The writers of the book of Genesis were obviously aware of the literature and poetry of their day. Some of the tales and legends were Egyptian, but most of the literature that has survived was Assyrian, from the Fertile Crescent of the Tigris-Euphrates valley. There was a lot of that literature around: poems, epics, legends, sagas, and myths about men and heroes and the gods. The Akkadian epic of Enuma Elish, dating from the early second millennium BC, featured the god Marduk—we meet him much later on as his name becomes Mordecai in the book of Esther—incombat with the goddess Tiamat—whom we have met as /tehom/ in Genesis 1:1—in deathly combat for control of the universe. The account is awful: bloody with winds and floods splitting apart bodies, axes and swords and crushed skulls, dismembering of bodies, etc.
Marduk, having won the battle, cut Tiamat’s body in half “like a shellfish” and created the heavens with one half of it, and earth and mankind with the rest. The account we have in the first chapter of Genesis could not be more different. The fragment here reproduced and offered by Biblical Reproductions contains nine verses from the middle of the creation story, describing the events of the fourth, fifth and part of the sixth day. The account is calm and majestic, the work of a single deity, completely devoid of sexual encounter and absolutely without violence. Things happened because “God said.” This peaceful account was revolutionary for the time; it had no precedent in ancient Middle Eastern literature.
The place of humanity was also radically different. Mankind was an afterthought in the Mesopotamian process. Mankind is the apex of the whole act of creation in the account in Genesis. Most revolutionary was the value judgment the writers of Genesis incorporated into their account. Alone among all the parallel creation stories in ancient literature, they declared here that “God saw that this was good.” This moral judgment appears in the account of every day of the creation; three times in the fragment before us. The firm belief of the writers of Genesis that the world was essentially a good place, created by a benevolent Creator, separates the Biblical account from all the others and has become a cornerstone of Western religious belief. An photographic reproduction of this Dead Sea Scrolls fragment, is available at www.biblicalreproductions.com.
Author: Walter Zanger