on a large relic known as the Shabaka Stone.[41] The Shabaka Stone dates to the Twenty-fifth Dynasty of Egypt (760-656 BCE), over a century prior to the beginning of the exilic period.[42]  The Kushite pharaoh Shabaka alleged that he had copied the hieroglyphics on the stone from a much older papyrus – however, scholars today doubt Shabaka’s claim, instead preferring to date the inscription on the stone to around the time of Shabaka himself, if not slightly earlier.[43]

The Memphite theology’s primary deity was Ptah, whom the Memphites believed created all of the other deities of Egypt.[44]  According to the inscription on the Shabaka Stone, Ptah created everything by his will, or more accurately, by his words. Regarding Ptah’s creative power, Bunson remarks: ‘He was deemed capable of bringing forth life with words, as the tongue announced what the god’s heart experienced’.[45] The fifth section of the Shabaka Stone reads: ‘Ptah is the very great, [who gives life to all the gods] and their Kas. Lo through his heart and his tongue…Power came into being in the heart and by the tongue and in all limbs…’[46]  This creative-word motif in both the Memphite theology and the theology of the author of the first chapter of Genesis, emphasises the creator deity’s role as both the originator of will and also the one whose will expressed is the fecundating force behind creation itself. This type of creator wants to create, so they do. This establishes a kind of indebtedness to the creator, an obligatory relationship between the created and their creator that is based upon gratitude and the psychologically coercive ‘norm of reciprocity’.

 

The Creation of Humans

Unlike both the Memphite theology and the cosmogony in the first chapter of Genesis, the creation myth in the Enuma Elish dictates that humans were expressly created to serve the gods. The Enuma Elish reads: ‘Let me [Marduk] put blood together, and make bones too. Let me set up primeval man: Man shall be his name. Let me create a primeval man. The work of the gods shall be imposed (on him), and so they shall be at leisure’.[47] Contrast this with Elohim granting humans dominion over the earth and all of its plants and creatures, and the very first commandment of Elohim: ‘And God [Elohim] blessed them, and God [Elohim] said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth’.[48] Here the similarity between the Memphite and Genesis cosmogonies are highlighted, for both creations were brought about by the orally-expressed will of the creator, and both grant humans a degree of autonomy. However, it must be noted that such autonomy is mitigated in other books in the Tanakh, yet within the first chapter of Genesis, it is clear that the author was creating a quasi-voluntary, obligation-based relationship between the god(s) and their creation, or more accurately, between the laity and the priestly and ruling classes who were believed to be the terrestrial mouthpieces of the god(s).

The creation myths in the Enuma Elish and the second chapter of Genesis, whose author expressed a different theology from the author of the first chapter, do meet with regards to the mode and manner in which humans were created.  In the Enuma Elish, Marduk creates humans by mixing the clay from the ground and blood from the god Kingu.[49] In the second chapter of Genesis too, God (Yahweh-Elohim) fashions man (Heb. Adam)[50] from the earth (Heb. Adama)[51] and mingles the terrestrial essence of humankind with his divine breath.[52]  In both accounts humans are made from a portion of the earth and a portion of the divine, whether it was divine blood or divine breath.

