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GenesisofGenesis:WheredidthebiblicalstoryofCreationcomefrom?
TheBibleactuallyhasmorethanonecreationmyth,andtheoneyou'rethinkingofseemstohavearisennotfromancient
IsraelitelorebutfromthecentralAsiansteppes.
ByElonGilad| Oct.2,2015|6:01AM| 6
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TheHebrewBibleopenswithanaccountofcreation,startingwithwhatisarguablythemostmemorablelineintheentiretome:Inthe
beginningGodcreatedtheheavensandtheearth.
ButthisiconicaccountofGodcreatingtheworldisnottheonlyaccountofcreationintheBible.Ifanything,itseemstobethemostrecentina
successionofcreationmythsheldsacredbytheancientHebrewsovertheeons.
Baalandtheseamonsters
TheoldestcreationmythintheBibleisn'tintheBookofGenesisatall.ItisalludedtointheBookofIsaiah,intheBookofJobandinPsalms.
TheclearestandfullestbiblicalaccountofthisancientmythappearsinPsalm74:ForGod...Thoudidstdividetheseabythystrength:thou
brakesttheheadsofthedragonsinthewaters.Thoubrakesttheheadsofleviathaninpieces,andgavesthimtobemeattothepeople
inhabitingthewilderness.Thoudidstcleavethefountainandtheflood:thoudriedstupmightyrivers.Thedayisthine,thenightalsoisthine:
thouhastpreparedthelightandthesun.Thouhastsetallthebordersoftheearth:thouhastmadesummerandwinter(74:1217).
Anarchaeologicaldiscoverymadeinthe20thcenturyshedlightonthisstrangeaccountofcreation,revealingitforwhatitis:anabridged
versionoftheCanaanitecreationmyth.
AmongtheruinsoftheancientCanaanitecityofUgarit,tabletswerefoundinalanguageverysimilartoHebrew,recordingthemanymyths
believedbythecitysinhabitantsincludingthatcreationbeganwiththestormgodBaalvanquishingthegodoftheseaYamandhisseamonster
serpentdragonhelpers.
TherearestrikingparallelsbetweentheUgarittextandcertainbiblicalverses.IntheBookofIsaiah,forinstance,theprophetsays:Inthatday
theLordwithhissoreandgreatandstrongswordshallpunishleviathanthepiercingserpent,evenleviathanthatcrookedserpentandhe
shallslaythedragonthatisinthesea(Isaiah27:1).ThatisnearlyverbatimtowhatananonymousCanaanitebardhastosayaboutBaal:When
youkilledLitan,thefleeingserpent,annihilatedthetwistyserpent,thepotentatewithsevenheads."
Generationsofheavenandearth
AnothercompletelydifferentaccountofcreationfoundintheBibleinGenesis2,startingwiththeline:Thesearethegenerationsofthe
heavensandoftheearthwhentheywerecreated,inthedaythattheLordGodmadetheearthandtheheavens(Genesis2:4).
Accordingtothisaccount,Godcreatedmanfromclay,placedhimintheGardenofEden,andonlythencreatedanimals,plantsandaspousefor
hisbenefit.
ThewriterofthissimpleprosehasquiteananthropomorphicconceptionofGod,mostclearlyseenwhentheauthorhashimtakinganafternoon
strollintheGardenofEden,wherehebumpsintoAdamandconverseswithhim:AndtheyheardthevoiceoftheLordGodwalkinginthe
gardeninthecooloftheday:andAdamandhiswifehidthemselvesfromthepresenceoftheLordGodamongstthetreesofthegarden.And
theLordGodcalleduntoAdam,andsaiduntohim,Whereartthou?Andhesaid,Iheardthyvoiceinthegarden,andIwasafraid,becauseI
wasnakedandIhidmyself(Genesis3:810).
ThiscreationmythevidentlyhasadifferentsourcethantheCanaaniteversion.Someelementsofthestoryarefamiliarfromancient
Mesopotamiamyths,buttheyplayoutinadifferentway.Forexample,intheBabylonianEpicofGilgamesh,manischeatedofimmortalitybya
snakewhoeatsaplant.IfGilgameshhadeatenit,wouldhavemadehimimmortal.
OurbiblicalaccountfamouslyhastheserpentbeguileEveintoeatingthefruitofatreeshepersuadesAdamtodolikewise.Theygainknowledge
butgetexpelledfromtheGardenofEden.
