In my previous post I began to summarize the lectures that are available in my course: “In the Beginning: Myth, Legend, and History in the Book of Genesis.” If you’re interested in the course, you can learn more about it on my personal website (which is not directly connected to the blog): www.bartehrman.com
Here I will give a synopsis of the final four lectures.
Lecture 3: The Ancient Tales of Genesis: Borrowings from the Wider Culture
Scholars and lay-readers alike were shocked in the mid 19th century to learn that versions of the most important stories of Genesis 1-11 were discovered in other (non-Israelite) parts of the Ancient Near East. In fact, in many cases these other non-biblical versions can be shown to be much older than those in Genesis.
There is, for example, a story of creation from ancient Canaan called the Enuma Elish, which is different in many ways from the story in Genesis 1, but with numerous similarities as well both in the overall concept and sometimes even with the use of cognate words. Did the Israelite authors simply put their own spin on much older stories?
Even more striking is the account of the flood in the ancient Babylonan Gilgamesh Epic, the oldest versions of which are over a millennium older than the book of Genesis. The similarities with the biblical account of Noah are stunning: the god(s) decide to destroy the world with a flood, they choose one man to save with his family; he is instructed to build an enormous boat and to bring every kind of animal on earth into it, the floods come and wipe out all other life on the planet, he sends out birds (including a raven and a dove, as in Genesis) to see if the land was dry yet; and … And the similarities just keep coming.
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In the rest of this post I provide summaries of yet more interesting topics connected with Genesis. Members of the blog can read this and every post — five a week, with archives going back to 2012. Why not join? Click here for membership options