What About Enuma Elish and Other ANE Myths? (RJS)

Chapter Three of Peter Enns’s new book The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins looks at the relationship between the stories of origins contained in the Hebrew Scriptures – our Old Testament – and the stories of origins in the surrounding Ancient Near East (ANE) cultures.

Before the mid-nineteenth century it was possible to read the Old Testament in isolation and marvel at the creation stories in Genesis, to believe that they were a unique special perfect revelation delivered to Moses during the sojourn in the wilderness. A multitude of discoveries over the last two centuries has challenged this view in deep and profound ways.

Among the most important challenges are the tablets that have been found dating from the mid-seventh century BCE and earlier, in fragments much earlier, that relate creation myths and flood myths of Mesopotamia, both Akkadian and Sumerian. I am an amateur here, but have on my shelf books like Samuel Noah Kramer’s The Sumerians and Stephanie Dalley’s translations Myths From Mesopotamia and several others.  The ANE stories are both obviously different from and unnervingly similar to the stories of creation, flood, and re-creation in Genesis 1-11. Of particular significance is the evidence that these ANE myths have their origins in stories dating far earlier than Genesis in the form we have it in our bibles.

The study of the ANE texts is taken by some, both within the church and outside the church as a challenge to the inspiration of Genesis in particular, and more generally to the validity of scripture as a divine book of any sort. The implications of the discoveries in ANE archaeology are either “worldly wisdom” to be resisted or one more nail in the coffin of an outdated religious superstition. Both these extremes are misguided and damaging.  Enns takes us in a different direction:

Perhaps a better way of thinking about the issue is to introduce the phrase “genre calibration.” Placing Genesis side by side with the primordial tales of other ancient cultures helps us gain a clearer understanding of the nature of Genesis and thus what we as contemporary readers have a right to expect from Genesis. Such comparisons have made it quite clear that Israel’s creation stories are not prepared to  answer the kinds of questions that occupy modern scientific or even historical studies. Genesis is an ancient text designed to address ancient issues within the scope of ancient ways of understanding origins. (pp. 35-36)

This is an important point in the way Enns is working through the question of Adam. In order to more fully understand the message and purpose of Genesis it helps if we understand the ancient context of Genesis.

What do you make of the ANE tales and their relationship to Genesis?

In this chapter Enns works through the relationship between Genesis 1 and Enuma Elish, the assumption of monolatry as opposed to monotheism in parts of the Old Testament including Genesis 1, Exodus, and some of the Psalms, the relationship between the Flood in Genesis 6-8 and Gilgamesh and Atrahasis, and finally Genesis 2-3 and the relationship between Adam and Atrahasis. The point is not that the ancient Israelites appropriated or borrowed the ANE myths, but that they all arose from the same cultural milieu with the same kinds of common assumptions about origins.

Genesis 1 and Enuma Elish. There are a number of significant parallels between Genesis 1 and Enuma Elish – among them order out of chaos; darkness preceding creation; light existing before the sun, moon, and stars, a barrier is formed to keep the waters above where they belong. The sequence of creation is similar. In an endnote Enns also points out that in Enuma Elish creation concludes with the building of a temple. Some see a parallel in the cosmos as God’s Temple – John Walton in The Lost World of Genesis One describes such a view.

The first element in the list above may seem strange to some. It is common to look at Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and earth” and to assume that this refers to creation out of nothing. But this is not in the text and Walton’s commentary on Genesis gives a good discussion (p. 67-71). Enns prefers something like the NRSV “In the beginning when God created the heavens and earth, the earth was a formless void,” while Walton argues against this construction. But both agree that the creation refers to bringing order out of chaos – Walton sees the order referring specifically to function. A doctrine of creation out of nothing has to come from other texts or theological insights.

It isn’t necessary – or even widely accepted these days – to draw a causal connection between Genesis 1 and Enuma Elish. There are, Enns notes, similarities between Genesis 1 and the Canaanite story of Baal and Egyptian Memphite Theology as well.

Scholars are no longer eager to draw a direct line of dependence from Enuma Elish to Genesis. Instead the two texts participate in a similar conceptual world concerning the nature of beginnings. Enuma Elish is older than Genesis and so sets the stage for Genesis 1. But the similarities between Genesis and Enuma Elish are due to a matrix of cultural factors that are bigger than both.  (p. 40)

The conceptual world framing the ANE understanding of origins allows us to identify the polemical function of Genesis 1. Among these is the claim that God alone created the world establishing order out of chaos. The deep (tehom referring back to the goddess Tiamat vanquished in a divine battle in Enuma Elish) is depersonalized, as are the sun, moon, and stars. It is not that the ancient author and audience had a better understanding of material origins than the surrounding cultures – but they had a better understanding of God.