AnotherBabylonianmythhastheheroAdapabeingtrickedbythegodofwisdomEaintorefusingfoodofferedtohimbyothergods,whichhe
does.Thisfood,thenarratortellsus,wouldhavemadehimimmortal.
Nofeet,nomonsters
ThisleadsustothecreationmyththatopenstheBible.Itiscompletelydifferentfromthetwodiscussedabove.Unlikeinthem,Godisnotcalled
byhispersonalname,thetetragrammatonYAHWEH,butisinsteadcalledElohimsimply,god.Heisntanthropomorphizedandhedoesnt
fightmonsters.
Ifanything,theauthorseemstogooutofhiswaytonegatetheoldercreationmyths.Forexample,iftheancientCanaanitemythpitsGodagainst
seamonstersbeforecreatingtheworld,theauthorofGenesis1hasGodcreatingthem:AndGodcreatedgreatwhales(1:21).
However,thosegreatwhalesareamistranslationoftheHebrewword"taninim",whichtodaymeans"crocodile"butbackinancienttimes,
meant"serpentineseamonster".
Inotherwords,Genesis1describesGodcreatingtheveryseaserpentsthathevanquishedintheancientCanaanitemyth(andthatalsoappeared
inIsaiah,JobandPsalms).
AnotherconnectionbetweenGenesis1andtheolderCanaanitemythistheseparationoftheseaintotheskyandtheocean.
IntheCanaanitemyth,GodcutstheseagodYamintwoandcreatestheoceansandthesky.InGenesis1:AndGodsaid,Lettherebea
firmamentinthemidstofthewaters,andletitdividethewatersfromthewaters(1:6).Itisthesamebasicideabutdepersonified.
TheauthorofGenesis1,probablyaHebrewscribelivinginBabylonduringtheBabylonianExileinthe4thcenturyBCE,wasapparentlycreating
anewversionoftheoldcreationmyththatcouldconformwiththestrictmonotheismwhichwastakingholdofJudaismatthetime.
Theprimordialseagod
ItwasntonlytheCanaaniteswhobelievedinthemyththatcreationbeganwithagodvanquishingaprimordialseadeityandformingtheseas
andtheskyfromitsremains.TheBabyloniansbelievedinthisstorytoo,onlyintheircase,theherocreatorgodwasMarduk,notBaal,andthe
seawasnotmaleliketheCanaaniteYam,butafemalegoddesscalledTiamat.(ShemaybealludedtoinGenesis1:2,wheretheHebrewforwhatis
translatedasthedeepistehomaHebrewcognateofTiamatsname.)
ThisbasiccreationmythofagodslayingserpentlikeseamonstersisnotrestrictedtotheCanaanitesandtheBabylonians.TheMiddleEastern
peoplesapparentlyadopteditfromIndoEuropeanpeoplesfromthenorth,sinceitcropsupintheancientmythsofmanyoftheIndoEuropean
peoples:InGreekmythology,ZeuskillsTyphoninNorsemythologyThorkillsJrmungandrinHindumythology,IndrakillsVrtrainSlavic

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peoples:InGreekmythology,ZeuskillsTyphoninNorsemythologyThorkillsJrmungandrinHindumythology,IndrakillsVrtrainSlavic
mythology,PerunkillsVelesandinHittitemythologyTarhuntkillsIlluyanka.
Ineachofthesecasesandtherearemoreitisaweatherdeitythatkillsamonsterserpent,andthusbringsordertotheworld.
ThesimilaritiesbetweenIndoEuropeanlanguagesledlinguiststohypothesizetheexistenceofanancientlanguage,ProtoIndoEuropean,
whichwasspokeninthecentralAsiansteppesthousandsofyearsagoandfromwhichallIndoEuropeanlanguagesaredescended.Similarly,
scholarsofcomparativereligionhypothesizethatthesearemanifestationsofanoriginalProtoIndoEuropeanreligiousmythinvolvinga
weathergodkillingamonstersnakeandbringingordertotheworld.
Apparently,oneormoreoftheseancientIndoEuropeanpeople,perhapstheHittites,broughtthemythtotheMiddleEast.Hereitwasadopted
bytheCanaanitesandmadeitswaytotheBible,onlytobeprofoundlymisunderstoodbylatterdaytranslators.

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