Mythological Features and the Polemic Nature of Genesis 1:12:4a For the past 
200 years, Old Testament scholars have had to deal with the problem of parallels 
and similarities between the Hebrew Cosmogony of Genesis, and Cosmogonic 
literature (or myths) of ancient pagan cultures. Important questions arise as to 
the originality and theological significance of the biblical Cosmogony. To 
fully grasp the purpose of the biblical Cosmogony, these questions must first be 
answered. It is the purpose of this paper to investigate some of the 
significant similarities and differences and show that the author of Gen. 1: 
12:4a had a specific intention in using them. It is important for all those who 
attempt to relate science with Scripture to understand the fundamental goal in 
studying Scripture: uncovering the author's intention. To apply authorial 
irrelevance to Scripture, due to its divine inspiration, would result in an 
endless number of possible meanings. To find God's meaning we must uncover what 
the biblical author intended. Through careful study of the text of Genesis and 
that of Eneuma Elish the intention of the biblical author emerges, His goal was 
to present a cosmogony unique to ancient Near Eastern thought so as to exhibit a 
polemic nature. This we will see through a comparison of the texts and an 
investigation into the concept of myth. In the early 1800's archeologists 
uncovered certain ancient scripts containing cosmogonic writings from past 
civilizations in Mesopotamia and Egypt. These were of a flood story in ancient 
Babylonian literature that had striking similarities to the flood story in 
Genesis. Following this, a translation of the Babylonian creation account 
commonly called Eneuma Elish was published. The most famous passage in the Old 
Testament that contains parallels and similarities to other pagan myths is 
Genesis 1: 12:4a. This section of the Old Testament is the subject of this 
study. Gerhard Von Rad points out many characteristics that make the Gen. 1: 
12:4a account of creation distinct. The language was meant to be precise rather 
than artistic and differs greatly in this way from the creation narrative in 
Genesis 2:4bff.1 The goal of the priestly account of creation was precision, as 
E.A. Speiser describes: "It is the result of special cultivation, a process in 
which each detail was refined through endless probing and each word subjected to 
minutest scrutiny. By the same token, the end product cannot have been the work 
of an individual, but must be attributed to a school with a continuous tradition 
behind it. The ultimate objective was to set forth, in a manner that must not 
presume in any way to edit the achievement 52 of the Creatorby the slightest 
injection of sentiment or personalitynot a theory but a credo, a credo untinged 
b~ the least hint of speculation."2 We can now go to the text and discover what 
elements parallel myth and why. It is then possible to see what the function and 
purpose was in the priestly account of creation. The opening lines of the Bible: 
"In the beginning God created the heavens and earth" (Gen. 1: 1) can be more 
accurately translated"In the beginning of. . .," or, "When God began to create. 
. ." E.A. Speiser presents many arguments favoring Gen. 1: 1 as a dependent 
clause rather than a complete statement.3 It should be noted that the beginning 
of all Akkadian cosmogonies start with eneuma or inumi, "in the day that," or, 
"when." This does not challenge the originality of the biblical cosmogony nor 
exclude the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. The opening structures are similar 
due to similar traditions and mythopoeic thinking, Continuing in the text, a 
primary verse in the entire Old Testament for possible mythological elements is 
Genesis 1:2. In particular, the word, tehom, "deep, primeval ocean, sea," has 
been connected with Tiamat, the monster god of Eneuma Elish. This view has 
recently come under strong attack. Gerhard Hasel points out that tehom and 
Tiamat come from a common semitic root word that is found in many derived forms 
in many sernitic languages and with various meanings. Throughout the Old 
Testament the word is never a proper name, and is simply used as a descriptive 
word common to cosmogonic writings.4 The author surely knew ot its mythical 
connotations, but used the word in a different sense so as to purposely draw a 
similarity. It is obvious that the word and the entire clause has been 
reinterpreted from its traditional mythical meaning. No mythological overtones 
are seen in the way it is used throughout the Old Testament. The connection 
drawn between the two words is that of a primeval battle as shown earlier. In 
this battle, the earth is formed out of the losing god, Tiamat, the foe of the 
creator god, Marduk. This has no similarity to the Hebrew account of creation. 
The tehom is no foe of God, and is depicted as inanimate, simply an element in 
the creation process. The implications of the purpose in this are quite clear. 