The polemical thrust does not isolate Genesis from its environment. Rather, the polemic is effective only because of the shared cultural/religious categories. The Israelites were not on a “higher plain” with a more “accurate” (modern) cosmology. Rather, in a world full of stories about gods’ creating through violence, the Israelites bucked the trend by ascribing to their one God a complete and utterly effortless act of ordering creation. … The theological message in Genesis 1 was that their God is not like the other gods. He alone can claim the title of “Creator,” which makes him alone worthy of allegiance and worship. (pp. 42-43)

Monolatry vs. Monotheism. This brings us to a second point. The cultural world of the ancient Near East assumed a pantheon of gods. Many of the myths including Enuma Elish are framed as divine conflict. The realization that there is one and only one God was not a shift that the Israelites made quickly. Much of the Old Testament is cast in a context of an assumed pantheon of gods. It is not that YHWH is the only god – but that he is Israel’s God, the God over all other gods, and the only one worthy of worship. The Israelites in particular were to have but one God. They were to be monolatrous. Genesis 1 speaks into this context where the original audience (and presumably the author) simply assumed there was a pantheon of gods.

The assumption of “other gods” can be seen most clearly in Exodus and in the Psalms. In fact Enns suggests that Exodus in particular is a story of monolatry and supremacy not monotheism. This is a topic touched on as well, although not extensively, in his commentary on Exodus. As examples:

The plague battle in Exodus 7:8-10:29 can, at least in part, be seen as a battle between Yahweh and the Egyptian pantheon with Israel’s God, of course, always coming out on top.

The culmination of the battle in final plague (Exodus 11:1-12:29) makes the reference more explicit.  Exodus 12:12 says: “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD.”

The first two commandments assume monolatry. Exodus 20:3-6 “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God.”  God is telling his people that he, Yahweh, is a jealous god and he will not share Israel’s allegiance with any other god. But this only makes sense if the author and audience of the original text assumed that many gods existed and that they had a choice.

And Enns lists several more examples from the Psalms:

86:8 Among the gods there is none like you, Lord; no deeds can compare with yours.

95:3 For the LORD is the great God, the great King above all gods.

96:4 For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.

97:9 For you, LORD, are the Most High over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods.

135:5 I know that the LORD is great, that our Lord is greater than all gods.

The Old Testament is not uniformly monolatrous. There are specific examples of monotheism as well. And of course the assumption of “gods” does not mean that the other gods were real, that they were or are powers to be reckoned with. But the allusions in scripture do suggest that the ancient Israelites lived in a time and culture when they were assumed to be real. The text of the bible we have reveals God’s interaction with his people shows a developing understanding of who God is, what it means to be his people.

The Theology of Genesis 1. Enns then summarizes this discussion of Genesis 1 and its literary and cultural context:

The theology of Genesis 1 becomes clearer when we read it in its ancient literary-religious context. For those who wish to see support in Genesis for modern science, it may seem a bit of a letdown that God is “only” said to have tamed a preexisting chaos, for example. After all, if we were truly almighty, would he not create out of nothing? But in the ancient world of the Israelites, this was not an active question. In that world the theology of a chaos-tamer working solo, commanding the elements to line up, was counterintuitive and set Israel apart theologically. Genesis 1 is not in any way a modern scientific statement, but an ancient religious one. It drew on the thought categories available at the time to create a powerful statement within its own context for the uniqueness of Israel’s God and his worthiness to be worshiped. (p. 45)

Genesis 1 is the inspired opening to Israel’s story as compiled and told in their context. The theological message is clear – and has been clear since it was originally written. God and God alone is responsible for the creation of the world. But the story does not answer modern scientific questions about creation – it assumes ancient ideas about creation. The questions answered don’t relate to the mechanism of creation but are more personal: “Who created the world?” and “Who are we?” The answer is God alone created the world and we are his representatives in the world – his images.

Is is appropriate to allow a better understanding of ANE literature, language, and culture to revise our interpretation of Genesis?

Does the inspiration of scripture require that we assume that God would correct all mistaken assumptions of the original author and audience?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.

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  • Tim

    Excellent post RJS. I think Enn’s approach is a little more balanced and a little less ideological than Walton’s. Hence his not getting hung up on Genesis’ creation claims as “functional” to the exclusion of their also being “material” in some effort to protect Scripture. It seems very much a “follow the evidence where it leads” approach. And I certainly respect and appreciate that. How has his work been received thus far in Evangelical circles?

  • RJS


    The reception of Pete’s book has been mixed of course. He is trying to encourage people to think in some new ways. I also think it is important not to set this up as either Walton or Enns or anyone else. I don’t think anyone has the final word on this yet. Walton does have a more conservative view of inspiration and this influences some of his conclusions, but it is good to have this in the mix as well.

  • Paul W

    It seems perfectly normal to look at the ANE creation stories and assume that there was ‘something in the water’ that they all drank. So I would assume that there was in some sort of broad stroked fashion a widely albeit generic shared cultural orientation going on. I would also assume that among the ANE people who were often in conflict with each other that it would be natural to assume that there are polemical components to their stories. And of course it only makes sense that the various ANE stories are each trying to positively communicate a (theological?) message in its own right.

