Geneis 1:1-9

Walter Mattfeld mattfeld at
Sun Sep 10 08:47:13 EDT 2000

I have been following with interest, the on-going conflicting
interpretations about the act of creation portrayed in Genesis 1:1-9.

For whatever its worth, here's "my two cents" :

The first verse states that God created the heaven and the earth, then
follow verses explaining in greater detail the actual formation of heaven
(1:6) and the earth/land (1:9).

Verse 2 portrays a deep (tehom) in darkness, with no land anywhere, hence
the earth not having any land forms, is accordingly described as a formless

Nowhere are we told explicitly that God made this deep, only that his spirit
or wind is hovering/ moving over it (1:2).

According to the Sumerologist, Samuel Noah Kramer, the Sumerians conceived
the world as in the beginning being a watery mass, from which later, gods
arose, the heavens, etc. It looks to me like Genesis' motif of a watery mass
in the beginning is indebted to Mesopotamian imagery.


"Sumerian religious faith and practice were based on a cosmology and
theology evolved by their thinkers and sages in the early third millenium
B.C. that became the basic creed and dogma of the entire Near East. The
Sumerians believed that sea and water surrounded the universe on all sides;
they therefore concluded that a primeval sea had existed from the beginning
of time, and was a kind of a "first cause" and "prime mover." In this
primeval sea the universe was engendered, consisting of a vaulted heaven
superimposed over a flat earth and united with it. In between, separating
heaven from earth, was the moving, expanding atmosphere. Out of this
atmosphere were fashioned the luminous bodies: the moon, the sun, the
planets, and the stars. Following the separation of heaven and earth and the
creation of the astral bodies, animal and human life came into existence.

This universe, so the Sumerians believed, was under the watchful charge of a
pantheon...Human in form but superhuman in nature and powers, these beings,
although invisible to mortal eyes, guided and controlled the cosmos...The
power of creation of the four leading dieties, according to the Sumerian
theologians, consisted primarily of the divine word. All the creator had to
do was to make his or her plans, utter the word, and pronounce the name."

(pp.122-123, S.N. Kramer, "Sumerian History, Culture and Literature," in
Diane Wolkstein & Samuel Noah Kramer, Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, Her
Stories and Hymns from Sumer. New York, Harper & Row, 1983, ISBN
0-06-090854-8 pbk)

In the Enuma Elish, a Babylonian Creation Epic, the land forms and heavens
are made from the carcass of Tiamat, the primeval watery mass (which always
existed from the beginning). She is alternately portrayed as serpent/dragon
in iconic art forms. Many scholars have suggested Genesis' Tehom (deep) is a
"sanitized, demythologized" version of Tiamat, and that Genesis 1 is
actually a Hebrew "POLEMIC" directed against the earlier Mesopotamian
version. The POLEMIC INTENT is to offer a different concept of what God is,
and his relationship to man. In other words, Genesis is a later
"re-interpretation" of an earlier Mesopotamian myth.

Still available via e-mail, is my paper titled Sabbath Origins and the Epic
of Gilgamesh," which goes into the "polemic intent of Genesis" in greater
detail, as noted by Dr. Gordon J. Wenham (G.J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word
Biblical Commentary, Waco, Texas, 1987 ISBN 0-8499-0200-2)

All the best,


Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld
Walldorf by Heidelberg

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