Genesis and Ancient Near Eastern Stories of Creation and Flood: Part II

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Excerpt Creation has been one of the most interesting and intriguing subjects in the Old Testament. In modern Biblical scholarship a number of new interpretations of the early chapters of Genesis have been suggested, especially in the areas of comparative study and literary analysis... Continue reading

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This article was first published in a 4 part series, starting in the Winter 1996 issue of Bible and Spade.


Man as the Image of God

Clines offers a thorough discussion of “The Image of God in Man,” reviewing the history of interpretation. He concludes that: "Genesis 1:26 is to be translated “Let us make man as our image” or “to be in our image” . . . according to Genesis 1 man does not have the image of God, nor is he made in the image of God, but is himself the image of God" (1968).

As for the image itself, Clines observes, with K.H. Bernhardt, that: "in the ancient Near East the primary function of the image was to be the dwelling-place of spirit or fluid which derived from the being whose image it was" (1968: 80–85).

He also notes that in the ancient Near East the king is “the image of God,” and "the image of the god is associated very closely with rulerhood. The king as image of the god is his representative. The king has been created by the god to be his image" (1968: 80–85).

In her recent treatment of the specification of human sexual distinction, P.A. Bird, like Clines, asserts that the selem ’elōhim ‘image of God’ in Genesis 1 is “a royal designation, the precondition or requisite for rule” (1994:341) and concludes that: "the genius of the formulation in Genesis 1:26 may be seen in its use of a common expression and image of Mesopotamian (Canaanite) royal theology to counter a common image of Mesopotamian (Canaanite) anthropology, viz., the image of humanity as servant of the gods" (1994:345) 1

Bird suspects a polemical intention also in the blessing of v. 28, “Be fruitful and multiply.” For, since “the power of created life to replenish itself is a power given to each species at its creation,” it is “not dependent upon subsequent rites,” that is to say, the fertility cult, “for its effect.” However, the “word of sexual differentiation [in v. 27] anticipates the blessing” since “sexual constitution is the presupposition of the blessing of increase.” Verse 27 as a whole, she holds, signifies that “unlike God, but like the other creatures, adam is characterized by sexual differentiation.” In other words, “adam is created like (i.e., resembling) God, but as creature, and hence male and female” (1994: 351).

Genesis 2-3

Adam and Adapa

Shea lists “principal parallels” between the “Adapa Epic" 2 and the account of Adam in Genesis 2–3:
(1) Both subjects underwent a test before the deity, and the test was based upon something they were to consume. (2) Both failed the test and thereby forfeited their opportunity for immortality. (3) As a result of their failure, certain consequences passed upon mankind. (4) Both subjects qualify as members of the first generation of mankind. (5) Their names can be equated linguistically (1977: 39).
However, among the differences Shea notes are these: (1) “Adapa was tested with bread and water while Adam and Eve were tested with the fruit.” (2) Though both were sentenced to death and “this sentence is even given in rather similar terms,” these terms have “quite different meanings in their respective contexts.” (3) Adapa’s choice was made in obedience to Ea, but Adam made his own free choice contrary to correct instructions. (4) “Adapa’s offense, in essence, was that he upset the course of nature, while Adam’s offense was moral in nature.” In conclusion, Shea suggests that “it is possible to view these two separate sources as independent witnesses to a common event (1977:28–35, 41). Niels-Erik Andreasen also thinks that “parallels do indeed exist between Adam and Adapa, but they are seriously blunted by the entirely different contexts in which they occur” (1981:192). However, the view that “the name Adapa is a secondary development from Adam” is not conclusive.

As for the etymology of the word Adam, recently Sjöberg suggested that the Sumerian a-dam, which refers exclusively to people, is “a ‘Canaanite’, West-Semitic loanword in Sumerian,” since it has no “Sumerian” etymology (1984:223). The nearest cognate of the Hebrew “‘adam is, so far, the Ugaritic adm which appears in an epithet of the god El, i.e., ab adm ‘father of man’” (Hess 1990:1–15; 1993:14–19; Andreasen 1981:181 n. 9).

