Enuma Elish and the Bible by Kacie Klamm

If an ancient Babylonian heard the stories in the primeval history of Genesis, they would think some parts sounded very familiar. Indeed, parts of Genesis resemble the Enuma Elish, an epic poem from ancient Babylon that is often called the Babylonian creation myth.

What is the Enuma Elish?

The name “Enuma Elish” comes from the first words of the poem, which in Akkadian mean “when above.” The poem describes a battle between the gods at the beginning of time, culminating with the hero-god Marduk defeating Tiamat, the goddess of salty waters, and creating the world. No one knows exactly when the Enuma Elish was composed, but a date in the second millennium BCE is likely, long before the earliest parts of the Bible were written down.

What do the Bible and the Enuma Elish share in common?

The Enuma Elish resembles a few parts of the Bible, especially Gen 1. Both begin with temporal clauses: “when above” and “in the beginning.” In the ancient world, the sea was associated with chaos and destruction. The Bible includes a number of texts in which God battles and tames the chaotic sea, like Marduk battling Tiamat, who embodies the sea. But in Gen 1, God is already superior to “the Deep,” which in Hebrew is tehom, a word related to Tiamat.  

Rather than creating out of nothing, both God and Marduk create by giving order to the chaos, which for Marduk means creating out of Tiamat’s corpse. Both God and Marduk separate primordial waters and place a barrier in between the upper and lower waters. Both create luminaries to give light. Gen 1 occurs over seven days, and the Enuma Elish is told across seven tablets. On the sixth day God creates humans, which Marduk does in the sixth tablet of the Enuma Elish. While God marks humans as special by making them in God’s image (Gen 1), Marduk has man created from the blood of a slain god. God orders humans to work and care for the earth (Gen 1 and Gen 2). Marduk assigns the work of the gods to the humans, so that the gods can rest.

Finally, both the Enuma Elish and the Bible (Gen 11:1-9) include stories about the founding of Babylon (Babel in Hebrew), including the building of a tower or ziggurat. But while Marduk names the city Bab-ili, which means “gate of the gods,” the Bible connects Babel to the Hebrew word “to confuse.”

Scholars offer different explanations to account for the similarities between the Enuma Elish and the Bible. Because Babylon was a significant power in the ancient Near East, it is possible that some biblical writers knew the Enuma Elish. Others think the similarities result from common ancient Near Eastern beliefs that influenced both texts. If the writers of Genesis did know the Enuma Elish, we must also ask whether they were simply adapting the poem to tell their own stories of creation or if they purposefully reworked the Enuma Elish to claim supremacy for Israel’s God instead of Marduk.

Kacie Klamm , "Enuma Elish and the Bible", n.p. [cited 22 Jan 2021]. Online: http://bibleodyssey.org/en/passages/related-articles/enuma-elish-and-the-bible

Contributors

Klamm-Kacie

Kacie Klamm
PhD student , University of Notre Dame

Kacie Klamm is a PhD student in the Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity program at the University of Notre Dame. Her research focuses on the ancient Near Eastern backgrounds of the Hebrew Bible, biblical narrative, and theology.

A Babylonian creation myth that describes how the god Marduk triumphed over chaos, paralleling the Creation story of Genesis 1.

The Mesopotamian language, written on cuneiform, that was used by the Assyrian and Babylonian empires.

A region notable for its early ancient civilizations, geographically encompassing the modern Middle East, Egypt, and modern Turkey.

Of or relating to ancient lower Mesopotamia and its empire centered in Babylon.

Absence of order. In the ancient Near East, chaos was believed to precede and surround the order of the known world.

A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

A Babylonian deity who becomes the chief god of the Babylonian pantheon, as recounted in the Babylonian creation story Enuma Elish.

An ancient Mesopotamian temple, taking the form of a stepped pyriamid.

Gen 1

Six Days of Creation and the Sabbath
1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face o ... View more

Gen 1

Six Days of Creation and the Sabbath
1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face o ... View more

Gen 1

Six Days of Creation and the Sabbath
1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face o ... View more

Gen 1

Six Days of Creation and the Sabbath
1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face o ... View more

Gen 1

Six Days of Creation and the Sabbath
1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face o ... View more

Gen 2

1Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude.2And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seve ... View more

Gen 11:1-9

The Tower of Babel
1Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.2And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar an ... View more

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