THE TYNDALE BIBLICAL
ARCHAEOLOGY LECTURE, 1966
NEW BABYLONIAN 'GENESIS' STORY
By A. R. MILLARD
Association of the Hebrew accounts of Creation and the Flood
with the Babylonian is a commonplace of Old Testament
studies. It is now some ninety years since George Smith's
discoveries of a Flood story in Akkadian very similar to the story
of Noah, and of tales of the creation of the earth.1 During that
time many studies have been made of the interrelationship of
the various accounts. The following expression by G. von Rad
represents a widespread current view with regard to the Flood
of Genesis. 'Today . . . the dossier on the relation of the Biblical
tradition to the Babylonian story of the Flood as it is in the
Gilgamesh Epic is more or less closed. A material relationship
between both versions exists, of course, but one no longer
assumes a direct dependence of the Biblical tradition on the
Babylonian. Both versions are independent arrangements of a
still, older tradition, which itself stemmed perhaps from the
Sumerian. Israel met with a Flood tradition in Canaan at the
time of her immigration and assimilated it into her religious
ideas.'2 The situation is similar, though less certain, with
regard to Creation. Most commentators suggest that the
Israelites adopted and adapted the Babylonian, story Enuma
dissentient voices are largely ignored.4
Old Testament scholars have generally concentrated upon
2 Genesis, SCM Press, London (1961) 120.
3 E.g. C. A. Simpson in The Interpreter's Bible, Abingdon Press, New York (1952)
I, 195, 445f.; S. H. Hooke in M. Black and H. H. Rowley (eds.), Peake's Com-
mentary on the Bible , Nelson, London (1962) §§144, 145; S. G. F. Brandon, Creation
Legends of the Ancient Near East, Hodder Stoughton, London (1963) 118-157.
4 Such as A. Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis2, University of Chicago Press (1954)
139, or J. V. Kinnier Wilson in D. W. Thomas (ed.), Documents from Old Testament
Times, Nelson, London (1958) 14.
4 TYNDALE BULLETIN
neglecting the other Babylonian accounts entirely. In fact, the
relevance of Enuma elish is considerably less than has normally
been thought, as an important paper by W. G. Lambert has
recently demonstrated. This conclusion, in part, follows from
the dating of the composition of Enuma elish at the very end of
the second millennium BC, in part, from a study of Babylonian
Creation accounts as a whole. Although Enuma elish embodies
earlier material, this is clearly turned to the poem's main
purpose, the exaltation of Marduk, patron of Babylon. Scrutiny
of all Babylonian Creation stories is essential before theories
can be erected upon apparent similarities with the Hebrew.
The significance of such similarities will only appear when each
has been evaluated in its own context.
Fewer complications attend comparison of the Flood stories.
A. Heidel's book The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels6
remains the authoritative study of the theme. The Babylonian
material to be utilized is found in two compositions only, the
Epic of Gilgamesh and the Epic of Atrahasis.
THE EPIC OF ATRAHASIS
Our present purpose is to add more information concerning the
Creation and Flood stories rather than to reconsider the whole of
this material. The Epic of Atrahasis provides most of this new
material. Until 1965 about one-fifth of the story was known, now
four-fifths of the whole can be restored. Briefly, it recounts the
events precipitating the creation of man, namely, the refusal of
the gods to tend the earth, his disturbance of Enlil, the god
ruling the earth, and the attempts to quell the trouble, culminat-
ing in the Flood and subsequent reorganization of the earth.7
The most complete text belongs to the Old Babylonian period
and bears dates about 1630 BC. How much earlier it was actually
composed cannot yet be said. At that time the poem was con-
6 Second edition, University of Chicago Press (1949).
7 The text is mostly published in Cuneiform Texts XLVI, The British Museum,
London (1965) pls. I—XXVII; an edition of the Epic with translation and discussion
by W. G. Lambert and the writer is in preparation; understanding of the text owes
much to the acumen of Lambert. Parts of this paper are based upon a thesis sub-
mitted to the University of London, 1966, entitled The Atrahasis Epic and Its Place in Babylonian Literature.
