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Genesis 1-2 In Light Of Ancient Egyptian Creation Myths

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This paper was presented at the second annual Student Academic Conference held at Dallas Theological Seminary in April 18, 2005.

Introduction

With the popularization of the documentary hypothesis by Julius Wellhausen and the publication of the Babylonian creation and flood stories by George Smith in the late 19th century, many critical scholars hold to a Babylonian background of the Genesis creation accounts. This fits well, of course, with their classification of Gen 1:1-2:3 as “P” and their dating of it to the exilic/post-exilic periods. However, several more recent scholars suggest that Genesis 1-2 reflects an Egyptian background: A. S. Yahuda, A. H. Sayce, Cyrus Gordon, and James Hoffmeier. Their approach better respects the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and the Egyptian background of Moses and his original audience. The purpose of this paper is to survey the parallels and differences between Egyptian cosmology and the Genesis creation accounts that these four scholars have surfaced. It will also suggest that Genesis 1-2 reflects an Egyptian, not Babylonian, background and cosmology.

Brief Survey of Scholarship: Egyptian Background of Genesis 1-2

In 1887, Sayce first noted the parallels between Genesis 1 and the Egyptian cosmogony of Hermopolis: “the chaotic deep; the ‘breath’ moving on the waters; the creation of light; the emergence of the hill ‘in the middle of the waters.’” 1 Unfortunately, his work was largely ignored.

In 1933 and 1934, Yahuda identified several similarities between Genesis 1-2 and ancient Egyptian texts. He also identified Egyptian influence throughout the Pentateuch.2

In 1982, Cyrus Gordon showed similarities between the Egyptian and Hebrew traditions of the creation of man.3 He drew several parallels between the creation tradition of Khnum, the potter-god, and Genesis 2:4-25.

In 1983, James Hoffmeier also identified several striking parallels between Genesis 1-2 and ancient Egyptian cosmology.4 First, he discussed the state of the cosmos at the time when God began His creation. The Egyptian and the Hebrew share similar concepts although the words used are unrelated etymologically.5 Second, Hoffmeier mentioned similarities between “the initial acts of creation.”6 Third, Hoffmeier examined the similarities of man’s creation shared by the Egyptian and Hebrew accounts.

Brief Survey of Egyptian Cosmology (Creation Mythology)

The ancient Egyptian beliefs and concepts of creation appear in various sources: Pyramid Texts, Coffin Texts, The Book of the Dead, The Memphite Theology, as well as various hymns,7 Wisdom texts,8 and wall bas-reliefs.9 These sources show that Egyptian cosmology10 is both uniform and diverse.11 Although there are nearly one dozen Egyptian creation myths, the three most dominate arose in the cultic sites of Heliopolis, Memphis, and Hermopolis.12 These three interconnect with one another as evidenced by the appearance of some of the gods in more than one tradition. The cosmogonies of Heliopolis and Memphis share more in common with one another than with Hermopolis. However, they all feature the similar concepts of a primordial ocean, a primeval hill, and the deification of nature.13 These three cosmogonies deal specifically with how the god(s) created the world. They do not directly address the creation of humans and animals.14 “The earliest recorded cosmogonies seem more concerned with accounting for the origin of the world than for that of mankind or of the animals.”15 The Egyptians developed a separate creation tradition to explain the creation of humans and animals, namely the tradition of Khnum, the potter-god.

