Enuma Elish Creation Story

In 1876, just four years after publication of the Epic of Gilgamesh, George Smith completed and published his translation of Enuma Elish. This ancient Assyrian document was immediately acclaimed as an equivalent creation story to that given in the Bible.

Part of the Barrage

This new document came as yet another wave of challenge to the authenticity of the Book of Genesis. Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”, published in 1859 compounded the growing scientific assault on Genesis, propelled forward by Charles Lyell’s geological uniformity concepts.

The 1872 publication of the Gilgamesh Epic brought criticism of Genesis from a new quarter. Archaeology seemed to bring solid evidence that the supposedly divine revelations in Genesis were mere re-workings of ancient stories. The pile of discarded clay tablets, with their “bird track” markings proved to be more valuable than the initial treasure hunters expected. While the ruins of ancient Assyrian palaces from the Nineveh site were scoured for gold and priceless artefacts, the tens of thousands of small clay tablets were simply shovelled out of the way. But when George Smith put his unique self-taught talents to work on deciphering the cuneiform script new evidence against Genesis seemed to leap from the rubble.

Evidence of the exaltation of Enuma Elish as a direct challenge to the authority of Genesis is testified by George Smith’s title for publication of his translation, under the auspices of the British Museum, “The Chaldean Genesis“.

The Link Asserted

In 1895 German author Herrmann Gunkel HeHerrr

published an influential book, proclaiming that the Genesis account is merely an expansion of the pre-existing Enuma Elish story. Since that book scholars have taken it for granted that the two accounts are directly linked.

Gunkel contended that the ancient Near Eastern myth of creation, especially as formulated in the Enuma Elish, was the underlying document upon which the Genesis account was formulated. He claimed that the myth was modified by Bible writers to bring it into agreement with the Israelite religion.

Seven Clay Tablets

Enuma Elish is an ancient story about warfare and barbarism among a group of gods. Seven clay tablets from the ancient library of the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal told the story as it existed in Babylon. Variations of the story have been found, reducing the status of Enuma Elish as a “creation” narrative, since the battle story is presented in some cases, without any reference to creation.

King Ashurbanipal ordered his servants to collect written works from around the realm, from Egypt to India. 100,000 clay tablets filled his famous library, which housed the first such collection in history. From the excavations of his library some 26,000 tablets survived, with many being destroyed or damaged in the hunt for more valuable antiquities.

The seven clay tablets were not without damage and some parts of the story have been untranslatable. George Smith translated what was still readable. The fifth tablet speaks of creation of the earth and sky from the carcase of a murdered god. The sixth of seven tablets mentions the plan by the victorious warring gods to create mankind. Note, then, that creation is a small part of the overall story, and is not recorded in other telling of the same war among the gods.

Rebellion in Heaven

Enuma Elish is a grotesque and barbaric story about bloodshed among the gods. These gods, rather than being divine in nature, are very human in their relationships and actions. They marry, give birth to other gods, are able to be killed and so on.

When the family of gods makes too much disturbance for the principal male god, Apsu, from whom the others sprang in several generations, he decides to destroy them all. One of the younger gods, Ea, great-grandson to Apsu, kills the patriarch god. The widow and great-grandmother, Tiamat, is enraged and seeks vengeance against Ea. She creates eleven monsters, marries Kingu, and goes to war.

Tiamat’s vengeful rampage at first seems unstoppable. However, a great-great grandson god, Marduk, who is supposed to have founded Babylon, successfully destroys Tiamat, by bludgeoning her to death and cutting her body in pieces from which various creations are made. Marduk then appoints the various gods their own places, which researchers have noted correspond to Babylonian astrology.

Marduk decides to create mankind to serve the gods by maintaining temples for their worship, and to perform menial tasks for the gods. Marduk murders Kingu, using his blood and bones as the substance to form humanity.

The Creation Account

Since Enuma Elish is cited today as proof that the Genesis creation record is somehow taken from earlier creation accounts, it is important to see the account from which Moses is supposed to have gained his inspiration.

There are approx 1,160 lines of text in the whole Enuma Elish story. Of that complete text the account of earth’s creation occupies no more than 30 lines and the account of the man’s creation occupies 8 lines. Here I quote text related the creation, from LW Kings 1902 translation, published as The Seven Tablets of Creation.