The use of tehorn was to describe the inanimate cosmos before creation. By using 
a word with known mythical connotations, a polemic nature is displayed. The 
antimythical purpose was to give the Hebrew God and the creation account a 
distinctiveness. Other words and phrases that have a slight connection with 
pagan mythology are treated similarly. In Genesis 1:3 we have a description of 
the way in which the Hebrew God creates: by "Word." This is unparalleled in 
pagan mythology, although Marduk creates by the use of magic words. The Genesis 
description of creation by "Word" is radically different; the Hebrew God spoke 
and it was so. This effortless creative power of God is unique to the Hebrew 
thought. In Genesis 1: 1419, the strongest indication ofthe radical polemic 
nature in the account of creation is found. This section begins in verse 14 of 
Chapter 1. Through God's spoken word it reads, "Let there be lights in the 
firmament." There is a clearly antimythical nature in the Genesis description 
of the creation ot the luminaries when it is compared to the same account in 
Eneuma Efish. In Genesis 1: 14 ff. the sun, moon, and stars were created to 
separate day from night, and control seasons and time as in days and years. 
Eneuma Elish depicts the luminaries as having the same purpose but refers to 
them as gods themselves. They put great emphasis on the stars due to the 
Babylonian astral worship. This indication of overt polytheism found in Eneuma 
Elish and related cosmogonies is strongly reacted to in the Genesis account. In 
Genesis 1: 14ff. the sun and moon are strictly referred to as the greater and 
lesser lights (vs. 16). This is an obvious avoidance of any possible reference 
to a Babylonian god, especially their highest deity, the sun god, Marduk. The 
text of Eneuma Elish also implies that there was no definite creation of the 
COMMUNICATIONS rather, they have been fixed in their stations by the creator 
god. It should also be said that the order of reference to the astral bodies in 
Eneuma Elish is stars, sun, moon. This is also due to their astrological 
beliefs. This obvious polemic against the circulating pagan cosmologies was 
meant to distinguish the Hebrew monotheism from the pagan polytheism. Also, in 
its polemic against paganism, the Genesis account specifically refers to the 
sun, moon and stars as "luminaries." Gerhard Hasel points out that this term is 
used to give them a "degrading" status. Hasel concludes this section of Genesis 
in this way: "The form in which this Hebrew creation account has come down to us 
attempts to portray the creatureliness and limitations of the heavenly 
luminaries as is consonant with the worldview of Gen. I and its understanding 
of reality."' The final significant point is the seven day creation scheme. It 
has been argued that this is a reworking of an earlier eight period scheme. The 
significance of this is not its antimythical purpose, rather its importance in 
instilling distinctiveness in the Hebrew religion at a time when it was badly 
needed. Arvid S. Kapelrud explains the importance of the Sabbath day to the 
Hebrews in the following way: "The exiles needed that day, which plays such an 
important role in P's creation story, to devote to worship and to mark 
themselves out as a special religious and national group which must not be mixed 
up with the many other groups in the mighty Babylonian realru.6 One view holds 
that two creation periods were pressed into the third and sixth days 
respectively. This was done in order to present the creation week and the 
distinctiveness and holiness of the Hebrew sabbath as a day of rest. It is 
evident in this view that a "Search for identity" by the Hebrew people is seen 
as the reason for the polemic nature of Genesis 1:12:4a. The Hebrew people 
needed a distinct identity and to remain a unity among the Babylonians and other 
pagan influences. A refined definition of myth is required to fullv understand 
the interpretive process of the traditions which formed the Genesis Cosmogony. 
