Is the Biblical Creation Account Merely a Copy from Other Older Creation Stories?

In the nineteenth century higher critical views of Scripture (as opposed to lower critical views that concern biblical exegesis involving the study of historical context and culture, the author’s intent, and so on) came on the scene when German scholars questioned the authenticity of Scripture with a reductionistic approach, in which the Bible was treated like any other document, instead of starting with the assumption of divine inspiration. The following are some of the common challenges to the widely held Evangelical belief of the divine inspiration of Scripture.

Most of this problem is drawn from our preconceptions rather than fundamental biblical flaws. Having knowledge of this is especially important for those entering into hostile academic settings in high schools, colleges, and seminaries that use the following arguments to attack the divine inspiration of the Bible.

The following is a very brief summary of chapter two of Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns, with my comments.

Challenges to Evangelicalism’s Biblical View of Divine Inspiration

The Old Testament seems to reflect other literature from the ancient world. Some see this as a challenge to the Bible’s uniqueness since it is similar to the literature of the Ancient Near East. To be more specific:

The Creation Story

The Enuma Elish is referred to as the Babylonian Genesis, which consists of seven tablets from the seventh century BC that contain a creation story similar to the first chapter of Genesis. Although there are similarities, they are also quite different in this regard. The Babylonian story describes the creation of the world as a cosmic battle between the god Marduck and the goddess Tiamat, whereas the Bible speaks of the creation of the world by the one true God, Yahweh.

The Account of the Flood

Atra-Hasis and Gilgamesh: The earliest copies of the Atra-Hasis are from the 17th century BC. The earliest copies of Gilgamesh are dated the first half of the second millennium BC.  These accounts have striking similarities to the Genesis flood story (Genesis 7-9): the main character in the story builds a boat, has his family and animals stay in the boat, the boat rests on top of a mountain after the deluge ceases, and the main character releases a dove to go free to see if the waters had abated.

The Nuzi Tablets

These were tablets about an ancient flourishing city in modern day Iraq during the fifteenth century BC comprising legal, administrative, and economic texts. These texts shed light on the cultural context of the stories in Genesis regarding the patriarchs from Abraham to Joseph, and show that the customs followed by these patriarchs were not unique to their own families but were common to the contemporary culture in which they lived.

Code of Hammurabi

This code of 300 laws attributed to a king named Hammurabi is very similar in nature to the laws in the Old Testament. For example, laws regarding those who strike a woman and cause a miscarriage (Code of Hammurabi 209; Exodus 21:22), “eye for an eye” laws of retaliation (Code of Hammurabi 195-97; Exodus 21:23-25), and laws regarding penalties for personal injuries (Code of Hammurabi 198-201; Exodus 21:26-27) seem to be very similar.

The biblical challenge is this: How we can square the claim of biblical revelation regarding the Law of Moses if these laws seem commonplace for those living at the same time who worshipped false gods and not Jehovah?

The Covenantal Structure of Deuteronomy and Hittite Suzerainty Treaties

The covenantal structure of Deuteronomy regarding its preamble (1:1-5), historical prologue (1:6-4:49), ethical laws (5:1-26:19), sanctions for obeying or disobeying these laws (27-30:30), and historical continuity (31-34:12) have the same covenantal structure the Hittite kings used with their vassals when they conquered a land.

The Similarities between Parts of Proverbs and the Egyptian Instruction of Amenemope

Proverbs 22:17-24:22 is very similar to ancient Egyptian wisdom literature known as the Instruction of Amenemope which was written about 1200 BC, which is before Proverbs was written.

The above raise some interesting questions:

Does the Bible report historical fact or only reflect stories collected from other ancient cultures?

How much did other cultures influence the biblical writers?

Is the Evangelical church wrong for its view regarding the divine origin and inspiration of the Bible?

My Opinion

The imprint of God is so strong in creation (especially regarding general revelation found in nature and natural law) there should be similarities in the creation and flood stories since all descended from Adam, Eve, and Noah. Thus, all stories handed down about these two cataclysmic events should have some similarities. If events as great as the creation of the world and a general flood of the earth were not reported in other cultures outside of Israel, then I would think this lack of similarity would be proof the Bible is not true, since then its uniqueness would not be connected to the general account of world history!

Regarding the similarities between the Code of Hammurabi and Deuteronomy, I believe the covenantal structure given by God is also imbedded and inherent in all laws and cultures since we all have the same Creator God! (This is something most miss: that ultimately we are all the offspring of God according to Acts 17:29. Thus, having one God means expressions of His common grace in the world via civil law and religious sacrifice should be similar across cultures and nations.)

The similarities between Proverbs and the wisdom literature of Egypt can be explained by understanding that Israel lived in Egypt for many years. Thus, there could have been some overlap for the same reasons above.  To say that the Bible is not inspired because it is similar to contemporary cultures or the writings of more ancient civilizations is to miss the point of the human and divine connection in how God works in the earth. You can never separate the work of God from human context and culture it is in the midst of. If the writings of Scripture were totally foreign to the ancient civilizations unearthed by modern archeology, then I would say that the God of the Bible is not really the God of all the inhabitants of the earth! Thank God this is not the case!