A Theology Of The Fall In Genesis 3 And The Ancient Near East

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The article was published as a shorter, popular level version in the Summer 2013 issue of Bible and Spade. This is a more expanded version of the original article.

Excerpt Genesis is a book of beginnings. It is the record of the beginning of all creation: the universe, the earth, mankind, and the people of Israel. It also contains a record of the beginning of sin and the circumstances of that beginning. This is normally referred to as “The Fall.” As time progressed and sin increased, man eventually digressed so far that he started believing in and worshipping other so-called gods. As a part of this apostasy the account of the beginning of man slowly evolved to fit with the lifestyle of sin, as well as with these new gods and beliefs. Other things crept in to sometimes completely distort the account. But, some similarities remain. Continue reading

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Introduction

 

Many of these accounts were written down in different countries, cultures, and languages for various reasons. We have found accounts of creation and the flood. What has not been found is a specific account of the fall (Fretheim 2005:71). While we do not have a specific account of the fall from these cultures, many authors believe that several stories contain elements that refer to the fall, e.g. the Epic of Gilgamesh. This article seeks to compare some of these accounts of the Ancient Near East (ANE) with the account found in Genesis 3 to see what can be learned of their theology of the fall. This will be accomplished by looking at the accounts under one heading or by asking one question. That question is: “What was the nature of the fall?” Under this question there are several subheadings or questions that we will ask to guide our study. The questions were determined from a reading of the literature on this subject and the things that were highlighted by the various authors. The questions will be asked and, by so doing, the accounts will be compared as the article progresses.

 

What Was The Nature Of The Fall?

 

There is a great deal of discussion as to the nature of the fall. Two basic approaches have been put forth (Fretheim 1994: 145–149). The first is that it was a fall downward. The second is that it was a fall upward. The fall downward obviously refers to the idea that man was in a perfect state, living in what some have described as a “golden age” or “paradise” (Ries 2005: 2959) and, because of sin, this perfection came to an end. This has been seen as a negative view of the fall, i.e. “human beings transgress the limits of creatureliness and assume godlike powers for themselves” (Fretheim 2005: 71). But, it is this last part that is seen by some as the basis of a fall upward. Under this idea man was in the dark concerning certain things. He was in a primal state, ignorant, immature, and childlike. When he crossed the boundary that had been set by deity, he became civilized, knowledgeable, wise, mature, and more like an adult. Thus, man was improved and grew or, in other words, an upward fall. This author cannot agree with the idea of an upward fall. The fall downward seems to better fit the context of Genesis 3. But, there is a third possibility which has been introduced by Fretheim and which is very appealing to this author as a way to explain, or expand upon, the idea of a downward fall. That is, Fretheim suggests a falling out (Fretheim 1994: 153). This has to do mainly with the idea that mankind fell out of relationship with God when he disobeyed. This fits the context and complements the fall downward idea very well. But, when we consider these ideas, what exactly do they have to do with the fact that we are comparing Genesis 3 with the ANE literature? The answer is that it lays the foundation of what occurs in the different accounts as told by the different cultures. The nature of the fall is tied to all aspects of how the event is portrayed in the different accounts. The accounts to which we will compare the Genesis material are the Atrahasis Epic, the Gilgamesh Epic, and the Adapa Story.

 

The Atrahasis Epic is the Akkadian myth concerning primeval history. It is found only  “in incomplete copies…made c. 1630 BC and circulated widely during later centuries (it was known at Ugarit)” (Mitchell 1996: 373). One of the copies can be found in the British Museum. And, “the most complete copy of Atrahasis comes from the early seventeenth century B.C.” (Lucas 2003: 132). The story:

 

explains the creation of man as intended to relieve the (lesser) deities of their toil, and the attempted destruction of humanity as divine response to the noise of the expanding human population which threatened the very rest that their creation had sought to provide for the gods. This destruction, decreed by Enlil, took several successive forms, culminating in the Deluge but, as in other flood-stories, its purpose was frustrated by the survival of the flood-hero, here called Atra-hasis (“exceeding wise”), through the intervention of Ea, the divine friend of humanity. The problem of over-population is resolved by other means in a concluding aetiology. The composition is nearly complete in a Late Old Babylonian recension in three tablets (chapters), and is known as well in various fragmentary later recensions (Hallo 1997: 450).

