SPECIAL TOPIC: CREATION AND FLOOD ACCOUNTS IN THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST
I. Biblical creation accounts
A. Genesis 1:1-2:3
B. Psalms 8; 19; 33; 50; 104; 148
C. NT (cf. John 1:3; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2)
II. ANE creation accounts (archaeological sources)
A. Earliest known literary parallel of the cultural setting of Genesis 1-11 is the Ebla cuneiform tablets from northern Syria dating about 2500 b.c., written in Akkadian.
B. Creation accounts
1. The closest Mesopotamian account dealing with creation, Enuma Elish, dating from (1) NIV Study Bible, about 1900-1700 b.c. or (2) John H. Walton's Ancient Israelite Literature in Its Cultural Context, p. 21, about 1000 b.c. It was found in Ashurbanipal's library at Nineveh and other copies were found at several other places. There are seven cuneiform tablets written in Akkadian that describe creation by Marduk.
a. The gods, Apsu (fresh water — male) and Tiamat (salt water — female) had unruly, noisy children. These two gods tried to silence the younger gods.
b. One of Ea and Damkina's children, Marduk (the chief god of the emerging city of Babylon), defeats Tiamat. He formed the earth and sky from her body.
c. Ea formed humanity from another defeated god, Kingu, who was the male consort of Tiamat after the death of Apsu. Humanity came from Kingu's blood.
d. Marduk was made chief of the Babylonian pantheon.
2. "The creation seal" is a cuneiform tablet which is a picture of a naked man and woman beside a fruit tree with a snake wrapped around the tree's trunk and positioned over the woman's shoulder as if talking to her.
The conservative Professor of Archaeology at Wheaton College, Alfred J. Hoerth, says that the seal is now interpreted as referring to prostitution. This is a good example of how artifacts from the past are interpreted differently by individuals and through time. This particular piece of evidence must be re-evaluated.
III. ANE flood accounts (archaeological sources)
A. The Atrahasis Epic records the rebellion of the lesser gods because of overwork and the creation of seven human couples (from clay, blood, and saliva) to perform the duties of these lesser gods. Humans were destroyed because of (1) over population and (2) noise. Human beings were reduced in number by a plague, two famines, and finally a flood, planned by Enlil. Atrahasis builds a boat and brings animals on board in order to save them from the waters. These major events are seen in the same order in Genesis 1-8. This cuneiform composition dates from about the same time as Enuma Elish and the Gilgamesh Epic, about 1900-1700 b.c. All are in Akkadian.
B. Noah's flood
1. A Sumerian tablet from Nippur, called Eridu Genesis, dating from about 1600 b.c., tells about Ziusudra and a coming flood.
a. Enka, the water god, warns Ziusudra of a coming flood.
b. Ziusudra, a king-priest, believes this revelation and builds a huge square boat and stocks it with all kinds of seeds.
c. The flood lasted seven days.
d. Ziusudra opened a window on the boat and released several birds to see if dry land had appeared.
e. He also offered a sacrifice of an ox and sheep when he left the boat.
2. A composite Babylonian flood account from four Sumerian tablets, known as the Gilgamesh Epic, originally dating from about 2500-2400 b.c., although the written composite form in cuneiform Akkadian, is much later (ca. 1900-1700 b.c.). It tells about a flood survivor, Utnapishtim, who tells Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk, how he survived the great flood and was granted eternal life.
a. Ea, the water god, warns of a coming flood and tells Utnapishtim (Babylonian form of Ziusudra) to build a boat.
b. Utnapishtim and his family, along with selected healing plants, survived the flood.
c. The flood lasted seven days.
d. The boat came to rest in northern Persia on Mt. Nisir.
e. He sent out 3 different birds to see if dry land had yet appeared.
C. The Mesopotamian literature which describes an ancient flood are all drawing from the same source. The names often vary, but the plot is the same. An example is that Zivusudra, Atrahasis, and Utnapishtim all represent the same human king.
D. The historical parallels to the early events of Genesis can be explained in light of mankind's pre-dispersion (Genesis 1-11) knowledge and experience of God (or see VI). These true, historical core memories have been elaborated and mythologicalized into the current flood accounts common throughout the world. The same can also be said not only of creation (Genesis1:1-2:3) and the Flood (Genesis 6-9), but also of human and angelic unions (Genesis 6).
IV. Other archaeological information – Patriarch's Day (Middle Bronze)
A. Mari tablets – cuneiform legal (Ammonite culture) and personal texts in Akkadian from about 1700 b.c.
B. Nuzi tablets – cuneiform archives of certain families (Horite or Hurrian culture) written in Akkadian from about 100 miles SE of Nineveh about 1500-1300 b.c. They record family and business procedures. For further specific examples, see John H. Walton's Ancient Israelite Literature in its Cultural Context, pp. 52-58.
C. Alalak tablets – cuneiform texts from Northern Syria from about 2000 b.c.
D. Some of the names found in Genesis are recorded as place names in the Mari Tablets: Serug, Peleg, Terah, and Nahor. Other biblical names were also common: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Laban, and Joseph. This shows that biblical names fit this time and place.
E. "Comparative historiographic studies have shown that, along with the Hittites, the ancient Hebrews were the most accurate, objective and responsible recorders of near eastern history," R. K Harrison, Biblical Criticism, p 5.
F. Archaeology has proven to be so helpful in establishing the historicity of the Bible. However, a word of caution is necessary. Archaeology is not an absolutely trustworthy guide because of
1. poor techniques in early excavations
2. various, very subjective interpretations of the artifacts that have been discovered
3. no agreed-upon chronology of the Ancient Near East (although one is being developed from tree rings and pottery)
V. Egyptian creation accounts can be found in John H. Walton's, Ancient Israelite Literature in Its Cultural Context (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990) pp. 23-24, 32-34.
A. In Egyptian literature, creation began with an unstructured, chaotic, primeval water. Creation was seen as a developing structure (hill) out of watery chaos.
B. In Egyptian literature from Memphis, creation occurred by the spoken word of Ptah.
C. Each of the major cities of Egypt had separate traditions emphasizing their patron deities.
VI. A new book by John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, IVP, 2009, shows the relationship between the ANE beliefs about the divine and the cosmos in
a new light. He asserts (and I agree) that it is not so much who copied who, but the general cultural consensus of the whole ANE about the unity of the "natural"
and "supernatural." All cultures shared this general perspective. Israel's was uniquely monotheistic but also shared the cultural perspectives.
A new book by John H. Walton, Genesis 1 As Ancient Cosmology (2011), will also be very helpful to help establish what the first readers/hearers would have
thought about Genesis 1-11. Remember, it cannot mean what it never meant!
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