A NEW BABYLONIAN 'GENESIS' STORY 5
writing. Parts of four copies of the first tablet, two of the second,
and one of the third are known at present. In addition, the
Assyrian libraries at Nineveh almost a thousand years later
included at least three copies equivalent to the first tablet, two
covering parts of the first and second, and two of the third,
showing evidence of varying editions. A neo-Babylonian frag-
ment was unearthed at Babylon, and a piece of uncertain date,
probably Kassite, at Nippur. The story was thus well known,
or, at least, widely available, in ancient Mesopotamia. It
circulated further afield, too. A tablet from the Hittite capital,
Bogazköy, mentioning the hero Atrahasis, shows that something
of the story was known there, about 1300 BC.8 At the same period
a copy of a form of the Epic was present at Ugarit on the Syrian
coast.9 Thus knowledge of the Epic of Atrahasis was very far
flung in the second millennium BC.
As far as can be observed the significance of this composition
for Genesis studies has not been noted by Old Testament
scholarship in recent years, although its nature as an account
covering both Creation and Flood was clearly demonstrated ten
years ago from the material then available.10 It is the only
Babylonian parallel to the Hebrew Genesis in providing a
continuous narrative of the first era of human existence.
The import of this is immediately apparent: comparisons of
accounts from the two literatures made heretofore have generally
treated the Creation and the Flood as separate parts—neces-
sarily so since no all-embracing Babylonian narrative was
recognized. Some modification of this statement is necessary,
for there is one Sumerian composition covering the ground.
That is the Deluge Tablet from Nippur of which about one-
third survives. It can be dated about 1700 BC. A discussion of
its place in comparative contexts was published by the Assyrio-
logist L. W. King fifty years ago.11 It is now evident that this
Sumerian narrative belongs to the same tradition as the
8 Keilshrifturkunden aus Boghazköi VIII, Staatlichen Museen, Berlin (1924)
No. 63; cf. H. G. Güterbock, Kumarbi, Europaverlag, Zürich (1946) 30f., 81f.
9 J. Nougayrol, Comptes rendus de l' Academie des inscriptions et belles lettres (1960) 170-171
10 J. Laessøe, Bibliotheca Orientalis 13 (1956) 90-102; cf. W. G. Lambert, JSS 5
11 Legends of Babylonia and Egypt in relation to Hebrew Tradition, Schweich Lectures for 1916 Oxford University Press (1918).
6 TYNDALE BULLETIN
Flood a list of five cities founded as cult-centres for particular
deities. Here an association can be made with the Sumerian
King List, for these same five cities (Eridu, Bad-tibira, Larak,
Sippar, Shuruppak) are given as the seats of the ante-diluvian
kings (incidentally, they were never dynastic centres after the
Deluge). The association is not merely a modern one; a small
fragment of a neo-Assyrian tablet lists these kings and then
continues with a narrative, using a phrase characteristic of the
Atrahasis Epic.12 As is well known, the King List has a complete
break with the coming of the Flood, and a fresh start afterwards.
While this may be the result of joining a list of ante-diluvian
rulers to the later King List, it establishes that there was a
tradition linking Creation, early kings, and the Flood in
Babylonia, reaching back to the early second millennium BC at
separate narratives of the two major events, and the Sumerian
Deluge Tablet likewise. In their present form, however, neither
shows any sign of a conflation of sources. An attempt to isolate
literary 'strata' in the fragments of the Atrahasis Epic known
ten years ago fails completely in the light of the new material.13
world is found in the Atrahasis Epic; it is concerned exclusively
with the story of Man and his relationship with the gods, and
this is hinted at in the incipit 'When the gods, man-like, . . . '.
The introduction does describe the situation at the outset of the
story, when the world had been divided between the three major
deities of the Sumerian-Akkadian pantheon.
'The gods took one hand in the other,
They cast the lot, made division.
