Friday, June 5, 2015

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Enuma Elish

In the beginning of Torah is the creation story.  The urban legend is that this was copied from Enuma Elish and then modified to what we have now.
What is the provenance of Enuma Elish? 
The copies of Enuma Elish come from Mesopotamian sites dating to the 2200s through 1700s BCE, and Ashurbanipal’s library of the 600s BCE, up to the 300s BCE during the reign of Alexander II of Macedon.  The earliest translation is credited to George Smith in 1876.
The mass of discoveries in Mesopotamia in the 1800s CE, including translations by George Smith, astounded the west.  One of them was confirmation of Jonah’s claim that Nineveh was three days across.  Up to Layard’s work at Nineveh, which discovered Ashurbanipal’s library about 1851 CE, it seemed incredible and false to rationalists that a city so ancient could be that size.  From Jonah’s viewpoint, in his times, there was nothing to be surprised at: Nineveh was what the west called a city-state, but the archaeologists, with their schooling in Classical Greek, identified that sort of polity only with the Greeks of classical times, not with Mesopotamia at all.
However, their work swung the pendulum the other way and suddenly everything discovered in Mesopotamia seemed to confirm something in the Bible for two reasons.  One is the admission in Genesis that Terach took his family from Ur to Charan, both ruled by Mesopotamia.  The other is the material in Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Chronicles about the Babylonian Captivity.  Tablets in royal archives at Babylon record a captive Jewish king who had a food allowance.  The provenance of the tablets is the reign of Nebuchadnetsar, named in the Bible as the conqueror of the Babylonian Captivity.
Unfortunately at the time both Victorian prejudices against non-Western cultures prior to classical Greek civilization, and a particular fallacy which I’ll discuss at the end of this section, combined to fasten the pendulum to the idea that, as the scripture of a people originating in Mesopotamia, the Bible had to be a version of Mesopotamian material. 
So the creation story in Genesis had to be a version of the newly discovered Enuma Elish.
There was division about when the Jewish version arose.  It occurred either among the ancestors of the Jews some time in the 1700s BCE. Or it occurred during the Babylonian Captivity.
The 1700s period was more attractive because it allowed an argument that Jewish law was a copy of Hammurabi’s code, which I will discuss later.  If you want to get a jump on it, you can find one of the translated copies of Hammurabi that are on-line.
Unfortunately, part of the likeness of the Jewish creation story to Enuma Elish rested on a Christian interpretation of the construction of Torah, not the Jewish interpretation, and that is a cultural “quote out of context”; I will discuss this in the next lesson.  For now, you can go online and find one of the many copies of Enuma Elish.  You can even look at the cuneiform here.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

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