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.

BEGIN YOUR JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY

74 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.

  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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      • All scripture is “spirit breathed” and was written as God directed the authors. Hence, God is the true author and any wording used was by His design, not an Israelite. Are you trying to read too much into the semantics you are proposing rather than believing every word was prescribed as the Lord directed?

        • And, there is good scholarship to indicate that Genesis was actually compiled by Moses from 11 clay tablets, written much earlier…by Adam, Noah, etc.

          Tablets are marked by the Hebrew word, toledoth.

        • The Enuma Elish dates to sometime before the fall of Sumer in 1750 BCE. If you accept Moses as the author of some of the Torah, he would have lived about 1350 BCE. Most scholars, however, would put the E (Elohist) source to about the 9th C. BCE.

          • The statement that most scholars say, is pandering to human knowledge. That is at best partial knowledge and not eyewitness information. The God who created all and upholds all, does see and sees very accurately and is able to inform His writers very accurately. There is reason to question humans.

      • I do not understand, sir. Is not B’reshit history rather than polemic? (cf The Genesis Account by Dr. Jonathan Sarfati pp. 25, 62f, 106f.)

        Gratefully,

        Sara Cecilia

        • Thanks for your question, Sara. It doesn’t need to be a matter of “either/or”; that is, Genesis can be both “history” and “polemic” at the same time.

        • 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!

          • I fully agree – thank you for your apt response, sir – as the truth (Dr. Sarfati reminds me) is always a polemic against falsehood. But the gentlemen above indicated that the explanation offered in your article is anachronistic – am I wrong?

            Ps 19,

            Sara Cecilia

          • Yes, it looks like they did. The argument is not anachronistic. No scholar of Bible or Ancient Near Eastern history would argue that the Enuma Elish postdates Genesis. That the Genesis account responds to and polemicizes the Enuma ELish is by no means a controversial proposal in the scholarly world. Thanks for your contributions to our discussion, Sara.

          • “No scholar of Bible or Ancient Near Eastern history (at least who I know of) would argue that the Enuma Elish postdates Genesis.” – maybe so, but there is wide agreement amongst academics that Evolution is correct, whereas, as that contradicts Scripture, it can’t be. In a similar vein, …

    • 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.

    • 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!

      • Read Dr. Michael Heisner’s’s book “The Unseen Realm” for a view of the world as it actually is. An eye opener, and Biblical in content.

      • That is a generalization that is demonstrably not true. Look for the many places in the Old Testament where the writers were very obvious about the lack of substance in ‘other gods’. To be sure, the Israelite man on the street might have had a superstitious fear of other possible ‘gods’, but that was not the view of the priests and prophets.

        • Thanks, Henry. I’m struggling to think of places in which the Bible denies the “substance” of other gods. More, Scripture often accuses even the priests (e.g., Hos 10:5; Zeph 1:4; 2 Chron 11:15) and prophets (e.g., 1 Kgs 18-19) of worshipping these other gods — if priests and prophets didn’t believe in the existence of these other gods, they wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of prophesying and carrying out priestly duties on their behalf.

  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.

    • Thanks, James. Yes, the comparison between Genesis and the Babylonian text yields lots of interesting stuff.

    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Jewish Gospel of Matthew and The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!

  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.

    • 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!

      • What form is described by “without form”. Could the Gigamesh epic be looking at the world hit by the flood and the beginning? Since they had no records of before that. And the possibility exists that Noah brought records through the flood which described conditions before the flood very accurately.

        • Hi Thomas, on Gilgamesh, the epic does include a flood narrative that is very similar to the account of Noah in Genesis. On Noah bringing written records through the flood, the biblical text doesn’t say anything about this, so it’s probably better not to speculate 🙂

          • Okay. Let’s not speculate. IF God spoke by men, God breathed revelation as in the NT. Then let’s critique the other histories via God’s word and not vice versa.

  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.

