The Hebrews were certainly aware of the creation accounts from Mesopotamia, Egypt, and other nearby regions. Abram was born in Mesopotamia, Isaac took a wife from there, and Jacob lived there for 20 years. Moses was raised as an Egyptian prince. The Hebrews spent four hundred years in Egypt, much of the time as Egyptian slaves. The best known of the ancient creation accounts is probably the Enuma elish from Mesopotamia. It describes how Marduk became the supreme god by killing off the goddess Tiamat in a great battle. The Egyptians had several competing creation accounts, each one tied closely to a major Egyptian city. There are certainly some similarities between the first two chapters of Genesis and the other ancient creation accounts. For example, the order of the creation events is approximately the same. However, the differences far overshadow the similarities. Here are a few of the things that make the Genesis account unique.
- Creation week
- The number seven was special in many ancient cultures. However, Genesis is the only creation account based on a week of seven days. The number seven appears in other ways in Genesis. For example, the first verse consists of exactly seven Hebrew words and the second verse has fourteen words (two times seven). It is interesting that Genesis simply refers to the creation days by number and does not give them names of gods or of heavenly bodies as was done in other cultures.
- One God
- All of the other creation accounts are not primarily about creation, but are stories about how the various gods, each ruling over some aspect of nature, came to be. Thus, the gods were part of the creation. There was a constant struggle among the gods for supremacy. In the Genesis account God has no female counterpart and no rivals. In other ancient creation stories creation was often the result of sexual union. In Genesis God merely spoke and it was so. Genesis proclaims that there is one God who has always existed and who created everything in the heavens and on the earth. He is responsible for all of creation, but is not part of it.
- The other ancient creation accounts assume that the universe has always existed. Only Genesis ascribes a beginning to the heavens and the earth.
- Importance of man
- In the other creation accounts the creation of man was not given any great significance. Man's main purpose was to free the gods from menial labor. In Genesis man is seen as the pinnacle of God's creation. Man was created in the image of God and was given authority over all the creatures that fill the land and the sea and the air. In ancient cultures kings were often seen as being the image of some god, but in Genesis every man is seen as special and of infinite worth, being a reflection of the one true God.
- The Sabbath, a day of rest patterned after God's day of rest, was unique in the ancient world. It was not connected to the movement of the stars, but was set apart as holy by God. It was one of the things that set the Jewish people apart.
- There is not a single other ancient source that contains a story of woman's creation. In Genesis more space is given to woman's creation than to man's. Adam was overjoyed to finally have a suitable help-mate.
We are so familiar with the Genesis creation account that we often fail to see how revolutionary is was at the time.