Awhile back I heard a funny little story about creating. There once was a man who challenged God that he could create something from nothing. God was curious about this and decided to take the man up on his bet. The man started to gather materials together and got a whole bunch of dirt. At this point God couldn’t take it anymore so he told the man, “get your own materials! And that is my dirt!” This funny little story briefly explains that although man can create, man cannot create from nothing.
As I continually read through Genesis, I keep wondering what is the context of the creation story? What are the stories that Genesis was written against? What new thing is Genesis telling us that the other stories are not?
Enuma Elish is an ancient creation myth from Mesopotamia. Its been dated roughly between 1700 B.C.E and 1200 B.C.E. Genesis dates to roughly 950 B.C.E to 700 B.C.E, which is around 1000 years after the earliest records of Enuma Elish. Which means the biblical authors were very familiar with this myth. Enuma Elish consists of seven tablets, but I am only going to highlight a few lines from tablet one. I want you to see the close similarities for one, and to come to your own conclusions of what the Genesis creation myth is saying differently then its counterparts. This I believe is very important. We cannot read the bible in a vacuum. We must read it in its time and place and then decide what it is trying to tell us today. At the end of this post I will have the websites I have taken the Enuma Elish from as well as the Egyptian creation myth, just in case you wanted to read all seven tablets and read the rest of the Egyptian creation myth.
Enuma Elish (The Babylonian Epic of Creation)
1 When the heavens above did not exist,
2 And earth beneath had not come into being —
3 There was Apsû, the first in order, their begetter,
4 And demiurge Tia-mat, who gave birth to them all;
5 They had mingled their waters together
6 Before meadow-land had coalesced and reed-bed was to be found —
7 When not one of the gods had been formed
8 Or had come into being, when no destinies had been decreed,
9 The gods were created within them:
Here are the opening lines of Genesis.
The Story of Creation.1 In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth— 2 and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters.3 Then God said: Let there be light, and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good. God then separated the light from the darkness.
We have a nothingness, in both accounts, from which all things were created. But quickly both stories diverge. Enuma Elish tells of a sacred act, the mingling of waters, or put bluntly, Apsu and Tiamat had sex. Whereas in Genesis, God is not having sex with anyone. He does not need a counterpart in order to create because God is the supreme deity of all things. His words are enough; thus, He speaks and Being listens. The Mesopotamian gods need each other in order to create. They are quarrelsome and needy, and the rest of the story depicts this very well.
Enuma Elish goes on to explain how the gods were too noisy for Tiamat and she devised a plan to silence them forever. The gods form a council and come up with a plan to combat Tiamat. Marduk is selected as the councils defender. He goes to war with Tiamat and her defender Quingu. Ultimately, Tiamat is defeated and from the corpses of Tiamat and Quingu the earth and humanity are created.
If we look back at Genesis, we do not see a great battle between gods. We do not see corpses being used to create life. None of that is needed for God to create. Like an enraptured artist, He creates with love and care.
There is one more story I want to take a look at because it shows a more creative God. In the Egyptian creation myth, the world was created out of a swirling mixture of chaos and darkness. This mixture had no form or purpose and inside this mixture was Heka. Heka was the god of magic and Heka waited for the moment of creation. From the mixture Nu created the primordial hill, which is called ben-ben and on this hill stood Atum, the greatest of Gods. Atum felt alone and, with the help of magic, mated with his shadow. He gave birth to two children. Shu, the god of air, and Tefnut the goddess of moisture. Shu symbolized life, while Tefnut symbolized order. Shu and Tefnut left the primordial hill to search out the world. Atum became very sad at their absence and upon their return he cried tears of joy. The tears fell on the primordial hill and created men and women.
The story goes on to explain how humanity had no place of their own so Shu and Tefnut mated and gave birth to the earth (Geb) and his sister sky (Nut). Geb and Nut fell in love, but Atum didn’t approve of their relationship so he separated them and fixed them in the sky never to touch again. Although they were permitted to see each other. Before there separation Nut gave birth to five Egyptian gods, who are recognized as the chief deities. They are Osiris, Isis, Set, Nephthys and Horus.
We have once again creation from a sexual union. This time Atum mates with himself and gives birth to the ben-ben. From which he conducts his endeavors. Then his children mate and give birth and their children mate and give birth.
What I found interesting is there is not a great battle that creates humanity but the tears of a God. Further, a forbidden union of love (Romeo and Juliet) creates more gods.