World Behind the text
Historical and Cultural Context
Genesis illustrates the way Biblical writers J (Yahwist), E (Elohist) and P (Priestly) drew upon the cultural and religious legacy of the Ancient Near East (ANE) along with its stories and imagery and transformed it to conform to a new vision of a non-mythological God and a monotheistic, superior religion.
“The Pentateuch developed against the background of the Ancient Near Eastern culture first cultivated in and spread by Sumerian, Assyrian, and Babylonian empires”. From this, we can see how Israelite religion was “shaped by responses to and reactions against this culture due both to contacts with neighboring Canaanites and to conflicts with Assyrian and Babylonian empires”. Genesis 1:1-2:4a can therefore be said to reflect the “Babylonian account of creation, which we call Enuma Elish…known from at least 1700 BCE,” “predating the earliest text of Genesis by at least a millennium,” as both their structure and content are similar. In both Genesis and the Enuma Elish, the earth is made up of water and is divided into upper and lower waters and the days of creation in Genesis follow almost the exact same order in the Enuma Elish. The Enuma Elish is recorded on seven tablets and the Genesis account is completed in seven days. The Babylonians created humans to serve as slaves yet in Genesis God creates humans in the likeness of the divine.
The Priestly source penned the creation story “with the purpose of portraying both the beginnings of mankind and Israel in the spirit of a monotheistic concept with a didactic aim.” This conveys the notion of a superior religion assuming Gods eternity; as Genesis 1:1 states that in the beginning, He created, not that he was created. It is therefore implied that at the beginning of time God was already there, and as nothing is created from thin air, we can conclude that God is omnipotent and his existence has always been, portraying him as infinitely superior to those Gods of the Ancient Near East who were created by other Gods.
“The scope of Genesis 1:1-2:4 contains an entire portrait of the nature of Yahweh, over against all pagan claims. ” Implying that God is a being of infinite wisdom, power and absolute intellect, superior to those of the ANE. The passage was written for the Israelites to gain an understanding of their place within Gods creation and to explain the relationship between God and humans.
The narrative occurs twice within the first two chapters, Genesis 1 is believed to be by the Priestly author or school of authors who referred to God as ‘Elohim’ because of their observance of and focus on the Sabbath, the establishment of the priesthood and various rituals. Genesis 2-3 is seen as a doublet, or second creation story, tied to a different source, J, who referred to God as Yahweh. Whilst having a doublet of a story and various names for God used in both stories cannot be considered evidence for two separate writers, “when the doublet of stories line up into two groups where one group consistently uses one name of God and the other uses another, that’s strong evidence.”
“When Israel went into exile under the Babylonians in 597 to 586, a school of priests seems to have gathered many of the cultic and legal traditions together. This priestly work, called P, thus formed a source which made the earlier historical accounts more complete.” Gowan also believes that P wrote the first creation story to reflect a setting during the Babylonian exile, “after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 587BC between the middle of the 6th century and the middle of the 5th century”. Given that P writes with the purpose of showing Israelites that God has showed continuing care over them from the time of the origins of the universe and “was very concerned to give Israel a sense of trust in Yahweh’s goodness and fidelity so that they would not lose faith,” it is fair to assume...