Genesis In Context: In Light of the Enuma Elish

This is the message that I spoke on Sunday. It was heavily discussion based once we jumped into comparing the Enuma Elish with Genesis, but here are most of the things that came up and what I had prepared.

There are plenty of different names for God and we’ve gone through a few of them already over the past few weeks. We are sticking exclusively to Genesis, so in a way we are very limited because we are trying not to leave Genesis. So far this month we talked about God as our provider, God as one who sees us, God as Lord of all of heaven and earth last week with Darryl. John helped set us up for these topics by reminding us that we all have differing perspectives on life and how we look at God and that all perspectives, whether they lead to correct conclusions or not or if you accept it or not, deserve to be validated and valued because they come from humans who our God’s creation. As we saw from the experiment last Sunday, we all would call God something different. None of these were wrong, they were just different. However, what is important is that we all allow each other’s opinions , right or wrong, and perspectives be added to the mix, because through these discussions and the coming together of community is how we can have a fuller understanding of who God is.

We haven’t talked about the beginning of Genesis in almost 8 months, so I thought I would go back into it a little bit and extract some things that we haven’t talked about much yet. For a minute I need everyone to imagine that they are outside, and their hands our filthy and they are building a city with their bare hands. We are going back thousands of years ago and you are in slavery. Your freedom is gone. You don’t feel like you get to make any decisions on your own. Your life and your children’s lives are already predetermined. They will work hard to make other people groups more comfortable in their big houses. Then you are freed by this guy, and you end up wandering around in a desert for 40 years. Life didn’t get much better, even though freedom was the word that everyone was talking about; whatever that means.
However, from your understanding of how the world works, your life so far sort of makes sense. Here is the story that you would have known. Your parents told you and their parents told them, and it gave you some sort of meaning to all this mess and tried to make sense of the world, your slavery and your thoughts. This is a summary of that story:

Before the creation of the heaven and the earth, nothing existed except water. This primal generative element was identified with Apsu, the male personification of the primeval sweetwater ocean, and with his female associate Tiamat, the primordial saltwater ocean, represented as a ferocious monster. From the commingling of the two waters were born the divine offspring. These, in turn, gave birth to a second generation of gods and the process was repeated successively. Then came a time when the young gods, through their unremitting and noisy revelry, disturbed the peace of the Tiamat and Apsu. The latter decided to destroy all the gods, but the evil design was thwarted by the quick action of the all-wise Ea, the earth-water God.

Tiamat now planned revenge and organized her forces for the attack on the gods. The latter, for their part, requested Marduk to lead them into battle. He acceded provided that he be granted sovereignty over the universe. To this condition the assembly of the gods readily agreed and Marduk, invested with the insignia of royalty, thereupon became their champion and took up the cudgels against Tiamat and her helpers. After a fierce battle in which he defeated the enemy forces and slew Tiamat, Marduk sliced the carcass of the monster in two and created of one half the firmament of heaven and of the other the foundation of the earth.

The work of creation having thus begun, Marduk then established heavenly luminaries, each in its place. The gods complained to Marduk that, each having now been assigned his or her fixed place and function in the cosmos, there would be no relief from unending toil. Accordingly Marduk decided to create man to free the gods from menial labor and this he proceeded to do, fashioning a human being out of the blood of Kingu, Tiamat’s second husband and captain of her army. The gods showed their gratitude to Marduk by building for him a great shrine in the city of Babylon, “the gate of God.” The epic ends with a description of a testimonial banquet by the gods at which they recite an adulatory hymn of praise to Marduk that confirms his kinship for all eternity.

Borrowed from Nahum Sarna from Understanding Genesis

Growing up we have heard tons of stories of how the world came to be. That one was called the Enuma Elish and was probably the most prominent one that we would have heard. Another one called the Ennead is about a God who was so lonely so he masturbated and his semen turned into the waters and his breath turned into the earth and he was floating around trying to give some sort of meaning to the madness that existed around him. These stories weren’t the most uplifting stories for us, an entire race in slavery. They don’t give us any hope. In fact they kind of bring reason to why we are slaves and why they live their entire lives serving some other purpose that doesn’t really involve them. Then another story starts floating around. This one seems to make a lot more sense and it refutes so much of what doesn’t seem right about the Enuma Elish and the Ennead. This story gives us some hope. Let’s read this story.

Read Genesis 1

Genesis was written and started circulating when Israel was in exile. Brueggemann explains it this way.

