Bible: La Genèse ne procède pas du vide (Genesis was not written in a vacuum: how the Scriptures appropriate non-Hebraic world views)

30tqe6cDieu dit: Que la lumière soit! Et la lumière fut. Dieu vit que la lumière était bonne; et Dieu sépara la lumière d’avec les ténèbres. Dieu appela la lumière jour, et il appela les ténèbres nuit. Ainsi, il y eut un soir, et il y eut un matin: ce fut le premier jour. (….) Dieu dit: Qu’il y ait des luminaires dans l’étendue du ciel, pour séparer le jour d’avec la nuit; que ce soient des signes pour marquer les époques, les jours et les années; et qu’ils servent de luminaires dans l’étendue du ciel, pour éclairer la terre. Et cela fut ainsi. Dieu fit les deux grands luminaires, le plus grand luminaire pour présider au jour, et le plus petit luminaire pour présider à la nuit; il fit aussi les étoiles. Dieu les plaça dans l’étendue du ciel, pour éclairer la terre, pour présider au jour et à la nuit, et pour séparer la lumière d’avec les ténèbres. Dieu vit que cela était bon. Ainsi, il y eut un soir, et il y eut un matin: ce fut le quatrième jour. Genèse 1: 3-19
Je n’ai (…) aucune difficulté à accepter, par exemple, l’opinion de ces savants qui nous disent que le récit de la création dans la Genèse est issu d’histoires sémitiques païennes et mythologiques antérieures. Nous devons être bien sûr tout à fait clair sur la signification de ce « est issu ». Les histoires ne se reproduisent pas comme des souris. Elles sont racontées par des hommes. Chacun soit répète exactement ce que son prédécesseur avait dit ou bien le change. Il peut changer involontairement ou délibérément. S’il le change délibérément, son invention, son sens de la forme, son éthique, ses idées de ce qui est adapté, ou édifiant ou simplement intéressant, tout cela entre en jeu. S’il le fait sans le savoir, cela signifie que son inconscient (qui est responsable de tant de nos oublis) a été au travail. Ainsi, à chaque étape de ce qui est appelé – de façon un peu trompeuse – l’ « évolution » d’une histoire, un homme, tout ce qu’il est et toutes ses attitudes, jouent un rôle. Et aucun bon travail n’est fait n’importe où sans une aide du Père des lumières. Quand une série de ces reprises transforme un récit de la création qui, dans un premier temps, n’avait presque aucune signification religieuse ou métaphysique en une histoire qui réalise l’idée de la création véritable et d’un créateur transcendant (comme le fait le livre de la Genèse), alors rien ne me fera croire que certains de ces hommes, ou certains d’entre eux, n’ont pas été guidés par Dieu. Ainsi un récit qui n’était à l’origine que naturel – la sorte de mythe que l’on retrouve chez la plupart des nations– se retrouvera-t-il élevé par Dieu au-dessus de lui-même, qualifié et contraint par lui de remplir des fonctions qui, de lui-même, il n’aurait pas servi. CS Lewis
Le même divine humilité qui décréta que Dieu devienne un bébé nourri au sein d’une simple paysanne et, plus tard, un prédicateur de rue arrêté aux mains de la police romaine, décréta aussi qu’Il soit prêché dans un langage vulgaire, prosaïque et non-littéraire. Si vous avez l’estomac pour l’un, vous aurez l’estomac pour l’autre. L’Incarnation est en ce sens une doctrine irrévérencieuse : le christianisme, en ce sens, une religion incurablement irrévérencieuce. Lorsque nous nous attendons à ce que la vérité sur Dieu aurait dû venir au Monde dans toute la beauté que nous ressentons maintenant dans la Version autorisée, nous sommes aussi loin de la marque que les juifs étaient en attendant que le Messie vienne comme un grand roi terrestre. La sainteté véritable, la vraie beauté et la sublimité du Nouveau Testament (comme la vie du Christ) sont d’un genre différent : à des kilomètres plus profond ou plus intérieur. Car on nous a appris que l’Incarnation elle-même procéda « non par la transformation  de la divinité en chair, mais parce que l’humanité a été assumée en Dieu » ; en elle, la vie humaine devient le véhicule de la vie Divine. Si les écritures procédent non de la conversion de la parole de Dieu en littérature, mais en reprenant une littérature pour être le véhicule de la parole de Dieu, cela n’est pas anormal. CS Lewis
Une des plus grandes erreurs que nous puissions faire dans l’interprétation de la Bible est de la lire comme si elle était écrite pour nous aujourd’hui. (…) comme si c’était une apolégétique contre les connaissances scientifiques modernes sur les origines du monde (Darwin), quand en réalité c’était une apolégétique contre une compréhension antique opposée de la création (Enuma Elish). Tremper Longman
L’Enuma Elish est un mythe babylonien ou mésopotamien de la création racontant la lutte entre le chaos et l’ordre cosmique. Il s’agit essentiellement d’un mythe du cycle des saisons. Il est nommé d’après ses premiers mots et était récité le quatrième jour du festival du nouvel an de la Babylone antique. L’histoire de base existe sous des formes diverses dans la région. Cette version est écrite en akkadien, un vieux dialecte Babylonien et présente Marduk, la divinité protectrice de la ville de Babylone. Une version antérieure similaire en sumérien ancienne a pour héros Anu, Enil et Ninurta, ce qui suggère que cette version fut adaptée pour justifier les pratiques religieuses dans le culte de Marduk à Babylone. Cette version a été écrite dans le courant du XIIe siècle avant J.-C. dans l’écriture cunéiforme sur sept tablettes d’argile. Ils ont été trouvés au milieu du XIXe siècle dans les ruines du Palais d’Ashurbanipal à Ninive. George Smith a publié ces textes en 1876 comme la « Genèse chaldéenne ». En raison de nombreuses similitudes avec le récit de la Genèse, certains historiens ont conclu que le récit de la Genèse était simplement une réécriture de l’histoire babylonienne. Par réaction, beaucoup de ceux qui voulaient conserver le caractère unique de la Bible ont prétendu soit qu’il y n’avait aucun parallèle réél entre ces récits ou que les récits de la Genèse avaient été écrits en premier, et que le mythe babylonien avait emprunté au récit biblique. Cependant, il y a simplement trop de similitudes pour nier toute relation entre ces récits. Il existe également des différences importantes qui ne doivent pas être ignorées. Pourtant, il y a peu de doute que les versions sumériennes de l’histoire ont précédé le récit biblique de plusieurs centaines d’années. Au lieu d’opter pour les deux extrêmes de la dépendance totale ou d’aucun contact quel qu’il soit, il est préférable de voir les récits de la Genèse comme la libre utilisation des métaphores et du symbolisme d’un ensemble culturel commun pour affirmer leur propre théologie au sujet de Dieu. Dennis Bratcher
Do we automatically assume that because we understand the words of Scripture (after they have been translated into English) we also understand the meaning? Is the language and world view presented in the Bible God’s language and world view, written by God himself, and therefore an absolute truth? If so, does that mean that all of Scripture must be read absolutely literally? Or should we ask what the frame of reference and world view from which the biblical writers spoke might have been? How do we decide when the biblical writers are using symbol and metaphor? Do the writers of scripture use language symbols and cultural metaphors that are immediately translatable into our world view? Or is our modern perception of the world so different that the ancient stories are totally untranslatable and therefore irrelevant to us? Is it possible to understand enough of the biblical writers’ frame of reference and context to understand their meaning? Is there anything particularly sacred or absolute about their world view that compels us to adopt it as our own? Or was it simply a common cultural heritage shared by other peoples of the ancient world and appropriated by the Israelites and the early church? And if so, wherein lies the uniqueness of Scripture as the word of God? And how does all of this relate to our modern, Western, American, 21st century, scientifically-oriented frame of reference, world view and set of cultural metaphors? The problem is especially acute in Old Testament Scriptures, because in most places the cultural context is far more alien to us than in the New Testament. As a result, we are more conscious of the incongruity between the ancient Israelite perception of the world and our own. We want to believe the Old Testament, because it is Scripture of the Church, or at least our faith confessions say that it is. Yet there are places where, because of our modern world view, we find it difficult to believe. From our understanding of the physical world and our ideas of motion and inertia, how can the sun stand still and not disrupt the entire solar system and destroy the earth itself (Josh 10:12-15)? How can we account for the volume of water necessary to cover the entire surface of the earth to a depth of over 5 miles (Gen 6-7)? How can long-buried bones revive a dead corpse (1 Kings 13:20-21)? How can there be plants flourishing before there was a sun (Gen 1:11-19)? Too often, people adopt responses that fail to deal with the questions. They may respond that since God is doing it, and since he can do anything, there is no problem. Others may reject the Old Testament stories as mere superstition, while others reject the scientific world view and adopt a near magical perspective, or develop a sophisticated intellectual schizophrenia that allows them to function in one world at church and another world the rest of the time. The issue is especially critical for people of faith who accept the validity of work in the Natural Sciences where it seems the world views are irreconcilable. (…) To understand language, for it to be communication, I must know the frame of reference for the symbols of that language. Without a frame of reference, an understanding of the context of the symbols, I will not know how to understand the symbol. I may see the symbol K. A chemist would immediately think of Potassium. But a sailor would think of a unit of speed, a knot. A jeweler would think of caret, a chess player would think of a King or a knight, a linguist would think of a certain sound, or lack of one, a statistician might think of the 11th unit in a sequence, and a computer programmer would think of units of data. I would probably first think of the King City Glass Works in King City, Indiana, because K is the embossing on glass insulators made there, which I happen to collect. But you would need to know something about me and my immediate frame of reference to understand my appropriation of the symbol in that way. If the point here about language and symbol is valid, then it applies to theological language and theological symbols as well. Whatever else it may be, the Bible is theological language. It communicates something about God, about humanity, and about humanity’s relationship to God. Because of this understanding of the language of the Bible, I am not a literalist in interpreting Scripture. The words and the symbols of biblical language, and of theology, communicate truth, but they are not the truth themselves. Dennis Bratcher

Alors que depuis la découverte de la « Genèse chaldéenne » par George Smith dans les ruines du Palais d’Ashurbanipal de Ninive au milieu du XIXe siècle qui a révélé les indéniables liens entre le récit biblique de la création et les récits antérieurs sumériens ou babyloniens …

L’on nous somme de choisir entre « les deux vues extrêmes de la dépendance totale ou d’aucun contact quel qu’il soit » …

Comment ne pas voir, avec, Dennis Bratcher, qu’il est « préférable de voir les récits de la Genèse comme la libre utilisation des métaphores et du symbolisme d’un ensemble culturel commun pour affirmer leur propre théologie au sujet de Dieu » ?

Speaking the Language of Canaan:

The Old Testament and the Israelite Perception of the Physical World

How the Scriptures Appropriate Non-Hebraic World Views

Dennis Bratcher

Consultation on the Relationship Between the Wesleyan Tradition

and the Natural Sciences

Kansas City, Missouri

October 19, 1991

I will confess at the outset that I am an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction writing. I began in Junior High School reading Jules Verne and Jonathan Swift, then graduated to Isaac Asimov and C. S. Lewis. I suppose it was inevitable that I would became a devoted Star Trek fan. I eventually figured out that this form of literature and drama intrigued me because of the satirical nature of the genre.

Satire, which is the true genre of most fantasy, is about the human condition, aspects of human experience shared by everyone of all cultures and all times. Satire is a safe and effective means of addressing the folly, prejudices, injustices, and outright corruption of political systems, social mores, and individuals. Yet beyond and beneath the specifics of the metaphors and symbols of fantasy, once understood, is the common experience of humanity.

1. words, meanings, and world views

There is a fascinating episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that deals with the interrelationship between history, culture, and communication. The crew of the Enterprise encountered an alien race of people with whom they could not communicate. They could understand all of the words spoken, but the words made no sense. As the plot unfolded, Captain Picard learned that the aliens’ language was built of only brief metaphorical references to stories from their cultural heritage. A simple phrase, which only named a person and a place or an action, evoked a whole range of meanings associated with the event.

For example, « Juliet, on the balcony » in our context could be a metaphorical reference for love, loyalty, and devotion drawn from Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet. Even understanding the words, the phrase has no meaning apart from the original story. To understand the meaning of the words, a person must understand the function of the phrase in the narrative history of a culture, as told in a specific story with specific images. And yet, the images evoke a basic experience and set of emotions shared by all humanity. The Star Trek episode concluded with Captain Picard reading ancient Greek epics, observing that a knowledge of cultural heritage preserved in ancient stories might help him better communicate in his modern (future) world.

The story is fantasy. But the point stands. All communication must occur within a frame of reference. Knowing all the words does not necessarily mean that communication or understanding will occur. For there to be communication, both parties must operate with some shared assumptions and a common frame of reference. Or, in the case of Captain Picard, one party must learn enough about the assumptions of the other in order to understand the frame of reference and move beyond the words to the meaning.

It is these shared assumptions about the world and human existence in it that make up world view. James Sires has defined world view as « . . . a set of presuppositions (or assumptions) which we hold (consciously or unconsciously) about the basic makeup of the world. » -1- This set of presuppositions is usually adopted from the culture in which a person lives. World view, on a large scale, deals with the most basic issues of life.

What is the nature of the physical world? What is ultimately real (gods, matter, etc.)? What is the nature of humanity? What is the basis of right conduct? What is the meaning of human existence? -2- How answers to these questions are expressed in any society, and what language symbols and metaphors are used to express them, depends both on the particular world view held combined with the cultural heritage of the society. For our purposes in this paper, the term « world view » will include not just those presuppositions about the world, but also the language symbols used to express them. In fact, I will focus more narrowly on the language symbols than the underlying tenants of the world view itself.

