This past summer when I attended the Alexander Muss High School in Israel program, I did a lot more than just tour the country and have fun. Part of the program was a class about Jewish and Israeli history, and as part of the class I was required to write many essays. Before the trip began, however, merely the mention of the word “essay” made me queasy. I hated the idea of writing anything other than fiction, and I despised the thought of having to write essays over the summer. However, when it came time to write the essays, I found many of them to be rather simple to do, and over the course of the trip, not only did I lose my nervousness about writing essays, I also came to appreciate the usefulness of outlines when properly employed.
This was the first essay we were required to write, and I post it here only for the sake of showing how horribly I wrote essays before I went on AMHSI. The topic was simple and straightforward, and the assignment was equally as so: “Read the Mesopotamian and Jewish creation stories (known as the Enuma Elish and the first few chapters of the book of Genesis, or Breishit in Hebrew, respectively) and answer the following questions: Compare and contrast the two stories. From reading these stories, what would you think about the cultures they came from? Which story would you rather study? Which story would you rather tell your children?”
As you’ll soon see, although topic was simple enough, my essay-writing abilities weren’t nearly refined enough to do it much justice.
In the Enuma Elish story, Apsu and Tiamat give birth to the gods, though they are noisy and Apsu vows to kill them. Tiamat warns her children and they respond by slaying Apsu. Tiamat then marries Kingu, who manipulates her into avenging Apsu’s death and causes her to create an army of monsters and then declare war upon her children.
Anu, the chief of the gods, approaches Marduk, the most powerful of the gods, and Marduk agrees to fight Tiamat if his demand to rule the universe is granted. When this is done, he slays Tiamat and uses her body to create the earth. He then fills it with three hundred gods to tend the land and feed the greater gods.
The three hundred lesser gods complain to Marduk, which prompts him to ask who had enraged Tiamat. Kingu is identified and Marduk slays him, using his blood to create mankind to serve the gods and fulfill the duties of the three hundred.
The Enuma Elish is a violent story full of fighting, murder, and chaos. Only through war and sacrifice is the earth created, and only through death is life born.
The Torah, however, portrays things very differently. In Chapter 1 of Breishit, God speaks and the world is created. Over the course of five more days, God further refines light and darkness into sky and sea, earth and oceans, and then fills the land with living things, birds and sea monsters, insects, and all manners of creatures to walk the land. Among these is man, who God has created to tend to the earth and protect it.
This last point is further elaborated upon in Chapter 2 of Breishit. God has just created the land animals but has not yet created vegetation, and he gathers dust from the earth in the shape of a man and breathes into him the breath of life, creating Adam. God then creates the Garden of Eden and places Adam inside it. However, Adam is still alone, and realizing that it is not good to be alone, God creates Eve to be his companion.
Both creation stories in the Torah are orderly and structured, showcasing a methodical God that exists outside of chaos. He is also portrayed as compassionate, having first created suitable environments for all his creations before placing them upon the earth and also in creating Eve to befriend and accompany Adam.
These two creation stories, the Enuma Elish and the Torah, are incredibly different. Aside from the obvious differences of polytheism and monotheism, the Enuma Elish is full of violence and murder, the taking of life, whereas the Torah is only full of compassion and the giving of life: the creation of flora and fauna, the creation of mankind, and the meticulous manner through which all of it is created. However, we can still see some minor similarities between the two: Both mention the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers which formed the Fertile Crescent and gave life to the area, and in both, mankind is created to tend the earth and serve the gods or God who had created them.
We can assume that the cultures from which these stories originated shared a common sense of life purpose, to serve the gods and master the earth. However, we can also presume that whereas the Mesopotamians exalted war and violence, the followers of Jewish belief found divinity elsewhere, in order and compassion.
I would rather study the Enuma Elish than the story of Breishit. I am already familiar with the latter while I also enjoy learning about the mythology and history of other cultures and religions. That said, when I have children, I would much rather tell them the story of God’s creation than fill them with glorified images of murder and vengeance. Although you could look at the Enuma Elish as a story of overcoming oppression and prevailing over those who wish you harm—both of which are hopeful images worth holding onto throughout life—the more peaceful outlook presented in the Torah is much more suitable for bedtime stories than one full of bloodshed.
Class: High School in Israel
Topic: Creation Stories
Date: June 2009