 

The Gilgamesh Epic is the Babylonian myth of early history (Carson 1994: Gn 6:9­–9:29). It is a “legend, which emerged from the first Babylonian dynasty…, (and) was discovered in the palace library of Ashurbanipal (669­–627 BC) at Nineveh” (Elwell 2001: 532). Further, “the epic consists of eleven tablets composed ca. 2000 B.C. and a twelfth which was added somewhat later; other copies were discovered at Megiddo (dating to the fourteenth century) and Ugarit as well as fragments of Hittite and Hurrian versions, from Boghazköy” (Myers 1987: 418). Again, a copy of this epic can be seen at the British Museum. The Epic of Gilgamesh:

 

tells of how a strong ruler, Gilgamesh, became friends with Enkidu, a hunter the gods had created to overthrow him. Together the two killed the monster Huwawa. Ishtar, the goddess of love, made advances to Gilgamesh. In resisting her, he killed the sacred heavenly bull. Enkidu died as a punishment for that crime. Gilgamesh, overcome by grief, traveled the world seeking the source of immortality, finally arriving at the homeland of Utnapishtim. In Tablet XI Utnapishtim describes a devastating flood that drowned a large area of Mesopotamia. Through his piety Utnapishtim was saved and given immortality by the gods. The final tablet contains an expression of sadness over Gilgamesh’s mortality (Elwell 2001: 533).

 

The ties between these two documents and Genesis are seen in many areas, but we want to focus on two, 1) the sin, and 2) the consequences. First, what constitutes the actual sin committed in the different accounts? Connected to this, what constitutes the “knowledge of good and evil?” In some accounts, is the deed actually seen as sin from the author’s perspective? What may be seen as the basis of the sin? Second, what are the consequences or results? What is gained or lost on the part of mankind? These questions will form the basis upon which we will do the comparison between Genesis 3 and the ANE literature.

 

What Constituted The Actual Sin?

 

In Genesis 2:16–17 we find the command concerning the tree in the middle of the garden. God says, “from any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”1 When this command is considered in light of our question, we first look at the phrase “knowledge of good and evil.” This is taken to mean different things by different people. The traditional understanding would be that this has to do with knowledge that is inclusive of everything possible. “Most of the parallel OT passages in which ‘good and evil’ occur point to it meaning ‘everything possible,’ the two opposites good and evil being employed not for their own sake but to express a totality (what lies between the two) – a case of merism”2 (Bailey 1970: 146). We would agree with this position only in part because there would be more involved than just “everything possible.” Good and Evil are two opposite extremes. “Everything possible” would have some things lying somewhere in the middle which may be neither good nor evil, but neutral. Evil would be anything and everything that is opposed to God and His nature and will. Good would be everything in harmony with the same. Again, this is the traditional understanding of “the knowledge of good and evil.”

 

However, one other possibility is advanced by several in the scholarly community. This other possibility, at least for some, has its basis in the Gilgamesh Epic. In this story, as was seen above, a man named Enkidu was created to be a companion to Gilgamesh. Enkidu lives with the animals, talks with them, and protects them. He protects them from a hunter and his traps. With the help of Gilgamesh, the hunter devises a plan to thwart Enkidu’s attempts to help the animals. The hunter takes a harlot to the watering place at which Enkidu and the wild animals drink. When Enkidu arrives with the animals the hunter has the harlot expose and offer herself to Enkidu. He is taken in by this and spends six days and seven nights with her. The story at this point is as follows:

 

When he was sated with her charms,

He set his face towards the open country of his cattle.

The gazelles saw Enkidu and scattered,

The cattle of open country kept away from his body.

