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

[Series Index: gilgymess.html // Last update: to thisspeaking piece Aug 13 2005]

Part9: Canaanite cosmogonic materials (gilgy07b.html)

Historically, the early 'borrowing from Babylon' ('Pan-Babylonianism') advocates developed most of their arguments about borrowing around the Sumerian/Akkadian textual corpus, with the consequence that Egyptian background for the Genesis stories was not generally supported (or certainly not emphasized). Scholars felt they could find most of biblical antecedents in the Babylonian literatures, and so there was no 'need' for Egyptian influences on the bible. At the same time, the corpus of Ugaritic/Canaanite literatures lay either undiscovered, unexplored, or under-studied.

Three factors lead to the demise (or at least the 'humbling' of the Pan-Babylonianists: (1) successive generations of Assyriologists essentially 'de-bunked' all the important alleged parallels; (2) the more recently studied Canaanite materials began to show MORE important 'alleged' parallels for biblical studies; and (3) scholars learned that the influences between Babylonia and the Western Semite cultures was NOT as one-way as originally thought (e.g., there were several early cases of West Semitic influence on Sumerian/Akkadian--loan words, for example--which called into question the assumed 'direction of borrowing').

More recently, advocates of Hebrew dependency on Ugaritic/Canaanite traditions have been heard, and so we need to investigate this corpus of cosmogonic literature as well. For example, Lambert can state:

The recovery of the Ugaritic texts has shown that the allusions to Yahweh's battle with Leviathan and the tannin, but not Rahab, are derived from Canaanite Baal myths, and these show no signs of dependence on Mesopotamian sources.” [ISI:99].

Of course, it should be obvious to the reader that neither Leviathan nor the tannin are present in Genesis, so this point might be irrelevant to our study—but we'll see.

We noted in the section on Egyptian texts that there were no 'real' comparable cosmogonies from Egypt, and the situation is even worse when we turn to Canaanite sources. So, Clifford:

"Canaanite" refers to the culture common to the east coast of the Mediterranean in antiquity. The languages of the area, among them Ugaritic, Phoenician, Moabite, Ammonite, and Hebrew, are classed as Northwest Semitic. There existed also a common poetic tradition of themes and techniques, which is discernible in the extant literatures... There are three main sources (outside the Bible) for Canaanite cosmogonies: the Ugaritic texts of the Late Bronze Age (pre-1200 B.C.); the divine epithet "creator of (heaven) and earth," which occurs in Phoenician, Aramaic, and Punic inscriptions from the eighth century B.C. to the second century A.D.; and a late first- or early second-century A.D. compendium of mythology by a certain Philo of Byblos. The contribution of extant Canaanite literature if compared with Mesopotamia is disappointing. Ugaritic literature has no undisputed cosmogonies. The inscriptions only allude to cosmogonies in divine epithets. Philo's brief cosmogony is elliptical and its contents are undatable. [OT:CAANEB, 117]

This absence of relevant data is so stark that Walton cannot even mention a Canaanite source in his chapter on “Cosmology” in Ancient Israelite Literature in its Cultural Context [AILCC]. In fact, in all of the genres discussed in his work (Cosmology; Personal Archives and Epics; Legal Texts; Covenants and Treaties; Historical Literature; Hymns, Prayers, and Incantations; Wisdom Literature; Prophetic Literature; and Apocalyptic Literature), Ugaritic material is only treated in a discussion of Psalm 104. The other mentions in footnotes have to do with 'occasional writings' such as love songs and magical spells. Similarly, Matthews and Benjamin offer no parallels to Genesis in Old Testament Parallels: Laws and Stories from the Ancient Near East [OTPs], and, apart from the occasional mention of the 'storm god', there are no actual Canaanite mythic/cosmogonic sources cited/discussed in all of the index of [ISI]. Sasson's massive Civilizations of the Ancient Near East [OT:CANE] likewise has no entries for this.

So, this is going to be a rather brief analysis (relatively speaking, of course—smile!)