Anu went up to heaven,
13 J. Laessoe, Bibliotheca Orientalis 13 (1956) 95-96. Similarly, efforts to demon-
strate the fusion of two disparate narratives into the Flood story of Gilgamesh XI,
based upon 'doublets' of names and supposed contradictions or inconsistencies,
can be disproved as shown in chapter 7 § i.c of the thesis mentioned in n.7.
A NEW BABYLONIAN 'GENESIS' STORY 7
The lock, the bar of the sea,
They gave to Enki, the prince.'
Some interest attaches to the last of these realms. The word for
‘sea’, is tiāmtu, the common noun from which the name Tiamat
was developed. There is no need to consider the identity of this
word and תְּהוֹם ; theories concerning, or based upon, that
equivalence collapse with the demonstration that the words are
no more than etymological cognates.14 The texts show that the
proper name is certainly not intended in the Atrahasis Epic,
nor is there any hint of a battle with the sea as found in Enuma
elish. Nevertheless, the implication is that the sea is an unruly
element in need of control. If a parallel is to be sought in the
biblical narrative it may be found in Genesis 1:9, 'Let the waters
from under the heaven be gathered to one place and let the dry
land appear'. This brief ordinance should be considered along
with the other references to God confining the sea and preventing
it from overwhelming the land. We may doubt whether it is
legitimate to understand any Old Testament passage as depict-
ing a primaeval battle between God and the sea. The Rahab,
Leviathan, and Tannin verses do not have this implication,15
nor do the descriptions of the containing of the sea adduced by
Gunkel to this end appear really convincing.16 The words
employed in the three major passages (Job 38:8-11; Proverbs
8:29; Psalm 104:6-9) are not those employed elsewhere of
conflict; thus they contrast with the Rahab, Leviathan, Tannin
texts which clearly describe battle. They do refer to bars and
bounds and doors.
Some caution should be present in drawing the parallel of
the barring of the sea, as it is found in one other Babylonian
Creation story, the bilingual Marduk Account. This text relates
the creation of man and beast, rivers and vegetation, and then
Kitchen, Theological Students' Fellowship Bulletin 44 (1966) 3.
15 K. A. Kitchen, loc. cit. 3-5.
16 H. Gunkiel, Schöpfung und Chaos, Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, Göttingen
(1895) 91—111; W. G. Lambert, loc. cit. 296 (note that the Ninurta Epic there cited
as having a parallel conflict with savage waters is describing the salvation of the
land from flooding after Creation; the passage is summarized in S. N. Kramer,
Sumerian Mythology2, Harper and Brothers, New York (1961) 80, 81; all the Old
Testament allusions to the raging sea refer to the creation and sustaining of the world
order, not to a later catastrophe).
8 TYNDALE BULLETIN
described the draining of a swamp, this may have been related
to that, but mention of the sea suggests that the dam's purpose
was to keep the land from sea-floods.17
in the Atrahasis Epic depicts the junior gods (the Igigu) labour
ing at the behest of the senior deities (the Anunnaku):
‘When the gods, man-like,
Bore the labour, carried the load,
The gods' load was great,
The toil grievous, the trouble excessive.
The great Anunnaku, the Seven,
Were making the Igigu undertake the toil.'
In particular, this task took the form of digging the beds of the
waterways, the corvée work later considered a menial occupa-
tion. Such work was too much for the gods; they held a meeting
and decided to depose their taskmaster, Enlil. So they set fire to
their tools and advanced to force Enlil to relieve them. It was
night-time and the god slept, but his vizier awoke him, soothed
his terror, and advised him to consult with his colleagues upon a
means to appease the rebels. The council decided to send a
messenger to enquire into the cause of the disturbance. Upon
learning the state of the gods, the council further deliberated,
eventually deciding to make a substitute do the work, namely
No other Babylonian myth exhibits this theme in this way.
