Some scholars say that the Genesis 1 creation account is a literary “polemic” which was meant to refute Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) creation mythologies. Others say the Genesis 1 creation account is radically different and that the references and apparent similarities are simply coincidental. Furthermore, some even advance that the creation accounts of Babylon have influenced the narratives of the Gospels in Matthew and Mark as well as Paul’s account of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians. This blog post will examine the Israelite creation account and the Ancient Near Eastern creation myths of Egypt, Babylon, Sumeria, and Canaan.
I. ISRAELITE CREATION ACCOUNT
A. Context of the Israelite Creation Account
Moses wrote the book of Genesis sometime after the Israelites had left Egypt while they were in the wilderness. This group of people had just left their homes and were trying to understand who this mighty and powerful God was that had just brought them out of Egypt. Moses’ description of God and the creation of the world in Genesis told the Israelites where they came from and who created them.
B. A Single God Created the Earth divine fiat and ex nihilo
The Israelite creation account makes it clear that one single God created the earth, that he created the earth divine fiat (by mere command) and ex nihilo (from nothing). Therefore, there was no cosmic struggle between God and something else. In the Israelite creation account God is the subject of the creative acts seen in Gen 1:1, 3, 6, 9, 14, 20, 24; 2:2. He is the single supreme deity in the Israelite creation account.
Not only is he the only God, but he existed before creation and outside of that creation. God also created ex nihilo because there was nothing before he began to create. Before God began to speak the world into creation (Gen 1:3) the world was formless, empty, and dark (Gen 1:1). Nowhere in the Israelite creation account does it say that God used matter or humans beings to create. Instead, Genesis 1 and Pss 33:6-9 both affirm that God merely spoke and creation emerge.
C. Seven Days of Creation
The Israelite creation account describes seven days of creation (with the sixth day given extra emphasis later in Gen 2:5-25). Light is created on the first day (Gen 1:4). Space is created between the waters above and waters below (Gen 1:8). Dry ground emerges from the waters (Gen 1:13). Light is created in the sky both for day and night (Gen 1:19). Fish, birds, and animals are created (1:23). On the sixth day of creation God makes man in his own image (Gen 1:26-27; cf. Gen 5:1; 9:6). It is in that image of God that man is also supposed to reign over the earth (Gen 1:26) and govern the earth (Gen 1:28).
D. Biblical References to the Creation Account
Various passages throughout the Bible attest to the Genesis creation account as a literal and historical event. When Jesus was asked about the topic of divorce he said that God made human beings “male and female from the beginning of creation” (Mark 10:5-6, NLT). Paul describes God as having “exited before anything else and he holds all creation together” (Col 1:17). The half-brother of Jesus told believers that God “created all the lights in the heavens” (James 1:17).
Extending the creation account beyond just the Israelites was Melchizedek who blessed Abram by “God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth” (Gen 14:19). Lastly, Revelation 3:14 describes God’s “new creation” which implies something old which had already been created. In addition to these passages, numerous others point to the biblical account of creation as a literal and historical event such as Gen 6:7; Pss 33:6-9; 102:25-26; 104; 148:1-6; Prov 8:22; Job 40:19; Ecc 12:1; Isa 40:28; 43:1, 7; 44:24; 45:8-9; 51:13; 54:16; 65:17; Jer 51:19; John 1:3; Rom 1:20, 25; 4:17; Eph 3:9, 14-15; Col 1:16-7; and Heb 1:2-3.
II. ANCIENT NEAR EASTERN CREATION MYTHS
Confusion often arises when looking at ANE creation myths because unlike the Israelites’ single account, many ANE cultures had multiple creation accounts. The myths often varied depending on which city they were told in and which god belonged there.
A. Egyptian Creation Myths
Some believe that there were three creation myths in Egypt while others believe there were four. The implications of more than one creation myth is contradiction among them about how the world was created and who created it. Therefore, as far as the Egyptian perspective, “There is no single Egyptian account known to date that describes the complete Egyptian perspective on creation. Instead, we have to put together a mosaic of bits and pieces recorded in various documents.”
