Did the Bible Borrow from Pagan Creation Accounts?

Genesis and Enuma Elis

by Tim Chaffey

     Skeptics love to claim that the account of creation and the account of the flood in Genesis were borrowed from the surrounding pagan tribes.  Probably the most common claim is that the Jewish author of Genesis got his ideas from the Babylonian account entitled Enuma Elis.  Even though there are some similarities between Enuma Elis and the Bible there are many differences.  Perhaps the most important difference is that Enuma Elis has a polytheistic viewpoint while the Bible is monotheistic. 

     Critics and skeptics claim this as support for their belief that the Bible borrowed from the Babylonian epic.  Since they believe man’s religious practices evolved from polytheism to monotheism they claim that the author of Genesis merely altered the Babylonian epic to fit his beliefs.  There is no support for this historically or archaeologically.  The Bible actually paints a different picture.  Man’s religion has devolved from monotheism to polytheism and paganism.  In Deuteronomy 6: 4 monotheism is clearly taught: “Hear O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one.”  Isaiah 45: 5 conveys the same thought: “I am the LORD, and there is no other; there is no God besides Me.”

     Another major difference between Enuma Elis and Genesis is whether or not matter is eternal.  Enuma Elis states that matter is eternal while the Bible teaches that God created matter out of nothing.  Genesis 1: 1 states “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  If matter were eternal then there would have been no beginning since time exists only when and where there is matter.  Henry Morris paraphrased Genesis 1: 1 by writing, “The transcendent, omnipotent Godhead called into existence the space-matter-time universe.[1] 

     The Enuma Elis account does not give a systematic chronology of the creative process.  There are no days attached to each event.  On the contrary, the Genesis account gives a very strict systematic chronology of the creation week.  It lists the creative acts of God on each and every day of the week.  Enuma Elis does not contain any record of the creation of vegetation, animals, reptiles, birds, and fish.  The Bible describes the creation of each of these and the days on which they were created.  Vegetation was created on the third day (Gen. 1: 11-12).  The fish and birds were created on the fifth day (Gen. 1: 20-23).  The land animals, including reptiles, were created on the sixth day (Gen. 1: 24-25).

     According to Enuma Elis, Marduk’s creative acts took a great deal of effort while the Bible states that God created everything by His spoken Word.  On the first day “God said ‘Let there be light;’ and there was light” (Gen. 1: 3).  On the third day “God said, ‘Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear’; and it was so” (Gen. 1: 9).

     The skeptics actually overstate their case.  It is certainly possible that one of the accounts borrowed from the other but which one used the other.  The skeptics never give the benefit of the doubt to the Bible.  Their attitude is to place the Bible in the worst possible light no matter what.  They won't believe it until every single portion has been proven true (even then they won't believe it because it almost always a matter of the heart - they don't want to believe).  When we consider the two accounts it becomes quite obvious what really happened.

     The Babylonian account of creation begins with the mating of a freshwater ocean, Apsu, and a saltwater ocean, Tiamat.  The offspring of this union were many lesser deities.  According to the legend, “Apsu became irritated with the noise of his offspring and decided to destroy them.”[2]  This attempt failed and his son, the god of wisdom, killed him.  The god of wisdom later fathered the chief Babylonian god, Marduk. 

     Tiamat then mothered several dragons to fight against Marduk.  Tiamat’s attempt to destroy Marduk was a dismal failure.  Marduk killed Tiamat and cut her body in half.  The lower half was made into the earth and the upper half was made into the sky.[3]  In the aftermath of the battle, the stars were created and man was formed when some blood of Tiamat’s general touched the ground. 

     It is interesting that every single creation account found outside of the Bible begins with the existence of matter.  This is interesting because the one who inspires all of these extra-biblical traditions is none other than the leader of the fallen angels, Satan.  By the time Satan was created[4] matter was already in existence.  It is possible that he cannot conceive of creation ex nihilo (out of nothing).  The Bible is unique in that it posits an ex nihilo creation.  This fact alone sets it apart from all of the pagan epics and traditions.

     More than likely, Enuma Elis and other ancient legends share some of their contents with the Bible because they are attempting to tell the same story.  In every area stories of the creation and the flood were passed down via oral tradition.  Over time, these stories became distorted so that you have the mating of two oceans producing gods as their offspring.  The Bible does not contain this legendary and mythical type of information.  It contains a sober, straight-forward report of God's activities during the creation week. 

     So why wasn't the biblical account full of legendary information?  Why wasn't it changed?  There are two possible solutions.  First, it is quite possible that the biblical account was written down long before Moses by men like Adam, Seth, Noah, Abraham, etc.[5]  If not, God certainly was capable of inspiring Moses to accurately record these events.  It becomes clear that if there was any borrowing of information from one story to the other, Enuma Elis is guilty of using the biblical account and not the other way around.

[1] Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Record (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1976) p. 41.

[2] John J. Davis, Paradise to Prison: Studies in Genesis (Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing, 1975) p. 69.

[3] Ibid., p. 69.

[4] The Bible does not state exactly when the angels were created.  However, since they dwell in the “heavens” they had to have been created during the creation week (see Exodus 20: 11).  Some creationists believe it was the fourth day when the stars were created since angels are compared to stars.  However, the Bible also mentions that they shouted when they saw the foundation of the earth being laid.  While I cannot be dogmatic on this, I believe angels were created in Genesis 1: 1 at the same time as the "heavens."  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” 

[5] The Bible never actually states that Moses wrote Genesis.  It does ascribe Mosaic authorship to the other books of the Pentateuch.  Some scholars believe that Genesis had ten different authors and Moses simply compiled these into the book we have today. 


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