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Canucks and Creation

4th July 2007

A recent poll suggests that 60% of Canadians believe that God was somehow involved in creating humankind, whether directly or indirectly. According to the Canadian Press-Decima Research survey, Canadians fall into three groups:

  • 34% believe in some sort of evolutionary creationism (or theistic evolution) where humans developed over millions of years under a process superintended by God
  • 26% hold to a young earth creation view that God distinctly created humans within the last 10,000 years
  • 29% hold to an atheistic evolution in which evolution occurred with no help from God

The poll was conducted in the third week of June 2007.

Here is an excerpt from the Toronto Star article about the poll:

“These results reflect an essential Canadian tendency,� said pollster Bruce Anderson. “We are pretty secular, but pretty hesitant to embrace atheism.�

The belief that God had a direct or indirect role in creation was widespread among the 1,000 respondents questioned between June 21 and 24. A majority of those polled held this view in every region of the country, in rural and urban areas, and regardless of education.

And there were a few surprises: Conservatives were more likely than Liberals to say that God had no part in the process, and Alberta, regarded as the birthplace of social conservatism, had one of the lowest levels of beliefs for strict creationism at 22 per cent.

But in this controversial area, the devil is in the breakdown of the numbers.

For instance, while Liberal party voters were more likely than Conservatives to credit God with some contribution to creation, Conservative voters were less likely to write God out altogether. Only 22 per cent of Tory respondents said God had no role, as opposed to 31 per cent of Liberals.

Liberal respondents were far more likely to be what could be termed “soft evolutionists� or “soft creationists,� with 41 per cent saying God guided the process of human development, as opposed to 34 per cent of Conservatives seeing creation in those terms.

Regionally, Quebec respondents were by far the most likely to say God’s role in creation was a delusion, with 40 per cent saying the evolutionary process had no interference from an intelligent designer.

British Columbia respondents were the next sub-group who could be termed strict evolutionists, with 31 per cent saying God was not involved. Least likely to hold this view were respondents in the Prairie provinces — 21 per cent.

The findings suggest the least educated were most likely to be creationists, as were respondents living in rural Canada.

Among respondents without a high-school diploma, 37 per cent said they believed God alone created humans less than 10,000 years ago, whereas only 15 per cent of university-educated respondents were strict creationists.

Rural respondents also had a plurality who believed in strict creationism at 34 per cent, whereas only 22 per cent of urban dwellers said they believed God alone created humans.

Anderson said the findings suggest Canadians lack consensus on creation, but also don’t view the issue as polarizing.

“It’s more as though for many, these feelings are unresolved,� he said. “We believe in a higher being, we know what we don’t know, are comfortable not knowing, and choose not to press our views upon one another.�

That is not the case in the United States, where similar polls have suggested Americans are more polarized on the subject. In a recent U.S. poll, 45 per cent said God created humans, and 40 per cent said evolution was God guided. Only 15 per cent said God played no part in creation.

These results accord well with the informal polls I conduct when I teach my Genesis course as well as with my own general impression based on anecdotal evidence.

What do you think?


Posted in Canadiana, Creation, Genesis, News | 3 Comments »

Theogony, Cosmogony, and Anthropology in ANE Creation Accounts (Creation in Ancient Mesopotamia, Part 4)

4th May 2007

This is the fourth and (probably) final post in the series “Ideas of Origins and Creation in Ancient Mesopotamia.� The first post in the series detailed some methodological issues and highlighted some bibliographical resources. The second and third posts surveyed creation texts from the Old Babylonian and the Neo-Bablylonian periods, respectively. In this post I will attempt to synthesize these findings and while I hoped to relate them to our understanding of the biblical creation texts, that will have to wait until a future post.

Theogony, Cosmogony, and Anthropology in ANE Creation Accounts

What ideas of origins and creation can be gleaned from the texts surveyed in the last two posts? Are there any dominant themes and motifs apparent? This section is subdivided into two parts: the first will examine theogony and cosmogony in the texts and the second will deal with anthropology. Theogony and cosmogony are being discussed together for reasons that will become apparent below. Note that this partition is somewhat artificial as some of the texts span both divisions (e.g., “The Epic of Creation�).

The fifteen texts surveyed in the previous posts may be summarized as follows:

[TABLE=3]

There are eight texts that touch on the topic of theogony, two early and six later (A3, A8; B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, and B7). Concerning cosmogony there are five compositions from the Old Babylonian period and four from the Neo-Babylonian era, making a total of nine texts (A1, A2, A3, A4, A5; B1, B2, B5, B7). There are ten texts that somehow discuss or mention the creation of humankind, five from each time period (A1, A2, A5, A6, A7; B1, B2, B4, B5, B6).

Theogony/Cosmogony

It should be apparent from the above texts that it would be impossible to speak of the Mesopotamian view of the creation of the cosmos without speaking of the creation of the gods: in Mesopotamia theogony and cosmogony were inextricably intertwined. Of this W. G. Lambert notes: “In ancient Mesopotamia there was comparatively little interest in cosmogony as such. Few texts deal in any detail with the process whereby the physical universe originated and attained its present form. A much greater interest was taken in the ancestries of the gods, and these frequently have cosmogonic associations” (“Kosmogonie,â€? in Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archäologie [ed. Erich Ebeling and Bruno Meisser; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1980-1983], 6:219). It should also be clear from the evidence that one cannot speak of “the Mesopotamian view of creationâ€? as a single specific tradition. Some of the texts have Apsu and Tiamat as the prime movers in creation, while others have the Plough and the Earth, while yet others have Anu the sky god.