The Creation of the World: The Three Major Egyptian Cosmogonies

Heliopolis

The Pyramid Texts contain the earliest known cosmogonic expressions of the Egyptians.16 Priests of the temple in Heliopolis recorded these hieroglyphic texts inside the pyramids of Unis, Teti, Pepi I, Merenre I, Pepi II17 (kings of dynasties 5 and 6, ca. 2375-2184 BC) 18 From these texts comes the knowledge of the Heliopolitan cosmogony. In Heliopolis, nine gods constitute the Great Ennead.19 Atum20 functions as the creator god from whom the other eight gods originate. Pyramid Text 1655 lists the gods of the Great Ennead and acknowledges Atum as the father of the other eight. It reads, “O you Great Ennead which is on Ōn21 (Heliopolis), (namely) Atum, Shu, Tefēnet, Gēb, Nūt, Osiris, Isis, Seth, and Nephthys; O you children of Atum, extend his goodwill to his child in your name of Nine Bows.”22 Atum arises first from the primordial waters (personified as Nun) from which also emerges the primeval hill.23 He takes his stand on the primeval hill, and begins his work of creation. Not having a consort, he masturbates to bring forth other gods to assist him in creation. Pyramid Text 1248 graphically describes this event. “Atum evolved growing ithyphallic, in Heliopolis. He put his penis in his grasp that he might make orgasm with it, and the two siblings were born—Shu and Tefnut.”24 However, Pyramid Texts 1652 and 1653a describe the event without erotic language. “Atum Scarab! When you became high, as the high ground, when you rose, as the benben in the Phoenix Enclosure in Heliopolis, you sneezed Shu, you spat Tefnut.”25 From his emission or his spittle Shu and Tefnut originate who deify air and moisture respectively. Then, Shu and Tefnut copulate and produce Geb, the earth, and Nut, the sky. Geb and Nut in turn produce five offspring: Osiris, Isis, Horus the Elder, Set, and Nephthys.26 However, Horus the Elder does not become a member of the Great Ennead. Instead, he, along with Thot, Maat, Anubis, and other deities not clearly identified, constitute the Little Ennead.27

Memphis

The Shabaka Stone28 contains the famous Memphite Theology. Carved onto a black granite slab by order of king Shabaka (716-702 BC)29 of the 25th Dynasty, this stone was to preserve the writing of a worm-eaten document.30 Sadly, the stone later suffered severe damage. The names of Shabaka and of the god Set were intentionally chiseled out, and the stone was used to grind grain.31 The Memphite theologians borrowed the Great Ennead of Heliopolis.32 Ptah replaced Atum as the creator god, but Atum did not disappear from the new theology. According to Mercer, He “became the heart (understanding) and tongue (word) of ‘Ptah the Great’, and in turn, Ptah was the heart and tongue of the Ennead [sic]...Ptah (that is, Atum) was the ennead in emanation and manifestation. Thus, the other eight deities of the Memphite ennead were merely Ptah himself in manifestation.”33 Line 55 of the Shabaka Stone supports Mercer’s assertion, and reveals that Ptah creates by divine word. It says, “His (Ptah’s) Ennead is before him as teeth and lips. They are the semen and the hands of Atum. For the Ennead of Atum came into being through his semen and his fingers. But the Ennead is the teeth and lips in this mouth which pronounced the name of every thing, from which Shu and Tefnut came forth, and which gave birth to the Ennead.”34 In this text, Ptah’s creation by word is contrasted with Atum’s creation by masturbation, and Ptah’s method is shown to be the real cause behind Atum’s method of creation. The Memphite Theology does not portray Ptah as using magic to call the world into being. “The divine creator is not imagined as a magician reciting his spells; he is seen as one who first conceived in his mind that which should be created to form the world, and then brought it into being by pronouncing the necessary command for it to be.”35

Hermopolis

In the city of Hermopolis, the cosmogony of the Ogdoad arose. The Ogdoad of Hermopolis consists of four gods and their respective consorts: Nun and Naunet, Keku and Kauket, Hehu and Hauhet, Amun and Amaunet. Each of the four goddesses receives her name from the feminine form of the name of her male counterpart.36 These deities represent the four conditions present at the beginning of Egyptian creation. Nun and Naunet personify the primeval waters. Nun embodied the primeval ocean, and Naunet, his consort, referred to the counter-heaven lying under the primeval ocean.37 Keku and Kauket personify the darkness which attended the primordial state. Hehu and Hauhet personify the boundlessness and formlessness of the primordial condition.38 Amun and Amaunet present some difficulty in ascertaining their precise meaning. Brandon suggested that ‘Amun’ comes from the root mn which means ‘hidden’.39 Although Amun became identified with the sun god, Rē, during the Middle Kingdom, he was originally known as the god of air and wind.40 One can see an association between air and wind, and the idea of ‘hidden’ or ‘unseen’. Thus, Amun and Amaunet personify the hidden air and wind that attended the primordial state.41 Frankfort comments on Amun’s role, and explains the function of the Ogdoad. He states, “Amon could therefore be conceived in later times as the dynamic element of the chaos, the mainspring of creation, the breath of life in dead matter. But this is not the original conception, which simply, by means of the Ogdoad, made the chaos more specific, more apt to be understood. On the Isle of Flames the Eight mysteriously made the sun-god come forth from the waters, and therewith their function was fulfilled.”42