    I suspect that the “cosmos as God’s Temple theme” and the promotion of monolatrous orientation toward Israel’s God are both on target. I would add, however, that the creation days also present an archetypal work week for the people of Israel to follow. The description of creation represents an analogy that Israel was to emulate. And so as the work of God stretched over six days followed by a day of rest, humanity was also to work for six days followed by a day of rest. Genesis 1 thus lays some of the theological groundwork for the practice of Sabbath day rest.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I think this statement you made sums it up for me

    It is not that the ancient author and audience had a better understanding of material origins than the surrounding cultures – but they had a better understanding of God.

    In my Tim Keller research yesterday I happened up a talk he gave around the Gen 1 vs 2-3 interpretation. He argued that 2-3 appears to be much older than 1, and that there are clearly conflicts between the two accounts. Therefore, the two must not be the same thing, they must be different, and he concludes that 1 is a different genre, it is a poem or a beautiful song. That is the only way he can keep his high view intact.

  • Tim


    I would agree, with the caveat that I actually think that Walton doesn’t merely have a conservative influence on his conclusions, so much as having drawn absolutely non-negotiable lines in the sand that he will not cross. Inerrancy is one of those lines, and I think that has a big impact on where he is willing to go with his conclusions.

  • Norman

    I believe the Jews did appropriate and borrow the ANE myths for their own purpose. It’s obvious that they reworked them to present a narrative account with a different purpose than they were ever intended in the other ANE approaches. We see further demonstrations of this in 2T literature where they continue to exercise editorial prerogatives with the Cain and Abel stories and the flood account. This time though they come at it much more definitively and clearly with an apocalyptic approach.

    Also Hellenization in 2T times starts to permeate their adaptations as we see much more of the Greek underworld adapted to the Jewish concepts of Sheol and the Pit designating the residence of the dead. It allows them a more vivid and graphic palette to paint their stories for illustrative purposes. The Jews appropriated some of their cultural surroundings ideas but theological applications were always at the heart, intent and purpose of their means. They were not interested in boosting the ANE myths except to usurp them to teach Israel’s shortcomings and ultimately their messianic expectations accompanied by judgment against the old covenant ways. A study of 2T literature essentially provides one with a running Jewish commentary upon the intent of Genesis and helps clarify the Jewish view.

    It’s good to understand the historical ANE background of Myths but we need to recognize the authors intent and not over read too much of the ANE mindset into this background. The Jews essentially made a mockery of the ANE myths by working them the way they saw fit. I realize that we evangelicals are not comfortable with these issues as we have cut our teeth on a literalizing of all scripture; however we need to begin correcting our faith approach to scriptures as we uncover these issues.

  • William Tarbush

    I won’t answer the second question due to my ignorance. However, reading comparative mythology writers, I think that the only thing to do with a better understanding of ANE literature is allow it to revise your view of Scripture. The question is this: Do you allow Holy Writ to be lessened or made great by Mythology? Writers in Mythology books either point to a mind-collective though being exercised through Mythos or an old root in real history to Mythos? I would argue that the answer is this and the Bible could be a real history collective root (such as in Old Earth, evolution-creation synergists, or Gap believers or the Bible could be the historical root for Myth in the case of humans came on the third day believers).

  • Karl

    I feel dumb even saying this, as if I’m missing something obvious. But I never found the “unnerving similarity” of ANE flood and creation myths to be a strike against the young-earth, literal-Genesis position (which I don’t myself hold, by the way).

    I mean, “IF” Genesis was a literal account of the creation and the flood, to be taken as wholly factually accurate, as some would claim, wouldn’t the future descendants of Adam and Eve, Noah and his family, many generations removed and however scattered about the ANE, tell similar stories about those events? Similar, yet also corrupted and changed/modified through the telling over the centuries/millennia as distinct people groups and religious beliefs evolved, different gods were worshipped, etc.?

    Now, that isn’t what I think actually happened. I find more likely the explanation given by Enns and by John Walton in his “Lost World of Genesis One” but that is really based more on what (I am told) science says about the origins and development of life, the evidence for common descent, etc. I don’t see why the similarity of ANE creation/flood stories is supposed to be devastating to the young earth literal-Genesis position. Help me out – what am I missing?

  • phil_style

    @Karl, yeah I think you’re right there. I don’t hold to a YEC potion either, but I know that this line of thinking that you present is one of the arguments used in favor of supporting a YEC position from the text – that the similarity with other ANE myth gives the stories more credibility – i.e that at some level, many other cultural groups have “remembered” these things too.

  • John W Frye

    I really like this: “…it [is] quite clear that Israel’s creation stories are not prepared to answer the kinds of questions that occupy modern scientific or even historical studies. Genesis is an ancient text designed to address ancient issues within the scope of ancient ways of understanding origins. (pp. 35-36)”

  • Joe Canner

    Karl #8 and Phil #9: I’ve heard a number of people make this claim (that the similar stories supports a YEC position) and I’ve wondered about it a lot. Without any other information, I think the existence of parallel stories is not dispositive for either side. However, if each story can be dated accurately, I think it wouldn’t be too difficult to generate and test a hypothesis. Such a hypothesis would be not unlike a biological test for common ancestry.