Creation of Man

“The most important single witness to Babylonian speculation on the origins and nature of man is,” as Moran says, “the description of his creation in the first tablet of the ‘Atra-Hasis Epic,’ especially lines 192–248” (1970: 48).3 In 1967, Millard first noted that the “Atrahasis Epic is more specific on [the making of man] than any other Babylonian Creation account.” In the Atra-Hasis Epic I 221ff.,
Man was created from the flesh and blood of a slaughtered god mixed with clay...Man’s earthy constituency is emphasized by both Babylonian and Hebrew (i.e., Gn 2:7) narratives, and his divine part equally...No hint of the use of dead deity or any material part of a living one is found in Genesis (1994:120).
In 1969, Lambert and Millard discussed the account of man’s creation in the “Atra-Hasis Epic” in detail.
The author used what was the generally accepted view...that man was formed from clay mixed with the blood of a slain god...‘Clay’ in this context is the material substance of the human body. This can be learnt from a number of passages that speak of death as a “returning to clay.” Exactly the same conception is shown in the Hebrew account of man’s creation...(Gn 3:19) (1969:21; see also Lambert 1980:73).
As for the “blood,” Lambert and Millard speculate that “in all probability the Babylonians conceived of man as matter (‘clay’) activated by the addition of divine blood,” while on the other hand “the Hebrew account of creation in Genesis 2 explains that God imparted ‘the breath of life’ into man, and so animation began” (1969: 22).

Eden Story

For a long time the Eden story has drawn much scholarly attention4 and has recently been treated thoroughly by Wallace in his monograph (1985). Here, however, I would like to focus on comparative materials with respect to this story.

(a) Enki and Ninhursag. The story has been compared with Sumerian myths such as Enki and Ninhursag, a Sumerian paradise story.5 Kramer summarizes it as follows:
Dilmun is a land that is “pure,” “clean,” and “bright,” a “land of the living” which knows neither sickness nor death. What is lacking, however, is the fresh water so essential to animal and plant life. The great Sumerian water-god, Enki, therefore orders Utu, the sun-god, to fill it with fresh water brought up from the earth. Dilmun is thus turned into a divine garden, green with fruit-laden fields and meadows (1963:147–48).
Kramer thinks that there are “numerous parallels” between this “divine paradise” myth and the Eden story. He suggests that the Biblical paradise, “a garden planted eastward in Eden,” may have “originally” been identical with Dilmun, “a land some where to the east of Sumer.” He also compares the “fresh water brought up from the earth” in Dilmun with the 'ed water in Genesis 2:6. He notes that:
the birth of the goddesses without pain or travail illuminates the background of the curse against Eve that it shall be her lot to conceive and bear children in sorrow; Enki’s eating of the eight plants and the curse uttered against him for his misdeed recall the eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge by Adam and Eve and the curses pronounced against each of them for this sinful action (1963: 148–49).
Kramer holds that this Sumerian literary background would explain why Eve, “the mother of all living,” was fashioned from the rib of Adam. In the present myth one of Enki’s sick organs is the rib (Sumerian ti); the goddess created for healing his rib was called in Sumerian Nin-ti “the lady of the rib.” But the Sumerian ti also means “to make live.” The name Nin-ti may thus mean “the Lady who makes live” as well as “the Lady of the rib.” Through the wordplay, these two designations were used for the same goddess. It is this “literary pun,” according to Kramer, that explains Eve’s title and her being fashioned from Adam’s rib (1963; 149).6

(b) Eden’s Four Rivers. Speiser (1994) following F. Delitzsch (1881), holds that the term Cush (Gn 2:13) is “the eponym of the Kassites” rather than the name for the region of the Upper Nile and “only a Kassite context can accord with the phrase ‘in the east’ of Genesis 2:8” (177).7 Then Speiser, in search of the Garden of Eden refers to Dilmun, “the land of the living,” which lay near the head of the Persian Gulf and tries to identify the Pishon and the Gihon with actual rivers not far from the mouths of the Tigris and Euphrates (1994:178–82).
8

