Genesis 1 and Ancient Near East (ANE) Cosmogonies: The ancient Babylonian ‘creation epic’ Enuma elish and other ANE cosmogonies (which speak of the world’s origin), despite what is commonly claimed, are remarkably different from Gen. 1. Mesopotamian cosmogonies, for instance, are intertwined with theogonies—accounts of the gods’ origins. In them, we are not told so much about how the universe came about—the origin of the worlds is really accidental or secondary in ANE accounts—but how the gods emerged. Furthermore, when it comes to the elements of the universe (the waters/deep, darkness), a deity either controls one or is one. As Umberto Cassuto puts it, the ANE creation epics tell about the origin of the gods who came before the birth of the world and human beings. They speak of ‘the antagonism between this god and that god, of frictions that arose from these clashes of will, and of mighty wars that were waged by the gods.’

However, writing with an awareness of such rival, polytheistic cosmogonies, the monotheistic author of Genesis 1 deliberately rejects them. In ANE cosmogonies, deities struggle to divide the waters whereas Yahweh simply speaks and thereby creates all things, including astral bodies (which are not gods, as in ANE accounts, but creations). As Rolf Rendtorff points out, even the darkness and the waters are elements of creation (cf. Isa. 45:7). Gerhard von Rad makes the powerful point that Israel’s worldview, as is reflected in Genesis, drew a sharp demarcating line between God and the world. The material world is purged of any reference to the divine or the demonic. Ugaritic scholar Mark S. Smith notes this: ‘These cosmic monsters [darkness, deep, chaos] are no longer primordial forces opposed to the Israelite God at the beginning of creation. Instead, they are creatures like other creatures rendered in this story.’ Genesis 1 depicts a ‘divine mastery’ over these forces, which are ‘depersonalized’ and ‘domesticated.’ As James Barr notes, the theomachies (divine warrings) and polytheism of the ANE are a sharp contrast to Genesis 1, which is ‘magnificently monotheistic.’ And regarding ontology or being, Genesis (unlike ANE accounts), the created world does not somehow emanate from Yahweh as an ‘overflow of the essence of deity, but rather an object.’” – Excerpt from “Creation Ex Nihilo or Ex Materia? A Critique of the Mormon Doctrine of Creation” by Paul Copan

Speaker, Educator, President of A Clear Lens, Inc. and host of A Clear Lens Podcast. B.Sc., M.Ed. Lives in Las Vegas with his wife, two sons, and dogs.


  1. I am sure this means something to someone, but as an extract it does very little to tell me anything at all. In no way does it show any support from the Old Testament for Ex Nihilo creation.

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