The texts will be discussed under three headings: (1) the ancestries of the gods; (2) the creation and ordering of the cosmos; and (3) the relationship of the different conceptions of theogony/cosmogony to geography. Any recurring characteristics or themes will be highlighted.

1. The Prime Elements: Ancestries of the Gods

Much of the theogonic data in the literature takes the form of ancestries of the gods. When discussing the ancestries of the gods it is important to remember that “brief, one-sentence myths and allusions have just as much importance as lengthy epic-style narrativesâ€? (Lambert, “Kosmogonie,â€? 219). In the different texts, typically one of four elements is found at the head of the “genealogyâ€?: Earth, Water, Time, and (less often) Heaven. This reflects the tendency in Mesopotamian literature to reduce everything to one prime element at its inception. A good example of a text that has Earth as a prime element is “The Theogony of Dunnu,â€? where the first pair are the Plough (ha’in) and Earth (ersetu). More elaborate myths of this same type are ones that have the Mother Goddess as the prime element. For instance, in “Emesh and Enten,â€? Enlil and Hursag, the mountain range, cohabit and engender Emesh and Enten. An excellent text that has Water as the first element is the “Epic of Creation,â€? where the lineage of Marduk begins with the pair of water-gods, Apsu and Tiamat (grammatically masculine and feminine, respectively). The “Chaldean Cosmogonyâ€? also fits into this category. None of the texts covered above had Time or Heaven as basic components.

The actions of the prime elements would typically take two forms: either the components represented as deities would themselves bring forth further elements — and the present order of things would result; or the elements would be acted on from without, usually by another god, to produce the known universe. Both “The Theogony of Dunnu� and “The Epic of Creation� would be examples of the first kind. A couple texts that could allude to the elements being acted on from without are “Gilgamesh, Enkidu and the Netherworld,� where Anu takes heaven an Enlil takes earth; while in the “Creation of the Hoe,� Enlil separates the heaven and the earth alone.

2. Creation and Ordering of the Cosmos

Under the rubric of creation and ordering of the cosmos two things can be noted. First, Mesopotamian texts tend to emphasise the ordering of the cosmos over its creation. Once again taking “The Epic of Creationâ€? as an example, only the first twenty lines of the first tablet deals with the creation of the universe, while the bulk of tablets four through six covers its organisation. Various other texts focus solely on the ordering of the cosmos, such as “Enki and Sumerâ€? and “Emesh and Enten.â€? Second, one would be hard pressed to find a text where an item of the cosmos is created by a god. Most of the theogonic texts describe the gods as reproducing, separating, or manipulating things, which is not the same as creating something, ex nihilo, so to speak (I’m by no means implying that the biblical accounts present creation ex nihilo; that’s an issue for another post). Even in “The Epic of Creationâ€? when Marduk “createsâ€? the sky, he does so from the corpse of the vanquished Tiamat.

3. Geography and Conception of the Creation of the Cosmos

J. van Dijk, from his work with Sumerian creation myths, posited that there were two originally separate representations of creation (see his “Le motif cosmique dans la pensée sumerienne,� Acta Orientalia 28 (1964/5): 1-60). The first tradition, in which an embryo-like universe (sometimes represented by a mountain) engenders An, whose marriage to the earth leads to the creation of humankind, originated from the nomadic culture of Northern Sumer around Nippur. The second tradition derived from the region around Eridu in the South, and describes creation as starting from the waters of Nammu and Mother Earth. In this scheme humankind was fashioned from the earth. Dijk suggested that these two separate traditions were later conflated with one another.

Van Dijk’s categorization is followed by most recent works on ANE creation, including Richard Clifford (Creation Accounts in the Ancient Near East and the Bible [CBQMS 26; Washington, D.C.: Catholic Biblical Association, 1994; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com]) and Kenton Sparks (Ancient Texts for the Study of the Hebrew Bible [Peabody, MS: Hendrickson, 2005; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com]). Whether or not it is entierly accurate, there does seem to be a connection between the geography of the land and the way the creation of the cosmos was conceived. Of this relationship (though in a different context) Denis Baly notes that “any form of religious belief is required by the environment is, of course, certainly false. Nevertheless, one must recognise that what men believe is unquestionably conditioned by the environment in which they find themselves� (“The Geography of Monotheism,� in Translating & Understanding the Old Testament [ed. Harry T. Frank & William L. Reed; Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1970], 254). This is seen in the so-called “Chaldean Cosmology,� which clearly presupposes the environment of the lower course of the Euphrates and the Tigris.

Anthropology: The Creation of Humankind

In relation to the creation of humankind, two points will be considered: (1) the materials and methods of creation; and (2) the purpose of humanity.

