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Religion Library: Judaism


Written by: Marc A. Krell

One can see foreign religious influence in the creation myths and law codes of ancient Israel. When examining the creation story of Genesis 1 along with other myths about the origins of the cosmos in the Psalms, there is a clear parallel with the Babylonian creation myth, Enuma Elish, which predates the biblical account of creation. Both the biblical and Babylonian creation myths demonstrate a common theological perception in the ancient near east that the universe is comprised of various primordial, cosmic forces representing different aspects of nature, i.e., the sea and the sky. In order to make sense of the world and their place in it, the Israelites, along with their ancient near eastern neighbors, believed that the universe literally came together as a unified cosmos only after these natural forces competed with one another for supremacy.

Divine fiat:
God is transcendent and creates by command
In the beginning of God's creating the skies and the earth, when the earth had been shapeless and formless, and darkness was upon the face of the deep, and God's spirit was hovering on the face of the water, God said, "Let there be light!"

The later Priestly editor of the Hebrew scriptures tried to distinguish the biblical creation myth from those of the Babylonians. He attempted to portray a God who is completely transcendent or above other natural forces and creates by divine fiat. One can detect, however, in Genesis 1 an implicit allusion to these cosmic forces in the primordial waters of creation.Tablet from the Epic of Gilgamesh Source: The more explicit images in the Psalms depict God fighting mythical sea creatures like Tannin and Leviathan in order to gain mastery over the cosmos. This cosmic battle is similar to the one between Marduk and Tiamat in the Enuma Elish. There is also a clear convergence between the later flood story in Genesis 6 and another Babylonian flood epic, Gilgamesh, wherein there is a flood that destroys the world as a divine punishment for human injustice.

There is also evidence indicating a direct connection between Israelite and Hittite cultures in the 14th century B.C.E. In an attempt to describe their encounter with God at Mt. Sinai, the later Israelite authors of the Torah developed the religious motif of covenant based on the concept of a treaty between a King and his conquered vassals. The Hittite Empire (red) at the height of its power in ca. 1290 BC, bordering on the Egyptian Empire (green) source: as the Hittite King Mursalis II demanded loyalty from his vassal Duppi-Teshub of Amurru in exchange for protection, the Israelite God enters into a covenant with Israel that is contingent upon observance of commandments in exchange for divine affiliation. The resulting Israelite law code has clear parallels with the laws and personal statutes of the 18th-century B.C.E. code of the Babylonian King Hammurabi.


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