The creation of humans from clay is a motif also found in the cosmogony of the ancient Egyptians of Thebes. According to the Theban theology, the Egyptian god Khnum – who was in earlier times revered for fashioning the world from a cosmic egg [53] – creates humans from clay upon a potter’s wheel.[54] This Egyptian cosmogonic motif was later adopted by the author of the book of Isaiah: ‘But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand’.[55] Khnum is also said to have breathed life into his creation, who, prior to receiving his divine breath, were said to be but mere shells.[56] In some cases, Khnum calls upon his consort, the goddess Heket, to breathe life into his creation,[57] and in Spell 80 of the Coffin Texts (ca. 2181–2055 BCE),[58] it is Shu, god of the atmosphere,[59] who is said to have breathed life into the nostrils of humans.[60]  This ancient text reads: ‘I will lead them and enliven them, through my mouth which is Life in their nostrils’.[61] The gods’ role here, as it is in the second chapter of Genesis, is that of an artificer, or craftsperson, who, drawing from that which is readily available on earth, whether clay or dust, moulds and shapes human beings. It is also the artificer’s job, or the job of an associate god, to imbue the human with ka or spirit/a soul, which the ancients believed was of non-terrestrial, divine origin. Thus, the relationship of the gods with humanity according to this cosmogonic model is one in which the created is in essence a copy of the creator, which, if we reverse this ancient cosmogonic concept, may reveal a psychological fact about the creation of the gods – for it may be argued that this cosmogonic model is a reversed reflection of the probable fact that it is not the gods who create humans in their image, but humans who create gods in their own images.

 

Cosmogony, Kingship, and the Gods

A distinguishing feature of the cosmogony in the first two chapters of Genesis is the complete absence of the concept of kingship, which is a feature of both the Heliopolitan theology of ancient Egypt and an aspect of the theology of the author(s) of the Enuma Elish. Utterance 600 of the Pyramid Text from Heliopolis reads: ‘Atum Kheprer, you have come to be high on the hill, you have arisen on the Benben stone in the mansion of the Benben in Heliopolis, you spat out Shu, you expectorated Tefnut and you put your two arms around them…O Atum, place your arms around the king, around this edifice, around this pyramid as the arms of a ka, so that the king’s ka may be in it, firm forever and ever. O Atum, place your protection over the king…’[62] Further, from the Enuma Elish: ‘Marduk assembled the great gods, Gave (them) instructions pleasantly, gave orders. The gods paid attention to what he said. The king addressed his words to the Anunnaki, ‘Your election of me shall be firm and foremost. I shall declare the laws, the edicts within my power’.[63] Commenting on the ritual function of this text, Dalley remarks:

‘This took place in the capital city in the month of Nisan (April), and the king had his mandate to rule renewed by the gods; to the ceremony came governors, plenipotentiaries, courtiers, top officials, and army officers to renew their oaths of loyalty to the king and royal family, just as the gods swore an oath to Marduk (or Assur), when he had been elected king. All of these subjects would have listened to the epic, and its recital would have impressed upon them how an orderly universe and its kingship should be organized: an ideal state of affairs used for propaganda purposes. When the king’s subjects kiss his feet, they are doing no less than the great gods of heaven and earth did for Marduk. There is no question of rivalry; loyal support is absolute’.[64]

  As Dalley noted, this cosmogonic model, as well as the cosmogonic model of the Heliopolitan theology, contained a component of propaganda that affirmed the authority of the ruling classes. This propaganda was absent from the model established in the first two chapters of Genesis. The probable reason that the Hebrew authors didn’t affirm kingship in their cosmogonies was due to the fact that at the time of their composition the Hebrews didn’t have kings – they were disenfranchised wards of the Babylonians, and so there was no need to include kingship in their creation myth(s).  Thus, for the Heliopolitans and the Babylonians, the role of the gods was to not only create the universe and humanity, but to establish the authority of kingship, which once again betokens their role as creators of order. The authors of Genesis, on the other hand, writing at a time when the exiled Israelites had no system of kingship, had no use for this aspect of their adopted cosmogonies, thereby explaining its absence in their creation myths.

 

Conclusion

By examining and comparing the creation models of these three civilizations it becomes apparent that cosmogonies were not only etiological in nature, but that they also served as charter myths, justifying the status quo. For the Egyptians and Mesopotamians, kingship was a crucial aspect of social order, therefore their cosmogonies included this theme. For the Israelites, however, this theme was unnecessary because they were writing their adopted myths at a time when they had no such system in place. Thus, a careful exegesis of a culture’s cosmogony can reveal certain social and political realities that existed in the time when they were constructed.