    For example: if YEC is correct, all flood stories would be dated after the Genesis Flood (~2300 BC) and the stories would resemble the Genesis story less and less the farther (in space and time) they were from the Genesis Flood.

    Thus, if there are flood stories that pre-date the Genesis Flood or if the degree of agreement doesn’t correlate with the date and distance, this would evidence against the YEC hypothesis. Perhaps others here with a better grasp of history, archaeology, and anthropology could provide the necessary evidence.

    Having said all that, I don’t think you could get both sides to agree to such a hypothesis test, because it would have to assume either (a) that the Genesis Flood account has been corrupted over time or (b) that the Genesis Flood account is perfectly accurate regardless of when it was actually written down.

  • http://DerekLeman.com/Musings Derek Leman


    A great commentary that makes the literary artistry of Genesis and its relationship to earlier Israelite creation epics (of which we see vestiges in Psalms, Job, Isaiah) and to ANE stories is Umberto Cassuto. His books are out of print, I think. But From Adam to Noah and From Noah to Abraham are great reads. I got mine used on amazon and use them heavily. Also, the JPS Commentary on Genesis by Nahum Sarna makes great points drawing on ANE myth in relation to the theology the Torah is espousing.

  • http://missionaljourneyman.com Adam Gonnerman

    Very nice post. This is territory Doctor Enns also covered in this first book, Inspiration and Incarnation.

  • Amos Paul

    I’ve long been convinced by C.S. Lewis and JRR Tolkien that there are fundamental mis-understandings about myth when we approach this subject from the get go. People insist upon looking at them either pseudo-historically (how do they relate to what ‘really’ happened, the ‘real’ truth), or as culturally interesting stories.

    Lewis and Tolkien insist that Myths, in general, are *true* insofar as that they are myths. That the language of myth is a language attempting to talk about real, honest to goodness Truth with a capital T from various abstract angles.

    Therefore, the following idea has never really made sense to me.

    >to believe that they were a unique special perfect revelation delivered to Moses

    Lewis asserts that if there exists any myth in the world that is actually *true* insofar as myths are concerned, then we ought to *expect* traces and hints of that same truth all over the place in other myths. We ought to expect that Truth manifesting itself in the yearning of all mankind to see God and Truth–rather than a single, unique revelation of it with no similarity whatsoever to any other myth.

    Historically, then, Enns et al may have some interesting things to say about how the ancient Jews were informed by these other myth stories to breathe language to their own stories and so on and so forth. However, IMO, the much more interesting and pertinent question is *what* do we think is true in the Torah myths and, similarly, *what* do we think is true in these other myths of non-Jewish origin. How do they each see THE truth? How might that clarify our own view of it? Etc.

  • http://sojournalism.blogspot.com Ben Thomas

    Great Stuff RJS: I am excited to see this book igniting this much needed conversation within Evangelical circles. It is my estimation that how we interpret the creation narratives (Biblical, with consideration to other ANE) can not be overestimated in its influence on how we interpret the rest of scripture.

  • http://jeffkclarke.com Jeff K. Clarke

    It seems that Enns’ approach does better justice to the creation account. By allowing it to remain within the context of the original writers/audience, reading the story theologically helps contemporary readers to better understand and apply the intention of the story in ways that are more faithful to the ideas that shaped the text. Another excellent post.

  • http://theoperspectives.blogspot.com/ James Goetz

    The answer to the first question is yes. Any responsible approach to biblical exegesis will consider Mediterranean literature that was written or compiled during the same time that the Bible was written and compiled. However, that does not mean that the Y or P were monolatrous. Also, some of the Hebrew patriarchs could have been naively monolatrous, but that still would not imply that Y or P were monolatrous.

    The answer to the second question is no. First, the Bible is a progressive revelation; God never revealed everything to Abraham, but God progressively revealed himself through ancient history. Second, God reveals himself in the context of each culture; he never limited his ancient Mediterranean revelation to modern standards of history and science.

    I also wrote a related blog article back in 2007:

  • AHH

    It would seem that this sort of genre recognition (and therefore recognition that we should not try to read it as a science textbook) should be a no-brainer, especially as we learn more about the cultural context in which these inspired stories functioned. But I get the impression such recognition is still really difficult for those raised with a “house of cards” hermeneutic in which failure to “believe the Bible from the first verse” is just a step away from denying the Resurrection.

    One thing that has to be kept in view in such discussions, especially with those influenced by fundamentalism, is that the question of inspiration is separate from the question of genre.
    As excellent as I thought Enns’ book was, I wondered if a few more affirmations of inspiration along the way might have been helpful to make it less scary for readers from conservative backgrounds.

  • http://chickchaotic.wordpress.com/ Elizabeth Chapin

    RJS, I love these discussions. You ask, What do you make of the ANE tales and their relationship to Genesis? I think you answer it well in saying, “The conceptual world framing the ANE understanding of origins allows us to identify the polemical function of Genesis 1.” One OT scholar likened it to hearing one side of a telephone conversation – the ANE tales are on the other end of the line, but we only hear the one side of the conversation in the Bible.

