Friday, June 19, 2015

Fact-Checking the Torah -- can't get there

Besides getting access to Enuma Elish, which was always written in cuneiform, there’s a problem with how to turn it into the Jewish creation story in Genesis 1 plus 2:1-3.
The Jewish creation story has seven days of creation.  On the seventh day the first Shabbat was instituted, with its concept of melakhah.
The three verses about Shabbat are part of the first aliyah in Torah.  The aliyot are divisions of Torah used for the regular reading of Torah in the synagogue.  Torah is divided into 54 sections, one for each week of the Jewish leap year (short ones are combined when it isn’t a leap year) and each section is divided into 8 aliyot.  The first aliyah in Torah is the Jewish creation story, ending with the first Shabbat.   This is all discussed in Mishnah, Gemara, and halakhah.
Part of the urban legend that says the Jewish creation story comes from Enuma Elish ignores the aliyah structure. 
The urban legend requires existence of a structure set up by Steven Langton, the archbishop named to the see of Canterbury by the pope and opposed by John “Lackland” of England, leading to an interdict being placed on England so that no church services could take place.  But I digress.
The current “chapter 1” of Genesis ends at the division imposed by Langton.  It cuts off the verses about Shabbat.  That means chapter 1 discusses only six days of creation. 
Because six generations of gods are named in Enuma Elish, says part of the urban legend, these six days were derived from Enuma Elish.
The hidden assumption here is that the Jews originally had only six days of creation and later, when Shabbat became part of Jewish culture, they tacked on three verses to pretend that it was part of creation.  I’ll give a really good argument much later in this blog about why such a thing doesn’t happen.
But for now, the most important fact is that Enuma Elish doesn’t have six days of creation.  It doesn’t say when those six generations of gods came into being.  It doesn’t show how many days Marduk took in his act of creation.  Granted, the tablets have missing text and experts in cuneiform are always updating our understanding from fragments.  It’s been 170 years and the cuneiform scholars have not yet posted the timing of creation in Enuma Elish on the internet.
What happened here is that people who were familiar with Langton’s chapter divisions, and ignorant of the Jewish aliyot, viewed Langton’s division as inherent in what the Jews passed along for centuries before Shabbat existed and for millennia before Langton existed.
At the same time, it ignores the entire history of the Bible that the archaeologists inherited.  In Langton’s time and for centuries afterward, the Catholic church (the only Christian church in Langton’s time) discouraged people from reading the Bible for themselves.  The average person couldn’t possibly know about the “chapter 1” division until he read a Bible that was divided that way.  The number of people who knew about that, was restricted to those who could read, who could read Latin, and who had access to a Bible.  Until the printing press started turning out cheap copies of the Bible in the national language, that meant clergy and rich people.
By the time archaeologists discovered Enuma Elish, the mass of Protestant nations and some Catholic and non-established ones potentially had a Bible in every home, and the concepts of the archaeologists had been conditioned by Langton’s divisions.  It’s a case of Heisenberg uncertainty.  The claim that Genesis and Enuma Elish are related relies on the Bible structure people had learned all their lives without even thinking twice about it.  The Jewish aliyah structure doesn’t allow the conclusion they reached.
In fact there are no common phrases between the Jewish creation story and Enuma Elish.  Commonality of phrases frequently identifies concepts inherited by one school of thought from its predecessor; this will come up again much later on the blog.  The only concept common to Enuma Elish and Torah is the idea of creation.  Enuma Elish is closely tied to the polytheism of Mesopotamia; the Jewish creation story is monotheistic and incorporates a completely Jewish, absolutely non-Mesopotamian concept, Shabbat, which I will discuss in the next post.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

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