Genesis' Genesis Article

Walter Mattfeld mattfeld at
Mon Apr 2 00:54:24 EDT 2001

 Available at my website is the following article-

Genesis' Genesis, The Hebrew Transformation of the Ancient Near Eastern
Myths and Their Motifs.

This article is an attempt to briefly identify some of the Ancient Near
Eastern Motifs and Myths from which the Hebrews apparently borrowed,
adapted, and reworked in the Book of Genesis (more specifically Genesis

It is my understanding that Genesis' motifs and characters, God, Adam, Eve,
the Serpent, and Noah, are adaptations and transformations of characters and
events occurring in earlier Near Eastern Myths. In some cases several
characters and motifs from different myths have been brought together and
amalgamated into Genesis' stories.

Lambert, has made a very important observation regarding the manner in which
Mesopotamian mythographers worked:

"The authors of ancient cosmologies were essentially compilers. Their
originality was expressed in new combinations of old themes, and in new
twists to old ideas." (p.107, W.G. Lambert, "A New Look at the Babylonian
Background of Genesis," [1965], in Richard S. Hess & David T. Tsumra,
Editors, I Studied Inscriptions From Before the Flood. Winona Lake, Indiana,
Eisenbrauns, 1994)

I believe Lambert's observation can be applied to the Hebrews who were
combining old themes and putting "new twists" to old ideas. My research
indicates that, at times,"reversals" are occurring in the Hebrew
transformation and reinterpetation of the Mesopotamian myths. These
"reversals," as I call them, can take the form of different characters,
different locations for the settings of the stories, and different morals
being drawn about the nature of God and Man's relationship.

Another scholar, Wenham, made another important observation about Genesis,
it is apparently a polemic, challenging the Mesopotamian view of the
relationship between God and Man-

"Viewed with respect to its negatives, Gen 1:1-2:3 is a polemic against the
mythico-religious concepts of the ancient Orient...The concept of man here
is markedly different from standard Near Eastern mythology: man was not
created as the lackey of the gods to keep them supplied with food; he was
God's representative and ruler on earth, endowed by his creator with an
abundant supply of food and expected to rest every seventh day from his
labors. Finally, the seventh day is not a day of ill omen as in Mesopotamia,
but a day of blessing and sanctity on which normal work is laid aside. In
contradicting the usual ideas of its time, Gen 1 is also setting out a
positive alternative. It offers a picture of God, the world, and's
true nature. He is the apex of the created order: the whole narrative moves
toward the creation of man. Everything is made for man's benefit..." (p.37,
Vol. 1, "Explanation," Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15 [Word Biblical
Commentary, 2 vols.], Word Books, Waco, Texas 1987, ISBN 0-8499-0200-2)

Lambert's and Wenham's observations are "keys" to understanding how and why
Genesis was formatted in the manner it now appears. In other articles posted
on this website I have explained why I believe that Genesis was composed in
the Exilic or Post-Exilic era (550-458 BCE), I accordingly understand that
the Ancient Near Eastern myths and their motifs being utilized by Genesis'
author, are of  periods preceeding 550-458 BCE.

To access the above article click on the URL in my signature line.
All the best,  Walter

Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld
Walldorf by Heidelberg
Baden-Wurttemburg, Germany

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list