CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Genesis and ANE Accounts of Creation

May 21, 2017

Atheists, sceptics and other critics of Christianity like to make the claim that the biblical account of creation is simply stolen from earlier pagan myths found in the Ancient Near East. For example, they claim that the Babylonian creation account Enuma Elish serves as a basis for the Genesis account.

They claim there are plenty of similarities between the ANE accounts and that found in Genesis, so there is nothing unique about the Bible and it certainly is not God’s inerrant word. How might we respond to such charges? While the discussion can be rather complex, let me try to offer a brief, introductory discussion on all this.

Genesis 1-2 and its polemical intent

The opening chapters of Genesis give us an account of how God created the world out of nothing. It sets the stage for the rest of the biblical story line. Part of its purpose is to serve as a polemic against the rival gods and creation accounts. Let me define three crucial terms here.

creationA polemic is a refutation or attack on the opinions or ideas of another. The biblical writers would likely have been aware of some of these other creation accounts, so what we find in Genesis is, in part, an assault on some of these myths that were around at the time.

All this is about conflicting cosmologies and cosmogonies. A cosmology is the way we look at the universe; our understanding of the universe. A cosmogeny is the theory of the origin or creation of the universe or cosmos.

Standing against the cosmology and creation accounts of the ANE is the Genesis account. The biblical account of creation challenges the rival cosmologies, such as that of the Mesopotamians, Babylonians, Sumerians, Canaanites and the Egyptians.

The polytheism of the surrounding cultures is especially targeted in the biblical narratives. What we find in the opening chapters of Genesis is a real put down of other gods and other worldviews. It directly challenges the prevailing accounts of the gods and creation.

There are both similarities and differences in the biblical account of creation as compared to other ANE accounts. The critics like to emphasize possible similarities and play down any differences. But in truth the differences are very greater and much more significant.

Similarities

Let me begin with some similarities, at least some superficial ones.

One. The gods are involved in the task of creating the world. They are involved in the creation account. There is divine activity taking place with creation.

Two. There often is a theme of order coming out of chaos (especially a watery chaos). There is a primeval watery mass which is personified in the ANE. It is a foreboding and fearful place. Out of this comes order and calm. The biblical account of course lacks this personification, but does speak elsewhere of this as well. See for example Psalm 74:13-14 and 89:9-10.

Three. Creation is associated with naming.

Four. Man is said to be made out of clay in some of the ANE accounts (Egyptian and Mesopotamian)

Five. There are many similarities in the flood account. The Babylonian flood epic, Gilgamesh, for example, offers many parallels with the Genesis account.

Six. Some ANE traditions, like the Sumerian, speak of people before the flood having long life spans.

What do we make of these similarities? While we still need to look at the major differences between these accounts, how are we to understand the cases of apparent parallel accounts? There are three major options here:

One. The pagan accounts copied from the Biblical account. This is possible.

Two. The biblical account copied from the pagan mythologies. This is somewhat possible to the extent that some of the ancient cosmologies may antedate the biblical account.

Three. Both draw upon common antecedent traditions and common shared memories. A series of events have a shared experience and memory, and the various accounts may well independently draw upon them. Thus in the historical accounts of Gen. 1-2 there are some mythical motifs which may have been incorporated, but only as they serve the purposes of the biblical authors. This seems to be the most likely case.

Differences

But the differences are very pronounced and cannot be underestimated or ignored.

One. All the ANE accounts are polytheistic. There are many gods involved in the process of creation, not just one. Often there are divine rivalries and conflicts going on between the gods which explain the creation accounts, and the rhythms of nature. Often there is negotiation and bargaining among the gods to bring about creation. In the biblical account God is unique, God is one, and God is not in rivalry with other gods.

For example, in Enuma Elish, you read of the birth of the gods, the battle between Maarduk and Tiamat, and the creation of man. Both the gods and the world came from the same womb. A god is killed, thrown down from heaven, and his dead body becomes earth.

Such ideas are totally foreign to the biblical account. There is no hint of such a battle in the Genesis account. Also, unlike the ANE accounts, God has no father. And there are no female deities or consorts for Yahweh in the biblical account.

