The Bible and the Myths

(I am here slightly following G. Herbert Livingston, The Pentateuch in Its Cultural Environment in the first paragraph for an on-going research project on the Bible and mythology)

The original scholars who advocate for the Bible’s dependence upon pagan mythology, Gunkel and Eissfeldt, admit Genesis 1-11 does not contain erotic creation myths, nor that Genesis 1-11 is mythological in the sense that it is not focused on gods as personifications of nature. The abyss, sea, and darkness of Genesis 1:2 shares none of the personifications which such things held in pagan mythology. Genesis does not name nor personify the sun, moon or stars as did pagan mythology. The concept of the “image of God” is used to denote man, not the idols of the gods as in pagan myths. The pagan deities threw a massive feast after their acts of creation, unlike Yahweh, and the Babylonian word related to Sabbath (shabattu) referred to days of ominous danger, not blessing. The accounts of the creation of man are equally different, the pagan versions blending in the human person the earthly and divine natures. There is no concept of a Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in pagan literature. Nowhere in Genesis is there presented a demonic threat; the serpent is not presented as a power of nature, as it is in the Babylonian myths. Livingston notes that as a literary production, “Genesis 2 and 3 have no parallel in ancient Near East literature. The Epic of Adapa, often presented as a parallel, is not really so, either in literary structure, in moral emphasis, or in theological content.” Kramer suggests the Sumerian myth “Emesh and Enten” is a source for the Cain and Abel story, but “such a comparison must be very loose at best.” Emesh and Enten were personified fertility gods, and while Enten is finally chosen, the story features no violence or rejection of a heavenly warning.

In point of fact, the connections between the wider Mesopotamian literature and Genesis 1-11 are so slight and incidental that one must be forgiven for thinking that a literary dependence beyond the vaguest of hints to be something of a reach. The only common elements between texts appears to go not further than the common elements you might expect from any creation account – gods made heaven and earth, gods made people. I really don’t see how the suggested allusions are anything more than incidental, and do not need to imply dependence.


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