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Chapter 6 - The Bible and Babylonian Creation Tablets

Table of Contents
Chapter 5 - The Colophon
Chapter 7 - The Testimony of Archaeology

In the year 1872, Mr. George Smith was deciphering some tablets in the British Museum when he noticed on one, numbered K36, a reference to 'creation'. Thereafter, he concentrated his attention on the search for further tablets which might throw light on the early narratives of Genesis. The clay literature at his disposal was immense; it consisted of nearly 2o,ooo tablets and fragments of tablets. Most of them had been discovered by Layard, Rassam and Loftus in the ruined library of Asurbanipal, at Nineveh, nearly twenty years before. Although little more was found referring to 'creation', several fragments relating to a 'deluge' were deciphered. On December 3rd, 1872, Mr. Smith read before the Society of Biblical Archaeology his translation of these tablets; General Sir Henry Rawlinson, who had been the first to recognise the value of several of the larger fragments, presided; the place was crowded with archaeologists, theologians and other scholars, including the Prime Minister. This distinguished company is described as 'listening breathlessly' while the able archaeologist detailed the finding and deciphering of these early Babylonian writings.
The paper read that day became famous and was enthusiastically discussed in Europe and America. It produced a confident expectation that further archaeological research would reveal the source from which the early chapters of Genesis had been derived, or at least show that the Babylonians had similar accounts. Consequently a sum of money was placed at Mr. Smith's disposal by the Daily Telegraph so that he could himself go to Assyria in search of the missing parts of the so-called 'Genesis narratives'. Some fragments of the Deluge account were soon discovered in the same ruined library at Nineveh. Mr. Smith thus described the finding of a piece of a 'Creation tablet'. "My next discovery here was a fragment evidently belonging to the creation of the world; this was the upper comer of a tablet, and gave a fragmentary account of the creation of animals. Further on in this trench I discovered two other portions of this legend, one giving the creation and fall of man; the other having part of the war between the gods and evil spirits. At that time I did not recognise the importance of these fragments, excepting the one with the account of the creation of animals, and, as I had immediately afterwards to return to England, I made no further discoveries in this direction."
Two years later the results of his efforts to recover the Genesis stories were summarised in a volume entitled Chaldean Account of Genesis ('containing the description of the Creation, the Fall of Man, the Deluge, the Tower of Babel, the Times of the Patriarchs and Nimrod, Babylonian fables and legends of the gods from the cuneiform inscriptions'). When it was published, some people imagined that these Babylonian Legends would ultimately prove to be the source from which the Genesis narratives had been derived and the long title certainly suggests it. Others boldly asserted that by the discovery of these Assyrian tablets the origin of the early chapters of Genesis had already been ascertained. It is now known that the tablets Smith found represent not an original source, but a muddied and contaminated river which had already travelled far from its beginning. Writing of the Assyrian creation record he said that "the tablets composing it are in a mutilated condition, and too fragmentary to enable a single tablet to be completed, or to give more than a general view of the whole subject. The story, as far as I can judge from the fragment, agrees generally with the account of creation in the Book of Genesis, but shows traces of having originally included very much more matter. The fragments of the story which I have arranged are as follows :
(1) Part of the first tablet, giving an account of the Chaos and the generation of the gods.
(2) Fragment of subsequent tablet, perhaps the second, on the foundation of the deep.
(3) Fragment of tablet placed here with great doubt, probably referring to the creation of land.
(4) Part of the fifth tablet, giving the creation of the heavenly bodies.
(5) Fragment of seventh (?) tablet, giving the creation of land animals.
(6) Fragment of three tablets on the creation and fall of man.
(7) Fragments of tablets relating to the war between the gods and evil spirits (Chaldean Account of Genesis, PP. 7 and 62).
I have cited this able Assyriologist because of his interest in the discovery of a Babylonian equivalent to the Genesis creation narrative, and in order that we may see the origin and growth of the expectation that a parallel account to that in the first chapter of Genesis would one day be recovered from the soil of Mesopotamia. Notwithstanding unremitting search by numerous scholars for over a period of seventy years, that expectation has never been realised. On the contrary, as more and more of the missing parts of these so-called tablets have come to light, the wider grows the chasm which separates the Babylonian and Genesis records.