2. the questions

This brings us to the heart of the topic of this paper. Do we automatically assume that because we understand the words of Scripture (after they have been translated into English) we also understand the meaning? Is the language and world view presented in the Bible God’s language and world view, written by God himself, and therefore an absolute truth? If so, does that mean that all of Scripture must be read absolutely literally? Or should we ask what the frame of reference and world view from which the biblical writers spoke might have been? How do we decide when the biblical writers are using symbol and metaphor? Do the writers of scripture use language symbols and cultural metaphors that are immediately translatable into our world view? Or is our modern perception of the world so different that the ancient stories are totally untranslatable and therefore irrelevant to us?

Is it possible to understand enough of the biblical writers’ frame of reference and context to understand their meaning? Is there anything particularly sacred or absolute about their world view that compels us to adopt it as our own? Or was it simply a common cultural heritage shared by other peoples of the ancient world and appropriated by the Israelites and the early church? And if so, wherein lies the uniqueness of Scripture as the word of God? And how does all of this relate to our modern, Western, American, 21st century, scientifically-oriented frame of reference, world view and set of cultural metaphors?

The problem is especially acute in Old Testament Scriptures, because in most places the cultural context is far more alien to us than in the New Testament. As a result, we are more conscious of the incongruity between the ancient Israelite perception of the world and our own. We want to believe the Old Testament, because it is Scripture of the Church, or at least our faith confessions say that it is. Yet there are places where, because of our modern world view, we find it difficult to believe.

From our understanding of the physical world and our ideas of motion and inertia, how can the sun stand still and not disrupt the entire solar system and destroy the earth itself (Josh 10:12-15)? How can we account for the volume of water necessary to cover the entire surface of the earth to a depth of over 5 miles (Gen 6-7)? How can long-buried bones revive a dead corpse (1 Kings 13:20-21)? How can there be plants flourishing before there was a sun (Gen 1:11-19)?

Too often, people adopt responses that fail to deal with the questions. They may respond that since God is doing it, and since he can do anything, there is no problem. Others may reject the Old Testament stories as mere superstition, while others reject the scientific world view and adopt a near magical perspective, or develop a sophisticated intellectual schizophrenia that allows them to function in one world at church and another world the rest of the time. The issue is especially critical for people of faith who accept the validity of work in the Natural Sciences where it seems the world views are irreconcilable.

B. The Nature of Scripture

Of course, an underlying issue here is the nature and character of Scripture. There are a host of issues that could, and properly should, be addressed here, ranging from theories of inspiration of Scripture (see Revelation and Inspiration of Scripture) to philosophical assumptions about the nature of God and the extent of His activity in the world. But given the limited scope of this presentation, I will only briefly touch on the issues, mainly to establish my own assumptions and frame of reference in addressing some of the questions.

1. fundamentalism and inerrancy

The influence of fundamentalism, and its accompanying doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture, is pervasive in evangelical circles of the church (see The Modern Inerrancy Debate). Many of the issues in the relationship between science and religion in our tradition arise from this context. The influence of the doctrine of inerrancy, mixed with the anti-intellectualism that emerged in some parts of the American religious scene in the 1920s, and the other-worldly emphasis picked up from the millenarian movements of the late 19th century, has fermented to produce a strange concoction of beliefs in the Church of the Nazarene, as well as other traditions. This phenomenon of inerrancy has been adequately documented by church historians, so I will not elaborate here. The important point to understand is that the doctrine of inerrancy that emerges from fundamentalism has its roots in Calvinism and Reformed theology, with all of the philosophical presuppositions that accompany that doctrinal system.

I cannot debate the issue of inerrancy here. For our purposes, I will simply reject the idea of the inerrancy of Scriptures, along with most of the philosophical assumptions that drive it, as incompatible with a thoroughly Wesleyan theological perspective. -3- One of the basic assertions of a Wesleyan stance is that God actually works with human beings, allowing them a degree of autonomy through His prevenient grace. If we take this seriously as a theological principle, it must affect how we view Scripture. The content and message of Scripture reveals God and His relationship to human beings and the world. But the form of that Scripture, the language, the words, the historical, religious, and cultural contexts, and therefore the cultural metaphors, are human. It is God’s word, but in human words. And it is those human words that we read in Scripture.

2. language, symbol, and theology

All language is metaphorical. Whether a language is alphabetically or phonetically based as in most modern languages, pictorially based as in some ancient and eastern languages, unwritten as in some remote dialects even today, or composed of motions as in sign language for the deaf, the basic elements of the language (word, pictograph, sign) represent something. They stand for a thing, an idea, an action or a set of relationships. The words, word clusters, and phrases function as symbols for those ideas and relationships.

Perhaps it is easier to speak of the symbolic nature of language from the perspective of mathematics, the natural sciences, or even from areas of the humanities than from theology. For example, chemists use a technical language -4- of symbols to describe the processes of interaction between various substances. Physicists and mathematicians use symbols to describe an amazing array of relationships between objects and processes. And the poet is well trained in the use of images of one kind to evoke a response in a different domain.

The premise of the Star Trek episode is valid here. To understand language, for it to be communication, I must know the frame of reference for the symbols of that language. Without a frame of reference, an understanding of the context of the symbols, I will not know how to understand the symbol. I may see the symbol K. A chemist would immediately think of Potassium. But a sailor would think of a unit of speed, a knot. A jeweler would think of caret, a chess player would think of a King or a knight, a linguist would think of a certain sound, or lack of one, a statistician might think of the 11th unit in a sequence, and a computer programmer would think of units of data. I would probably first think of the King City Glass Works in King City, Indiana, because K is the embossing on glass insulators made there, which I happen to collect. But you would need to know something about me and my immediate frame of reference to understand my appropriation of the symbol in that way.

If the point here about language and symbol is valid, then it applies to theological language and theological symbols as well. -5- Whatever else it may be, the Bible is theological language. It communicates something about God, about humanity, and about humanity’s relationship to God. Because of this understanding of the language of the Bible, I am not a literalist in interpreting Scripture. The words and the symbols of biblical language, and of theology, communicate truth, but they are not the truth themselves.

Unlike the natural sciences, the danger in theological language, especially when we are considering Scripture, is that the language symbols used to communicate theology can be allowed to become ends in themselves and take on a life, a reality, of their own. This is the value of asking our questions about world view. If we can come to an understanding of the frame of reference and context of the language, and so better understand how the language images of the Bible work, perhaps we can better understand the message, the theology, which the language, the symbols, the metaphors of language are expressing.

3. imaging history

Unlike most aspects of our modern world view, with its complicated development from the Renaissance through the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and the emergence of a technologically oriented culture, the world view of the Bible is not preoccupied with data. It is rooted in the faith confession that God entered human history and interacted with humanity in a significant way. But the events, the history of the Bible, are not reported as data points, as facts to be processed into some practical application or accumulated as a contribution to tracing the causes and effects of a positivistic world view. The community has already processed the events and the history is told as story.

Even when it emerges in a more reflective, even philosophical, form as in the Old Testament wisdom literature (Job, Proverbs, etc.), the story uses language images and cultural symbols, not to reproduce the data of the event, but to communicate the significance, impact, and meaning of the events for the ongoing community. The history emerges in the Bible as theological confession and witness. -6- Biblical history is not just reported, it is imaged. That is, it is retold in the images created by language drawing on the cultural milieu and heritage of the writer and using the cultural symbols of that milieu as the vehicle for talking about God (theology).

II. Old Testament Scriptures in Cultural Context

Having outlined the issues and assumptions and set a general framework within which to proceed, we may now turn to the biblical traditions themselves to understand how the Scriptures appropriate non-hebraic world views. At the outset, there is a problem with phrasing the topic this way. Exactly what is a « Hebraic » world view and how should it be defined? And to what extent does a Hebraic world view differ from, say, a Canaanite or a Babylonian world view?

This is likewise a complex issue, so we can only make some superficial observations. For the moment we will simply assume that there is something unique and identifiable about the Hebraic world view, and return to the issue later. However, rather than focusing on the unique aspects of Hebraic culture and world view, for the topic of this paper our preliminary discussion has led in the direction of looking at aspects of Israelite culture shared by surrounding peoples as a profitable means to understand aspects of Old Testament Scripture.

A. The Appropriation of Culture

1. the cultural pool of the ancient Middle East

Biblical historians tell us that we should not assume that the uniqueness of the Hebrews or Israelites lay in their distinctiveness from surrounding Middle Eastern peoples on the level of culture. -7- While the Israelites came to a radically new understanding of God, His relationship to the world, and human beings’ place in that world, the Israelites shared much of their culture and cultural heritage with surrounding peoples. There was a large common « pool » of culture and cultural metaphors. -8-

In the realm of religion, for example, many of the peoples of the ancient Middle East shared the same gods and the same myths about those gods. The details of the stories and the names of the gods changed between ancient Sumer, Akkad, and later Babylon, or between Phoenicia, Assyria, and Aram. -9- But the essential elements of the stories, and the basic world views they expressed, were remarkably similar. Israelite law codes provide an example from the social sphere. While in many respects the Israelite Torah differed from, for example, the Code of Hammurabi of Babylon, there are enough points of contact to reveal a certain degree of shared concerns from a shared cultural perspective (see Israel’s Codes of Conduct Compared to Surrounding Nations).

There is also evidence from the historical side. The Israelites not only lived in the midst of Canaanite culture, a certain number of them were originally Canaanites or were native to the environment of Palestine. -10- So it seems likely, and there is little in the biblical traditions which would dispute the fact, that the Israelites moved in this cultural milieu and drew from its stock of metaphors, language symbols, customs, and, to some degree, its world view.

2. the growth of Israelite community

As the Israelite community emerged in the twelfth century BC they did not simply create a new culture from whole cloth. The escaped Hebrew slaves, the Egyptians who left with them, and various groups, including Canaanites, who joined them in route to Canaan or after they settled in the land, brought with them social conventions, mores, customs, and a world view (or views). So, for example, when the Israelites began sacrificing to Yahweh in the desert, they were appropriating a ritual practiced by virtually every group of people in the ancient world. But they gave the symbol added content, because they sacrificed to Yahweh and celebrated a new understanding of deity. And they did it as people of God so that the symbol became a means of doing theology.

The same is true of the Passover festival. Originally there were two distinct ancient festivals celebrating the spring birthing of livestock (Passover) and the planting of crops (Feast of Unleavened Bread). Passover emerges in later Israelite tradition, on one level as a celebration of God’s deliverance of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt, and on another level as a confession that God enters the arena of human history and reveals himself to human beings. The ancient pagan rituals were appropriated as vehicles for confessing the Israelites’ understanding of God. The same could be said of other familiar « Israelite » institutions such as circumcision, the priesthood, the temple, and the yearly festival cycle. As the community grew and matured through time, the origins of the symbols became more and more obscure and more distinctly Israelite. Yet, that does not alter the fact that their origin lay in Canaanite culture.

B. Mythical Images in Scripture

Beyond the elements of social culture and convention that the Israelites shared with other peoples, there is also a whole range of broader and less easily defined conventions. These are the conventions of thought, what we might call in our context a philosophical framework for thinking and articulating abstract ideas.

Most peoples of the ancient world, including Canaanites (and the Romans of New Testament time), viewed the world from the perspective of myth. Contrary to what I have often heard from the pulpit, the term « myth » as used here does not mean « false » or « fiction. » Even in my old and yellowed Webster’s, « fiction » is the third meaning of the word. In its primary and more technical meaning « myth » refers to a story or group of stories that serve to explain how a particular society views their world. The stories of myth often deal with phenomena of the physical world for which the culture does not have an adequate explanation. Or they may deal with human actions and emotions that are potentially valuable or destructive for the community. Myth is a means by which a society can express its collective experience of the world, with the fear, frustration, anxiety, and promise that it holds.

The myth is also the technique by which the society comes to terms with the world in which it lives and tries to make sense out of it. For example the Oedipus myth of Greek culture attempts to verbalize, and condemn, the sexual attraction between a parent and child. The deities of myth are usually little more than the forces of nature or traits of human beings personified. Often the gods of myth are simply human beings writ large whose actions on a cosmic level produce effects in the physical world. Sexual union of the gods, for example, produces the fertility of the earth to grow crops. The means by which humans affect a world construed in myth is magic. The magic used to control the world is usually expressed in two ways. Either people imitate the activity of the gods thereby causing them to perform a desired action. Or they appease the gods by some act, such as sacrifice, to put them in a good frame of mind so they will respond in the desired way.

1. the Ba‘al myth and the physical world

The most prevalent mythical system in the immediate Canaanite context of Israelite culture was the myth of Ba‘al. As with most myths, the entire story is complex, varying in details and emphasis between peoples. The basic features, however, are fairly simple. Ba‘al religion revolved around the cycles of nature necessary for survival in the ancient world, primarily growing crops or raising livestock. Not surprisingly, in an arid and agriculturally marginal area of the world, the fertility of land and crops played a large role in Canaanite world view. And also as expected, water was a major element of the myth and its images.

We do not have time here to go into much detail concerning the Ba‘al myth and its counterparts. What we know of the basic elements of the myth actually comes from two groups of texts. The Babylonian creation hymn, Enuma Elish, describes a great battle among the gods, primarily between Marduk, the champion of the gods, and Tiamat, the primeval ocean or the « deep. » Sometimes Tiamat is portrayed as a great serpentine beast, the dragon of chaos or the dragon of the sea. Marduk overcame Tiamat and her forces and after splitting her body into two parts, made the sky, stars, sun, and moon from one half, and the earth from the other. From the blood of Tiamat’s defeated husband Kingu, one of the lesser gods, Ea (Enki) then created humanity to be servants of the gods so they would never have to work again. Marduk continued to bring order into the chaos caused by Tiamat, setting each of the astral deities in their place in the heavens and establishing the cycles of nature.