1. Materials and Methods of Creation

Typically the two perspectives provided concerning the creation of humankind is that the human either sprang from the ground (a tradition from Nippur) or that the human was formed from a clay mixture, sometimes using the blood of a god (from Eridu). The one text that is in line with the first perspective is the “Creation of the Hoe.� The second type is represented by many compositions. “Enki and Ninmah� and “When Anu Had Created the Heavens� depict humankind as being made out of a clay substance, with no added blood. “The Trilingual Creation Story,� “The Epic of Creation,� and the epic of Atra-hasis all have humanity being made out of a mixture of clay and the blood of a god. In “The Trilingual Creation Story� the blood is taken from two craftsman gods (lamga), while in “The Epic of Creation� it is the blood of the rebel-god Kingu. Likewise in Atra-hasis humankind is composed of the flesh and blood of a rebel-god named Geshtu-e. A couple of variations on this theme exist though. For instance, in “Cattle and Grain,� all that is mentioned is that humankind is “given breath.�

The significance of humanity being created from the blood of a deity seems to imply that in Mesopotamian anthropology humankind shares in the divine nature. This point could be seen as being made more explicitly in Atra-hasis if Moran is correct in his interpretation of the lines:

With his flesh and his blood
Let Nintur mix the clay.
Let the god himself and man
Be mixed together in the clay.

Of the last line Moran notes: “When the goddess finishes mixing the clay, both god and man will be present, but completely fused and compenetrating each other� (W. L. Moran, “The Creation of Man in Atrahasis I 192-248,� Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 200 [1970]: 48-56). Some have also taken the reference to “giving breath� in “Cattle and Grain� to suggest some sort of divine nature in humanity. It would seem that at least in some traditions humanity was somehow understood to share in the nature of a god. Another aspect of the divine nature may be found in connection with a figure named Umul who is the first human baby, fathered by Enki — if Anne Kilmer’s interpretation of the text is correct (see Anne D. Kilmer, “Speculation on Umul, The First Baby,� Alter Orient und Altes Testament 25 [1976]: 265).

2. Purpose of Humanity

A predominant motif found in almost all the creation accounts is the fact that humankind was created for the express purpose of serving the gods. The degree or severity of this service seems to have differed between accounts. Some myths are less specific and only seem to suggest that “serving the gods,� meant to serve them food and drink. For example, “Chaldean Cosmogony,� “Trilingual Creation Story,� and “When Anu Had Created the Heavens,� would all fall into this category. Other tales indicate that the service of the gods was much harsher—that it entailed doing the hard, brute labour that the gods did not want to do for themselves anymore. The myths “Enki and Ninmah,� “The Epic of Creation,� and Atra-hasis seem to suggest this.

This notion concerning the purpose of humanity should probably not be considered to be so much a reflection of their theology or anthropology as a reflection of their society. H. W. F. Saggs notes:

In the Sumerian city-state . . . the characteristic and most significant organisation was the temple-estate, in which thousands of people co-operated in works of irrigation and agriculture in a politico-economic system centred on the temple, with all these people thought of as the servant of the god. The myth of the creation of man, therefore, was not basically a comment on the nature of man but an explanation of a particular social system, heavily dependent upon communal irrigation an agriculture, for which the gods’ estates were primary foci of administration (H. W. F. Saggs, The Encounter With the Divine in Mesopotamia and Israel [Jordan Lectures in Comparative Religion 12; London: University of London, Athlone Press, 1978], 168).

Whether the concept has a social or theological origin, it highlights an important underlying philosophy that presupposed that the gods needed people.

Conclusions

So what can be said about the ideas of origins and creation in Ancient Mesopotamia? First, while there are many differences in the specifics of the myths concerning origins, there are also many points of contact between them. Integral to all of the accounts is the central role played by the gods in the creation of the world and humankind. The creation and the ordering of the cosmos was a natural outcome of the engendering of the gods. Also, the dignity and purpose of humankind is fairly consistent among the texts: humankind was created to serve the gods. Many of the discrepancies between the different myths can easily be attributed to geographical or historical changes (for instance, the changing of the name of a god to suit a specific locality). It needs to be remembered though that while there are many parallels, there are also many differences.

Second, as far as any diachronic development in the ideas about origins and creation, it is hard to recognise any significant differences. Even if one employs Jacobsen’s matrix that older elements will be characterised by intransitivity and the newer elements by transitivity, one would be hard pressed to see any difference in the texts (besides the interplay that Jacobsen already sees in “The Epic of Creation�; see his The Treasures of Darkness: A History of Mesopotamian Religion [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976], 9ff). One difference between the materials in the two sections is that some of the Neo-Babylonian texts are longer and in better shape, but that has to do with the preservation of texts, not composition or subject matter.

Overall, it must be said that the ideas of origins and creation found in ancient Mesopotamian mythological texts are not crude and unrefined. While they might seem foreign and odd to the modern reader, if an attempt is made to cross the border of “conceptual conditioning,� within their own context and worldview they make sense out of the cosmos and humankind’s place in it.


