I’ve taken the unusual step of recommending two books on the same topic this week. Too often, commentaries on Genesis 1-3 and Psalm 104 (just to cite two examples) conclude that “cosmic-conflict mythological language” permeates the biblical account (Longman, Psalms, TOTC, 360, about Psalm 104:5-9). Some Old Testament scholars in evangelical circles persist in identifying the Hebrew tehom (“deep”) in Genesis 1:2 with the goddess Tiamat and Chaoskampf. Adherents to the defunct Gap Theory do the same. It gets downright embarrassing to read such statements by evangelicals who evidently do not realize that evangelical and non-evangelical scholars alike have debunked this kind of association with ANE myths in the Bible. The following two books present the case against such associations.
The earliest of these two books is David Tsumura’s Creation and Destruction: A Reappraisal of the Chaoskampf Theory in the Old Testament (Eisenbrauns, 2005). He carefully surveys the potential links between the biblical text and some of the ANE myths (especially the Babylonian and Canaanite myths). He demonstrates that Genesis 1:2 does not refer to a chaotic state for the created earth. In addition, he also develops his argumentation regarding the proper interpretation of Genesis 2:5-6. Tsumura’s detailed research of both the biblical text and the ANE myths leads him to conclude that the biblical texts about creation and divine sovereignty merely employ metaphorical language about storms and floods. The biblical record of creation has nothing at all to do with primordial combat or Chaoskampf.
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In 1895 Hermann Gunkel published his Schöpfung und Chaos in Urzeit und Endzeit (translation: Creation and Chaos in Primeval Time and End Time) proposing that ancient near eastern myths formed the background for the biblical accounts of creation, chaos, conflict, and eschatology. Creation and Chaos: A Reconsideration of Hermann Gunkel’s Chaoskampf Hypothesis (Eisenbrauns, 2013) presents the work of current scholars who have found it more prudent to modify Gunkel’s hypothesis on the basis of a more thorough analysis of the extant data. This volume’s essays contradict the ongoing claim by some evangelical scholars who insist on associating tehom with Tiamat and represent Genesis 1 creation as a battle against hostile elements. Töyräänvuori’s essay raises a significant question: Shouldn’t the biblical account of creation (written by Egyptian-trained Moses) contain more associations to Egyptian mythology than to Babylonian? Perhaps the Egyptians borrowed from the Hebrews’ western Asiatic narratives instead of the other way around. Feinman’s essay makes the point that it is high time scholars cease treating the early chapters of Genesis as a “free-floating, immature, hazy, primitive, oral geographic tradition” (184), rather than with the real world. Evangelical references to and identifications of Chaoskampf in the Genesis record need serious reconsideration, if not outright correction. An overall evaluation of this volume reveals (1) the absence of serious consideration of the role of divine revelation in regard to the biblical record and (2) the potential that all of the ancient near eastern myths might represent independent flawed and skewed memories of either the original divine revelation of creation or of the original events of the Flood and the tower of Babel. Still, this volume needs to be read and Chaoskampf needs to be eradicated from evangelical commentaries (other than to identify the error of seeing such primordial conflict in the Scriptures).
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