    It is not only appropriate to allow a better understanding of ANE literature, language, and culture to revise our interpretation of Genesis it is imperative. How many misunderstandings have arisen from overhearing only one side of a conversation?

    As for your third question, to require that we assume that God would correct all mistaken assumptions of the original author and audience in order to hold to the inspiration of scripture seems untenable to me. As mentioned by James (#17), we can hold inspiration and progressive revelation together – they need not be exclusive claims. As you say, “The text of the bible we have reveals God’s interaction with his people shows a developing understanding of who God is, what it means to be his people.” While we cannot assume God would correct all mistaken assumptions of the original author at the time those assumptions were made and recorded for us to see, we can hope God will continue to reveal Godself through nature, science, community, reason, experience, tradition, and whatever other means God chooses to reveal Godself to the world.

  • Susan N.

    On pp. 41-42, Peter Enns says this (which sums up nicely what I am inclined to believe of the matter):

    “I want to stress that the polemical character of Genesis 1 does not mean that the author of Genesis was insulated from the mythic themes of ‘Enuma Elish.’ It is a common popular apologetic to argue that, since the author of Genesis was inspired by God, he knew better than to be taken in by these fanciful stories; he just willingly adopted the ‘errant’ view of his contemporary culture to make a theological point…The Christian and Jewish God is not one who refuses to enter into the particularities of history. Rather, this is a God who gets dirty, who constantly shows up and allows himself to be described according to a particular people’s ways of thinking.”

    I think God revealed Himself more fully as “civilization” progressed, and especially–particularly to the Israelites. Their oral and written history wasn’t solely for the purpose of mythological storytelling. They were defining God, and consequently their place in His creation. I believe, as DRT (#3) said, that Israel’s view of God seemed more highly developed; having gotten past the idea of gods strictly in the concrete sense (worship of created things) to a more abstract conception of God.

    In YEC / inerrantist views of the Bible, I think those who argue for it would cling to a single author (Moses) which predates all the other ANE accounts of similar stories. From what I gather in Peter Enns’ evidence, archaeological (external) discoveries alone would defy that argument-belief?

  • Matt

    I agree with AHH. I made Enns’ I&I required reading for my B.Th./M.Div. OT intro class. As you can imagine, reviews were mixed, but I think much of the heat generated by the book would have been cooler had “inspiration” been stressed more and/or articulated differently. That being said, there is no easy way for many to begin to wrestle with these things. As always, thank you, RJS, for the time and care that go into these posts.

  • TJJ

    To me this statement is the gem of this post:

    “It is not that the ancient author and audience had a better understanding of material origins than the surrounding cultures – but they had a better understanding of God.”

    If we, as readers and teachers of the Bible could keep our focus on the fact that knowledge/understanding of God is what the OT and NT are about at their core, and not issues of science, etc., it would calm many unnecessary disputes, and might lead to more knowledge/understanding of God.

  • DanS

    Joe #ll “Thus, if there are flood stories that pre-date the Genesis Flood or if the degree of agreement doesn’t correlate with the date and distance, this would evidence against the YEC hypothesis. Perhaps others here with a better grasp of history, archaeology, and anthropology could provide the necessary evidence.”

    Not necessarily. Creationists commonly cite the fact that there are hundreds of flood accounts from cultures that span the globe as evidence that there was a common memory of an actual event. The possibility exists that many stories have a root in a actual event, but the stories got distorted over time and that the Genesis account represents a corrective account even if the Genesis pen was put to paper later.

    TJJ #22. “It is not that the ancient author and audience had a better understanding of material origins than the surrounding cultures – but they had a better understanding of God.” The problem is that so much of the entire biblical narrative ties understanding of God to actual events in history. Conservatives would argue that the truth of the resurrection cannot exist apart from the historicity of the resurrection, for example. Likewise, the understanding of God as “Creator” cannot be separated from Genesis and all the later references to Genesis being rooted in something historical, even if that story is not expressed in “scientific” terms.

    Again the best presentation I know of for why the historicity matters might be Michael Reeves article on Adam and Eve at http://www.reformation21.org/articles/adam-and-eve.php

    Finally, I was introduced to the Moses as monolatrist concept way back in 1977 as a Freshman at a Catholic college, by a prof who was pretty much following JEDP and all the “current” scholarship of the time. It’s nothing new. The post states regarding the references to “gods” in various OT passages “…of course the assumption of “gods” does not mean that the other gods were real”. Precisely. References to the gods of surrounding cultures does not necessarily mean the writers of the Old Testament themselves saw the Creator as the greatest among many gods. It is a reference to common belief of the time, not necessarily a validation of it.

  • RJS


    But isn’t it only a doctrine of what the inspiration of scripture must mean that leads someone to think that the references to “gods” we see in the Psalms or in Exodus 12:12 were accommodations by the authors to the belief of the time – that they, in fact, knew better? Certainly the “plain” reading of these various texts gives no such indication.

    We know for a fact that the Israelites were often wrong, misguided, imperfect, and even disobedient. I would say that they saw in a glass darkly – as we all do – the reality of God and his work in the world. I don’t find it surprising that this would be expressed in their writings at times.

