Thursday, February 19, 2004

Context is everything

So what does one do when one discovers the striking parallels between Genesis 1 and 2's Creation Stories and the Mesopotamian Enuma Elish creation myth? Or when one realizes that the Flood story as it appears in Genesis 6-8 is extraordinarily similar to the Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic? The parallels are simply beyond dispute; And here are some possible reactions:

Reaction 1. Insist that these stories in fact copied the Bible, not the other way around. This move however is not only unnecessary, but highly unlikely.
Reaction 2. Commit the genetic fallacy, which is the mistaken assumption that discovering the origin of something means you can dismiss it.
Reaction 3. One could come to the conclusion that these early chapters of Genesis may in fact be a brilliant satirical play on the pagan literature of a surrounding culture, with a monotheistic punch line. For example: Our pagan neighbor's say there is a moon god, we say God made the moon... So hah! The Babylonians say that the gods caused the flood at their chaotic whim, we say God caused the flood due to grief over human sin.... So there! See those Ziggurat towers in Babylon - here's a playful jibe in the form of our tower of Babel story, etc., etc....

These notions actually check out - If we all had the chance to take Akkadian and Hebrew, the linguistic puns would be obvious.

In long, read this. But in short:
Reaction 1 = An unfortunate head-in-sand recourse.
Reaction 2 = Tenured Religious Studies professor at a University near you, and his/her students who don't know better.
Reaction 3 = The smarties.

UPDATE: Here's yet another dose of contextual illumination: Babylonian accounts contemporary to the writing of Genesis list two kings who lived 64,800 years, and ten who lived for 432,000 years. So? This may illuminate why the patriarchs are said to have lived so long (Adam through Noah lived 700-1000 years). It could be a jibe at those Babylonian accounts - suggesting a more humble estimation of humankind. So basically, early Genesis may be a case of really good satire. Which makes The Simpsons utterly Biblical.