The essay prompt is "Compare and contrast the accounts of the origins of the earth and human beings in Genesis to those of the other ancient Near Eastern epics. Be sure to address similarities and differences between these stories, including their depictions of deities and the role(s) they play in creation, the process(es) of creation, how the presence of living beings and the natural world are explained, and the purpose(s) of humanity within creation. In your answer, be sure to cite relevant texts, whether biblical or from the ancient Near East, to illustrate your arguments."
The creation account in Genesis one from the P source begins with a description of a chaotic scene in which “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” (NRSV, Genesis 1:2). An orderly pattern of creation follows, with God speaking into existence parts of creation (Genesis 1:3-25), ending with the creation of humankind in verse 26-27 “Let us make humankind in our image…in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” God goes on to direct humankind to be stewards and rulers of all creation in verse 28.
Another account of creation appears in Genesis two, written by the J source. This poetic, anthropomorphic account has God more intimately involved in creation instead of speaking the world into existence. After causing water to rise up from the earth, God formed man, Adam, from the soil and breathes life into him (Genesis 2:7). God goes on to create plants and the Garden of Eden in verses eight and nine. Next the animals are created (Gen 2:19-20), none of which is a suitable helper for Adam. Finally, as a final act of creation, God creates woman from the man’s rib in 19:22-23. The purpose of humanity in this account is to till the ground and tend the garden (Genesis 2:15).
The two accounts of creation in Genesis differ from one another in several ways. In Genesis one, the earth is a formless void of watery chaos, stilled and ordered by the spoken command of a transcendent God. In Genesis two, a waterless, dusty landscape, devoid of all life is presented. Next, the order of creation is markedly different. In Genesis one, an orderly progression of creation culminates in the creation of humankind on the last day, with God observing the Sabbath as a final act of creation. Genesis two is more dramatic, with an anthropomorphic representation of a creator deity intimately involved in shaping creation (Coogan 2011, 38). In this account, man is created first, then plant life, then animals then woman. Finally, the purpose of humanity is different in these accounts. In Genesis one, humanity is to have dominion over all creation, and in Genesis two, humanity was created to do the former work of the gods on earth, similar to the Enuma Elish (Coogan 2011, 39).
The biblical accounts of creation are distinct from the creation story in the Enuma Elish. Of note in the Genesis accounts is the presence of one creator deity, who creates things such as the sun, moon and stars, which in ANE cultures are viewed as divine bodies themselves (Coogan 2011, 37). In the Enuma Elish, the cosmos are made from the body of the slain goddess Tiamat (Enuma Elish, tablet IV, line 138, www.etana.org) and the stars are “stands for the great gods” (Ibid, tablet V, line 1, www.etana.org). Also missing from the Genesis accounts are stories of creation by violence as in the Enuma Elish. The marriage of two deities gave rise to a new generation of gods including those of earth and sky (Coogan 2011, 32). Subsequent gods were born, and from their chaos arose a battle between Marduk, god of the storm, and Tiamat, god of the sea. Tiamat is killed, and Marduk goes on to kill Tiamat’s consort, Kinu, and from his blood humans were created (Coogan 2011, 32-34). However, this motif of battle and violence is seen in other biblical accounts such as Psalm 74:13.
Additionally the Enuma Elish has commonalities with the Genesis accounts. In this ANE text, the origins of the world are said to have come from a mixing of waters by the deities Apsu and Tiamat (Enuma Elish, tablet I, lines 3-5, www.etana.org). In the first Genesis account, creation comes from watery chaos (Genesis 1:2). Also in the Enuma Elish, humans were created to do the work of the gods so that the gods could have a life of ease. This differs from Genesis one in that humans were given dominion over all creation, but aligns with Genesis two when man was created to do the work of God on earth.
Parallels in the second biblical account of creation can be found in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Most prominent is the seduction by an antagonist, which causes the protagonist’s situation to change dramatically. In Genesis chapter three, this takes the form of “knowledge of good and evil” and being driven out of the garden upon eating the fruit of the tree (Gen 3:22). In Gilgamesh, Enkidu losing his closeness to nature through his seduction by the prostitute, by which he is humanized and develops knowledge of sin (Coogan 2001, 43).In their accounts of creation distinct from ANE texts, the biblical writers are setting up a paradigm to support the later covenant with Israel. Human beings were created in the image of God as the culmination of creation (Gen 1:26-27), or at the center of creation (Gen 2:7). They were made to tend and have dominion over the earth, not just to do the work formally done by the gods. In this lies evidence that HaShem is building a new creation.