Two. Nothing in creation is divine, and therefore no created thing should be worshipped. Only the creator God should be worshipped. For example, in Egyptian cosmology, worship is directed to the sun god Shamash and the moon-god, Yarih. But the biblical account shows that the sun and moon are just other created items, created by the one true God.

The normal Hebrew words are not even used there, just “the larger” and “smaller light”. As can be seen, the Hebrew words (semes = sun, yareah = moon) are similar in other Semitic languages. In the ANE those words are the names of deities, so they are avoided here.

Often the stars were said to control human destiny in ANE cosmologies. But the biblical account sees them as just another part of creation, not as a god or having divine significance. Thus the biblical account not only condemns the ancient Babylonian superstitions, but any such concepts we still use today, including horoscopes, etc.

The same with the seasons, the productivity of the crops, etc. In the ANE, the harvest and the necessary climate to produce it is the result of magic or the whim of the gods. For example, the seasons are said to be the result of the gods, as in Autumn when the fertility god dies, and needs to be appeased by festivals and sacrifices, etc.

For example, in Canaan, the fertility god Baal is said to die at the end of the year, thus the crops die as well. The death god Mot takes him to the sea prince. But Baal’s consort Anat, the goddess, fights the sea prince and rescues Baal. Thus the new round of crops begins again.

But in the biblical account, the seasons and the productivity of the land are all due to the good hand of God. He is in control of the sun, the rain, the harvest, the seasons, of crop productivity and healthy flocks. This is all God’s doing, not our own. Consider just one passage, Deuteronomy 8:7-11, 17-18:

For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land – a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills. When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. . . . You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.

Three. The sea monsters and astral bodies are not gods that rival Yahweh. They are just his creatures who display his power and glory. See some of the passages above. For example the huge sea creatures (tanninim) are not fierce monsters that war against the gods, but are in fact creations of God. See Psalm 104 and Job 40-41.

And God is able to control and defeat them as well. As we read in Isaiah 27:1: “In that day, the LORD will punish with his sword, his fierce, great and powerful sword, Leviathan the gliding serpent, Leviathan the coiling serpent; he will slay the monster of the sea.” Moreover, these creatures can even praise God: “Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths” (Psalm 148:7).

Four. Creation comes from pre-existing (eternal) matter in the ANE accounts. In the non-biblical accounts, divine spirit and cosmic matter exist side by side from eternity. But the biblical account affirms that everything was made by God, and there is no eternal matter which he simply just fashions. The idea of creation ex nihilo, as we already mentioned, sets the biblical account apart from most other creation accounts.

Five. The gods need creation. For example, they need humans as labor-saving devices, to provide them with food, etc. But the biblical account says that God freely and sovereignly created. He did not need to. There was no deficiency in God that meant he needed man.

And in the ANE accounts, the creation of man is almost incidental, an afterthought, and no big deal. Humans are said to be made from a dead god, along with clay and divine spit. But in the Bible, man is the centerpiece and crowning achievement of creation. We are his representatives and rulers on earth, not just the slaves or lackeys of the gods.

Six. The seventh day is not an ill omen or unlucky day, as in the Mesopotamian accounts. It is the crowning day of God’s creation week, a day of rest and blessing.

Seven. The biblical account of the creation of woman is unique to the cosmogonies of the ANE. It shows the high view of women given by the Hebrew religion.

Eight. There is no fall or sense of sin in the ANE creation accounts. In fact there is no parallel to the garden narrative in the ANE accounts (although there is a garden of God motif).

Nine. There is no Babel episode to be found in the ANE accounts. And the account of Babel in Gen. 11:1-9 can well be seen as an attack on Babylon and its idea of being the center of civilisation, including its claim that its temple tower was the gate of heaven (as it says in Enuma Elish).

Ten. The flood account does find many parallels elsewhere, but there are many differences. Just one: once started, the flood got out of the gods’ control, and they were quite terrified by it. This of course is not how the biblical account sees things.

In sum, the biblical writers were likely aware of some of the other creation accounts in circulation at the time, but that does not mean they heavily relied on them or simply copied them. Instead it seems the biblical writers went out of their way to repudiate and refute these pagan cosmologies.

So even if they did do some borrowing, it was more the imagery of the myths. The theology and worldview of them were clearly denounced and shown to be deficient.

