History of Creation
that we've gone through the Bible's priestly (P) creation
story, we come to something very interesting. (Modern Biblical
scholars refer to the priestly source, meaning those sources
from the Old Testament) priestly's account is neither the
only nor the oldest creation story in the Bible. The oldest
creation narrative is that of the source which Biblical
scholars refer to as “J” or the “Yahwist”, as it always
calls God by the Israelite tribal name of “Jehovah” or “Yahweh”
(although English translations usually use “The Lord” for
Yahweh). J's creation story comes in the second chapter
of Genesis, right after the priestly account:
are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they
were created. In the day that Yahweh God made the earth
and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the
earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up for Yahweh
God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there
was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from
the earth, and water the whole face of the ground - then
Yahweh God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed
into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became
a living being. (Genesis 2:4-9)
tahwist is very different from both the priestly and the
Qur'anic creation story. It has nothing about the heavens
and earth being separated and the week-long story which
P is concerned with, quite possibly because it pre-dates
the weekly ritual of the sabbath which was the reason for
P's structure. J had its origins as the ancient tribal history
of the Israelites, and portions of it date from as early
as 1200 BC. As a tribal history, it essentially begins with
the creation of Adam, the tribe's earliest ancestor, and
is not terribly concerned with the rest of the cosmos. P's
view of God as cosmic creator reflects much later concerns;
it probably dates from the Babylonian conquest of the kingdoms
of Israel and Judah in the 8th and 6th centuries BC. After
the fall of Judah, the last independent Jewish kingdom,
the Israelite ruling classes were exiled in Babylon. There
they needed to redefine their God as more than a tribal
deity in their homeland of Israel, which was lost to them.
The solution was to establish the Israelite God as the explicit
creator of the entire world, thus extending his influence
over the Israelites even in exile. Hence P's need for a
more cosmic creation story. Since the Qur'an, like P, also
sees God as a cosmic creator, it naturally follows P's seven-day
account, even though J's is earlier in origin.
P's creation story was the basis for the Qur'anic summarised
story. But this leads to remarkable conclusions concerning
the cultural roots of the Qur'anic story, because when we
start asking how the move was made from J's tribal history
to P's creation of the cosmos, we can see traces of non-Israelite
influences. P's week-long creation story was apparently
the result of expanding J using images derived from more
ancient and decidedly polytheist Babylonian creation myths.
These portrayed the creation of the world as the slaying
of a deity representing formlessness or chaos (often depicted
as the sea) and the molding of the heavens, earth etc. from
the slain corpse. Accordingly, in the P story God does not
create the world out of nothing, but from a pre-existing
primordial “deep” or sea. The word “deep” (Hebrew tehom)
which P uses to describe the primordial chaos/sea, is apparently
derived from the name “Tiamat”, a goddess who personified
the pre-existing primordial sea in Babylonian myth. The
association with water and sea leads her to be described
as a sort of dragon-like sea monster. In the Babylonian
mythology, Tiamat and her consort Apsu personify the primordial
sea/chaos from which all else is shaped. Even the gods of
Babylon are formed in the belly of Tiamat, as recounted
in the Babylonian creation epic, Enuma Elish (Akkadian for
“When the gods on high”) which dates back to around 2000
skies above were not yet named,
Nor earth below pronounced by name,
Apsu, the first one, their begetter
And maker Tiamat, who bore them all,
Had mixed their waters together,
But had not formed pastures, nor discovered reed-beds;
When yet no gods were manifest,
Nor names pronounced, nor destinies decreed,
Then gods were born within them. (Enuma Elish, Tablet 1,
emergence of the gods from the primordial waters of Apsu/Tiamat
is followed by the slaying of first Apsu and later Tiamat.
Tiamat's slayer is Marduk, who was thus justified in his
position as chief god in the Babylonian pantheon. Marduk's
use of wind as a weapon seems to have a parallel in P's
narration of how a “wind from God swept over the face of
the waters.” (Genesis 1:3);
to face they came, Tiamat and Marduk, sage of the gods.
They engaged in combat, they closed for battle...
her face he dispatched the imhullu-wind, which had been
Tiamat opened her mouth to swallow it...
Fierce winds distended her belly...
He shot an arrow which pierced her belly,
Split her down the middle and slit her heart,
Vanquished her and extinguished her life. (Enuma Elish,
Tablet 4, lines 93-104)
slaying Tiamat, Marduk cuts her to pieces and shapes the
world from the portions. The similarity to P's account of
God separating the waters to form the heavens, seas and
earth (Genesis 1:6-8) are apparent. As in the Bible, the
separation of heaven from sea required establishing the
roof of the firmament to prevent the waters of the sky from
lord rested, and inspected her corpse.
He divided the monstrous shape and created marvels (from
He sliced her in half like a fish for drying:
Half of her he put up to roof the sky,
Drew a bolt across and made a guard hold it.
Her waters he arranged so that they could not escape.
He crossed the heavens and sought out a shrine...
The Lord measured the dimensions of Apsu
And the large temple (Eshgalla), which he built in its image,
In the great shrine Esharra, which he had created as the
(Enuma Elish, Tablet 4, lines 135-145)
of the Babylonian creation account also helps us to understand
the puzzling question of how P could think of days and nights
passing even before the creation of sun and moon. In the
Enuma Elish, Marduk defines day and night by means of stars,
reflecting a Babylonian fondness for astrology, and leaves
the moon for later.
fashioned stands for the great gods.
As for the stars, he set up constellations corresponding
He designated the year and marked out its divisions,
Apportioned three stars each to the twelve months.
When he had made plans of the days of the year...
He made the crescent moon appear, entrusted night (to it)
and designated it the jewel of night to mark out the days.
(Enuma Elish, Tablet 5, lines 1-5, 12-13)
may well be in imitation of Marduk's order of creation that
P narrates the first days and nights taking place before
the creation of the sun and moon (Genesis 1:14), even though
that seems illogical from our modern perspective. The Bible's
lack of concern for astrology apparently causes this confusion,
as it leads P to lump the creation of stars together with
the sun and moon, leaving no heavenly bodies to define the
first days and nights. After all this comes Marduk's creation
of dry land from Tiamat's body, as it is brought forth from
the primeval tehom by God (Genesis 1:9):
opened the Euphrates and Tigris from her eyes...
He piled up clear-cut mountains from her udder (Enuma Elish,
Tablet 5, lines 55-57)
retelling thus combines J's Israelite tribal origin with
images from earlier cosmic creation stories of the ancient
world. This does not imply that P believed in the gods of
Babylon; in fact his whole motive seems to have been to
strengthen the religion of the Israelites in exile by giving
them a more omnipotent image of God. J's tribal origin tale
was apparently not sufficient to establish Yahweh's stature
as higher than the Babylonian gods, whose creation myths
were told on a much larger, cosmic scale. P's solution was
to appropriate the images of Marduk's slaughter of Tiamat
and his creation of the heavens from her corpse for Yahweh,
while simultaneously dividing the creation into a seven
day framework in order to establish the Jewish sabbath.