Subsequent discoveries gradually provided many of the missing parts of the Babylonian story. In 1888, Dr. Sayce deciphered tablet No. 93016, and in 1890 Dr. Jensen, of Marburg, published an up-to-date text in his Die Kosmologie der Babylonier. Five years later Dr. Zimmern gave a still more complete translation in Gunkel's Schopfung und Chaos. Dr. King added much material in 1902. Up to that time only a few lines of the sixth tablet had been recovered, but so long as parts were missing, the hope of archaeologists remained that, when found, the tablets would contain matter similar to that in the creation narratives of Genesis. The view prevailing at the time may be seen, for instance, in Dr. Ryle's The Early Narratives of Genesis (p. 18), "The sixth tablet which has not yet been found must have recorded the formation of the earth and the creation of the vegetable world, of birds and fishes. "
The search for the missing fragments continued during the earlier part of this century. In 1899, the Deutsche OrientGesellschaft commenced the immense task of thoroughly excavating the city of Babylon, but nothing was discovered there which added materially to our knowledge of the Babylonian story of creation. But the German excavators at the old capital of Assyria, Ashur (Kalah Sherghat), were in this respect more successful, for they found some copies of the 'Creation' series, including the long-missing sixth tablet. These new Assyrian texts were published in 1919 by Dr. Erich Ebeling in Keilschrifttexte aus A Assur religiosen Inhalts; but the newly discovered sixth tablet did not contain any of the matter which Dr. Ryle said it 'must have recorded'.
Over sixty copies of the tablets and fragments have now been recovered and, except for the astronomical poem (tablet 5), the so-called Babylonian 'Creation' series is now sufficiently complete to make a full comparison with the Genesis narrative. The two accounts are as follows:
BibleBabylonian Creation tablets
1. Light. 1. Birth of the gods, their rebellion and threatened destruction.
2. Atmosphere and water. 2. Tiamat prepares for battle, Marduk agrees to fight her.
3. Land, vegetation. 3. The gods are summoned and wail bitterly at their threatened destruction.
4. Sun and Moon (regulating lights) 4. Marduk promoted to rank of 'god'; he receives his weapons for the fight, these are described at length; defeats Tiamat, splits her in half like a fish and thus makes heaven and earth.
5. Fish and birds 5. Astronomical poem.
6. Land animals 6. Xingu who made Tiamat to rebel is bound and as a punishment his arteries are severed and man created from his blood. The 6oo gods are grouped; Marduk builds Babylon where all the gods assemble.
I submit that a comparison of the two accounts shows clearly that the Bible owes nothing whatever to the Babylonian tablets. Perhaps it is not surprising to find as the various fragments were discovered, pieced together, and deciphered, that the more comprehensive knowledge about these tablets did not overtake the old false conjectures and expectations as to their probable contents. At first many archaeologists were inclined to agree with Smith that the probable origin of the Bible narrative was the Babylonian Legend; but when these completed tablets came to light it became obvious that the Genesis account was not derived from the Babylonian. Thus in The Babylonian Legends of the Creation and the Fight between Bel and the Dragon, issued by the Trustees of the British Museum, we read that "the fundamental conceptions of the Babylonian and Hebrew accounts are essentially different ". Sir Ernest Budge said, "It must be pointed out that there is no evidence at all that the two accounts of the creation, which are given in the early chapters of Genesis, are derived from the seven tablets" (Babylonian Life and History, p. 85). It is more than a pity that many theologians, instead of keeping abreast of modem archaeological research, continue to repeat the now disproved theory of Hebrew 'borrowings' from Babylonian sources. For instance, we find the following paragraph even in the late editions of Dr. Driver's Genesis (p. 27), "The more immediate source of the Biblical cosmogony, however, there can be little doubt, has been brought to light recently from Babylonia. Between 1872 and 1876 that skilful collector and decipherer of cuneiform records, the late Mr. George Smith, published, partly from tablets found by him in the British Museum, partly from those he had discovered himself in Assyria, a number of inscriptions containing, as he quickly perceived, a Babylonian account of creation. Since that date other tablets have come to light; and though the series relating to the creation is still incomplete, enough remains not only to exhibit clearly the general scheme Of the cosmogony but also to make it evident that the Cosmogony of the Bible is dependent upon it." The newer information we now possess emphatically contradicts Dr. Driver's final statement, and I submit that there was no evidence whatever to support it. Even Jeremias who argues that both Bible and Babylonian tablets had a common origin Says (Old Testament in the Light of the Acient East, Vol. p. 196), "The prevailing assumptian of a literary dependence of the Biblical records of creation upon Babylonian texts is very frail." But this deposed theory, rejected by archaeologists, remains a popular impression to this day, as may be seen from the report on Doctrine in the Church of England, where it is stated (P. 45) that "it is generally agreed among educated Christians that these (Gen. i and ii)'are mythological in origin ".
In order that we may test the widespread assumption that Genesis record is based on the mythological Babylonian accounts, I select from nearly 8oo lines of crude polytheistic and mythological matter, those lines which bear the closest resemblance to Genesis i, though to my mind they have no more similarity than a mud hut has to a palace. I use Dr. Langdon's translation (Epic of Creation, Oxford University Press).



