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Enuma elish and genesis

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There are at least five overlapping concepts between the two creation accounts, which show the similarities as well as distinct differences. Both narratives, in some sense, describe: (1) a chaotic primeval state, (2) primordial waters separated into two spheres, (3) the creation of mankind, (4) the concept of “image,” and (5) God/gods enter divine rest in a temple (see table 1.1. below). Both the similarities and dissimilarities shall be briefly expounded.

First, both narratives are similar by describing a chaotic primeval state. In Genesis 1:2a, the author states, “the earth was formless and empty” (w§haœ}aœresΩ haœy§t◊a® t◊oœhu® waœb≈oœhu®).[2] The earth is described as “an empty place, i.e., ‘an unproductive and uninhabited place,’” implying that the earth lacked cosmic-order and created content (cf. Jer 4:23-27).[3] In a similar sense, Enuma Elish portrays a chaotic condition. This state of chaos was because “none of the gods had been brought into being, and none bore a name” (cf. EE I.7-8). Both accounts show a primeval state in chaos. However, there are significant differences that should be mentioned. In the biblical account the state of chaos is not owing to the lack of a god. To the contrary, the opening line in Genesis states, “In the beginning God…” The biblical author assumes the existence of God before any mention of a primeval state of chaos. On the other hand, Enuma Elish specifically shows that the chaotic state is due to the absence of the gods.

The second similarity is perhaps the most interesting correspondence between the two narratives; that is, both describe a division of primordial waters.[4] In the biblical account, it states, “…the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters” (Gen 1:2b, HCSB; italics added). Furthermore, in Gen 1:6-7 the separation of the primordial waters is described: “Then God said, ‘Let there be an expanse between the waters, separating water from water.’ So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above the expanse. And it was so” (HCSB). In Enuma Elish the division of primordial waters is depicted in the death of Tiamat, the personified primeval ocean, who is split into two spheres (cf. EE IV.100-140). Both portray the primordial waters being divided into two spheres, separating the heavens (i.e., the sky) and the earth (cf., Gen 1:6-8 // EE IV.135-140). Their similarities, however, are not free from substantial dissimilarities. The division of primordial waters in Enuma Elish is formed from the carcass of a dead goddess. This is substantially different from the biblical account, which portrays the division of waters because of the creative word of God (“and God said ‘Let there be an expanse…’ […] And it was so.” Gen 1:7). The division of the heavens and the earth was not formed through the conflict of gods.

Third, both narratives mention the creation of mankind. For this concept, the differences certainly outweigh the similarities between the two accounts; nevertheless, it is interesting to note that both discuss mankind being created by the incentive of God or the gods.[5] However, the similarity between the two accounts seems to go no further than this. In the biblical account mankind is formed from dust (Gen 2:7),[6] whereas in Enuma Elish mankind is made from the blood vessels of Kingu (EE VI.1-10, 31-40). Moreover, literary features in the biblical account denote the creation of mankind to have a heightened place in the creation narrative. In this sense, the goal of creation has an anthropological thrust.[7] For instance, the biblical creation account reaches its crescendo on day six with the creation of mankind. Here, the verb b≈r} [8] is employed three times within one verse (Gen 1:27), in order to describe God’s act in creating man and woman.[9] This is contrary to Enuma Elish, which contains only a brief mention of Marduk’s creation of mankind in tablet VI (lines 1-10). Significantly, in Genesis, mankind is described as being created in God’s “image” (sΩelem) and “likeness” (d§mu®t◊), but in Enuma Elish, mankind is called a “savage” and created to alleviate the leading deities from physical labor.

The central deity, Marduk asserts, “He [i.e., man] will be charged with the service of the gods that they might be at ease” (cf. EE VI.5-9). This is contrary to the biblical account of Yahweh’s creation of mankind. Being created in God’s image, mankind takes on a priestly and kingly role to both “subdue” and “rule” over creation (Gen 1:26-28). Although the creation account in Genesis shows mankind to be God’s workers (i.e., vice-regents), it is not so that Yahweh can be alleviated from his responsibilities over creation. The notion of “image” leads us to our fourth correspondence.