The conflicts in Enuma elish are put down to the youthful
exuberances of the gods (Tablet I:21-28), not to refusal to work.
but later it is evident that the followers of Tiamat were set to
work, eventually to be liberated by the creation of Man (Tablet
IV: 107-121, 127; V: 147, 148; VI: 152, 153; VII: 27-9).18 A
bilingual Creation story dating from at least the late second
millennium19 speaks of the creation of the rivers and canals,
although without naming the agent of creation, then concen-
trates upon the making of man to maintain them. Other
17 Cuneiform Texts XIII, P1. 38,1. 31. A. Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis 63.
18 Cf. B. Landsberger and J. V. Kinnier Wilson, JNES 20 (1961) 178-179.
19 E. Ebeling, Keilschrifttexte aus Assur Religiösen Inhalts, J. C. Heinrichs, Leipz
(1919) No. 4, datable by its script to the Middle Assyrian period, vide E. F. Weidner,
A NEW BABYLONIAN 'GENESIS' STORY 9
earth's order so that there is produce to feed the gods.20 One
Sumerian myth exhibits almost all the features of this episode
in the Atrahasis Epic; the introduction to the tale Enki and
The underlying idea of the Atrahasis Epic and the other
Babylonian Creation stories, then, is that man was made to free
the gods from the toil of ordering the earth to produce their food.
The gods instructed the Mother-goddess (Nintu or Mami):
'Create a human to bear the yoke.
Let him bear the yoke, the task of Enlil,
Let man carry the load of the gods.'
Genesis has something in common with this. 'The Lord God
took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it
and to keep it' (2:15). However, the garden and, indeed, the
rest of the earth had produced vegetation already, without great
labour (although it is stated that either rainfall or irrigation was
necessary, 2:5), and were at man's disposal. The rivers are
named and their courses indicated, but there is no account of
their formation. Only after the Fall does man really face the toil
of wresting his food from a reluctant soil.
3. The making of man. The Atrahasis Epic is more specific on
this matter than any other Babylonian Creation account.
'Let them slaughter one god,
So that all the gods may be purified by dipping.
With his flesh and blood
Let Nintu mix clay.
So let god and man be mingled
Together in the clay.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
After she had mixed the clay,
She called the Anunna, the great gods.
The Igigu, the great gods,
Spat upon the clay.
Mami opened her mouth
And said to the great gods,
20 A. Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis 61-63,65-66.
21 See S. N. Kramer, Sumerian Mythology 69-70; J. J. van Dijk, Acta Orientalia 28
10 TYNDALE BULLETIN
And I have finished it.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I have removed your toil,
I have imposed your load on man."'
Man was created from the flesh and blood of a slaughtered god
mixed with clay. Various aspects of the slaughter do not concern
us, but we note that the clay was provided by Enki, presumably
from the Apsu, his realm, and mixed with the corpse by the
Mother-goddess. When the mixture was ready the gods spat
upon it and, with the task completed, the rejoicing gods con-
ferred upon the goddess the title 'Mistress of the gods'. In an
elaborate process of birth, the first human couples then came
into being, their substance the god-clay mixture.
Once again there is a theme also known to other Babylonian
myths. Slaughter of a god and utilization of his blood is found
in Enuma elish (Tablet VI), and in the bilingual account already
cited deities are killed. The Sumerian Enki and Ninmah may also
have the same idea. Allusion to the clay is absent from Enuma
bilingual text from Babylon as the substance of creation, and in
references in other texts.22 The gods participating in the creation
of man vary from text to text.
Comparison with Genesis may also be made on this topic.
God 'formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into
his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul'
(2:7). Man's earthy constituency is emphasized by both
Babylonian and Hebrew narratives, and his divine part equally.
It is tempting to equate the breathing of Genesis with the spitting
of the Atrahasis Epic, but they are very different actions. The
'breath of life' is peculiar to God and man in the Old Testament;23
the spitting may have no more significance than preparation of
the material for working. Yet we may wonder whether it was
the life-giving act, finally preparing the material. No hint of
the use of dead deity or any material part of a living one is found
22 A. Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis 65-66; Theodicy 258, 276-278, W. G. Lambert,
Babylonian Wisdom Literature, Clarendon Press, Oxford (1960) 86-89.