As we have noted, Clifford offers us essentially two pieces of potentially-relevant texts: (1) the “Baal cycle” and (2) the epithets of El and Asherah, and the two main documents are also given in [TCS1, 1.86 and 1.87]. Let's first deal with the lesser one—the epithets.

The epithets are basically one-liner descriptive phrases, in which a god is called by a phrase “X, creator of heaven and earth”. This in itself is fairly useless for our quest, since it is entirely too general, non-narrative, and 'banal' (to use Kitchen's term), so we need to see something with at least a little more data/narrative in it.

This leads us to KTU 1.23, the story of “Dawn and Dusk”:

KTU 1.23 is a seventy-six-line poem in which El becomes sexually aroused and impregnates two women who give birth to the two gods Shahar and Shalim (Dawn and Dusk). The texts open with repeated invitations, which suggests that it originally reflected or accompanied a ritual. A few scholars see the text as a theogony in which two gods are the firstborn of all the gods of Ugarit. Gregorio del Olmo Lete properly rejects this interpretation, taking the poem as a ritual...” [OT:CAANEB, p.118f].

As regards the first point, there are two indications as to why the birth of Šaḥru-wa-Šalimu may be thought to have occupied a particular position in Ugaritic thought. The first is visible in the mythological narrative of this text, viz., that the mothers of these deities are not described with terms characteristic of divinity, indeed are termed simply ˒aṯtm, “two women.” We seem to be dealing, therefore, with the motif of divine engenderment well known in classical literature, in this case the impregnation by the god ˒Ilu of two human females, who each give birth to one of the deities who make up the pair Šaḥru-wa-Šalimu. Though a text identifiable as a theogony has not appeared yet among the Ugaritic literature, the fact that the goddess ˒Aṯiratu bears the title of qnyt ˒ilm, “progenitress of the gods,” has led most scholars to see her as the divine mother of ˒Ilu’s central family, known in the ritual texts as bn ˒il, dr bn ˒il, and mpḫrt bn ˒il, “the sons of ˒Ilu,” “the circle of the sons of ˒Ilu,” and “the assembly of the sons of ˒Ilu.” In one of these texts ˒Ilu bears the title of ˒ab bn ˒il, “the father of the sons of ˒Ilu,” and in the mythological texts he bears the name of bny bnwt, “the producer (lit. builder) of progeny (lit. that which is built).” Into this picture may be introduced the facts that the deity Šalimu is the last deity named in the two “pantheon” texts known at Ugarit up to the present (on RS 1.017 and RS 24.643, see Pardee forthcoming) and that he is the last deity named in a sacrificial sequence repeated in three texts (RS 1.001:8, RS 1.003:17, RS 18.056:18 — see Pardee forthcoming on RS 1.001:8). The identification of this deity with one member of the binomial Šaḥru-wa-Šalimu appears plausible, though not certain, and his place in the pantheon may be interpreted as indicating that he was seen as the deity who most appropriately brought up the rear of the procession of the gods. In the light of the present myth, the rank of the deity is perhaps best interpreted as reflecting his birth, not by ˒Aṯiratu and perhaps, to the extent that time was a factor in divine genealogy, after ˒Ilu’s children by ˒Aṯiratu. The double deity Šaḥru-wa-Šalimu also appears in a rather enigmatic ritual text of which the central part is a list of divine names (RS 24.271:11, see Virolleaud 1968:583–586). On these matters see the bibliographical data and discussions in Pardee 1989-90:456–458 and forthcoming... These details concerning Šaḥru-wa-Šalimu may be of use in identifying the “gracious gods” (˒ilm n˓mm), mentioned in lines 1, 23, and 67 (in line 60 the text has ˒ilmy n˓mm), who are sometimes identified with Šaḥru-wa-Šalimu, sometimes not. The sequence of the presentation requires either that they be seen as born after Šaḥru-wa-Šalimu or that they be identified with Šaḥru-wa-Šalimu whose birth would have been twice reported. The former solution appears narratologically the more plausible, but it requires that the description of the “gracious gods” as having “(one) lip to the earth, (the other) lip to the heavens” (lines 61–62) be applied to an unknown group of divinities, whereas that description and the following lines seem quite graphically to describe the gods of dawn and dusk. If Šaḥru-wa-Šalimu are indeed somehow identifiable with the single deity Šalimu, it is in any case unlikely that the “gracious gods” are to be identified with the rest of the Ugaritic deities or even with the majority of ˒Ilu’s offspring, as many scholars have thought, for there is simply no reason to believe that the circumstances described by this poem correspond to the circumstances of the birth of the children of ˒Aṯiratu. It appears preferable, therefore, to see the double birth narrative simply as a narrative device expressing the birth by two women of two deities.” [TCS1, 1.87]