[1974 words]

24 Responses to Genesis and ANE Accounts of Creation

  • Bill, a few comments/questions. You state several times ‘Biblical authors’. What do you mean by this, bearing in mind that authorship is commonly attributed to one author – Moses.

    Without being a theologian myself, I tend to believe that early Genesis – creation account / flood account pre-existed the ANE stories (for all we know Adam could have kicked off the written records), and at some point after the Tower of Babel dispersion the other ANE cultures that developed copied/distorted/partially forgot the original records in order to suit their own polytheistic cultures. The epic of Gilgamesh is an example of something that reads like a very bad copy of the Biblical flood narrative.

    Regards, Anthony.

  • Bill the following article may be known to you but it makes so much sense from the scientific angle. Apart from my unquestioning belief in Jesus Christ, I also have great faith in science and so for these great thinkers in our world who cannot provide simple answers but in effect agree there is a higher authority speaks volumes to the atheists.
    Regards,
    Kevin.

    http://www.bethinking.org/does-science-disprove-god/has-science-disproved-god

  • Hi Bill, this is great material for budding first year O.T. Theology students. Going off track a little bit, I have one question which maybe also of interest to some of your other readers. I had always been taught that Moses was the first one to actually write down the material that became the Pentetuach or the first five Books of The Bible. It was understood that Moses drew on oral traditions which had been carried for many generations prior to his arrival on the scene. Bill is this still the case? Is there any recent research that you’re aware of which may indicate that Moses had early “written records” to draw on. The archeologists have found a lot of material to support the ANE accounts, has there been any recent material discovered that would support the existence of ancient Biblical Writings prior to Moses? Many thanks again for a good concise article on this topic, regards Kel.

  • Hi Bill, I am no doubt just a two-bit reader of the Bible but in my reading I note eye witness accounts of each author (who signs off on his section) in Genesis 1-11 are just that: historical accounts by people who lived at the time and wrote about their real lives. Surely the other cultures and their accounts did not emerge until well after the times of these authors.

  • Thanks guys – and gals!

    I accept the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. But most folks recognise there may have been at least some editorial work done on the final product (eg., writing up the death of Moses – and yes I know it is possible God lead him to write about it before it actually happened, but that too is the stuff of another debate).

    I do not have much more to say than what is in the article. Most scholars, including conservative scholars, recognise the polemical nature of the biblical creation account. If they are correct – and I think they are – then some form of other pagan accounts of creation must have been in existence at least by the time of Moses of course. Whether they were written accounts or mainly oral accounts at that point is another matter for discussion. The actual dating of some of these other accounts can be discussed, but I will not enter into all that here, since there are a number of such accounts, and each one would need to be debated on its own.

    I do not claim to be an OT scholar, nor an expert in the ANE. My main point of the article should be clear – however we are to understand notions of “borrowing” and the like, the biblical account has massive differences from all the other ones. That is the main point to highlight here.

  • As others have implied: This raises the question re what Creation account came first: the Biblical or the ANE pagan myths. While the Bible tells us that Moses wrote the Genesis account (clearly after the Egyptian accounts) there is internal evidence in Genesis that Moses edited pre-existing written accounts of named patriarchs (Adam, Seth, Noah, etc.). Note that Abraham spoke to Terah, who overlapped Noah about 100 years, and Noah had several hundred years to talk with Methuselah, who had about 200 years to talk with Adam. Genesis thus systematically records what happened during the lifetimes of named patriarchs – with the exception of course that the implication is that God told Adam what happened in the five+ days before the creation of Man.
    In that sense, the Genesis account predates ALL other ANE accounts, none of which even claim to have the eyewitness records of people who lived through those events. But it also means that, yes, when Moses compiled Genesis from the written records of his ancestors, he had the opportunity to add polemic showing the deficiencies of the pagan myths of the ANE creation accounts that had arisen by the time of Moses.
    As for similarities, there are dozens of indigenous cultures, from around the whole globe, that have pre-Babel Genesis-like elements such as an overwhelming flood. This even includes such obscure, but otherwise unexplainable points, as: the naming of the constellations have the same meanings in many different cultures; and, Ancient Chinese bone inscriptions have many pictograms that are arguably composed of elements showing a knowledge of pre-Babel events described in Genesis (e.g. the tree of knowledge of good and evil with a serpent tempting a woman, and the word for boat includes a vessel and 8 people). This is to be expected if we all descend from Noah and then scattered from Babel as Genesis clearly claims. The implication is that the Genesis account is demonstrably closer to historical eyewitness reports than any other cosmogonies and myths, and helps explain the similarity in the ANE and other creation stories from around the world.
    For more detail on this topic I recommend: “The Authenticity of the Book of Genesis” by Bill Cooper, and “God’s Promise To The Chinese” by ER Nelson, RE Broadberry & G Tong Chock; and, if it’s still in print, “Clues to Creation in Genesis” by Wiseman.

