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Hebrew and Babylonian Creation Myths

” … For the local Babylonian colouring of the stories, and the great age to which their existence can be traced, extending back to the time of the Sumerian inhabitants of Mesopotamia, 3 are conclusive evidence ….

On the other hand, it is equally unnecessary to cite the well-known arguments to prove the existence among the Hebrews of Creation legends similar to those of Babylonia for centuries before the Exile.

The allusions to variant Hebrew forms of the Babylonian Dragon-Myth in Amos ix, 3, Isaiah li, 9, Psalm lxxiv, 13 f., and lxxxix, 9 f., and Job xxvi, 12 f., and ix, 13, may be cited as sufficient proof of the early period at which the borrowing from Babylonian sources must have taken place; and the striking differences between the Biblical and the known Babylonian versions of the legends prove that the Exilic and post-Exilic Jews must have found ready to their hand ancient Hebrew versions of the stories, and that the changes they introduced must in the main have been confined to details of arrangement and to omissions necessitated by their own more spiritual conceptions and beliefs.

The discovery of the Tell el-Amarna tablets proved conclusively that Babylonian influence extended throughout Egypt and Western Asia in the fifteenth century B.C., and the existence of legends among the letters demonstrated the fact that Babylonian mythology exerted an influence coextensive with the range of her political ties and interests.

We may therefore conjecture that Babylonian myths had become naturalized in Palestine before the conquest of that country by the Israelites. Many such Palestinian versions of Babylonian myths the Israelites no doubt absorbed; while during the subsequent period of the Hebrew kings Assyria and Babylonia exerted a direct influence upon them.

It is clear, therefore, that at the time of their of Babylonian exile the captive Jews did not find in Babylonian mythology an entirely new and unfamiliar subject, but recognized in it a series of kindred beliefs, differing much from their own in spiritual conceptions, but presenting a startling resemblance on many material points.”

Leonard William King, The Seven Tablets of Creation, London, 1902, pp. xcv-xcvii.

Points of Correspondence Between Genesis and the Enuma Elish

” … It would be tempting to trace the framework of the Seven Days of Creation, upon which the narrative in Genesis is stretched, to the influence of the Seven Tablets of Creation, of which we now know that the great Creation Series was composed. The reasons for the employment of the Seven Days in the Hebrew account are, however, not the same which led to the arrangement of the Babylonian poem upon Seven Tablets.

In the one the writer’s intention is to give the original authority for the observance of the Sabbath; in the other there appears to have been no special reason for this arrangement of the poem beyond the mystical nature of the number “seven.”

Moreover, acts of creation are recorded on all of the first six Days in the Hebrew narrative, while in the Babylonian poem the creation only begins at the end of the Fourth Tablet. 1 The resemblance, therefore, is somewhat superficial, but it is possible that the employment of the number “seven” in the two accounts was not fortuitous.

Whether the Sabbath was of Babylonian origin (as seems probable) or not, it is clear that the writer of the narrative in Genesis was keenly interested in its propagation and its due observance. Now in Exilic and post-Exilic times the account of the Creation most prevalent in Babylonia was that in the poem Enuma elish, the text of which was at this time absolutely fixed and its arrangement upon Seven Tablets invariable.

That the late revival of mythology among the Jews was partly due to their actual study of the Babylonian legends at this period is sufficiently proved by the minute points of resemblance between the accounts of the Deluge in Genesis and in the poem of Gilgamesh. 1

It is probable, therefore, that the writer who was responsible for the final form of Gen. i-ii, 4a, was familiar with the Babylonian legend of Creation in the form in which it has come down to us. The supposition, then, is perhaps not too fanciful, that the connection of the Sabbath with the story of Creation was suggested by the mystical number of the Tablets upon which the Babylonian poem was inscribed.

Further resemblances to the Babylonian Creation legends may be traced in the second Hebrew account of the Creation which follows the first in Gen. ii, 4b-7. According to this version man was formed from the dust of the ground, which may be compared to the mixing of Bel’s blood with earth according to the account of Berossus, the use of the Creator’s blood in the one account being paralleled by the employment of His breath in the other for the purpose of giving life to the dust or earth.

