The Uniqueness of the Biblical Creation Record
Dr. George A. Barton served as a professor of Semitic languages at the University of Pennsylvania. At one time he also was director of the American Schools of Oriental Research in Jerusalem. He was recognized as an expert in biblical archaeology. In his massive volume, Archaeology And The Bible, first published in 1916, professor Barton makes the following statement: “[T]here is no better measure of the inspiration of the Biblical account [of creation] than to put it side by side with the Babylonian [account of creation]” (pp. 297-298).
In December of 1853 an archaeologist by the name of Hormuzd Rassam was excavating the site of ancient Nineveh. During that enterprise he made one of the most important archaeological finds of the century. He discovered the palace of Assurbanipal (669-626 B.C.), the last of Assyria’s great rulers. Assurbanipal had assembled a vast library of clay tablets. “He sent scribes throughout Assyria and Babylonia with authority to copy and translate the writings they found, and tens of thousands of clay tablets were brought together, containing historical, scientific, and religious literature, official dispatches and archives, business documents and letters” (Finegan, p. 181).
Many of these tablets were taken to the British Museum in London. In December of 1872, George Adam Smith, an employee at the Museum, announced that among the tablets he had discovered the Babylonian accounts of both the Creation narrative and the Flood.
The Creation epic is contained on seven clay tablets containing a total of about 1,000 lines of text. It is called Enuma elish, meaning “When above,” taken from the first words of the text: “Time was when above heaven was not named . . .”
Other fragments of the same epic were found at Ashur, Kish, and Uruk. Scholars believe that this creation narrative probably extends all the way back to the time of Hammurabi (1728-1686 B.C.).
While there are some similarities between the Babylonian creation account, and that recorded in the book of Genesis (thus revealing that both narratives are grounded in a common event), the text written by Moses is incomparably superior to the Enuma elish documents. The Babylonian epic is characterized by utter absurdity, cluttered with polytheistic mythology and gross superstition.
A Summary of the Babylonian Creation Account
The Babylonian Creation record begins with the story of two ancient gods, a male named Apsu, and his female companion, Tiamat. These two produced many additional gods. Eventually these offspring gods became so boisterous that Apsu, who said he had no quiet and peace, neither day nor night, determined that he would destroy them. One of the gods, whose name was Ea, discovered his father’s plan and so assassinated him.
Ea then begat a god named Marduk, who became the city-deity of Babylon. Meanwhile the widowed Tiamat created a number of horrible monsters whose bodies were filled with poison, instead of blood. She determined that she would use these monsters to avenge the death of Apsu. She appointed Kingu, one of her offspring, to lead the avenging forces. However, the targeted gods heard of Tiamat’s intentions and selected Marduk to fight against her.
Marduk took his bow, arrow, and club and went against Tiamat. He captured her in a net. When Tiamat opened her mouth to devour Marduk, he caused a strong wind to blow into her; her body became distended. Martduk shot an arrow into her; it tore her belly and finally pierced her heart and she died. Marduk victoriously stood upon her carcass. Finally, he cut her body into two pieces – from which he made the heavens and the earth. Eventually, Kingu was also killed. The blood was let out of his body, and from this blood Marduk commissioned Ea to make mankind.
Can any rational person reflect upon the details of this ancient narrative and fail to discern the glaring contrast between the dignity of the Mosaic record, and the utter bizarreness of the Babylonian epic?
Nothing is so sublime as the majestic narrative of Moses the prophet. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” How wonderful the Bible is! Every critical examination increasingly reveals that its origin is divine, not human.
Barton, George A. (1946 7th edition), Archaeology And The Bible (Philadelphia: American Sunday – School Union).
Finegan, Jack (1946), Light From The Ancient Past (Princeton: University Press).