Alleged myth: Moses in the bulrushes
(Courtesy: Open Clip Art Library)
By Spencer D Gear
It is not uncommon to hear statements like this to try to associate the Genesis record with mythology:
The Bible begins by simply plagiarizing ancient Babylonian myths. They weren’t anything new or divinely inspired….. Genesis 2 doesn’t coincide with the other parts that were clearly taken from Babylonian myth. It was purely Hebrew. Whether it was inspired or just plain made up is the disagreement!
Another statement of this ilk, came from Peter Bycroft, writing in The Australian newspaper. He was reflecting on the Australian Anglican church, which secular humanists like the most. Then in discussing the decline in interest in the Christian story in Australia, he stated:
For some, this “awakening” of Australians reflects, in part, the progress of archeological, cultural and historical research that is defining the Bible as essentially a book hybridised by well-meaning authors from previous mythologies, built on half-truths, Bronze Age fables and inaccurately referenced historical events.
These claims are often made in association with the Enuma Elish (EE) which is a Mesopotamian or Babylonian myth about creation that described a struggle between order and chaos in the cosmos. It has been described as “a myth of the cycle of seasons”. The EE name comes from its opening words which are recited on the fourth day of the ancient Babylonian New Year’s festival. You can read a copy of the EE at: “Enuma Elish: ‘When on high’”, by Dennis Bratcher.
Bratcher explains that the story exists in a number of forms from the Babylonian area and his translation is from
“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 of EE had been estimated to have been written about the 12th century BC in cuneiform on seven clay tablets. The tablets were found in the mid 19th century in the ruins of the palace of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh. They were first published by George Smith in 1876 as The Chaldean Genesis.
Because there are parallels with the Genesis account, some have contended that the Genesis record adapted the Babylonian accounts/myths/story. Because of the nature of the authority of Scripture, some have maintained that there are no parallels with this Babylonian account. However, there are some parallels between the two accounts and some considerable differences. Bratcher states:
There are simply too many similarities between the accounts 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
Archaeologist, Alfred J. Hoerth (1998:187), explains that while the sequence of creative acts is similar in Genesis and the Babylonian account (firmament, dry land, celestial luminaries, humans) and both stories commence in a watery chaos and end with God or gods at rest. He says that ‘the similarities are not meaningful; they can be explained as expected coincidences in two works on the same theme’. While he rightly states that archaeology cannot excavate the remains of creation, texts such as EE reveal what these ancient cultures had to say about creation events. He explains that while the biblical account of creation is not as complete as many would like it to be,
it owes nothing to other ancient cultures or their myths. The complete Enuma Elish reveals many dissimilarities with Genesis. The omnipotent God in Genesis is very unlike the frightened, feuding, and foul gods of the epic. Necessarily there are similarities, but the Genesis account shows no dependence. The fledgling Hebrew nation should have been thankful when God brought them out from the “bewildering variety” of opinions on their origin and, through Moses, told the story as it happened. Viewed only as a creation story, Genesis is unique, but viewed in comparison with these other stories, Genesis is lucid and complete.
For another statement on how unlikely it would be for Genesis to be based on the Babylonian myth, see, ‘Does the Genesis creation account come from the Babylonian Enuma Elish?’, CARM. Its view is that,
Knowing the issues of the differences, the monotheistic and polytheistic natures, the obvious influence from the Mesopotamian region, and the unsettled dating of the recording, it is safe to conclude that it is highly unlikely that Moses borrowed or was influenced by the Enuma Elish. Genesis is far different in nature than any of the ancient Near Eastern creation myths and therefore must not be considered among that fold.
The view of Genesis being based on a Babylonian myth has been refuted over and over by competent OT scholars but it is pushed rather frequently on the www. Of course there will be theological liberals and sceptics who want to promote this view, as they have a very low view of Scripture.
Here is the conclusion by Gary Brantley, “Pagan mythology and the Bible”, at Apologetics Press:
We need not deny that some similarities exist between pagan and Hebrew literature. But, these similarities do not imply that pagan mythical texts directly influenced biblical writers. The literary quality of biblical poetry argues against such dependence. To illustrate, scholars have identified at least one pagan modification of a Hebrew Psalm (an Egyptian adaptation of Psalm 20, dating to ca. 125 B.C.), whose literary quality is far inferior to the original. This Egyptian document (written on papyri) was discovered sometime before the turn of the century. Egyptian philologists soon identified the script as demotic—a cursive kind of hieroglyphic writing which came into use around 650 B.C. For years, however, its contents remained an enigma to experts.
Progress in deciphering the text occurred in 1940 when Professor Raymond Bowman and Egyptologist George R. Hughes discovered that, though the text was written in demotic script, the actual language was Aramaic. The Egyptian document contains Jewish words such as YHWH (i.e., Yahweh) and ‘adonay, but it also mentions an assortment of pagan gods (e.g., Horus, Sahar, Mar, and Baal). These features, and its familiarity of language and composition to Psalm 20, indicate that it was adapted from the Hebrew Psalm. The text, however, is riddled with scribal errors of such nature that indicate the scribe did not understand what he transcribed (see Shanks, 1985). Such is not characteristic of biblical poetry. Its literary quality, according to some scholars, is far superior to that of pagan stock (see Wheeler, 1992). This certainly would be one indication of its originality.