Posted in Ancient Near East, Creation in Ancient Mesopotamia, Genesis, Series | Comments Off

Old Babylonian Creation Texts (Creation in Ancient Mesopotamia, Part 2)

20th February 2007

This is the second post in the series “Ideas of Origins and Creation in Ancient Mesopotamia.” The first post in the series, which detailed some methodological issues highlighted some bibliographical resources, may be found here. The third post will survey Neo-Bablylonian creation texts, while the fourth post will synthesize the findings and relate them to our understanding of the biblical creation texts.

My first post was discussed by a couple other bloggers. Duane over at Abnormal Interests agreed with my plan to present the texts in roughly chronological order using the date of the tablets rather than the various proposed dates of composition. Charles Halton at Awilum, however, noted (correctly) that the fact that the current extant texts of Sumerian mythology date to the Old Babylonian period does not mean that they were not written until this time. I just took the easiest way to present the material. :-)

Old Babylonian Texts (ca. 2000 – 1600 BCE)

There are a number of creation texts from the Old Babylonian period. Most of these are Sumerian texts. The compositions are presented in random order. It should be noted that this section is by no means exhaustive. For quotations, the most recent scholarly translation of the texts is customarily utilised.

1. Creation of the Hoe
[Translations: Context of Scripture, 1.157; Kramer, Sumerian Mythology, 40, 51-53; Jacobsen, Treasures, 103.]

This brief Sumerian text (109 lines) is a didactic poem about how the hoe (i.e., pickaxe), which was important in both making bricks and agriculture, came into being through a divine act. It includes a long introduction that “is of prime significance for the Sumerian conception of the creation and organisation of the universe� (Kramer, Sumerian Mythology, 51). Unfortunately, nothing of any consequence is known about its background or authorship, which somewhat obscures the meaning of the text at a few points. More recently this composition has been interpreted as a satirical school text.

The story goes as follows: After Enlil had separated the heaven and the earth, he “bound up� the slash in the earth’s crust which resulted from the separation. Then Enlil fashions the hoe and uses it to break the hard top crust of the earth. The hard topsoil had thus far prevented the first humans, made below, from “breaking up through the ground� — much in the same way that hard topsoil will prevent germinating plants from sprouting. The passage concludes with a glowing eulogy in honour of the newly created hoe.

Here is an excerpt that refers to the creation of the world:

Not only did the lord who never changes his promises for the future make the world appear in its correct form,
— Enlil who will make the seed of mankind rise from the earth —
not only did he hasten to separate heaven from earth,
( …. ) and earth from heaven,
but, in order to make it possible for humans to grow “where the flesh sprouts,�
he first affixed the axis of the world in Duranki (Context of Scripture, 1.511).

2. Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld
[Translations: Kramer, Sumerian Mythology, 30-41; Dalley, Myths, 120-25]

A partial translation of this Sumerian tale, also known as “Gilgamesh and the Halub-tree,� is found appended to the end of the Gilgamesh Epic (Tablet 12). The original Sumerian composition describes primordial times when a single halub-tree grew beside the Euphrates. Inanna uprooted the tree and planted it in her garden. Later, when she wants to remove the tree, she could not because a snake had taken up residence in its trunk. The Sumerian hero, Gilgamesh, came and cut it down and made a chair and bed for Inanna, and in return she made a pukku and mekku for him. The pukku and the mekku eventually end up in the Underworld, and the story follows Gilgamesh’s attempts to regain them.

As with the last text, for the purposes of this study the prologue is especially important. It reads:

After heaven had been moved away from earth,
After earth had been separated from heaven,
After the name of man had been fixed;
After An had carried off heaven,
After Enlil had carried off earth, . . .

Again, as with the passage above, heaven and earth are first separated, humankind is created, and then An is given heaven while Enlil is given earth.

3. Emesh and Enten / Dispute Between Summer and Winter
[Translations: Context of Scripture, 1.183; Kramer, Sumerian Mythology, 49-51; Jacobsen, Treasures, 103.]

This piece of literature, fully entitled “Emesh and Enten: Enlil Chooses the Farmer-god,� has been reconstructed from fourteen separate tablets (only seven of which have been published), and is about 308 lines long. The text itself deals more with the organisation of the heaven and the earth, rather than cosmology. Gordon actually classifies it as an “Unilingual Sumerian Wisdom Disputation� (E. I. Gordon, “A New Look at the Wisdom of Sumer and Akkad,� Bibliotheca Orientalis 42 [1960]: 145). The composition begins with Enlil cohabiting with the hursag, the mountain range, and subsequently engendering Emesh, the god of summer, and Enten, the god of winter. The two gods get into a dispute concerning their relative value and roles, after which Enlil puts the animal world under the authority of Enten and vegetation under the authority of Emesh.

4. Enki and Sumer / Enki and the World Order
[Translations: Kramer, Journal of the American Oriental Society 54 (1934): 413; Jacobsen, Treasures, 85.]

This myth, pieced together from various tablets and fragments, deals exclusively with the ordering of the world and the establishment of “law� (me) on it by Enki. After an introductory hymn in praise of Enki and various temple rites are described, the composition goes on to tell of how Enki orders all things in Sumer, after which he orders things in other lands and assigns each of them their natural resources and characteristics. He then fills the Tigris and Euphrates with fish and water, institutes “rules� or “decrees� (mes) for the sea, appoints the winds to Ishkur’s command, and then causes the fields and animal life to flourish, as well as other acts of organisation. A god is made responsible for each phenomenon. Underlying this myth — and others — is the belief that each object of nature and feature of culture has its own me, “law,� intrinsic to it, as well as its own specific purpose in the working of the universe — both of which is a result of divine assignments.

