Essay on Old Testament

This essay has a total of 2049 words and 10 pages.

Old Testament

The Old Testament is a compilation, and like every compilation it has a
wide variety of contributors who, in turn, have their individual influence
upon the final work. It is no surprise, then, that there exist certain
parallels between the Enuma Elish, the cosmogony of the Babylonians, and
the Book of Genesis, the first part of the Pentateuch section of the Bible.
In fact, arguments may be made that other Near Eastern texts, particularly
Sumerian, have had their influences in Biblical texts. The extent of this
'borrowing', as it were, is not limited to the Bible; the Enuma Elish has
its own roots in Sumerian mythology, predating the Enuma Elish by nearly a
thousand years. A superficial examination of this evidence would
erroneously lead one to believe that the Bible is somewhat a collection of
older mythology re-written specifically for the Semites. In fact, what
develops is that the writers have addressed each myth as a separate issue,
and what the writers say is that their God surpasses every other. Each
myth or text that has a counterpart in the Bible only serves to further an
important idea among the Hebrews: there is but one God, and He is
omnipotent, omniscient, and other-worldly; He is not of this world, but
outside it, apart from it. The idea of a monotheistic religion is first
evinced in recorded history with Judaism, and it is vital to see that
instead of being an example of plagiarism, the Book of Genesis is a
meticulously composed document that will set apart the Hebrew God from the
others before, and after.



To get a clear picture of the way the Book of Genesis may have been formed
(because we can only guess with some degree of certainty), we must place in
somewhere in time, and then define the cultures in that time. The
influences, possible and probable, must be illustrated, and then we may
draw our conclusions.
If we trace back to the first appearance of the Bible in written form, in
its earliest translation, we arrive at 444 B.C.. Two texts, components of
the Pentateuch referred to as 'J' and 'E' texts, can be traced to around
650 B.C. Note that 'J' refers to Yahweh (YHVH) texts, characterized by the
use of the word 'Yahweh' or 'Lord' in accounts; 'E' refers to Elohist
texts, which use, naturally, 'Elohim' in its references to God.1 But 650
B.C. isn't our oldest reference to the 'J' and 'E' texts; they can be
traced, along with the other three strands of the Pentateuch, to at least
1000 B.C. Our first compilation of these strands existed in 650 B.C.. We
must therefore begin our search further back in time.
We can begin with the father of the Hebrew people, Abraham. We can deduce
when he lived, and find that he lived around 1900 B.C. in ancient
Mesopotamia2. If we examine his world and its culture, we may find the
reasons behind certain references in Genesis, and the mythologies they
resemble.
The First Babylonian Dynasty had begun around 1950 B.C. and would last
well into the late 16th century B.C.. The Babylonians had just conquered a
land previously under the control of the Assyrians, and before that, the
Summering. Abraham had lived during a time of great prosperity and a
remarkably advanced culture. He was initially believed to have come from
the city of Ur, as given in the Bible as "...the Ur of Chaldees". Earlier
translations read, however, simply "...Land of the Chaldees"; later, it was
deduced that Abraham had come from a city called Haran3. In any case, he
lived in a thriving and prosperous world. Homes were comfortable, even
luxurious. Copies of hymns were found next to mathematical tablets
detailing formulae for extracting square and cube roots.4 The level of
sophistication 4000 years ago is remarkable. We can also deduce that it
was a relatively stable and peaceful society; its art is characterized by
the absence of any warlike activity, paintings or sculptures.5
We also have evidence of an Israelite tribe, the Benjamites, in Babylonian
texts. The Benjamites were nomads on the frontier of its boundaries, and
certainly came in contact with Babylonian ideas- culture, religion, ethics.
The early tribes of Israel were nomadic, "taking with them the early
traditions, and in varying latitudes have modified it"6 according to
external influences. The message remained constant, but the context would
subtly change. In addition to the Benjamites in Mesopotamia, there were
tribes of Israel in Egypt during the Egyptian Middle Kingdom period7, which
certainly exposed these people to Egyptian culture as well as Babylonian
culture as a result of trade between the two kingdoms. Having placed
Abraham and certain early Semites in this time, we can now examine the
culture they would have known.
The Babylonian Dynasty had as one of its first leaders a man known as
Hammurabi. In addition to being the world's first known lawgiver, he
installed a national god for his people named Marduk 8. Marduk's story is
related in the Enuma Elish:
It begins with two primordial creatures, Apsu and Tiamat. They have
children, who are gods. These children became too noisy and disruptive to
Apsu, who wished to kill them. One of these gods, Ea, kills Apsu first.
Tiamat becomes enraged, and increasingly threatening towards Ea and the
remaining gods for killing her mate. One by one, the gods seek to quiet
Tiamat, but each fails. However, one god, Marduk, agrees to stop Tiamat,
but only if he is granted sole dominion over all other gods. They agree,
and Marduk battles Tiamat, killing her and creating the world from her
corpse. In addition, Marduk slays one of the gods who allied himself with
Tiamat, and from this dead god's blood, Marduk creates man. 9
On the surface, it looks and sounds nothing like Genesis. However, we can
begin to draw our parallels as we go into more detail. For example,
Babylonian poetry has no rhyme, but it has meter and rhythm, like Hebrew
10. Notice the similarity in the next two passages:
"Half of her he set in place and formed the sky... as a roof.
He fixed the crossbar... posted guards;
He commanded them not to let her waters escape" 11

and

"Then God said, 'Let there be a dome... to separate one
body of water from the other.'" Genesis 1:6

"All the fountains of the great abyss burst forth, and the
floodgates of the sky were opened..." Genesis 7:11
Also compare the creation of days and the special significance
conferred upon the seventh:
"Thou shalt shine with horns to make six known days, on
the seventh with... a tiara." 12

>From Genesis (1:31-2-1):
"Evening came and morning followed- the sixth day...
"So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because
on it He
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