Did Genesis Borrow from Pagan Myths?
By Kyle Pope
the seventeenth century critics of the Bible have tried to suggest that the
books of Moses were not verbally inspired but compiled from source documents
which are no longer extant. With the archaeological discovery of Mesopotamian
and Egyptian creation myths in recent centuries, critics have tried to further
argue that the account of creation in Genesis was merely borrowed, adapted and
custom tailored from these myths. While it can not be denied that there are
interesting similarities between the Biblical account and these myths, the
distinctive features of the Biblical account make it impossible to credibly
entertain such a suggestion.
Mesopotamian Myth - Enuma Elish
The Mesopotamian myth, called Enuma Elish (from
the opening words of the epic - meaning “when on high”) begins with a universe
composed of a massive watery chaos of salt and fresh waters mingled together.
Two deities make up this mass: Tiamet, the goddess of salt-water and Abzu, the
god of freshwater. The two gods give birth to two other gods: Ea (earth) and
Anu (sky). Ea and Anu separate Tiamet and Abzu and Ea kills Abzu and covers his
body. Thus earth covers Abzu forming the “abyss” of underground fresh waters.1 Tiamet is convinced by a new
lover to try and restore the original chaos of the universe by killing the
younger gods. When they learn of her plot they convince Marduk, the god of storm
and light and order him to fight against her. He kills her and from her severed
body creates the heavens and the geological formations of the earth.
Myth - The Book of the Evolutions of Ra.
myths were varied and diverse depending upon the region of Egypt in which they
were circulated. One myth which was popular east of the delta was related in
the book known as the Book of the Evolutions of Ra. Like the
Mesopotamian myth, originally there was a chaotic watery mass known as the
deity Nu. The sun-god Ra brings forth from the midst of Nu two gods: Shu (the
god of air, light and heat) and his mate Tefnut. According to some myths about
Shu, he was said to separate two lovers that mingled in the waters of Nu: Nut
(sky) and Geb (earth). In this separation Shu lifts the watery heavens of Nut
above Geb forming the heavens and the earth. The Egyptians believed that the
heavens were actually a sea of waters in which the sun and moon floated. It was
believed that the rising and setting of the sun was Ra sailing his boat across
the watery heavens.
Distinctiveness of the Biblical Account
The Biblical account
shares three things with these pagan myths: 1. Water. All
describe an initial watery mass. In the Biblical account this mass is not
pre-existent, but the creation of God (Genesis 1:1-7). 2. Chaos. All
describe a universe of chaos being brought into order. In the Biblical account
God creates the initial chaos and then brings it into order (Genesis 1:2). 3.
Separation of the Waters. All describe a separation of waters above
and below an expanse of heaven. In the Bible, this expanse doesn’t separate
lovers or reflect anthropomorphic battles. Instead, these things are simply
the elements that compose the atmosphere (Genesis 1:6,7).
is where the similarities end. First, in the Biblical account God is above and
separate from His creation (Genesis 1:1). Second, in the Bible the elements
which God creates and with which He forms the earth are just that. The earth is
not a deity. The sky is not a god. Things are simply things! (Genesis 1:1- 19).
Third, in the Biblical account the waters above the firmament are not portrayed
as heavenly seas in which the sun and moon literally sail (Genesis 1:9). These
“waters” either refer to the water vapors of a cloud canopied pre-flood earth,
or to the fluid elements from which God would compose the heavens.2 The Jews understood this. The book
of Job says that God hung the earth “on nothing” (Job 26:7). There are no
“sun-boats” taught in Biblical cosmology.
The book of Genesis
was revealed to Moses sometime around 1500 B.C. This was centuries after the
initial events which it describes took place. We know that during the time of
the patriarchs God spoke to family leaders. He revealed to Abel how He wanted
to be worshiped (Hebrews 11:4). He revealed to Enoch what would happen in the
future (Jude 14,15). It is not unreasonable to consider that God revealed to
someone, something about the past (i.e. the Creation). If so, Romans chapter
one shows us that man has often twisted the very acts of God to fit their own
idolatrous imaginations (Romans 1:20- 25). These pagan creation myths could
well reflect the same type of thing. While Genesis was not borrowed from pagan
myths, it may be that the pagan myths represent perversions of early man’s
historical memory of what had been revealed about creation. This does not
discredit the value of the Biblical account. Rather, the fact that such pagan
myths contain an echo of what was originally revealed to the patriarchs, then
restated to Moses actually reinforces the validity of the Biblical account.