This theme of a cosmic battle among the gods personifies the struggle for life. It describes the annual renewal of the earth in springtime; it is a myth of the cycle of seasons. This cosmic battle was not understood as a historical event of the past, but occurred anew each year and was reenacted in cultic ritual. Marduk represents the forces of order, the coming of spring with its renewal of life and the end of the reign of the chaos and death of winter. Marduk is the spring sun that gives life and renewed energy to the earth. Tiamat represents those forces that threaten human existence, the threat of a disordered world in which springtime never comes. The ancient theme of an original primeval ocean that threatens to break out and engulf the world in killing salt water is also seen in Tiamat. Creation, in Babylonian thinking, was an ongoing struggle between order and chaos, a way of thinking no doubt related to the uncertainties of life in the ancient world.

The second group of texts comes from Ugarit, in northern Syria. They are chiefly concerned with the emergence of Ba‘al as the leader of the gods. Basically, Ba‘al was the storm god, the bringer of rain, and thus fertility, to the land. There was rivalry among the gods and a struggle erupted between Yamm, the sea, and Ba‘al, the rain. With the help of his sister Anat, the goddess of war, and Astarte, the goddess of earth and fertility, Ba‘al defeated Yamm, and his cohorts, Tannin, the dragon of the sea, and Loran (or Lothan, cf. Isa 27:1), the serpent with seven heads. The gods began to build a magnificent house for Ba‘al so that he could be at rest and provide abundant rain for the earth. But Ba‘al was challenged by Mot (or Mut), the god of death and the underworld. Mot temporarily triumphed and Ba‘al disappeared into the underworld. Anat and Shapash, the sun god, found Ba‘al, brought him back to life, and restored him to his house.

This series of stories is even more clearly, especially in its details, an agrarian myth personifying the cycle of rainy and dry seasons of the Middle East. Like the Enuma Elish, these texts deal with the danger inherent in drought and ensuing famine. The disappearance of rain in the dry season (Ba‘al’s descent into the underworld) portended catastrophe if it did not return in the Spring.

But this myth is more explicitly concerned with fertility, specifically cast in terms of human sexuality. Worship of Ba‘al involved imitative magic, the performance of rituals, including sacred prostitution, which were understood to bring vitality to Ba‘al in his struggle with Mot. It takes little imagination to see the connection between the human sexual act and rain watering the earth to produce fruit. It is interesting to note in passing that the biblical traditions use these same agrarian images of being fruitful or barren to describe vitality in human beings.

The emphasis here is not on the order of the world, but on the necessity of rain. The needed water cannot be the unrestrained water of flood or the lifeless salt water of Yamm (the Sea). It must be life-giving rain, falling at the proper time. Ba‘al is often portrayed as « Rider of the Clouds, » and described in imagery associated with storms and meteorological phenomena, including clouds, thunder, lightning, and hail. The myth gives assurance of some stability in the physical world, assisted by humans in their service to the gods, which would allow continued human existence.

2. poetic images and the language of creation

Since the Israelites shared the cultural milieu of the Middle East, it would not be surprising, as pervasive as these myths were in that area, that they would use some of this imagery. The creation narratives in Genesis 1, for example, draw from the images of chaos and the primeval ocean associated with the Babylonian myth, although without the cosmic battle of the gods.

The « deep » (Heb: tehom), which has cultural parallels in both Tiamat and Yamm, is formless and void. By the « breath » of God, he brings order into this formless water. We may speak philosophically of ex nihilo creation (creation out of nothing) as a logical necessity, but in Genesis 1 the images are of God as a bringer of order. The creative activity in Genesis 1 is concerned with setting limits and boundaries, bringing order into the chaos. The idea of « separating » is a recurring one. Boundaries are set between light and darkness, between earth and sky, between sea and dry land, between the waters above and the waters below. Boundaries are also set for living things; plants and animals only produce after their kinds (see The Cultural Context of Ancient Israel and God and Boundaries: Genesis 1:1-2:25).

It is this sense of order that leads to unusual laws in Israel, such as the prohibition against sowing two kinds of seeds in the same field or wearing clothing made of two different kinds of material (Deut 22:9-11). If the mythic images are taken seriously here, creation emerges not as a static and self-sustaining system, but as dynamic, sustained by the ongoing activity of God. Unlike the myths, however, God does not need the magical assistance of human beings to sustain the world. Genesis 1 is not about the world and creation; it is about God the Creator and Sustainer of the world.

The Genesis 2-3 account is slightly different in focus. It emphasizes by the use of rain, mist, and rivers the life giving necessity of water on the earth brought by God. But the real focus of the story is the creature adam who had understood the boundaries and limits of God’s creation and yet violated them thereby bringing disruption and chaos into the harmonious order of God’s world. The chaos comes not because of a battle between the gods but because of human sinfulness (see A Literary Analysis of Genesis 2:4-3:24).

However, the serpent imagery may well have its origin in the recurring theme of the dragon of chaos. It is interesting to note that in the book of Revelation (12:1-13:9), the only place in the Bible where the serpent of Genesis 3 is identified with the satan and the devil, both are also identified with the red dragon that causes upheavals in the entire order of the universe (12:4), along with the dragons of the sea that disrupt the world and human society (13:1ff). It is also interesting that the dragon devil uses a flood of water from his mouth to pursue humanity, in the figure of the woman and her child (12:15-17).

These images of chaos and order show up in a variety of other places in the biblical traditions. Probably the most striking use of the imagery is in the prophets as they use the idea to warn the people of impending judgment. Jeremiah (4:23-28), using the phrase « formless and void, » warns of God’s punishment on the nation of Judah for her sins. The images are of a world gone totally awry in which mountains move, there is no sun, no water, and no life. God will simply withdraw His presence and the world will collapse back into primeval chaos.

Chaos is a major concern in the Flood story (Gen 6-9) where the sinful actions of humanity have brought a disruption into the world, described in terms of water engulfing the earth. It is crucial to note, however, that the water, contrary to the eastern myths, is not in rebellion against God but responds to His will.

Isaiah (34:8-17) also describes the « day of Yahweh’s vengeance » in which chaos and confusion will come to the people, accompanied by water turning to fire and earth become brimstone. Interestingly, in this passage also are rare Old Testament references to mythical Canaanite « demons, » the satyr and Lilith, the storm god of the desert (see Demons in the Old Testament).

Joel, using a devastating locust plague that threatened the produce of the land as a symbol of God’s wrath on sin, also tapped into this imagery of chaos: the sun and stars cease to shine, the moon becomes blood, the earth burns, and the sky moves. It is significant that when Joel wanted to speak of God’s forgiveness and hope for the future, he used images of rain, abundant fresh water, and fertility of the ground (1:21-27, 3:18).

In exilic Isaiah, written to encourage the people following the exile, creation language is abundant. In Isaiah 45:18-19, in a deliberate play on the earlier warnings, the writer promised that God would continue to act as Creator to avoid the chaos and to establish a stable world for his people after the exile. These images of cataclysm emerge as the standard way of talking about God’s judgment, later becoming the stock of images used in apocalyptic writings such as Revelation.

The idea of God the Creator as the bringer of order also appears extensively in Psalms and in the Wisdom traditions. The psalmic creation hymns often portray the Creator God in terms of the order and stability of the world: the sun keeps its course (19:4b-6), the waters are contained (33:7), the pillars supporting the earth are solid (75:3), the rains come on time (66; 147:8), the crops grow (104:14ff), even the animal world follows set patterns (105:20:23). This stability is a frequent topic of wisdom writings, as in the « times » of Ecclesiastes (3:1-9).

There are many passages, chiefly from the Psalms, which portray God in images from the Ba‘al myth. Yahweh speaks from the mighty waters, His voice lightning and His words thunder (Psa 29; 104:7). Frequently, God is described as shooting flashing arrows from the heavens as He rides in a chariot in the clouds (Psa 76:3-9; 77:16-20; 97:1-5; 104:1-4; cf. Hab 3:4-9). He has smashed the head of the sea dragon (Levithian, Rahab) and established the boundaries of the earth (Psa 74:12-17; 89:10; 104:5-9; 148:6; cf. Isa 27:1ff; Job 26:12-13). It is Yahweh alone who rules over the waters of the deep and controls the raging of the sea (Heb: yam; Psa 77:16; 89:5-13; 93:3-4).

Clearly, the biblical traditions, when they want to speak of the physical world and express God’s relation to it, draw on the cultural idiom of the language of Canaan. However, it is equally clear that the Israelites understood the difference between using the images to speak of God’s world and adopting the images as truth. Some did take the images themselves as truth and succumbed to the worship of Ba’al as another deity. But they were always condemned in biblical tradition as distorting the proper worship of God.

3. Yahweh, the divine warrior, and the language of theophany

We have discussed the mythical images of Canaanite culture in relation to biblical creation language. Another significant use of these images from Canaanite culture is in salvation language of the Old Testament. In the understanding of God acting in history to reveal Himself to humanity, Israel makes the most decisive break with her cultural neighbors. But again, it is not on the level of language, the surface level of the images, or even in the understanding of the physical world depicted, but on a deeper level of the background and content of the metaphorical language.

The paradigmatic event in Israel’s history was the exodus, specifically the crossing of the Sea of Reeds (see The Yam Suph: Red Sea or Sea of Reeds?). Since this event involved water, there is a natural connection with the myths of ancient Middle Eastern culture. The Song of the Sea, following the Reed Sea incident (Exod 15:1-21), is one of the oldest writings in the Old Testament, and draws on the imagery of the conquest of Yamm (Sea). Yahweh is portrayed as a mighty warrior doing battle for His people (v. 3; cf Psa 24:8). While there are historical references to Pharaoh and his army, the battle itself is described in relation to the sea. The deliverance of the Israelites from the Egyptians was effected by Yahweh’s control of the sea, the waters, the floods, and the deep. Israel remembered the deliverance as a historical event. Yet when they described it, they used the language of Canaan, the poetic images common to the cultural milieu of the day (note Psa 77:16-20).

The event itself became a paradigm, a metaphorical way to confess God as Deliverer and Savior. Likewise, the poetic language used to depict the event also took on a larger symbolic function. The « coming » of God for the salvation of His people, cast in images of the Divine Warrior marching at the head of the heavenly armies, became a conventional way of referring to God and His activity in the world. This emerged in a special literary form called a theophany, in which the presence of Yahweh among His people was depicted in images rooted in the Ba‘al myths.

A typical example is the hymn of Habakkuk 3. There Yahweh marches from the southern desert riding upon the storm clouds. Pestilence (Heb: derek) and Plague (Heb: resheph), known elsewhere as the Canaanite deities Derek and Resheph, march at His side. With lightning flashing from his hands, He comes for the salvation/deliverance of His people. While Habakkuk is writing at the time of the Babylonian invasion, Yahweh’s foes are Nahar, Yam, and Tehom, the river, the sea, and the deep.

Although the literary form of a theophany can be varied, other theophanies exhibit similar references to clouds, lightning, thunder, gloom and darkness, and heavenly armies or assemblies of the heavenly court (Exodus 19; Psa 77:16-20). The Israelite writers exhibited a great deal of creativity in theophanies, and some of the images may have origins elsewhere. Yet, there are enough overtones of the mythical metaphors to see some contact with the stock of cultural metaphors of surrounding culture.

As already noted, it is likely that the images of chaos and cosmic struggle in the Ba‘al myths, mediated through the metaphorical language of theophany, also emerge in the highly stylized and symbolic language of apocalyptic, represented in Old Testament by the book of Daniel and in the New Testament by the book of Revelation. While the specific origin of many of the symbols of apocalyptic writings cannot be traced, several basic elements, including the struggle between God and the dragon, the images of fire, cloud (smoke), and water, and cataclysmic upheavals in the physical world, have a common background in Canaanite and Middle Eastern culture.

Some of these images, especially the cosmic battle waged for control of the world, translate well from their Semitic origins into the more dualistic thought world of the inter-testamental period and the early church. Unfortunately, in our day, many have again taken the metaphors themselves as truth and understand the Christian life in terms of this ancient cosmic battle between God and the dragon of chaos. This explains the popularity of « spiritual warfare » language current in some circles of the Church today.

III. Believing the Old Testament in the Twenty-First Century

We now return to our original questions and perhaps are ready to consider some answers. One thing remains to be considered, however. We have noted the ancient Israelites’ way of talking about their world and about God. In summary, we need to compare the ancient world’s way of speaking with the way we talk about our world and about God as we near the twenty-first century.

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A. Ancient and Modern Perceptions of the World

1. the reign of myth and magic

Apart from Israel, the ancient world was dominated by myth and magic, which explained how the world functioned and how human beings related to it. The myths grew out of experience, but were actually a means of articulating speculative thought about the world.  The myths revealed a way of thinking that saw the world as the embodiment of personal forces that could be controlled or manipulated by human actions. The myths were not concerned with data, natural « laws, » or absolutes. They were only concerned with establishing order and stability for the survival of life. Nothing else was necessary to explain human existence beyond the activity of the gods on some cosmic level, because the gods and the world were essentially the same thing (see chart on the Comparison of World Views, Myth).

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2. the reign of naturalism and positivism

Our modern world, at least in Western, 20th century society, is largely dominated by rationalistic approaches that deal only with data, empirical observation, and processes that are more or less self-sustaining. We call these processes « natural law, » although there is an increasing awareness that this label may not be totally adequate. This naturalistic view sees the world only in terms of a sequence of causes and effects (positivism); it is a closed system that needs no outside « interference » to operate. Nothing else is necessary to explain human existence beyond the operation of the laws of nature on a physical level, because the gods do not exist and the cosmos is self-contained (see chart on the Comparison of World Views, Naturalism/Positivism).