5. Cattle and Grain
[Translations: Chiera, Sumerian Epics, 26; Kramer, Sumerian Mythology, 53, 72-73.]

The beginning of this poem tells the purpose for which humanity was created: to provide food for the gods. The actual myth concerns Lahar, the cattle-god, and his sister Ashnan, the grain-goddess. This brother and sister pair were created by the gods to provide food for the “Anunnaki,� the followers of An. This arrangement did not work out though, as the followers of An were not sated. In order to remedy this situation and provide food for the gods humankind “was given breath.�

Kramer also attempts to derive from the first line of this composition an idea of what the Sumerians pictured as the actual shape of heaven and earth. The first line reads: “After on the mountain of heaven and earth.â€? From this line Kramer concludes that “it is not unreasonable to assume . . . that heaven and earth united were conceived as a mountain whose base was the bottom of the earth and whose peak was the top of heaven.â€? Against this interpretation Jacobsen cogently argues that in the phrase “on the mountain of heaven and earthâ€? (hur-sag an-ki-bi-da-ke4) the genitive cannot be taken as an appositive genitive (with mountain = heaven and earth). It should rather be taken as a possessive genitive, expressing the notion that from a phenomenological perspective the mountain appears to touch both heaven and the earth (Jacobsen, “Sumerian Mythology: A Review Article,â€? in Toward the Image of Tammuz and Other Essays on Mesopotamian History and Culture [Harvard Semitic Series 21; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970], 117-118).

6. Eridu Genesis
[Translations: Context of Scripture, 1.158; ANET 42-44; Jacobsen, “The Eridu Genesis,� JBL 100 (1981): 513-29; The Harps that Once, 145-50.]

This myth of beginnings is pieced together from three sources: two Sumerian texts dated ca. 1600 BCE, and a bilingual document (Sumerian with Akkadian translation) from the Neo-Babylonian era. The story-line of the reconstructed text includes the creation of humankind and animals, the founding of kingship, the building of the first great cities, and the Deluge. Unfortunately, due to lacuna the earlier fragments do not contain the account of creation of humankind. Nevertheless, in the older texts the creation of humankind is assumed, and as the creators An, Enlil, Enki, and Ninhursaga are mentioned:

When An, Enlil, Enki, and Ninḫursaga
fashioned the dark–headed (people),
they had made the small animals (that come up) from (out of) the earth
come from the earth in abundance
and had let there be, as befits (it), gazelles,
(wild) donkeys, and four–footed beasts in the desert (Context of Scripture, 514).

From numerous parallels in other myths, though, it seems very likely that only Enki and Ninhursaga actually took part in the creative process (Jacobsen, “Eridu Genesis,� 516).

7. Enki and Ninmah / The Creation of Humankind
[Translations: Context of Scripture, 1.159; Kramer, Sumerian Mythology, 69-72; Jacobsen, Treasures, 113-114; Harps, 151-66.]

This Sumerian tale is a prime anthropological text. It narrates the creation of humankind as well as including the motivation and the methods for doing so. It is not clear, however, whether the text as we have it was originally one or two separate and independent stories. Jacobsen thinks the latter because of what he considers major differences in setting and outlook between the two stories. The major differences that he mentions are: (1) Ninmah plays significantly different roles in the two sections. In the first she is a secondary figure, while in the second she has a much more prominent role; (2) in the first text humankind is engendered without the help of male semen, while in the second male semen is part of the process (Jacobsen, Harps, 151-153). Another way of looking at the text is offered by Kikawada. He construes the two parts of the myth as representing an archetypal ancient Near Eastern literary convention in which the creation of humankind is told in two parts. From his perspective any differences would be attributed to the typical movement from the general to the particular that is characteristic of the convention. The two explanations do not need to be considered mutually exclusive, in that even if the two parts of the myth were at one time totally distinct, an editor/redactor evidently put them together according to the convention (Isaac M. Kikawada, “The Double Creation of Mankind in Enki and Ninmah, Atrahasis I 1–351, and Genesis 1–2,� Iraq 45 [1983]: 43).

The first part of the story begins with how at the beginning of time the lower gods had to toil for their livelihood. The work proved to be too much for them and they actively rebelled and blamed Enki for their toil. Enki’s mother, Namma, informed her son about the turmoil and suggested that he create a substitute for them. Enki then remembered “Apsu’s [“the deeps�] fathering clay� and had his mother get a couple of womb-goddesses pinch off this clay for her, and then Namma gave birth to humankind—“[without] the sperm of a ma[le]� (Jacobsen, Harps, 156-157). The poem goes on to describe how Ninmah, “the exalted lady� (= Ninhursaga), and Enki got into a contest during a celebration in honour of the newly created humanity. The contest entailed Ninmah trying to create deformed humans that Enki could not find a place for in society. Enki prevails and the composition ends with a hymn praising Enki.