23 As T. C. Mitchell has demonstrated, VT 11 (1961) 177-187.
A NEW BABYLONIAN 'GENESIS' STORY 11
the Atrahasis Epic passes to the great increase in his number,
with a short, and damaged, account of how he now laboured on
earth. No other Babylonian text treats of this phase of human
history, so this Epic may be placed alone beside Genesis. God
commanded man to multiply and fill the earth (Gen. 1:28),
and as man multiplied, so did his sin. The narrative relating the
increase of man and sin is Genesis 6:1-8, and in studies of this
passage the Epic of Atrahasis has been mentioned as a 'parallel'.24
The Atrahasis Epic recounts that:
The inhabited land had expanded, the people had multiplied,
The land was bellowing like a wild bull.
The god was disturbed by their clamour,
Enlil heard their din.
He said to the great gods,
“Grievous has grown the din of mankind,
Through their clamour I lose sleep. . .".'
human race, but this was terminated by the intervention of
Enki, the god who had been responsible for creating man. He
instructed his devotee, Atrahasis, that he should order the city
elders to proclaim a cessation of worship of all the gods except
the responsible plague-god, who might be persuaded thereby to
lift his hand. The command was duly obeyed; the plague
ceased; mankind recovered and began to multiply again.
Enlil, disturbed by the increasing noise, instigated a drought.
Enki gave the same instructions to Atrahasis and the visitation
was ended. The next stage is obscure owing to damaged manu-
scripts; it is clear that there was another attack in the form of a
prolonged dearth. This may have been stopped by Enki and
Atrahasis, for the gods are next found planning a destruction,
The Epic of Atrahasis reveals a motive on the part of the gods
in sending the Flood. This is lacking from the Flood story
contained within the Gilgamesh Epic—it was irrelevant there,
the simple statement that the gods decided to send the Flood
24 E. G. Kraeling, JNES 6 (1947) 193-195; A. Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic and
Old Testament Parallels2, University of Chicago Press (1949) 225-226.
12 TYNDALE BULLETIN
hasis) obtained immortality (Gilgamesh XI:14).25
Genesis 6 states that: '. . . men began to multiply on the face
of the earth' (verse 1); 'And God saw that the wickedness of man
was great in the earth . . .' (verse 5); '. . . The end of all flesh is
come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through
them' (verse 13).
In the common analysis of the literary structure of Genesis the
first four verses of chapter 6 are detached from the remainder
of the chapter. The episode related is treated as an aetiology of
the Nephilim and characterized as a pagan myth, its offensive
details whittled down until it was just fit to be absorbed into the
Hebrew sacred literature.26 Many of the problems attached
to these verses fall beyond this study; a few points do arise in
the present context. If parallelism of scheme is allowed between
Hebrew and Babylonian traditions of ante-diluvian history,
then this section should be accepted as an integral part of the
scheme; it presents the 'population explosion' theme not found
elsewhere in the Hebrew account.
The sin of the promiscuity of the 'sons of God' cannot be
explained directly from Babylonian texts, but some hint may be
found of their nature. A theory recently propounded as to their
identity involves Babylonian concepts, and is attractive: the
‘sons of God’ are not divine beings, but kings.27 Support is found
in application of the title 'son of God' to kings in various ancient
texts.28 The sin of the 'sons of God' was, therefore, ‘the sin of
polygamy, particularly as it came to expression in the
harem . . .'.29 Gilgamesh, heroic king of Uruk some time after
the Flood, well exemplifies the type of activity described in
Genesis 6:1 ff.30
The sin of mankind as a whole was his evil conduct resulting
in violence, according to Genesis. While an equation with the
‘din’ of the Atrahasis Epic may appear improbable, the basic
25 A. Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic 80; ANET 93.
26 Cf. B. S. Childs, Myth and Reality in the Old Testament, SCM Press, London
27 M. G. Kline, WTJ 24 (1962) 187-204.
28 It may be noted that an Akkadian god-list identifies several of the ante-diluvian;
rulers with Dumu-zi, Tammuz; Cuneiform Texts XXIV, pl. 19, K4338b; XXV,
pl. 7, K7663+11035.
