CLAIM: The Enuma Elish was written before Genesis, and it has some similarities with the biblical account (e.g. watery chaos, separated into heaven and earth, light exists before creation, succession of events, etc.). Critics argue that Moses copied his creation story from the Babylonians? Is this the case?
RESPONSE: Moses was familiar with Pagan writing (Acts 7:22), and he was most likely familiar with alternate creation accounts. However, conservative scholars believe that Moses was writing an apologetic against these accounts, because of the stark differences in the Genesis account. Hoffmeier writes,
The similarities demonstrate that the biblical writers were aware of the creation myths of their neighbors and were intentionally refuting them. Thus when Genesis 1:2 reports that ‘darkness was over the surface of the deep (tehom), and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters’, there is apparently a polemic against the Babylonian goddess of the primeval sea, Tiamat. Genesis lacks the chaotic element and the sense of struggle between Marduk and the sea. Furthermore, Genesis challenges the Egyptian view that Ptah spoke creation into existence, claiming rather that the God of Israel uttered commands and creation followed.
Given the dissimilarities with the Enuma Elish, this view is likely. Moreover, there are several differences between the Genesis account and the Pagan myths:
First, the surrounding religions focused on how the gods themselves emerged. In the surrounding myths, the emphasis of the narrative was about how the gods themselves came into existence, rather than the universe. After the gods emerged, the universe sprang from the war or sex (or in some cases, warlike sex!) of the gods. Put another way, the Genesis account explains cosmogony (the birth of the universe), but the Babylonian account deals with theogony (the birth of the gods).
Second, the surrounding religions mention humans only as an afterthought. This is a stark difference with the Genesis account. The Jews believed that God had created the universe to house humanity, because we were his special and final creation.
Third, the surrounding religions held that the gods created the universe from pre-existing materials. Assyriologist Alexander Heidel writes, “It is apparent that for the Babylonians matter was eternal.” Archer writes, “[The] Enuma Elish assumes the eternity of pre-existent matter out of which arose a pair of creator gods by forces that are not explained, which somehow began the creative process. This really doesn’t deal with the question of how creation did take place.” The Jews believed that God simply spoke matter and energy into existence. For example, the psalmist wrote, “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made… For He spoke, and it was done” (Ps. 33:6, 9 NASB). The neighbors of Israel did not believe that the gods had power like this. Heidel writes, “The word of the Babylonian deities was not almighty.”
Fourth, the surrounding religions held that the sun, moon, and stars were gods. The Jews didn’t believe that the sun, moon, and stars were gods. Instead, these were mere creations –part of the furniture of the universe.
Fifth, the surrounding religions held that the deep, the waters, and the darkness contained monsters. And yet, Isaiah wrote that God was “the One forming light and creating darkness” (Is. 45:7 NASB). However, the Hebrews believed that these things were mere creations of God –beneath the power and under the control of Yahweh.
Sixth, the surrounding religions had a conflict amidst the gods. Again, the Jews were forced to disagree with this. While they believed that the Serpent was in opposition to Yahweh, he was still called a created being (Gen. 3:1), who passively accepted God’s curse and judgment (Gen. 3:14-15). The Jews believed that Yahweh had no rivals; he was the ultimate Creator of the universe.
Seventh, in other ancient Near Eastern accounts, the gods created because of cosmic loneliness. Hoffmeier writes, “Humans, in the Pyramid text tradition, were formed from the tears of the sun-god Re who wept out of loneliness.” Of course, we get no such indication in the Genesis account.
Eighth, the Hebrews believed that men fell from moral perfection, but the other accounts held that the gods themselves fell. Heidel writes, “If it is at all permissible to speak of a fall, it was a fall of the gods, not of man. It was the gods who first disturbed the peace.” Of course, this is in severe contrast with the biblical account in which Yahweh created the universe in a “very good” state (Gen. 1:31).
Ninth, the simplicity of the Hebrew account is significant. K.A. Kitchen writes, “The common view that the Hebrew account is simply a purged and simplified version of the Babylonian legend (applied also to the flood stories) is fallacious on methodological grounds. In the Ancient Near East the rule is that simple accounts or traditions may give rise (by accretion and embellishment) to elaborate legends, but not vice versa.” In other words, borrowing could be going on both ways. It’s quite possible that the Babylonians could have lifted their ideas from the Hebrew account, as well.