8. Enki and Ninsikila/Ninhursaga
[Translations: ANET 37-41; Jacobsen, Harps, 181-83.]

This composition is a good example of a text that deals with theogony — the engendering of the gods. Jacobsen contends, as with the above myth, that it is made up of two originally separate and independent stories. The first story consists primarily of an eulogy to the pristine land of Dilum. The second story basically narrates Enki’s sexual adventures. Enki’s first target is Nintur, whom he courts and eventually has to marry her to get his way with her and this produces Ninnisiga. Enki then proceeds to have intercourse with his daughter Ninnisiga, and then with his granddaughter, and then great-granddaughter, etc. Finally Enki’s real wife, Ninhursaga, has enough of his fooling around and warns Uttu — the next in line — about him. Enki eventually takes Uttu by force, but unbeknownst to Enki, Ninhursaga removes the semen from Uttu’s womb and plants it. Enki comes across the plants and eats then — making him pregnant. As he cannot give birth, Ninhursaga places him in her vulva and gives birth to eight deities — four gods and four goddesses.


Posted in Ancient Near East, Creation in Ancient Mesopotamia, Genesis, Old Testament, Series | 1 Comment »

Forthcoming Commentaries on Genesis

28th January 2007

In a comment on my previous post on commentaries on the book of Genesis, John Hobbins of Ancient Hebrew Poetry fame noted the value of Skinner’s ICC volume on Genesis (and he’s right, I should have at least listed it!). He also mentioned Ronald Hendel’s forthcoming commentary on Genesis for the Anchor Bible series (replacing Speiser). If Hendel’s work The Text of Genesis 1-11 (Oxford University Press, 1998; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com) is any indication, his Anchor Bible commentary will be the top critical commentary available on Genesis for years to come (or at least until Clifford’s Hermeneia volume is published!).

Here is a listing of other forthcoming commentaries on the book of Genesis:

  • Bill Arnold. New Cambridge Bible Commentary (Cambridge University Press). A popular series based on the NRSV aimed at Pastors and laypeople. This volume is still in progress and won’t be published for a few years.
  • David Baker. Apollos Old Testament Commentary (Apollos/InterVarsity Press). A semi-popular series based on the author’s own translation of the Hebrew text. This volume is several years down the road.
  • Erhard Blum. Historical Commentary on the Old Testament (Peeters). The title of this series is a bit misleading if you are expecting a history of interpretation. The series is more of a historical-critical commentary aimed at scholars and ministers.
  • Richard Clifford. Hermeneia (Fortress). This is one of the premier critical commentaries available in English (and it’s beautifully typeset). If Clifford’s volume on The Creation Accounts in the Ancient Near East and in the Bible (Catholic Biblical Association, 1994; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com) is any indication, this should be a very good critical commentary. It is at least three years from publication.
  • Blackwell Bible Commentaries (Blackwell). This series looks more at the reception history of the book under study. As such it is of primary interest to scholars and teachers. This one was assigned to Danna Fewell and Gary Phillips, but they have since dropped out and I don’t think the commentary has been reassigned yet (at least there is no indication on the Blackwell site)
  • Duane Garrett. Kregel Expository Commentary on the Old Testament (Kregel; note the title of the series is still tentative). This is a conservative evangelical series geared for pastors and laypeople. Garrett is author of Rethinking Genesis, The Sources and Authorship of the First Book of the Pentateuch (Baker Book, 1991; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com), which I reviewed a number of years back. The commentary is at least two years from completion.
  • Ronald S. Hendel. Anchor Bible (2 volumes, Doubleday). The new volumes in this series are excellent critical commentaries. The first volume on Genesis 1-11 should be available in 2008 if everything goes according to schedule.
  • Theodore Hiebert. Abingdon Old Testament Commentary (Abingdon). A popular series aimed at pastors and laypeople.
  • Kathleen M. O’Connor. Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Smyth & Helwys). This is a unique series aimed at pastors and laypeople that includes insightful sidebars, fine art visuals, and a CD-Rom containing all the text and images of the volume in a searchable format. This volume will be a while since she is just getting underway with it.
  • Russell R. Reno. Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Brazos/Baker). A series designed to serve the church; appropriate for pastors, teachers, and laypeople. This volume may be available in late 2008.
  • John H. Sailhamer. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Rev. (Zondervan). This volume is scheduled to be released in June 2008.

Most of these commentaries are a number of years off. The only ones which I am not sure of any potential publication date are the Hiebert and Blum volumes. So it looks like we’ll have to make due with what we already have!
Is anyone aware of any other forthcoming commentaries on Genesis?


Posted in Commentary Survey, Genesis, Old Testament | 4 Comments »

Commentaries on Genesis

21st January 2007

westermann_genesis.jpgI am teaching an undergraduate course on the book of Genesis this semester, so I thought I would put together a post on what I consider some of the better commentaries on this foundational book of the Bible. I have focused on commentaries in English and have made recommendations for scholars, teachers and preachers, as well as students and lay people.