Further, these cosmogonies were a means by which the respective cultures enunciated and articulated their lifestyles. In all three cases it may be observed that order, in varying forms, was quintessential to these creation myths. This obsession with order may not only betoken the more ancient concerns of agricultural life but also, it may highlight the desire for predicable and stable social structures in the more developed and urban social life of the authors. The perceived roles of the gods in terms of creating light may have been an indication that each theology arose from the solar worship of agricultural cults, with Marduk being the personification of the sun, and Elohim creating the light, which was heavily associated with order, or perhaps the stability acquired through the perfection of agriculture.

The Israelite’s relationship with their god(s) was underscored by an obligatory kind of gratitude. The Mesopotamian cosmogony, however, established a compulsory servitude to their gods, who were believed to have been ethereal slave-masters that created human beings for their own convenience and leisure. In a way, the Israelite cosmogonic model was somewhat shrewder than their Mesopotamian counterparts, for the Israelite creation myths employ the psychologically persuasive norm of reciprocity, in which the laity are subtly coerced to obey their priests out of gratitude for having been created and imbued with a degree of autonomy. The need for a shrewder cosmogonic model may be the result of the decimation of the Israelite social order by the Babylonians, which could have necessitated an obligation-based acquiesce to authority due to the lack of Israelite kingship in Babylon.

To conclude, from the available archaeological and historical evidence, it appears that the two creation myths in Genesis were largely influenced by the two largest empires in the Near East, accounting for the presence of a plethora of parallels from both Egyptian and Mesopotamian mythical models. The existence of these parallels that make up the majority of the Israelite cosmogonic system reveals not only the manner in which the authors of Genesis viewed their relationship with their deity upon Egyptian and Mesopotamian terms but also, the points of divergence enlighten us with regards to the unique circumstances faced by the authors writing their cosmogonies in exile and beneath the pervasive influences of two supremely influential neighbours.

 

 