  9. Biblical history goes back more than the Enuma Elish. In the Babylonian creation myth, the God Moloch made mankind slaves down here on earth in order for his worker to take time off. Horrible things have happened down here on earth. My advice to people around the world is to stay and study with Israel. Israel is giving the American people the truth.

    • That’s right, Linda. According to the Enuma Elish, humans are created as slaves to the gods. Since Genesis has humans created in God’s image, the Bible promotes a much healthier understanding of the relationship between God and humanity 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

  10. I have to ask. What form is meant by without form and void? Also, who was there to know what took place? If we give credence to human’s ideas as equal or maybe better than God’s revelation, have we joined camp with those that think God is a made up being? So no more authoritive than any given group of beings?

    • Good questions, Thomas. While “tohu vavohu” is often translated “formless and void,” and better translation is “disorganized and unproductive,” since Genesis 1 is the story of God giving “function” to the raw materials described in Gen 1:1-3 (i.e., “earth,” “darkness,” “the deep,” and “waters”). Gen 1 would be an example of “revelation” to the biblical writer(s), rather than an eye-witness retelling of creation, since as you rightly note, no one was there to see it (cf. Job 38:1-18). According to the Bible (and anyone who follows it today) the God of Israel is the supreme authority above all other gods.

  11. Dr Schaser, could it be that the pagan gods were actually the fallen angels (sons of God who took human wives and bore giant s of mythology as in Genesis 6? Archaeologists have been discovering bones of giant humans all over the world thanks to underground technology.

    • In the ancient Israelite (i.e., biblical) worldview, the “sons of God” in Genesis 6 may well have included some of the pagan gods — the text doesn’t tell us explicitly, but these rebellious “sons of God” may correspond to the “sons of God” who were allotted to the other nations according to Deuteronomy 32:8-9.

  12. I just feel that something is wrong with the hypothesis of this debate- revist the Genesis creation account in the light of the Babylonian myth; which allows for reading of the meaning of the Genesis story into the Banylonian account or otherwise rather than allowing the two stories to stand in their own merrit; this leaves the reader with the impression that this comparision is of two great ancient myths- one biblical and the other Babylonian. However, one thing emerges in the story clearly that Babylonians worshipped nature. Secondly, I find the concept of God surveying the chaotic expanse interesting.

    • The purpose of comparing the Genesis account with the Enuma Elish would be to understand the polemic against Babylon in the biblical text, and to get a sense for how and why the Israelites believed that their God of Israel was superior to the gods described in the Babylonian account.

  13. Love the daily articles. Many have been copied for future use. I am sad there are not enough hours in a day to accomplish all that one wishes or needs. I am finishing up Book One of a set of 3, “Jesus’ Truth Revealed – Stories Within the Story” and, truthfully/sadly, time and energy flies by, leaving little left in its wake. Maybe the future will open a door wherein I might enter and join your exciting classes. With regret, BC

  14. I have a problem with that thesis. The idea that the Torah / Pentateuch had Enuma Elish, or any other ANE documents in mind, is founded on the Wellhausen Graf documentary hypothesis, which is full of holes. A far better explanation, remaining true to the Historical Literal view of God’s Word, is the Toledot hypothesis, whereby Genesis / Bereshit was written in sections, delineated by ‘These are he generations of …’, and brought together by Moses. This would place the authorship of the Creation narrative as antidiluvial, whereas the Enuma Elish, Gilgamesh epic, etc. were post-Babel corruptions.

    • The notion that the Genesis account responds to the Enuma Elish is not dependent on Wellhausen’s theory. More, the Enuma Elish’s antiquity vis-a-vis Genesis does nothing to challenge the “historical literal view” of the Bible. The Babylonians had their creation story about Tiamat and Marduk, and the Israelites respond to it with a resounding “No” — for Israel, their God was the one who created the world (not Tiamat). The question is which theological assertion one finds to be the more compelling.

      • The question is: which was written first? The hypothesis that the Enuma Elish, etc. preceded Genesis’ account of Creation is founded on a late date for the authorship of Genesis / Bereshit. This originated with the Wellhausen Graf hypothesis. Surely, it is better to look at the Genesis account as being the original, and the others being corruptions due to the confusion caused by the events of Babel.