There are many good commentaries on the book of Genesis, though with Genesis — perhaps more so than other books — the critical commentaries can focus extensively on matters of historical-criticism. While this may be valuable for questions of authorship and the development of a book like Genesis, it doesn’t help with the interpretation of the final canonical form of the text. That being said, Claus Westermann‘s three-volume commentary is excellent, both for its engagement with the critical questions and matters of interpretation (and Speiser to a lesser degree). I also find Nahum Sarna‘s commentary to not only be beautifully typeset, but also rich in its dealing with the Hebrew text and Jewish interpretation. wenham_genesis.jpgFrom a more evangelical perspective, Gordon Wenham‘s masterful volumes are second to none. While Wenham is more concerned with literary and theological issues, he also engages most critical issues with scholarly responsibility. As such, Wenham is my choice for best overall commentary on Genesis.

sarna_genesis.jpgOther good critical commentaries include Coats (somewhat limited by the nature of the FOTL series) and von Rad (a classic tradition-history commentary albeit somewhat sparse), while Brodie‘s literary analysis is interesting to say the least. For a conservative Jewish perspective on the opening chapters of Genesis check out Cassuto. In addition, for those interested in the history of the interpretation of this book, the volumes in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture by Louth and Sheridan are worthy of careful perusal. Finally, Hermann Gunkel‘s ground breaking commentary on Genesis has been recently translated into English by Mark Biddle and is full of many insights for the assiduous reader.

hamilton_genesis.jpgFor pastors and teachers, there are ample commentaries to choose from. Brueggemann, Cotter, Fretheim, Gangel, Hamilton, Mahthews, Ross, and Waltke are all good, though I would probably go with Hamilton if you are looking for one solid commentary written from an evangelical perspective. If you want a broader perspective, then both Brueggemann and Fretheim are excellent. While not a full commentary, Alter‘s translation is refreshing and his comments are also quite insightful.

walton_genesis.jpgMore popular-level commentaries include Gowan, Hartley, Janzen, Kidner, Roop and Walton. I have used Roop as a textbook in the past and have quite liked its style and theological substance. I also find the ITCs by Gowan and Janzen quite insightful. And Kidner, of course, always provides solid exposition from an evangelical point of view. I have to say, however, that I have been nothing but impressed with John Walton‘s commentary in the NIV Application Commentary Series. While he may be a bit more on the conservative side of the spectrum, his knowledge and engagement of the ancient Near Eastern literary, cultural, and historical background to the book are evident on every page. I highly recommend his commentary for pastors, students, and laypeople alike.

Here is an (almost) exhaustive listing of commentaries on the book of Genesis in English:

For more listings and evaluations of commentaries on other biblical books, see my Old Testament Commentary Survey.


    Posted in Commentary Survey, Genesis, Old Testament | 4 Comments »

    And God said, “Let there be Limericks” (Genesis as a Limerick)

    18th January 2007

    I’m teaching an undergraduate course on the book of Genesis this semester. One of the first assignments I require students to complete is to read through the book of Genesis (preferably in one sitting) and write one or two brief yet descriptive sentences for each chapter of the book. I have a number of different reasons behind getting students to do this assignment, perhaps my biggest reason is to get students into the biblical text right at the beginning of the semester. This exercise also provides students with an outline of the book which they can use as a study aid throughout the semester.

    While I always encourage creativity, most of the assignments are well done, but pretty straightforward. That being said, a number of years ago when I was teaching a course at Wycliffe College in Toronto, one of my students, Joseph Walker, went far beyond any expectations and wrote his chapter summaries as an extended limerick. Joseph is now the rector at St Timothy’s Anglican Church here in Edmonton (he kindly gave me permission to share the limrick with you). Enjoy.

    1 The God who created the world,
    2 on this planet humanity hurled,
    3 with a snake in the grass,
    4 to tempt family en masse,
    5 Adam’s generations unfurled.

    6 They were wicked (no need to convince!),
    7 God said “Get in the ark, I’ll evince
    8 with a great Holy Wash,
    9 my covenant, gosh
    10 and three sons will come out in the rinse.

    11 They could not reach heaven by skill
    12 so God thought “Someday I’ll fulfill
    13 a promise of lands
    14 where Melchizedek stands
    15 if Abe keeps my covenant still.�

    16 So Ishmael resulted from quibbling
    17 but the promise of “heir� kept on nibbling.
    18 After Sodom’s destruction,
    19 and old Lot’s instruction,
    20 tell us, is she or ain’t she your sibling?

    21 Finally Sarah and Abe had a son,
    22 (by sacrifice almost undone!)
    23 and then Sarah died
    24 and young Isaac applied
    25 to the birthing of two, not just one!

    26 Now Isaac, his father did imitate,
    27 and a strange way of blessing initiate,
    28 on Jake’s dreamy head,
    29 who then thought instead,
    30 of marriage (and family) to consummate.

    31 At Laban’s striped flock he did point,
    32 his new name put him all out of joint,
    33 his bro’ burst his bubble,
    34 his kids got in trouble,
    35 and all their 12 names we have loint.*

    36 Esau’s descendants were listed by name,
    37 Joe’s brothers did wrong, to their shame,
    38 what with Judah’s romances,
    39 and Pot’s wife’s advances,
    40 some hard luck to Joseph soon came.