NOTES

  1. Terje Oestigaard, Cosmogony, cited in: Timothy Insoll (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of The Archaeology of Ritual and Religion, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011, p. 76.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid; pp. David Adams Leeming, Creation Myths of the World: An Encyclopedia, 2nd, Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2010, pp. 2-29.
  5. The Bible, Genesis 1:1, The King James Version.
  6. Amy-Jill Levine, The Old Testament, Lecture 1: In the Beginning, The Teaching Company, 2001; Barry Bandstra, Genesis 1-11: A Handbook on the Hebrew Text, Waco: Baylor University Press, 2008, pp. 42-43; Note: Although the Elohistic epithet Elohim (pl. ‘gods’) eventually came to connote a single god in pluralis Majestatis linguistic form, there is strong philological, historical, textual and archaeological evidence to suggest that the term was originally a pure plural term used to describe the pantheon of the early Israelite religion: Rev. A.H. Sayce, The Higher Criticism and the Verdict of the Monuments, London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1910, p. 84; David Penchansky, Twilight of the Gods: Polytheism in the Hebrew Bible, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005, p. 24; Marvin H. Pope, El in the Ugaritic Text, Leiden: L.J. Brill, 1955, pp. 19-21; Donald Harman Akenson, Surpassing Wonder: The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds, New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1998, pp. 56-57; John R. Bartlett, Archaeology and Biblical Interpretation, London: Routledge, 1997, p. 61.
  7. David Adams Leeming, Creation Myths of the World: An Encyclopedia, 2nd, Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2010, p. 56.
  8. W. King, The Seven Tablets of Creation, or the Babylonian and Assyrian Legends Concerning the Creation of the World and of Mankind, Vol. 1, London: Luzac & Co., 1902, p. xxv; Alexander Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis: The Story of Creation, 2nd Ed., Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1942, p. 1; David Adams Leeming, Creation Myths of the World: An Encyclopedia, 2nd Ed., Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2010, p. 56.
  9. Amy-Jill Levine, The Old Testament, Lecture 1: In the Beginning, The Teaching Company, 2001.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Enuma Elish, Tablet V, cited in: Stephanie Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia, Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1989, p. 259; Alexander Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis: The Story of Creation, 2nd Ed., Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1942, p. 10; Amy-Jill Levine, The Old Testament, Lecture 1: In the Beginning, The Teaching Company, 2001.
  12. The Bible, Genesis 2:2-3, The King James Version.
  13. Ibid; Fred Skolnik (ed.), Michael Berenbaum (ed.), Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd, Vol. 17: Ra-Sam, New York: Keter Publishing House Ltd., 2007, p. 616.
  14. Lester G. Grabbe. An Introduction to Second Temple Judaism: History and Religion of the Jews in the Time of Nehemiah, the Maccabees, Hillel and Jesus, New York: T&T Clark International, 2010, p. 4; James McKeown, Genesis, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008, p. 10; Alexander Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis: The Story of Creation, 2nd Ed., Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1942, p. 134.
  15. Ibid; George Smith, The Chaldean Account of Genesis, New York: Scribner, Armstrong & Co., 1876, pp. 1-18; S.H. Hooke, Babylonian and Assyrian Religion, New York’ Hutchinson House, 1953, pp. vii, ix, xi, 39-40, 50; Dr Friedrich Delitzsch, Babel and Bible: Significance of Assyriological Research for Religion, Chicago: The Open Court Publishing Company, 1906, pp. 38-62; Samuel Noah Kramer, Sumerian Mythology: A Study of Spiritual and Literary Achievement in the Third Millennium B.C., Rev. Ed., Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1961, p. 97; Samuel Noah Kramer, The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1963, pp. 290-299.
  16. Amy-Jill Levine, The Old Testament, Lecture 1: In the Beginning, The Teaching Company, 2001.
  17. Douglas Pratt, Judaism: Expression Phenomena’ in: Religion: A First Encounter, Auckland: Longman Paul, 1993, p. 229-230.
  18. Enuma Elish, Tablet I, cited in: Stephanie Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia, Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1989, pp. 231-233.
  19. Enuma Elish, Tablet I, IV, cited in: Ibid. pp. 233, 251-255.
  20. The Bible, Genesis 1:2, The King James Version.
  21. Enuma Elish, Tablet I, cited in: L.W. King, The Seven Tablets of Creation, or the Babylonian and Assyrian Legends Concerning the Creation of the World and of Mankind, 1, London: Luzac & Co., 1902, p. 3.
  22. Dr Friedrich Delitzsch, Babel and Bible: Significance of Assyriological Research for Religion, Chicago: The Open Court Publishing Company, 1906, p. 45; David Adams Leeming, Creation Myths of the World: An Encyclopedia, 2nd, Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2010, p. 127; David Leeming, The Oxford Companion to World Mythology, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 50.
  23. W. King, The Seven Tablets of Creation, or the Babylonian and Assyrian Legends Concerning the Creation of the World and of Mankind, Vol. 1, London: Luzac & Co., 1902, p. 3; Dr Friedrich Delitzsch, Babel and Bible: Significance of Assyriological Research for Religion, Chicago: The Open Court Publishing Company, 1906, p. LXXXII.