“He split her up like a flat fish into two halves;
One half of her he stablished as a covering for heaven.
He fixed a bolt, he stationed a watchman,
And bade them not to let her waters come forth.
He passed through the heavens, he surveyed the regions thereof,
And over against the Deep he set the dwelling of Nudimmud.
And the lord measured the structure of the Deep,
And he founded E-sara, a mansion like unto it.
The mansion E-sara which he created as heaven,
He caused Anu, Bel, and Ea in their districts to inhabit.”

Another 24 lines speak of the moon and sun in their orbits, as dividing the year into twelve months.

Thus less than four percent of the whole document relates to creation, and that account, as you can see by what is quoted here, has no meaningful relationship with the account of Genesis 1.

The Creation of Man

Of the more than one thousand lines on seven tablets there are but a few scant words about the creation of man. Here I again quote from LW Kings The Seven Tablets of Creation.

“My blood will I take and bone will I fashion
I will make man, that man may ….
I will create man who shall inhabit the earth,
That the service of the gods may be established, and that their shrines may be built.”

A more complete translation of the Enuma Elish document, compiled from other sources as well, adds to these four lines just a few more.

“Out of his blood they fashioned mankind.
He imposed on him the service and let free the gods.
After Ea, the wise, had created mankind,
Had imposed upon them the service of the gods-”

What Comparison?

Enuma Elish has nothing to do with the Genesis account. The fact that the reality of creation is reflected in an ancient myth only goes to prove the human consciousness of that event, not the creation of a lie which Moses inherited.

The one true God, acting in a fashion consistent with His actions through the whole of recorded history, created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, as described in the Book of Genesis. He acted as a holy, loving creator, who made man in His own image, to enjoy the delight of inclusion into His eternal existence. God does not need man, nor does God act with the vain impulses we see in man.

God created out of nothing (ex nihilo) not from the remains of some other deity whom He butchered. God created life as a gift to those He made. He did not create as a self-serving exercise to indulge His needs or have menials at His disposal.

There is next to nothing that links the Enuma Elish to the Genesis record, except that it speaks of creation. Yet thousands of ignorant people were beguiled into believing that the authority of scripture had been decimated by the sunburnt clay tablets.

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

Genesis Challenged

Christianity faced troubled times at the close of the nineteenth century. Darwin’s Theory of Evolution fed scientific scepticism about the Genesis account of creation by providing what seemed to be a viable alternative. At the same time, clay tablets from the ruins of the ancient city of Nineveh provided alternative accounts of the Flood and Creation, in clearly mythical form, suggesting that the Genesis record was similarly a mere myth.

Foundations Shaken

Creationist Ken Ham points out that Christianity has been distracted with taking pot shots at issues while its detractors have been aiming their weapons at Christianity’s foundations. If the Book of Genesis can be discredited then all that follows in the Bible can be brought into question.

During the nineteenth century (the 1800’s) assault on the Book of Genesis was vigorously pursued by some, based on emerging scientific hypotheses and on archaeological discoveries.

Charles Lyell, who lived from 1797 to 1875, proposed a non-catastrophic view of geography, despite the abundant evidence for upheaval in the geological record. His propositions of uniformity allowed for extended periods of time in the earth’s history. That extension of historical time was required by the proponents of gradual change over time (evolution).

The emerging notion of evolution was given seeming scientific status by Charles Darwin with his 1959 “Origin of Species” with its account of exotic creatures in the mysterious and remote Galapagos Islands. The notions of “survival of the fittest”, “natural selection” and “missing links” created a new scientific myth which had everything but substance and common sense.

Within days of the release of Darwin’s book, Thomas Henry Huxley, eventually dubbing himself “Darwin’s Bulldog“, began vigorously promoting the scientific worth of evolution over the religious notions carried in the Book of Genesis.

Enter Archaeology

As the battle for Genesis gained intensity, a new dimension emerged to give impetus to detractors. A pile of rubble in ancient mounds in the Near East yielded documents which dated back almost 1,000 years before Christ. Included in that rubble were ancient mythologies of events similar to those described in Genesis.

The city of Nineveh was a sprawling metropolis at its height. Successive rulers moved their principal residence to different parts of the city and so several palace buildings were established over time. Add to that the fact that Nineveh housed the world’s greatest library collection of its time, and you have the creation of a treasure trove of antiquity.

