Genesis and Ancient Near East Religions
As the new year begins, along with many other Christians around the world, I have tasked myself with reading the Bible from start to finish. While I don’t find many surprises from reading the Bible anymore, as I’m sure I have read a vast majority of the stories from one time or another, I still would like to know more about the book that guides me in my faith. Within the first week January, I read the entirety of Genesis, which still stands as one of my favorite books of the Bible.
I don’t know a single person who doesn’t enjoy beginnings. There is always excitement with the new adventures that life promises us in the form of a beginning. Facebook memories allow us to record the start of new relationships, new jobs, and new schooling. We even celebrate our birthdays, or the anniversary of our own beginnings. There is something amazing about the new.
So, of course, it is not surprise that as humans one of the things we study most is the creation of the world. In our finite, human minds, there must be a beginning for everything. While scientists may speculate that the universe was created by a big bang, and humans came through evolution, there are many religions that disagree. This isn’t a new concept; humans have been searching for the answers of creation since the world was created.
Genesis is no different from other ancient, religious texts with creation accounts from the Ancient Near East time period, with two big exceptions. You see, Mesopotamian religions all had their own creation narrative. One of the most famous ones is the Enuma Elish, which was a Babylonian creation narrative. In it, Marduk is elected the most powerful god, and creates mankind from his blood. In a lot of ways, the Genesis creation account mirrors this particular account; with water and darkness before creation, creating the heavens and the earth, and land separating the water during the process of creation.
However, the Enuma Elish also records the birth of their gods. If we turn to scripture, God was there in the beginning, when he created everything.
The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.Genesis 1:2-3 (ESV)
In the Enuma Elish, the gods are born from the water, so Genesis instead tells us that God, the One Supreme Creator, is hovering over the waters. This is an image of power, one that signifies God’s glory over other gods of the time.
(Side note: I also want to make note quickly that in the beginning of creation, darkness existed first. God created the light. Darkness is simply an absence of light, but without the darkness we would never be able to recognize the light. It parallels nicely with suffering and healing; without suffering and trials, we never recognize the healing and light that comes into our lives.)
The second main difference is the creation of man. In the Enuma Elish, we see the god, Marduk (the ‘champion’ of the other gods) creating mankind from his blood. While, similarly, God creates mankind in his own image, the desire behind the creation is very different.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all of the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.Genesis 1:26-27 (ESV)
In the Enuma Elish, the gods created mankind to serve them. There was no love, they just wanted to be worshiped. But in the creation account in Genesis, God created mankind in His own image, out of love, and gave mankind dominion over the world. God created mankind to be His children.
This is a love found in no other religion; a relationship offered nowhere else. Some people discredit Genesis as a true creation narrative for this reason, along with Noah’s Ark in the floor because those are also tales from a Mesopotamian narrative, although I would argue that it’s structure does not necessarily dictate its accuracy. Even if Genesis isn’t anything more than an explanation written by a random citizen in Mesopotamian culture, it offers us an unfiltered picture of God’s true, holy nature.