In this post I will share how Peter Enns enacts “genre calibration” by comparing the Book of Genesis with the “primordial tales of other ancient cultures (Kindle Location 1007).” We will begin with Enuma Elish.
Enns does something that C. John Collins does not do in his book. He emphasizes Genesis’ place in its ancient context. Collins emphasized canonical context. As I’ve said this is a foundational difference. They have different hermeneutical paradigms. Collins interprets Genesis through how it is references in other biblical books. Enns interprets it through its similarities with literature from the same culture.
That said, Enns doesn’t want readers to see this as merely a “comparative approach” as if Israel merely “borrowed” from other cultures. He writes,
“Perhaps a better way of thinking about the issue is to introduce the phrase “genre calibration.” Placing Genesis side by side with the primordial tales of other ancient cultures helps us gain a clearer understanding of the nature of Genesis and thus what we as contemporary readers have a right to expect from Genesis (Kindle Locations 1017-1020).”
And this has implications:
“Genesis is an ancient text designed to address ancient issues within the scope of ancient ways of understanding origins. However one might label the genre of the opening chapters of Genesis (myth, legend, suprahistorical narrative, story, metaphor, symbolism, archetypal, etc.) is not the point here. The point is that Genesis and the modern scientific investigation of human origins do not overlap. To think that they do is an error in genre discernment (Kindle Locations 1021-1024).”
Enns argues that we must understand “the genre of Genesis” to “understand its theology.” He notes that most evangelicals would agree. We affirms a historical-grammatical approach, right? This should be welcomed. “But placing Israel’s stories of origins in their grammatical and historical contexts has caused some stress as well (Kindle Locations 1035-1036).” Genesis goes back to “primordial times” and they are not alone. This concerns many evangelicals. Enns writes, “…if the foundational stories of Genesis seem to fit so well among other—clearly ahistorical—stories of the ancient world, in what sense can we really say that Israel’s stories refer to fundamentally unique, revealed, historical events (Kindle Locations 1041-1043)?”
“Israel’s creation and flood stories are certainly unique to them in the sense that any culture is “unique” when compared to others. But Genesis also bears doctrinally uncomfortable similarities to the clearly mythical stories of the Mesopotamian world (Kindle Locations 1053-1055).”
The first example, and the one I will cover in this post, is the Enuma Elish. It is similar to Genesis 1. According to Enns it is probably older than Genesis 1:
“Genesis 1 was written in the postexilic period (perhaps with earlier versions) and expresses Israel’s faith in Yahweh the backdrop of the familiar creation-story idioms of the ancient Near East in general and of their recent Babylonian hosts in particular (Kindle Locations 1082-1084).”
Enns compares the text listing a variety of similarities with which I imagine most readers are familiar. He gives attention to the “polemical” differences as well: no divine conflict, one deity, tehom is impersonal chaos conquered rather than another god, but overall they share a “similar conceptual world.” It seems like the Canannite views of Baal were similar as well as the Egyptian Memphite Theology. So what? Enns writes,
“What bearing does the relationship between Genesis 1 and Enuma Elish have on the evolution issue? It means that any thought of Genesis 1 providing a scientifically or historically accurate account of cosmic origins, and therefore being wholly distinct from the “fanciful” story in Enuma Elish, cannot be seriously entertained. Apart from the obvious scientific problems with such an idea, it simply ignores the conceptual similarities between Genesis 1 and Enuma Elish. Whether or not the author of Genesis 1 was familiar with the text known to us as Enuma Elish, he was certainly working within a similar conceptual world, where solid barriers keep the earth safe from the heavenly waters, where chaotic material existed before order, and where light existed before the sun, moon, and stars (Kindle Locations 1126-1132).”
So if Genesis isn’t useful for science for what is it useful? This message:
“God alone created the world (established order out of chaos) by an act of his sovereign will, not as the result of a power struggle within a dysfunctional divine family. Again, there is no “cosmic battle” in Genesis 1, although the imagery of the battle between Tiamat and Marduk is in the background. (We will come back to this in chap. 4.) Not only is Tiamat depersonalized, but so are the sun, moon, and stars. These are not gods to be reckoned with as they are in some other ancient stories, but objects placed at the true God’s command, put in the heavens where he wishes. By depicting God’s work of creation so differently while drawing on a set of familiar themes, Genesis argues that Israel’s God is superior to the gods of the surrounding nations (Kindle Locations 1142-1147).”
In the next post I will share Enns thoughts on “Genesis 1 and Monolatry.” In the meantime, what do we make of Genesis’ similarities in worldview to documents like the Enuma Elish? How does this impact our understanding of Adam?