Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Enuma Elish and Bereshit


Published in 1996, Shin Shifra and Yakov Klein's בימים הרחוקים ההם is an anthology of Near Eastern literature, translated directly to Hebrew. The advantage of this sort of translation project, over say a translation to English, is that biblical Hebrew is much closer to the original language and can capture a lot more of the nuance and style of the original text.

The first entry in the book is Enuma Elish, a Babylonian account of Creation, found by archaeologists written in Akkadian Cuneiform on seven stone tablets. The tablets date back to the 7th century BCE, but some of the legends therein can be traced back as far as the Code of Hammurabi. So we are talking about a text, and ledgends that date back to Biblical times.


Here's a short chronology as a reference:
  • 1754 BCE Code of Hammurabi
  • 1600s BCE Abraham, Isaac, Jacob
  • 1312 BCE Matan Torah
  • 1000 BCE King David
  • 7th century BCE oldest known copy of Enuma Elish
  • 605 BCE First deportation of Babylonian Exile, start of Sefer Daniel

Enuma Elish is commonly cited for it's parallels with the Torah's creation story. The above chronology leaves us wondering about the direction of influence- is the Torah, in Genesis, giving us a "corrected" version of the common polytheistic myths of the day, or did the Babylonians draw influence from Genesis when they collected their creation myth cycle into a single work? In any case, Using Shin Shifra's translation, I would like to take a look at some of the reported parallels in the texts themselves.


The Number Seven


The first parallel is numerical. The Torah's account of creation in Bereshit 1 is organized into seven days. Enuma Elish's creation story is organized into seven tablets. A parallel suggestive of literary influence for certain. 

Separation of Waters


Both Enuma Elish and Sefer Bereshit begin with the separation of primordial waters. Let's compare:

בעת ממעל לא נקראו שמים (בשם)
מתחת אדמה בשם לא נזכרה
רק אפסו אב-ראשית מזריעם
והאם תאמת יולדת כלהם
מימיהם נבללו יחדו
(אנומה אליש, לוח א 1-5)


וְהָאָרֶץ, הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ, וְחֹשֶׁךְ, עַל-פְּנֵי תְהוֹם; וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים, מְרַחֶפֶת עַל-פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם
...
וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, יְהִי רָקִיעַ בְּתוֹךְ הַמָּיִם, וִיהִי מַבְדִּיל, בֵּין מַיִם לָמָיִם.   וַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-הָרָקִיעַ, וַיַּבְדֵּל בֵּין הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מִתַּחַת לָרָקִיעַ, וּבֵין הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מֵעַל לָרָקִיעַ; וַיְהִי-כֵן.   וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָרָקִיעַ, שָׁמָיִם; וַיְהִי-עֶרֶב וַיְהִי-בֹקֶר, יוֹם שֵׁנִי
 (בראשית א:ב-ח)

In Enuma, it is worth noting that Apsu is the fresh subterranean waters while Tiamat is the God of the salty oceans. As such, both accounts begin with two sets of primordial waters, as yet unnamed, mixed together in chaos.

Bereshit actually describes the process of separation and naming, whereas in Enuma it is implied. On a theological level, the waters of Bereshit are component parts of God creation, while in Enuma Tiamat is a God personified. Apsu is not personified, but has religious significance and is the dwelling place of Ea who later is.

Creation of Sky/Waters



We already quoted the Torah's separation of the primordial waters to create the heavens. Similarly, Enuma describes how Marduk divides the sea god Tiamat's corpse to create the skies.

נח האדון, בגויתה התבונן
שסע את הפגר למען ברוא נפלאות
ויפלחנה כצדפה לשנים
חציה כונן ויקרה שמים
נטה יריעה, משמר הציב
לבל תגיר מימיה- צוה עליהם
 ...
התיצב האדון נכח האפסו, מושב נדמד
מדד האדון את המדות אשר לאפסו
(אנומה אליש, לוח ד 135-143)


The parallel between these passages is quite explicit. One significant difference through is that in Enuma, only one of the two primordial waters is divided. When was the Apsu(fresh waters) divided from Tiamat(salt waters)? Why doesn't Apsu participate in the creation of sky? In any case, Enuma's cosmology leaves us with a trinity of waters: the fresh waters, the ocean, and the sky, while the Torah only mentions the waters and the heavens.


