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Creation Myths of the Ancient Near East

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(By Mark Fontecchio)

There is an undeniable battle over the legitimacy of the Word of God. Either the Bible is what it claims to be (the inspired Word of God) or it is the mere product of men. Quite often the attacks against the Scriptures come from what appear to be legitimate sources, and unless Christians examine the facts closely it can seem that the Bible is nothing more than the product of human hands. This is one of the overarching themes presented in David Livingston’s article, Creation Stories of the Ancient Near East.

Livingston confronts the widespread belief that the Creation account in Genesis was, “made up quite late, precluding any Mosaic authorship. They claim (without proof other than some seeming similarities) that they were borrowed from the literature of other nations” (Livingston 1992, 79). His premise is entirely different. Livingston teaches:

The Genesis Creation Story does not owe anything to the creation myths of Egypt and Mesopotamia. The latter were written for a completely different purpose. They are not really about the creation of the universe at all. They are related to the ‘genesis’ of a certain king’s reign. Priest-scribes wrote them to establish the king’s (and his god’s) supremacy. Each myth is different with its local adaptations (Livingston 1992, 78-79).

I agree with the conclusions presented by Livingston. He systematically demonstrates from the creation myths that any of the similarities that are said to exist with the Creation account in Genesis are superficial at best. Once a closer examination is made, it is quite noticeable that these myths are considerably different from the account recorded in the Bible.

To consider an example, we turn our attention to the Babylonian Creation Epic. At first glance this particular myth, like the others, does have some similarities with Genesis. Specifically, it refers to the creation of rivers, man, animals, plant life, and it even refers to the separation of the land from the sea (Livingston 1992, 82). These similarities are quickly explained when the historical context is taken into account. First, we note that at that time the founder of a city was thought to be its creator. Draining a swamp was considered to be creating new land, and whoever did so was believed to deserve a place with the gods. It is also important to remember that these accounts are not referring to the creation of everything in the universe. Rather, they are the accounts of the creation of land, cities, or empires (Livingston 1992, 82).

It is essential to recognize that these creation myths were written for a purpose. The kings wanted to be seen as gods. The myths were created as propaganda for the masses in order to lead the people to believe that their ruler was either a god or a son of a god (Livingston 1992, 87). This solidified their role as leaders and helped them to reshape history.

The attempt to label the Genesis account of Creation as a fabrication that was taken from the creation myths is simply another attempt to explain the teachings of the Bible, without having to submit to them. Therefore, the alleged similarities do not weaken my confidence in Genesis 1-2. Rather, the great contrasts that exist, which were demonstrated by Livingston, actually strengthen my belief in the Genesis account. The creation myths are so bizarre that it is easy to see why they faded away into the pages of history. The Bible’s account of Creation is unique among all the other accounts in other religions because:

  • The Bible does not contain a theogony.
  • The Bible’s Creation account does not contain chaos or war.
  • The Bible presents God as separate from His created order.
  • The Bible does not present an infinite abyss of water or space.
  • The Bible does not present a cosmic egg or embryo.

Certainly we see the presence of some of these within the creation myths presented by Livingston. The Memphite Theology presents a god who had a thought-process (Livingston 1992, 80-81). The Atrahasis Creation Epic presents multiple gods who labored to produce food (Livingston 1992, 81-82). Clearly these gods were not separate from creation. Likewise, the Enuma Elish Creation Epic presents multiple gods that struggled against the forces of chaos (Livingston 1992, 83). The point is to recognize that these creation myths follow the predictable patterns of religions invented by men. The creation account of the Bible stands alone in its uniqueness.

There are many insights we can gain from the comparisons made by Livingston. The attacks by modern scholars upon the Genesis account are another reminder that the battle for truth is ultimately about one’s belief in God. Those who reject the Creator reject His Word, and come up with attempts to discredit it. The similarities with the creation myths are exaggerated, and the differences are glossed over. The contrast provided by Livingston demonstrates the unique beauty, unity, purity, and origin of the Word of God.

The ancient creation myths of the Near East should be a reminder that the battles we face as Christians are certainly not new. Men have long sought to control others through propaganda. The chief end is elevation of self instead of God. To this end, men have sought to rewrite history in an effort to bring glory to themselves. Let us remember the words that David proclaimed so long ago, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps. 14:1a).

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The Holy Bible: The New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1982.

Livingston, David. “Creation Stories of the Ancient Near East.” Bible and Spade (1992) Volume 5. Ephrata, PA: Associates for Biblical Research, 1992.

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