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The Babylonian Genesis : the story of…

The Babylonian Genesis : the story of creation

by Alexander Heidel

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The Babylonian Genesis : The Story of Creation by Alexander Heidel
Published: 1942, 2nd edition 1951
format: 166 page Hardcover
acquired: from my library
read: 115 pages on Aug 5-6
rating: 2 stars

I stumbled into Heidel. He seemed knowledgeable in his intro, notes and translation, but once he started analyzing, he undermined any strengths he might have had. He comes across as manipulative, unreliable, and, ultimately for me, unreadable.

I've wanted to read the Enûma Eliš for a while. This year I have come across several references to Middle Eastern influences on Greek literature, and then read Diane Wolkstein's translation/re-telling of Inanna/Ishtar. So, this was a great time to read this and I was looking forward to it. A quick library catalogue search brought up this book.

The actual translation of the Enûma Eliš takes 43 annotated pages. The translation seemed OK. The story itself was interesting but not really a great read, as it's so painfully political. It tells of creation and the lineage of various Sumerian-regional gods and how Marduk, Babylon's own god, ended up becoming their leader. Creation begins with Apsû, who may represent fresh water, and his wife Tiamat, who represents the ocean, and, perhaps, chaos or the deep unknown. Their children include Anshar and Kishar, who give rise to Anu, who fathers Ea (Sumerian Enki), who fathers Marduk. After many odds and ends, Apsû is killed by Ea, but Tiamat can only be taken by a well-armed Marduk. In return for leadership over all the gods, Marduk slays Tiamat, splits her body into two, and use half to form heaven and the other half to form earth. He then has her general, Kingu, executed. From his blood comes mankind, whose purpose is only to serve the gods.

Heidel follows this up with various other Sumerian-era fragments and a couple old Greek accounts. The history of one goes like this:

The other Greek account if that of Berossus, a priest of Bel Marduk at Babylon. It is taken from his history of Babylonia, which he compiled from native documents and published in Greek about 275 B.C. His writings have perished, but extracts from his history have fortunately been preserved to us. The preservation of the Babylonian creation story we owe to a monk in Constantinople commonly known as Syncellus, or Sunkellos (eighth century A.D.), who derived his material from the lost 'Chronicle' of the church historian Eusebius of Caesarea (ca A.D. 260—ca. 340); and Eusebius, in turn, derived it from the works of Alexander Polyhistor (last century B.C.)

And yet, this account has turned out to be remarkably accurate.

All this seemed mostly OK, although Heidel scattered a few odd comments, proclaiming a sense of certainty where it clearly doesn't belong. When he moved on the the Biblical comparisons he lost me. His use of words like "plainly" and "clearly" and "cannot" in contexts where nothing was plain or clear, and nothing as certain as "cannot" can possible be said, drove me nuts. They are red flags. He plays a lot of other tricks too, confusing the issue to makes his otherwise weaker points. I found that I started to doubt everything he has said. It all started to feel manipulated. I quit with maybe 25 pages of real text to read. I just saw no reason to keep going. Poor Heidel has been slashed from any future reading I might do on these subjects. ( )
1 vote dchaikin | Aug 7, 2016 |
A translation of the Babylonian creation epic Enuma Elish along with explanatory notes, additional creation stories found in Mesopotamia, and a thoroughgoing analysis of the comparison between the Babylonian stories and the Biblical story of creation.

The author provides a suprisingly robust defense of the Biblical creation narrative as being quite distinct from Enuma elish, more different than alike, in contrast to the standard "scholarly" view of the Biblical story as derivative of and yet polemical against the Babylonian tale.

A good resource for the Babylonian creation story and in terms of the comparison and contrast with the Biblical creation narrative. ( )
  deusvitae | Feb 3, 2016 |
To say that this is not the most exciting book I've ever read would be a vast understatement; when I was only 30 pages from the end, I put it down for two weeks because I just didn't care enough to go on.

The premise sounds interesting enough: this is a collection of Babylonian creation stories in translation, accompanied by "a detailed examination of the Babylonian creation accounts in their relation to our Old Testament literature". The creation stories themselves were certainly worth reading, if a bit repetitive and dry at times. But the comparison to the Old Testament was not at all what I had expected. I had mistakenly supposed that the focus would be on similarities between the Babylonian and Biblical accounts, and I find that unexpected connections between different cultures are always interesting to read about. Unfortunately, though, the emphasis here was mostly on differences. We would be presented with some details from the Babylonian story, followed by some details from the Biblical story, and told how the two were different. This was repeated several times, and it just didn't make for an engaging narrative.

There was some discussion at the end of structural similarities, but this had too much of a Christian emphasis to really appeal to me. One of the "problems" with the theory that the Bible might have been influenced by the Babylonian Enuma Elish was that this might contradict the doctrine of divine inspiration which "is, of course, indisputably taught in Scripture". So, Heidel explained how the concept divine inspiration could be understood in a way that would allow this influence. I'm just not concerned with reconciling history with the Bible; I wanted to know the historical facts on their own.

I don't mean to say that this is a bad book, just that I don't fit into its intended audience. If I had read the introduction rather than only the back cover before purchasing the book, I would have seen that it was intended for the "Old Testament scholar and the Christian minister". These are the people who might care most about preserving traditional views of the Bible in the light of fairly recently-discovered Near Eastern texts, and I'm just not one of them. Anyone who's interested more in the Near Eastern texts themselves can probably find a more appropriate and more recent book; this one is almost sixty years old. I don't know of any alternatives to recommend, but I can't recommend this one. ( )
2 vote _Zoe_ | Jun 23, 2009 |
Analysis of creation (cf. Bible flood) in Gilgamesh Epic ( )
  oldfolkgc | Apr 23, 2009 |
Creation story with Gilgamesh and Enkidu. ( )
  mashley | Apr 13, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0226323994, Paperback)

Here is a complete translation of all the published cuneiform tablets of the various Babylonian creation stories, of both the Semitic Babylonian and the Sumerian material. Each creation account is preceded by a brief introduction dealing with the age and provenance of the tablets, the aim and purpose of the story, etc. Also included is a translation and discussion of two Babylonian creation versions written in Greek. The final chapter presents a detailed examination of the Babylonian creation accounts in their relation to our Old Testament literature.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:02:57 -0400)

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