“The first objection to the position I have taken is that the Bible does not in fact radically reject the thought world of myth because it employs some of the actual ancient Near Eastern myths to express itself. The most common of these is the story that god defeated the chaos monster in primeval time and so brought order into the world. This monster was called Leviathan in Canaanite literature. In Mesopotamia, chaos was known as Tiamat. In Egypt it was called Nun, although from certain biblical references, it appears that the name Rahab might also have been used,” J. Oswalt, The Bible Among the Myths (Zondervan 2009), 93.
“The basic assertion is correct; references to one or another form of these stories do appear in several places in the Bible. The most explicit examples are found in Job 41:1-11; Ps 74:12-17; Isa 51:9-10; see also Hab 3:8-11. But the issue is not that they occur; rather, how are they used? That you might call someone a Hercules does not prove that your view of the world is the same as that of the ancient Greeks from whose myths that personage comes. And in fact, the Bible’s usages are directly analogous to that example. What we have is a self-conscious appropriation of the language of myth for historical and literary purposes, not mythical ones (93).
“For instance, Leviathan in Job is not depicted as some primeval monster who threatens God and all ordered existence. Instead, he is depicted in very this-worldly terms–so much so that commentators have debated whether anything more than a crocodile is intended. I suspect that the use of the Canaanite names does indicate that the writer wants to convey something more. But he is using the material in a quite different way than the Canaanites did. God is simply asking Job in another way the question which he has put to him several times, ‘Can you control nature?’ In this case he uses a common literary figure from Job’s world to convey the might of nature, but nothing more. In no way is the worldview of continuity presupposed here” (93-94).
“Leviathan and Rahab are used in a different way in the other three places [Ps 74:12-17; Isa 51:9-10; Hab 3:8-15]…In each of these passages it is the exodus that is in view. Here the imagery is utilized to express God’s victory over evil when he triumphed over the waters in the exodus and brought his people through…This kind of appropriation of the figures is diametrically opposite to their original usage among pagans. Here we have no primeval struggle between the forces of light and darkness” (94-96).
“Beyond these and three or four briefer allusions of the same sort, there are no other references to specific myths in the Bible. This is remarkable given the fact that Israel was completely surrounded by myths and mythical thinking…If we take the point of view that these are holdovers from an earlier stage of Israelite religion, then it seems to me that we are hard-pressed to explain what they are doing in these few places. Why were they not expunged with all the rest of the supposed original uses? Why leave these few, and only these? It seems much more likely to me that a conscious appropriation of literary imagery is the better explanation” (96).
“However, some would say that the specific use of the language of myth in certain places in the Bible is not the issue. Rather, they would argue, much stronger evidence is to be found in the first chapters of Genesis, where they maintain there is evidence of dependence on mythical thought patterns…I have earlier argued that such an idea does not make sense. If Israel and her neighbors all started with the worldview of continuity, then others besides Israel should have broken away from it. Yet she alone did. And if Israel broke away, when did that take place” (97).
“But leaving aside all those issues, what of the data itself in Genesis? Do the early chapters of Genesis give evidence of having once been myth in the phenomenological sense? It must be said that that evidence is very thin. As the chapters now stand, the key elements of myth are all conspicuously absent. There are no gods; there is no continual creation on the primeval plane that this world only reflects; there is no conflict between good and evil (or between order and chaos) on the metaphysical level as the precursor to creation; sexuality plays no part at all in creation” (99).
“A second argument says that the order of creation is the same as that of the Babylonian creation myth. E. A. Speiser puts it in this form [see diagram]…On the surface, the listing seems conclusive: the two understandings are identical. However, when one reads the two passages side by side, one will reach very different conclusions. For one thing there are the proportions. In the Enuma Elish the first 160 lines are given over to an account of the emergence of the gods from chaos, their multiplication, the plan of the chaos monster Tiamat, and her consort Apsu, to kill the gods, and the war that results. Where is this in Genesis? The second 130 lines have to do with the selection of Marduk as the champion of the gods. Where is this in Genesis? The next 134 lines tell of the destruction of Tiamat. That is a total of 582 lines. Only then come five lines mentioning that Marduk hung up half of Tiamat’s body to be the sky separating upper waters and lower waters. There follow 27 lines about the placement of the gods in the heavens” (99-100).