Speiser contends that “the original narrator...has to be visualized as looking from the Persian Gulf inland” and hence “the ‘four heads’ (v. 10) are meant to be viewed upstream rather than down.” However, this view has been aptly criticized by Wenham, who holds that “the general setting as described in vv. 5–8 favors a Mesopotamian site.” As Wenham says: "the greatest difficulty with this [Speiser’s] view is that, according to Genesis, the rivers as they flow from Eden split into four, whereas on Speiser’s location they flow toward Eden to converge there" (1987: 66).

Westermann holds that: "the intention of the author in inserting 2:10–14 was not to determine where paradise lay, as the majority of interpreters hold, but rather to point out that the “life-arteries” of all lands of the earth have their source in the river that watered paradise" (1984: 216).

He thus denies any attempt to identify the source of the four rivers geographically. On the other hand, Wenham holds that:
in Eden a great river rises, and after leaving the garden, splits up into four rivers including the Tigris and Euphrates. On this basis alone we should conclude that Eden lies somewhere in Armenia near the sources of the Tigris and Euphrates. And this is a long-established, widely held view (1987: 66).
(c) Sumerian Origin? According to Miller (1994: 155–56), the picture of creation set forth in the initial section of the “Harab Myth”9 may be compared with Genesis 2–4:

1. “In the Harab myth the re-creation state is ‘wasteland’ (harab), not unlike the picture in Genesis 2 of a time with no planet or herb, no rain, nor anyone to till the earth.”
2. “Both stories give primacy to the need to work or till the earth.”
3. “As in Genesis 2, the first thing that is done in the creation is the creation of water, though in Genesis 2 it is sweet water to water the plants (’ēd) and in Harab it is sea (Tamtu). But in the Harab myth, river, i.e., Idu (=Heb. ’ēd), comes in the next generation as daughter of sea (Tamtu).”
4. Farming and shepherding appear in the creation “in a genealogical sequence” in both stories.
5. In both, the first city tradition (Gn 4:17 Irad / / Eridu) comes between creation and flood.

But there are also differences between the two, as Miller notes. In the Genesis account, there exists a clear distinction between the divine world and the human world and the tilling of the earth and the ruling and shepherding of the animals as well as the building of cities are human tasks (Miller 1994: 156). We might add that in Genesis 2–3 Yahweh is the sole divine agent and is significantly without any female consort.

Until recently, the Sumerian connection of the Eden story has been supported almost unanimously. However, according to Sjöberg, who recently reexamined Sumerian connections with regard to the “tree of life,” there is “no evidence” for such a tree in Mesopotamian myth and cult. He says: "The identification of different trees on Mesopotamian seals as a Tree of Life is a pure hypothesis, a product of pan-Babylonianism...There is no Sumerian or Akkadian expression ' Tree of Life' "(1984: 219–21).

Wallace collects “a wide range of material which has some pertinence for the study of the tree of life in Genesis 2–3, ” including the tree symbolism of Asherah. He carefully avoids equating this Asherah symbol with the tree of life in Genesis 2–3, which “concerns eternal life and not the fertility of womb and field” (1985: 114). However, it must be admitted that those references outside of the Bible are indirect.

Etymology of ‘ē

The term 'ēd in Genesis 2:6 has been rendered as “spring” / “fountain” or as ‘ănānā “(rain-)cloud” or “vapor, mist” (targum). Modern versions translate it “mist” WJV, RSV, NEB note, NIV note), “flood” (RSV note, NEB), “water” (JB), or “streams” (NIV). However, there has been no satisfactory Semitic etymology.