    And on the other note – of course historicity matters. Our faith is rooted in events that happened in time and place – most importantly the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. And God’s work with a real people in Israel leading to Jesus as his Messiah is not less important. But that doesn’t have any impact on the suggestion that the Israelites had no better understanding of material origins – rather a better understanding of God. Whether Adam was a unique historical person or not this is true. The earth was not set on pillars with a solid dome separating the waters above from the earth.

    I think the impact of the question of Adam is theological – and rooted in an understanding of sin – rather than a notion of historicity and ANE “science”.

  • Kent Sparks

    About Monolatry/Henotheism/Polytheism in the Bible:

    We have pretty clear evidence that some of the Bible’s authors either were henotheists or used henotheistic sources without editing them. For example, Deut 32 depicts “Elyon” as “El,” the high God who apportions peoples and nations to lower deities, in this case to Yahweh (here, a son of El). Below you’ll find the RSV translation, which is based on the combined textual evidence of the MT, LXX and DSS.

    RSV Deuteronomy 32:8 When the Most High (Elyon) gave to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of men, he fixed the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God (El). 32:9 For Yahweh’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.

    The MT and LXX tried to fix the problem (of polytheism/henotheism) in various ways, but the DSS preserves the original reading, which is reflected in the RSV but not in the NIV (which conceals the problem).

  • RJS

    Well the term “henotheism” was new to me.

    I find it interesting the way our translations hide some of these issues (but not all of them).

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I am thinking that the Protestant notion that your belief is what saves you plays a vital role in this debate. If it were your attitude, your direction, your heart toward that of Jesus that saved you then that would be one thing. But if it is in an intellectual assent that Jesus is god that saves you, then any crack in that belief could jeopardize your salvation.

    What if I was somehow doubting, at the time of my death, that Jesus really did rise from the dead, or was really god? Does that mean that I will not have eternal life?

    Clearly if I were to believe that intellectual assent to the divinity of Jesus is key to my salvation I would want to avoid anything and everything that could lead to a compromise of that assent.

    IMO, we need to assuage the fear of the devout protestant before they can come to grips with this. It all goes back to the notion that you are saved based on some …. radically indoctrinated belief … this is a deep problem.

  • Kent Sparks


    I agree. Fear (especially soteriological fear) is at the heart of problem.

    In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, it’s the heretic Samaritan (who doesn’t believe in the resurrection) who inherits eternal life. Jesus teaches that affection for God and neighbor is more fundamental than our second-order theological claims about God.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Kent Sparks:

    Yes, I believe this is a by-product of modernity. I don’t think that Jesus viewed the world by the black and white of modernity.

    My parents raised me and my two sisters with uncompromising equality. Whatever they got, or I got, at the same age the others got. I have taken a different approach with my kids. I don’t track what each of them gets or is gifted. I instead keep it approximately the same because their needs are approximately the same. But over time there can be severe ups and downs. They now realize that they will get what I can give, and what they need. They will not get something if they don’t have a need.

    Is salvation based on what we are due? Surely not. But we do get based on what we need, I believe. Salvation is based on the individual and the situation, not the explicit actions taken. We are identified by the center of our pursuit, not in our accuracy in hitting it.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    To round the thought out….

    We need to seek so that we find, knock so that the door may be opened. Without the question of the search or the ambiguity of result to know, we cannot progress.

  • DanS

    RJS #24 “But isn’t it only a doctrine of what the inspiration of scripture must mean that leads someone to think that the references to “gods” we see in the Psalms or in Exodus 12:12 were accommodations by the authors to the belief of the time”

    Key word is “ONLY”. No. Not only, but certainly that plays a role, and I personally think a valid one. “The scriptures cannot be broken” is a claim of Christ himself, and it is either true or not.

    Setting aside the issue of inerrancy, inspiration has to mean that some connection exists between the words on the page and the truth of the ideas conveyed. And scripture, from cover to cover, speaks of a God who acts in history, does miraculous deeds and points to those events as a reason for belief. One cannot remove the historicity of the events without changing the narrative, any more than one can say that Adolf Hitler was a fictitious character and say that the meaning of World War II would not be changed radically.

    But, very simply, it just makes more sense to me to think that if hundreds of cultures from all over the globe have stories of a creation and flood, that there might be a common memory of a real event, (leaving aside issues of dates and extent of the flood) than it does to say that they all came up with similar stories independently. And if that is the case, then it is not much of a leap to think that one of those stories might be closer to the truth than others. Particularly if the writer was “carried along by the Spirit”.

  • RJS


    I know we disagree about many things here – but much of what you say above isn’t part of the disagreement.

    For example, you said: “And scripture, from cover to cover, speaks of a God who acts in history, does miraculous deeds and points to those events as a reason for belief.” I agree completely with this, but I don’t think it means every detail is historical. Among my reasons for being comfortable with this are the diffences between the accounts in Samuel/Kings and Chronicles and between the accounts in John and the synoptic gospels. I also have no problem with some things being story (Song of Songs for example) and some being other forms of literature. All of this is consistent with inspiration and with a God who acts with real people in real history. Th scriptures are inspired for a purpose – to lead us to Christ.