Both accounts find a fourth correspondence with the concept of “image.” In Enuma Elish it states, “Anu begot in his image Nudimmud” (EE I.16; italics added). Similarly, Genesis describes mankind being created in God’s image (cf. 1:27) as well as the continuation of image bearing through progeny (e.g., 5:3—“Seth”). However, in Enuma Elish, both Anu and Nudimmud are deities, not human beings.[10]

Lastly is the correspondence of divine temple-rest. Both narratives depict the central deity to take up residence in their divine temple after the creation-conflict. In Enuma Elish “rest” is sought because of a cosmic conflict between the deities. Apsu speaks of the “divine brothers” (e.g., Anu and Nudimmud) and states, “Their ways are truly loathsome unto me. By day I find no relief, nor repose by night. I will destroy, I will wreck their ways, that quiet may be restored. Let us have rest!” (EE I.35-40). The gods therefore seek out Marduk, who kills the rebellious Tiamat and so causes the cosmic conflict between the deities to cease. In response, his subordinates (e.g., the Anunnaki) address him as “lord” and build for him a throne within a holy temple-city (i.e., Babylon), wherein he and the other deities may have rest. This is seen most clearly in tablet VI, lines 47-58 and is worth citing in full:

[…] the Anunnaki opened their mouths and said to Marduk, their lord: ‘Now, O lord, you who have caused our deliverance, what shall be our homage to you? Let us build a shrine whose name shall be called Lo, a Chamber for our Nightly Rest; let us repose in it! Let us build a throne, a recess for his abode! On the day that we arrive we shall repose in it!’ When Marduk heard this, his features glowed brightly, like the day: Construct Babylon, whose building you have requested, let its brickwork be fashioned. You shall name it the Sanctuary.

Marduk is, likewise, given the title as “king” and the patron of the sanctuaries (cf. EE V.109-110), and as such he proclaims, “I will build a house, it will be my luxurious abode. I will found therein its temple, I will establish my sovereignty…I will call its name Babylon, which means the House of the Great God’s” (EE V.121-124; 129-130). The creation epic closes with the gods celebrating Marduk’s kingship (cf. EE VII.161-162) and the inauguration of his divine temple.

Although the term “temple” is never explicitly used in the Genesis account, there is strong evidence that the biblical author understood the creation story to reflect temple imagery. A full defense of temple imagery in Genesis cannot be discussed here,[11] however, many scholars have come to this conclusion.[12] For instance, Gordon Wenham observes:

The garden of Eden is not viewed by the author of Genesis simply as a piece of Mesopotamian farmland, but as an archetypal sanctuary, that is a place where God dwells and where man should worship him. Many of the features of the garden may also be found in later sanctuaries particularly the tabernacle or Jerusalem temple. These parallels suggest that the garden itself is understood as a sort of sanctuary.[13]

Likewise, John Walton concludes, “the Garden of Eden was a sacred space and the temple/tabernacle contained imagery of the garden and the cosmos.”[14] The tabernacle/temple are therefore microcosms of the universe. The sacred dwelling place of a temple and its arboreal imagery corresponds to Genesis 1-2 and the garden is envisioned as Yahweh’s sanctuary. Thus, the biblical account depicts Yahweh taking up his residence in his divine temple, which is the cosmos. Moreover, the notion of “rest” is explicit on the seventh day and conceptually connected with the temple motif. The chaotic conditions have been ordered and creation has functionally/materially been established. By stating that God “rested” on the seventh day, the author connotes that God has taken up his residence in his temple and has established his sovereign rule from his throne (cf. Ps 132:7-8, 13-14). Yahweh is exalted as “King” over the cosmos and Genesis 1-2 depicts the inauguration of his cosmic temple.

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