The Enuma Elish and genesis
The “Enuma Elish” is the Babylonian myth of creation and is one of the oldest myths that exists, found inscribed on seven tablets in Nineveh, in the library of Assyrian emperor Ashubanipal (667 – 626 BC). The creation story laid out in the Bible parallels the Enuma Elish in some aspects, yet differs in others. This Paper will attempt an examination of the two epics in order to assess their similarities and differences, and view them in the light of modern scientific theories of evolution.
The purpose for creation of both these myths was a religious one, in order to highlight the divine element that was responsible for creation and in bringing forth life upon this Planet. Water is the primeval element in both these accounts. In Genesis, the creation story spans a period of six days within which all the elements were created, while the Enuma Elish is also set out over a similar period of six days which are represented as six generations of Gods. Each of these generations of Gods represents the creation of a particular element of nature. In the genesis story, God completes his creation in six days and rests on the seventh day, with the process of creation having been completed. In the Enuma Elish, six generations of gods exist in a state of conflict until the sixth generation Babylonian god Marduk turns man into a slave so that the gods can rest on the seventh day.
The Genesis myth is believed to have been derived from the Enuma Elish in some aspects, since both epics begin with the existence of a formless void and complete darkness, which are also represented in Apsu, the God of water and Tiamat, the God of primeval chaos. The second and third days of creation in Genesis involves the creation of land as it rises up out of the water, symbolized in the Babylonian myth by the birth of the gods of muddy silt and the earth. Similarly the fourth and fifth days of creation as detailed in Genesis of the Bible involve the origin of the sun, stars and primitive life forms while in the Babylonian myth, these two generations are represented by the birth of the God of the sky. Conflicts erupt between the gods that result in the evolution of wild beasts and monsters. On the sixth day of creation according to Genesis, God creates man. The Babylonian epic depicts this in the birth of the god Marduk, who is described as a savage God-man whose function is to be of service to the gods, so they can be at ease. In making man a slave, Marduk thereby brings rest to the gods, in a similar manner, Genesis of the Bible describes God as resting on the seventh day. This implies an inherent tension in the process of creation, which is also represented in the Babylonian myth through the spirit of primeval chaos that Tiamat represents. This spirit of chaos must first be overcome before the process of creation is successfully completed and Babylonian myth presents the god Marduk as defeating Tiamat and splitting her up to form the various components of the Universe. This is one of the most striking aspects of the creation process of Genesis which is highlighted by the Babylonian myth that reveals the struggle between order and chaos that underlies the text in Genesis, so that the turbulent creation process needs to be followed by a period of rest.
Therefore, in some ways it is possible that the story of creation as laid out in the Bible is derived from the myth of Babylonian creation which spanned a period of sex generations. However, the similarities that are significant are the beginning of creation from a watery chaos to its end in a period of rest. The intervening period presents significant differences, because it is full of paganism and references to multiple gods and their conflicts which is anathema to the Judean faith, hence the Genesis story is believed to have been derived from the original version after having being stripped of all heathen elements (Harrison 243). For example, matter is eternal in Enuma Elish while it is a creation from nothing in Genesis where the creation period spans six days as opposed to primarily two days in the Babylonian epic, with the rest being devoted to conflicts among the Gods. In commenting upon the differences in the Babylonian and Genesis accounts, Heidel (1942) states that the “exalted conceptions in the biblical account give it a depth and dignity unparalleled in any cosmogony known to us from Babylonia or Assyria” (p 118).
According to Harrison (1969) the events laid out in the Bible must be studied from a historical perspective that presumes the Old Testament to be a historically valid document (p 447). The unearthing of the Babylonian tablets detailing the story of creation together with the accounts of the flood Gilgamesh lend credence to the theory that the events narrated in the Old Testament may have some historical basis in actual events such as a flood that may have occurred years ago. Harrison also advocates a study of the Old Testament through use of an illustrational exegetical perspective which essentially focuses on examining the myths from the point of view of using such historical material to stress truth and moral teachings. Hence the differences between the Genesis account and Enuma Elish become significant in that the Hebrews never regarded nature itself as the life of God, but rather conceived of God and his creations as separate and distinct entities. Moreover, rather than seeing the Divine Being as being represented by various gods, they viewed him as a Supreme Being who has provided hope for man in his divine promises. But these myths run contrary to modern scientific theories of evolution – which by its very nature, is slow and never takes place in a fiat as described in both accounts. The scientific principles of evolution are time tested and can be observed in nature. The myths do not adequately explain evolution based upon scientific principles and therefore can be used only as a spiritual guideline rather than as absolute truth.
- Rosenberg, Donna, 1994. “World Mythology: An Anthology of the Great myths and epics” 2nd Edition, pp 150. Chicago: NTC Publishing Group
- Harrison; R. K, 1969. “Introduction to the Old Testament.” Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans; pp 447.
- Heidel, A, 1942. “The Babylonian Genesis. The story of the creation.” Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, pp 118