Good question--is Genesis merely a rip-off of other ANE lit?

[Series Index: gilgymess.html // Last update: to this piece May 15, 2005]

Part6: Akkadian Anthropological Cosmogonies: Atrahasis (gilgy04.html)

Atrahasis is a very long composition, with alleged parallels occurring mostly in the flood story. There are a couple of pieces of more cosmogonic material, which we shall treat here first before turning to some of the Flood traditions in a later piece (gilgy08.html).

We should note that the "Sumerian Flood Story" (already examined for possible cosmogonic material in this series) was probably not part of truly Sumerian traditions. The one text we have of this work (CBS 10673) does not seem to be 'regular' Sumerian, and is dated to the time period Israel is in bondage in Egypt:

"Most of the verbal forms, for example, do not fit into the paradigms of standard Sumerian...the text begins with allusions to the destruction of man, although he is at this point newly created. ...Was there, then, a first destruction of the human race prior to the one recorded in Atra-hasis?... The theme of a flood which destroys mankind does not seem to belong to the main body of Sumerian traditions... Judging from the information available at the present, the theme of the flood which wiped out all but a handful of the human race became popular during the Isin dynasty [2017-1794 ]. In view of the large number of artificial grammatical forms and lexical peculiarities in CBD 10673, it was very likely composed at a later date." [OT:AHBSF, 139 (M. Civil's article on the Sumerian Flood Story); Lambert/Millard give c.1600BC for its date in that volume, p. 14.]

So, the Atrahasis and Enuma elish works will be the first genuine Mesopotamian flood accounts.

Some introductory citations on Atrahasis, indicating that the creation material is minor, relative to the flood-related content:

"The “primeval history” of humanity, which occupies the first eleven chapters of Genesis, also exercised the Mesopotamian imagination. In Akkadian, the Epic of Atra-hasis constitutes its earliest and most systematic formulation. This epic explains the creation of man as intended to relieve the (lesser) deities of their toil, and the attempted destruction of humanity as divine response to the noise of the expanding human population which threatened the very rest that their creation had sought to provide for the gods. This destruction, decreed by Enlil, took several successive forms, culminating in the Deluge but, as in other flood-stories, its purpose was frustrated by the survival of the flood-hero, here called Atra-hasis (“exceeding wise”), through the intervention of Ea, the divine friend of humanity. The problem of over-population is resolved by other means in a concluding aetiology. The composition is nearly complete in a Late Old Babylonian recension in three tablets (chapters), and is known as well in various fragmentary later recensions." [TCS1]

"The Atrahasis Epic begins with the creation of humankind because the labor-class gods are fed up with the heavy tasks imposed on them by the management-class gods, and they make much “noise,” especially against the chief god, Enlil. As a result, the mother goddess Mami and magician god Enki create procreating people as a substitute for the laboring gods. The people multiplied so much in 1,200 years that they made a great “noise,” to the annoyance of Enlil. Enlil tries to exterminate them first by a famine, then 1,200 years later by a drought, and finally, yet another 1,200 years later, by the flood. Three times Enlil’s plans are foiled by Enki and his faithful worshipper Atrahasis. Now the thrice failing and furious Enlil convenes a divine assembly where a post-Flood compromise is reached among gods to limit the expanding population."[The Anchor Bible Dictionary, s.v. "Noah and the Ark"]

"Another, more-recently identified Mesopotamian flood legend is known by the name of its protagonist, Atrahasis. In this legend, the god Enlil decides to bring about a flood because the tumult of humanity is unbearable, disturbing the sleep of the gods. The hero Atrahasis is aided by the god Ea; by the latter’s agency, the god Enki alerts Atrahasis to the impending flood and advises him to build a vessel in which he can survive. The vessel is roofed over and made secure with pitch. Atrahasis entered the vessel and shut the door; the storm raged 7 days and nights. The surviving text has not preserved the account of the conclusion of the flood, but after the flood Atrahasis sacrifices and the gods dispute over the outcome." [ABD, s.v. "Flood"]

"In sharp contrast to the single-scene Akkadian cosmogonies discussed above are two lengthy narratives--Atrahasis (1,245 lines according to the third tablet of the Nur-Ava edition) and Enuma elish (ca. 1,100 lines in seven tables). In each the actual fashioning of the world is one part of a lengthy story. In Atrahasis the formation of humans occupies only lines +189-260+ of tablet I. In Enuma elish the opening theogony takes up only the first twenty lines of tablet I, and Marduk's formation of the cosmos fills the latter part of tablet IV to the middle of tablet VI." [OT:CAANEB, 73]

Here are some/most of the relevant cosmogonic lines from Atrahasis:



