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The Old Testament and Ancient Near East


The expansion of our knowledge of the culture of the Ancient Near East, which became possible as a result of archaeological discoveries, has opened up new perspectives for the study of the Old Testament. In these discoveries, humanity was able to touch the already lost literary heritage of the great civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Siro-Palestine, Anatolia.

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Nothing is surprising because the ancient Jewish writers of the Bible could be familiar with the literature of the peoples around them. The Scripture itself testifies to constant living contacts with Egypt and Mesopotamia, and the influence of the traditions of the peoples of Canaan is determined by linguistic proximity. The similarity of several biblical texts with literary monuments of the Middle East raises the question of understanding the inspiration of the Bible. However, a comparative analysis of texts that are close to each other can help identify those deep meanings of the biblical text that allow us to talk about it as a divinely inspired Scripture.

The similarity itself begins from the very first biblical lines. According to the Book of Genesis, the initial history of the world and humanity immediately refers us to ancient Near Eastern myths and legends. An old reader or listener of biblical texts could not but know and compare the stories of Genesis with the ancient legends about the creation of the world and man in the Babylonian poem “Enuma Elish.” About the flood – in the Sumerian mythology and the Akkadian “Epic of Gilgamesh.”

The Creation of the World in the Book of Genesis and the Story of Enuma Elish

Enuma Elish is imbued with deep philosophy and allows you to see through the prism of time the perception of the inhabitants of Babylonia and the neighboring kingdom of Assyria. This work served as a source for Jewish authors who wrote the Old Testament “Book of Genesis.” The world’s creation in both the Bible and the Enuma Elish are very similar: the book of Genesis describes the design of the Jewish people by God; the Enuma Elish talks about the origin of people and the foundation of Babylon under the leadership of Marduk. In each text, there is a story about how the cosmos and man were created (David, 2020). Each story begins with a disordered abyss, describing the water chaos and primordial darkness that once filled the universe. Then light separates from twilight (the day from night), then the creation of celestial bodies takes place, and then a person appears.

The Flood in Genesis and in The Epic of Gilgamesh

The epic of Gilgamesh is indeed similar to the Biblical plot, but there are exceptions. For example, the Book of Genesis says that the journey on the Ark lasted about one year. The Sumerian epic says that the trip lasted only six days. However, if we consider that God plunged the passengers of the Ark into a deep sleep, they will only remember the time when they were awake (Gerda, 2020). The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Bible are so close about the great flood, lies in the fact that there was a flood. It is narrated not only in the Epic of Gilgamesh but also in many other works. The difference is that the Epic was transmitted orally from the survivors of the Ark. This retelling of the legend is subject to the accuracy of memorization and interpretation. The Bible was written by people in agreement with God, directly the Creator of the Flood.

Babylon in the Book of Genesis and the Confusion of Languages.

The story of Babylon and the Confusion of Languages is a parable filled with symbolism: a departure from God (from the East), an attempt to build a civilization without God, and as a result – the separation of peoples (Jonathan, 2017). Humanity, united by a single language, risked dying at the very dawn of its history. Perhaps God, who knows both the past and the future, saw that if the city is built, then human civilization will perish. The mixing of languages was an act of salvation of humanity, according to God.

Moses and Sargon the Great

There is an opinion that the image of Moses became a modified version of Sargon of Akkad. The biblical figure of Moses and the figure of Sargon the Great have suspiciously similar origin stories about how their mothers sent their sons in a reed basket to swim on the river as children. It seems more logical that took the level of Sargon from Jewish history than vice versa. This fact comes from some evidence that the Old Testament existed long before the Assyrian text from which took the story of Sargon was taken. Scientists do not have enough facts, but this theory sometimes pops up in the scientific space.

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For the biblical authors, Yahweh is the god of the union since he allied with the patriarchs, the sons of Israel, King David, and the Jewish monarchy. According to tradition, Yahweh first establishes his alliance with the patriarchs, making him “the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Among the polytheistic cultural background, Yahweh is the god protecting the Israelites, the tribal protector. In turn, they recognize his authority and acknowledge his sovereignty. It is essential to understand the Old Testament because it contains many moral values and the history of the Jewish people in addition to the Holy Scriptures.


David, L. (2020). Creation Stories of the Ancient Near East. Bible and Spade, 5(1), 77-89.

Gerda, D.V. (2020). Suffering in the Epic of Gilgamesh Epic. Old Testament Essays, 33(3), 609-705.

Jonathan, G. (2017). The Double Etymology of Babel in Genesis 11. Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, 129(3), 362-375.

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