For Enkidu had stripped; his body was too clean.

His legs, which used to keep pace with his cattle, were at a standstill.

Enkidu had been diminished, he could not run as before.

Yet he had acquired judgment, had become wiser.

He turned back, he sat at the harlot’s feet.

The harlot was looking at his expression,

And he listened attentively to what the harlot said.

The harlot spoke to him, to Enkidu,

“You have become wise Enkidu, you have become like a god” 3

 

From this story scholars make a connection to the Genesis account, in part, because of the last phrase. Wisdom was bestowed upon Enkidu and he became “like a god” because he had engaged in physical intimacy.4 The parallel is supposedly found in Genesis 3:22, “Then the Lord God said ‘Behold the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil’” (NASB95). Another connection is seen in the fact that Enkidu is given clothing by the harlot which supposedly corresponds to Genesis 3:21 where God makes garments for Adam and Eve.

 

This connection between gaining wisdom and physical intimacy is also made on other grounds. In the Genesis account the prohibition that is made concerns the eating of fruit. Some look to the texts of the ANE for the many examples where eating and fruit refer to physical intimacy. Some even point to such imagery in the Song of Solomon (2:3; 4:12–13, 16) and Proverbs (30:20). Thus, the Genesis passage is analyzed in light of these ideas and many see the same imagery and meanings. The couple enters chapter three naked and unashamed. After eating the fruit (engaging in physical intimacy), they are aware, and ashamed, of their nakedness. Nakedness is compared to sexuality by those who hold this view: “They were in a state of sexual innocence, they ate the fruit, and all of a sudden they were aware of the sexuality” (Veenker 1999–2000: 67).


It must be noted at this point that a distinction is made by some concerning the actual nature of this idea. Some, as noted above, see the actual act of physical intimacy as constituting the eating of the fruit, i.e. Veenker, Bailey, and others. But others see it as simply knowledge about the act, and not the act itself. Only later, using this knowledge, would the people commit sin by engaging in the act (Hartman 1958: 35–38).

 

Another idea that is supposed to validate this line of thinking is put forth by Hartman. He holds that Adam and Eve were to remain childless, having been commanded to not take part in physical intimacy.

 

There remains the possibility that their sin consisted in having conjugal relations against God’s orders. This possibility is not to be excluded on account of God’s command to be fruitful and multiply as given in 1,28, for this is a distinct creation story, not connected with the story of the Fall. So, also, 2,24 is an extraneous masal (proverb, paradigm, model – JG) concerning later men who had fathers and mothers…their deed need not have been evil in itself, but wrong only because of the divine prohibition….Nowhere in the story does God say to Adam, “This garden I will give to you and your descendants.” A garden which was small enough for Adam to “guard”…was presumably not to be filled with an ever increasing progeny. Like Utnapishtim and his wife, of the Mesopotamian myth, who had no children to share their undying bliss, Adam and his wife were apparently to live on indefinitely in blessed childlessness (Hartman 1958: 35).

 

Hartman goes on to speak of how this idea of childlessness does not contradict the fact that Israelites understood children to be a blessing from God. He states that while children were needed for “strengthening the clan against enemies and for support in one’s old age,” they also provided the parents “quasi-immortality” through their seed. So, when Adam and Eve are considered, they already have immortality with the opportunity to eat of the tree of life. If they already have immortality personally, even though it meant childlessness, it follows then that they were deceived by the serpent into attaining immortality through children (Hartman 1958: 35–36).


At this point several observations should be made concerning the ideas previously discussed. We will begin with the last first. Hartman has to have several presuppositions to come to the conclusions that he does. First, he has to assume that the command in Genesis 1:28 is totally separate from the Fall in Genesis 3. He evidently does this through source criticism, even though he never says that. Second, he argues from silence concerning the lack of a statement about giving the garden to Adam and his descendants. Third, he makes a huge assumption concerning the size of the garden. Fourth, he makes a comparison to the story of Utnapishtim which may or may not be warranted (this point goes to the whole idea of comparing ANE literature with the biblical account, which we will deal with in the last part of this article). Fifth, and finally, he speaks to this supposed state of childlessness as “blessed.” This point flies in the face of the rest of Scripture which portrays children as gifts from God that are to be brought up in His ways (Ps 127:3–5; Eph 6:4).