29 M. G. Kline, loc. cit. 196.
30 A. Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic 30 (Tablet II.22-37); ANET 77-78.
A NEW BABYONIAN ‘GENESIS’ STORY 13
the provocation leading to the decision to send the Flood.31
The several attempts to quell man's noise in the Atrahasis
Epic have no counterpart in Genesis. It has been suggested that
there is a similarity between the one-hundred-and-twenty-year
‘period of grace’ in Genesis 6:3 and the plague, drought, dearth
episode in Atrahasis.32 Certainly, the number 'an hundred and
twenty' could have Babylonian undertones from the sexagesimal
system, and the intervals between the visitations in the Epic are
delimited by the expression 'not twelve hundred years had
passed'. Therein a further theme linking this episode with the
Flood sequence may exist.33
5. The Flood. No Babylonian text provides so close a parallel
to Genesis as does the Flood story of Gilgamesh XI. Con-
siderable study has been devoted to the accounts in the two
languages and to comparison of them. The work of Alexander
Heidel is the most comprehensive, the commentary of Umberto
Cassuto the most detailed.34
In the Atrahasis Epic the Flood is the major topic; at the
end the whole composition is apparently referred to as 'the
Flood'. Since the major text of the Epic dates from the
seventeenth century BC (see above, p. 4), it is thus about a
millennium older than the texts of Gilgamesh XI which stem
from Ashurbanipal's Library at Nineveh and from neo-
Babylonian Babylon. Nevertheless the story is the same. That
is not to say that every word is identical, nor even every incident,
but the greater part is closely similar where both Epics are
preserved. The differences are partly due to editorial redaction
when the story was inserted into the Gilgamesh cycle, partly
inexplicable with any certainty.
A notable fact is the portrait of the Babylonian Noah,
Atrahasis. He is entitled 'servant' of Enki and was quite clearly
a special devotee of that god. Indeed, it is possible to interpret
his name as 'the exceedingly devout' as well as 'exceedingly
wise', the common explanation, for the root hss has the sense of
31 J. J. Finkelstein, JBL 75 (195 ) 329 n.7 sees an 'echo' of Atrahasis in Genesis 6.
32 A. Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic 230-232; M. G. Kline, loc. cit. 597.
33 The figure in Gn. 6:3 may denote man's life span, not a period of grace at all,
so B. S. Childs, op. cit. 52-53; cf:, however, K. A. Kitchen, loc. cit. 6.
34 A. Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic; U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of
Genesis II, Magnes Press, Jerusalem (1964) 4-24; cf. G. Hilion, Le Deluge dans la Bible
et les Inscriptions akkadiennes et sumériennes, Geuthner, Paris (1925).
14 TYNDALE BULLETIN
of the hero portrayed in the Flood story, for it was not of his
own wisdom that he saved himself, but by obedience to divine
instructions. Moreover, the reason given by Enki for revealing
the plan to exterminate humanity to one man has more weight
when understood as 'I caused the exceedingly devout one to see
dreams, he heard the decision of the gods' than as 'the exceed-
ingly wise one' (Gilgamesh XI: 187; not preserved in the
extant text of the Atrahasis Epic). His piety then appears
clearly as the reason for his survival. In addition to his relation-
ship to his god, he had authority to summon and instruct the city
elders, pointing to his high rank, consonant with his representa-
tion as a king in the King List tradition, and as a priest in the
Sumerian Deluge Tablet.35 This supports the contention that it
was for his piety he was saved from destruction, just as Noah was
saved for his righteousness.36
Other points of similarity are those already found in the
Gilgamesh Flood story and require no new examination at
present. The episode of the birds is not present in the Epic of
Atrahasis, but it cannot be said definitely that it was never
included because the only manuscript is broken at the appro-
priate point. Agreement between the Atrahasis and Gilgamesh
narratives on so much of the story lends weight to the supposition
that the incident was included.37
After the Flood, Atrahasis made sacrifices to the gods who are
depicted as sitting miserably in heaven without food or drink for
its duration. The gods, already regretting their action, indulged
in further recrimination. Enki made a speech similar to that in
Gilgamesh XI which begins 'On the sinner lay his sin; on the
transgressor lay his transgression' (line 180), but that illuminat-
ing line does not occur in the incomplete text of the Atrahasis
Epic. Atrahasis' destiny is also unknown because of damage to
the tablets. The gods so ordained society thereafter that there
would be some control of the number of mankind.