1. When on high the heavens were not named

2. And beneath a home bore no name,

3. And Apsu primeval, their engenderer,

4. And the 'Form', Tiamat, the bearer of all of them,

5. There mingled their waters together;

6. Dark chambers were not constructed, and marshlands were not seen,

8. And they were not named, and fates were not fixed,

9. Then were created the gods in the midst thereof

81. In the midst of the nether sea was born Asur,

95. Four were his eyes, four were his cars,

132. Mother Huber, the designer of all things,

133. Added thereto weapons which are not withstood; she gave birth to the monsters.

135. With poison like blood she filled their bodies,

Colophon. First tablet of "when on high" taken from upon a tablet . . . a copy from Babylon, according to its original it was written: The tablet of Nabu-musetik-umi son of . . . 5th month Ayyar 9th day 27th year of Darius.



128. Unto Tiamat whom he had bound he returned again.

129. The lord trod upon her hinder part.

130. With his toothed sickle he split her scalp.

131. He severed the arteries of her blood.

132. The north wind carried it away into hidden places.

133. His fathers saw and were glad shouting for joy,

134. Gifts and presents they caused to be brought unto him,

135. The lord rested beholding the cadaver,

136. As he divided the monster, devising cunning things.

137. He split her into two parts like a closed fish.

138. Half of her he set up and made the heavens as a covering

139. He slid the bolt and caused watchmen to be stationed.

140. He directed them not to let her waters come forth
Colophon-Fourth tablet, "when on high", not finished. According to a tablet which was damaged in its text. Writing of Nabubelohu of Naid-Marduk.