 

Next, Veenker wants to make a comparison between the literature of the ANE and Genesis 3 based on eating and fruit as metaphors for physical intimacy. Why is eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil singled out as being such a metaphor? Why is eating of the tree of life not seen as such? In Genesis 2:16–17 man is told that he may eat of every tree (obviously their fruit) in the garden except one. If eating and fruit are metaphors for physical intimacy, then why is it that eating of the fruit of these trees is left out of the exegesis and the metaphor? If it does contain the same ideas, how does it fit into the interpretation? Then, in Genesis 3:22, the opportunity to eat of the fruit of the tree of life is taken away. What if the tree of life is supposed to be used as the metaphor and the tree of knowledge of good and evil means something else? Following this line of reasoning, physical intimacy is commended before the fall, but is condemned afterward. If not, why not? The context, which includes the two chapters before this one, as well as every other chapter in Scripture after this one, goes directly against these ideas, ANE literature notwithstanding.

 

The Bible upholds the uprightness and beauty of physical intimacy within the boundaries of the marriage relationship. In Matthew 19, Jesus upheld the idea of a man and woman becoming “one flesh.” In Hebrews 13:4, marriage is “held in honor” and the marriage bed (koitē – the physical act) is “undefiled” (NASB95). Again, the Song of Solomon speaks to the beauty of the relationship, both emotional and physical, between a man and his wife. It cannot be that physical intimacy, or even the knowledge of it, is to be taken as constituting the event that resulted in the fall, i.e. sin. Along these same lines we saw that Hartman says that eating of the second tree is simply knowledge about the act and not the act itself. It should then follow that eating from the first tree is knowledge about immortal life and not immortal life itself. The extreme unlikelihood of such an idea is evident given the context.

 

What Were The Consequences/Results?

 

In the Genesis account we find that God said that Adam and Eve, or Man and Woman, would die in the day that they ate of the tree. We know from the rest of the context that physical death did not occur when they violated the command. So, did God never intend physical death when He set the punishment? Was it meant to be spiritual death all along? Or, was He simply merciful toward Adam and Eve, not following through with the punishment of immediate death but giving instead another punishment? Whatever the answer, the ANE literature supposedly offers one.

 

In the Atrahasis Epic the fall is referenced, at least in this author’s mind. The story states, as we have already seen, that the lesser gods had to do the work on earth. They grew tired of this and one of them is sacrificed in order to create man. Man is created from his blood mixed with clay. The work of the gods is then given to man. This works well for a while. But after about 1200 years the population of man grows and so does the noise that man makes. This interrupts the sleep of one of the gods, Enlil, and this makes him angry.

 

The country was as noisy as a bellowing bull

The God grew restless at their racket,

Enlil had to listen to their noise.

He addressed the great gods,

“The noise of mankind has become too much,

I am losing sleep over their racket.

Give the order that surrupu-disease shall break out.5

 

Therefore the sin here is simply being noisy and the consequence is the death of man through disease. When the same thing occurs twice more, each 1200 years apart, the second punishment is drought that brings about a famine and the third punishment is a flood. Thus, physical death is the consequence.

 

In the account of Enkidu and the harlot there is not so much a consequence as a result. Enkidu’s normal way of living, prior to being with the harlot, is to live with wild animals. He has relations with her and when he tries to return to the animals they do not accept him, but run away. This has been proposed to mean that he became civilized. In other words, there is an ascent of knowledge (Veenker 1999–2000: 69–75), or a fall upward, as mentioned earlier. This is brought out by the line which says that the animals would not accept him because “Enkidu had stripped; his body was too clean.” Evidently Enkidu has washed his body either before or after he had been with the harlot. He therefore may have lost the smell of the forest and animals with which he had been. As a result the animals were afraid of him. Enkidu is then brought by the harlot to the city of Uruk and further educated in the ways of civilized man. He even goes to the opposite extreme concerning the wild animals. Previously he had protected them from the hunter. Now, he protects the shepherds and their sheep by driving off the lions and wolves.