  24. Alexander Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis: The Story of Creation, 2nd Ed., Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1942, p. 79.
  25. pp. 101-102; Stephanie Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia, Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1989, p. 325.
  26. Bible Study Tools – ‘ruach’ – cited at: http://www.biblestudytools.com/encyclopedias/isbe/spirit.html, accessed on 21st 2016.
  27. The Bible, Genesis 1:2, The King James Version; Enuma Elish, Tablet I, II, III, IV, cited in: Stephanie Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia, Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1989, pp. 237-255.
  28. The Bible, Genesis 1:3-17, The King James Version.
  29. H. Hooke, Babylonian and Assyrian Religion, New York’ Hutchinson House, 1953, p. 28.
  30. The Bible, Genesis 1:14-18, The King James Version.
  31. The Bible, Genesis 1:3-26, The King James Version.
  32. Enuma Elish, Tablet I, cited in: Stephanie Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia, Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1989, p. 233.
  33. Enuma Elish, Tablet IV, VI, cited in: Ibid. pp. 260-261.
  34. Joshua J. Bodine, ‘The Shabaka Stone: An Introduction’, Studia Antiqua, 7.1, 2009, p. 19; Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature: A Book of Readings, Vol. 1: The Old and Middle Kingdoms, Berkley: University of California Press, 1973, p. 56; E.A.E. Reymond, The Mythical Origin of the Egyptian Temple, New York: Manchester University Press, 1969, p. 92.
  35. Rosalie David, Handbook to Life in Ancient Egypt, Rev. Ed., New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2003, p. 178.
  36. Ian Shaw and Paul Nicholson, The British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 1995, pp. 183-184.
  37. Ibid.
  38. Ibid.
  39. Amihai Mazar, The Egyptian Garrison Town at Beth-Shean, cited in: S. Bar, D. Kahn (ed.) and J.J. Shirley (ed.), Egypt, Canaan and Israel: History, Imperialism, Ideology and Literature, Leiden: Koninklijke Brill, 2011, pp. 155-190; Ziony Zevit, The Religions of Ancient Israel: A Synthesis of Parallactic Approaches, London: Continuum, 2001, p. 344.
  40. Margaret Bunson, Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, Ed., New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1991, pp. 3-4; Geoffrey W. Bromiley (ed.), Everett H. Harrison (ed.), Ronald K. Harrison (ed.), William Sanford Lasor (ed.), Lawrence T. Geraty (ed.), Edgar W. Smith, Jr. (ed.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 3: K-P, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986, p. 6.
  41. Ian Shaw and Paul Nicholson, The British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 1995, p. 266.
  42. Ibid.
  43. Marc Van De Mieroop, A History of Ancient Egypt, Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, p. 303.
  44. George Hart, The Routledge Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses, 2nd Ed., New York: Routledge, 2005, p. 129.
  45. Margaret Bunson, Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, Ed., New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1991, p. 313.
  46. Shabaka Stone Inscription, cited in: Wim Van Den Dungen, Ancient Egyptian Readings, Belgium: Taurus Press, 2016, p. 199.
  47. Enuma Elish, Tablet VI, cited in: Stephanie Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia, Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1989, pp. 260-261.
  48. The Bible, Genesis 1:28, The King James Version.
  49. Enuma Elish, Tablet VI, cited in: Stephanie Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia, Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1989, p. 261.
  50. Paul J. Achtemeier (ed.), Harper-Collins Bible Dictionary, New York: Harper-San Francisco, 1985, p. 12.
  51. W. Rogerson (ed.) and Judith M. Lieu, The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 148.
  52. The Bible, Genesis 2:7, The King James Version.
  53. Margaret Bunson, Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, Ed., New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1991, p. 202.
  54. Byron E. Shafer (ed.), John Baines (ed.), Leonard H. Lesko (ed.) and David P. Silverman (ed.), Religion in Ancient Egypt: Myths, Gods, and Personal Practice, London: Cornell University Press, 1991, p. 43.
  55. The Bible, Isaiah 64:8, The King James Version.
  56. George Hart, The Routledge Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses, 2nd Ed., New York: Routledge, 2005, p. 86.
  57. Dimitri Meeks and Christine Favard-Meeks, Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods, London: Cornell University Press, 1996, p. 237.
  58. Kathryn A. Bard, Introduction to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt, Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2007, pp. 37, 174.
  59. Kathryn A. Bard, Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt, London: Routledge, 1999, p. 114.
  60. Sarcophagus-Lid Inscription of Wennofer, Cairo Museum – 29310, cited in: Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature: A Book of Readings, Vol. 3, Berkley: University of California Press, 1980, p. 57.
  61. Coffin Texts, Spell 80, cited in: Ewa Wasilewska, Creation Stories of the Middle East, London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2000, p. 137.
  62. Pyramid Text, Utterance 600, cited in: Byron E. Shafer (ed.), John Baines (ed.), Leonard H. Lesko (ed.) and David P. Silverman (ed.), Religion in Ancient Egypt: Myths, Gods, and Personal Practice, London: Cornell University Press, 1991, p. 92.
  63. Enuma Elish, Tablet VI, cited in: Stephanie Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia, Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1989, p. 261.
  64. Ibid. p. 232.