“Genesis is likely dated to the sixth century B.C. and addressed to exiles. It served as a refutation of Babylonian theological claims. The Babylonian gods seemed to control the future. Against such claims, it is here asserted that Yahweh is still God, one who watches over his creation and will bring it into well-being.”

Walter Brueggemann from Genesis

Creation stories or creation myths in these days were not just random stories that were fun to right. They were a reality that these cultures lived out every day. These stories gave meaning and purpose to those that ready them. They were a way for these cultures to express their ideas of who God was and who we were in relation to that. This is the context that Genesis 1 arose out of. Brueggemann has this to add about what Genesis is doing.

“Genesis makes a theological claim that a world has been spoken which transforms reality. The word of God which shapes creation is an action which alters reality. The claim made is not a historical claim but a theological one about the character of God who is bound to his world and about the world which is bound to God.”

Walter Brueggemannfrom Genesis

“Genesis is not an abstract statement about the origin of the universe. Rather, it is a theological and pastoral statement addressed to a real historical problem. The problem is to find a ground for faith in this God when the experience of sixth century Babylon seems to deny the rule of God. This liturgy cuts underneath the Babylonian experience and grounds the rule of the God of Israel in a more fundamental claim, that of creation. The use of this text is not for general ruminations about the world. It continues to be a ground for faith in this God when more immediate historical experience is against it.”

Walter Brueggemann from Genesis

Genesis is responding to problems and bad theology of its time. The way it’s written, who its written to and why it’s written all help bring a better understanding of Genesis to us and how we should read it.

Discussion:
If you were an Israelite in bondage and after reading only the first chapter of Genesis, what would be some of the stuff that would give you hope? What would be some of the differences between the story of Genesis 1 and the Enuma Elish that would stand out to you?

Here are some major differences that I think make Genesis unique to its world.

Genesis has only one God, other stories have a bunch of them (monotheism vs polytheism)
With multiple gods comes multiple proper ways to live and multiple versions of justice. You end up having a large amount of different moral codes and humans don’t know what is right or wrong anymore. Genesis has one God who stands above everything and calls everything to be. There is no conflicts with this God, he just is.

“The Bible presumes that God operates by an order which man can comprehend, and that a universal moral law had been decreed for society. Thus, the idea embedded in Genesis of one universal Creator has profound ethical implications. It means that the same universal sovereign will that brought the world into existence continues to exert itself thereafter making absolute, not relative, demands upon man.”

Nahum Sarna

Creation is good, and God is pleased
God takes pleasure in everything that he had created, he loves his artistry. This puts creation has something to be valued and respected as opposed to something that evolved out of chaotic wars and unrest. There is a purpose and a direction for God’s creation and God is pleased when it is fulfilled. God is pleased before humans could even do anything, because they could ever earn favour.

“The world created by God and acknowledged as “good” is the one in which history begins and the one that will reach its goal by fulfilling the divine purpose for which it was created…the emphasis in the narrative of creation in Genesis 1 is upon the complete correspondance between divine intention and the universe, which was suitable to fulfill the purpose for which it was brought into being.”

William Dumbrell in Search for Order

We are created in God’s image
In Genesis, man is central and the climax of creation. In the other stories man is sort of this afterthought or accident. This brings a lot of value to humanity and who they are in relation to God.

“The creation of nothing else (than man) in the cosmoginc process is preceded by a divine declaration of intention and purpose, “Let us make man” (Gen 1:26). Man, in fact, is the pinnacle of creation and the entire story has a human-centerd orientation. This situation contrasts strongly with the story of the creation of man in Enuma Elish. There he is almost incidental, fashioned as a kind of afterthought as a menial of the gods to provide them with nourishment and generally to satisfy their physical needs.”

Nahum Sarna

“In both Egypt and Mesopotmia, the notion of humankind as the image of the deity is well attested. In Egypt the pharaoh was regarded as the image and the incarnation of the creation God.”
William Dumbrell

A few other thoughts to bring up

There is no struggle between God and nature (god created the monsters as opposed to them being restrained or destroyed)

There is always something outside the gods, Genesis assumes God was always there

Chaos to order (not the other way around)

Can’t understand creation-creator outside of sex

Moral indifference of the gods, God in Genesis has a moral standard

Genesis starts a process and does not end there, other epics just do creation

There is purpose in creation

“In place of fortuitous concatenation of events, history has become purposeful and society has achieved direction. A strong streak of optimism has displaced the acute awareness of insecurity…This basic belief in the essential goodness of the universe was, of course, destined to exert a powerful influence upon the direction of the religion of Israel and to affect the outlook on life of the people. It found its expression in the concept of the covenant relationship between God and His people and ultimately achieved its most glorious manifestation in the notion of Messianism–two uniquely Israelite contribution to religion. The God of Israel, being a deity whose will is absolute and incontestable and whose word is eternal, was able to give assurances that human strivings were decidedly not in vain.”

