The Babylonian and Biblical Accounts of Creation -- By: Merrill F. Unger

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 109:436 (Oct 1952)
Article: The Babylonian and Biblical Accounts of Creation
Author: Merrill F. Unger


The Babylonian and Biblical Accounts of Creation

Merrill F. Unger

As an ancient Semitic book, the Old Testament naturally bears a close relationship to the environment out of which it sprang. The scene of the first eleven chapters of Genesis, recording the primeval history of mankind, is laid in the cradle of civilization, the Tigris-Euphrates valley. There human life began, and the earliest sedentary culture developed. From thence sprang the earliest traditions of the beginning of the world and of mankind, which, as would be expected, bear close resemblance to the Bible.

Preserved in the wedge-shaped or cuneiform characters of the language of Babylonia-Assyria and written in clay tablets, the recovery of a huge store of ancient documents from Mesopotamia has been one of the triumphs of modern archeology. Before the discovery of the trilingual Behistun inscription in 1835 by a young English officer in the Persian army, which proved to be the key that unlocked the strange cuneiform script, the Assyrian-Babylonian valley was a vast cemetery of buried nations and ancient civilizations. But with the decipherment of the language and consequent renewed zeal in digging up buried cities and long-forgotten cultures, the Tigris-Euphrates region, where human history was born, became one of the most dramatic areas of the earth’s surface.

The decipherment of Babylonian-Assyrian cuneiform, and the opening up of the antiquities of those lands where the earliest Biblical history began, produced ardent expectation among Old Testament scholars that excavations of buried cities would yield records containing significant Biblical parallels. Their hopes were not disappointed.

Between the years 1848 and 1876 as a result of excavations at Nineveh, the ancient capital of the Assyrian Empire, Austen H. Layard, Hormuzd Rassam, and George Smith recovered from the library of Ashurbanipal (668-626 B.C.) the first tablets and fragments of tablets of the great creation epic current among the Babylonians and Assyrians. Because of its bearing upon the opening chapters of Genesis, few Semitic inscriptions have awakened greater general interest. The epic, recorded in cuneiform on seven clay tablets, consists of approximately one thousand lines, and was known to its ancient readers from its two opening words Enuma elish (“When above”).

As a result of the discovery of new tablets and fragments of tablets since 1876, the epic has been almost completely restored. The only considerable portion which is still lacking occurs in Tablet V.

Although the bulk of the tablets, being from Ashurbanipal’s library, are in their present form late (seven...

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