Beginning before Genesis

Genesis means "Beginning", and although it is the first book in the Bible, is not the book with the earliest authorship. (Most scholars believe Job is.) In fact, the first chapter of Genesis is likely the last part of the first 5 books (the Torah) written. So it raises the question, what was before Genesis? The most important answer to this question is: before Genesis, there were other stories about how the world was created.

The most important among these is a Babylonian myth called Enuma Elish. Why is this important? Because Genesis wasn't written from a clean slate for hearers empty of ideas about how the world was created. It was written to an audience well aware of the popular beliefs about origins. As such, Genesis' creation account is a critique of Enuma Elish, using similar structure and language and yet contradicting its core teachings with others about the nature of God and humankind. 

An analogy will serve to clarify. You all know what the Big Bang Theory is, as well as the scientific presuppositions that often go along with it (that matter is eternal). Have you seen the Christian T-shirt that says "The Big Bang Theory: God spoke and Bang! it happened"? This is an example of religious use of 'pagan' language as a critique that carries an alternative perspective. In order to understand the critique, you have to understand what is being critiqued. Genesis is much the same. So if you want to make sense of Genesis, I recommend you read about Enuma Elish and contrast its teachings. Here's somewhere to start.

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