 

This brings us to the possible contradiction mentioned in the last section (Endnote 4). The text of this document gives the reason for what happened: “When he (Enkidu) was sated with her charms, he set his face towards the open country of his cattle. The gazelles saw Enkidu and scattered, the cattle of open country kept away from his body. For Enkidu had stripped; his body was too clean.” In addition, the account goes on to point out that Enkidu had never eaten some foods common to man or fought with weapons like mankind:

 

He used to suck the milk of wild animals. They put food in front of him. He narrowed his eyes, and looked, then    stared. Enkidu knew nothing of eating bread, of drinking beer. He had never learned. The harlot made her voice heard and spoke to Enkidu, “Eat the food, Enkidu, the symbol of life. Drink the beer, destiny of the land.” Enkidu ate the bread until he had had enough. He drank the beer, seven whole jars, relaxed, felt joyful. His heart rejoiced, his face beamed, he smeared himself with...his body was hairy. He anointed himself with oil and became like any man, put on clothes. He was like a warrior, took his weapon, fought with lions. The shepherds could rest at night; he beat off wolves, drove off lions. The older herdsmen lay down; Enkidu was their guard…6

 

This leads this author to believe that the act of physical intimacy was not the only thing that separated Enkidu from the animals. He also cleaned himself up, dressed himself, and did other things like a normal human being. Therefore, is wisdom acquired through the sexual act? Or is it acquired through knowledge of what it means to be with humans, which would include physical relations between men and women, but also much more, e.g. bathing, wearing clothes, eating the foods of mankind, using weapons, etc.?

 

This brings us back to Genesis 3. The punishment promised was death. If that was to be physical death, it did not happen, at least, not immediately. Again, this possibly was due to the mercy of God. But, it may not originally have been physical death, but spiritual. Death is simply separation. It can be separation of the soul from the body or separation of man from God (Eph 2:1, 12). When it comes down to the bottom line, what resulted from this event is that man’s relationship with God was broken. The order of things between God and his creation is upset (Walsh 1977: 177). Prior to the fall, man was on speaking terms with God without any need for a mediator or any kind of appeasement through sacrifice. God would walk in the garden with man and converse with him. They had fellowship together. When man sinned that fellowship was broken and sacrifice was then required, as seen from Genesis 4, to continue some form of the relationship. Again, relationship or fellowship with God is all-important to our understanding of this passage, especially as it relates to our comparison with the literature of the ANE. When these comparisons are made, all too often the relationship between God and man in the Genesis account is set aside and the comparisons are made on other grounds (Fretheim 1994: 148). This quality of relationship or fellowship in the Genesis account is not found in the ANE literature. Man is created simply to do “work that is essential for the continuing existence of the gods, and work that they have tired of doing themselves” (Walton 2006: 215). But, when Genesis 3 is analyzed, carrying that analysis over into chapters 4–6, we see that one of the themes of the text is relationships. What is seen is not a metaphor for physical intimacy or the knowledge of it, but metaphors of “estrangement, alienation, separation, and displacement, with ever increasing distance from Eden, each other, and God” (Fretheim 1994:153). Another author puts it this way:

 

Their ease with one another is shattered, for they cover their nakedness (3:7). Their communion with God is broken, and they hide from the One who created them in his image (3:8–9). Their grasp of truth is weakened as they blame others for what they each have done (3:10–13). Fractures in friendship, fellowship and integrity are all casualties of sin (House 1998: 65).

 

Before leaving this point, we would add that there is another “relationship” which is damaged. That is man’s relationship with the earth. Moses recorded God’s words concerning the curse that He would put upon the earth itself: 

 

Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return (Gn 3:17-19).

