Thoughts on ‘Rethinking Genesis’

T.E. Hanna’s paper published on his blog, to which my covering note links, is interesting reading. He deals with claims  that Moses appropriated creation myths of Egypt and Mesopotamia for writing Genesis. He argues that, rather than adopting mythologies of the surrounding ancient East, Hebrew cosmology was written as a criticism of them as well as emphasising not only the God of Israel’s nature but also His superiority over other religions.

I’m not attempting a review of Hanna’s paper The Egyptian Cosmology of Genesis, but wish to share a few thoughts after having referred to Genesis as the scriptural grounds for prophesying into Time (see “I am Gabriel, who stands in the Presence of God”). See also his comments below to the following:

Hanna cites several scholars opinions, one of which is similar to what’s been mentioned several times in our church. That is, after having overcome the magical powers of the priests against Moses, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob directed each plague of Egypt specifically against a particular deity in the pantheon of gods.  That is, the God of Israel dethroned them!

How Genesis Differs and is Superior

In view of my old, dead life having been connected with a brotherhood claiming descent from ancient Egypt, I was aware of the similarity of the Memphite cosmogony to that of Genesis. (Personal outline here.) Therefore, it was interesting to read Hanna stating,

Here, we find the creator-god Ptah bringing the world into existence out of nothing, and by means of verbal command.

He stresses the importance of noting this speech doesn’t involve an invocation to higher magical powers and “draws to the forefront the superiority of this creator-god”. Hanna summarises,

…Three profound similarities – creation out of nothing, speaking as the means of creation and the rejection of magic pointing to divine superiority – were completely unique to Egypt and Israel.

He stresses they are not the only similarities for the priests of ‘Sun City’ (Heliopolis) had a cosmogony involving ‘chaos gods’ comprising a ‘tohu bohu’ of formless, empty chaotic darkness – and a breath!  Thus, both cultures considered that creation brought order out of chaos, but it would be inaccurate to assume and conclude, “the author of Genesis merely took existing religious imagery and re-packaged it”.

According to the Egyptian creation myths,

The natural world was not brought into existence by the creation of different elements such as the sun, moon, or sea. Rather, this world was brought into existence by the birth of various deities who, in turn, embodied these elements. Thus, Ptah did not speak and the sun appeared; rather, Ptah spoke and the sun-god was born.  In contrast to this:

The God of Israel existed in transcendence from His creation.  He spoke, and order came into the world.  His creative act was not a birthing of other gods; instead, it was simply the bringing forth of natural phenomena. Thus, the God of Israel is not only shown to be superior, but shown to be solitary. In stark contrast to the polytheism of Egypt, the Genesis narrative lays out the supremacy of Israel’s monotheism.

Also, there are other significant differences, for example:

  • the order of creation differed with Light before sun and moon makes the creator distinct from them.
  • caring for images of gods was obligatory in Egypt, but Israel rejected all idols.
  • humanity is intentionally created in God’s image to reflect His glory.

Mesopotamian Influence

I’m surprised that Hanna doesn’t make any reference to the probable transmission of ancestral history, knowledge and traditions down through the patriarchal chain from at least Abraham, if not Noah, which the Hebrew slaves in Egypt must have known.

Instead, he attempts a cursory nod to similarities between Genesis and the Babylonian epics in noting the strong early influence of the Asiatic Hyksos people. He cites scholars as thinking that the reign of the Hyksos opened the door for Jacob and his large family. Also, the later expulsion of the Hyksos may account for the fact of a new king “who did not know of Joseph”.

Also, the huge effect of the Godly significance of Hebrew, its meanings and application in scripture is not considered at all. In fact, it relates to the Egyptian concept of ‘breath’, not only as being infused into mankind but also and importantly in connection with The Word of God.  I’m learning about Hebrew and so its recognition would be welcome, but perhaps the young theologian may cover this aspect another time.

Nevertheless, his short paper on The Egyptian Cosmology of Genesis is recommended reading. In closing I attach a timeline of ancient history courtesy of The Times Atlas of World History:Times History Atlas - Civilisations

Further Reading:

  1. Prophesy TO 2014
  2. Talking to Time seems to work
  3. Is the ‘Hand of God’ a Sign for these times?
  4. I am Gabriel, who stands in the Presence of God
  5. Thoughts on ‘Rethinking Genesis’ (this post, now read discussion).
  6. Surprise! New things! The invisible world is the pattern for the visible

 

3 thoughts on “Thoughts on ‘Rethinking Genesis’

  1. Good thoughts!

    In posing your question regarding the transmission of ancestral history, knowledge, and traditions from Abraham down, are your asking about the Hebrew influence or the carrying of Mesopotamian influence?

    If the former, the fullness of the theology revealed to Abraham was of a monotheistic God that made covenant that Abraham would be the father of many nations and that through him all the earth would come to be blessed. If we read the preceding stories of the fall, flood, and Babel as literal events, then they may have had an awareness of some of that history as well. But beyond this, not much is yet known of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

    Add that to 400 years of living in Egypt, and it is easy to see why their theology would be so impacted by an Egyptian pantheon, making their theological re-education a necessity following the Exodus. In many ways, it was this theological education that defined who they were as a people group.

    If you are asking about Mesopotamian influence, part of the argument of the paper was that the parallels in Genesis 1 reflected Egyptian influence far more than Mesopotamian. The preeminent Mesopotamian cosmogony was the battle between Marduk and Tiamat, whereby Marduk slew the great dragon and her cleaved body spilled forth entrails which formed the world and the life therein. We come to see significant response to Babylonian/Mesopotamian epics in some of the early stories to follow Genesis 1, but I think this first chapter is best seen in light of Egyptian interaction. The few parallels that do suggest Mesopotamian influence can be explained through the rise of the Hyksos, I think.

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    • Back online after mulling over your intriguing approach to this subject.

      Yes, my Q was about early historical narrative within Genesis rather than any comparative considerations. (Even so, thank you for your further explanation on those lines.) Bible-based Christians believe the scriptures are uniquely The Word of God and so any resemblance to other religions’ creation myths probably comes as a surprise. Yet it’s logical for there to have been a common thread, no matter how tenuous, regarding the pre-Abraham accounts.

      I’m particularly interested in how Moses may have learned much more than was available through fellow Hebrews. In meeting the Lord at Sinai he may have had more than the one revelation of what His heavenly temple looks like, for he was instructed to ensure the earthly version and its contents were built ‘according to the pattern’ he saw.

      Is it too far fetched, therefore, to suppose that whilst at that meeting place of heaven and earth, Moses was also granted deep revelation into not only creation itself but also Adam and Eve, their children and events leading to the Flood? Perhaps he met the patriarchs (for the Almighty is God of the living)? After all, we’re told of one heavenly encounter in Moses’ own post-mortem state – that of meeting Elijah and Jesus to discuss what was soon to happen in Jerusalem on behalf of mankind.

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