Earth is not mentioned in the recovered portion of the Sixth Tablet, but its use in the creation of men is fully in accordance with Babylonian beliefs. Thus, according to the second Babylonian account of the Creation, 1 Marduk formed man by pouring out dust beside a reed which he had set upon the face of the waters. Clay is also related to have been employed in the creation of special men and heroes; thus it was used in Ea-bani’s creation by Arum, 2 and it is related to have been mixed with divine blood for a similar purpose in the fragmentary legend Bu. 91-5-9, 269. 3

To the account of the creation of woman in Gen. ii, 18 ff. we find a new parallel in l. 5 of the Sixth Tablet of the Creation Series, in the use of the word issimtu, “bone,” corresponding to the Hebrew ‘esem which occurs in the phrase “bone of my bones” in Gen. ii, 23.

In addition to the Babylonian colouring of much of the story of Paradise we may now add a new parallel from the Babylonian address to a mythical River of Creation, inscribed on S. 1704 and the Neo-Babylonian Tablet 82-9-18, 5311. 1

This short composition is addressed to a River to whom the creation of all things is ascribed, 2 and with this river we may compare the mythical river of Paradise which watered the garden, and on leaving it was divided into four branches.

That the Hebrew River of Paradise is Babylonian in character is clear; and the origin of the Babylonian River of Creation is also to be found in the Euphrates, from whose waters southern Babylonia derived its great fertility. 3 The life-giving stream of Paradise is met with elsewhere in the Old Testament, as, for instance, in Ezekiel xlvii, and it is probable that we may trace its influence in the Apocalypse.”1

Leonard William King, The Seven Tablets of Creation, London, 1902. pp. xci-xcv.

Creation of Mankind in Genesis and the Enuma Elish

” … The account of the creation of man, which is recorded as the eighth and last act of creation in the Hebrew account (Gen. i, 26-31), at length finds its parallel in the Babylonian poem upon the new fragment of the Sixth Tablet, No. 92,629. 2

It has already been pointed out that the Babylonian account closely follows the version of the story handed down to us from Berossus, 3 and it may here be added that the employment by Marduk, the Creator, of his own blood in the creation of man may perhaps be compared to the Hebrew account of the creation of man in the image and after the likeness of Elohim. 4

Moreover, the use of the plural in the phrase “Let us make man” in Gen. i, 26, may be compared with the Babylonian narrative which relates that Marduk imparted his purpose of forming man to his father Ea, whom he probably afterwards instructed to carry out the actual work of man’s creation. 1

A parallel to the charge which, according to the Hebrew account, Elohim gave to man and woman after their creation, has hitherto been believed to exist on the tablet K. 3,364, which was supposed to contain a list of the duties of man as delivered to him after his creation by Marduk.

The new Babylonian duplicate of this text, No. 33,851, proves that K. 3,364 is not part of the Creation Series, but is merely a tablet of moral precepts, so that its suggested resemblance to the Hebrew narrative must be given up. It is not improbable, however, that a missing portion of the Sixth Tablet did contain a short series of instructions by Marduk to man, since man was created with the special object of supplying the gods with worshippers and building shrines in their honour.

That to these instructions to worship the gods was added the gift of dominion over beasts, birds, and vegetation is possible, but it must be pointed out that the Babylonian version of man’s creation is related from the point of view of the gods, not from that of man.

Although his creation forms the culmination of Marduk’s work, it was conceived, not as an end and aim in itself, but merely as an expedient to satisfy the discontented gods. 2 This expedient is referred to in the Seventh Tablet, l. 29, in the phrase “For their forgiveness (i.e., the forgiveness of the gods) did he create mankind,” and other passages in the Seventh Tablet tend to show that Marduk’s mercy and goodness are extolled in his relations, not to mankind, but to the gods. 1

In one passage man’s creation is referred to, but it is in connection with the charge that he forget not the deeds of his Creator. 2

The above considerations render it unlikely that the Babylonian poem contained an exact parallel to the exalted charge of Elohim in which He placed the rest of creation under man’s dominion.

It is possible, however, that upon the new fragment of the Seventh Tablet, K. 12,830 (restored from the commentary K. 8,299) 3 we have a reference to the superiority of man over animals, in the phrase “mankind [he created], [and upon] him understanding [he bestowed (?) . . .]”; and if this be so, we may compare it to Gen. i, 286.

Moreover, if my suggested restoration of the last word in l. 7 of the Sixth Tablet be correct, so that it may read “I will create man who shall inhabit [the earth], 4” we may compare it to Gen. i, 28a in which man is commanded to be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.” 1

Leonard William King, The Seven Tablets of Creation, London, 1902. pp. lxxxvii-xc.

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