In other words, we do not have El creating the universe/world, humans/animals, or the pantheon—nothing cosmogonic here. [If this passage IS somehow considered to be theogonic, then we obviously are totally removed from biblical Genesis—there is no polygyny, no divine sex, no birthing of lessor deities, etc. in Genesis whatsoever...]

That leaves only the Baal Cycle [TCS1, 1.86]. This work is too long too actually cite here, but let me give a basic synopsis of the work:

Although the god Baal is mentioned in many Ug texts, one work in particular is of central importance, the Baal cycle on 6 tablets in KTU 1.1–6 ( = CTA 1–6). This is broadly divisible into 3 main sections:(i) the conflict between Baal and Yam (“Sea” ) in KTU 1.1–2 ( = CTA 1–2); (ii) the building of Baal’s house (palace/temple) in KTU 1.3–4 ( = CTA 3–4); and (iii) the conflict between Baal and Mot (“Death” ) in KTU 1.5–6 ( = CTA 5–6). The following is a summary of the main points made in these 6 tablets concerning Baal.

(i) The god Yam sends messengers to El and the assembly of the gods on Mt. Ll, demanding that Baal be given up to him. Baal refuses to be given up, and eventually a battle takes place between Baal and Yam. Yam at first appears victorious, but in the end Baal defeats Yam with the help of two clubs made by the craftsman god Kothar-and-Ḫasis, and Baal is proclaimed king.

(ii) A king must naturally have a palace, and so the 2nd main division is to a considerable degree taken up with the building of Baal’s palace. Anath first demands a palace for her consort from El, using threats, but is unsuccessful. Subsequently, following the urging of Baal and Anath, Athirat requests El to grant Baal a palace; unlike Anath she is successful. Kothar-and-Ḫasis builds the palace, and particular interest centers on the question of constructing a window for the palace, which Kothar-and-Ḫasis urges on Baal. Baal first declines this but eventually comes round to the idea.

(iii) The 3d section concerns the conflict between Baal and Mot. Mot uses threats to bring Baal, together with his accompanying meteorological phenomena, down into the underworld, which is Mot’s realm. This duly takes place and a period of dryness comes over the earth. El and Anath each engage in ritual lamentation over Baal’s disappearance. Athtar is nominated to be king in Baal’s place by Athirat, but he is not tall enough to occupy Baal’s throne, so he descends from it. There is a scene in which Anath destroys Mot, the various verbs employed suggesting that she is treating him as if he were corn. El then has a dream in which he sees the fertility of the earth restored, which gives him confidence that Baal is now alive again. Baal smites the sons of Athirat and ascends his throne. Then we read that in the 7th year Mot complains about his fate at the hands of Baal, and a scene follows in which Baal and Mot struggle with each other. After the intervention of Shapash (the sun goddess), Mot concedes defeat.” [ABD, s.v. “Baal (DEITY)”, John Day]

Now, at first blush this doesn't even seem remotely cosmogonic, but some people see some cosmogonic content(?) in the stories of the battles themselves. Let me point out that many even 'charitable scholars' are reluctant to take a strong view that it is cosmogonic in nature:

The explanation of the enmity of Ba˓lu and Yammu/ Naharu as reflecting the role of water in a cosmological myth (Smith 1994:84–87) deserves further attention, but Smith does not explain why the enemy is Yammu/Naharu rather than one of the entities designated by the root thm (cf. Tiamat in the Mesopotamian version and tehōm in the Hebrew one; on forms of thm in Ugaritic). It, in any case, only pushes the question back a stage: one must still ask why these watery forces were seen as the enemy of the creator deity (probably ˒Ilu at Ugarit, though no cosmological myth is yet attested).” [TCS1, Pardee]