Recently I investigated the etymology of ‘ēd thoroughly (1989). I have shown that Albright’s view that the Hebrew ‘ēd is a Sumerian loanword via Akkadian id “river” (1939: 102–103) is less convincing than Speiser’s view that ‘ēd is connected to the Akkadian edû “flood,” which is a Sumerian loanword from e4-dé-a (1955: 9–11). While it is possible that ‘ēd is a shortened form of ‘ēdô in Job 36:27, as a result of the loss of a final vowel when or after Akkadian edû was borrowed into Canaanite, I have made the following suggestions:

1. ‘ēd (Gn 2:6) is a loanword directly borrowed from Sumerian e4-dé;
2. ‘ēdô (Jb 36:27) is a loanword from Sumerian via Akkadian edû.

Both ‘ēd and its allomorph ‘ēdô mean “high water” and refer to the water flooding out of the subterranean ocean (1989:115).

Etymology of ‘ēden

In the light of the new information from Fekheriyeh, Millard, Greenfield and others have recently suggested that the term ‘ēden means “a well-watered place” (Millard 1984; Greenfield 1984; also Wallace 1985: 84). This fits the context of Genesis 2 very well. There are three theoretically possible explanations for the etymology of the Hebrew ‘eden:

(a) Sumerian Loanword Directly into West Semitic. The Sumerian edin “plain,” has been suggested as its origin. But since Sumerian presumably has no phoneme /’/, it is not likely that the Sumerian edin was borrowed directly into Canaanite as ‘ēden or the like. Also, the meaning “plain, steppe,” or uncultivated land, does not fit the context of Genesis well.

(b) Sumerian Loanword via Akkadian into West Semitic. It has been suggested that the Sumerian edin was borrowed through Akkadian edinu. While this has been a common view for the etymology, Hebrew ‘eden cannot be a loanword from or via Akkadian edinu, since Akkadian has no phoneme /’/ either. Also edinu might be simply a semitized reading of the Sumerian edin and not used as an actual Akkadian word.

(c) Common West Semitic. The root *’dn, which appears in the Fekheriyeh Inscription, in a Ugaritic text, in the divine epithet h’dn in Old South Arabic, as well as in the Arabic verb ‘adana, probably has the literal meaning “to make abundant in water supply.” Hence, the Hebrew ‘ēden probably means “a place where there is an abundant water supply” (see Gn 13:10). The term *’eden (plural ădānîm in Ps 36), which means “pleasure, luxury,” has the same etymology as Eden, though the MT seems to distinguish ‘ēden from *’eden (Tsumura 1989:123–37).

Two Waters

I compare the two waters in Genesis 2:5–6, “rain” and “flooding water” ('ēd), with the two thmt-waters in a Ugaritic expression that seems to refer to the waters above in heaven and the waters below under the earth, as in Genesis 7:11 and 8:2, and to “an ancient tradition about the separation of heaven-water and ocean-water as reflected in the Genesis Creation story, not in 1:2, but in 1:6ff.” (1989:151–52). This upper thmt-water is probably associated or identified with the god “Heaven,” while the lower thmt-water may well correspond to the goddess “Ocean” in Ugaritic religion (1989:122).

In various parts of the ancient Near East a rain-god such as Ada, Hadad, and Baal is called “a giver of abundant water-supply.” In the Fekheriyeh Inscription, for example, he is described not only as a rain-giver but also as the “water-controller of all rivers.” Similarly, as I have noted before, the Lord God of Genesis 2 is presumably understood as a rain-giver and as the controller of the subterranean waters. When he planted a garden in a well-watered place (2:8ff.), he apparently drained the ‘ēd-water there. Thus, he is also a controller of both rain and the subterranean water. However, the Lord God is more that a water-controller. He is the maker of the total universe, of “earth and heaven” (‘eres wěšāmāyim, 2:4) (1989:141–42).

Canaanite Background

Soggin suggests that the account in Genesis 3 “contains an Israelite attack on syncretism as it existed between Israelite and Canaanite religion.” According to him, "the origin of the story seems to have been Canaanite, that is, it came from the very milieu that the story was intended to oppose."