        • The earliest extant texts of the Enuma Elish date from the 7th century BCE, but most scholars date the story to around 1200 BCE (roughly contemporaneous with the very earliest biblical material). More, similar creation stories involving Tiamat and Marduk date to roughly the 17th century BCE (e.g., Hammurabi Code). By even the most conservative estimates, this latter date is between 200-400 years before Moses. What’s more important than dates, though, is that Genesis would lose much of its theological and ethical power if it were written before the Babylonian account. Some of the main theses of Genesis 1 are that the God of Israel is superior to the gods of Babylon because the biblical God (1) creates alone, (2) does not need to defeat other gods, (3) appoints humanity in the divine image (rather than as slaves to the gods), and (4) hallows actual *time* (i..e, the Sabbath), rather than the mere *space* of Babylon. Thus, Genesis functions to dismantle the supposed power of Babylon’s gods, and to offer a more ethical relationship between humans and the Divine. However, if Genesis predates the Babylonian story, then the Bible’s first chapter would not function in this very theologically powerful way. Thus, if anything, the follower of the biblical God should *want* Genesis to postdate the Enuma Elish, since this chronology highlights the superiority of Israelite theology.

          • Thanks for that reply. Unfortunately the 100 word limit does not allow me to give a good response. However, even if the Toledot hypothesis is incorrect, and Moses was the prime writer of Genesis, is there any evidence from the Egyptian texts that he would have known Enuma Elish?

          • Thanks for your question(s). Since the Egyptians had their own creation stories and gods, if Moses imbibed any Egyptian theology it wouldn’t have looked much like the Enuma Elish, necessarily (though there are some similarities between the Babylonian and Egyptian deities/cosmologies). Though Moses is traditionally thought to be the writer of Genesis, nothing in the biblical text itself warrants or validates that tradition. The text notes that Moses wrote some things down, including some legal material that appears in Exodus and Deuteronomy (see Exod 17:14; 24:4; 34:27; Num 33:2; Deut 31:9, 22; Jos 8:32; cf. Mk 12:19; Lk 20:28; Jn 1:45; 5:46), but the post-biblical tradition that Moses was the writer of the entire Torah (i.e., the first five books of the Bible) is not actually found in the Bible itself.

          • The question was posed, as if there were any polemic behind Moses’ writings, surely it would be against the Egyptian gods. With regards whether the Mosaic authorship is Biblical or not, if we were talking about the Tanach, I would have to agree with you, but Yeshua quoted from each of the five books of the Torah, attributing them to Moses. With regards the final couple of chapters of Deuteronomy, detailing Moses death, that was probably written later (by Yeshua ben Nun?) and tagged on the end, although Moses could have written it prophetically.

  15. The authorship of Genesis, especially Genesis 1-3, is something we *can* actually answer.

    Firstly, it’s commonly recognized by many biblical scholars that the language of Gen. 1:1-2:4a differs from 2:4ff-3:24, and thus it’s proposed that these sections were composed by two separate authors. Fundamentalist approaches to scripture generally reject this, citing the Mosaic authorship of the first five books of the bible. But this is too simplistic.

    Many ancient texts in the Near East were written on clay tablets. We’ve actually found libraries of tablets at Nuzi and Mari. …

  16. The tablets were on shelves with the ends sticking out, and the ends had what are called “colophons” — descriptive passages representing the subject of the tablet. The colophons were of the form “These are the generations of” X or, more poetically, “this is the history of” X. Significantly, these colophons were at the END of the tablet, not at the beginning!

    We find colophons scattered throughout Genesis, suggesting that it was once written on tablets as well. The first two colophons are found in Gen. 2:4 and 5:1, as follows:

  17. Gen. 2:4a: “This is the history of the heavens and the earth, in the day that they were created.”

    Gen. 5:1a: “This is the genealogy of Adam.”

