The Bible


 The Old Testament is a compilation, and like every
compilation it has a wide variety of contributors who, in
turn, have their individual influence upon the final work.
It is no surprise, then, that there exist certain parallels
between the Enuma Elish, the cosmogony of the Babylonians,
and the Book of Genesis, the first part of the Pentateuch
section of the Bible. In fact, arguments may be made that
other Near Eastern texts, particularly Sumerian, have had
their influences in Biblical texts. The extent of this
'borrowing', as it were, is not limited to the Bible; the
Enuma Elish has its own roots in Sumerian mythology,
predating the Enuma Elish by nearly a thousand years. A
superficial examination of this evidence would erroneously
lead one to believe that the Bible is somewhat a collection
of older mythology re-written specifically for the Semites.
In fact, what develops is that the writers have addressed
each myth as a separate issue, and what the writers say is
that their God surpasses every other. Each myth or text
that has a counterpart in the Bible only serves to further
an important idea among the Hebrews: there is but one God,
and He is omnipotent, omniscient, and other-worldly; He is
not of this world, but outside it, apart from it. 

The idea of a monotheistic religion is first evinced in
recorded history with Judaism, and it is vital to see that
instead of being an example of plagiarism, the Book of
Genesis is a meticulously composed document that will set
apart the Hebrew God from the others before, and after. To
get a clear picture of the way the Book of Genesis may have
been formed (because we can only guess with some degree of
certainty), we must place in somewhere in time, and then
define the cultures in that time. The influences, possible
and probable, must be illustrated, and then we may draw our

If we trace back to the first appearance of the Bible in
written form, in its earliest translation, we arrive at 444
B.C.. Two texts, components of the Pentateuch referred to
as 'J' and 'E' texts, can be traced to around 650 B.C. Note
that 'J' refers to Yahweh (YHVH) texts, characterized by
the use of the word 'Yahweh' or 'Lord' in accounts; 'E'
refers to Elohist texts, which use, naturally, 'Elohim' in
its references to God.1 But 650 B.C. isn't our oldest
reference to the 'J' and 'E' texts; they can be traced,
along with the other three strands of the Pentateuch, to at
least 1000 B.C. Our first compilation of these strands
existed in 650 B.C.. We must therefore begin our search
further back in time. We can begin with the father of the
Hebrew people, Abraham. We can deduce when he lived, and
find that he lived around 1900 B.C. in ancient
Mesopotamia2. If we examine his world and its culture, we
may find the reasons behind certain references in Genesis,
and the mythologies they resemble. The First Babylonian
Dynasty had begun around 1950 B.C. and would last well into
the late 16th century B.C.. The Babylonians had just
conquered a land previously under the control of the
Assyrians, and before that, the Summering. Abraham had
lived during a time of great prosperity and a remarkably
advanced culture. He was initially believed to have come
from the city of Ur, as given in the Bible as "...the Ur of
Chaldees". Earlier translations read, however, simply
"...Land of the Chaldees"; later, it was deduced that
Abraham had come from a city called Haran3. In any case, he
lived in a thriving and prosperous world. Homes were
comfortable, even luxurious. Copies of hymns were found
next to mathematical tablets detailing formulae for
extracting square and cube roots.4 The level of
sophistication 4000 years ago is remarkable. We can also
deduce that it was a relatively stable and peaceful
society; its art is characterized by the absence of any
warlike activity, paintings or sculptures.5 We also have
evidence of an Israelite tribe, the Benjamites, in
Babylonian texts. The Benjamites were nomads on the
frontier of its boundaries, and certainly came in contact
with Babylonian ideas- culture, religion, ethics. The early
tribes of Israel were nomadic, "taking with them the early
traditions, and in varying latitudes have modified it"6
according to external influences. The message remained
constant, but the context would subtly change. 

In addition to the Benjamites in Mesopotamia, there were
tribes of Israel in Egypt during the Egyptian Middle
Kingdom period7, which certainly exposed these people to
Egyptian and Babylonian culture as a result of trade
between the two kingdoms. Having placed Abraham and certain
early Semites in this time, we can now examine the culture
they would have known. The Babylonian Dynasty had as one of
its first leaders a man known as Hammurabi. In addition to
being the world's first known lawgiver, he installed a
national god for his people named Marduk 8. Marduk's story
is related in the Enuma Elish: It begins with two
primordial creatures, Apsu and Tiamat. They have children,
who are gods. These children became too noisy and
disruptive to Apsu, who wished to kill them. One of these
gods, Ea, kills Apsu first. Tiamat becomes enraged, and
increasingly threatening towards Ea and the remaining gods
for killing her mate. One by one, the gods seek to quiet
Tiamat, but each fails. However, one god, Marduk, agrees to
stop Tiamat, but only if he is granted sole dominion over
all other gods. They agree, and Marduk battles Tiamat,
killing her and creating the world from her corpse. In
addition, Marduk slays one of the gods who allied himself
with Tiamat, and from this dead god's blood, Marduk creates
man. 9 On the surface, it looks and sounds nothing like
Genesis. However, we can begin to draw our parallels as we
go into more detail. For example, Babylonian poetry has no
rhyme, but it has meter and rhythm, like Hebrew 10. Notice
the similarity in the next two passages: "Half of her he
set in place and formed the sky... as a roof. He fixed the
crossbar... posted guards; He commanded them not to let her
waters escape" 11 and "Then God said, 'Let there be a
dome... to separate one body of water from the other.'"
Genesis 1:6 "All the fountains of the great abyss burst
forth, and the floodgates of the sky were opened..."
Genesis 7:11
Compare the creation of days and the special significance
conferred upon the seventh: "Thou shalt shine with horns to
make six known days, on the seventh with... a tiara." 12
From Genesis (1:31-2-1): "Evening came and morning
followed- the sixth day... "So God blessed the seventh day
and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work
he had done in creation." We can summarize the similarities
as follows: each created the firmament, dry land, the
celestial bodies, and light. Each makes man the crowning
achievement. On the seventh day, God rests and sanctifies
the day. In the seventh tablet of the Enuma Elish, the gods
rest and celebrate. These similarities strongly suggest a
common knowledge of the Enuma Elish among writers of the
Book of Genesis (each section of Genesis is composed of
four different sets of writers). 