  • If Scripture be true in the Words of the promises GOD has assured us of all whom believe on HIM & HIS SON the LORD JESUS CHRIST how can it not be true in matters of things it speaks of already past? Suggest ANE accounts are corruptions of the Biblical not the other way around. Thanksgiving you for all your endeavors in HIS name GOD bless from Conway

  • What I find interesting is the obvious anthropomorphism in all false religions that is not there in the Biblical account. For example, in every other religion sex is considered as part of the godly realm and is part of the pleasure that is had there and that idea is continued right through to Islam but in the Biblical account there is great joy in heaven but no sex. What human could or would ever have come up with such an idea? Of course we know now that the pleasure we obtain from sex is simply a matter of the hormones that are released to encourage us to take part in an otherwise inconvenient, messy, smelly and sometimes threatening liaison. Clearly God knows this but those who invented the false religions did not. The atheists accuse the Bible of anthropomorphism but even today we struggle with understanding the nature of the Great I Am as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in one. Yes Jesus did take on human form as our example (Col 2:9) but the Father is an all consuming fire (Deu 4:24, Heb 12:29). Who would make up a God who was just energy? Who would even have known of such a concept before modern science and E=mc^2 where we are able to see that matter is simply made up of energy? The god’s of false religions clearly inhabit a realm that is a reflection of the physical but the Bible speaks of it the other way around – we are the less substantial image of God and the physical (cosmos) is temporary and to be done away with. One thing that is so beautiful about the Bible is these concepts that we are now able to see science slowly catching up to. Scientists now tell us that there must be dimensions that we are not aware of otherwise the formulas that describe the universe do not add up. The Bible has told us this all along.

  • Thanks Kevin Brotherson for that link but I must disagree in part with the article. It claims there are four possibilities: “Multiple Universes, Natural Law, Chance or Design.” If you look at these you see there really are only two possibilities because the chance argument means that there must be or have been, a near infinite number of universes for us to have chanced upon the one that worked. The natural law idea also either means that there must have either been a creator to create the natural laws or again there must have been a near infinite number of universes for us to have chanced upon the natural laws that worked.

  • May I offer a small erratum to your article, Bill? Should “… in Egyptian cosmology, worship is directed to the sun god Shamash and the moon-god, Yarih.” be emended to read: ” …in Canaanite cosmology, worship is directed to the sun god Shamash and the moon-god, Yari?.”? “Shamash/Shapash” and “Yari?” are Canaanite/Ugaritic words.

    Ancient Egyptians had multiple deities/titles for the Sun-god, including “Ra/Re”, “Amun/Amen”, “Aten/Aton/Atum”, “Khephru/Khepri”. Ancient syncretism confuses the picture further, as some Semitic deities, e.g. Anat, Astarte and Ba’al, were worshipped in ancient Egypt, too!

    Genesis 1 & 2 speak of the “creation” and “making” of the heavens and the earth – In this view, the universe is “created and made”, not “begotten”.

    With some ancient Middle Eastern and Eastern Mediterranean myths of origins, the term, “cosmogony” is an accurate description, as the myths view creation as, at least partly, the end-product of procreative intimacies between various deities – a notion of a universe and terrestrial biome which were more “begotten” than “created”.

  • What we do know is that from Gen 1:1 to Rev 22:21 the Bible “is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, (and) for training in righteousness”.