Nahum Sarna

If Genesis tells us one thing, let it remind us that there is a purpose in God’s creation. There is a direction that it’s heading. There is light at the end of the tunnel. In the first chapter the creator is able to rest because his creation is good. He is pleased with his portfolio. For the first time these Israelites are starting to think that maybe there is something worthwhile in them. They are created in God’s image and not just here to settle a bet or spend myself for all these gods. I have a job to participate with him in the creation by recreating and being good. I have a role, and a purpose. God thinks I am good.

We all know that things didn’t stay ‘good.’ So Genesis tries to deal with the problem that not all is good anymore. So we get a story like the fall. In fact the rest of the Bible has humanity and God dealing with this problem, that creation is no longer good. It tries to deal with why that is the case, what we are doing about it, and most importantly what God is doing about it because it’s his creation that is no longer acting like his creation.

We move on past Genesis 1 and into the next 10 chapters which we have spent a lot of time in during the first few months of this series. We see stories of humanity failing to live up to God’s purpose and God continually giving them chance after chance to get there. The pattern is the same from the fall, to the flood, to Babel…God gives purpose, humans fail, God gives a chance all over again. We can see through these stories that when God creates something, he continues to care about what it does. God is patient and he will wait for us. Part of being his creation is having the freedom to choose to be as God created us or to be more like we’d prefer. This is not by coercive call of obedience but by an evocative call of inclusion on God’s plans. God has a purpose and he will not leave the world alone until it is accomplished

Our creator continues to care about his creation today. God’s creation isn’t done, because he has yet to say ‘it is good’ for the final time. So let Genesis be an encouragement to us also today. We know that the world’s stories may tell us that happiness, money or sex is what we were created for exclusively. However, we also know that God is the one who created us, and he created us to be good and to be like him. He will not rest until it is so with all of creation.

Let’s pray.

God of heaven and earth. God who sees us. God who hears our cry.
We thank-you for creating us and creating this world.
We know you are not done, and that this world is far from the good that you intended.
Thank-you for being a God who does not give up and who pursues his purposes till completion.
We are hard up now because it feels at times like you are not around, like creation is getting worse.
Sometimes it feels like we are getting worse and less in tune with you.

Give us comfort and peace in knowing that one day you will redeem all of creation.
Give us comfort and peace in knowing that one day these problems will disappear.
Give us comfort and peace in knowing that you care more than we do and are passionately pursuing your purpose in us and throughout all your creation.
May we be your creation, and may you look at our lives and say it is good.
May we be good to your creation, and good to each other
May we long for the image of God in our lives in everything we do.

God of heaven and earth. God who sees us. God who hears our cry.
Teach us to create and redeem along side of you.
Teach us to see your creation behind everything, good and bad
God of heaven and earth. God who sees us. God who hears our cry.
Have mercy on us.
Amen.

5 Comments

  • Good show! That’s a well done sermon/post (or whatever form it originally took). There has been a lot of thought on the idea of Genesis being polemic in nature and it is really cool to find out that you are bringing that to the table at theStory Nathan. I can’t help but think that it is a really stimulating topic for everyone there.

    Peace,

    .:CRAIG:.

  • thank you for that very nice post :D
    honestly, i learned a lot from it. I was actually doing an Enuma Elish and Genesis comparison paper for our theology class, then i found this site and started reading it. anyway, thank you again and i hope you do a lot more of nice posts like this so that a lot more people could be enlightened and understand God. :D

    — Louielyn :)

  • Nice work on this. I’m a pastor/teacher and posting a blog on Genesis with a link to your post. Shalom.

  • Thank you for this blog. I too am doing a comparison paper on Enuma Elish and Genesis and this proved to be very helpful since Enuma Elish is a little difficult to translate clearly. This is a very interesting discussion.

  • Thank you so much. Im in a intro to old testament class and it has been very difficult for me counting on the views are indifferent to my beliefs. But this helps me prove a point. :)

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