    You might also be surprised to know that Pete in this chapter doesn’t deny the possibility (and he may even think it likely) that a real flood is behind the flood story in Genesis and ANE myths – although this event is not responsible for the flood stories in other cultures. How this relates to the historicity of different elements in the biblical story is a different matter.

  • http://www.TilledSoil.org Steve Wilkinson

    “A multitude of discoveries over the last two centuries has challenged this view in deep and profound ways.”


    “evidence that these ANE myths have their origins in stories dating far earlier than Genesis”

    How do we know this?

    “What do you make of the ANE tales and their relationship to Genesis?”

    While I realize there is some interaction in Genesis with concepts found in these myths (with the myths themselves, possibly), I think of them much like I do the NT-era Mystery religions. In other words, if you look hard, you can draw some parallels, but one needs to be very careful. It just finds more scholarly acceptance within OT studies these days than does stuff like the “Zeitgeist” video. (We unfortunately don’t have as much external evidence to soundly refute such inferences as we do for the NT or I suspect they would be on a similar level.)

    It might be wise to keep a few cautions Bruce Metzger gave when considering parallels:

    1) “Some of the supposed parallels are the result of the modern scholar’s amalgamation of quite heterogeneous elements drawn from various sources.”

    2) “Even when the parallels are actual and not imaginary, their significance for purposes of comparison will depend upon whether they are genealogical and not merely analogical parallels.”

    3) “Even when parallels are genealogical, it must not be uncritically assumed that the Mysteries always influenced Christianity, for it is not only possible but probable that in certain cases the influence moved in the opposite direction.”

    [Bruce M. Metzger, “Considerations of methodology in the study of the mystery religions and early Christianity,” Harvard Theological Review 48 no 1 Ja (1955), p 8-10.]

    Point 3 is especially important. If there were a flood and the Genesis account is accurate, who is copying who? Maybe the ANE myths are distortions of the story passed down from the beginning. It isn’t necessarily relevant when each were committed to writing.

    re: ex-nihilo, “barrier is formed to keep the waters above”, and Genesis 1:1 –
    You gotta read outside Genesis folks!!!

    “It is not that the ancient author and audience had a better understanding of material origins than the surrounding cultures – but they had a better understanding of God.”

    True, but God did. For your statement to be true, we’d have to assume that the Biblical authors ONLY had a better understanding of God and the rest arose simply from the cultural milieu (and that God wasn’t the ultimate author). Yes, I know that IS the liberal assumption, but we all know what happens when we assume, right?

    “The Israelites were not on a “higher plain” with a more “accurate” (modern) cosmology.”

    Maybe not, but we’re talking Biblical cosmology, not ancient Israelite cosmology. Do you find something wrong with Biblical cosmology?

    “Genesis 1 speaks into this context where the original audience (and presumably the author) simply assumed there was a pantheon of gods.”

    A pretty big presumption; have we tossed inspiration? The Bible often speaks of false gods. I don’t see any of the examples listed supporting monolatry at all unless one wants to read that into it. The audience and surrounding cultures (well, actually all other people) create gods that DON’T actually exist. The examples crack me up there are so bad!

    Sorry, this looks like book to be skipped. It’s sort of the other side of the fundamentalism coin where you can’t seem to understand how to read a text in context and end up taking it too literalistically in other ways, towards presumed ends.

  • Kent Sparks

    Respecting the Flood

    Some have maintained that the wide distribution of flood stories stands as evidence for a world-wide flood, but upon closer inspection the evidence points elsewhere. In his important discussion (based to some extent on earlier observations), Bernhard Lang has demonstrated that far-flung flood traditions were borrowed from missionaries who told the biblical story to their converts. See B. Lang. “Non-Semitic Deluge Stories and the Book of Genesis: A Bibliographical and Critical Survey.” Anthropos 80
    11985): 604-16. If I’m not mistaken, W. R. Harper made a similar point back in the early 20th century.

  • http://trinitariantheodicy.wordpress.com Trin

    “It is not that the ancient author and audience had a better understanding of material origins than the surrounding cultures – but they had a better understanding of God.”

    I will disagree.

    I believe the creation account in Genesis is world view genre. In contrast to the surrounding ANE cultures/religions, and in light of the Exodus, this people was wondering, “Who is this God that just did all these things? And who are we in relation to him? Can we trust him? What is he like? What is life about? ” etc.

    I think this account was written to GIVE them a better understanding of God IN CONTRAST to the common understandings (particularly in light of the connections with Egyptian views).

    It’s not that they HAD a better understanding of God; it’s that God SUPPLIED a description of who he is, who man is, how/why man exists, how God responds to man’s sin, etc.


  • RJS

    Trin (#35),

    Yes – but I think that is largely what I said. God in his relationship with his people gave them a better understanding of who he is, who man is, how/why man exists, how God responds to sin and so forth. God didn’t dictate scripture in order to convey this – he developed a relationship with his people who recorded this relationship. I think that this is why scripture, specifically the OT, is “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” as Paul told Timothy.