    In Titus we are told to “avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless” which I feel we are doing if we spend too much time worrying about who put pen to paper, and when, and what other stuff could have been around at the same time; things we can’t get answers to.

    What we do know though is that ” in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them” (Ex 20:11) and the sad bit is there are so many who profess Christ but refuse to believe what He tells them He did.

    — When looking at the Bible we often speak of “context”. With Genesis what is important is “content”.

  • Thanks Adrian. Of course it is never a waste of time to offer honest answers to honest questions, and to help others see the truth of biblical Christianity. Christian apologetics has been used of God for millennia by faithful Christians to reach out to non-Christians and to help strengthen the faith of believers. I will continue to do just that.

  • The article evokes the mind of man (Ecclesiastes 7:29) … always seeking to supply what God has already supplied in and from Himself. “Things which do not appear”, I would think should not be called “nothing”, but something other than mere matter. A spoken word, not magical, but expressive of One who is the indescribable Source of all that is good, righteous, pure, true, love. Things which do appear being intended to make the invisible word of the invisible One, appear by being. The earth … full of the glory of the Lord. By His spoken word, Moses “seeing” the glory of the Lord. Ex 34:6. Hence the massive differences in the Biblical and non-biblical accounts. Thanks so much Bill, for another hopefully fruitful exercise of our hearts with mind.

  • Thanks Bill.
    Since this is my particular field I am constrained to comment—just a little.
    First a question: whence your information about the ANE myths? you should be aware that the translations of Enuma Elish vary, and older versions have been updated due to (i) more textual material to fill in at least some of the gaps due to fragmentary tablets (and even now there remain considerable gaps, e.g. Tablet V, which contains the sequel to the brief creation account at the end of Tablet IV; and (ii) improved understanding of both the original Akkadian at crucial points, and of the motifs occurring in the narrative. The best recent version in English is that of S. Dalley in “Myths from Mesopotamia” (OUP, 1988).

    The important thing to note about Enuma Elish is that it is not really a creation story at all. Creation—as far as it is mentioned at all—is merely incidental. It is really a political document, to assert the pre-eminence of Babylon aver all other cities, through the pre-eminence of its patron deity, Marduk (mentioned in Jer 50:2). Furthermore, its pivotal role in the New year festival ritual, known as the akitu, must be recognised: that is when Marduk is proclaimed king, and when his earthly royal representative is confirmed as king.

    Another point: the myth is basically all about the establishment of the various cult centres across the Mesopotamian landscape, and to explain why they are where they are.

    And final point: at the end of Tablet IV the defeated and dead Ti’amat is cut in two, and half (apparently the top half) is used “to roof the sky”, but the bottom half of her is so mangled from the battle (very gruesome!) it is not made into anything. So we are left wondering where the earth came from. But since the myth is not really to explain origins that didn’t matter to the Mesopotamians.

    I could say a lot more, but I’ll leave it there. suffice it to say that these points should be made to anyone who raises this objection vis-a-vis Genesis.

  • Kevin’s link above contradicts the Genesis timescale:
    “ ‘for there to be enough time to construct the constituents of living beings, the Universe must be at least 10 billion years old and therefore as a consequence of its expansion, at least ten billion light years in extent.’ In other words, in order for God to create mankind, the most complex creature and crowning glory of his creation, he had to make a universe as wonderful as ours.”

    That may sound OK, but it also implies an impotent and devious God who took billions of years of death disease and extinction to get man’s recipe right, and then told us he took only 6-days, while blaming Adam for sin and death etc.! Hence atheists, such as Frank Zindler, come in for the kill: “Now that we know that Adam and Eve never were real people the central myth of Christianity is destroyed. If there never was an Adam and Eve there never was an original sin. If there never was an original sin there is no need of salvation. If there is no need of salvation there is no need of a savior. And I submit that puts Jesus, historical or otherwise, into the ranks of the unemployed. I think that evolution is absolutely the death knell of Christianity.”

    As Christians we need to aware that belief in evolution requires more faith than to believe the Genesis/Exodus claim that “… in six (ordinary) days Yahweh made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore Yahweh blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.”