    41 Yet Joseph was favored with power,
    42 and his brothers before him did cower,
    43 though he tricked like a thief,
    44 to his brothers’ relief,
    45 his father with presents he’d shower.

    46 So Israel left his vicinity,
    47 in Egypt they were blessed by Divinity
    48 and the Patriarchs passed
    49 on their blessings, at last
    50 and the Covenant went on to infinity

    *With apologies to the Brooklyn / east side N.Y. accent

    If you liked this sample of his writing, you should check out Joseph’s blog, Felix Hominum.


    Posted in Bible, Genesis, Humour, Teaching & Learning | 4 Comments »

    Kugel on Jacob

    18th October 2006

    kugel_ladder.gifJames Kugel’s new book, The Ladder of Jacob: Ancient Interpretations of the Biblical Story of Jacob and His Children (Princeton University Press, 2006; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com) is reviewed in today’s New York Sun.

    Here is an excerpt of the review:

    This is Mr. Kugel’s 10th book on scriptural hermeneutics and perhaps his most fascinating; for here he takes on the appalling family of Jacob in all its mingled squalor and grandeur. As he puts it, “‘Dysfunctional’ is probably the first word an observer would use to describe such a family in modern times.” That seems an understatement. And yet, the five episodes he considers touch on virtually every aspect of the human predicament.

    One interesting result of his approach is that we steadily see how differently earlier readers interpreted a text. Genesis 28 contains the famous dream-vision that Jacob had on the way to Haran: “He had a dream; a ladder was stuck into the ground and its top reached up to heaven, and the angels of God were going up and down on it. And the Lord was standing over him and He said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land upon which you are lying I am giving to you and your descendants.” This passage had never struck me as problematic. But it bothered ancient readers. What was the point of the ladder? Couldn’t God have spoken directly to Jacob? And why, after he heard the voice of the Lord, did Jacob grow frightened and say, “How fearsome is this place!” Wasn’t God’s message with its promise of covenant reassuring?

    The ladder itself called forth highly creative speculation. For Philo it represented the “ups and downs” of human experience. Others were intrigued by the statement that the angels were “going up and down” on it. If they were going up, they must have begun from the ground. What were the angels doing on the ground in the first place? Some suggested that they had been on a previous mission; but if so, why had they stayed so long before ascending again? One puzzle bred others. The text was a mere seed, the commentaries that sprouted from it a vast bramble that somehow, over centuries, came to cohere.

    ….

    Whether discussing Reuben’s sin with Bilhah or the priesthood of Levi or Judah and Tamar, Mr. Kugel moves easily from moral dilemmas to textual enigmas; his book thus serves as a guide to interpretation as well. He analyzes motifs and explains such hermeneutic devices as “notariqon,” a method for explaining ambiguous words by breaking them down into their hidden components (as if we would gloss the word “hearth” by saying that it was composed of “heart” and “earth”). As he notes, exegesis itself became a kind of Jacob’s ladder over the centuries, with rungs capable of spanning the lowest and the highest in one swoop. His own book has that laddered quality. Maybe the point isn’t to reach the top of the ladder but to keep that angelic procession going up and going down to the end of time.

    Here is an outline of the chapters from the publisher’s website:

    • Chapter One: Jacob and the Bible’s Ancient Interpreters
    • Chapter Two: The Ladder of Jacob
    • Chapter Three: The Rape of Dinah, and Simeon and Levi’s Revenge
    • Chapter Four: Reuben’s Sin with Bilhah
    • Chapter Five: How Levi Came to Be a Priest
    • Chapter Six: Judah and the Trial of Tamar
    • Chapter Seven: A Prayer about Jacob and Israel from the Dead Sea Scrolls

    The book looks quite facinating — so much so I may adopt it for my Genesis course next semester (any other suggestions are welcome!).

    Interestingly, the front cover is almost identical to another great book on the Jacob narrative: Frederick Beuchner’s The Son of Laughter: A Novel (HarperSanFrancisco, 1994; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com).

    (HT PaleoJudaica)


    Posted in Genesis, Hermeneutics, Reviews & Notices | Comments Off

    Turkey Archaeological Dig Linked to Garden of Eden

    18th October 2006

    The First Post has an article on the archaeological dig at Gobekli Tepe in Turkey which links it to the garden of Eden story in the book Genesis. Interesting read.


    Posted in Archaeology, Genesis, News | Comments Off

    Fractures in Genesis: Karamat on Carr

    8th March 2006

    Kevin Wilson over at Karamat has a good review of David Carr‘s book, Reading the Fractures of Genesis: Historical and Literary Approaches (Westminster John Knox Press, 1996; Buy from Amazon.ca or Buy from Amazon.com).

    While it has been a few years since I read Carr, I can say that this is an excellent work on contemporary source criticism of the book of Genesis. Carr takes an approach that tries to balance traditional source criticism and synchronic approaches (or at least take them into consideration). At any rate, if you are interested in source criticism of the book of Genesis, take a look at Kevin’s review and then take a look at Carr for your self.


    Posted in Genesis, Reviews & Notices, Source Criticism | 1 Comment »