The question of whether the Baal cycle is a true cosmogony is unanswerable. Some of the elements of cosmogonies are there—the building of a temple, the bestowal of fertility and of kingship (hence of social order); on the other hand, Baal does not make anything and, more importantly, is not ultimately powerful. He sits on the throne through El's decree, as both Anat's and Asherah's intercession for him attest... Baal's victory over Sea and Death and the political and social order resulting from it (symbolized by his temple and feast) cannot, on the basis of the present evidence, be called a cosmogony.” [OT:CAANEB, 126, 132].

Now, by ALL ACCOUNTS, the text does not contain the 'standard' core elements of a cosmogony: Baal does not create the universe/world/seas, he does not create the other gods, he does not create humans/animals. He doesn't even arrange or order them. Temples, fertility, and 'aristocracy' are all important aspects of creation (perhaps), but they are NOTHING without creation itself! Even scholars who do try to interpret the text as cosmological explicitly admit that it is not a “strict cosmogony”—and by implication, it is not a cosmogony of the same type found in Genesis.

This last point bears repeating: to the extent the 'cosmogony' of the Baal Cycle departs from the type of cosmogony in the bible and the rest of the ANE, to that same extent it loses its 'explanatory power' as a possible cosmogonic source of 'borrowing'.

Consider the admissions of writers in this field, some/many of whom do see it as 'cosmogonic' in this 'looser' (and therefore, non-biblical!) sense:

Since at Ugarit El and not Baal was the creator god it is not surprising to find that specific references to creation are absent from the Ugaritic versions.” [OT:CML, 7]

While kingship is the cycle's central theme, Baal does not represent an omnipotent figure like Marduk in Enuma Elish or Yahweh in the Hebrew Bible, to whom Baal is often compared.” [HI:UNP, 84]

Are the texts genuine cosmogonies? Many specialists deny it, among them J. C. Greenfield: 'The Ugaritic texts record no creation or flood story, although fragments from Akkadian texts excavated at Ugarit deal with elements of these stories.' According to John Day, 'There are grounds for believing, therefore, that the Canaanites may have associated the creation of the world with Baal's victory over the dragon and the sea, even though the Ugaritic Baal-Yam text (CTA = KTU 1.2) is not concerned with creation.' Arvid Kapelrud is more emphatic: 'Creation is when something new which was not there before is produced. Ordering of chaos is thus not creation', and again: 'Is there ... a Baal creation as cosmogony? .. the answer is definitely no.' “ [OT:CAANEB, 119f]

However, this is not a theogony or a creation of the El type. Rather it is cosmogonic and is of the Baal type” [OT:CAANEB, 120. NB: this is Loren Fisher's defense of it as being 'cosmogonic'--his wording here is explicitly equivocal! It is a 'cosmogony', but NOT of the 'Genesis' type!]

There are some similarities here with battle between Marduk and Tiamat and its outcome in Enuma Elish. This has led some scholars to assume that Baal's battle with Yam is somehow associated with the creation of the world. However, there is nothing in the text to suggest that it is anything other than an explanation of how the young storm-god Baal came to dominate the Canaanite pantheon.” [OT:DictOT5, s.v. “Cosmology”]

There are some similarities between the Babylonian myth Enuma elish and the Ugaritic myths of the Baal cycle, because both deal with the combat between the storm-god and the sea-god and his associates. But there are also significant differences between them: the Ugaritic sea-god Yam (masc.) is etymologically related to Heb. Yam, not to Akk. Tiamat (fem.). And, most significantly, Baal never created anything. Thus, the Canaanite Chaoskampf myth has nothing to do with the creation of the universe or even of a part of it... However, it is significant to note that in the Baal cycle only the theme of Chaoskampf appears, and it is the god El, not Baal, who has to do with cosmic origins. As Smith puts it, 'The Baal Cycle does not describe primordial events such as the creation of the cosmos, but rather its maintenance through the power of the storm-god .... (It) does not assert that Baal 'creates' or even 'arranges' the cosmos.'” [OT:CAD, pp.144,145]

