Genesis as Dialogue: A Literary, Historical, & Theological Commentary

By Thomas L. Brodie | Go to book overview

APPENDIX THREE
SOURCES: GENESIS's USE OF HOMER's
ODYSSEY

Genesis's Use of Mesopotamian Epic

The first awareness that some of Genesis's sources may still exist came in December 1872, when George Smith publicized a translation of Assyrian accounts of the flood (ANET xiii; Hess and Tsumura, 1994, 5) (see Introduction, Chapter 8). Further research eventually led to a major breakthrough on the source question—the realization that, to a significant degree, Genesis 1–11 as a whole (or at least Genesis 1–9) was modeled on epic poetry, especially on the epic poetry of Mesopotamia. (Genesis 10 is elusive, more akin to genealogy and world maps than epic. )

It is now a commonplace to see Genesis as dependent on works such as the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Atrahasis Epic, and the Enuma Elish (Heidel, 1951; O'Brien and Major, 1982; Clifford, 2:2; 1994, 144–150; on the Near East, cf. Hess and Tsumura, 1994, 75–282; on Genesis 1–11 and several other creation stories, see van Wolde, 1997).

All three texts, Gilgamesh, Atrahasis, and Enuma Elish, help in understanding Genesis. With regard to the Epic of Gilgamesh, the task of tracing dependence is complicated by the diversity of versions, but “there are a number of points of possible and probable contact with the OT. Wherever these contacts appear the Hebrew poets and storytellers have transformed the material into a vehicle of their own beliefs” (McKenzie, 1968, 312).

The Enuma Elish also has contributed, even if only in Genesis 1–2; there is significant similarity of content and style. But the older text has been adapted thoroughly. For instance, the Genesis idea of the relationship of the divine to creation is “totally different” (O'Brien and Major, 1982, 195–198, esp. 196).

Particularly important was the Atrahasis Epic. Along with other Mesopotamian materials it provided a model for Genesis 2–11, especially for the plot of Genesis 2–9 (Clifford, 2:2). Kselman expresses the same general idea:

The biblical Flood story …depend[s] …on such Babylonian sources as the Gilgamesh Epic and the Atrahasis myth. This ancient Near Eastern material was consciously reshaped and altered in accord with Israelite theological per-

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