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A slightly more nuanced version of this view is that of classic philosophy (or the later adaption of rationalism into Deism). That view distinguishes between some ultimate or primary cause, whether a « big bang » or God however defined, and the more immediate causes of specific events or effects, such as the dynamics of the atmosphere that create weather.

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B. Myth, Symbol, and Mythopoetic Language

1. myth, ancient and modern

I would suggest that the naturalistic view of the world, whether it emerges in historical positivism, philosophical deism, or atheistic empiricism, is just as mythical in the technical sense as is the Enuma Elish or the Ba‘al myth. It assumes that one way of looking at the physical world is the only way, and that one set of metaphors, and one language, is adequate. This ascension of the myth of naturalism and natural law has created the tension that most of us have experienced as we move from our modern world view to the world view of the Scriptures. While this modern myth of immutable natural law is being modified from the perspectives of quantum physics, the theory of random event, and chaos theory, there is still a disposition, perhaps a need, to see the world in rational categories, in terms of stability and order. After all, that is a basic premise for most of the work done in the Natural Sciences.

2. religious language: having it both ways

Must we, living in a culture where the way we view our world seems totally at odds with the perspective of ancient Israelite culture, choose one or the other? I think not. I think we can have it both ways! It is here that the Bible can be our greatest ally and can provide a solution rather than being the source of the problem.

I contend that the Israelites borrowed the cultural language of Canaan because that language was the best, perhaps the only, means available to them in their cultural context to articulate observations about the physical world and how God related to that world. There were no other thought categories available to them to describe what we call « natural » processes. In fact, there is no equivalent word in the Hebrew language for what we mean by « nature. » The Israelites could not speak of « nature » as a collection of natural forces. They could only speak of God.

Yet, they differed radically from the Canaanites and surrounding cultures by refusing to equate God with the physical world. They did not use the myths to articulate their understanding of God. They did that on a historical level and so parted company with the ancient world. But the Israelites did not leave their culture. They did not make radical breakthroughs in observation of the physical world. So they were left with the language of myth by which to speak of the physical world, even when they understood it in terms of creation by God. They used, not the content and assumptions of the myth itself, but the language of myth to confess God’s relationship to the physical world as Creator and Deliverer (see chart on the Comparison of World Views, Bible/Mythopoetic).

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Understanding this puts us a long ways towards understanding the use of mythical imagery in the Old Testament. In fact, this is probably the single most important point in this paper: when it addresses aspects of the physical world, the language of the Old Testament is often the language of Canaan, cast in the images of contemporary Canaanite culture, although the content of those images is informed and transformed by a different understanding of God and his actions in the world.

The difference in understanding is not on the level of the description of the physical world or the surface levels of the images themselves. On that level, the Israelites were much nearer the mythical world of their Canaanite neighbors than they are to us (see chart on the Comparison of World Views). This helps explain the Israelites’ seven hundred year struggle to break free from a syncretistic religion that tried to make the appropriated symbols truth in themselves. On a deeper level, the mythical images of the culture were used in a metaphorical way much as the metaphors functioned in the Star Trek episode mentioned earlier. They became in biblical traditions simply the conventions of poetic description, what scholars call mythopoetic language. The difference is in the radically different view of deity and humanity that the poetic images were used to convey.

C. The Dynamics of Tradition, Community, and Culture

1. speaking what must be spoken

As the community of faith, what should we speak to our modern, rationally, scientifically, technologically oriented world? What is it that we need to say about God? What should the Church, the people of God, be expending its energy getting people to believe? The Church, as it has often done in the past, can set itself totally against culture, reject the language of Canaan as too pagan, and create its own closed community with its own system of symbols and metaphors, a language that only the initiated can understand and which the initiated are required to speak. It can haul the Galileos in its midst before the Inquisition and silence them. But that does not erase what we know. Galileo was forced before the Inquisitor to recant his Copernican theories of planetary motion, which held that the earth was not the immovable center of the universe. Legend says that Galileo arose from before the Inquisitor and quietly whispered, « But the earth does move. »

We must, as people living in the Western world at the end of the second millennium after Christ, live in our world. As much as we might like to return to a simpler world, to a biblical world, uncomplicated by the knowledge, the technology, the problems, and the questions of our time, we cannot. We can never be « BC  » persons and we can never be first century Christians. We have learned too much about our world in 2,000 years. If we are to be authentic persons, authentic Christians, we must come to terms with our world, not capitulate to it, but learn to function well in it as Christians. We must learn to be genuine theists in a way that takes seriously the biblical confession that God is Creator and Sustainer of his creation, and yet also takes seriously what we have come to know about that creation and how it works (see chart on the Comparison of World Views, Theism).

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We cannot simply construct a new myth, whether it be magically or rationally based. If we are to retain a dynamic and growing Faith in the twenty-first century, we must learn to articulate that Faith in ways, in symbols, in metaphors, that twenty-first century people can understand. If they do not know the cultural context of our words, the words will have no meaning and our message, our witness to our God, our salvation, our hope for the world runs the risk being unintelligible, or worse rejected as irrelevant. Our Faith will never be totally rational, but it cannot be irrational, and, if Wesleyan tradition is at all correct, it should be reasonable.

2. what language shall we speak?

As Christians, we must speak. Like Jeremiah the prophet, we have a message for the world that if we do not speak, it becomes a burning fire inside us that we cannot shut in. We must speak. But what language shall we speak? What symbols shall we borrow? And who will listen?

If the Israelites could hold a primitive view of the physical world much like their Canaanite neighbors, and yet still affirm Yahweh as Creator, perhaps we should realize that our faith is not finally linked to such matters unless WE force it to be. If Israelites thought that the world was flat and floated on the primeval ocean like a lily pad, and could still acknowledge God as Creator, perhaps we can believe that the world is billions of years old or that there is intelligent life on other planets in remote solar systems and still be Christian. If the biblical traditions could appropriate the language of Canaan and « sanctify » it to carry their own faith confessions, perhaps the Church should not be so threatened by science and the language of science when it informs us about our physical world.

I would suggest that we can, and should, as Christians, allow the Natural Sciences their voice in the church. I see nothing in scientific methodology that is inherently alien or threatening to the Christian faith. I see only scientists, as well as theologians, sometimes using their methodology badly. Perhaps we can even appropriate some of this modern language of Canaan in articulating our Faith confessions. We may have to give it added content, shape it to our Faith confessions, even reject some of the presuppositions that inform it. We may have to be more deliberately Wesleyan, even more deliberately Christian, in our thinking.

But in the end, we must learn to speak the language simply because it is the language that our modern world outside the church speaks. After all, the words and the language itself are not truth, they only bear witness to the truth. And I contend that, ultimately, it is the message and the witness Himself who is believed, not just his words. But the words and the language must be understood or no one will even hear the message.

Endnotes

1. James Sires, The Universe Next Door: A Basic World-View Catalog, InterVarsity Press, 1976, 17.

2. James Sires, The Universe Next Door: A Basic World-View Catalog, InterVarsity Press, 1976, 18.

3. Here I need to make clear that Wesleyan theology in and of itself does not demand a certain set of philosophical assumptions, nor does it demand the rejection of certain systems of thought. Many in the Wesleyan tradition have held the same set of assumptions as those in opposing traditions. The point is that for me, in my understanding of the basic aspects of a Wesleyan system, especially the concept of prevenient grace and human freedom/responsibility that results, the classical Platonic and Neo-Platonic philosophical systems upon which Calvinistic and Reformed theology is based does not lend itself to articulating the essential elements of that Wesleyan view. For a more detailed presentation of the perspectives on Scripture that lie behind this view, see The Modern Inerrancy Debate, Revelation and Inspiration: The Foundation in Scripture)

4. There is clearly a difference between language as the specific ways in which sounds and words are combined to produce speech common to a particular group, as the English language, and the more general sense in which I am using language here to emphasize any means of communication through symbols. However, the difference is more one of degree than of substance; the former is a more specialized aspect of the latter.

5. Here I am using « theology » is a non-technical sense simply to refer to « talk about God, » which is the basic meaning of the word.

6. This dimension is emphasized in two of the Gospels: Luke 1:1-2, John 20:30-31, 21:24-25.

7. William A. Irwin, « The Hebrews, » in The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man: An Essay on Speculative Thought in the Ancient Near East, University of Chicago Press, 1972 [1946], 224ff.

8. There are no surviving texts from the Canaanite culture that the Israelites replaced in Palestine. Most of our information comes from archaeological excavations and from the Old Testament itself. However, large numbers of texts have been discovered in Syria (Ugarit), Assyria (Nineveh), and Babylon (Sumerian and Akkadian), as well as Egypt. These texts describe religious myths, beliefs, and practices that correspond very closely in significant details to the Israelite characterization of Canaanite religion presented in the Old Testament. We can also trace the similarity in law codes, customs, building practices, etc. Walter Beyerlin, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Religious Texts Relating To the Old Testament, Westminster, 1978 [1975], 185, passim.

9. For example: Sumer, 18th century BC, An, Enlil, Ninhursanga (Heaven, Air, Earth); Akkad, 12th century BC, Marduk, Enlil, Tiamat; Ugarit (Ras Shamra), 13th century BC, El, Ashirat, Baal (Hadd or Hadad), Anat; Hittite/Hurrian, 13th century BC, Teshub, Kumarbi; Sidon, 5th century BC, Eshmun (Gk: Asclepius), Astarte; Tyre, 5th century BC, Baal Melqart (Gk: Heracles); Carthage, 5th century BC, Baal Hammon, Tanit; Damascus, eighth century BC, Baal Shamamin, Shamash, Shahar (Lord of Heaven, Sun, Moon); Babylon, 9th -5th century BC, Marduk, Ishtar. Ancient Sumerian and Akkadian texts name over 3,000 deities. Walter Beyerlin, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Religious Texts Relating To the Old Testament, Westminster, 1978 [1975], 69, passim.

10. Norman Gottwald has postulated that the great majority of « Israelites » that emerged in the period of the Davidic monarchy were actually disenfranchised Canaanites who rebelled from the overlords of the city states of Palestine and joined a core group of escaped slaves in a battle for freedom (Norman Gottwald, The Tribes of Yahweh). Even without accepting this hypothesis, there is biblical evidence that at least some Canaanites, as well as some Africans from Egypt, joined the Israelites as they moved into Canaan. This would partly explain the recurrent problem with the worship of Baal and other non-Israelite deities. See Josh 9, Exod 12:38, Num 11:4. Also, scholars have suggested that the lack of battles fought in the central highlands of Samaria as the Israelites entered the land is evidence that clan members related to the Israelites remained in this area during the several centuries-long Egyptian sojourn of Abraham’s family.

11. Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, The Southwestern Company, 1962, 495.

12. H. and H. A. Frankfort, « Myth and Reality, » in The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man: An Essay on Speculative Thought in the Ancient Near East, University of Chicago Press, 1972 [1946], 3-27.

13. Again noting that there are no surviving texts from Canaanite culture. The most complete text of the Ba‘al myth comes from Ugarit.

14. Space prohibits dealing with the equally interesting Epic of Gilgamesh or the earlier Atrahasis Epic, both of which contain stories in which water threatens to re-engulf the world. Walter Beyerlin, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Religious Texts Relating To the Old Testament, Westminster, 1978 [1975], 89-97.

15. This mythical battle, called a theogony, is a recurring theme in most mythical systems from ancient Greece and Rome to modern popular Hinduism.

16. Pierre Grimal, ed., Larousse World Mythology, Chartwell Books, 1976 [1965], 63-70; Walter Beyerlin, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Religious Texts Relating To the Old Testament, Westminster, 1978 [1975], 80-84.

17. Pierre Grimal, ed., Larousse World Mythology, Chartwell Books, 1976 [1965], 86-92; Walter Beyerlin, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Religious Texts Relating To the Old Testament, Westminster, 1978 [1975], 185-221.

18. See F. M. Cross, « The Song of the Sea and Canaanite Myth, » in Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic, 113-120.

19. See Samuel Terrien, The Elusive Presence: The Heart of Biblical Theology, Harper and Row, 1983, 63-152.

20. This is the conclusion of the Frankforts in H. and H. A. Frankfort, « The Emancipation of Thought from Myth, » in The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man: As Essay on Speculative Thought in the Ancient Near East, University of Chicago Press, 1972 [1946], 363-388.

21. There is much debate about the development and transition to a « post-modern » perspective that is less rationalistic, less concerned with self sustaining processes, and that is more aware of spontaneity and random event. This has led, especially in scientific circles to talk more about the processes by which events occur rather than the final cause for them according to a definable « natural law. » This perspective may (or may not) mark a transition to a new world view. However, there is sufficient diversity in the perspectives right now to describe them generally as falling somewhere in a range between theism (emphasizing a certain external cause), deism (acknowledging some external cause), to naturalism (the cause resides within the system) whether or not that cause is defined in terms of « natural law ».

Voir aussi:

Enuma Elish: « When on High . . . »

The Mesopotamian/Babylonian Creation Myth

Dennis Bratcher

The Enuma Elish is a Babylonian or Mesopotamian myth of creation recounting the struggle between cosmic order and chaos. It is basically a myth of the cycle of seasons. It is named after its opening words and was recited on the fourth day of the ancient Babylonian New Year’s festival. The basic story exists in various forms in the area. This version is written in Akkadian, an old Babylonian dialect, and features Marduk, the patron deity of the city of Babylon. A similar earlier version in ancient Sumerian has Anu, Enil and Ninurta as the heroes, suggesting that this version was adapted to justify the religious practices in the cult of Marduk in Babylon.

