The Babylonian Origins of the Creation Myths


We have shown that the creation stories in Genesis are just myths. The next question one may ask is: where did these stories come from?

The Origins of the Creation Account

For many centuries, both Christian and Jewish theologians believe that the stories were given by God and thus owed their origins purely to divine inspiration. However in the nineteenth century, British archaeologists unearthed seven tablets containing the Babylonian [a] myth of creation known as Enuma Elish. Like the famous Epic of Gilgamesh, archaeologists have assigned the date of composition of this work to around 2000 BC. Although the story differs in specifics to that told in Genesis, the similarities in the general tone has convinced archaeologists that the Genesis account had been fundamentally derived from the Babylonian one. Some of the similarities include:

  • The reference to the initial state as being a disordered chaos of water.
    Genesis 1:1 refers to the “darkness” upon the face of the deep. In the Babylonian myth, in the beginning there was only Apsu, the sweet water ocean and Tiamat, the salt water ocean. In fact, archaeologists have generally acknowledged that the Hebrew word for the chaos of the waters or “the deep”, tehom, is actually derived from the Akkadian Tiamat.
  • The creation of a firmament to separate the waters above from the waters below.
    In Genesis 1:6-8 God is said to have created the firmament on the second day of creation. In the Babylonian myth, Marduk, son of the Ea the god of wisdom, killed Tiamat and split her into two. The upper half of Tiamat was fixed onto the sky to keep the waters above in place.
  • The sequence of successive acts of creation.
    In the Babylonian myth, after Tiamat was killed, the firmament was created by Marduk to separate the waters above from below. Then he created the sun, the moon, the planets and the stars. Finally man was created. This order is very closely paralleled in Genesis I where the firmament was created on the second day, the sun, moon and stars on the third day and man on the sixth day. [1]

It thus cannot be denied that the creation myth from Genesis must have been derived from the Babylonian one. To quote the late Professor S.H. Hooke (1874-1968) an expert on Old Testament Studies:

[I]n spite of the complete transformation of the Babylonian material effected by the priestly writer, [b] it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the original form of the creation story upon which he is depending is ultimately of Babylonian origin. [2]

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The Origins of the Garden of Eden

The garden of Eden and the story of Adam and Eve is also derived from older Sumerian and Akkadian myths. [c] It is important to recall the story of Adam and Eve from the second and third chapters of Genesis in order to compare this with the Sumerian version.

Genesis 2:4-9;16-18; 21-23
These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. In the day that the LORD 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 the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground –then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”

So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”

Now comes the story of the serpent tempting the woman to partake of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. She finally succumbed to temptation, took the fruit and also gave some to Adam. Once they had eaten of the fruit, they finally realised that they were naked and made themselves some rudimentary aprons out of fig leaves. When God found out about this, he cursed the serpent, the woman and the man. The episode ended thus:

Genesis 3: 20-24
The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them. Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever” –therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.

Thus is the story as told in Genesis. The Sumerian paradise is called Dilmun. (It should be noted, however that Eden (edinu) was also originally a Sumerian word, meaning ‘plain’ or “steppe’.) Dilmun was a divine garden where sickness and death do not exist. [3] We will now follow Hooke’s paraphrasing of the Sumerian paradise myth;

According to Sumerian myth the only thing Dilmun lacked was fresh water; the god Enki (or Ea) ordered Utu, the sun-god, to bring up fresh water from the earth to water the garden.

In the myth of Enki and Ninhursag it is related that the mother-goddess Ninhursag caused eight plants to grow in the garden of the gods. Enki desired to eat these plants and sent his messenger Isimud to fetch them. Enki ate them one by one, and Ninhursag in her rage pronounced the curse of death upon Enki. As the result of the curse eight of Enki’s bodily organs were attacked by disease and he was at the pain of death. The great gods were in dismay and Enlil [the chief god] was powerless to help. Ninhursag was induced to return and deal with the situation. She created eight goddesses of healing who proceeded to heal each of the diseased parts of Enki’s body. One of these parts was the god’s rib, and the goddess who was created to deal with the rib was named Ninti, which means “lady of the rib”. [4]

The similarity betwen the above myth and that of Genesis’ is obvious to see. The similarity include:

  • The setting- a garden in paradise.
  • The watering of the gardens with water from the earth.
  • The consumption of forbidden fruits, by Adam and Eve in Genesis and by the god Enki in the Sumerian myth.
  • The curse upon the person (s) who ate the fruit.
  • The creating of a female from the rib of the male in Genesis and the creating of a female to heal the rib of the male in the Sumerian precursor.
  • The name of the female thus created. In Genesis, Eve, or in its original semitic form Hawah, means life. In the Sumerian myth, the word ti from the name Ninti has a double meaning; it could mean either ‘rib’ or ‘life’. Thus Ninti can be rendered as “lady of the rib” or “lady of life”. [5]

That is not all, the Babylonian myth, the Epic of Gilgamesh also contains an episode that doubtless also influenced the writers of Genesis. In it Gilgamesh, in his quest for immortality, was told by Utnapishtim (the Babylonian “Noah”) that there exists a plant at the bottom of the sea that has the property of making the old young again. Gilgamesh dived into the sea and brought up the plant. However the plant was stolen while he was taking bath. The thief who stole the plant of everlasting youth away from him was none other than the serpent! [6]

That Babylonian myths should influence the stories in the Bible is really not surprising. The Babylonian empires were influential throughout the whole middle eastern region for over three thousand years. The history of Jews is also very closely tied to Babylon. For it was there that the Jews were taken into exile in the year 587 BC.

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a. Strictly speaking there was no “Babylonian people”. Babylonian is a designation given to which ever nation that happened to hold sway in Babylon, a city with a long history of coups and conquests. Among the nations that ruled the city were the Sumerians, Akkadians, Amorites, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Persians.
b. The “editor” of the Genesis account.
c. The Sumerian civilization is the oldest in the world. The Sumerians developed the first syetem of handwriting and (probably) the first cuineform script. The Sumerian civilization lasted for approximately one thousand years until they were finally conquered by the Akkadians.


1. Graves & Patai, Hebrew Myths: p21-23
Hooke, Middle Eastern Mythology: p41-45 & p119-120
2. Ibid: p120
3. Ibid: p.114
4. Ibid: p.114-115
5. Ibid: p.115
6. Ibid: p.54-55
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