“The remaining 120 lines of this fifth tablet are broken. Speiser hypothesizes that the making of plants and animals on the earth was found here, but there is no evidence to support this position. What is clear is that the tablet ended with some request from the gods to Marduk, because tablet six begins with the statement that in response to that request Marduk made humans from mud and the blood of one of Tiamat’s monsters in order to serve the gods and allow them to be at ease. There then follow 86 lines about building a heavenly sanctuary for Marduk, and finally 214 lines proclaiming the 50 names of Marduk” (101).
“To say, as Speiser does on the basis of this comparison, that ‘one the subject of creation biblical tradition aligned itself with the traditional tenets of Babylonian science’ is not supportable from this evidence…In fact, it is important to point out that the Enuma Elish is not about ‘creation’ at all” (101).
“As to the supposed order of events, if Speiser’s abstracted order is even to be considered a possibility, which a review of the total account renders unlikely, it is similar to that in Genesis only because both follow a broadly logical progression from general to specific, or lesser to greater. That hardly demonstrates a dependence of Genesis on the Mesopotamian account. If someone was starting with the kind of material and outlook found there, it strains credulity to imagine how he or she could possibly end up with Gen 1:1-2:4. In particular is the function and place of humanity. What in the Enuma Elish’s account of humans being made as an afterthought to allow the gods to be at ease could give rise to Genesis’ having humans ‘created’ in the ‘image of God’ to be given charge over all that God had created?” (101-102).
“There is the word for ‘deep’ (Heb. tehom) in Gen 1:2, which is etymologically related to the name of the Babylonian chaos monster, Tiamat. But what does that show? Only that Hebrew is a Semitic language like Akkadian…Another similarity is the idea of something separating the upper waters (in the heavens) from the lower waters (on the earth and under the earth). But if the Hebrews may have shared the common ancient idea of the blue expanse above us being a hard surface that sometimes opens to let water fall on the earth, that is far from sharing the idea that the expanse is the body of a dead chaos monster and that the lights in it are gods” (102-103).
“There is a serious attempt to root the events in a specific place on earth. Whatever we make of the probable location of Eden, the writers…are saying that it was a distinct particular place that could be located in this world” (103).
“The land of ‘Dilmun’ mentioned in the Myth of Enki and Ninhursag (see n3 in cha 3) is clearly not intended to be understood as a definable place in our world of time and space” (103n18).
“On another front, we may look at such a psalm as Ps 29, which has sometimes been called the Bible’s ‘Canaanite psalm’ because it can be paralleled form Ugaritic literature…What is being said here? Obviously, Yahweh is being described in terms of the thunderstorm, and since Baal was the Canaanite storm god, it is often suggested that this psalm betrays the same understanding of Yahweh as the Canaanites had of Baal…But is that correct? Once again, we are dealing with superficial similarities and essential differences. We can notice that nowhere in the psalm is Yahweh identified with the thunderstorm. In fact, one can argue that the psalmist is at pains to avoid that implication. Just as Isaiah 40, in its antiidolatrous polemic, says that Yahweh sits above the circle of the earth, so here we are told that Yahweh sits above the flood. He is not the rain, nor is he the storm giving the rain” (104-106).
“This point is seen ever more clearly in Ps 68, where in the context of his salvation of his people in history, God is said to be the rain giver (68:8-9); moreover, the One who rides in the clouds is the One who rules all the kingdoms of the earth (32-35). In other words, the psalmist is saying that whatever might have been said of the gods could only truly be said of Yahweh. Ps 104 makes much the same point” (106).