The Egyptian creation myth is “thoroughly devoted to Theogony—birth of the gods as they took their forms in the creation of nature.” At the beginning of creation there was only an “infinite dark, watery, chaotic sea.” The gods mentioned in the Egyptian creation accounts were Nun (who existed in the primordial waters), Atum (who emerged from the waters), Enead who was the manifestation of the creation of the material world (generated by Atum), and Re/Re-Amun (the sun).
Later, humanity was created by accident, and at the end of the day the creator god rested. Finally pharaoh was born as the firstborn of Re/Re-Amun. Everything was done in a single day mostly by sneezing, spitting, and masturbation. Man was created in the image of Re, or Khnum fashioned man on a patters wheel with the breath of god (if that god was Re, Hekat, or Aton is unclear) or man sprang from the eye of Atum.
The Sumerian creation myth starts because of the need of the gods to have relief from laboring for self sustenance. In this myth the goddess Nammu is the one who made the earth, but the creation of man was merely an afterthought as a result of the gods’ desire for laborers. The resulting creation myth of Sumaria is in close connection with the Babylonian Atrahasis epic and Enuma Elish epic.
C. Canaanite Creation Myths
The are no clear cosmologies about creation in the Canaanite materials. What is known is that El (the head of the Canaanite pantheon) and his wife, Asherah, were creators. El is described as the creator of the earth, gods, and men. Later, El was eclipsed by his son, Baal, who was the storm god and later a fertility god. While little is known of the Canaanite creation account there were “battles between Baal and the Sea (Yamm) and Death (Mot).
D. Mesapotamian/Babylonian Creation Myths
Numerous gods are named in the two Mesapotamian and Babylonian creation myths. One of the myths is the Enuma Elish epic. The beginning of creation starts with the primordial waters consisting of two gods: Tiamat (salt water god of the deep) and Apsu (fresh water god). A third god, Mummu, appeared later as “vizier” to Apsu. The fresh water and salt water mix to make the first generation of gods. As a result of the noise of those new gods Apsu could not sleep so he decided he was going to kill the created gods.
However, Ea (the god of rivers and streams) found out about Apsu’s plan to kill the new gods so he put Apsu to sleep and then killed Apsu. Ea then fathered his own gods beginning with Marduk (the god of storm). Marduk is said to have become the king of the remaining gods because he defeated and killed his rival gods. When defeating the god Tiamat Marduk used her body, cut in half, to separate the land and the sky. Mankind was created by the mixing the flesh and blood of a killed god (or gods) with clay to form man therefore giving the spirit of god to man.
The other account is Atrahasis, in which the god, Ea, created seven human couples to take over the work of the lesser gods. Those lesser gods were in charge of tilling the land and growing food for the greater gods. When they tired and went on strike, Ea created seven human couples replace the lesser gods’ role in tilling the ground and growing food.
III. CONTINUITY AND DISCONTINUITY
1. The Source of Creation
One of the common features seen in the ANE creation myths and the Israelite account is land emerging from the waters. In the Israelite creation account we have the earth being formless, empty, and darkness covering the deep waters (Gen 1:2). Later, on the third day of creation God allows land to “appear” because the water beneath the sky flowed into one place (Gen 1:9).
The Egyptian creation account reveals that land emerged only after the water had receded. Another continuity is that man was formed by God (Israelite account) and gods (ANE) with matter from the earth. The Israelite creation says that God made human beings in his image (Gen 1:26-27) and later reveals that he “formed the man from the dust of the ground” (Gen 2:7). The Babylonian account reveals something similar that humans were made from the “clay,” but that clay was mixed with “the blood of Kingu or two Lamga gods (craftsman gods).”
2. The Sequence of Creation
Many of the creation events in ANE myths follow the basic structure of the Israelite creation account. While the overall storyline of the Israelite creation account is different than Egypt’s Enuma Elish cosmology, most of the other factors of Egypt’s creation myths and other ANE creation myths follow a similar pattern and theme.
