A Curious Parallel Between Genesis and the Mesopotamian Enuma Elish

Biblical scholars see parallels between the creation story of Genesis chapter 1 and the Mesopotamian Enuma Elish. Here’s an example:

1a a16gggg ss q genesis enuma parallel 2

Parallels like the one above suggest that Genesis 1 was written by a Jew living in Babylonian exile, and that the story functioned (in part) as a response to the prevailing Mesopotamian creation myths of the larger non-Jewish culture.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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6 Responses to A Curious Parallel Between Genesis and the Mesopotamian Enuma Elish

  1. Alan Lenzi says:

    Just covered this idea in Hebrew Bible class the other day. We had a very good discussion of the similarities and differences between Genesis and Enuma Elish (EE). There’s no doubt in my mind that the author COULD have known about EE. Whether he actually did or not is impossible to determine, in my opinion. The parallels are not so strong as to demand a hypothesis of dependence, as some used to suggest. But it is clear, nonetheless, that the Priestly author, whereever he was sitting while he wrote, wrote his account in a polemical fashion against the prevailing imperial notions (like those in EE) of creation. Thanks for taking note of our strange little field (Bible and Ancient Near East).

  2. santitafarella says:

    Alan:

    I offered just one obvious parallel, but there are others. Like you, I wouldn’t hypothesize that the author of Genesis 1 knew exactly the existing text that we have access to today, but don’t you think it is highly probable that he knew the basic outlines of the Mesopotamian story of Marduk and Tiamat, and the way that dwellers in Mesopotamia told their creation story? It’s a pretty darn sophisticated swirve on the Mesopotamian story, if you ask me. Also, wherever he wrote from, he must have had a personal encounter with Mesopotamia (travelled there) or knew people who lived or travelled there, or had access to texts (and could read them!) from Mesopotamia. The author of Genesis 1 was no slouch, obviously. But given the parallels, I think that there are logical constraints on the circumstances under which the story was written. Would you agree with that? Could it really just be a coincidence?

    Oh, and since you’re taking a class on the subject, you might think about Harold Bloom’s book “The Anxiety of Influence” as a possible route into the author’s response to the Mesopotamian creation story. Just a friendly suggestion for your Works Cited page. But perhaps you already know the book. It has had an influence on me, and how I think about creative and literary authorship.

    —Santi

  3. Alan Lenzi says:

    Logical constraints on the circumstances under which the story was written? Certainly. As I said, I don’t doubt for a second that the author could have known the EE. That’s very, very likely, in my opinion. Whether one can prove that the story directly influenced him, however, is quite a different story. It’s a plausible idea. But just as plausible is that the Priestly author knew a number of current creation accounts and he creatively interacted with several of them as he forged his own.

    I’m not taking a class, I’m teaching it. Mesopotamian mythology and Hebrew Bible are two areas in which I spend a lot of my research and teaching time.

    • Mario says:

      Alan could you send me some info on how i can learn more about what your teaching?I am 40 years old and my eyes are just being opened to the truth.iI want to start some kind of project that will blow the lid off all the lies ive been told to believe all my life.I dont know what the project will be but im hopen you and a few others who have the knowledge of the texts can help me be the voice that spreads the real truth.

  4. santitafarella says:

    Alan,

    Yikes. Sorry for the confusion. You clearly, as a professor of the subject, know more about it than I do. I myself have taught the Bible as literature numerous times, but always in translation, and as an English professor generalist on the subject who is simply introducing the Bible to second year college students who have never really read it seriously at all. Sorry if I came across as a patronizing asshole.

    But since I’ve got you on the line, what do you make of Israel Knohl’s ideas about the so-called Gabriel Revelation Dead Sea tablet? Any quick thoughts about it? I know it’s off topic, but it’s my blog, and I can do what I want, right? : )

    And if you deal with New Testament topics at all, what do you make of McDonald’s thesis that Mark used Homer as a guide to writing his gospel?

    It seems to me that both Knohl and MacDonald are saying really interesting things. What say you?

    Here’s a link to the Mark/Homer book: http://www.amazon.com/Homeric-Epics-Gospel-Mark/dp/0300080123/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1252431469&sr=1-1

    —Santi

    • Alan Lenzi says:

      Santi, No big deal. Even as a specialist, I have plenty to learn, and hearing what others outside the field think is a good way to get a fresh perspective. I really appreciate your eclectic, wide-ranging interests.

      About the Gabriel thing: I haven’t really kept up with it much, especially lately. My interests lie in earlier stuff and connections between the Bible and Mesopotamia. I took a brief look at an early translation of the Gabriel text. That’s about it. It is interesting, and maybe the next time I teach through the Second Temple period I’ll read up on what people are saying. As for the New Testament, one has to draw the line somewhere. I know a bit about NT from my Master’s coursework. But I haven’t done anything scholarly with it in many years. So I haven’t heard about MacDonald’s book. However, it sounds interesting. I should take a look at it or at least see if there are any reviews out there.

      Thanks for an interesting blog.

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