Further, along with its distinguished literary quality, the Bible’s ethical and spiritual concepts are unparalleled by pagan sacred literature. For instance, the gods of pagan myths are guilty of degenerate behavior of all sorts; the true God is infinite in purity. Practitioners of pagan religions constantly worked to pacify their angry gods; worshipers of Yahweh, Who was quick to forgive, received undeserved blessings from His gracious hands (Psalm 32:1-5). Thus, the similarities between biblical and pagan literature are eclipsed by the enormous differences. Actually, there is no better indicator of the Bible’s inspiration than to put it side by side with its pagan counterparts. Such comparative literary analyses bolster our conviction that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God…” (2 Timothy 3:16).
Tony L. Shetter has written, “Genesis 1-2 In Light Of Ancient Egyptian Creation Myths” to refute this view. His conclusion is that
the author/redactor(s) of the Genesis creation accounts share certain concepts of the makeup of the world with other ancient Near Eastern cultures. However, it is especially with Egypt’s worldview that the author/redactor(s) are familiar. Evidence for this lies in the many allusions to Egyptian creation motifs throughout the Genesis creation accounts. But, rather than being a case of direct borrowing, they demythologize the Egyptian concepts and form a polemic against the Egyptian gods. Thus, they elevate Yahweh-Elohim as the one true God, who is transcendent and who is all powerful. He speaks his desire and it comes to pass. He does not require the assistance of other gods to perform the acts of creation. He alone possesses the power and means necessary to effect the creation of the world. This paper has compiled a list of the more significant parallels between Egyptian cosmology and the Genesis creation accounts, and has shown that Egyptian cosmology and the Genesis creation accounts share more affinity with one another than the Genesis creation accounts share with Babylonian cosmology.
The article, “Is Genesis stolen from Babylonian myths?” by Tekton Education and Apologetics Ministry, refutes this view.
Our summary conclusion: The views of EE proponents simply do not correspond with the data – and thus it is not surprising that most borrowing-proponents have sought their parallels elsewhere. (For more on those other stories, see the series here by the Christian ThinkTank.)
A better conclusion is that while there may be parallels with early mythology, parallels do not equate to the biblical text plagiarising Babylonian or Egyptian mythology. While there may be convergences with Babylonian mythology, the radical differences are too great to promote a view that the Genesis record, for example, was built on mythology.
The Genesis record promotes Yahweh-Elohim as the one true, transcendent and all-powerful almighty God of creation and of His people. This is very dissimilar to the gods represented in the Babylonian epic.
This leads to the obvious question of the nature of the OT. What was Jesus’ view of the OT? He spoke of the events, including miracles, and people of the OT as historically factual. We see this in how Jesus affirmed the authenticity of the destruction of Sodom including the death of Lot’s wife (Luke 17:29-32). The manna fell from heaven (John 6:31) according to Jesus. Who was Daniel? Jesus affirmed him as a genuine prophet (Matthew 24:15). Jesus confirmed the validity and historicity of Jonah and the whale. (Matthew 12:39-40). Jesus spoke of those who were created male and female in the creation account (see Matthew 19:4-6).
Jesus said, “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Jesus directed us to the OT, asking, “Have you not read what was spoken to you by God?” (Matthew 22:31).
When 2 Tim. 3:16 as “all Scripture is breathed out by God” (ESV), he was referring to the OT as the NT canon was not yet formed.
Hoerth, Alfred J 1998. Archaeology and the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.
 KhaosTheory #11, a post on Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, “Understanding the Bible”, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7640465-2/#post60032437. My response, OzSpen, is at #17, and includes the material that refutes this plagiarism of the Babylonian mythological view.
 Peter Bycroft 2011. Sometimes love, even if a gift from Jesus, is not good enough. The Australian, 25 June. Available at: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/arts/sometimes-love-even-as-a-gift-from-jesus-is-not-good-enough/story-e6frg8nf-1226080049755 (Accessed 19 March 2012).
 ‘One of the earliest forms of writing, cuneiform was (probably) invented in Uruk, Mesopotamia around 3000 BC. The word is from the Latin, meaning “wedge shaped”; we don’t know what the script was actually called by its users. The symbols are formed from wedge-shaped objects pressed into soft clay tablets which are then fired (accidentally or intentionally), “Cuneiform”, Archaeology. Available at: http://archaeology.about.com/od/cterms/g/cuneiform.htm (Accessed 15 March 2012).
 Another example is the Religious Tolerance site and the article, ‘Comparing two creation stories: From Genesis and Babylonian pagan sources’ (Accessed 15 March 2012).
Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2015.