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

Primary and Ancient Sources

 

 Coffin Texts, Spell 80, cited in: Wasilewska, Ewa, Creation Stories of the Middle East, London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2000.

Enuma Elish, cited in: Dalley, Stephanie, Myths from Mesopotamia, Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1989.

 

Enuma Elish, cited in: King, L.W., The Seven Tablets of Creation, or the Babylonian and Assyrian Legends Concerning the Creation of the World and of Mankind, Vol. 1, London: Luzac & Co., 1902.

 

Pyramid Text, Utterance 600, cited in: Shafer, Byron E. (ed.), Baines, John (ed.), Lesko, Leonard H. (ed.), and Silverman, David P. (ed.), Religion in Ancient Egypt: Myths, Gods, and Personal Practice, London: Cornell University Press.

 

Sarcophagus-Lid Inscription of Wennofer, Cairo Museum – 29310, cited in: Lichtheim, Miriam, Ancient Egyptian Literature: A Book of Readings, Vol. 3, Berkley: University of California Press, 1980.

 

Shabaka Stone Inscription, cited in: Wim Van Den Dungen, Ancient Egyptian Readings, Belgium: Taurus Press, 2016.

 

The Bible, Genesis, The King James Version.

 

The Bible, Isaiah, The King James Version.

 

 

Secondary Sources

 

Achtemeier, Paul J. (ed.), Harper-Collins Bible Dictionary, New York: Harper-San Francisco, 1985.

 

Akenson, Donald Harman, Surpassing Wonder: The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds, New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1998.

 

Bandstra, Barry, Genesis 1-11: A Handbook on the Hebrew Text, Waco: Baylor University Press, 2008.

 

Bard, Kathryn A., Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt, London: Routledge, 1999.

 

Bard, Kathryn A., Introduction to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt, Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2007.

 

Bartlett, John R., Archaeology and Biblical Interpretation, London: Routledge, 1997.

 

Bodine, Joshua J., ‘The Shabaka Stone: An Introduction’, Studia Antiqua, 7.1, 2009.

 

Bromiley, Geoffrey W., (ed.), Harrison, Everett H. (ed.), Harrison, Ronald K. (ed.), Lasor, William Sanford, (ed.), Geraty, Lawrence T. (ed.), Smith, Jr., Edgar W. (ed.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 3: K-P, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986.

 

Bunson, Margaret, Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, Rev. Ed., New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1991.

 

Dalley, Stephanie, Myths from Mesopotamia, Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

 

David, Rosalie, Handbook to Life in Ancient Egypt, Rev. Ed., New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2003.

 

Delitzsch, Friedrich, Babel and Bible: Significance of Assyriological Research for Religion, Chicago: The Open Court Publishing Company, 1906.

 

Grabbe, Lester G., An Introduction to Second Temple Judaism: History and Religion of the Jews in the Time of Nehemiah, the Maccabees, Hillel and Jesus, New York: T&T Clark International, 2010.

 

Hart, George, The Routledge Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses, 2nd Ed., New York: Routledge, 2005.

 

Heidel, Alexander, The Babylonian Genesis: The Story of Creation, 2nd Ed., Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1942.

 

Hooke, S.H, Babylonian and Assyrian Religion, New York’ Hutchinson House, 1953.

 

King, L.W., The Seven Tablets of Creation, or the Babylonian and Assyrian Legends Concerning the Creation of the World and of Mankind, Vol. 1, London: Luzac & Co., 1902.