189 While [Belet-ili, the birth-goddess], is present,
190 Let the birth-goddess create offspring (?),
191 And let man bear the toil of the gods.'
192 They summoned and asked the goddess,
193 The midwife of the gods, wise Mami,
194 'You are the birth-goddess, creatress of mankind,
195 Create Lullu-man that he may bear the yoke,
196 Let him bear the yoke assigned by Enlil,
197 Let man carry the toil of the gods.'
198 Nintu opened her mouth
199 And addressed the great gods,
200 'It is not possible for me to make things,
201 Skill lies with Enki.
202 Since he can cleanse everything
203 Let him give me the clay so that I can make it.'
204 Enki opened his mouth
205 And addressed the great gods,
206 'On the first, seventh, and fifteenth day of the month
207 I will make a purifying bath.
208 Let one god be slaughtered
209 So that all the gods may be cleansed in a dipping.
210 From his flesh and blood
211 Let Nintu mix clay,
212 That god and man
213 May be thoroughly mixed in the clay,
214 So that we may hear the drum for the rest of time
215 Let there be a spirit from the god's flesh.
216 Let it proclaim living (man) as its sign,
217 So that this be not forgotten let there be a spirit.'
218 In the assembly answered 'Yes'
219 The great Anunnaki, who administer destinies.
221 On the first, seventh, and fifteenth day of the month
222 He made a purifying bath.
223 We-ila who had personality,
224 They slaughtered in their assembly.
225 From his flesh and blood
226 Nintu mixed clay.
227 For the rest [of time they heard the drum],
228 From the flesh of the god [there was] a spirit.
229 It proclaimed living (man) as its sign,
230 And so that this was not forgotten [there was] a spirit.
231 After she had mixed that clay
232 She summoned the Anunnaki, the great gods.
233 The Igigi, the great gods,
234 Spat upon the clay.
235 Mami opened her mouth
236 And addressed the great gods,
237 'You commanded me a task, I have completed it;
239 You have slaughtered a god together with his personality.
240 1 have removed your heavy work,
241 1 have imposed your toil on man.
242 You raised a cry for mankind,
243 1 have loosed the yoke, I have established freedom.'
244 They heard this speech of hers,
245 They ran together and kissed her feet, (saying,)
246 'Formerly we used to call you Mami,
247 Now let your name be Mistress-of-All-the-Gods (Belet-kala-ili).'
249 They entered the house of destiny
250 Did prince Ea and the wise Mami.
251 With the birth-goddesses assembled
252 He trod the clay in her presence.
253 She kept reciting the incantation,
254 Ea, seated before her, was prompting her.
255 After she had finished her incantation
256 She nipped off fourteen pieces of clay.
257 Seven she put on the right,
258 Seven on the left.
259 Between them she placed the brick
260 ... ] . . the umbilical cord


277 The birth-goddesses were assembled
278 And Nintu [sat] counting the months.
280 [At the] destined [moment] the tenth month was summoned.
281 The tenth month arrived
282 And the elapse of the period opened the womb.
283 With a beaming, joyful face
284 And covered head she performed the midwifery.

[Belet–ili, the midwife], is present,
(190) Let the midwife create a human being,
Let man assume the drudgery of god.”
They summoned and asked the goddess,
The midwife of the gods, wise Mami:
“Will you be the birth goddess, creatress of mankind?
(195) Create a human being that he bear the yoke,
Let him bear the yoke, the task of Enlil,
Let man assume the drudgery of god.”
Nintu made ready to speak,
And said to the great gods:
(200) “It is not for me to do it,
The task is Enki’s.
He it is that cleanses all,
Let him provide me the clay so I can do the making.”

Enki made ready to speak,
(205) And said to the great gods:
“On the first, seventh, and fifteenth days of the month,
Let me establish a purification, a bath.
Let one god be slaughtered,
Then let the gods be cleansed by immersion.

(210-211) Let Nintu mix clay with his flesh and blood.
(212-213) Let that same god and man be thoroughly mixed in the clay.
(214) Let us hear the drum for the rest of time,
(215) From the flesh of the god let a spirit remain,
Let it make the living know its sign,
Lest he be allowed to be forgotten, let the spirit remain.
The great Anunna–gods, who administer destinies,
(220) Answered “yes!” in the assembly.
On the first, seventh, and fifteenth days of the month,
He established a purification, a bath.
They slaughtered Aw–ilu, who had the inspiration, in their assembly.
(225) Nintu mixed clay with his flesh and blood.
<That same god and man were thoroughly mixed in the clay.>
For the rest [of time they would hear the drum],
From the flesh of the god [the] spi[rit remained].
It would make the living know its sign,
(230) Lest he be allowed to be forgotten, [the] spirit remained.
After she had mixed that clay,
She summoned the Anunna, the great gods.
The Igigi, the great gods, spat upon the clay.
(235) Mami made ready to speak,
And said to the great gods:
“You ordered me the task and I have completed (it)!
You have slaughtered the god, along with his inspiration.
(240) I have done away with your heavy forced labor,
I have imposed your drudgery on man.
You have bestowed(?) clamor upon mankind.
I have released the yoke, I have [made] restoration.”
They heard this speech of hers,
(245) They ran, free of care, and kissed her feet, (saying):
“Formerly [we used to call] you Mami,
Now let your n[am]e be “Mistress–of–All–the Gods (Belet-kala–ili)”

The standard work on Atrahasis is that by Lambert and Millard [OT:AHBSF], and below is their summary of the cosmogonic material.