In addition to Babylonian influence, look at the following
taken from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which can be
traced back to 3000 B.C.: "I am Re.. I am the great god who
came into being by himself..."13 Compare that to the
familiar "I am who am." These similarities are of secondary
importance, however; we now begin to see the departures.
For one, if Marduk is all-powerful, why does he do battle
with Tiamat, when a word would suffice? For example: 

 "Then God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was
"Then God said, 'Let there be a dome in the middle of the
waters, to separate one body of water from the other.'
And so it happened..." Genesis 1:3, 1:6 God's word alone is
sufficient to render unto the world any change He wishes.
This is a radical innovation in a world where pantheistic
religion more closely resembles a super-powered family that
doesn't get along very well. The Egyptian god Re may have
been self-created, but he is by no means all-powerful, and
not at all the only of his kind. Marduk is a warrior who
can defeat primordial serpents, but the Hebrew god has but
to speak: "and it was; He commanded, and it stood fast."
Psalms, 33:9 The word of God is all-powerful.. And here we
begin to see our greatest departures. We have a
monotheistic religion, the first of its kind, created
amidst a culture that, in the case of the Babylonians, has
up to fifty gods!14 Not only is there but one god, but he
is all-powerful, so much so that he does not find it
necessary to wrestle with nature or defeat mighty
primordial gods. He simply speaks and it is done. It is our
first occurrence of divine will imposed upon the world.
Furthermore, it is a god without a precursor, without
creation. He is something apart from this world. Tiamat and
Apsu lived in a world already created (and by whom?); the
Egyptian gods have a multitude of births of gods in their
texts15 In fact, there was once a debate on the translation
of a single verb in the Bible, "bara", meaning "to create".
Later translations modify this to "bero", meaning "to
create from nothing". When written in Hebrew, only careful
scrutiny would distinguish the two. The distinction is
important, however, because it changes the implications
involved in creating. Does God create the world from
something or nothing? In the following passage"When God
began to create heaven and earth- the earth being a
desolate waste, with darkness upon the abyss and the spirit
of God hovering over the waters- God said, 'Let there be
light!' And there was light." It is inferred that God is
creating with something. The next translation, "When God
began to create the heaven and earth, the earth was a
desolate waste and darkness was upon the abyss and the
spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said,
'Let there be light!' And there was light..." implies that
God began by creating a desolate waste, then creating
light, then shaping the waste, and so forth. All this as a
function of one verb16. 

As another departure, examination of creation stories by
Sumerians and Babylonians show that they begin with
subordinate clauses such as "when" or "On the day of."17
Genesis clearly diverges from this: "In the beginning"
clearly sets apart the text from any other, making it the
actual start of all time and space as we know it. It also
puts the Hebrew god outside of time and space.
There would be no point in arguing that the Old Testament
was influenced by the contemporary cultures of its writers;
the facts clearly point to innumerable external sources of
inspiration. But while we can acknowledge these
similarities, we must also acknowledge that the writers of
the Book of Genesis are making a radical departure from the
norm: they have created a monotheistic religion, and their
god is all-powerful, beyond the scope of human
comprehension. Typically, gods are represented as something
akin to humans on a grander scale; the Hebrew god is simply
not measured or scaled; He is an unknown quantity, set
apart from the bounds of human knowledge. These
similarities serve a function as a contrast to the
differences between these religions. It would seem that the
writers acknowledged these other religions, and addressed
each one by creating a god that surpasses all others. The
god that creates himself is one of many; the Hebrew god
stands alone in his might. The god that created the world
defeated another god, and formed the earth from the corpse;
in Genesis, God speaks and his words transform into
actions. God exists before the matter He shapes to His
will. The writers have then, in fact, minimized the actions
of all other gods in comparison to one all-powerful deity
such as this. 

By drawing comparisons to other texts, the message can be
lost in attempting to find the roots of certain ideas. But
the origins of the stories are not nearly as important as
the overall message being stated, and while the ideas they
resemble may be old, the message is clear and unique: there
is but one, and He is beyond all that is. His will alone
suffices, and He predates even time itself. And that
message has changed the world. 


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