Thus Soggin assumes that "an original Canaanite account disclosing the rites of fertility was taken over by Israel and turned completely around as a direct polemic against those same rites accusing them of producing not life and fertility, but death and sterility" (1975).

Recently Wyatt, following F.F. Hvidberg (1960), also advocated that “the story is intended as a polemic against Canaanite religion,” though he suggests that “it is the cult of El and As erah and not that of Ba’al which is attacked” (1981: 19). According to Wyatt’s conjecture, “the tree of knowledge is an allusion to the cult of El,” while the tree of life refers to As erah, who appears as the consort of El in the Ugaritic texts and whose As erah -pole was “undoubtedly a surrogate tree (of life)” (1981: 17).10 However, these hypotheses are highly speculative.

Mullen, following Clifford and Cross (Clifford 1972:35–57; Cross 1973: 37–38), compares “Eden, the garden of God” (Ez 28:13) with El’s abode11 at the “source of the two rivers” (mbk nhrm)/ / “in the midst of the streams of the two thmt-waters” (qrb apq thmtm) or “in the assembly of the two thmt-waters” (b’dt thmt) in the Ugaritic literature. He comments,
While it is most common to associate the biblical Eden with the Mesopotamian “land of the living” and the Sumerian Dilmun, the Canaanite and biblical evidence points to the fact that the “garden of God” (Ez 28:13), which is equivalent to the “mountain of God” (Ez 28:16; cf. v. 14), is to be located in the North, the yarke tê sāpôn (Is 14:13), the meeting place of the heavenly assembly (1980: 153; followed by Wallace 1985: 94; et al.).
The abode of El was probably located at the farthest horizon where “heaven” and “ocean” meet together.

Based on two Ugaritic texts, de Moor suggests the existence of “a Canaanite tradition about the Garden of Eden” (1988: 106). According to KTU 1.100, a divine She-ass and her son were " among the first living creatures. Only the sun, heaven, primordial Flood, spring and stone precede them. So the story seems to be situated close to the origin of the inhabited world."

In KTU 1.107, a rather broken text that de Moor thinks precedes 1.100: " the premature death of the first man was eventually prevented by invoking the help of all the great gods against the offspring of the god of the serpents, Horonu the Devil. Therefore the latter had to give in, as related in KTU 1.100."
12

Hence, de Moor suggests that: "the Israelite tradition about the enmity between the seed of man and the seed of the serpent
13 (Gn 3:15) would have been derived from this myth under abolition of all references to a divine power next to God (1988: 109)."

It must be admitted, however, that de Moor’s suggestion is based on the reconstructed text of KTU 1.107: 27–41, and his theory remains highly hypothetical.

Literary Approaches

In recent years a great number of literary analyses of the Eden story have appeared, and it is almost impossible to review all of them even briefly. The following is an inexhaustive sample.
14

Structure. Walsh divides Genesis 2:4b–3:24 into a series of seven scenes “principally by shifts in dramatis personae and changes in literary form,” and for each scene, he discusses the literary structure, or framework, and its unity (1994). He also notes discourse grammatical features such as narrative and speech, monologue and dialogue, paraphrase, deliberation, transition or link, as well as the importance of “narrative wayyiqtōls,”15 operative words, or motif words for structural understanding.

“The basic structural principle of the Eden account,” according to Walsh, is " the concentric arrangement of its scenes. The pattern involves dramatis personae, themes, and in some cases, internal structural elements of each scene."

He then argues that there are major structural divisions in the narrative: “Introduction (scenes 1–2), action (scenes 3–6), and epilogue (scene 7).” He concludes thus:
Analysis reveals that the apparently “artless” story of man and woman in the garden of Eden has in fact structures and intricate patterns of organization that involve even minor details of the text. Moreover, the patterns so interlock that the deletion of any part of the text (except, perhaps, 2:10b–14) would have significant repercussions for the whole passage (1994:375).
Intimacy and Alienation

Hauser aims to analyze the “writer’s development of the two-dimensional theme of intimacy and alienation,” for he thinks that “they clearly express a major motif the writer has used to focus and integrate his narrative.” In Genesis 2 " the writer weaves several components into an intimate picture of harmony, with all revolving around man, the first and central element in the created order" (1994:383–84).

