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ART. I. - THE BABYLONIAN LEGEND OF CREATION.* Is IT THE ORIGINAL OF THE STORY IN THE FIRST CHAPTER OF
(A paper read before the New York Academy of Science; and also before the Victoria Insti
Among the interesting “finds” on the banks of the Tigris are tablets which are said to contain the original of the Hebrew account of the creation, the fall, and the deluge. As to the last, there can be no doubt that the tablets give a distorted version of that great cataclysm. This is not surprising. The comparative nearness of the event accounts for the accuracy of some of the details. As to the fall, Professor Sayce, in his revised edition of Mr. George Smith's Chaldean Genesis, says: “ No Chaldean legend of the fall has been found.” Whether Professor Sayce is right, Assyriologists must decide. The sole question I propose to consider is this: Whatever may or may not be true as to other matters, did the Hebrews derive their cosmogony from the Chaldeans? Is the story on the tablets the original from which the Bible story of creation was taken?
It will, I think, conduce to clearness of thought if we state what is necessary to constitute one document the original of another. 1. It must be older. 2. It must treat of the same subject. 3. There must be great similarity, amounting almost to identity, in thought, language, order of statement, and mode of treatment. The first and second are of no importance without the third.
* As given in the versions of Mr. George Smith, Profs. Sayce and Lenormant.
51-FIFTH SERIES, VOL. V.
It is said that the great antiquity of the Chaldean account establishes its priority over that in our Bible, and that the long sojourn of the Hebrews in Babylon gave them an opportunity to obtain it from the records in that city. It happens, however, that whatever may be the age of the other myths, the Babylo nian “ creation” is of comparatively recent date, for, according to Professor Sayce's revised edition of George Smith's translation:
It is evident that in its present form it was probably composed in the reign of Assur-banipal, B. C. 670. It breathes throughout the spirit of a later age; its language and style show no trace of an Assyrian original; and the colophon at the end implies by its silence that it was not a copy of an older document.—Page 56.
But, admitting that the Chaldean account is sufficiently ancient, the opposing fact remains that the Hebrews, instead of being drawn to the religious belief of their conquerors, became bitterly opposed to it and to every form of polytheism. And besides, they were a proud and exclusive race. They looked down with contempt on all the rest of mankind. It seems impossible that they not only adopted the story of creation from those whose persons, religious beliefs, and ceremonies they hated, and incorporated it into their own sacred books, but even gave it the place of honor. It seems equally incredible that the Assyrian priests, the most exclusive of men, were willing to impart their sacred writings to those who scouted them and their gods. The improbability of their bestowing such a gift is exceeded only by the improbability of its being accepted.
To this, however, it may be replied, that if the Hebrews got the account, the improbability is of no consequence. We are left, therefore, to an examination of the cosmogonies. In them we shall find the means of answering the question. If there prove to be agreements between them, the probability that one was derived from the other, or both from some older docuinent, will be proportioned to the number and character of the particulars in which they agree. If these are but few, and if they are such as would of necessity be found in every cosmogonyif, for example, both accounts speak of the heavens, the earth, and sea; of cattle and beasts; of sun, moon, and stars, and the like—this should have no weight in determining whether the one was derived froin the other, because, in order to be a cosmogony at all, some or all of these things must be mentioned. Much more is necessary. It must be shown that the teachings of the two are essentially alike. There may be additions and variations, but down under it all there must be substantial agreement. It goes without saying that, if there be flat contradiction in the fundamental ideas, not in one or two particulars, but in many, the Hebrew account cannot have been derived from the Chaldean.
Three Chaldean cosmogonies are known. The most famous is that styled by Mr. George Smith “The Babylonian Legend of Creation;" the second was found in what is called “The Tablet of Cutha ;” and the third is the story told by Berosus. The first is the only one referred to in connection with the story in Genesis, probably because it is comparatively free from absurdities and monstrosities. Mr. Smith published his translation in 1875. In 1880 Professor Sayce published a new edition of Mr. Smith's book, “thoroughly revised and corrected.” The changes introduced by Professor Sayce are very considerable. Later yet, Lenormant, in his Beginnings of History, has given a more readable version, but one which differs little from that of Professor Sayce.
