Origins 11(1):3-4 (1984).
Brief summaries of the main conclusions of the leading presentations are given below for those who may find the complete articles too long or technical.
A COMPARISON OF NARRATIVE ELEMENTS IN ANCIENT MESOPOTAMIAN CREATION-FLOOD STORIES WITH GENESIS 1-9
Numerous comparative studies have been made between an isolated
extrabiblical creation or flood text and its related biblical narrative. In this article,
Dr. Shea states that isolated stories from the first millennium B.C. do not provide
adequate parallels to the consecutive biblical narrative in Genesis 1-9 and instead
recommends comparisons with similar Mesopotamian texts from the second millennium B.C.
Such "Creation-Flood texts" include three elements in a tripartite,
chronological sequence: a view of the mode of creation employed by the gods, reference to
antediluvian life, and a recital of events which occurred during the great Flood. Two
Creation-Flood texts are examined: the Sumerian Eridu Genesis and the Babylonian
The Eridu Genesis describes man's nomadic and uncultured condition which was remedied by the birth goddess Nintur's instructions for building cities as centers of culture and worship. As the humans prospered, their great noise caused sleeplessness among the gods. The god Enlil's plan to eradicate mankind through a flood was thwarted by the god Enki, who warned Ziusudra, the king of Shuruppak, to build an ark to save his family and the animals. After the Flood, Ziusudra appeased the gods by offering sacrifices and in turn was granted immortality and an eternal home.
According to the Atra-hasis Epic, mankind was created solely as drudges to appease the younger gods who rebelled against their tasks of digging rivers and canals. Fashioned from a mixture of clay and the blood of a sacrificed god, man was a combination of the divine and the human. A major step in this creation process occurred on sabattu/abbat, and thus a possible link between man's creation and the Sabbath is found in an extrabiblical source from the first half of the second millennium B.C., and. probably is derived from even earlier written or oral traditions.
In three cycles of antediluvian adversities, Enlil attempted to squelch the human population and their noise through an episode of plague and two successive periods of drought and famine. Each time, Enki averted the intended destruction. Enlil's final plan to use water to eradicate mankind was supported by the gods in council, but Enki saved a portion of humanity by warning Atra-hasis to build a boat to save himself, his family, and some animals.
Deprived of both their drudges and the agriculture which provided their food and drink, the gods regretted their decision to send the Flood. Though angered because some humans had escaped the destruction, Enlil was persuaded to accept their existence. Population controls were enforced to maintain human noise at a tolerable level.
A comparison of the contents of the Mesopotamian Creation-Flood texts leads to the conclusion that both follow a distinct chronology or linear time line, with successive events relating logically to each other as cause and effect. Known as mytho-historical accounts, this form of literature is highly unusual in the ancient world. A primary difference in content between these stories and the Genesis Creation-Flood story is the contrast between Mesopotamian polytheism and biblical monotheism, but in form, the biblical Creation-Flood story fits best in this mytho-historical category. All contain three sections discussing Creation, antediluvian life, and the Flood.
Although the biblical Creation-Flood story should be categorized with the Mesopotamian Creation-Flood stories described above, biblical scholars have treated the former differently. Those adhering to the documentary hypothesis have interpreted Genesis 1-9 to be a patchwork quilt of literary fragments that were composed centuries apart and later edited into its final form in the 6th or 5th centuries B.C. Dr. Shea shows the arbitrary and artificial distinctions these scholars have made. For example, the P source for Genesis is credited with specializing in genealogies and chronologies, while J is credited with a descriptive narrative style. The same argument would appear applicable to the Atra-hasis Epic which also contains a series of chronological references within its text; yet, Assyriologists have not attributed this epic to several sources. To consider the former as a complete unity while separating and attributing the first two chapters of Genesis to different sources written centuries apart is not logical. The same argument is also applicable for the biblical Flood story in Genesis 6-9.
Dr. Shea points out that some of the initial criteria for literary criticism in the 18th-19th centuries arose from Homeric criticism in Greek literature, the then-known oldest available literature for comparison. Biblical scholars alone have retained these criteria, completely ignoring the contributions made by the much older cuneiform literature of Mesopotamia and the hieroglyphic literature of Egypt which is now available.
In conclusion, the biblical Creation-Flood story fits best in the age in which mytho-historical accounts were written. Thus from the parallels in form and content as compared with Mesopotamian Creation-Flood stories, it is most likely that one person (i.e., Moses) recorded the book of Genesis in the 15th (or 13th) century B.C. Certainly someone from his age is a better candidate for the authorship than is an obscure and anonymous priest/redactor in exile in Babylonia a millennium later.
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