Brevard Childs' phenomenological approach allows well for this. Before defining 
this approach, one other view must be critiqued that deviates greatly from all 
the others. It is an anthropological approach that began in the early 1900's, 
called structuralism. This view, developed by Claude Levi Strauss, holds that 
myths consistently exhibit a binary structure (heaven and earth, male and 
female, etc.). These binary oppositions appear because they are intrinsic in the 
mind of a human. Myths are an attempt to overcome these innate oppositions by 
setting up a category of mediation between the natural and supernatural.7 
Structuralism is a valid approach to studying the mythopoeic mind. However, it 
also fails to distinguish the functions of myths in different cultures, and 
therefore, is not helpful in finding what the author of Genesis 1: 12:4a 
intended in his editing of the traditions. The phenomenological view differs 
greatly from this and works well in the study of myth in relation to the Old 
Testament. Brevard Childs explains that his approach views myth as representing 
a culture's understanding of reality. To fully understand the phenomenological 
conception of myth and how it can be used to study certain passages in the Old 
Testament, we must grasp his basic definition of myth: "Myth is a form by which 
the existing structure ot reality is understood and maintained. It concerns 
itself with showing how an action of a deity, conceived of as occurring in the 
primeval age, determines a phase of contemporary world order. Existing world 
order is maintained through the actualization of the myth in the cult,"' MARCH 
1980 Thus, the phenomenological approach sees function in myth and views it from 
that perspective. Scholars, such as Gunkel and Heidel, have pointed out a number 
of Old Testament passages rich in elements and fragments found in pagan 
mythology. This approach holds the view that the author of these Old Testament 
traditions used the mythical elements in a way so as to better express their 
view of reality. This foreign material was included intentionally, but not 
without much tension. The Hebrew writers meant to make it clear that their 
cosmogony was unique theologically. Purpose is found in myth, a purpose for 
explaining unknown phenomena in a way that gives the culture a theological 
distinctiveness. First, we must consider what is meant by a "view of reality." 
One aspect of a culture's view of reality can be seen in their annual festivals 
involving cultic repetition of primordial events from their myth. This is done 
in hope that this cultic repetition will secure a supernatural intervention and 
blessing from the gods. The main function of myth within its culture is not 
purely aetiological, but to maintain existing world order through its annual 
cultic ritual.9 Eneuma Elish displays examples of purpose within these cultic 
rituals. The following is a brief section of Eneuma Elish: "Then joined issue 
Tiamat and Marduk, wisest of gods. They strove in single combat, locked in 
battle. The lord spread out his net to enfold her, The Evil Wind, which followed 
behind, he let loose in her face."10 Through early Babylonian history during 
their yearly coronation festivals, this battle and Marduk's subsequent victory 
is reenacted in order to assure supernatural blessing and maintain present world 
order for the coming year. This supports the view that the common pagan 
worldview of time is cyclical. Another part of the yearly ritual in Babylonia 
calls forth Marduk, the sun god, from the land of the dead. Marduk, being the 
sun god, is seasonal, He dies during fall and winter and then rises by way of 
this cultic ritual to usher in spring, thus allowing for a fertile ground and 
much agricultural productivity. This is another function of the myth within its 
culture by way of cultic repetition. To maintain world order and productivity, 
annual rituals of returning to past events are necessary. Time is viewed as 
cyclical, not linear. The Old Testament cosmogony contrasts with this by looking 
forward to the coming of a new creation. Time is viewed as a linear succession 
of events. Their primordial events are viewed as a part of Israel's past 
history. This difference between the Hebrew and Babylonian culture's view of 
reality shows a great difference in the function of myth within the two 
cultures. The Genesis author had many traditions to compile and rework. This 
reworking was based on how God revealed himself to him and the Hebrew people in 
general. He also saw a need for an identity among the Hebrew people. This 
cosmogony represents their understanding of reality as God has revealed it 
through his dealings with them. Through theological reinterpreting and precise 
literary style, the author successfully fulfilled his purpose in Genesis 
1:12:4a. 'Gerhard Von Rad, Genesis, Trans. by John W. Marks (Philadelphia: The 
Westminster Press, 1961), p 27f. 2E.A. Speiser, Genesis (The Anchor Bible), (New 
York: 1964). 31bid. p 10f. 4Gerhard F. Hasel, "The Significance of the Cosmology 
in Genesis I in Relation to Ancient Near East Parallels," Andrews University 
Seminary Studies, 10 (Ja. 72):120. Ubid~ p 89. 6A.S. Kapelrud, "The 
Mythological Features in Genesis I and the Author's Intentions," Vetus Testamum, 
24 (April 1974), p. 181. 53 I COMMUNICATIONS 'Edmund R. Leach, "Genesis as 
Myth," Discovery (May, 1962). Brevard S. Childs, Myth and Reality in the Old 
Testament (Naperville: Alec R. Allenson Inc., 1960), p 29. 91bid. p 26. 10James 
B. Pritchard, ed., The Ancient Near East, Volume I (Princeton University Press, 
1958), p 34. Reid J. Turner Bethel College St. Paul, Minnesota