Luminaries


Enuma describes the creation of the luminaries, as does the Torah. Unfortunately most of the text is lost to history, so a full comparison is not possible. The excerpt that we do have goes as follows:

הזריח ירח, על הלילה הפקידו
הועידו להיות עטרת הלילה, להודיע ימים
(לוח ה 12-13)

It declare the Moon's sovereignty over the night, which parallels the passage in Bereshit:

וַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-שְׁנֵי הַמְּאֹרֹת הַגְּדֹלִים:  אֶת-הַמָּאוֹר הַגָּדֹל, לְמֶמְשֶׁלֶת הַיּוֹם, וְאֶת-הַמָּאוֹר הַקָּטֹן לְמֶמְשֶׁלֶת הַלַּיְלָה, וְאֵת הַכּוֹכָבִים.  וַיִּתֵּן אֹתָם אֱלֹהִים, בִּרְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמָיִם, לְהָאִיר, עַל-הָאָרֶץ. וְלִמְשֹׁל, בַּיּוֹם וּבַלַּיְלָה, וּלְהַבְדִּיל, בֵּין הָאוֹר וּבֵין הַחֹשֶׁךְ; וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים, כִּי-טוֹב.


Babel & Tower 


Both Enuma and Bereshit provide an origin story for the City-State of Babel. Enuma describes a city built by Marduk to house the central Temple/meeting place of the gods.


אבנה-נא בית, לו (יהי) מושב-מקדש
...
במקום ההוא לו (יהי) מלונכם, להכיל קהלכם
...
אקרה שמו בבל: בתי האלים הגדולים
אנחנו בקרבו נבנה מקדש
(לוח ה 122-130)

The Torah, on the other hand, begins by giving us Babel's origin as a mundane event among the descendants of Noach.


וְכוּשׁ, יָלַד אֶת-נִמְרֹד; הוּא הֵחֵל, לִהְיוֹת גִּבֹּר בָּאָרֶץ. הוּא-הָיָה גִבֹּר-צַיִד, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה; עַל-כֵּן, יֵאָמַר, כְּנִמְרד גִּבּוֹר צַיִד, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה.  וַתְּהִי רֵאשִׁית מַמְלַכְתּוֹ בָּבֶל, וְאֶרֶךְ וְאַכַּד וְכַלְנֵה, בְּאֶרֶץ, שִׁנְעָר(בראשית י:ח-ט)

This is followed in Chapter 11 by the Tower of Babel Story, a sharp, satyric origin story of Babel and it's Ziggurat-Temple. Babel is no house of God, rather it is a testament to Human arrogance and foolishness.

Man's creation


The Enuma finally arrives at the creation of Man in the sixth tablet.
דם אבלל, עצמות אצור
אעשה יצור, אדם יהי שמו
...
לו גם ישוה כבודם-לשנים יחלקו
(לוח ו 5-10)


Man is created from flesh and bones for the explicit purpose of doing worth that the gods would otherwise need to do. In the context of Babel and it's temple, the purpose of the Human society living in the city-state is to serve the gods in the temple.


Compare this with Man's creation in Bereshit 1 where man is the pinnacle of creation, and Bereshit 2 where he is given a purpose:

וַיִּקַּח יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-הָאָדָם; וַיַּנִּחֵהוּ בְגַן-עֵדֶן, לְעָבְדָהּ וּלְשָׁמְרָהּ.
Man also has a duty, but it is as a caregiver, rather than mere slave to his betters.

Names of God


Much has been made of the two names of God used in the biblical creation story. Enuma takes this a step further, with the final tablet and a half being taken up by the 59 names/titles of Marduk.

Summary


In conclusion, the parallels between the creation stories of Bereshit and Enuma Elish are quite striking. At the same time, the direction of inspiration remain unclear. To what degree is Enuma drawing literary inspiration from the Hebrew Torah and to what degree is the Torah composed as a correction to popular Near-Eastern mythology of the day. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.

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