Myths and Gods

Suggestion that the Bible book of Genesis is simply a reworking of pre-existing Assyrian myths is latched onto by those who wish to reject the claims of the true and living God. Babylonian mythology creates an effective smoke-screen for those who wish to hide from reality.

So it is valuable to review the ideas presented in the ancient Assyrian stories which supposedly led to the Bible history.

Rejecting God and Embracing Myths

It should be noted at the outset that once a person has rejected the revelation of our creator God they have no alternative but to discredit all historical evidence for His existence. The physical creation has to be explained in naturalistic terms, as science asserts it has done through evolution. And the historical accounts of God’s actions in the earth, such as creation and judgement (including the global flood), must be explained away as mere man-made stories.

When people reject God they must retreat into the woodlands of mythology. They have to create a mythology about how the world came to be. And they must turn historical evidence into mythological writings. When people reject God they become enmeshed in mythology.

A popular academic and philosophical myth is that religion has evolved, in the same way people believe biology and society have evolved. Thus we can find such statements as the following assertion. “Man’s earliest prereligious fear of the forces of nature gradually became religious as nature became personalized, spiritized, and eventually deified in human consciousness. Religion of a primitive type was therefore a natural biologic consequence of the psychologic inertia of evolving animal minds after such minds had once entertained concepts of the supernatural.”

Where such ideas fall apart is that the religious evolutionary path is nowhere to be found. Polytheistic ideas have existed alongside monotheism from earliest records. Rather than religion evolving it is divided. The true revelation of the Living God on one hand, and deception on the other, lead to different streams of religious thought.

Polytheism

Polytheism is evident in the ancient Assyrian culture. The myths which are supposed to have informed the Bible writers are riddled with inglorious deities fighting, taking revenge, competing and killing each other.

The Gilgamesh Epic, Epic of Atrahasis and Enuma Elish are stories about capricious and evil gods who kill their own family members, indulge in gratuitous violence, display intolerance, know nothing of forgiveness, gain prominence by domination and despise humanity.

Yet, for all the Assyrians apparent reverence for the gods, they treated those gods with contempt. Different cities repackaged their versions of these stories, identifying their own favourite deity as the hero. For example, Babylon changed the hero to Marduk, since he was the deity who supposedly established their city. By so doing, the Babylonians reveal that the previously honoured deity had no real worth, since he or she could be so easily displaced.

The stories, then, become nothing more than PR material, with nothing more than human value, to validate one people over another. This is a very shallow form of pantheism, where gods are multiplied and their reality is demeaned by the whim of man.

Note that Greek mythology displays this same callow polytheism, where temples are multiplied to multiple deities, but no-one expects the gods to have any real part in the affairs of men. Those gods are blighted with human foibles and demeaned as having no moral superiority to man.

Hindu polytheism similarly allows devotees to accommodate a multiplicity of values, since there is a deity for just about all the good and evil of the human heart.

There is no moral substance to the gods in such cases. There is no divine imperative. There is no fear of God.

Morality

The Assyrian gods of their creation and flood myths have no moral standard. Hatred, murder, violence, revenge, despisement, dominance and the like are their displayed characteristics.

A striking contrast between the ancient Assyrian concept of deity and the Bible’s revelation of the one true God is the issue of morality. Almighty God is an exquisitely moral being. He is described as being “holy”, which carries with it the idea of being so perfect that He will never veer off course by the slightest degree. Thus, in four thousand years of Biblical history and two thousand subsequent years of the Church Age our Creator God has not changed, nor violated His character. He is supremely and uniquely consistent.

God not only displays personal morality, but He holds all of humanity accountable against His own moral being.

The Assyrians were led to see themselves as a despised and menial creation, subject to the vagaries of unstable heavens, where deities may make war on one another and have modelled the most shameless evils. There is no moral accountability in such a world. There is no reason for any human to act above the basest instincts which were demonstrated by the gods.

The Place of Man

Another striking contrast between the Assyrian polytheistic myths and the revelation of creation given to us in the Bible is the place of mankind. According to the ancient creation myths mankind was made to serve the gods. The gods wanted worship and food. Mankind was to have the menial task of placating the appetite of the gods.

Various notions of how man was created are seen, involving the blood of a murdered god, or, alternatively, the spittle of many gods, mixed with clay.

We also find that the gods objected to the noise made by the human population, and so it was decided to wipe them all out. This capricious act was foiled when one of the gods warned someone to make a boat and escape destruction.

The Bible account not only gives noble place to God, but grants high and holy place to mankind as well. Man is made in God’s image, to receive blessings from God. God makes multiple gifts to mankind, to give him every advantage.

The decline of humankind is not in any way brought upon them by God, but by their own failure to be moral beings. The global flood of judgement is precipitated by the fact that mankind had become excessively evil in deed and in their imaginations.

Here again the distinctions between the Book of Genesis and the Assyrian myths is startling.

Expert Opinions

Dr Clifford Wilson quotes from experts who have reviewed the ideas of links between Genesis and the Assyrian myths. I take the following from Dr Wilson’s notes.