Differences among the Three Egyptian Cosmogonies

The three cosmogonies of Heliopolis, Memphis, and Hermopolis exhibit both similarities and differences. At times the differences create contradictions in the mind of the modern reader. However, these contradictions among the three traditions and even within the traditions themselves did not pose a problem for the ancient Egyptians.43

Similarities among the Three Egyptian Cosmogonies

From studying the various pieces of evidence dealing with the Egyptian understanding of creation, three common concepts bring unity to the otherwise diverse creation stories. All creation stories share the belief in a primordial ocean, a primeval hill, and the deification of nature. These concepts find representation in each of the temple sites in ancient Egypt. 44

The Creation of Humans in Egyptian Cosmogonies

Egyptians viewed the creation of the world as a separate creative act from the creation of man. While the cosmogonies of Heliopolis, Memphis, and Hermopolis address the origin of the world, the creation of humans and animals receives little attention.45 The three main Egyptian cosmogonies primarily focus on the condition of the primordial state, the origin of the gods, and the creation of the heaven, the earth, and the sun.

The Creation Tradition of Khnum

While the creation of humans and animals receives little attention in the main cosmogonies, Egyptian evidence concerning the creation of man is not lacking. As Cyrus Gordon notes, “One of the most familiar scenes in Egyptian art is Khnum, the ram-headed god, fashioning a person out of the clay on the potter’s wheel.”46 In the Temple of Deir el Bahari, Hatshepsut had a relief carved on one of the walls depicting Khnum fashioning her and her ka out of clay on his potter’s turntable.47 Khnum creates humans and animals on his potter’s wheel using the silt of the Nile, i.e., clay. After fashioning a person, his consort Heket offers the “breath of life,” symbolized by the ankh, to the nose of the clay figure. This animates the clay effigy and the person receives an allotted life-span, personified as Shay meaning “That-which-is-ordained.”48

Suggested Parallels between Egyptian Cosmology and the Hebrew Creation Accounts of Genesis 1-2

The following features of Egyptian cosmology share similarities with the Genesis creation accounts: the ability of the Egyptians to hold seemingly contradictory views of the creation events at the same time, the means employed by the creator-gods in their creation, and the condition of the primordial state at the beginning of creation.

Adherence to Seemingly Contradictory Views of the Creation

The fact that the Egyptians held to at least three different means of creation simultaneously without concerning themselves with the contradictions may give an answer to the two different creation narratives in Genesis. Old Testament scholars have long wrestled with the presence of two creation stories in Genesis. For example, von Rad notes, “The long road in the history of tradition which lies behind the present form of this account of creation is in many respects recognizable. The exposition has dealt with the tension between creation by act and creation by word.”49As noted earlier, the Egyptians recognized creation by masturbation (self-copulation), by divine word, and by fashioning. 50 Two of the three means of creation in the Egyptian tradition show a parallel with the means Yahweh used. In Genesis 1:1—2:3, Yahweh creates by divine word; and in Genesis 2:4-25, Yahweh creates by fashioning: God planted a garden, formed man, and formed animals. Creation by masturbation (self-copulation) finds no parallel with the Hebrew tradition. To picture Yahweh in such an act of creation would not be in keeping with His character. Furthermore, in the Memphite Theology, Ptah’s creation by divine word superseded Atum’s ‘self-copulation’ as being the cause behind Atum’s activity. Interestingly, two forms of creation (divine word, and self-copulation) find expression in the Memphite Theology without one contradicting the other. Instead, they complement one another. Erik Iversen sees the relationship between Ptah and Atum as creator and demiurge respectively. Ptah inaugurated creation by thought and word, and Atum carried out the sensible, i.e. material, creation.51 James Allen concurs and says, “Ptah’s theologians united the two concepts of craftsmanship and the creative word into a single theory of creation.”52 A similar process occurs in the creation account in Genesis 1:1—2:3. In certain instances throughout the narrative, God first declares his desire “Let there be...” and then God makes that which he desired. The difference between Gen 1:1—2:3 and the Memphite Theology lies in the fact that God employs both means of creation without the aid of another god. For example, in Gen 1:6, God says, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the water separating the water from the water.” Then, in Gen 1:7, God makes the expanse. It says, “And God made the expanse and separated the water which was below the expanse from the water which was above the expanse; and it was so.”