 

In Romans 8:19-22 Paul indirectly goes back to the events of Genesis 3 to show that even the creation suffered because of the Fall.

 

For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.

 

This passage is seen by most as a commentary on Genesis 3:17-19. Thorns and thistles will grow and man will have to work hard in order to grow the things that will be his to eat. The “futility” to which creation was subjected in Genesis 3 has to do with the idea that it would not do that for which it was designed or intended. (Dunn 2002: 470). Prior to the Fall it was fruitful and abundant. After the Fall it not only produced thorns and thistles, but there are also destructive storms, pests, disease, viruses, etc., that affect humans, plants, and animals (Smith 2007: 77-81). Scientists are constantly working to prevent, reduce, or control the last three problems in this list (Hendriksen 1980: 268).

 

When all of these things are considered, i.e. the broken relationship between God and man, and mankind and the earth, it is clear that we are looking at more than just a fall downward. In other words, there is also the falling out, of which we spoke earlier.

 

Taking this one step further, God does everything possible, short of going back on His word or doing something against His nature, to recapture this relationship. He immediately speaks of the seed of woman that would crush the head of Satan and his offspring. In fulfillment of this passage the future found Jesus Christ coming to this earth to provide a way for fellowship to be restored between God and man. But, still, there is something more in the immediate context. Besides the sacrifices and the implied forgiveness given as a result of obedience to these things, God will speak to Cain in 4:6–7 and remind him that he can rule over the sin that is waiting to ensnare him. In Genesis 6, God will choose one man and his family to carry on the human race after the flood. Throughout this context, and the context of the rest of Scripture, God is constantly working to bring man closer to Him. He pleads through His leaders, priests, and prophets, for the people to remain faithful to Him or return to Him. Again, this is not found in the ANE literature, because there is no relationship of the same quality between the gods and mankind.

 

Another aspect of relationship needs to be discussed before we leave this point. It is Naidoff who speaks of it. He believes that the serpent brings about uncertainty in Eve by his question and statement. This uncertainty pertains to God’s intentions. God has provided everything that is needed for mankind to abundantly survive by giving him access to all trees of the garden except one. God then can be seen as the Supreme Provider. He has limited their choice of the tree in the middle of the garden for their own best interests, which is implied by the succeeding consequences. But, according to Naidoff, the serpent causes Eve to doubt that, as well as God’s intention of truly providing everything they need. God is seen now to be withholding something from them and thus, in contrast to the Supreme Provider, He now becomes God the Withholder (Naidoff 1978: 8).

 

While Naidoff, in the context of these statements, applies this almost exclusively to food, we want to take it to a deeper level. That is, that when Eve saw God was withholding something, if that is what is happening, she lost her trust in God. When Adam allowed Eve to take the lead in spiritual matters he showed his distrust in God’s plan. The idea is that trust is at the basis of every relationship that man has, especially man’s relationship with God. If this point has validity, then a corollary to that is that at the basis of every sin, at least in part, is a lack of trust in God, or, to put it another way, mistrust (House 1998: 64–65). Adam and Eve should have known that God had their best interests at heart. He does not withhold that which is good. He does not set boundaries around things that are good for us and right for us to do. Thus, when we sin, we show that we do not think that God is acting in our best interests. We do not trust Him. Again, bringing this in line with the purpose of this article, this idea of trust is not found in the ANE literature because there is no quality relationship between the gods and man and therefore there is no real trust to be had.7

 

Finally, there is another consequence that ties in with some things we have already discussed and which has a similar parallel in the ANE literature. We spoke earlier of death and the separation that is inherent in that. Tied to this is the fact that Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden. The text puts it this way:

 

Then the Lord God said. “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” — therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life (Gn 3:22–24).

 

If mankind remained in the garden they would have opportunity to eat of the tree of life and live forever, or be immortal.