    Evolution requires blind faith in miracles that: nothing turning into the universe; dead stuff became alive; simple life got more complex; more time saw things get better. All such miracles are against the known laws of science. Real (experimental) science shows: everything needs a cause; life comes from pre-existing life; there are no known mechanisms for novel, complex, neuro-biological features to arise spontaneously; time is the enemy of life rather than its co-creator.

    Natural selection removes traits that are not beneficial, i.e. it reduces the genetic diversity rather than creating new beneficial traits. Mutations are copying errors that cause aging and deterioration, rather than creating new more complex structures. In other words, time leads to DE-volution and extinction. Further, the measured rate of deterioration within species is such that creation must have been recent or all life would already be extinct.

  • Very useful Bill.
    I intend to pass this in to a non-Christian who is interested in these matters.
    Thanks

  • Bill, Christianity’s decline, and Western decline, closely follows the acceptance of millions of years thus rejecting Genesis. As Sherwood Taylor, 1949 Curator of the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford, wrote: “I myself have little doubt that in England it was geology [i.e. millions of years and denial of a worldwide flood, etc.] and the theory of evolution that changed us from a Christian to a pagan nation.”
    Evolutionists regularly refuse to debate Biblical creationists who defend recent creation with real science. Instead they debate otherwise excellent Christian apologists who accept billions of years of evolution (e.g. William Lane Graig, Greg Koukl, Alister McGrath, etc.) Compromise on Genesis allows atheists to logically reject a weak cruel god who used blind pitiless agonizingly-slow evolution for ‘creation’ and then blamed Adam for sin and death etc.!
    Richard Dawkins was right here: “I think the evangelical Christians have really sort of got it right in a way, in seeing evolution as the enemy. Whereas the more, what shall we say, sophisticated theologians are quite happy to live with evolution, I think they are deluded. I think the evangelicals have got it right, in that there really is a deep incompatibility between evolution and Christianity.”

  • Thanks Bill,

    What I love about reading my Bible is that God reveals things to me that are plainly written but I’ve managed to read-over and not see. Others may “get it” sooner than me. Often these things seem to be in the margins of the scripture, little things that turn out to be very important.

    Two things I “didn’t get” but now I see are;

    1) Belief comes before understanding
    2) The Bible expressly speaks against evolution.

    The great chapter about the Heroes of Faith, Hebrews 11, starts with the Creation account and a word against evolution. And because it’s so early in the book – I think – implies that the Heroes of Faith believed the Biblical account.

    Hebrews 11:3
    “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.”

    This a direct word from God against the lie that is evolution. Evolution is the appearance of things from that which has already appeared.

    But, the Bible tells us, clearly, that God created all things by the breath of His mouth. All things were created whole and functional they “were not made from things which do appear”.

    And here is one reason for this; God chooses the foolish and the weak to confound the mighty and the wise, that no flesh should glory in his presence…

    Cf
    1Corinthians 1:26-30

    Creation – specifically, belief in the Creation account- is all about God’s glory. God is a jealous god who will not share His glory with another. God created, for His glory, this cannot be understood, without first belief.

    Belief comes before understanding – we believe that we might understand. No one will understand the Biblical Creation account without first believing what God says about it.

    I think it’s fair to say that phrases similar to “he that hath an ear, let him hear…” (these are mostly in red) refer to choosing to believe what the Lord says. When we believe what God says, then we will understand.

    This is explained well by Bojidar Marinov

    “Except ye believe, ye shall not understand.”
    Augustine said these words when commenting on John 7:17, interpreting the words, “if anyone is willing to do His will” as meaning, “if anyone believes.” And Augustine said that belief is the prerequisite to “know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself.” Faith is the tool to understanding teaching. Augustine also referred to the Old Testament, Isaiah 7:9, which he interpreted to mean, “If you don’t believe, you won’t understand.” Many years later, Anselm of Canterbury expanded on the statement, agreeing with Augustine that “I believe that I may understand,”
    Bojidar Marinov
    http://chalcedon.edu/faith-for-all-of-life/gods-law-and-taxation/creedal-culture-and-education/

  • The idea that Genesis “serve[s] as a polemic against the rival gods and creation accounts” is something I heard a long time ago, and have no reason to doubt.