James Atwell shows the Enuma Elish (Babylonian) chronology closely follows the Israelite account. Both begin with a divine spirit existing external to matter, the matter was full of darkness, and light came from the gods (Enuma Elish) while God created light (Israel). Next was creation of firmament, then creation of dry land, later creation of luminaries, the creation of man, and finally the gods rest and celebrate (Enuma Elish) and God rests and sanctifies the seventh day (Israelite).
Furthermore, Soden and Miller relate God’s rest and sanctification of the seventh day of creation to Egypt’s Memphite Theology (one of three or four different creation cosmologies of Egypt). In the Memphite Theology “Ptah rested when all the creating was done and all the gods were settled.” As seen above, there is similarity in the chronology of the Israelite creation account to Babylonia and one of the Egyptian cosmologies.
3. The Substance of Creation
The Israelite creation account also matches the Egyptian creation myths in describing “primordial waters” (or “watery”), which would eventually be formed into the earth. Related to the wateriness of the earth in its precreated condition is also the darkness that covered the earth. That darkness is common in the Enuma Elish and Egyptian creation myths.
Another brief continuity occurs in the Egyptian “Hermopolis” creation cosmology where the light came from Atum (the sun-god) before formal creation of the sun. The same concept of “light” before the creation of the sun is in the Isrealte creation account when God created light on day one (Gen 1:3) but the sun was not created until day four (Gen 1:14-18).
In addition, the Israelite creation account and ANE cosmologies focus on a separation between the heavens and the earth. The Sumerians said that the heavens were separated from the earth by the air-god Enil. The Babylonian Enuma Elish made heaven from the upper part of the slain Tiamat. The Egyptian myth tells of Shu, the air god, pushing up Nut (sky goddess) from Geg (earth god) which eventually separated the earth from the sky. In the Isrealite creation account God separated the waters of the heavens (sky) and the waters of the earth (Gen 1:6-8).
First and foremost the Israelite creation account differs from the ANE accounts in that the Israelite creation account is a literal event. Unlike the ANE myths, the “Israelites’ knowledge of God, therefore, was not founded in the first instance on the numinous awareness of nature, as was the case in polytheism. It was based on historical event.” Furthermore, the “God of Israel has no mythology.”
Therefore, before examining the stated discontinuities of the ANE creation myths and Israelite creation account it is important to see that the Israelite account is talking about factual history while the ANE accounts are myths.
1. The Source of Creation
The most striking difference between the Israelite creation account and ANE myths is the God (singular) versus gods (plural). Almost all ANE creation myths involve a myriad of gods while Isael had one God. Another strong discontinuity is the absence of combat and struggle in the Israelite creation account compared to the constant struggle and combat in the ANE creation myths.
With regard to the Israelite creation account “any notion of a combat, struggle, or force is absent in both of these creation acts” [the separation of the waters above/below and between land/water]. As Kenneth Kitchen explains, “Genesis 1:1-2:3 presents a calm, stately vista of creation of the cosmos by one supreme deity, untrammeled by complex mythologies or subplots.”
2. The Substance of Creation
Unlike the ANE creation myths, the Israelite creation account did not deify nor worship the created matter. In this way, Genesis 1 rejects the Egyptian method of deifying the sky, ground, and air. The Egyptian creation myths saw the material world (created matter) as the “embodiment, physical manifestation, or terrestrial incarnation of the individual gods.”
For example, the sun was the god Re, the sky was Nut, the ground was Geb, dry air was Shu, moist humidity was Tefnut, the primordial sea was Nun. The Israelite creation account clearly rejects this deification of the created material world. Instead, according to the Israelite creation account, man was to govern the earth and reign over everything on earth (Gen 1:28). Adding to the differences between this creation account and ANE myths is the relationship established between God and man. The ANE myths had humans being made to serve the gods and do the work that the gods had gone on strike from. Yet, in the Israelite creation account God entrusted humans to reign and govern his creation (Gen 1:26, 28).
Another difference is the fact that the Israelite creation account describes the beginning of the human race with a single couple, Adam and Eve. This description of the beginning of humanity is unique because, “nowhere in the ancient texts are human origins depicted in terms of a single couple being created as progenitors of the entire human race. Consequently, if the biblical text includes that idea, it is not doing so in conformity with its ancient Near Eastern environment.”