  • http://www.TilledSoil.org Steve Wilkinson

    @ Kent Sparks #34 –
    This isn’t an area of expertise for me (on the details anyway), but aren’t many of the parallels for the flood stories found in ancient documents that existed well before Bible missionaries?

    @ Trin #35 –
    Brilliantly said… and in so few words!

    As I’ve noted a number of times to a few articles here on Jesus Creed, if one reads OUTSIDE of Genesis (Job for example), one will realize that the ancient Israelites (at least the ones who read their Scriptures) did not hold the typical ANE cosmology. Therefore, what you’ve said about the relationship between ANE and Genesis fits quite well. It is speaking to it, not taking from it, or developing out of it.

  • RJS


    There are examples of several different modifications of ANE cosmology at work in different places in the OT. This is brought out in any good discussion and has been brought up in various earlier posts here as well. The ancient Israelites did not hold to any one specific ANE cosmology at all times and in all places. But they were speaking of God in the context of their ancient view of the cosmology. None of the cosmology reflected in scripture is anything close to our modern understanding, and they resemble each other more than they resemble our view of cosmology.

  • Tim

    Steve #36,

    Regarding Job, were you referring to the ANE cosmology involving rain clouds rising up to the windows of the firmament to be filled with water, depositing the same back down on earth as rain, and then continuing the cycle again? Rather than say, just a straight opening of the window in the firmament and having it all gush down from there?

  • Kent Sparks

    Steve #36 –

    Yes, the ANE Flood stories are much older than the biblical story. We can see how the biblical authors “de-mythed” the older version(s) when (for example) they turned Ishtar’s colorful necklace into a rainbow.

    In my earlier post (#34), I was referring to flood stories found in cultures worldwide, which are younger than and, in fact, largely based on the biblical story.

  • phil_style

    @Kent (#40) Anticipating Steves reply, one might ask “perhaps Ishtar’s necklace was a modification of the biblical rainbow and not the other way around”?

    The best evidence here is archaeological.
    1. Are there artifacts demonstrating the age of certain flood and creation myths?
    2. And do these artifacts pre-date a conservative’s estimate for when moses is supposed to have lived.
    3 . Do these artifacts demonstrate any kind of transition/development of these myths from more archaic forms to the later biblical/ genesis forms?

    I think if all the above can be shown with reference to artifacts then the case for Israelite/ Biblical use of previous mythology is very strong indeed.

  • Kent Sparks

    Phil_Style #41:

    Ishtar’s necklace can’t be a modification of the biblical rainbow because the Mesopotamian texts are centuries older.

  • phil_style

    @Kent, #42,

    Yes I agree with you that Ishtars necklace is older… but some would argue that it is still a “corruption” of the rainbow story (if there is a dependency in any sense). Those who hold to the genesis story as being the “original” would argue that, irrespective of when genesis was penned, it reflects the earliest history best because it was given by God. Therefore even though other similar stories might have been penned earlier, they are still corruptions of the original memories of the evens, which were only fully/ properly recorded when God handed the correct story to Moses.

    Now, I’m not convinced by that argument, but many are, and they rely on it in order to discount the previous archaeological evidences.

    My suggestion would be to somehow demonstrate that the genesis stories fit into a historical continuum of written mythological development. Only then (I think) could we argue that genesis relied on these texts in some sense. A simple case of textual pre-dating with “similarities” is not strong enough to make a water tight case, in my opinion.

  • Kent Sparks

    Phil_Style #43

    Understood. But the evidence is more than sufficient to show that no such flood took place, so the idea that Genesis reflects the “original event” better than the ANE myths simply collapses under the weight of the geological and biological evidence.

    If someone is able to ignore that overwhelming scientific evidence (because he/she trusts pseudo-science more), there are no arguments about Genesis, theology, myth, etc. that will convince them.

  • http://www.TilledSoil.org Steve Wilkinson

    @ RJS #37 –
    I’m not denying that some of the ANE cosmology components being discussed were in play at the time, or that the Bible uses and/or addresses them (often polemically). The question is what actual cosmology God employed, if any, in Scripture. When I look at the OT as a whole, it doesn’t fit with ANE cosmology overall or consistently. Certainly, it isn’t going to match all our current detailed understanding (nor is it intended to), but it isn’t ANE either. (cf: Tom Maddux’s “The Three-Story Universe: A Comparison Of The Cosmology Of The Ancient Near East With That Of The Old Testament” as one example.)

    @ Tim #39 –

    Huh? Where do you see that? Certainly the Bible, as I said above, interacts with ANE cosmology (often polemically), but I don’t see where the Bible could be said to be based in it, anymore than we’re still based on geocentricity because we still speak of sunrise and sunset.

    @ Phil_Style and Kent Sparks –

    Yea, I think you’ve about covered it. One can’t just draw such parallels without more warrant.
    Re: flood – Kent, aren’t you kind of assuming the typical YEC view of a global flood there?