This version was written sometime in the 12th century BC in cuneiform on seven clay tablets. They were found in the middle 19th century in the ruins of the palace of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh. George Smith first published these texts in 1876 as The Chaldean Genesis. Because of many parallels with the Genesis account, some historians concluded that the Genesis account was simply a rewriting of the Babylonian story. As a reaction, many who wanted to maintain the uniqueness of the Bible argued either that there were no real parallels between the accounts or that the Genesis narratives were written first and the Babylonian myth borrowed from the biblical account.

However, there are simply too many similarities to deny any relationship between the accounts. There are significant differences as well that should not be ignored. Yet there is little doubt that the Sumerian versions of the story predate the biblical account by several hundred years. Rather than opting for either extreme of complete dependence or no contact whatever, it is best to see the Genesis narratives as freely using the metaphors and symbolism drawn from a common cultural pool to assert their own theology about God (see Speaking the Language of Canaan).

The version presented here is a combination of several translations but is substantially based on the translation of E. A. Speiser in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3rd edition, edited by James Pritchard (Princeton, 1969), with modifications based on various other translations (for example, the translation of L. W. King, The Seven Tablets of Creation, London 1902). The translation of these texts is not exact. In some cases, badly damaged tablets make reading the text difficult. Some translators leave the gaps, while others attempt to reconstruct the text based on what remains. In other cases, there are differing interpretations of the meaning of words or the reading of the cuneiform itself. Many translations of the tablets try to capture the sense of the text rather than a literal translation. That is the approach taken here. In this version, many of the names of the gods are left untranslated.

Tablet I

The stage is set for the story. The various gods represent aspects of the physical world. Apsu is the god of fresh water and thus male fertility. Tiamat, wife of Apsu, is the goddess of the sea and thus chaos and threat. Tiamat gives birth to Anshar and Kishar, gods who represented the boundary between the earth and sky (the horizon). To Anshar and Kishar is born Anu, god of sky, who in turn bears Ea. These « sons of the gods » make so much commotion and are so ill-behaved that Apsu decides to destroy them. When Ea learns of the plan, he kills Apsu and with his wife Damkina establishes their dwelling above his body. Damkina then gives birth to Marduk, the god of spring symbolized both by the light of the sun and the lightning in storm and rain. He was also the patron god of the city of Babylon. Meanwhile Tiamat is enraged at the murder of her husband Apsu, and vows revenge. She creates eleven monsters to help her carry out her vengeance. Tiamat takes a new husband, Kingu, in place of the slain Apsu and puts him in charge of her newly assembled army.

When on high the heaven had not been named,

Firm ground below had not been called by name,

When primordial Apsu, their begetter,

And Mummu-Tiamat, she who bore them all,

Their waters mingled as a single body,

No reed hut had sprung forth, no marshland had appeared,

None of the gods had been brought into being,

And none bore a name, and no destinies determined–

Then it was that the gods were formed in the midst of heaven.

Lahmu and Lahamu were brought forth, by name they were called. (10)

Before they had grown in age and stature,

Anshar and Kishar were formed, surpassing the others.

Long were the days, then there came forth…..

Anu was their heir, of his fathers the rival;

Yes, Anshar’s first-born, Anu, was his equal.

Anu begot in his image Nudimmud.

This Nudimmud was of his fathers the master;

Of broad wisdom, understanding, mighty in strength,

Mightier by far than his grandfather, Anshar.

He had no rival among the gods, his brothers. (20)

Thus were established and were… the great gods.

They disturbed Tiamat as they surged back and forth,

Yes, they troubled the mood of Tiamat

By their hilarity in the Abode of Heaven.

Apsu could not lessen their clamor

And Tiamat was speechless at their ways.

Their doings were loathsome unto . . . .

Thier way was evil; they were overbearing.

Then Apsu, the begetter of the great gods,

Cried out, addressing Mummu, his minister: (30)

« O Mummu, my vizier, who rejoices my spirit,

Come here and let us go to Tiamat! »

They went and sat down before Tiamat,

Exchanging counsel about the gods, their first-born.

Apsu, opening his mouth,

Said to resplendent Tiamat:

« Their ways are truly loathsome to me.

By day I find no relief, nor repose by night.

I will destroy, I will wreck their ways,

That quiet may be restored. Let us have rest! » (40)

As soon as Tiamat heard this,

She was furious and called out to her husband.

She cried out aggrieved, as she raged all alone,

She uttered a curse, and unto Apsu she spoke:

« What? Should we destroy that which we have built?

Their ways indeed are most troublesome, but let us attend kindly! »

Then Mummu answered, giving counsel to Apsu;

Ill-wishing and ungracious was Mummu’s advice:

« Do destroy, my father, the mutinous ways.

Then you will have relief by day and rest by night! » (50)

When Apsu heard this, his face grew radiant

Because of the evil he planned against the gods, his sons.

As for Mummu, he embraced him by the neck

As that one sat down on his knees to kiss him.

Now whatever they had plotted between them,

Was repeated unto the gods, their first-born.

When the gods heard this, they were astir,

Then lapsed into silence and remained speechless.

Surpassing in wisdom, accomplished, resourceful,

Ea, the all-wise, saw through their scheme. (60)

A master design against it he devised and set up,

Made artful his spell against it, surpassing and holy.

He recited it and made it subsist in the deep,

As he poured sleep upon him. Sound asleep he lay.

When he had made Apsu prone, drenched with sleep,

Mummu, the adviser, was powerless to stir.

He loosened his band, tore off his tiara,

Removed his halo and put it on himself.

Having fettered Apsu, he slew him.

Mummu he bound and left behind lock. (70)

Having thus established his dwelling upon Apsu,

He laid hold of Mummu, holding him by the nose-rope.

After Ea had vanquished and trodden down his foes,

Had secured his triumph over his enemies,

In his sacred chamber in profound peace had rested,

He named it « Apsu, » for shrines he assigned it.

In that same place his cult hut he founded.

Ea and Damkina, his wife, dwelled there in splendor.

[The Birth of Marduk]

In the chamber of fates, the abode of destinies,

A god was engendered, most able and wisest of gods. (80)

In the heart of Apsu was Marduk created,

In the heart of holy Apsu was Marduk created.

He who begot him was Ea, his father;

She who bore him was Damkina, his mother.

The breast of goddesses he did suck.

The nurse that nursed him filled him with awesomeness.

Alluring was his figure, sparkling the lift of his eyes.

Lordly was his gait, commanding from of old.

When Ea saw him, the father who begot him,

He exulted and glowed, his heart filled with gladness. (90)

He rendered him perfect and endowed him with a double godhead.

Greatly exalted was he above them, exceeding throughout.

Perfect were his members beyond comprehension,

Unsuited for understanding, difficult to perceive.

Four were his eyes, four were his ears;

When he moved his lips, fire blazed forth.

Large were all four hearing organs,

And the eyes, in like number, scanned all things.

He was the loftiest of the gods, surpassing was his stature;

His members were enormous, he was exceeding tall. (100)

« My little son, my little son! »

My son, the Sun! Sun of the heavens! »

Clothed with the halo of ten gods, he was strong to the utmost,

As their awesome flashes were heaped upon him.

Anu brought forth and begot the fourfold wind

Consigning to its power the leader of the host.

He fashioned . . . , stationed the whirlwind,

He produced streams to disturb Tiamat.

The gods, given no rest, suffer in the storm.

Their hearts having plotted evil, (110)

To Tiamat, their mother, said:

« When they slew Apsu, your consort,

You did not aid him but remained still.

When he created the dread fourfold wind,

Your vitals were diluted and so we can have no rest.

Let Apsu, your consort, be in your mind

And Mummu, who has been vanquished! You are left alone!

. . . you pace about distraught,

. . . without cease. You do not love us!

. . . our eyes are pinched, (120)

. . . without cease. Let us have rest!

. . . to battle. Avenge them!

. . . and render them as the wind! »

When Tiamat heard these words, she was pleased:

 » . . . you have given. Let us make monsters,

. . . and the gods in the midst . . . .

. . . let us do battle and against the gods . . . ! »

They banded themselves together and marched at the side of Tiamat.

Enraged, they plot without cease night and day,

They are set for combat, growling, raging, (130)

They form a council to prepare for the fight.

Mother Hubur, she who fashions all things,

Added matchless weapons, bore monster-serpents,

Sharp of tooth, unsparing of fang.

With venom for blood she has filled their bodies.

Roaring dragons she has clothed with terror,

Has crowned them with haloes, making them like gods,

Whoever beheld them, terror overcame him,

And that, with their bodies reared up, none might turn them back.

She set up the Viper, the Dragon, and the monster Lahamu, (140)

The Great-Lion, the Mad-Dog, and the Scorpion-Man,

Mighty lion-demons, the Dragon-Fly, the Centaur–

Bearing weapons that do not spare, fearless in battle.

Her decrees were firm, they were beyond resisting.

All together eleven of this kind she brought forth.

From among the gods, her first-born, who formed her Assembly,

She elevated Kingu, made him chief among them.

The leading of the ranks, command of the Assembly,

The raising of weapons for the encounter, advancing to combat,

To direct the battle, to control the fight, (150)

These she entrusted to his hand as she seated him in the Council:

« I have cast for you the spell, exalting you in the Assembly of the gods.

To counsel all the gods I have given you full power.

Truly, you are supreme, you are my only consort!

Your utterance shall prevail over all the Anunnaki! »

She gave him the Tablet of Destinies, fastened on his breast:

« As for you, your command shall be unchangeable, your word shall endure! »

As soon as Kingu was elevated, possessed of the rank of Anu,

they decreed the fate for the gods, his sons:

« Your word shall make the first subside, (160)

Shall humble the `Power-Weapon,’ so potent in its sweep! »

Tablet II

Tiamat represents the forces of disorder and chaos in the world. In the cycle of seasons, Tiamat is winter and barrenness. In the second tablet, to avenge the murder of her husband Tiamat prepares to unleash on the other gods the destructive forces that she has assembled. Ea learns of her plan and attempts to confront Tiamat. While the tablet is damaged, it is apparent that Ea fails to stop Tiamat. Then Anu attempts to challenge her but fails as well. The gods become afraid that no one will be able to stop Taimat’s vengeful rampage.

When Tiamat had thus lent import to her handiwork,

She prepared for battle against the gods, her offspring.

To avenge Apsu, Tiamat planned evil.

That she was girding for battle was divulged to Ea.

As soon as Ea heard of this matter,

He lapsed into dark silence and sat still.

The days went by, and his anger subsided,

He went to Anshar, his fore father.

When he came before his grandfather, Anshar,

He repeated all that Tiamat had plotted to him: (10)

« My father, Tiamat, she who bore us, detests us.

She has set up the Assembly and is furious with rage.

All the gods have rallied to her;

Even those whom you brought forth march at her side.

They throng and march at the side of Tiamat,

Enraged, they plot without cease night and day.

They are set for combat, growling, raging,

They have formed a council to prepare for the fight.

Mother Hubur, she who fashions all things,

Has added matchless weapons, has born monster-serpents, (20)

Sharp of tooth, unsparing of fang.

With venom for blood she has filled their bodies.

Roaring dragons she has clothed with terror,

Has crowned them with haloes, making them like gods,

So that he who beholds them is overcome by terror,

Their bodies rear up and none can withstand their attack.

She has set up the Viper, the Dragon, and the Sphinx,

The Great-Lion, the Mad-Dog, and the Scorpion-Man,

Mighty lion-demons, the Dragon-Fly, the Centaur–

Bearing weapons that spare not, fearless in battle. (30)

Her decrees are firm, they are beyond resisting.

All together eleven of this kind she has brought forth.

From among the gods, her first-born, who formed her Assembly,

She has elevated Kingu, has made him chief among them.

The leading of the ranks, command of the Assembly,

The raising of weapons for the encounter, advancing to combat,

To direct the battle, to control the fight,

She entrusted these to his hands as she seated him in the Council:

‘I have cast the spell for you, exalting you in the Assembly of the gods.

To counsel all the gods I have given you full power. (40)

Truly, you are supreme, you are my only consort!

Your utterance shall prevail over all the Anunnaki!’

She has given him the Tablet of Destinies, fastened on his breast:

‘As for you, your command shall be unchangeable, your word shall endure!’

As soon as Kingu was elevated, possessed of the rank of Anu,

They decreed the fate for the gods, her sons:

‘Your word shall make the fire subside,

Shall humble the « Power-Weapon, » so potent in its sweep!’

When Anshar heard that Tiamat was sorely troubled,

He struck his loins and bit his lips. (50)

[The following lines are corrupted because the tablet is damaged here; there are various proposals for how to reconstruct them]

His heart was gloomy, his mood restless.

He covered his mouth to stifle his outcry:

. . . battle.

. . .you . . .

Lo, you killed Mummu and Apsu.

Now, kill Kingu, who marches before her.

. . . wisdom. »

Nudimmud, the. . . of the gods, . . . .

[A break in the tablet loses about 12 lines here.]

He addressed a word to Anu, his son:

 » . . . mighty hero,

Whose strength is outstanding, his onslaught cannot be withstood.

Go and stand before Tiamat,

That her mood be calmed, that her heart may be merciful.

If she will not listen to your word,

Then tell her our word, that she might be calmed. »

When he heard the command of his father, Anshar,

He made straight for her way, following the road to her. (80)

But when Anu was near enough to see the plan of Tiamat,

He was not able to face her and he turned back.

[He came abjectly to his father,] Anshar.