The ancient palaces and libraries of Assyria began to be excavated in the 1840’s, leading to the discovery of a vast collection of ancient documents on clay tablets. In 1850 English archaeologist Henry Layard uncovered the palace of the Assyrian King Sennacherib at tell Kouyunjik (one of the three principal palace locations in Nineveh – Kouyunjik, Khorsabad, and Nimrud).

In 1853 Layard’s former assistant, Hormuzd Rassam, found the famous library of the Assyrian King Ashur-bani-pal, in a different part of the Nineveh ruins. 26,000 of the original 100,000 clay tablets survived with decipherable text. Many were taken to the British Museum for translation.

Among those tablets were found Assyrian myths about creation and a fiction story which featured a great flood. When they were finally translated by George Smith he published them under the title “Chaldean Account of Genesis” in 1876 under the auspices of the British Museum of Oriental Antiquities. The very title suggests a direct link between the tablets and Genesis and those discoveries fuelled the accusation that Moses’ Genesis document was a mere evolution of earlier mythological writings. Note that George Smith died that same year, on his way back from his third visit to the ruins of Nineveh.

Assyrian Flood Story

In December 1872 George Smith published his translation of the oldest known literary work in human history. Smith was the first person to read the story in 2,000 years. But the Epic of Gilgamesh was not made famous for its literary worth, but for its reference to a great flood.

George Smith is an interesting character in that he was not a great scholar and came from a working class background. But he was fascinated with antiquities and taught himself to decipher ancient cuneiform inscriptions. He soon became more knowledgeable and skilled in the task than the staff at the British Museum where he pored over antiquities. Consequently Henry Rawlinson, the great Assyriologist of the day, arranged for Smith to be employed in the Assyriology Department to work on translating the thousands of clay tablets from Nineveh.

Smith translated several tablets in the fictional story of a man named Gilgamesh, who travelled the world facing various adventures. He came to a blank in the story, where a missing tablet was needed to continue the adventure. Smith then ventured to Mesopotamia to attack the pile of rubble left by Layard and Rassam, and, against all odds, found the missing tablet.

It told of a great flood, and of a boat and animals. It even mentioned birds being released at the end of the flood. This bore striking resemblance to the Genesis record of Noah’s Flood.

Assyrian Creation Story

Following Smith’s translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh he then came across another set of clay tablets telling a story which led to the creation of man. The series of seven tablets is known as the Enuma Elish.

While some tablets were broken and accurate translation is impossible, the general text of the story has been translated several times by different scholars. It was first titled “The Chaldean Genesis” by Smith. LW King’s 1902 translation was titled “The Seven Tablets of Creation“. EA Speiser’s translation was published in a 1969 book titled “Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament“. It is obvious that scholars readily link the Enuma Elish with the book of Genesis.

Mounting Evidence

When Smith followed his Assyrian Flood translation with the Assyrian Creation story in 1876 there seemed to be growing proof that the Bible was merely another expression of ancient mythological writings.

Combine that with the pseudo-scientific crusading of Huxley and other evolutionists and you can see that Genesis was under solid attack by the end of the 1800’s. That assault has played a large part in the increased secularisation of western society during the twentieth century.

Clay Tablets are No Threat

Despite the perception that the clay tablets from antiquity have demolished the Bible, the truth is quite the opposite. The abiding impact of archaeology at Nineveh is to confirm the first-hand authenticity of the Bible accounts. The clay tablets confirmed details, customs, language and similar details provided in the Bible, which had previously not been corroborated.

Further to that, the seeming case against the Bible crumbled on closer investigation. The Assyrian stories are vastly different to the Bible account and the differences set the Bible apart, rather than put it down.

Ignorance and Assumption

People who are ignorant are prone to making assumptions. This tendency can be exploited by those who wish to deceive or who make suggestions which are misleading.

When the public is told that the Assyrian stories of the flood and creation match the Bible, many people will gullibly assume that the parallels are striking and that the Bible’s authority has been damaged. Few are likely to read the source documents and remove their ignorance.

In a follow up post I will explain some of the glaring contrasts between the Assyrian and Biblical accounts which people have been led to believe are closely related.