Enuma Elish: A Babylonian “Creation” Account
In 1845, A.H. Layard, an English archaeologist, discovered the library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal among the ruins of ancient Nineveh. Some 26,000 clay-tablet fragments, representing about 10,000 different texts, were found.
Among these tablets was a Babylonian “Creation” account, written in Akkadian cuneiform script. Published in 1876 by George Adam Smith of the British Museum, the narrative is known as Enuma Elish (from the first two words, which mean “when above” or “when on high.” The account dates from about 1800 B.C.
One of the most striking things about the Babylonian record is the fact that it was inscribed on seven tablets. Many scholars believe this reflects a primitive belief that the creation activity occurred during the initial week of seven days. Additionally, there are some astounding similarities between the Mosaic record and Enuma Elish.
For example, both accounts describe a time when the earth was without form and empty. Both suggest that order came out of this formless state. Both records tell of the creation of the moon, stars, plant life, animals, and man. In Genesis, man was created on the sixth day; in Enuma Elish, man’s origin is recorded on the sixth tablet.
Additionally, there is a chronological order common to both accounts. Both narratives have the following order (cf. Pfeiffer, 1966, 224):
- Primeval unorganized matter
- Coming of light
- Creation of the firmament
- Appearance of dry land
- Creation of luminaries
- Creation of man
- Deity rests
In characteristic fashion, religious modernists allege that the biblical writer/writers borrowed from the Babylonian record. But sound scholarship has demonstrated that such a view is fallacious. Simpler accounts (e.g., the Genesis record) may give rise to more embellished versions, but the reverse is not the case (Kitchen, 1966, 89).
D.J. Wiseman, Professor of Assyriology at the University of London, suggests that the parallelisms between the narratives can best be explained on the basis that both suggest primary creation facts, while the Bible record reflects a “dignity unparalleled in any other account” (1958, 8).
For further reading, see Brantley (77ff).
- Brantley, Garry. 1995. Digging For Answers. Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press.
- Kitchen, Kenneth. 1966. Ancient Orient and Old Testament. London: Tyndale Press.
- Pfeiffer, Charles. 1966. The Biblical World. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.
- Wiseman, D. J. 1958. Illustrations From Biblical Archaeology. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.