. . . he addressed him:

[The following 20 lines are badly damaged; there are various reconstructions of this section]

« My hand suffices not for me to subdue you. »

Anshar was speechless as he stared at the ground,

Hair on edge, shaking his head at Ea.

All the Anunnaki gathered at that place;

Their lips closed tight, they sat in silence.

« No god, » they thought « can go to battle and, (90)

Facing Tiamat, escape with his life. »

. . .Anshar . . .

. . .he said to . . .

. . .an avenger . . .

. . .the hero! »

. . .in his place of seclusion.

. . .he spoke to him:

. . .your father,

For you are my son who comforts his heart.

When facing Anshar, approach as though in combat; (100)

Stand up as you speak; seeing you, he will grow restful. »

The lord rejoiced at the word of his father;

He approached and stood before Anshar.

When Anshar saw him, his heart filled with joy.

He kissed his lips and his fear departed from him

« Anshar, be not muted; open wide thy lips.

I will go and attain thy heart’s desire.

Anshar, be not muted; open wide your lips.

I will go and attain your heart’s desire!

What male is it who has pressed his fight against you? (110)

. . .Tiamat, a woman, that flies at you with weapons!

. . . be glad and rejoice;

You shall soon tread upon the neck of Tiamat!

. . . be glad and rejoice;

You shall soon tread upon the neck of Tiamat! »

« My son, you who knows all wisdom,

Calm Tiamat with your holy spell.

On the storm-chariot proceed with all speed.

For your blood shall not be spilled; you will return again. »

The lord rejoiced at the word of his father. (120)

His heart exulting, he said to his father:

« Creator of the gods, destiny of the great gods,

If I indeed, as your avenger,

Conquer Tiamat and give you life,

Set up the Assembly, proclaim my destiny to be supreme!

When jointly in Ubshukinna you have sat down rejoicing,

Let my word, instead of you, determine the fates.

What I may bring into being shall be unalterable;

The command of my lips shall be neither recalled nor changed. »

Tablet III

Anshar’s minister Gaga is dispatched to the other gods to report the activities of Tiamat and to tell them of Marduk’s willingness to face her. Much of this tablet is poetic repetition of previous conversations.

Anshar opened his mouth and

Addressed a word to Gaga, his minister:

« O Gaga, my vizier, who gladdens my spirit,

I will dispatch you to Lahmu and Lahamu.

. . . you are adept;

. . . produce you before me!

. . . let all the gods,

Let them hold converse, sit down to a banquet,

Let them eat bread, let them mix wine,

For Marduk, their avenger, let them fix the decrees. (10)

Be on your way, Gaga, take the stand before them,

And that which I shall tell you repeat to them:

‘Anshar, your son, has sent me here,

Charging me to give voice to the dictates of his heart,

He says that Tiamat, she who bore us, detests us.

She has set up the Assembly and is furious with rage.

All the gods have rallied to her;

Even those whom you brought forth march at her side.

They throng and march at the side of Tiamat.

Enraged, they plot without cease night and day. (20)

They are set for combat, growling, raging,

They have formed a council to prepare for the fight.

Mother Hubur, she who fashions all things,

Has added matchless weapons, has born monster-serpents,

Sharp of tooth, unsparing of fang.

With venom for blood she has filled their bodies.

Roaring dragons she has clothed with terror,

Has crowned them with haloes, making them like gods,

So that he who beholds them is overcome by terror,

Their bodies rear up and none can withstand their attack. (30)

She has set up the Viper, the Dragon, and the monster Lahamu,

The Great-Lion, the Mad-Dog, and the Scorpion-Man,

Mighty lion-demons, the Dragon-Fly, the Centaur–

Bearing weapons that spare not, fearless in battle.

Her decrees are firm, none can. resist them;

After this fashion eleven of this kind she has brought forth.

From among the gods, her first-born, who formed her Assembly,

She has elevated Kingu, has made him chief among them.

The leading of the ranks, command of the Assembly,

The raising of weapons for the encounter, advancing to combat, (40)

To direct the battle, to control the fight,

These to his hands she entrusted as she seated him in the Council:

« I have cast the spell for you, exalting you in the Assembly of the gods.

To counsel all the gods I have given you full power.

truly, you are supreme, you are my only consort!

Your utterance shall prevail over all the Anunnaki! »

She has given him the Tablet of Destinies, fastened on his breast:

« As for you, your command shall be unchangeable, your word shall endure! »

As soon as Kingu was elevated, possessed of the rank of Anu,

For the gods, her sons, they decreed the fate: (50)

« Your word shall make the fire subside,

Shall humble the « Power-Weapon, » so potent in its sweep! »

I sent forth Anu; he could not face her.

Nudimmud was afraid and turned back.

But Marduk came forth, the wisest of gods, your son,

His heart having prompted him to set out to face Tiamat.

He opened his mouth, saying unto me:

« If I indeed, as your avenger,

Am to vanquish Tiamat and save your lives,

Set up the Assembly, proclaim supreme my destiny! (60)

When jointly in Ubshukinna you have sat down rejoicing,

Let my word, instead of you, determine the fates.

Unalterable shall be what I may bring into being;

Neither recalled nor changed shall be the command of my lips! »

Now hasten here and promptly fix for him your decrees,

That he may go forth to face your mighty foe!’ »

Gaga departed, proceeding on his way.

Before Lahmu and Lahamu, the gods, his fathers,

He made obeisance, kissing the ground at their feet.

He bowed low as he took his place to address them: (70)

« It was Anshar, your son, who has sent me here,

Charging me to give voice to the dictates of his heart,

He sya that Tiamat, she who bore us, detests us.

She has set up the Assembly and is furious with rage.

All the gods have rallied to her,

Even those whom you brought forth march at her side.

They re banded together and march at the side of Tiamat.

Enraged, they plot without cease night and day.

They are set for combat, growling, raging,

They have formed a council to prepare for the fight. (80)

Mother Hubur, she who fashions all things,

Has added matchless weapons, has born monster-serpents,

Sharp of tooth, unsparing of fang.

With venom for blood she has filled their bodies,

Roaring dragons she has clothed with terror,

Has crowned them with haloes, making them like gods,

So that he who beholds them terror overcomes him,

Their bodies rear up and none can withstand their attack.

She has set up vipers, dragons, and the monster Lahamu,

Great-lions, mad-dogs, and scorpion-men, (90)

Mighty lion-demons, dragon-flies, and centaurs–

Bearing weapons that spare not, fearless in battle.

Firm are decrees, past withstanding are they.

After this fashion eleven of this kind she has brought forth.

From among the gods, her first-born, who formed her Assembly,

She has elevated Kingu, has made him chief among them.

The leading of the ranks, command of the Assembly,

The raising of weapons for the encounter, advancing to combat,

To direct the battle, to control the fight,

These to his hands she has entrusted as she seated him in the Council: (100)

« I have cast the spell for you, exalting you in the Assembly of the gods.

To counsel all the gods I have given you full power.

Truly, you are supreme, you are my only consort!

Your utterance shall prevail over all the Anunnaki! »

She has given him the Tablet of Destinies, fastened on his breast:

« As for you, your command shall be unchangeable, your word shall endure! »

As soon as Kingu was elevated, possessed of the rank of Anu,

For the gods, her sons, they decreed the fate:

« Your word shall make the fire subside,

Shall humble the « Power-Weapon, » so potent in its sweep! »(110)

I sent forth Anu; he could not face her.

Nudimmud was afraid and turned back.

But Marduk came forth, the wisest of gods, your son,

His heart having prompted him to set out to face Tiamat.

He opened his mouth, saying unto me:

« If I indeed, as your avenger,

Am to vanquish Tiamat and save your lives,

Set up the Assembly, proclaim supreme my destiny!

When in Ubshukinna jointly you sit down rejoicing,

Let my word, instead of you, determine the fates. (120)

Unalterable shall be what I may bring into being;

Neither recalled nor changed shall be the command of my lips! »

Now hasten here and promptly fix for him your decrees,

That he may go forth to face your mighty foe! »

When Lahmu and Lahamu heard this, they cried out aloud,

All the Igigi wailed in distress:

‘How strange that they should have made this decision!

We cannot fathom the doings of Tiamat!’

They made ready to leave on their journey,

All the great gods who decree the fates. (130)

They entered before Anshar, filling Ubshukinna.

They kissed one another in the Assembly.

They held converse as they sat down to the banquet.

They ate bread, they mixed wine.

They wetted their drinking-tubes with sweet intoxicant.

As they drank the strong drink, their bodies swelled.

They became very languid as their spirits rose.

For Marduk, their avenger, they fixed the decrees.

Tablet IV

The council of the gods tests Marduk’s powers by having him make a garment disappear and then reappear. After passing the test, the council enthrones Marduk as high king and commissions him to fight Tiamat. With the authority and power of the council, Marduk assembles his weapons, the four winds as well as the seven winds of destruction. He rides in his chariot of clouds with the weapons of the storm to confront Tiamat. After entangling her in a net, Marduk unleashes the Evil Wind to inflate Tiamat. When she is incapacitated by the wind, Marduk kills her with an arrow through her heart and takes captive the other gods and monsters who were her allies. He also captured her husband Kingu. After smashing Tiamat’s head with a club, Marduk divided her corpse, using half to create the earth and the other half to create the sky complete with bars to keep the chaotic waters from escaping. The tablet ends with Marduk establishing dwelling places for his allies.

They erected for him a princely throne.

Facing his fathers, he sat down, presiding.

« You are the most honored of the great gods,

Your decree is unrivaled, your command is Anu.

You, Marduk, are the most honored of the great gods,

Your decree is unrivaled, your word is Anu.

From this day your pronouncement shall be unchangeable.

To raise or bring low–these shall be in your hand.

Your utterance shall be true, your command shall be unimpeachable.

No one among the gods shall transgress your bounds! (10)

Adornment being wanted for the seats of the gods,

Let the place of their shrines ever be in your place.

O Marduk, you are indeed our avenger.

We have granted you kingship over the universe entire.

When you sit in Assembly your word shall be supreme.

Your weapons shall not fail; they shall smash your foes!

O lord, spare the life of him who trusts you,

But pour out the life of the god who seized evil. »

Having placed in their midst a garment,

They addressed themselves to Marduk, their first-born: (20)

« May thy fate, O lord, be supreme among the gods,

Say but to wreck or create; it shall be.

Open your mouth: the garment will vanish!

Speak again, and the garment shall be whole! »

At the word of his mouth the garment vanished.

He spoke again, and the garment was restored.

When the gods, his fathers, saw the fruit of his word,

Joyfully they did homage: « Marduk is king! »

They conferred on him scepter, throne, and vestment;

They gave him matchless weapons that ward off the foes: (30)

« Go and cut off the life of Tiamat.

May the winds bear her blood to places undisclosed. »

Bel’s destiny thus fixed, the gods, his fathers,

Caused him to go the way of success and attainment.

He constructed a bow, marked it as his weapon,

Attached thereto the arrow, fixed its bow-cord.

He raised the mace, made his right hand grasp it;

Bow and quiver he hung at his side.

In front of him he set the lightning,

With a blazing flame he filled his body. (40)

He then made a net to enfold Tiamat therein.

The four winds he stationed that nothing of her might escape,

The South Wind, the North Wind, the East Wind, the West Wind.

Close to his side he held the net, the gift of his father, Anu.

He brought forth Imhullu « the Evil Wind, » the Whirl-wind, the Hurricane,

The Fourfold Wind, the Sevenfold Wind, the Cyclone, the Matchless Wind;

Then he sent forth the winds he had brought forth, the seven of them.

To stir up the inside of Tiamat they rose up behind him.

Then the lord raised up the flood-storm, his mighty weapon.

He mounted the storm-chariot irresistible and terrifying. (50)

He harnessed and yoked to it a team-of-four,

The Killer, the Relentless, the Trampler, the Swift.

Their lips were parted, their teeth bore poison.

They were tireless and skilled in destruction.

On his right he posted the Smiter, fearsome in battle,

On the left the Combat, which repels all the zealous.

For a cloak he was wrapped in an armor of terror;

With his fearsome halo his head was turbaned.

The lord went forth and followed his course,

Towards the raging Tiamat he set his face. (60)

In his lips he held a spell;

A plant to put out poison was grasped in his hand.

Then they milled about him, the gods milled about him,

The gods, his fathers, milled about him, the gods milled about him.

The lord approached to scan the inside of Tiamat,

And of Kingu, her consort, the scheme to perceive.

As he looks on, he loses his way,

His will is distracted and his doings are confused.

And when the gods, his helpers, who marched at his side,

Saw the valiant hero, their vision became blurred. (70)

Tiamat emitted a cry, without turning her neck,

Framing savage defiance in her lips:

« You are too important for the lord of the gods to rise up against you!

Is it in their place that they have gathered, or in your place? »

Thereupon the lord, having raised the flood-storm, his mighty weapon,

To enraged Tiamat he sent word as follows:

« Why are you risen, haughtily exalted,

You have charged your own heart to stir up conflict, . . . sons reject their own fathers,

While you, who have born them, have foresworn love! (80)

You have appointed Kingu as your consort,

Conferring upon him the rank of Anu, not rightfully his.

Against Anshar, king of the gods, you seek evil;

Against the gods, my fathers, you have confirmed your wickedness.

Though your forces are drawn up, your weapons girded on,

Stand up, that I and you might meet in single combat! »

When Tiamat heard this,

She was like one possessed; she took leave of her senses.

In fury Tiamat cried out aloud.

To the roots her legs shook both together. (90)

She recites a charm, keeps casting her spell,

While the gods of battle sharpen their weapons.

Then Tiamat and Marduk joined issue, wisest of gods.