    But why should we assume that this applies only to the rival accounts extant at the time? After all, did Moses fabricate the claim that God created the sun on the fourth day in order to refute then-current beliefs in the divinity of the sun, or did God actually create the sun on the fourth day in order to refute beliefs that He knew would come later?

    So I ask again, why should we assume that the polemic only applied to rival accounts extant at the time of Moses? I don’t think we should—it can easily be seen to also be a polemic against the rival ‘creation’ account that we have today, that of billions of years of evolution.

    After all, Genesis 1 seems to go well out of its way to emphasise the sequence and duration of events. First, “day” is actually defined right there in the account, preventing us from understanding it in a non-standard way. Not only that, but this standard use of the word is stressed by repeating for each of the six days of creation that they comprised an evening and a morning. In a addition, they are numbered off, which in Hebrew (as in English) is only done for literal days. And if that’s not enough, God Himself wrote in the Ten Commandments that this sequence of six days plus a day of rest is the basis for our seven-day week. It’s as though God was leaving us no room to misunderstand.

    Even writers who don’t accept that the days were literal concede that literal days is the way it reads, and that their only reason for doubting that is the supposed findings of modern science (i.e. the modern rival creation account). For example, Pattle Pun wrote “It is apparent that the most straightforward understanding of Genesis, without regard to the hermeneutical considerations suggested by science, is that God created the heavens and the earth in six solar days…”

    And that’s just the days. There is also the order of events. Moses records that the earth was created before the sun, fruit trees before the fish, birds before land animals, and man before woman, amongst others. Each of these is in opposition to the story of evolution, as is the order of man–>sin–>death, which contradicts the evolutionary order of death–>man–>sin.

    Perhaps we are engaging in some chronological snobbery if we assume that only the ANE needed to have their rival accounts challenged, and that we modern folk are in no such need of correction.

  • Thanks Philip. But I am at a real loss here to see where I said this ONLY applies to the ANE. Indeed, if one reads the piece carefully they clearly can see that I in fact said the very opposite: “Thus the biblical account not only condemns the ancient Babylonian superstitions, but any such concepts we still use today, including horoscopes, etc.”

  • It’s interesting to consider the Creation account as a polemic against the false gods and their false testimonies. It doesn’t leave them much wriggle room in the light of God’s creation account, which is a direct assault on every false god and on every false testimony (lie).

    In Australia the aboriginal creation myths are lies just the same as the ANE creation accounts are lies. They are a terrible stumbling block for any Christian who tries to harmonise a pagan culture with Biblical Christianity. They are also a trap for the dominant western culture which seeks to find some sort of multicultural spirituality at the expense of what is plainly written in the Christian Bible.

  • Thanks for posting my comment, Bill. I wasn’t trying to accuse you of applying this only to the ANE, nor was I trying to disagree with anything you said.

    I did miss your comment about it applying today, with almost your entire article referring to the ANE and only passing reference to the present, but I acknowledge that you were addressing a sceptical criticism linking the Genesis to ANE accounts, so it was fair to concentrate on those accounts in this particular article.

    However, applying it only or primarily to ANE accounts seems to me to be the way people normally think of it, and I thought that it was worth showing how it should also apply to the modern creation myth accepted by so many, including many Christians.

  • Tony Willis, it depends on how you are using the word “lies”. Bill said that the most likely explanation of the ANE myths is that both they and Genesis “draw upon common antecedent traditions and common shared memories.” And I believe that the same can apply for aboriginal accounts.
    One such account, for example, has man being created by the Creator, who puts him and his wife in a “place that was good to live in”. The Creator told them that they could have any food that they wanted, except for the produce of one tree, and if they ate of that three, evil would come on them and their descendants. The man and woman initially obeyed, but the woman was tempted and as a result evil was released into the world (and this condition passed onto their descendants), and the man and the woman were no longer in paradise. (The Coming of Death, in Aboriginal Fables and Legendary Tales, by A. W. Reed.)
    Certainly, the story has been embellished and some names and other details are different (including that the produce of the ‘sacred’ tree was honey from the bees that lived in it), but I’d rather see this as a true memory of the original creation and fall, corrupted over time from oral transmission, than to see it as “lies”. Further, rather than being dismissed, such accounts can be used as a common starting point to provide the true account preserved accurately in the Bible.

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