1. When Marduk heard the words of the gods, his heart prompted him as he devised clever things.

2. He opened his mouth speaking unto Ea, that which he conceived in his heart, giving him counsel.

3. Blood will I construct, bone will I cause to be.

4. Verily I will cause Lilu (man) to stand forth, verily his name is man.

5. I will create Lilu, man.

6. Verily let the cult services of the gods be imposed, and let them be Pacified.

7. I will moreover skilfully contrive the ways of the gods.

8. All together let them be honoured and may they be divided into two parts.

9. Ea replied to him, speaking to him a word.

10. For in pacification of the gods he imparted to him a plan.

11. Let one of their brothers be given. He shall perish and men be fashioned.

12. Let the great gods assemble. Let this one be given and as for them may they be sure of it,

13. Marduk assembled the great gods,

23. It was Kingu that made war;

24. That caused Tiamat to revolt and joined battle.

25. They bound him and brought him before Ea. Punishment they imposed upon him, they severed the arteries of his blood.

26. With his blood he (Ea) made mankind. In the cult service of the gods, and he set the
gods free.

27. After Ea had created mankind and (?) had imposed the cult service of the gods upon him.

Colophon.-Sixth tablet of "when on high". The colophon of this tablet is badly damaged but on tablet BM (2629 there is the name of the owner of the tablet, Nabu-balatsu-ikbi.
I submit that the continued propagation of these legends as the source from which the Genesis narrative is derived is entirely unjustifiable. Surely it is not reasonable to imagine these crude accounts of gods and goddesses plotting war amongst themselves, smashing skulls, getting drunk and similar activities, as the basis of the first chapter of the Bible. When Mr. George Smith discovered the first fragment in the British Museum he imagined that it referred to the creation of animals; now we know the animals referred to were the 'monsters' created in order to fight Tiamat. The old theory of the supposed similarities between the Bible and Babylonian tablets was founded on the 'expectation' that discoveries would provide the missing links; excavation has proved this hope to be false.
Neither is there any evidence for the assertion that the Genesis record is merely the old Sumerian or Babylonian account stripped of all its mythical and legendary elements. It should be obvious that if this 'stripping' had taken place there would be nothing left with which to construct a narrative of creation.
Until recent years it was thought that the account was written on seven tablets; but the more recent discoveries have clearly shown that this was not the case. In his Semitic Mythology (p. 289), Professor Langdon states, "The Babylonian Epic of Creation was written in six books or tablets, with a late appendix added as the seventh book, as a commentary on the fifty sacred Sumerian titles of Marduk. 'No copies of the Babylonian text exists earlier than the age of '--Nebuchadnezzar. The epic had immense vogue in Assyria, where the national god Ashur replaced Marduk's name in most of the copies, and it is from the city of Ashur that all the earliest known texts are derived. These are at least three centuries earlier than any surviving southern copy. Since traces of the influence of the epic are found in the Babylonian iconography as early as the sixteenth century, it is assumed that the work was composed in the period of Babylon's great literary writers of the first dynasty." George Smith and others had conjectured that the Assur tablets had been copied from Babylonian sources, the finding of tablet 45528 proved this, for the colophon read:
"First tablet of Enuma Elis ("when on high") taken from . . . a copy from Babylon, according to its original it was written." As Professor Langdon says (Epic of Creation, p. io), "The Epic was undoubtedly written in the period of the First Babylonian Dynasty 2225-1926." This date will, however, have to be reduced if Dr. Sidney Smith's dates in Alalakh and chronology are adopted.
The closest resemblance, and certainly the most significant one, is that from the days of Abraham (which is as far back as can at present be traced) the Babylonians always recorded the 'creation' series on six tablets. Although there is this agreement in the number six, the similarity ends there. Long ago Schrader wrote in his Cuneiform Inscriptions and the Old Testament (Vol. I, P. 15), "Neither the cuneiform creation story nor that of Berossus gives any hint that the Babylonians regarded the creation of the universe as taking place in seven days. " Professor Landon summarised the Epic in these words, "The arrangement of the poem in six books was probably taken from the rules of liturgical compositions. When the Babylonians edited the canonical Sumerian liturgies for their own use and provided the Sumerian text with an interlinear Semitic version, the material was almost invariably distributed over six tablets. " It is important that we should notice that nowhere in the Babylonian account is there any suggestion of the creation of the world in six days, or in six periods. After seventy years of search into supposed likenesses between the Bible and Babylonian tablets the only valid similarity is that the Genesis narrative is divided into six days, numbered one to six, and that the Babylonian accounts of creation are almost invariably written on six tablets. Why six?

Chapter 7 - The Testimony of Archaeology