OBSERVATIONS ON THE BABYLONIAN AND THE
HEBREW ACCOUNTS COMPARED
36 A. Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic 228; contra U. Cassuto, op. cit. 20.
37 W. G. Lambert, loc. cit. 292, is noncommittal.
A NEW BABYLONIAN 'GENESIS' STORY 15
both in Babylonian and in Hebrew. Any future consideration of
possible origins of the Hebrew story must take this into account,
and not treat Creation and Flood separately. Thus it is no longer
legitimate to describe the Hebrew Flood story as 'borrowed'
from a Babylonian 'original' without including its complementary
Creation account.38 The objection may be raised that exactly
such a separation is made within Akkadian literature; the
Flood story is given in Gilgamesh XI without its context.
However, that poem itself makes the reason plain: Uta-napish-
tim related the story of how he gained immortality, and for his
purpose the Creation narrative was unnecessary. That it is
there a case of literary borrowing cannot be doubted, but the
intention is clear and the new context, the account related by
the hero, is quite natural.
2. While the overall scheme, Creation—Rebellion—Flood, is
identical, most of the detail is different; on a few points only there
is agreement. A summary may help in considering inter-
Creation accounts depict man as created from 'the dust of the
earth' or 'clay'. To this is added some divine component,
‘breath’ in Genesis, flesh and blood of a god, and divine spittle
in Babylonia. This concept of clay and divine substance mixed
is not exclusive to these two literatures. It is found in Egypt in
certain traditions, and, further afield, in China.39 Common
ideas need not share a common source. The earthy concept
may be placed in the category of a deduction from natural
processes which could be made independently. The belief in a
divine indwelling ‘spark’ seems to be common to so many faiths
and cultures that this also need not be traced to a common origin.
b. Divine rest. In Babylonian tradition the creation of man
relieved the gods of the need to work; they entered a new era of
rest. In Genesis God rested after His creation was complete.
The actions are very similar, the contexts are quite different.
The Hebrew God needed not to labour for His sustenance, nor
38 As, for example, A. Richardson, Genesis I-XI, SCM Press (1953) 97.
39 See S. G. F. Brandon, Creation Legends of the Ancient Near East, Hodder &
Stoughton, London (1964), and La Naissance du Monde, Sources Orientales I, Editions
du Seuil, Paris (1959).
hand, were 'like a man', toiling and wearying, needing help in
the business of keeping alive. Wholly different theologies underlie
these two views. Emphasis is often laid on the word שַׁבָּת and
its Akkadian cognate šapattu.40 Both words basically denote
not carry with it identity of practice or of the origins of a prac-
tice. In fact, the Akkadian word denotes specifically the
moon, the peak of the lunar cycle on the fifteenth day of the
lunar month, and nothing else. Hebrew שַׁבָּת is not used in
that way, nor is it used solely of a week's end. An analogy is
found in the usages of the cognates תְּהוֹם and Tiāmat. Thus only
the idea of divine rest is really similar; no derived Sabbath
existed in Babylonia. It may be asked, therefore, whether this
similarity is strong enough and striking enough to indicate
c. Man's task. Again it may be argued that cultivating and
tending the earth is so common an occupation that the designa-
tion of this as the reason for man's existence could have arisen
in two places independently. In fact Genesis does not express
this so simply as man's purpose.
d. Man's rebellion. While the biblical Fall finds no counterpart
in Babylonia, the provocation of deity leading to the Flood is
comparable in general terms.
e. The Flood. Here is the section most similar in the two tradi-
tions: the Ark, its passengers, the birds, the grounding on a
mountain, and the sacrifice are all basically shared.
