Subverting Other Stories
It is generally agreed upon that there is much resonance between the Genesis creation narratives and the Babylonian creation narratives that were in circulation around the time of the writing of Genesis. Though some would claim that this implies a general borrowing by the Hebrews from the surrounding culture13, many would contend that this utilization of the language of competing narratives is intentionally subversive. Enns proposes that…
“One could suggest that the purpose of Genesis was to contrast such ancient Near Eastern stories as Enuma Elish. The God of Genesis simply speaks things into being. It is reasonable to suggest that the Genesis story is meant to be contrasted to the reigning Babylonian ideology; that is, one could argue that an important purpose of the Genesis story is to argue that the God of Israel is truly mighty and that he is solely and fully in control of the cosmos.”14
Upon first glance, the resonance between the Genesis accounts and the other Near Eastern accounts of creation is striking. However, when viewed through the interpretive lens of intentional subversion, the dissonance becomes overwhelmingly obvious. In virtually all other creation narratives creation is enacted through violence between a multiplicity of capricious, self-centered Gods. As Middleton and Walsh point out,
“rather than begin[ning] with conflict among the gods, the Scriptures begin with the effortless, joyous calling forth of creation by a sovereign Creator who inters into a relationship of intimacy with his creatures…In contrast to an ontology of violence, then, the Scriptures begin with an ontology of peace.”15
Longman and Dillard propose that an obvious “polemic” emerges: While in the myths of the surrounding Babylonian cultures, creation is the “result of divine sexual activity and conflict,” the Genesis account depicts the Creator God as “sovereign, self-sufficient, and supreme.”16
The result of this intentional subversion is that the Hebrews effectively create an alternate, competing worldview. A world that originates in violence is a world that perpetuates violence. A world that is created by self-interested, perverse sexual activity is a world characterized by the same. A cosmos ruled by capricious, self-interested gods is a world where capricious self-interest is all one can expect from humanity. However, a world created in peace by a selfless relational God, is given a trajectory of peace and community.
In some ways the creation accounts in Genesis seem designed to point out the inadequacy of the gods of the surrounding cultures while pointing out the superiority of the one, true God. Middleton explains that while in the Atrahasis epic, the gods feel threatened by human overpopulation and devise evil plans for “thinning out the human race”, the Creator God of Genesis “freely grants fertility to both human and nonhuman as a permanent gift or blessing.”17 Middleton further suggests that while the “heavenly bodies” are considered gods by the surrounding cultures, in the Genesis accounts they are identified as creations of the one, true God, and that the stars, particularly, are mentioned only in passing.18
The point is that these narratives are intentionally crafted to convey truth about the creator God by subverting the false claims of the surrounding cultures. This move is intentional and must be understood if one is to grasp the meaning of the Genesis accounts. Set against this backdrop, it is to that meaning that we now turn our attention.