 

The quest for immortality is seen also in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh went in search of an herb that, if eaten, could give him immortality. He could not find it until Utnapishtim gave him the location. The location was deep under the sea. Gilgamesh tied rocks to his feet and plunged into the sea. He found the herb and brought it back safely only to have it stolen by a serpent (Graves 1983: 79). In addition to this story, there is another known as the Adapa Story. Of this story, according to Andreasen, there are four extant fragments. Three (A, C, D) derive from the Ashurbanipal library (7th cent. B.C.), and the fourth (B) comes from the Amarna archives (14th cent. B.C.) (Andreasen 1981:180, n. 6).  However, the British Museum website claims that the three fragments which they acquired were discovered at Sippar (?) and Kouyunjik (Nineveh).8

 

The story concerns immortality but is different in that it is not man who seeks it. The man Adapa is fishing and his boat is capsized by the south wind that is represented by a bird. When this occurs Adapa injures the bird’s wing. He is called to account for it by the gods. The gods plan to offer him the food and drink of death. But, Ea hears of this plan and warns Adapa not to eat or drink. The gods hear that Ea has warned Adapa and do not offer him the food and drink of death, but the bread and water of life. Not knowing that this is actually what is being offered, Adapa refuses to eat and drink. In this way, through the deception of the gods, he turns down immortality.

 

In addition to the above, there is a connection in this story with a serpent, as in Genesis. Walton and Matthews comment on this idea:

 

Of particular interest is the Sumerian god Ningishzida, who was portrayed in serpent shape and whose name means “Lord of the Productive/Steadfast Tree.” He was considered a ruler in the nether world and “throne-bearer of the earth.” He was one of the deities that offered the bread of life to Adapa (Walton 1997: 20).

 

Finally, there is another connection between this story and Genesis 3: “After Adapa loses the opportunity to eat from the bread and water of life, he is given clothing by the god Anu before being sent from his presence” (Walton 1997: 22).

 

Despite the similarities, there are striking differences between the Adapa Story and the account in Scripture. The ANE literature portrays the gods as being deceptive and selfish. They do not want man to have immortality. On the contrary, in the biblical account, God freely offered the opportunity to eat of the tree of life until the point when man disobeys. Then, God goes on to carry out His plan to give man the opportunity to have eternal life with Him away from the frail and fallen creation. Therefore, God is shown to always want the best for man and to offer the chance for man to acquire it through the grace offered in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Conclusion

 

The Pentateuch was not written in a vacuum. It was written in a particular place, time, and culture, and it partook of many things from its surroundings. The question we ask now is: Did it partake of the myths contained in the ANE literature? There certainly are many similarities between the creation and flood stories. There are also many similarities in the information concerning man’s loss of the state he was in at the beginning, i.e. the golden age or paradise. But, as noted in many instances, there are also differences. Aside from the particular differences that have been noted, there are more basic or fundamental differences that affect the material found in the ANE. These differences are several.

 

There is a basic difference that concerns the character of the gods portrayed in this material. They are too much like mankind. They fight, get drunk, engage in fornication, kill each other, etc. Too often humanity wants deity to be like him in order that the standards of life can be lowered. But, the God of the Bible is holy, without sin, because He cannot sin, and He calls man to a higher standard, a higher way of living. He clearly states that He is not like us (Ps 50:21). He does not need our service or sacrifices to be God. He does not need us to feed Him (Ps 50:9–13), as opposed to the gods of the ANE.

 

In addition, as noted above, God always wants and does the best for mankind. He is not some god who has no concern except for Himself. He does not leave man to fend for himself and make his own way on life. God provides for man everything that is needed to survive both spiritually and physically. John Walton sums up this whole discussion very well:

 

In Mesopotamia the cosmos functions for the gods and in relation to them. People are an afterthought, seen as just another part of the cosmos that helps the gods to function. In Israel the cosmos functions for people and in relation to them. God does not need the cosmos, but it is his temple. It functions for people (Walton 2006: 215).