But one of the strongest witnesses to this 'difference' comes from Frank Moore Cross, who uses terms like cosmogonic and theogonic liberally to describe Ugaritic texts:

The interpretation of the myth of Ba'l is not an easy task, as becomes apparent in the diverse literature devoted to the subject. One scholar will claim that the old Canaanite myths do not speak of "creation," despite the attribution in biblical lore of these myths to the time of the beginning or of the end (the new creation). Another will characterize the entire complex cycle as an elaborated cosmogonic myth, and hence properly called a "creation story." One of the problems is the confusion of two types of myths, owing to the tendency to approach Canaanite and other Near Eastern myth utilizing the biblical creation story as a yardstick. Often this is an unconscious prejudice. The biblical creation accounts, however, are atypical. The "primordial" events have been radically historicized in the Israelite environment so that the beginning is "merely" a first event in a historical sequence.” [OT:CMHE, 120]

Notice how Cross here somehow equates all 'primordial' events with 'cosmogonic' events, when in fact the latter is a very narrow subset of the former. The 'gods' of the ANE had many, many 'primordial adventures', but very few of these had any cosmological outputs! One wishes that ANE specialists would be more precise and less equivocal in their use of these terms. 'Myth' (stories about the gods) might divide into 'primordial' (before the birth of the universe/history) and 'historical' (in which gods acted after creation, in history—a la the Flood). Primordial myth would further divide into cosmogonic events (creation), and non-cosmogonic events (e.g., day-to-day love affairs, court intrigues, and conflicts among the gods). With this natural delineation, the conflicts of Baal and Yam/Mot would be in the latter category—since they are NOT accompanied by or associated with cosmogonic narratives. Battles such as in the Enuma Elish, on the other hand, which are EXPLICITLY connected in the text with cosmogonic activities (e.g. the world is made out of the dead body parts of the slain god) would be cosmogonic. But this connection is not made in the Baal Cycle, so any belief that it was IMPLIED thereby needs proof, rather than assumption.]

Although we will deal with non-Genesis material in the next piece (“Residual Cosmogonic literary data”), let me at least describe HOW the scholars make this leap from 'battle only' to 'battle = cosmogony'. The logic goes something like this:

  1. Some ANE cosmogonic texts, such as Enuma Elish, describe creation in cosmic-battle images (the theory of Chaoskampf, order out of chaos). Battle-event and Creation-event are explicitly and narratively linked in the text itself.

  2. Some biblical texts (outside of Genesis) are assumed to describe creation in cosmic-battle images too. Under this understanding of those texts, Battle-event and Creation-event are explicitly linked in the text itself, also.

  3. (Assumption: therefore, the cosmogonic interpretation of the Chaoskampf-as-creation 'myth' was shared throughout the ANE, including Ugarit).

  4. The Ugaritic Baal Cycle records only the Battle-event.

  5. (Assumption: the Baal Cycle is an accurate/adequate expression/version of this Chaoskampf-as-creation myth, with all the implied aspects.)

  6. Therefore, the Baal Cycle Battle-event implies a Creation-event (cosmogony).

But notice how 'fragile' this argument is: the assumptions are contradicted by the textual data in several MAJOR ways

One. If you look over the list of ANE texts we have covered in this series, not even a majority of non-Ugaritic ANE cosmogonies are Chaoskampf-as-creation in nature! (such much for the 'sharing' assumption). The pattern is just not uniform/ubiquitous enough:

Accordingly, it is probably wise to limit the meaning of 'creation' to El's activities in ancient Ugarit and to distinguish Chaoskampf myths with a creation motif, such as Enuma elish, from Chaoskampf myths without a creation motif, such as the Baal cycle. In fact, even in Mesopotamia, there are myths of divine combat that have no essential connection with creation. Conversely, as H. W. F Saggs puts it, 'in Mesopotamian thought cosmic creation did not of necessity involve a divine combat.'” [OT:CAD, 145]

Two. There is independent literary/historical evidence that Ugarit was not even influenced by Syro-Babylonian myth at all:

Having announced in the title of my paper that I wanted to demonstrate Aspects of the Babylonian impact on Ugaritic Literature and Religion, I now come to a negative result: so far as we can see, we can detect no direct influence of the Syro-Babylonian literature on the Ugaritian. This also applies to the supposed adoption of gods from the Babylonian into the Ugaritian pantheon: here gods with Sumero-Babylonian names do indeed often occur outside the lists of gods and sacrifices, but they are in their functions less Mesopotamian than Ugaritian..This negative result was basically to be expected, since we established above that the rulers of Ugarit and their responsible subjects admitted cuneiform culture for the first time about the middle of the 14 th century.

I have prefaced my paper Aspects of the Babylonian impact on Ugaritic Literature and Religion with some general thoughts about Ugarit's late opening up to cuneiform culture. Until then Ugarit belonged to the world of alphabetic learning in the Levant. It was surely as a result of the political upheaval due to the Hittite takeover of the north Syrian inlands that Ugarit had to change over from the alphabetical culture to cuneiform culture thus giving way to a vivid symbiosis...I found it necessary to start with these considerations because I wanted to show that the tradition of Syro-Babylonian literature in Ugarit itself seems not have had a long tradition and therefore could not have developed independently.

Works of the Syro-Babylonian tradition dating from the second half of the 2nd Millennium BCE exercised no particular influence on Ugarit's literature and religion, as the genuine Ugaritian myths, epics and cultic religious texts show. Because of their short presence in the city they were simply too far outside of the intellectual and religious life of Ugarit.” [HI:URC, pp40,45]

Three. Even if the biblical texts can be so interpreted, it is a non sequitur to argue from them to Ugarit:

At any rate, only El and Asherah are explicitly said to create (bny, qny) in the Ugaritic texts. The fact that in the Bible Yahweh's victories over Sea (e.g., Ps 74:13-17) and the sterile desert (e.g., Deut 32:6-14 and Isa 43:16-21; 51:9-11) are genuine cosmogonies is no argument that the Ugaritic victories of Baal are cosmogonic also. The Bible borrows language belonging both to the storm god Baal and the patriarch El for its portrait of Yahweh. Since Yahweh is the sole deity, his victories over Sea and Death can be cosmogonic, without implying that Baal's victories are. In polytheistic Ugarit, the two gods have different functions.” [OT:CAANEB, p.124]

Four. Although we will examine the data in detail in the next piece in the series, it is only an assumption at this point that the non-Genesis biblical materials are either (a) mythological, rather than metaphorical; or (b) Chaoskampf-as-creation in nature at all:

The biblical poetic texts that are claimed to have been influenced by the Chaoskampf-motif of the ancient Near East (e.g., Pss 18, 29, 46; Hab 3) in fact use the language of storms and floods metaphorically and have nothing to do with primordial combat. Some of these poetic texts have the theme of destruction rather than of creation.” [OT:CAD, 196]

Finally, EVEN IF it WAS cosmogonic and EVEN IF it totally influenced ALL the biblical material scholars point to (e.g, Psalms, Hab 3, Isaiah ), this would still be irrelevant to our series, because the Genesis author completely omitted ALL of this material! The Genesis cosmogonic material never reflects ANY of these allegedly Canaanite-derived elements in later biblical passages!

Outside Genesis there are a number of allusions to the vanquishing by YHWH of a great sea monster and his minions, with some traces of a belief that this was connected with the creation of the world...It is noteworthy, however, that the stories in Genesis meticulously avoid the use of such legendary material, even eschewing metaphorical figures of speech based on this mythological conflict.” [Encyclopedia Judacia, s.v. “Creation and Cosmogony”, 5:1063, S. M. Paul]


Now, let's summarize briefly:


Okay, where does this leave us?

This is an easy summary, too: there are no cosmogonies, no parallels, and there are TONS of anti-parallels, contradictions, and elements distinctly rejected by the author of Genesis (as well as MOST of the ANE!). This literature just is too distant from the biblical document in content, tone, intent, themes, particulars, and sequences...


On to the next...(gilgy08.html),



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