[As you read this, contrast it with the simple biblical story:

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." and "then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being... So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.

"...Enki spoke up (above the problem of the whining minor gods, demanding release from their ditch-digging jobs) and presented the same case for the rebels, but added the practical suggestion that man should be created with the help of the mother goddess to take over the hard labour. The main recension sets in again at I.189 as this suggestion is being made. The gods generally accepted it with alacrity and summoned the mother goddess, variously called Mami, Mama, Nintu, and Belet-ili. While not declining the suggestion she deferred to Enki's superior skill, and so the arrangement was worked out that the two would co-operate in the task. In effect, man was to be made from clay, like a figurine, but mixed with the flesh and blood of a slaughtered god. There is much interesting cultic and anthropological content in lines 206-30, which will be discussed in more detail later. The god slain is called either We or We-ila but neither name is known elsewhere. The actual stages of the work are not too clear. From line 23 1 it appears that the clay was at that point of time mixed, and after the gods spat on it the mother goddess talked as though everything was finished and accordingly she received congratulations and the assignation of her name Belet-ili 'Mistress-of-the-gods' (235-47). However, the work was not over, since in line 241 Enki and the mother goddess proceed to what is called 'the House of Destiny' and there set to work in earnest, helped by fourteen birth goddesses. First Enki trod the clay to mix it, then the mother goddess took fourteen pieces from it which the birth goddesses moulded into seven males and seven females. The latter detail is taken from the Assyrian Recension (obv. iii), since there is a gap in the main recension. The moulded figures were next put into two groups of seven, the males in the one, the females in the other, separated by what is called 'a brick'. This was probably not a single builders' brick, but a brick structure referred to in other Babylonian texts on which women performed their labour, and by bringing in this object the author related the myth to actual births in contemporary society. The next stage in the process is lost, but when the main recension sets in again (271 ff.) the various divine actors are waiting for the end of the gestation period. With the arrival of the tenth month the womb (the formation of which is lost in the preceding gap) breaks open and mankind is born. At this point in the main recension, and a little later in the Assyrian Recension, the mother goddess takes the opportunity to give advice on obstetrics and marriage. After this the text is lost or so incomplete as to give no sense until line 352." [OT:AHBSF, 8-9]

At first blush, I cannot find ANY similarities (beyond the totally generic concepts of creation, humanity out of earthstuffs), and the differences are obvious, striking, and legion. For example:

  1. Man = clay plus divine spit, blood, and flesh

  2. Man made from a dead god

  3. Troding the clay

  4. A womb and a gestation period of 9 months(!)

  5. 14 people made at the same time

  6. gods requiring purification (after slaughtering one of their own)

  7. Midwifery and umbilical cords (Solves the old "did Adam have a navel?" question, doesn't it?

Really, now...This is not the same story as Genesis at all, there is nothing in this story to 'borrow' for Genesis, and the differences are pervasive and substantial. Some of the material contrasts are noted by Lambert/Millard:

"What is the life element imparted from the parent into its young, whether in animal or human, and how did it arise in the first case? The Hebrew account of creation in Genesis 2 explains that God imparted 'the breath of life' into man, and so animation began. The reality of this is that breathing is an essential accompaniment of life, and at death we 'expire'. No similar doctrine is known among the Babylonians or Sumerians. Instead we may presume that the divine blood was held to supply life to matter." [OT:AHBSF, 22]

The closest possible point of parallel might be the 'divine nature' (?) of the resultant humans. Genesis says that humanity was created in the 'image and likeness of God'. Atrahasis has man as a merger of humanity and divinity. The two are not the same, of course, since image/likeness (replica of substance, shared form) has a prima facie distinction from the substance of the original (shared substance). Humanity is NOT 'part God' in Genesis (the concept would be totally foreign to biblical Hebrew thought), but IS in Atrahasis. [If someone were to suggest that humanity as a 'sign' of the dead god (216-217) is similar in notion to 'image, as representation of God on earth' in Genesis, they should be reminded of Lambert/Millard's comment at [OT:AHBSF,22]: "Lines 216-17 (cf. 229-30) are tantalizingly ambiguous, but they seem to say that living man is a memorial to the slain god, and his spirit (presumably after death) likewise"--'memorial', a far cry from "sign = image".]

Atrahasis will be far more important to us when we look at Flood traditions, but as for providing cosmogonic material for suggested parallels, it fails rather dismally...

Okay, where does this leave us?

I quote from the previous piece (again and again):

"This is an easy summary: there are no parallels of any substance, and there are TONS of anti-parallels, contradictions, and gross variances. This literature (unlike some other literature we will look at later) just is too distant from the biblical document in tone, intent, themes, particulars, and sequences..."


On to the next...(gilgy05.html),




The Christian ThinkTank...[] (Reference Abbreviations)