The closest relation to the Israelite creation account of a single couple at the start of the human race is the Atrahasis epic in which the god Ea created seven human couples. Yet the purpose of creating those couples was to take over the work of the lesser gods’ job of growing food for the greater gods. The relationship between this first couple in the Israelite creation account is also a reminder that God provides for his creation when he says to Adam and Eve, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden” (Gen 2:16).
This has been an examination of the Israelite creation account and ANE creation myths.
There is a strong similarity among these accounts regarding the sequence of creation with less obvious continuities among one, the beginning of creation consisting of water and two, man being formed with matter from the earth. However, there are more discontinuities and stronger contrasts among those discontinuities. The first is that the Israelite creation account is a literal and historical creation account compared to the ANE creation myths. Second, there is one supreme and powerful creator in the Israelite creation account while there are many gods mixed into the ANE creation myths. There is no supernatural struggle in the Israelite creation account because God alone created the world. Third, while the ANE creation myths deify the created matter (water, sun, etc.) as “gods,” the only God in the Isrealite creation account is the God which created the earth. Fourth, humanity is entrusted to rule over God’s creation in the Israelite creation account while humans are often depicted in the ANE myths as servants and laborers to the needs of gods. Fifth, the Israelite creation account starts with a single couple as the beginning of the human race which is completely unique from another other ANE accounts.
In light of the evidence presented in this paper there does appear to be some continuity between the Israelite creation account and ANE myths, but the discontinuities are much more common and present strong contrasts.
Suggested Resources I Used For This Study
Atwell, James. “An Egyptian Source for Genesis 1.” Journal of Theological Studies 51 (2000): 441-447.
Barton, George. “Were the Biblical Foundations of Christian Theology Derived from Babylonia?” Journal of Biblical Literature 40, no. 20 (1921): 87-103.
Bulkeley, Tim. “God as Mother? Ideas to Clarify Before We Start.” Asian Journal of Pentetcostal Studies 17 (2004): 107-118.
Hasel, Gerhard. “Polemic Nature of the Genesis Cosmology.” Evangelical Quarterly 46 (1974): 81-102.
Hoffmeier, James. “Some Thoughts on Genesis 1 and 2 in Light of Egyptian Cosmology.” Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Society 15 (1983): 39-49.
Johnston, Gordon. “Genesis 1 and Ancient Egyptian Creation Myths.” Bibliotheca Sacra 165 (2008): 178-194.
Kitchen, Kenneth. On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003.
Miller, Johnny and John Soden. In the Beginning . . . We Misunderstood: Interpreting Genesis 1 in Its Original Context. Grand Rapids, Kregel, 2012.
Walton, John. “A Historical Adam: Archetypal Creation View.” In Four Views on the Historical Adam, 89-118.
Wenham, Gordon. “Genesis 1-11 as Protohistory.” In Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither, 73-97.
Wright, George. The Old Testament Against Its Environment. SCN Press, 1962.
 Gordon Johnston, “Genesis 1 and Ancient Egyptian Creation Myths,” Bibliotheca Sacra 165 (2008): 194.
 Kenneth Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans: 2003), 420-435.
 George Barton, “Were the Biblical Foundations of Christian Theology Derived from Babylonia?” Journal of Biblical Literature 40, no. 20 (1921): 96.
 Tim Bulkeley, “God as Mother? Ideas to Clarify Before We Start,” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 17 (2004): 109.
 One is Heliopolis, another is Memphis, and the final one is Hermopolis. Atwell, “An Egyptian Source for Genesis 1,” 449
 Pyramid Texts (PT), Coffin Texts (CT), Book of the Dead, and Shabaka Stone. Johnston, “Genesis 1 and Ancient Egyptian Creation Myths,” 181.
 James Atwell, “An Egyptian Source for Genesis 1,” Journal of Theological Studies 51 (2000), 454.
 Johnny Miller and John Soden, In the Beginning. . . We Misunderstood (Grand Rapids, MI: 2012), 77.
 Johnston, “Genesis 1 and Ancient Egyptian Creation Myths,” 194.
 Miller and Soden, In the Beginning, 78.