English Professor Alan Millard was one of two scholars who re-discovered the Babylonian Epic of Atrahasis.  He stated in his survey in The Tyndale Biblical Archaeology Lecture for 1966: “All who suspect or suggest borrowing by the Hebrews are compelled to admit large-scale revision, alteration, and re-interpretation in a fashion which cannot be substantiated for any other composition from the ancient Near East or in any other Hebrew writing … Careful comparison of ancient texts and literary methods is the only way to the understanding of the early chapters of Genesis ….. so the Epic of Atrahasis adds to knowledge of parallel Babylonian traditions, and of their literary form.  All speculation apart, it underlines the uniqueness of the Hebrew primeval history in the form in which it now exists.”

Professor Kenneth Kitchen is also quoted by Dr Wilson: “The common assumption that the Hebrew account is simply a purged and simplified version of the Babylonian legend (applied also to the Flood stories) is fallacious on methodological grounds.  In the Ancient Near East, the rule is that simple accounts or traditions may give rise (by accretion and embellishment) to elaborate legends, but not vice versa.”

No Need For Myths

Those who reject the Almighty Creator God of the Bible must engage in mythology, by making up their own ideas and by turning truth into myth in their own opinion. Those who believe in the one true God do not need myths or multiple gods.

In these modern times we have some of the world’s finest minds making up stories about punctuated equilibrium, life from outer space, naturalistic miracles and many other mythological notions. So mythology is not an ancient process which we have evolved past, but a necessary mindset when one has rejected the one true God.

I am thankful to Dr Clifford Wilson and his wife Dr Barbara Wilson for their inspiration and guidance in my own exploration of Biblical archaeology. As friend, academic supervisor and mentor, Dr Clifford has keenly encouraged my interest in archaeology, as he has for many others in decades past.
In honour of his on-going work and his world-wide impact I am compiling various posts on archaeology, based on the excellent work of Drs Clifford and Barbara, while adding my own personal style and insights. Drs Clifford and Barbara Wilson are building a website to present their work. You can visit the website at http://www.drcliffordwilson.com

Charles Clermont-Ganneau and the Moabite Stone

Charles Simon Clermont-Ganneau was born in France, on February 19, 1846 and became a member of the French Diplomatic Corps.

A skilled translator, Clermont-Ganneau became Professor of Oriental Languages including Hebrew and ancient Aramaic. He took specific interest in the archaeological evidence for Bible history. In 1873-74 he engaged in archaeological investigations in Palestine, especially around Jerusalem. He sought to link the names of Arab villages with the Bible names of towns. He also excavated tombs, studying ossuaries (burial coffins) used from the time of Christ to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. He found many New Testament names and also the symbol of the cross on some ossuaries.

Clermont-Ganneau is best remembered, however, for his translation of the Moabite Stone. That story commences in 1868 when a German medical missionary named Klein discovered an inscribed stone “four feet high, two feet wide and 14 inches thick” in the village of Dhibon (This is the Bible town of Dibon cited in Joshua 13:9), in Moab. Recognising the value of this Mesha Stele, although unable to decipher the writing, Klein offered to purchase the stone. But the German Consul also heard of the find and wanted to buy it.

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Then the young Frenchman, Charles Clermont-Gammeau, hired a local Arab to go and examine the stone. The poor copy of the inscription this fellow brought back was enough to convince Clermont-Gammeau of the stone’s historical value. Next he sent Ya’qub Karavaca, an Arab, and two companions to make a ‘squeeze’ of the inscription, by pressing wet paper on the stone and peeling it off when it was dry.

But the Bedouins who owned the stone caused trouble. A fight broke out.

“One of Karavaca’s companions was speared in the leg, but the other, as he fled, snatched the still wet squeeze off the stone and stuffed it inside his tunic…” (Diggings, January, 1995).

Suffice to say it is to Clermont-Gammeau we are indebted for the ‘Moabite Stone’, which is dated from about 850BC and now in the Louvre Museum in Paris –and the translation that speaks of Mesha, king of Moab rebelling against Omri, King of Israel … just as the Bible says it did! (II Kings 3:4-5).

Once again the spade had vindicated the Book of books.

Clermont-Gammeau continued to have a significant role in archaeological investigation, including the ossuaries mentioned earlier. He also functioned as the most reliable authority on antiquities following the discovery of the Moabite Stone.

A Jerusalem antiquities dealer, Moses Shapira, tried to cash in on the Moabite excitement, producing a multitude of fake Moabite artefacts including clay figurines, large human heads and clay vessels. He had them inscribed with texts copied from the Mesha Stele. The Germans, stung by missing out on the Moabite Stone, bought 1700 of Shapira’s artefacts for the Berlin Museum.

Clermont-Gammeau was convinced the pieces were forgeries and was able to expose the modern manufacture of the pieces.

Then in 1883 Shapira presented fragments of supposedly ancient parchment claimed to come from near the Dead Sea. Clermont-Gammeau not only suspected forgery but was able to show how Shapira had taken the fake strips from a Deuteronomy scroll he had previously sold to the British Museum. Shapira’s attempted sale for a million pounds fell through and he later shot himself.

Clermont-Gammeau died on February 15, 1923, just days before his 77th birthday.

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com