Genesis 1 and Ancient Egyptian Creation Myths -- By: Gordon H. Johnston

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 165:658 (Apr 2008)
Article: Genesis 1 and Ancient Egyptian Creation Myths
Author: Gordon H. Johnston

Genesis 1 and Ancient Egyptian Creation Myths

Gordon H. Johnston

Gordon H. Johnston is Associate Professor, Department of Old Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.

For more than a century many scholars have read the Hebrew creation account in Genesis 1 in the light of parallels from Mesopotamia (particularly Enuma Elish),1 and more recently Ugaritic literature.2 Both describe divine conflict with the mythical waters of chaos. Despite its popularity there are two fundamental problems with suggesting that Enuma Elish provides the conceptual background of the Genesis 1 creation account.

First, although Enuma Elish and Genesis 1 each begin by mentioning the original primordial waters from which creation

would eventually emerge, the etymological connection between the name tiâmat, “Tiamat,” and the Hebrew noun tĕhôm, “watery deep,” remains a matter of debate.3

Second, more significantly there is no hint of divine conflict between God and the primordial waters in Genesis 1.4

Nearly a century ago two biblical scholars—A. H. Sayce and A. S. Yahuda—drew attention to parallels between Genesis 1 and Egyptian creation myths, which they claimed were tighter than the putative Mesopotamian parallels.5 However, their work fell on deaf ears for several reasons: (a) scholars’ fixation on the Mesopotamian materials, which were more widely known and accessible; (b) critical assumptions that Genesis 1 should be classified as P, dated to the exilic or postexilic period, and assigned to a Babylonian provenance; (c) failure to take seriously the biblical tradition of Hebrew origins in the land of Egypt; and (d) general lack of familiarity with the Egyptian language and literature dealing with creation.6 Nevertheless contemporary biblical scholars have begun a groundswell of support for an Egyptian background.7 Ironically a significant

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