3. Did the Hebrews borrow from Babylon? Neither an affirmative
nor a negative reply to the question can be absolutely discounted
in the light of present knowledge. Reconstructions of a process
whereby Babylonian myths were borrowed by the Hebrews,
having been transmitted by the Canaanites, and 'purged' of
pagan elements41 remain imaginary. It has yet to be shown
that any Canaanite material was absorbed into Hebrew sacred
literature on such a scale or in such a way. Babylonian literature
itself was known in Palestine at the time of the Israelite conquest,
40 W. G. Lambert, loc. cit. 296f.
41 E.g. C. A. Simpson in The Interpreter's Bible I, Abingdon Press, Nashville
(1952) 195, 445-450.
A NEW BABYLONIAN 'GENESIS' STORY 17
that borrowing must have taken place during the latter part of
the second millennium BC because so many Babylonian texts of
that age have been found in Anatolia, Egypt, and the Levant,42
cannot carry much weight, being based on archaeological
accident. The sites yielding the texts were either deserted or
destroyed at that time, resulting in the burial of 'libraries' and
archives intact.43 Evidence does exist of not inconsiderable
Babylonian scribal influence earlier (e.g. at Alalakh and
However, it has yet to be shown that there was borrowing,
even indirectly. Differences between the Babylonian and the
Hebrew traditions can be found in factual details of the Flood
narrative (form of the Ark; duration of the Flood, the identity
of the birds and their dispatch) and are most obvious in the
ethical and religious concepts of the whole of each composition.45
All who suspect or suggest borrowing by the Hebrews are
compelled to admit large-scale revision, alteration, and re-
interpretation in a fashion which cannot be substantiated for
any other composition from the Ancient Near East or in any
other Hebrew writing. If there was borrowing then it can have
extended only as far a the 'historical' framework, and not
included intention or interpretation. The fact that the closest
similarities lie in the flood stories is instructive. For both
Babylonians and Hebrews the Flood marked the end of an age.
Mankind could trace itself back to that time; what happened
before it was largely unknown. The Hebrews explicitly traced
their origins back to Noah, and, we may suppose, assumed that
the account of the Flood and all that went before derived from
him. Late Babylonian ages supposed that tablets containing
information about the ante-diluvian world were buried at
Sippar before the Flood and disinterred afterwards.46 The two
accounts undoubtedly describe the same Flood, the two schemes
42 Is W. G. Lambert, loc. cit. 299-300.
43 This is true of almost eve large collection of literary texts in cuneiform, not
only Amarna, Ugarit, Bogazköy at this period, but also Ur and Nippur earlier,
Assur, Nineveh, Nimrud, and Sultantepe at the end of the Assyrian Empire,
Babylon and Uruk even later; cf. W. G. Lambert, Revue d' Assyriologie 53 (1959) 123.
44 D. J. Wiseman Syria 39 (1962) 181-184 for Alalakh; W. F. Albright, BASOR
163 (1961) 45 for Byblos.
45 Most recently stated by K. A. Kitchen, loc. cit. 7.
46 Berossus; A. Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic 117.
18 TYNDALE BULLETIN
as to the priority of one tradition over the other, Genesis
inevitably wins for its probability in terms of meteorology,
geophysics, and timing alone. In creation its account is admired
for its simplicity and grandeur, its concept of man accords well
with observable facts. In that the patriarch Abraham lived in
Babylonia, it could be said that the stories were borrowed from
there, but not that they were borrowed from any text now known
to us. Granted that the Flood took place, knowledge of it must
have survived to form the available accounts; while the Babylo-
nians could only conceive of the event in their own polytheistic
language, the Hebrews, or their ancestors, understood the action
of God in it. Who can say it was not so?
the only way to the understanding of the early chapters of
Genesis. Discovery of new material requires re-assessment of
former conclusions; so the Epic of Atrahasis adds to knowledge
of parallel Babylonian traditions, and of their literary form.
All speculation apart, it underlines the uniqueness of the