    That would mean that the author of the section from Gen. 1:1-2:4 was God, and the author of the section from Gen. 2:4ff to 5:1 was Adam.

    • I AGREE. ALTHOUGH GENESIS CAME AFTER THE BABYLONIAN ACCOUNT—IT DOES NOT MATTER. GENESIS WAS WRITTEN BY MOSES AS DICTATED TO HIM BY GOD, HIMSELF.

  18. This is getting to complicated. I rather stick by the fact of one GOD that created, our Isreal’s GOD. Although know the fact of Genises 1:1&2=millions of years. After dinosaures time the satans flood as the Dykes Bible states it. Maybe if GOD permits this can be futures learnings

  19. I’ve heard this before. It seems to be assumed that because the Babylonian account supposedly came first that the Genesis account had to follow the modern practice of introducing a controversial theory in contradiction of the first. It may have been written second and people played “Telephone” with it.

    • Great question, Ruben. The origin of Mordecai’s name is a matter of scholarly debate, but it does seem to reflect the Akkadian “Marduka,” which is a name based on the god Marduk.

    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Jewish Gospel of Matthew and The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!

  20. This all buffoonery! Genesis says God created the heavens and the earth. That’s it. When Moses wrote the first 5 books of the Bible the Holy Spirit guided him to write the creation story. All of the Bible was written by men guided by the Holy Spirit. That’s it.

  21. Dr Schaser. Please explain the following. What held the deep waters in place, since there was no gravity? Who formed the earth below and the waters above in the first place? There was no chaos as God is not the God of chaos? God did bring complete formation and productivity.

    • Kevin, I would try not to get too focused on reading Genesis as a science textbook. Genesis 1 is not concerned with aligning its presentation with the law of gravity. Instead, Genesis 1 is concerned with how the world reflects a divine order and how human beings should relate to God within that world.

  22. God hovered over something that already existed, i.e. earth below, deep waters (vapour) above and darkness. You only get darkness when light is taken away. This all happened pre-creation in Genesis. Matter, that had no atmosphere, layer of gases retained by gravity that creates pressure allowing liquid water to exist.

  23. I love these articles and the discussion following
    It really does elicit rereading the Bible and looking at it from a different perspective
    Thank you

    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Jewish Gospel of Matthew and The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!

  24. Dr. Schaser, you reference “the biblical authors”, describe Bereshit as polemic against Enuma-Elish instead of historical record, and state “to… biblical authors, …gods of Babylon were …just as ‘real’ as the God of Israel. Taking all this together, I infer you consider biblical YHVH as myth, also. Is this correct?

    • No — your inference is not correct, Neville. I affirm the existence of the God of Israel. Also, I never said that Genesis was “polemic… instead of historical record”; rather, it is both a polemical document and a record of divine activity. More important than my own position is that of the biblical authors, who believed in the existence of their own God and of the gods described in the Enuma Elish.

      • I was careless. I apologize. By “biblical YHVH as myth”, I did not mean to ask if you question the existence of YHVH, but rather if you question the details/description/nature of him as told in the Bible. Some believe the
        Bible’s authors were adding spin to support their own agendas.

        • No worries, Neville. The only information we have about the God of Israel comes from the biblical text. Therefore, to my mind, anyone who chooses to believe in this God has no choice but to adhere to the descriptions that we find in Scripture (otherwise, the believer has a deity whose character and activity is dependent on personal speculation). Sometimes, these biblical descriptions can also support certain “agendas” or “perspectives” or “theologies” of the biblical authors. In the case of Genesis 1, for instance, the text serves the authorial desire to polemicize Babylon, but it also accurately reflects the God of Israel as described by the people of Israel.

  25. basic reconstructionism. Bablonian story derived from Sumerian lore and Abraham coming out of Babylon, passes this onto his brood. Over years of repeated campfire re-tellings, this get polished into final product in Jewish version in our hand today, simple.

  26. I am surprised that no one has yet voiced the ancient alien theory of man’s creation as found in Babylonian theology. Right?

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