Since the claim that the first chapter of Genesis was derived from the Chaldeans is based upon Mr. Smith's version, I shall give that in full, adding, however, in notes or otherwise, the other versions where the difference is important enough to warrant it. In fact, it is of little consequence which translation is used.
1. When above the heavens were not raised,*
4. The chaos (or water) Tiamat (the sea) was the mother of them all.
5. At the beginning those waters were ordained; 8
& Sayce omits at the beginning, and changes the rest to "their waters were gathered together in one place."
| Sayce says: The flowering reed was not gathered; the marsh plant was not grown. Lenormant renders the same line by-No flock of animals was as yet collected.
7. When the gods had not sprung up, any one of them;* 8. Not a plant had grown, and order did not exist. 9. Then were made also the great gods. 10. The gods Lakhamu and 11. Lakhamu they caused to come . . . and they grew. 12. The gods Sar and Kisar were made 13. A course of days and a long time passed 14. The gods Sar and
Taking Mr. Smith’s version, or one of those in the notes, and putting it into plain English, it says that at the opening of the account the heavens, earth, and sea were in existence; but that order did not exist and there were no gods. The sea was the mother of all. The great gods, a pair, were produced first and grew to maturity. Another pair, Sar and Kisar, were made next. Then a long time passed, after which the gods Anu, Bel, and Hea were born of Sar and Kisar. This is absolutely all. But Mr. Smith says, and so does Professor Sayce, “This corresponds with the first two verses of Genesis !” Corresponds how? In Genesis we read: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” The tablet says nothing like that.
We read in Genesis that the earth was without form and void. In the myth we are told that before the gods were made order did not exist. At first this may seem to be the same as the “ without form and void ” of Genesis; but modern science has taught us that these words describe a condition which actually existed while our earth was an unsegregated part of the great nebulous mass, and that there never was a time when order did not exist. Matter has always been obedient to law, whether in nebula, sun, or planet. Genesis knows nothing of a chaos. Genesis says, after the heaven and earth were created, darkness covered the face of the deep, and that the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. The myth says, the great gods were not yet made. The water was the mother of them all. In Genesis we read: “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” In the myth we read nothing like this; so far as the tablets are concerned, light always existed.
* Sayce: Had not been produced. + Sayce: By name they had not been called. | Any of the various meanings of toliu will answer here,
In these few verses of our Genesis there are five distinct propositions, and not one of them parallel to any thing in the myth; and only one has the slightest resemblance. Instead of similarity there is profoundest difference. According to the Hebrew account God preceded all things, and he created heaven, earth, and sea. The tablet says, the heaven, earth, and sea were first; and at that time “the great gods had not been produced, any one of them."
The Hebrew account knows but one God; the Chaldean has many gods. The one declares that God made the universe; the other that the universe made the gods. In the one, the beginning is that point in the existence of God when the universe began to be; in the other, it is the point in the existence of the universe when the gods began to be. It is impossible to conceive of two accounts more flatly contradictory. Unfortunately, the second, third, and fourth tablets have not been found. There is, however, a fragment which, it is thought, may belong here. I give Mr. Smith's version :
1. When (thou didst make) the foundation of the ground (or caverns, according to Sayce) of rock
2. The foundation of the ground (caverns, Sayce) thou didst call
3. Thou didst beautify the heavens (the heavens were named, Sayce),
4. To the face of the heaven .. 5. Thou didst give ...
This tablet is so incomplete that it scarcely calls for remark. It contains but little, and that little illustrates the character of all the tablets. So far as what they say is true, it is nothing more than every intelligent man of that day already knew. The foundations of the caverns are indeed of rock, and the heavens are beautiful; but this adds no new idea. Every Chaldean knew that as well as the writer of the inscription. But in Genesis, in the third period, to which it is said this tablet corresponds, there is set forth in no Delphian utterance the important fact, only of late discovered by geologists, that the waters once covered the present dry land.
The next tablet is the best preserved of all. There are many variations in the translations. These are important as showing the tentative character of the rendering, but are of no special interest so far as the question of the origin of the