Jews write goods stories

Monday I begin my class on the Torah, and the professor is keeping up her can’t-half-ass-my-class reputation by assigning reading (65 pages or so?) for the first day.  I’m not thrilled about the workload, but I not-so-secretly am delighting in diving into my books.

One of the three chapters I’m reading is about Chapters 1-11 of Genesis, and I’ve paused on page 117 (of Boadt’s Reading the Old Testament) to share with you a compelling comparison of Genesis 1 to the Babylonian creation myth (circa 1700 B.C.) Enuma Elish.

Enuma Elisa tells the story of Apsu (male) and Tiamat (female), the gods of fresh and salt water.  They have water-god sex (whatever that entails) and give birth to all the other gods, but subsequently decide to kill all of their children.  One of the new gods, Eu, finds out about the plot and kills Apsu, causing Tiamat to declare war against the other gods.  At that point, Marduk, a warrior god, is declared king of the gods as he kills his mother Tiamat, making the heavens and earth out of two halves of her body.  Finally, humanity is created at Marduk’s command by Eu (from another god they killed, no less), humans apparently thought to be “savage” and “charged with the service of the gods that they might be at ease!”  Then Marduk celebrates his kingship with a banquet.  Huzzah!  (Story summarized from pg 116.)

Now the contrast (pg 117):

While the Priestly authors [of Genesis 1] obviously knew the Babylonian story, or one similar, and used its outline, they did not accept its theology.  P makes no mention of a battle between Yahweh and the forces of chaos represented by the water: nor does it say human beings are made up of the flesh of a god; nor does it claim that we have no purpose but to be slaves of the gods; nor is Yahweh portrayed as one among many competing, bickering and openly jealous divinities.  Rather, in direct opposition [author’s emphasis] to all that the Babylonians held about the origins of the universe, and in particular about the claims of their city god Marduk to be lord over all other gods, P solemnly affirmed the basic insights of Israel’s faith:

(1) there is one God, without sexual gender, alone from the start,

(2) who created from his goodness and wise plan a world of order,

(3) in which matter is good and not the result of whim or magic,

(4) but God’s word decrees what it is to be and establishes limits;

(5) he gave humans a place of honor, made in his own image

(6) they were to have responsibility over what was created,

(7) and share divine gifts of pro-creating life, sharing his sabbath rest and knowing God personally, [sic–don’t know why this ends in a comma]

One might ask many questions about this text:
* Is the JDPE theory accurate about its origins or was it written by Moses or something else?
* Does it identify the correct creator god?
* What caused the Jewish God to be so different from others of the Near East?  Do any ancient religious groups stand in contrast to the surrounding groups in a similar way?

Etc.

However, with or without these answers one thing is clear:

I don’t know anyone that would want to worship Marduk.  But a lot of people that would want to worship YHWH.

The Jewish story, apart from questions of its truth, is simply a much more compelling story.  First of all, I would much rather be a human in the Priestly account.  I like a gender-neutral God, I like being created out of love, I like being given power, responsibility, and privilege.  Secondly, the Babylonians created a god that, at least given my personality and cultural bias, I find quite unappealing.  Interesting, but unappealing.  Creation was the result of chaos and violence, and Marduk looks like a selfish pig.  The Jews, on the other hand, created a hero.

You may or may not buy the story and think this YHWH thing is for real, but you have to admit Jewish storytellers have a knack for getting at the core of our hopes and dreams for ourselves and our world.

Does this sound fun to teach to kids in Sunday School?

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7 Comments

Filed under Hebrew Bible, Theology & Ministry

7 responses to “Jews write goods stories

  1. ambarbee

    good stuff, ashleigh. i love how you’re so into your classes already. :) i remember reading about that story in OT freshman year. Oh! and i think i’m going to take NT with Ehrman next semester! i’m actually pretty excited about it, even though I know it’s going to be a lot of work. anyways, just thought you would appreciate that.

  2. ashrebg

    I haven’t even had a class yet! haha. I didn’t realize you took Hebrew Bible at UNC?! You probably told me, and I forgot. I’m so excited for you about taking Ehrman–the class isn’t really that much more work than other classes (in my opinion), but it will definitely challenging for you personally, I think.

    I’m totally pumped about it though–I don’t think any Christian should leave UNC without taking it! (My totally biased opinion…)

  3. I read an awesome book called God: a Biography a few years ago – I highly recommend it. It won the Pulitzer with good reason. Usually when the Bible is interpreted, God is more a part of the environment than a character, but in this book, the author treats God as the protagonist and traces his development throughout the Old Testament. There’s a sequal that continues with the New Testament that I haven’t read yet but really want to!

  4. ashrebg

    That sounds pretty interesting! One of the things I was taught over and over in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in college–and not really anywhere else growing up–was the importance of bringing that question to the Bible. Rather than starting with “So what am I supposed to get out of this that makes me a better person?” or something along those lines, we were told to ask

    (1) Who is God?
    (2) What is God doing?
    (3) Who are we?
    (4) What do we do?

    Those questions flow out of each other, the most central one being, Who is God?

    It’s funny how often he is more of a force than a person, even though both Christianity and Judaism think it’s important to recognize that he’s a personal God that even interacts with us.

    I’d be interested to hear more about your perspective on the book. Did your conception of the YHWH change much as you read it? What kind of bias did you feel the author had? Do you read the Bible on your own, and if so, how has the book shaped the questions you bring to it?

  5. ambarbee

    thought you might like to read my most recent blog post – it’s about women in ministry!

  6. Diane

    Funny— in our Enuma Elish translation, Apsu & Tiamat’s “waters comingled.” “Water-god sex” sounds a lot more interesting!

    I’m glad you’re enjoying seminary!!! Say hola to Dianna for me!

  7. ashrebg

    Haha, well I was summarizing a summary–not quoting a translation. I’m familiar with the “waters comingling” as well, but that’s what water-god sex must be, in my mind. ;o)

    Many holas and much love will be sent Dianna’s way! She was actually almost going to move in with us for a couple days (space issues in her apt), but now I think she’s going to stay upstairs. :o( Friday I’m getting coffee with her and Jennifer! :-D

    Are your classes still going well? Are you on semesters or quarters?

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