They strove in single combat, locked in battle.

The lord spread out his net to enfold her,

The Evil Wind, which followed behind, he let loose in her face.

When Tiamat opened her mouth to consume him,

He drove in the Evil Wind while as yet she had not shut her lips

As the terrible winds filled her belly,

Her body was distended and her mouth was wide open. (100)

He released the arrow, it tore her belly,

It cut through her insides, splitting the heart.

Having thus subdued her, he extinguished her life.

He cast down her carcass to stand upon it.

After he had slain Tiamat, the leader,

Her band was shattered, her troupe broken up;

And the gods, her helpers who marched at her side,

Trembling with terror, turned their backs about,

In order to save and preserve their lives.

Tightly encircled, they could not escape. (110)

He made them captives and he smashed their weapons.

Thrown into the net, they found themselves ensnared;

Placed in cells, they were filled with wailing;

Bearing his wrath, they were held imprisoned.

And the eleven creatures which she had charged with awe,

The whole band of demons that marched on her right,

He cast into fetters, their hands he bound.

For all their resistance, he trampled them underfoot.

And Kingu, who had been made chief among them,

He bound and accounted him to Uggae. (120)

He took from him the Tablet of Destinies, not rightfully his,

Sealed them with a seal and fastened them on his breast.

When he had vanquished and subdued his adversaries,

Had . . . the vainglorious foe,

Had wholly established Anshar’s triumph over the foe,

Had achieved Nudimmud’s desire, valiant Marduk

Strengthened his hold on the vanquished gods,

And turned back to Tiamat whom he had bound.

The lord trod on the legs of Tiamat,

With his unsparing mace he crushed her skull. (130)

When the arteries of her blood he had severed,

The North Wind bore it to places undisclosed.

On seeing this, his fathers were joyful and jubilant,

They brought gifts of homage to him.

Then the lord paused to view her dead body,

That he might divide the form and do artful works.

He split her like a shellfish into two parts:

Half of her he set up as a covering for heaven,

Pulled down the bar and posted guards.

He bade them to allow not her waters to escape. (140)

He crossed the heavens and surveyed the regions.

He squared Apsu’s quarter, the abode of Nudimmud,

As the lord measured the dimensions of Apsu.

The Great Abode, its likeness, he fixed as Esharra,

The Great Abode, Esharra, which he made as the firmament.

Anu, Enlil, and Ea he made occupy their places.

Tablet V

Marduk builds dwelling places for the other gods. As they take their place, they establish the days and months and seasons of the year. Since this is a myth about the natural world, the « stations » that Marduk establishes for the gods correspond to the celestial luminaries that figured in Babylonian astrology. The phases (horns) of the Moon determine the cycles of the months. From the spittle of Tiamat Marduk creates rain for the earth. The city of Babylon is established as the audience room of King Marduk.

He constructed stations for the great gods,

Fixing their astral likenesses as the stars of the Zodiac.

He determined the year and into sections he divided it;

He set up three constellations for each of the twelve months.

After defining the days of the year by means of heavenly figures,

He founded the station of the pole star [Nebiru] to determine their bounds,

That none might err or go astray.

Alongside it he set up the stations of Enlil and Ea.

Having opened up the gates on both sides,

He strengthened the locks to the left and the right. (10)

In her belly he established the zenith.

The Moon he caused to shine, entrusting the night to him.

He appointed him a creature of the night to signify the days,

And marked off every month, without cease, by means of his crown.

At the month’s very start, rising over the land,

You shall have luminous horns to signify six days,

On the seventh day reaching a half-crown.

So shall the fifteen-day period be like one another-two halves for each month.

When the sun overtakes you at the base of heaven,

Diminish your crown and retrogress in light. (20)

At the time of disappearance approach the course of the sun,

And on the thirtieth you shall again stand in opposition to the sun.

I have appointed a sign, follow its path,

. . . approach and give judgement. »

[Lines 25-44 are badly damaged and untranslatable. Apparently after Marduk created the moon he then created the sun (Shamash).]

After he had appointed the days to Shamash, (45)

And had established the precincts of night and day,

Taking the spittle of Tiamat

Marduk created . . .

He formed the clouds and filled them with water.

The raising of winds, the bringing of rain and cold, (50)

Making the mist smoke, piling up . . .

These he planned himself, took into his own hand.

Putting her head into position he formed thereon the mountains,

Opening the deep which was in flood,

He caused to flow from her eyes the Euphrates and Tigris,

Stopping her nostrils he left . . . ,

He formed from her breasts the lofty mountains,

Therein he drilled springs for the wells to carry off the water.

Twisting her tail he bound it to Durmah,

. . . Apsu at his foot, (60)

. . . her crotch, she was fastened to the heavens,

Thus he covered the heavens and established the earth.

. . . in the midst of Tiamat he made flow,

. . . his net he completely let out,

So he created heaven and earth . . . ,

. . . their bounds . . . established.

When he had designed his rules and fashioned his ordinances,

He founded the shrines and handed them over to Ea.

The Tablet of Destinies which he had taken from Kingu he carried,

He brought it as the first gift of greeting, he gave it to Anu. (70)

The gods who had done battle and been scattered,

He led bound into the presence of his fathers.

Now the eleven creatures which Tiamat had made . . . ,

Whose weapons he had shattered, which he had tied to his foot:

Of these he made statues and set them up at the Gate of Apsu saying:

« Let it be a token that this may never be forgotten! »

When the gods saw this they were exceedingly glad,

Lahmu, Lahamu, and all of his fathers

Crossed over to him, and Anshar, the king, made manifest his greeting,

Anu, Enlil, and Ea presented to him gifts. (80)

With a gift Damkina, his mother, made him joyous,

She sent offerings, his face brightened.

To Usmi who brought her gift to a secret place

He entrusted the chancellorship of Apsu and the stewardship of the shrines.

Being assembled, all the Igigi bowed down,

While everyone of the Anunnaki kissed his feet,

. . . their assembly to do obeisance,

They stood before him, bowed and said: « He is the king! »

After the gods, his fathers, were satiated with his charms. (89)

[Lines 90-106 are too badly damaged for translation. Apparently it describes Marduk on his throne with his weapons.]

Ea and Damkina . . . , (107)

They opened their mouths to speak to the great gods, the Igigi:

« Formerly Marduk was merely our beloved son,

Now he is your king, proclaim his title! » (110)

A second speech they made, they all spoke:

« His name shall be Lugaldimmerankia, trust in him! »

When they had given the sovereignty to Marduk,

They declared for him a formula of good fortune and success:

« Henceforth you will be the patron of our sanctuaries,

Whatever you command we will do. »

Marduk opened his mouth to speak,

To say a word to the gods, his fathers:

« Above the Apsu where you have resided,

The counterpart of Esharra which I have built over you, (120)

Below I have hardened the ground for a building site,

I will build a house, it will be my luxurious abode.

I will found therein its temple,

I will appoint its inner rooms, I will establish my sovereignty.

When you come up from the Apsu for assembly,

You will spend the night in it, it is there to receive all of you.

When you descend from heaven for assembly,

You will spend the night in it, it is there to receive all of you.

I will call its name Babylon which means the houses of the great gods,

I shall build it with the skill of craftsmen. » (130)

When the gods, his fathers, heard this speech of his,

They put the following question to Marduk, their firstborn:

« Over all that your hands have created,

Who will have your authority?

Over the ground which your hands have created,

Who will have your power?

Babylon, which you have given a fine name,

Therein establish our abode forever!

. . . , let them bring our daily ration,

. . . our . . . , (140)

Let no one usurp our tasks which we previously performed,

Therein . . . its labor . . .. »

Marduk rejoiced when he heard this and

He answered those gods who had questioned him,

He that slew Tiamat showed them light,

He opened his mouth, his speech was noble:

 » . . . them . . .,

. . . will be entrusted to you. »

The gods bowed down before him, they spoke to him,

They said to Lugaldimmerankia: (150)

« Formerly the lord was merely our beloved son,

Now he is our king, proclaim his title!

He whose pure incantation gave us life,

He is the lord of splendor, mace, and sceptre.

Ea who knows the skill of all crafts,

Let him prepare the plans, we will be the workers. »

Tablet VI

Marduk decides to create human beings, but needs blood and bone from which to fashion them. Ea advises that only one of the gods should die to provide the materials for creation, the one who was guilty of plotting evil against the gods. Marduk inquires of the assembly of the gods about who incited Tiamat’s rebellion, and was told that it was her husband Kingu. Ea kills Kingu and uses his blood to fashion mankind so they can perform menial tasks for the gods. To honor Marduk, the gods construct a house for him in Babylon. After its completion, Marduk gives a great feast for the gods in his new house who all praise Marduk for his greatness in subduing Tiamat. The first group of the fifty throne names of Marduk are recited.

When Marduk heard the words of the gods,

His heart prompted him to fashion artful works.

Opening his mouth, he addressed Ea

To impart the plan he had conceived in his heart:

« I will take blood and fashion bone.

I will establish a savage, ‘man’ shall be his name.

truly, savage-man I will create.

He shall be charged with the service of the gods

That they might be at ease!

The ways of the gods I will artfully alter. (10)

Though alike revered, into two groups they shall be divided. »

Ea answered him, speaking a word to him,

Giving him another plan for the relief of the gods:

« Let but one of their brothers be handed over;

He alone shall perish that mankind may be fashioned.

Let the great gods be here in Assembly,

Let the guilty be handed over that they may endure. »

Marduk summoned the great gods to Assembly;

Presiding graciously, he issued instructions.

To his utterance the gods pay heed.

The king addressed a word to the Anunnaki: (20)

« If your former statement was true,

Now declare the truth on oath by me!

Who was it that contrived the uprising,

And made Tiamat rebel, and joined battle?

Let him be handed over who contrived the uprising.

His guilt I will make him bear. You shall dwell in peace! »

The Igigi, the great gods, replied to him,

To Lugaldimmerankia, counselor of the gods, their lord:

« It was Kingu who contrived the uprising,

And made Tiamat rebel, and joined battle. » (30)

They bound him, holding him before Ea.

They imposed on him his punishment and severed his blood vessels.

Out of his blood they fashioned mankind.

He imposed on him the service and let free the gods.

After Ea, the wise, had created mankind,

Had imposed upon them the service of the gods–

That work was beyond comprehension;

As artfully planned by Marduk, did Nudimmud create it–

Marduk, the king of the gods divided

All the great gods [Anunnaki] above and below. (40)

He assigned them to Anu to guard his instructions.

Three hundred in the heavens he stationed as a guard.

In like manner the ways of the earth he defined.

In heaven and on earth six hundred thus he settled.

After he had ordered all the instructions,

To the Anunnaki of heaven and earth had allotted their portions,

The Anunnaki opened their mouths

And said to Marduk, their lord:

« Now, O lord, you who have caused our deliverance,

What shall be our homage to you? (50)

Let us build a shrine whose name shall be called

‘Lo, a chamber for our nightly rest’; let us repose in it!

Let us build a throne, a recess for his abode!

On the day that we arrive we shall repose in it. »

When Marduk heard this,

Brightly glowed his features, like the day:

« Construct Babylon, whose building you have requested,

Let its brickwork be fashioned. You shall name it `The Sanctuary.' »

The Anunnaki applied the implement;

For one whole year they molded bricks. (60)

When the second year arrived,

They raised high the head of Esagila equaling Apsu.

Having built a stage-tower as high as Apsu,

They set up in it an abode for Marduk, Enlil, and Ea

In their presence he was seated in grandeur.

To the base of Esharra its horns look down.

After they had achieved the building of Esagila,

All the Anunnaki erected their shrines.

The three hundred Igigi . . . . . . all of them gathered,

The lord being on the lofty dais which they had built as his abode, (70)

The gods, his fathers, at his banquet he seated:

« This is Babylon, the place that is your home!

Make merry in its precincts, occupy its broad places. »

The great gods took their seats,

They set up festive drink, sat down to a banquet.

After they had made merry within it,

In Esagila, the splendid, had performed their rites,

The norms had been fixed and all their portents,

All the gods apportioned the stations of heaven and earth.

The fifty great gods took their seats. (80)

The seven gods of destiny set up the three hundred in heaven.

Enlil raised the bow, his weapon, and laid it before them.

The gods, his fathers, saw the net he had made.

When they beheld the bow, how skillful its shape,

His fathers praised the work he had wrought.

Raising it, Anu spoke up in the Assembly of the gods,

As he kissed the bow: « This is my daughter! »

He named the names of the bow as follows:

« Longwood is the first, the second is Accurate;

Its third name is Bow-Star, in heaven I have made it shine. » (90)

He fixed its position with the gods its brothers.

After Anu had decreed the fate of the bow,

And had placed the lofty royal throne before the gods,

Anu placed it in the Assembly of the gods.

When the great gods had assembled,

They extolled the destiny of Marduk, they bowed down,

They pronounced among themselves a curse,

Swearing by water and oil to place life in jeopardy.

When they had granted him the exercise of kingship of the gods,

When they had given him dominion over the gods of heaven and underworld, (100)

Anshar pronounced supreme his name, Asarluhi, saying:

« Let us do obeisance at the mention of his name,

To his utterance let the gods give heed,

Let his command be supreme above and below!

Most exalted be the Son, our avenger;

Let his sovereignty be surpassing, having no rival.

May he shepherd the black-headed ones, his creatures.

To the end of days, without forgetting, let them acclaim his ways.

May he establish for his fathers the great food-offerings; (110)

Their support they shall furnish, shall tend their sanctuaries.

May he cause incense to be smelled, . . . their spells,

Make a likeness on earth of what he has wrought in heaven.

