On the Use and Abuse of the Enuma Elish
Over and again these past few weeks I’ve been struck by how often folks bring up the Enuma Elish in connection to the biblical creation accounts (see recent discussions by Daniel Kirk here and here, as well as the recent comment by Jake McCary here). While the text is undoubtedly important for our understanding of Mesopotamian culture in the first millennium BCE, I think that seeing a direct relationship is a bit overstated.
The reason for my conservative view on the matter stems from a footnote by Jack Sasson in his article “The Tower of Babel as a Clue to the Redactional Structure of the Primeval History (Gen 1:1-11:9).”
Often met with as explanation for the P creation narrative is that is served as a polemic against the Mesopotamian concepts of creation as found in the Enuma Elish. That the last is not a composition which addressed itself primarily to creation, but to the exultation of Marduk and his city Babylon, is one reason to reject such a conjecture. But more seriously perhaps is the unlikelihood that a Hebrew priest would have access to, or information about, a highly secret account, recounted in the late afternoon, in the holy temple of Marduk, during the Akītu festival. We might perhaps better appreciate the difficulties that any ancient Hebrew would have had in reacting against the literature of his neighbors, when we acknowledge that J. B. Prichard’s ANET was not available to him for easy consultation. (p.452, n. 8 )
I think that Sasson’s sober assessment of the availability of the Enuma Elish to the biblical authors is something that gets too little notice in the literature of late.
Sasson, Jack M. “The Tower of Babel as a Clue to the Redactional Structure of the Primeval History (Gen 1:1-11:9).” Pages 448-457 in I Studied Inscriptions from before the Flood: Ancient Near Eastern, Literary, and Linguistic Approaches to Genesis 1-11. Edited by Richard S. Hess and David Toshio Tsumura. Sources for Biblical and Theological Studies 4. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1994.