The Enuma Elish and the Biblical concept of creation (Psalm 89)

Bilderesultat for The Enuma Elish

Illustration: The Enuma Elish

In the Bible we read of creation primarily in Genesis 1, but other texts enlighten us as to how the Israelites viewed the creative process (cf. Psalm 89). With the discovery and decipherment of ancient texts in Akkadian, as well as of hieroglyphics, scholars have come to realize that many cultures from the ancient world had creation myths that could be compared to the Biblical creation account. The most famous Akkadian creation story is called the Enuma Elish, a poem of about 1,100 lines.

Copies of the Enuma Elish exists in the form of cuneiform tablets dating from about 750 to 200 B.C., but the poem was no doubt composed earlier than that. The creation story contained in these tablets exalts Marduk, god of Babylon, as the greatest of the gods. Because the main purpose of the text was to glorify Marduk, some scholars resist referring to the Enuma Elish as a “creation” story. This reluctance is misplaced, however; many creation myths from the ancient world serve to glorify a particular god or shrine.

Enuma Elish begins with a pair of high gods, Aspu (male) Tiamat (female), as well as a number of lower gods. Aspu threatens to kill the lower gods because of the noise they make, but he himself is slain by the god Ea. Ea in turn fathers Marduk, whose birth is attended by a great celebration. Tiamat, who is alternatively pictured as an ocean or a dragon (i.e. sea monster), deploys against the gods a gruesome army of monsters (lion-men, scorpion-men and the like) under the command of her second consort (partner), Kingu. Ea and the other gods are paralyzed with fear, but Marduk agrees to fight the monsters on condition that he be named king of the gods. Marduk defeats Tiamat ans splits her body like a fish for drying. From one half he fashions the heavens and from the other he forms the earth. From the blood of Kingu, according to the myth, Marduk created men, after which he was indeed lauded as ruler of the gods.

At one time many scholars believed that the Babylonian creation story provided the source material for its Biblical counterpart. Today, however, few hold that position. Indeed, the differences between the Babylonian and Biblical accounts are more significant than their similarities:

  • The Biblical record does not present the creative act as that of slaying a monster and making use of its body. Some have argued that the Hebrew word for the “deep” (tehom) in Genesis 1:2 is related to the name Tiamat. In fact, the words are unrelated, and there is no hint in Genesis of Yahweh slaying a dragon. A monster called Rahab is mentioned in Psalm 89:10. This Biblical Rahab represents forces that oppose God; even Egypt can be identified as Rahab (Isaiah 30:7). Whatever we make of Rahab in the Bible, it is unrelated to creation.
  • The Biblical account describes the act of creation as proceeding simply from God’s Word: God spoke the cosmos and everything related to it into existence (Genesis 1).
  • The Biblical account leaves no room for polytheism. Even though Psalm 89:7 mentions other heavenly beings who are under God’s authority, there is no multitude of gods who marry, have offspring, fight each other for supremacy and the like.
  • The Biblical record does not promote one shrine above all others. Genesis 1 never mentions Jerusalem or any other site sacred to Israel in connection with creation. Indeed, the Bible’s initial chapter never mentions Yahweh, describing the creator simply as “God” (Elohim). The Biblical concept of creation is truly monotheistic; there is no elevation of one god above others, for, indeed, there is only one God.

 

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