Commentary on Parashat Bereshit and the creation story

This Shabbat all the Synagogues in the world will start reading the Torah from Genesis 1:1 – They will read the story of Creation. In some Christian circles the story of Creation is under attack. It is not considered “historical” – it is considered as an ancient epic poem not to be taken literally. One of the reasons that some scholars have this opinion is that there are two ancient epic poems that precede Moses and both of them have creation narratives. I would like to share a short comparison of the Genesis text with the Enuma Elish – a Babylonian narrative of the creation story and give you my analysis:

Enūma elishGenesis
Divine spirit and cosmic matter are coexistent and coeternalDivine ONE creates cosmic matter and exists independently of it
Primeval chaos; Tiʾamat (the goddess of the abyss) enveloped in darknessThe earth a desolate waste, with darkness covering the deep (tĕhōm)
Light emanating from the godsLight created
The creation of the firmamentThe creation of the firmament
The creation of dry landThe creation of dry land
The creation of luminariesThe creation of luminaries
The creation of manThe creation of man
The gods rest and celebrateGod rests and sanctifies the seventh day


First of all, we clearly see the similarity between these two texts. Second, we also see the differences. In the Genesis account, we see that there is ONE creator Divine Spirit.  Because of the similarities we have at least three possible explanations:

1.    The Genesis text is dependent (has taken or learned) on the Enuma Elish (The Babylonian story of creation).

2.    The Enuma Elish and the Genesis texts are dependent on a third source that we don’t know and don’t have.  Both of the stories are dependent on a common source that does not exist today.

3.    Each ONE has developed the narrative of creation by observance and analysis independently.

In this puzzle all the possibilities are open. The most significant part of these texts is that both of them consider that the luminaries, the Sun and the Moon and the Stars were not created in the initial stage, but first there was a light from God in Genesis and from “the gods” in the Enuma Elish. In other words, there is information here that is beyond the scope of natural observance. There is an element that is beyond the common knowledge and understanding that speaks of an undefined source of light that is divine – either by ONE God or by multiple gods of the idolatrous world.

Now let us remember that in the book of Genesis there were no idols and no nations in existence between chapter eleven and all of humanity spoke the same language.  Among the nations (הגויים) there must be a latent memory and information that is carried over as an epic of creation that preserves ancient elements and reinterprets these elements in light of their present circumstance – that is idolatrous.

What we have here in my opinion is collaborative information from an ancient historical memory transmitted in the pagan context of the nations and reinterpreted in the idolatrous context of their history. What we have in Genesis is not a part of that historical ancient memory because Israel was not a nation and did not exist before the Tower of Babel. Abraham is called out by the Almighty God in chapter 12 after the fall of the Tower of Babel and the establishment of the nations. Therefore, the story of Genesis is a divine revelation and not an epic poem based on a copy of the ancient Babylonian epic Enuma Elish or the ancient Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh that also has some common elements of historical memory. The most significant difference is that the Divine ONE is independent of His creation. He created the World and all that is in it and HE is still outside of the creation and above it. In the pagan view the God’s are apart of creation and a part of the matter and coexistent with creation. This difference is of the greatest importance because we have a wonderful creation that the Almighty God made for us as human beings and HE is above and beyond the physical creation.

I remember the words of the Apostle Paul that actually says it all:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. – Romans 1:18-23

This article originally appeared as a part of the Jerusalem Prayer List by Netivyah Bible Instruction Ministry, October 27, 2016, and reposted with permission.