 

Kramer, Samuel Noah, Sumerian Mythology: A Study of Spiritual and Literary Achievement in the Third Millennium B.C., Rev. Ed., Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

 

Kramer, Samuel Noah, The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1963.

 

Leeming, David Adams, Creation Myths of the World: An Encyclopedia, 2nd Ed., Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2010.

 

Leeming, David, The Oxford Companion to World Mythology, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

 

Levine, Amy-Jill, The Old Testament, Lecture 1: In the Beginning, The Teaching Company, 2001.

 

Lichtheim, Miriam, Ancient Egyptian Literature: A Book of Readings, Vol. 1: The Old and Middle Kingdoms, Berkley: University of California Press, 1973.

 

Mazar, Amihai, The Egyptian Garrison Town at Beth-Shean, cited in: S. Bar, D. Kahn, S. Bar (ed.), and Shirley, J.J., (ed.), Egypt, Canaan and Israel: History, Imperialism, Ideology and Literature, Leiden: Koninklijke Brill, 2011.

 

Meeks, Dimitri, and Favard-Meeks, Christine, Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods, London: Cornell University Press, 1996.

 

McKeown, James, Genesis, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008.

 

Oestigaard, Terjie, Cosmogony, cited in: Timothy Insoll (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of The Archaeology of Ritual and Religion, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

 

Penchansky, David, Twilight of the Gods: Polytheism in the Hebrew Bible, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005.

 

Pope, Marvin H., El in the Ugaritic Text, Leiden: L.J. Brill, 1955.

 

Pratt, Douglas, Judaism: Expression Phenomena’ in: Religion: A First Encounter, Auckland: Longman Paul, 1993.

 

Reymond, E.A.E., The Mythical Origin of the Egyptian Temple, New York: Manchester University Press, 1969.

 

Rogerson, J.W. (ed.), and Lieu, Judith M., The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

 

Sayce, A.H., The Higher Criticism and the Verdict of the Monuments, London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1910.

 

Shafer, Byron E. (ed.), Baines, John (ed.), Lesko, Leonard H. (ed.), and Silverman, David P. (ed.), Religion in Ancient Egypt: Myths, Gods, and Personal Practice, London: Cornell University Press.

 

Shaw, Ian, and Nicholson, Paul, The British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 1995.

 

Skolnik, Fred (ed.), Berenbaum, Michael (ed.), Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd Ed., Vol. 17: Ra-Sam, New York: Keter Publishing House Ltd., 2007.

 

Smith, George, The Chaldean Account of Genesis, New York: Scribner, Armstrong & Co., 1876.

 

Van De Mieroop, Marc, A History of Ancient Egypt, Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

 

Zevit, Ziony, The Religions of Ancient Israel: A Synthesis of Parallactic Approaches, London: Continuum, 2001.

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Genesis – Hebrew Creation Myths in Context

  1. You write, “The book of Genesis begins, ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth’,[5] but a more accurate rendering of the original Hebrew reads, ‘When in the beginning the gods created the heavens and the earth’.[6]”

    This is incorrect. Your “when” is not there in the Hebrew, but no matter. Of much more importance is your translation of “elohim” as gods. It that were the correct translation the verb “bara” would not be qal perfect 3rd person masculine singular, but plural. This is a basic error in your translation.

  2. The paragraph starting with: “A large portion of the book of Genesis was either first written or finally redacted whilst the Jews were in exile in Babylon, sometime around the sixth century BCE.[14] ” indicates final writing around 600 BCE. Outrageious claims that Genesis originated 1000-1500 BCE (close to the time of the vedic writings). Even though this could be an exaggeration, the verbal communication of all of the myths have been passed down with time to the point of written record. If this were true then perhaps the other civilizations creation myth actually have some derivation from the Israelite myth.
    I appreciate the detailed explanations of the parallels of all the creation myths. Nothing is original, just influenced by the times.

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