 Johnston, “Genesis 1 and Ancient Egyptian Creation Myths,” 182.
 Miller and Soden, In the Beginning, 80.
 Ibid., 78.
 Ibid., 79.
 Gerhard Hasel, “The Polemic Nature of the Genesis Cosmology,” Evangelical Quarterly 46 (1974): 90.
 Ibid., 83.
 Ibid., 90.
 Miller and Soden, In the Beginning, 139-140.
 Ibid., 142.
 Ibid., 114.
 Bulkeley, “God as Mother?,” 108.
 “Man is formed from clay mingled with the blood of Kingu or two Lamga gods (craftsman gods).” James Hoffmeier, “Some Thoughts on Genesis 1 & 2 and Egyptian Cosmology,” Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society 15 (1983): 47. Also see George Barton, “Christian Theology from Babylonia?,” 88.
 Millerand Soden, In the Beginning, 117.
 Gordan Wenham, “Genesis 1-11 as Protohistory” in Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither, edited Charles Halton (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), 85.
 Hoffmeier, “Genesis 1 & 2 and Egyptian Cosmology,” 46.
 Ibid., 47.
 Johnston, “Genesis 1 and Ancient Egyptian Creation Myths,” 182.
 Also see Barton, “Were the Biblical Foundations of Christian Theology Derived from Babylonia?,” 93.
 Atwell, “An Egyptian Source for Genesis 1,” 445.
 Miller and Soden, In the Beginning, 93.
 Atwell, “An Egyptian Source for Genesis 1,” 451.
 Johnston, “Genesis 1 and Ancient Egyptian Creation Myths,” 178-179. Hoffmeier, “Genesis 1 & 2 and Egyptian Cosmology,” 44.
 Atwell, “An Egyptian Source for Genesis 1,” 452.
 Johnston, “Genesis 1 and Ancient Egyptian Creation Myths,” 185
 Ibid., 186.
 Hasel, “The Polemic Nature of the Genesis Cosmology,”87. Also see Atwell, “An Egyptian Source for Genesis 1,” 456.
 Gen 6:7; 14:19Pss 33:6-9; 102:25-26; 104; Isa 40:28; 43:1, 7; 44:24; 45:8-9; 51:13; 54:16; 65:17; Jer 51:19; Mark 10:5-6; John 1:3; Rom 1:20, 25; 4:17; Eph 3:9, 14-15; Col 1:16-17; Heb 1:2-3; James 1:17-18
 George Wright, The Old Testament Against Its Environment (SCM Press, 1962), 22.
 Ibid., 26.
 Bulkeley, “God as Mother?,” 110.
 Hasel, “The Polemic Nature of the Genesis Cosmology,” 88. Gordon Johnston also affirms this view saying, “More significantly there is no hint of divine conflict between God the primordial waters in Genesis 1.” Gordon Johnston, “Genesis 1 and Egyptian Myths” 179.
 Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, 427.
 Johnston, “Genesis 1 and Ancient Egyptian Creation Myths,” 190.
 Ibid., 192.
 Ibid., 192.
 John Walton, “A Historical Adam: Archetypal Creation View,” in Four Views on the Historical Adam, edited by Matthew Barret and Ardel Caneday (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan: 2013), 99.
 Wenham, “Genesis 1-11 as Protohistory,” 85.
 One element of the Israelite creation account and ANE creation myths that this author thoroughly examined yet could not decide which side of the evidence was strongest was the notion of God creative divine fiat (mere command). The Israelite creation account is clear that God merely “said” (Gen 1:3, 6, 9, 14, 20, 24) and material creation emerged. While Gordon Johnston (“Genesis and Ancient Creation Myths”, pp. 187-188) and Gerhard Hasel (“Polemic Nature of Genesis Cosmology,” pp. 90-91) each say that creation by mere command is unique only to the Israelite creation account, Miller and Soden (In the Beginning, p. 87) and James Atwell (“Egyptian Source for Genesis 1,” p. 465) believe that creation by mere command was common in ANE myths. Therefore, this author decided not to take a stance as to whether creation divine fiat was a continuity or discontinuity.