Stories of creation can be found in almost every culture and are the basis of most religions. Man created stories to explain where he came from and how the world came into existence. Though they originated in the same part of the world, the Babylonian Enuma Elish and the Hebrew book of Genesis are two very different stories about the creation of man. These two stories of creation portray the two societies that created them: the Babylonian society of brutal servitude and the society of the recently freed Hebrews.
In the story of Enuma Elish, the gods are continuously quarrelling and feuding for power. The gods acquire this power by killing other rival gods. The brutality of the struggle for power is shown when Marduk kills Tiamat, “he releases the arrow, it tore her belly, it cut through her insides, splitting her heart. Having thus subdued her, he extinguishes her life.” The Babylonian society is also governed by brutality and this is shown through the Code of Hammurabi. An example of these brutal laws is Code 195 “ if a man has struck his father, his hand shall be cut off.” The Code of Hammurabi suggests that the Babylonians created Enuma Elish to justify the brutal society that they live under.
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In the Book of Genesis, the story of creation is portrayed very differently. The Hebrews believe in a single omniscient God. Unlike the Gods of Enuma Elish, the God of Hebrews shows mercy instead of brute force. God’s mercy is evident through his interactions with Adam and Eve. God states, “of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shalt not eat of it: for in the day that you eat of it you shall die”. However, when Adam and Eve do eat the apple, though he gives them a harsh punishment, he allows them to live.
His merciful actions are also shown in the story of Cain. After Cain murdered his brother, not only does God not kill but also shows mercy in his punishment, “Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.” These stories in Genesis suggest that the Hebrews believe that they were created by a merciful god. This idea of a merciful god becomes evident when they were released from the oppression in Egypt. Therefore their story of creation portrays the mercy of God.
In Enuma Elish, man is created to serve the Gods. After he defeated Tiamat, Marduk states, “let the guilty be handed over that they may endure” and he creates man out of his enemy’s blood. When the Babylonian gods decided to create man, he was created solely to be a servant to the gods and to eternally punish his enemy. Marduk continues,
“I will establish a savage, ‘man’ shall be his name.
Verily, savage –man I will create.
He shall be charged with the service of gods
That they be at ease!”
This is an important concept to the Babylonian society because it helps to explain the harsh laws that they endure under the Code of Hammurabi and their position as slaves.
In contrast, the Book of Genesis focuses on the power of man given to him by God. Not only does God give the Hebrews dominion over the earth, but he also gives them dominion over nature and beast. The story of the creation explains how God gave power to man,
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so.”
In Enuma Elish, the gods create humans to be their servants. However, in Genesis God makes the Earth for man to control. God giving away his creation gives the reader an impression that man was meant to rule the Earth. After the beginning, the entire book of Genesis focuses on human actions, instead of blaming God for the evils of the world.
The book of Genesis relates to the lives of the Hebrews. The Hebrews had just escaped from years of being subject to the wrath of the Egyptians. Now that the Hebrew people were no longer secondary in society, they produced writing in which showed how they were guaranteed land, and yet at the same time explained their former servitude to the Egyptians.
Enuma Elish mirrors the subordinate brutal lives of the Babylonians that created it. Genesis mirrors the newfound freedom and idealism of the Hebrews who created it after years of oppression. These two writings contrast the differences between the ancient Babylonians and the ancient Hebrews. Creation stories give great insight into the lives of the people who created them.
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