The Hebrew Bible begins, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters” (Gen 1:1-2). Genesis presents a placid picture of God surveying the soon-to-be organized creation. Yet, as the biblical authors detailed God’s calm creative process, they had another (alternative) story in mind called the Enuma Elish: the creation according to Babylonian cosmology. Addressing people who were familiar with that story, the Biblical account of creation challenged the Babylonian account at its core.

The Babylonian creation story begins with a goddess of the watery depths named Tiamat. Eventually, the god Marduk kills Tiamat by splitting her in half and using one of her halves to create the expanse of the heavens. With the Babylonian creation story in mind, let’s revisit the biblical account which states, “darkness was over the face of the deep” and God hovered over the deep waters….

The word for “deep” in Hebrew is תהום (tehom), which is linguistically related to the Babylonian word for “Tiamat.” When the Israelites asserted that their God had control over the tehom (the deep), they declared that Israel’s God was stronger than Babylon’s goddess. While the Babylonians envisioned Tiamat as a ferocious water deity, the Israelites presented a creation story in which the fearsome Tiamat was simply the tehom — the deep waters which are nothing more than a part of a God-ordained created order. In other words, Babylon’s goddess is nothing more than a mundane force of nature in the hands of Israel’s God. Unlike Marduk, the God of Israel does not need half of the water-god Tiamat to create the expanse of the heavens. Rather, the God of the Bible creates by the power of his word: “Let there be an expanse (רקיע; raqia) in the midst of the waters (מים; mayim)… and God called the expanse the heavens” (Gen 1:6a, 1:8a).

An essential point of the biblical creation story is to demonstrate the decisive supremacy of Israel’s God over all other deities, including those of Babylon.

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75 COMMENTS

  1. I have tried to wade my way through The Enuma Elish, the Babylonian creation myth, and I gave up. But what I did catch in that story--it is obvious all the way through as far as I got--the monolith of rebellion in heart or hearts of him or them who wrote the story. This myth, I think, is one of those in history, like Mein Kampf, is a direct creation of Satanic origin. I don't mean Satan dictated those thoughts, but I think the rebellious hearts received the nihilistic spirit of hell-bent disobedience and went with that.
    • Well, if you accept that the Torah was written after the Israelites left Egypt, then it stands to reason that the writers were familiar with the narratives from older civilisations, such as Babylon. And, Abraham came from Ur originally.

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  2. Dear Dr Schaser, Do you have any evidence from ancient sources that the creation accounts found in Genesis 1 & 2 were ever influenced by Enuma Elish? Your statement "Yet, as the biblical authors detailed God’s calm creative process, they had another (alternative) story in mind called the Enuma Elish:". Who are "the Biblical authors" to whom you refer? You are making assumptions, not from fact, but liberal constructs and conclusions as to where the Genesis accounts fit into world myth and literature. Hebrew Tohu and tehumn are related as unknown "formless expanse" which have no relationship to "tiamat."
    • Jack, there is far too much evidence for the Enuma Elish's influence on Genesis than there is room for in this short response. It is very clear that the writers of Genesis knew the Babylonian story and were critiquing it in Genesis 1. The "biblical authors" are the ancient Israelites who wrote the Bible.

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    • In response to Dr. Cairns's question about the relationship between Genesis and the Enuma Elish, I would recommend reading "The Secret Origins of the Bible" (2002) by Tim Callahan. There are numerous other sources to the same effect, but Callahan is very readable.
  3. How does it "demonstrate decisively", when all is said and done, it is a but another fiction of the imagination. One can demonstrate decisively that hydrogen and oxygen under certain conditions of temperature and pressure will produce water.
    • Winston, according to the biblical authors, the gods of Babylon were not figments of the imagination -- they were just a "real" as the God of Israel. Everyone in the ancient world (including the Israelites) believed in the existence of many gods.

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  4. I find this to be very interesting and would love to take the course but we are not rich people by any means . I do hope to take a course sometime in the future I just don't know when that will be. I have always found the stories in the Bible to be very inspiring and faith building. And both the old and new testaments are very much faith building and inspiring.
    • Marie, rich people should study in other institutions ours is priced in such a way that almost anyone can afford it it is a matter of the student's desire.
  5. Some of Stephen Hawkins replies are interesting. When asked what was there before the Big Bang he replied Formless Dark Matter. Does that sound familiar?
  6. " Verse 1 of Genesis appears to be a definitive statement. "In the beginning God created the heavens and earth. That sounds like a done deal to me, not one in which God stood around rubbing his chin pondering how he was going to complete this project. In verse two the Hebrew word Ha ye tah is used for "was" as in it was without form. Of the 111 usages of that word "was" the majority of times it means "became." If it "became" void, then why and when. what caused it, how long did it last?
    • Hi Paul. Thanks for your question. While the Hebrew היה can mean "became," in the context of Gen 1:2 it just means "was." So the earth didn't "become" void; it was void before God began to work on it, but the Bible doesn't specify how long the earth was "formless and void" before God started to organize things.

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  7. In the Jewish Gospel of John, it states Jesus was portrayed as the Passover Lamb because the the lambs blood covered the sins of the Israel households and Jesus takes away the sin of the entire world. My understanding is that lambs were never used in sin sacrifices and the Passover lamb was not a sin sacrifice, but represented defiance toward Egyptian idolatry of Ram worship and the faithfulness of the Israelite families in God's promise to lead them out of Egypt. Would Jesus as Sacrificial Lamb for the common good be a better interpretation?
  8. It's not mentioned here but there is a very important difference betwenn Genesis and babylonian story of creation and it has to do with the meaning and role of human being. In babylonian story, human being, according to the pattern of an aristocratic society, human being is created to preserve gods of working, of doing tasks of servitude. In Genesis, God gives, offers, human being the task of just keeping and administering nothing less than His Own Creation. Certainly it marks a key difference.. Always what I call the jewish genius for religion.
    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Jewish Gospel of Matthew or The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!
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