 

In Genesis, and underscored in Psalm 8, man is the pinnacle, the crown, of creation. Man is the creature that God chose to make in His image. The fall of man was truly a fall “down,” as well as “out.” The ANE literature misses that in almost every respect.

 

Footnotes

 

1. All Scripture quotations are from the NASB95, unless otherwise noted.


2. “merism” is “a rhetorical term for a pair of contrasting words (such as near and far) used to express totality or completeness.”

(http://grammar.about.com/od/mo/g/Merism.htm accessed October 31, 2013)

 

3. http://www.piney.com/Enki.html accessed October 31, 2013.

 

4. This is the conclusion of the articles mentioned in connection with this point. But, there is something in the text itself that may contradict this conclusion. We will deal with this possible contradiction under the section below concerning consequences/results.

 

5. http://faculty.gvsu.edu/websterm/Atrahasi.htm accessed October 31, 2013.

 

6. http://www.piney.com/Enki.html accessed January 10, 2013.

 

7. This author realizes that sacrifices are offered to the so-called gods and pleas are made to have things accomplished by the gods, but the relationship is simply not the same. It is a relationship of manipulation and coercion. The gods themselves, at least as they are portrayed in these myths, are concerned mainly with their own well-being and man is simply a slave, with very few exceptions (e.g., Ea warning Utnapishtim of the impending flood).

 

8.http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/search_results.aspx?orig=%2Fresearch%2Fsearch_the_collection_database.aspx&searchText=adapa&x=11&y=11&fromDate=&fromadbc=ad&toDate=&toadbc=ad Accessed October 31, 2013.

 

Bibliography

 

Andreasen, Niels-Erik

1981 Adam and Adapa: Two Anthropological Characters. Andrews University Seminary Studies 19.3: 179-194.

Bailey, John A.

1970 Initiation and Primal Woman in Gilgamesh and Genesis 2-3. Journal of Biblical Literature 89: 137-150.

Carson, D.A.

1994 The New Bible Commentary. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press.

Dunn, James D. G.

2002  Word Biblical Commentary: Romans 1-8. Dallas: Word.

Elwell, Walter A., and Comfort, Philip W.

2001 Tyndale Bible Dictionary. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers.

Fretheim, Terence E.

2005 God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

1994 Is Genesis 3 a Fall Story? Word and World 14.2:144-153.

Graves, Robert, and Patai, Raphael

1983 Hebrew Myths: The Book of Genesis. New York: Greenwich House.

Hallo, William W., and Younger, K. Lawson

1997 The Context of Scripture Volume 1: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World. New York: Brill.

Hartman, Louis F.

1958 Sin in Paradise. Catholic Biblical Quarterly 20.1: 26-40.

Hendriksen, William

1980 New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Paul's Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids: Baker.

House, Paul R.

1998 Old Testament Theology. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.

Lucas, E. C.

2003 Cosmology. P. 132 in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch, eds. T. Desmond Alexander and Davis W. Baker. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press.

Mitchell, T. C.

1996 Flood. P. 373 in The New Bible Dictionary, ed. D. R. W. Wood. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press.

Myers, Allen C.

1987 The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Naidoff, Bruce D.

1978 A Man to Work the Soil: A New Interpretation of Genesis 2-3. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 5: 2-14.

Ries, Julien

2005 The Fall. P. 2959 in The Encyclopedia of Religion 5, ed. Lindsay Jones. New York: Thomson Gale.

Smith, Henry B.

2007 Cosmic and Universal Death from Adam’s Fall: An Exegesis of Romans 8:19-23a. Journal of Creation 21.1: 75-85.

Veenker, Ronald A.

1999-2000 Forbidden Fruit: Ancient Near Eastern Sexual Metaphors. Hebrew Union College Annual 70-71: 57-73.

Walsh, Jerome T.

1977 Genesis 2:4b-3:24: A Synchronic Approach. Journal of Biblical Literature 96.2: 161-177.

Walton, John H., and Matthews, Victor H.

1997 The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Genesis-Deuteronomy. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press.

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