Ancient Near-East Creation Myths (Pt.1)

 

 

Introduction

 

There are a number of creation myths and many flood accounts in the ancient world, but only four are primeval accounts; others seeming to stem from them. The four are listed by Egyptologist Kenneth A. Kitchen as the Sumerian King List, the Atrahasis Epic, the Eridu Genesis, and the Biblical Genesis.

The first three, the Sumerian King list, the Atrahasis Epic, and the Eridu Genesis account predate Moses by approximately 300 to 500 years.  But most commentators, even evangelical commentators, will say that the toledoths, the divisions that you find in the Book of Genesis, (the genealogies), seem to be from very ancient accounts which predated Moses’ time, and which he used in composing Genesis.   So when we are comparing our Genesis with the three primeval creation myths we must understand that Moses’ material actually predates these other “proto-histories” as Kitchen calls them; they being accurate testimony to the literal truth of origins.

On a chart in his book On the Reliability of the Old Testament (p.424), Kitchen tabulates the different accounts thus:

The Sumerian King List – creation is assumed, not described. The kingship came down from heaven

The Atrahasis Epic – creation is also assumed and gods create humans to do their work.

The Eridu Saga – creation by the gods from pre-existing matter.

The Genesis Creation – creation ex nihilo by the one omnipotent, eternal, all-wise God; no creation out of nothing exists outside of the biblical account.

Thefamous Enuma Elish which is the Babylonian Creation Account, dates from 400 or 500 years later than Genesis (which was written around 1500 B.C.). This myth relates how Marduk, the patron god of Babylon, came to be the King of the gods.  In Enuma Elish we find that although there is a creation-myth that liberal writers like to say is the basis for the Genesis account, Kitchen notes (p.425) that most Assyriologists have long since rejected the idea of any direct link between Genesis 1 — 11 and the Enuma Elish.

  1. Un-“God-like” Pagan Gods

 

Creation accounts from pagan cultures, and the origins of the gods as they construe them, radically affect the worldviews of these nations.

In these ANE Creation Myths, we find that the creation of the world, and of people, is connected with the battles and squabbles among the gods and their relative functions. The ancient primal-gods, the first gods, are formed somehow from the original Chaos (variously depicted), and are, for the most part, fairly inert and inactive.  It is because of this general dilatoriness in the original gods that they need to be replaced by active gods, gods that function.  The idea of activity and function was central to the way peoples of the Ancient Near East, including the ancient Israelites, conceived of reality, and so went about defining and describing things.  So when you named something, you named it because of its function as well as its essence, and probably more its function than its essence.   If, then, you have an inert god, a god that isn’t doing much of anything, then there is not much that can be named; there is not much that is gotten going in your worldview/religion: hence, the need for newer, more active gods to destroy, or at least control, the other gods.

All non-biblical gods of the Ancient Near East had origins. (John H. Walton says this in his Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, p.87).  Also, these gods had familial relationships with other deities; one sees gods in families.  Often, for example, with the Mesopotamian god of power and force – Enlil, one finds a begetting or sonship; so that Enlil is begotten by Anu – the sky god, who is the god of authority (often called the patriarch of the gods).

We also see this with Marduk, the patron god of Babylon, who was the son of Ea, also called Enki.  Marduk, son of Enki, was the one who became the king of the gods after a battle with an older god, the chaos-monster Tiamat; god of the waters.  Enki, the father of Marduk, was, by the way, “supposedly the one who created people.”  – John H. Walton, Ibid. pp.336- 337.

So we have active gods, the gods who are going to be worshiped.  These gods are usually the begotten gods; the second or third generation gods.  For example, Marduk was the son of Enki, who was in turn the son of Anu, who was in turn the son of Anshar and Kishar, the heavenly and earthly horizons respectively. – Bruce K. Waltke, Creation and Chaos, p.9.

Often, the different gods initially came from the first god by being separated from him.  In Egyptian Creation Myths, the god Atum, made the other gods this way.  He himself emerged from the primordial waters. – Walton, p.88.

In the Ancient Mesopotamian Accounts, (although Walton says they are not as specific or complex as the Egyptian literature), we find that heaven and earth joined in a cosmic matrimony and the great gods were born from the union.

The Ancient Cosmologies are very different than the Biblical Cosmology:

  • There is no creation out of nothing
  • There is no explanation of where the gods came from, apart from emerging somehow from the water/chaos, but we are not told where the waters came from.
  • We are told that these gods created, very often, in order to get humans to do work for them.  If that was the case, then the gods needed humans, therefore they were contingent gods.
  • They worked inside the cosmos and inside the one circle of reality, not both inside and outside it as the biblical God.
  • The gods are subject to the decrees of the council of gods.  This is how Marduk came to power in the Enuma Elish narrative; the council of gods voted to make him the king of the gods after he defeated the horrific goddess Tiamat.

Thus, none of the pagan gods is all-powerful, unchanging, all-knowing or eternal, since these attributes can only be predicated if a single uncreated Creator-God.  From the outset, then, the God of Genesis 1-3 and the creator-gods of ANE pagan culture are utterly different!  Whoever fails to recognize this fact is simply unqualified to comment any further on the matter.  His retelling of Creation doctrine will go badly awry if the contrasts between the pagan gods and the biblical God are neglected.

Part Two

 

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