May he order the black-headed to revere him,

May the subjects ever bear in mind to speak of their god,

And may they at his word pay heed to the goddess.

May food-offerings be borne for their gods and goddesses.

Without fail let them support their gods!

Their lands let them improve, build their shrines,

Let the black-headed wait on their gods. (120)

As for us, by however many names we pronounce, he is our god!

Let us then proclaim his fifty names:

`He whose ways are glorious, whose deeds are likewise,

Marduk, as Anu, his father, called him from his birth;

Who provides grazing and drinking places, enriches their stalls,

Who with the flood-storm, his weapon, vanquished the detractors,

And who the gods, his fathers, rescued from distress.

Truly, the Son of the Sun, most radiant of gods is he.

In his brilliant light may they walk forever!

On the people he brought forth, endowed with life, (130)

The service of the gods he imposed that these may have ease.

Creation, destruction, deliverance, grace–

Shall be by his command. They shall look up to him!

Marukka truly is the god, creator of all,

Who gladdens the heart of the Anunnaki, appeases the Igigi.

Marutukku truly is the refuge of his land, city, and people.

Unto him shall the people give praise forever.

Barashakushu stood up and took hold of its reins;

Wide is his heart, warm his sympathy.

Lugaldimmerankia is his name which we proclaimed in our Assembly. (140)

His commands we have exalted above the gods, his fathers.

Truly, he is lord of all the gods of heaven and underworld,

The king at whose discipline the gods above and below are in mourning. »

Nari-Lugaldimmerankia is the name of him

Whom we have called the monitor of the gods;

Who in heaven and on earth founds for us retreats in trouble,

And who allots stations to the Igigi and Anunnaki.

At his name the gods shall tremble and quake in retreat.

Asaruludu is that name of his

Which Anu, his father, proclaimed for him.

He is truly the light of the gods, the mighty leader,

Who, as the protecting deities of god and land, (150)

In fierce single combat saved our retreats in distress.

Asaruludu, secondly, they have named Namtillaku,

The god who maintains life,

Who restored the lost gods, as though his own creation;

The lord who revives the dead gods by his pure incantation,

Who destroys the wayward foes. Let us praise his prowess!

Asaruludu, whose name was thirdly called Namru,

The shining god who illumines our ways.

Three each of his names have Anshar, Lahmu, and Lahamu proclaimed;

Unto the gods, their sons, they did utter them:

« We have proclaimed three each of his names. (160)

Like us, do you utter his names! »

Joyfully the gods heeded their command,

As in Ubshukinna they exchanged counsels:

« Of the heroic son, our avenger,

Of our supporter we will exalt the name! »

They sat down in their Assembly to fashion destinies,

All of them uttering his names in the sanctuary.

Tablet VII

Continuation of praise of Marduk as chief of Babylon and head of the Babylonian pantheon because of his role in creation. The rest of Marduk’s fifty throne names declaring his dominion are recited. Final blessings on Marduk and instructions to the people to remember and recite Marduk’s deeds.

Asaru [Marduk], bestower of cultivation, who established water levels;

Creator of grain and herbs, who causes vegetation to sprout.

Asarualim, who is honored in the place of counsel, who excels in counsel;

To whom the gods hope, not being possessed of fear.

Asarualimnunna, the gracious, light of the father, his begetter,

Who directs the decrees of Anu, Enlil, Ea and Ninigiku.

He is their provider who assigns their portions,

Whose horned cap is plenty, multiplying . . . .

Tutu is he, who created then anew.

Let him purify their shrines that they may have ease. (10)

Let him devise the spell that the gods may be at rest.

Should they rise in anger, let them turn back.

Truly, he is supreme in the Assembly of the gods;

No one among the gods is his equal.

Tutu is Ziukkinna, life of the host of the gods,

Who established for the gods the holy heavens;

Who keeps a hold on their ways, determines their courses;

He shall not be forgotten by the beclouded. Let them

Remember his deeds!

Tutu they thirdly called Ziku, who brings purification,

god of the favoring breeze, the Lord of hearing and mercy; » (20)

Who produces riches and treasures, establishes abundance;

Who has turned all our wants to plenty;

Whose favoring breeze we felt in sore distress.

Let them speak, let them exalt, let them sing his praises!

Tutu, fourthly, let the people magnify as Agaku,

The lord of the holy charm, who revives the dead;

Who had mercy on the vanquished gods,

Who removed the yoke imposed on the gods, his enemies,

And who, to redeem them, created mankind;

The merciful, in whose power it lies to grant life. (30)

May his deeds endure, not to be forgotten

In the mouth of the black-headed, whom his hands have created.

Tutu, fifthly, is Tuku, whose holy spell their mouths shall murmur;

Who with his holy charm has uprooted all the evil ones.

Shazu, who knows the heart of the gods,

Who examines the inside;

From whom the evildoer cannot escape;

Who sets up the Assembly of the gods, gladdens their hearts;

Who subdues the insubmissive; their wide-spread protection;

Who directs justice, roots out crooked talk,

Who wrong and right in his place keeps apart. (40)

Shazu may they, secondly, exalt as as Zisi,

Who silences the insurgent;

Who banishes consternation from the body of the gods, his fathers.

Shazu is, thirdly, Suhrim, who with the weapon roots out all enemies,

Who frustrates their plans, scatters them to the winds;

Who blots out all the wicked ones who tremble before him.

Let the gods exult in Assembly!

Shazu is, fourthly, Suhgurim, who insures a hearing for the gods, his fathers,

Creator of the gods, his fathers,

Who roots out the enemies, destroys their progeny;

Who frustrates their doings, leaving nothing of them.

May his name be evoked and spoken in the land! (50)

Shazu, fifthly, they shall praise as Zahrim, the lold of the living,

Who destroys all adversaries, all the disobedient; pursues the evil;

Who all the fugitive gods brought home to their shrines.

May this his name endure!

To Shazu, moreover, they shall, sixthly, render all honor as Zahgurim,

Who all the foes destroyed as though in battle.

Enbilulu, the lord who makes them flourish, is he;

The mighty one who named them, who instituted roast-offerings ;

Who ever regulates for the land the grazing and watering places;

Who opened the wells, apportioning waters of abundance. (60)

Enbilulu, secondly, they shall glorify as Epadun,

The lord who sprinkles the field,

Irrigator of heaven and earth, who establishes seed-rows,

Who forms fine plow land in the steppe,

Dam and ditch regulates, who delimits the furrow;

Enbilulu, thirdly, they shall praise as Enbilulugugal,

The irrigator of the plantations of the gods;

Lord of abundance, opulence, and of ample crops,

Who provides wealth, enriches all dwellings,

Who furnishes millet, causes barley to appear.

Enbilulu is Hegal, who heaps up abundance for the people’s consumption;

Who causes rich rains over the wide earth, provides vegetation.

Sirsir, who heaped up a mountain over her, Tiamat, (70)

Who the corpse of Tiamat carried off with his weapon;

Who directs the land–their faithful shepherd;

Whose hair is a grain field, his horned cap furrows;

Who the wide-spreading Sea vaults in his wrath,

Crossing her like a bridge at the place of single combat.

Sirsir, secondly, they named Malah–and so forth–

Tiamat is his vessel and he the rider.

Gil, who stores up grain heaps–massive mounds–

Who brings forth barley and millet, furnishes the seed of the land.

Gilma, who makes lasting the lofty abode of the gods, Creator of security, (80)

The hoop that holds the barrel together, who presents good things.

Agilma, the exalted one, who tears off the crown from the wrong position,

Who creates the clouds above the waters, makes enduring aloft.

Zulum, who designates the fields for the gods, allots the creation,

Who grants portions and food-offerings, tends the shrines.

Mummu, Creator of heaven and earth, who directs. . . .

The god who sanctifies heaven and earth is, secondly, Zulummar,

Whom no other among the gods can match in strength.

Gishnumunab, Creator of all people, who made the world regions,

Destroyer of the gods of Tiamat; who made men out of their substance. (90)

Lugalabdubur, the king who frustrated the work of Tiamat,rooted out her weapons;

Whose foundation is firm in front and in the rear.

Pagalguenna, the foremost of all the lords, whose strength is outstanding;

Who is pre-eminent in the royal abode, most exalted of the gods.

Lugaldurmah, the King of the band of the gods, lord of rulers,

Who is pre-eminent in the abode of the gods, most exalted of the gods.

Aranunna, counselor of Ea, creator of the gods, his fathers,

Whose princely ways no god whatever can equal.

Dumuduku, whose pure dwelling is renewed in Duku;

Dumuduku, without whom Lugalkuduga makes no decision. (100)

Lugallanna, the king whose strength is outstanding among the gods,

The lord, strength of Anu, who became supreme at the call of Anshar.

Lugalugga, who carried off all of them amidst the struggle,

Who all wisdom encompasses, broad in perception.

Irkingu, who carried off Kingu in the thick of the battle,

Who conveys guidance for all, establishes rulership.

Kinma, who directs all the gods, the giver of counsel,

At whose name the gods quake in fear, as at the storm.

Esizkur shall sit aloft in the house of prayer;

May the gods bring their presents before him, (110)

That from him they may receive their assignments;

None can without him create artful works.

Four black-headed ones are among his creatures;

Aside from him no god knows the answer as to their days.

Gibil, who maintains the sharp point of the weapon,

Who creates artful works in the battle with Tiamat;

Who has broad wisdom, is accomplished in insight,

Whose mind is so vast that the gods, all of them, cannot fathom it.

Addu be his name, the whole sky may he cover.

May his beneficent roar ever hover over the earth; (120)

May he, as Mummu, diminish the clouds;

Below, may he furnish sustenance for the people

Asharu, who, as is his name, guided the gods of destiny;

All of the people are truly in his charge.

Nebiru shall hold the crossings of heaven and earth,

So that the gods cannot cross above and below, they must wait upon him.

Nebiru is the star which in the skies is brilliant.

May he hold the Beginning and the Future, may they pay homage unto him,

Saying: « He who forced his way through the midst of Tiamat without resting,

Let Nebiru be his name, who controls its midst. (130)

May they uphold the course of the stars of heaven;

May he shepherd all the gods like sheep.

May he vanquish Tiamat; may her life be strait and short!

Into the future of mankind, when days have grown old,

May she recede without cease and stay away forever.

Because he created the spaces and fashioned the firm ground,

Father Enlil called his name « Lord Of The Lands. »’

When all the names which the Igigi proclaimed,

Ea had heard, his spirit rejoiced, Thus:

« He whose names his fathers have glorified,

He is indeed even as I; his name shall be Ea. (140)

All my combined rites he shall administer;

All my instructions he shall carry out! »

With the title « Fifty » the great gods

Proclaimed him whose names are fifty and made his way supreme.

Epilog

Let them be kept in mind and let the leader explain them.

Let the wise and the knowing discuss them together.

Let the father recite them and impart to his son.

Let the ears of shepherd and herdsman be opened.

Let him rejoice in Marduk, the Enlil of the gods,

That his land may be fertile and that he may prosper. (150)

Firm in his order, his command unalterable,

The utterance of his mouth no god shall change.

When he looks he does not turn away his neck;

When he is angry, no god can withstand his wrath.

His heart is unfathomable, his purpose is broad,

Sinner and transgressor may come before him.

He wrote down and thereby preserved it for the future.

The dwelling of Marduk which the gods, the Igigi, had made,

. . . let them speak. (160)

. . . the song of Marduk,

Who vanquished Tiamat and achieved the kingship.

One Response to Bible: La Genèse ne procède pas du vide (Genesis was not written in a vacuum: how the Scriptures appropriate non-Hebraic world views)

  1. […] L’Enuma Elish est un mythe babylonien ou mésopotamien de la création racontant la lutte entre le chaos et l’ordre cosmique. Il s’agit essentiellement d’un mythe du cycle des saisons. Il est nommé d’après ses premiers mots et était récité le quatrième jour du festival du nouvel an de la Babylone antique. L’histoire de base existe sous des formes diverses dans la région. Cette version est écrite en akkadien, un vieux dialecte Babylonien et présente Marduk, la divinité protectrice de la ville de Babylone. Une version antérieure similaire en sumérien ancienne a pour héros Anu, Enil et Ninurta, ce qui suggère que cette version fut adaptée pour justifier les pratiques religieuses dans le culte de Marduk à Babylone. Cette version a été écrite dans le courant du XIIe siècle avant J.-C. dans l’écriture cunéiforme sur sept tablettes d’argile. Ils ont été trouvés au milieu du XIXe siècle dans les ruines du Palais d’Ashurbanipal à Ninive. George Smith a publié ces textes en 1876 comme la « Genèse chaldéenne ». En raison de nombreuses similitudes avec le récit de la Genèse, certains historiens ont conclu que le récit de la Genèse était simplement une réécriture de l’histoire babylonienne. Par réaction, beaucoup de ceux qui voulaient conserver le caractère unique de la Bible ont prétendu soit qu’il y n’avait aucun parallèle réél entre ces récits ou que les récits de la Genèse avaient été écrits en premier, et que le mythe babylonien avait emprunté au récit biblique. Cependant, il y a simplement trop de similitudes pour nier toute relation entre ces récits. Il existe également des différences importantes qui ne doivent pas être ignorées. Pourtant, il y a peu de doute que les versions sumériennes de l’histoire ont précédé le récit biblique de plusieurs centaines d’années. Au lieu d’opter pour les deux extrêmes de la dépendance totale ou d’aucun contact quel qu’il soit, il est préférable de voir les récits de la Genèse comme la libre utilisation des métaphores et du symbolisme d’un ensemble culturel commun pour affirmer leur propre théologie au sujet de Dieu. Dennis Bratcher […]

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