However, in Genesis 3, Hauser explains, the “world of harmony and intimacy becomes a world of disruption and alienation.”

Sanctuary Symbolism

Wenham, in his recent article, contends that:
The garden of Eden is not viewed by the author of Genesis simply as a piece of Mesopotamian farmland, but as an archetypal sanctuary, that is a place where God dwells and where man should worship him. Many of the features of the garden may also be found in later sanctuaries particularly the tabernacle or Jerusalem temple. These parallels suggest that the garden itself is understood as a sort of sanctuary (1994).

There are certainly many other aspects of the creation stories in Genesis. The above are just samples in the areas of comparative study and literary analysis, but they are basic and significant materials for the theological understanding of the earliest chapters of the Bible.

Recommended Resources for Further Study

     
The Myth of
Natural Origins 
1996 Issues of
Bible and Spade
Genesis Record


Footnotes

1. Note that the idea “that man was created to relieve the gods of hard labor by supplying them with food and drink was standard among both Sumerians and Babylonians”; see the opening section of the “Atra-Hasis Epic.” Cf. Lambert and Millard 1969: 15. Note also that, according to Miller, this royal status of ‘ādām has an echo on the Eridu Genesis expression about humankind: “their kingship, their term, has been uprooted” (col. iv 10). However, kingship in Genesis is “democratized” (1994:160).
2. For an English translation, see Speiser 1969.
3. For the most recent translation of this epic, see Dally 1991: 9–35.
4. For bibliographical references, see Westerman 1984: 178–81; Wenham 1987: 41–44.
5. For a translation and discussion see Kramer 1969; 1963: 147ff. For a recent translation, see Attinger 1984.
6. For recent studies on Eve, see Kikawada 1972 and Lambert 1980: 72–73.
7. Note that Westermann (1984: 210–11) takes the Hebrew word for east as meaning “to the east of the narrator, not to the east of Eden” and explains that the intention of this phrase is “not to fix the area geographically but to push the scene of the event into the far, unknown distance.”
8. For the etymologies of the words Tigris and Euphrates, see Tsumura 1989:137–39.

9. For a translation, see Jacobsen 1984.
10. For various interpretations of the “tree of knowledge,” see Oden 1981:211–13.
11. For this subject, see also Tsumura 1989:150–53.
12. See de Moor 1987: 146–56, for his full translation of KTU 1.100.
13. Cf. Sjöberg (1984: 222–23), who suggest that “it was a chameleon that seduced Eve to eat the apple and thereby deprived her and her husband Adam of a pleasant, eternal life in the Garden of Eden.”
14. For structuralist approaches to Genesis 2–3, see Patte 1980.
15. For Longacre’s view that “the storyline or the backbone of a discourse in Biblical Hebrew is conveyed by use of clauses that begin with a waw-consecutive verb,” see Longacre 1989: 64ff; also see Tsumura 1989:119 n. 9.


Bibliography

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Attinger, P.
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Cross, F.M.
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Tsumura, D.T.
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Wallace, H.N.
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Walsh, J.T.
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Wenham, G.J.
1987 Genesis 1–15. Waco: Word.
1994 Sanctuary Symbolism in the Garden of Eden Story. Pp. 399–404 in I Studied Inscriptions Before the Flood, ed. R.S. Hess and D.T. Tsumura. Winona Lake IN: Eisenbrauns.

Westermann, C.
1984 Genesis 1–11:A Commentary, trans. from German by J.J. Scullion. London: SPCK.

Wyatt, N.
1981 Interpreting the Creation and Fall Story in Genesis 2–3. Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 93.

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