THE PARALLELS BETWEEN GENESIS AND ENUMA ELISH

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The Babylonian/Mesopotamian creation myth, Enuma Elish, When on high, was written no later than the reign of Nebuchadrezzar in the 12th century BCE. But there is also little doubt that this story was written much earlier, during the time of the Sumerians (3000 BCE).  In Babylon it was performed as a way to retells the ancient myths of creation, the flood and the events which let to the supernatural building of Babylon to be a home for the gods. The story is Sumerian but it was sung in the yearly festivals to honor the gods of Babylon.

For many years scholars have been pointing out the numerous similarities between the Mesopotamian story and the opening section of Genesis.  There is not only a striking correspondence in various details, but what is even more significant, the order of events is the same.  This makes the likelihood of coincidence very small.

This becomes even more evident when we allow the Genesis text to tell its own story instead of attempting to project different theological systems back into it.  

Parallels

Enuma Elish Genesis
Divine spirit and cosmic matter are coexistent and coeternal. Divine spirit and cosmic matter are coexistent. *
Divine spirit exist independent of cosmic matter. Divine spirit exist independent of cosmic matter.
Primeval chaos; Ti'amat enveloped in darkness. Primeval chaos; TeHOM enveloped in darkness.
Light emanating from the gods. Light created by word of /ELOHIYM.
The creation of the firmament. The creation of the firmament.
The creation of dry land. The creation of dry land.
The creation of luminaries. The creation of luminaries.
The creation of man. The creation of man.
The gods rest and celebrate. /ELOHIYM rest and separates the seventh day.

The date of the authorship of Genesis is debated, possible dates range from 1500 BCE to 200 BCE.  Enuma Elish was recorded on cuneiform tablets about 1200 BCE, but the story comes from a Sumerian version written before 2500 BCE.  Therefore, the Mesopotamian account predates the Genesis account by at 1,000 years.

Why the Parallels?

Apparently the author of Genesis was addressing an audience that was very familiar with the Mesopotamian story.  They would have quickly picked up on the parallels between the author's story and the familiar Babylonian epic.  However, much more important to them would have been the differences between the accounts.  The Genesis author's account presented them with some very important variations in the story.

Research Project

Read both accounts and compare the who, what, when, where, and how's.  What are the significant differences and how do they affect the way one views creation?

* Based on BHC translation which will be at odds with most translations.  Other translations are usually based on the theological considerations of the translators instead of allowing the text to determine the translation.  Check out Genesis in the BHC Associates section of this website.

 

Related Links

Ancient Sumeria

Biblical Parallels in Sumerian Literature

Cuneiform

Enuma Elish

Sumerian Cuneiform

 

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