The Genesis Creation Myth

A careful reading of Genesis 1 & 2 will highlight some inconsistencies between the two chapters, for example in Genesis 1 God creates man and woman simultaneously (Gen 1:27) whereas in Genesis 2 God creates man (Gen 2:7) and woman comes later, famously from Adam’s rib (Gen 2:22). In Genesis 1 God creates plants and fruit etc before creating man (Gen 1:11-12) whereas in Genesis 2 God creates man before any plants or herbs had grown (Gen 2:5-7).

 

These inconsistencies occur because Genesis 1 & 2 are derived from different sources, they are two separate creation myths that were written at different times and combined later to form the disjointed account that we find in our Bibles today. Genesis 2 (from verse 4 onwards) is derived from the much earlier source known to scholars as ‘J’ (or the ‘Yahwist’ source due to it’s consistent reference to God by the name ‘Yahweh’) whereas Genesis 1 was added at a later date by the author known to scholars as ‘P’ (or the ‘Priestly’ source).

 

The actual account of creation in Genesis 2 is short, and depicts God creating man from dust and breathing life into his nostrils, a story which may have been influenced by the Epic of Atrahasis – a Babylonian myth which depicts man being created in a similar fashion (as well as a flood story that bears a strong resemblance to Noah’s flood).

 

The source P was written after a period of exile in Babylon, and was influenced by the Babylonian creation myth the Enuma Elish. Both the Enuma Elish and P’s creation account depict the primordial waters out of which creation began, the six day creation ending in a day of rest. Where Enuma Elish and P’s creation story differ is the absence of the great battle and the numerous other god’s in P – this is because P was attempting to exalt Yahweh above all other gods, and therefore gave the creation story a monotheistic spin. Despite it’s differences scholars generally agree upon the influence of the Enuma Elish on Genesis 1.

 

In conclusion, Genesis 1 & 2 present an interesting insight, both into the composition of the Torah and the myths around which it’s stories formed. What it does not provide, however is an accurate portrayal of how life, the universe and everything was really created. These stories should not be taken literally, and were probably never intended to be.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “The Genesis Creation Myth

  1. You know, I read this post a while ago – around the time when you first wrote it – and I’ve been trying since then to decide if I should leave a comment regarding what bothers me about it.

    I’ve decided… I might as well.

    First off, it’s a great post. Concise, informative.

    …But it bothers the heck out of me that you don’t cite any sources. And perhaps part of why I’ve been vacillating on whether to comment is because I can’t decide on whether that’s your problem or mine.

    I always feel like I need sources for these things – places to get more information, more details. Part of it, no doubt, is my obsessive personality. But also I can say that new information never feels fully real to me – and, thus, never fully convincing – unless I’ve seen where it comes from, or have otherwise excellent reasons to believe in its veridicality. While your blog post is an interesting introduction to this material, it’s not, say, enough for me to use this information in argument with a Christian (which is one of the most practical reasons for me to learn this information at all). One reason is of course the possibility that you might be wrong; another is that the information just doesn’t have the “hooks” to latch onto my brain and stay there.

    So… take that for what you will. I’m pretty much just thinking out loud here, and I don’t expect this comment to be entirely coherent. But, in short, I wish your post had citations. Perhaps you could include some.

    Cheers,
    Tim Martin

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