The Means Employed by the Creator-Gods

As mentioned above, Ptah creates the world by divine word in the Memphite Theology. This forms a unique parallel between Genesis 1:1—2:3 and Egyptian cosmology. “While the doctrine of creation in response to divine command is widespread in Egyptian literature, it is not to be found in Babylonian cosmologies.”53

As Khnum creates man on his potter’s wheel, Yahweh-Elohim creates man by forming him from the earth.54 While God is not explicitly called a potter in the Genesis narrative, the presence of the verb rx^y` “to form, fashion” (which is the root of rx@y) “potter”) implicitly suggests that God is viewed as a potter.55 Furthermore, Gordon argues that the “God as the potter and man as the clay” motif occurs more explicitly throughout the rest of the Old Testament, especially in Job. Therefore, he concluded that the Old Testament implies that everyone has been formed out of clay by the Divine Potter.56

Both the Egyptian and the Hebrew texts use the phrase “breath of life” to describe the life-giving force that the deity infused into the nostrils of the clay figure.57 However, a difference exists between the two traditions. The Egyptian reliefs usually portray two gods involved in the creation of man. One creates the man, and the other puts the breath of life, represented by the ankh, into the nostrils. In the Hebrew tradition, Yahweh-Elohim performs both functions, an implicit polemic against ancient Egyptian mythology.58

It appears that the creation traditions of Heliopolis, Memphis, and Hermopolis parallel the first creation account in Genesis by having as their focus the creation of the world in general. The creation tradition of Khnum parallels the second creation account in Genesis by focusing on the creation of humans specifically.

The Primordial Condition

The Egyptian view of the primordial state may help inform the Hebrew understanding of the conditions mentioned in Genesis 1:2. Creation scientists have long argued for the creation of a water canopy when the waters were separated from the waters in Genesis. Envisioning the creation of the world in Genesis from a modern scientific standpoint leads them to see the world described in Genesis 1:2 as a ball of water from which a portion of water is taken and placed above the atmosphere. However, if the Egyptian worldview gives a closer understanding of the Hebrew worldview, quite a different idea emerges. The Egyptians saw the separation of waters as an air-bubble in the midst of the watery abyss of Nun.59 It was in this air-bubble that the earth (the primeval hill) arose. A closer look at Genesis 1 reveals a similar (nearly identical) concept. The author of Genesis 1:1—2:3 describes the placement of the expanse as <y!M`h^ EotB= “in the midst of the water” i.e. in the middle of the water. This gives the notion of an air-bubble in the middle of the deep. After making the expanse, God commands the water under heaven to gather to one place and allow the dry ground to appear.

The Ogdoad of Hermopolis appears to parallel the four conditions present at the beginning of creation in Genesis 1:2.60 Hoffmeier61 and Wilson62 have noted the similarities between these deities and the four conditions present at the beginning of creation in Genesis 1:2. Other Egyptologists concur with the meanings Hoffmeier and Wilson assign to these four pairs of gods.63 Hoffmeier suggests the following parallels. Nun/Naunet, the personified primordial ocean corresponds to the Hebrew <ohT= ‘the deep.’ Keku/Kauket, personified darkness attending the primordial state parallels the Hebrew Ev#j) ‘darkness.’ Hehu/Hauhet, the gods reflecting boundlessness and infinity correspond to the Hebrew Whb)w` Wht ‘formlessness’ and ‘emptiness.’ Amun/Amaunet, personified air and wind parallel the Hebrew <yh!l)a$ j^Wr ‘mighty wind.’64

The involvement of Amun in the creation tradition at Hermopolis appears to parallel the role of <yh!l)a$ j^Wr ‘mighty wind’ or ‘wind of God’65 in Genesis 1:2.66 At the beginning of creation, the j^Wr hovers over the waters. One could imagine a mighty wind blowing upon the primordial waters stirring them into motion. Thus, the parallels between the Ogdoad of Hermopolis and the conditions present at the beginning of creation in Genesis 1:2 reveal that the Hebrews and the Egyptians shared a similar concept of the primordial state. However, one stark contrast exists. While the Egyptians personified the elements of nature, the Hebrews saw their God as distinct from the creation. The elements of the primordial universe await the command of the Creator rather than acting with independent volition. Furthermore, Atum-Re (creator-god and sun-god respectively) evolved/created himself out of the pre-existent water. By Contrast, Yahweh is eternally pre-existent, is distinct from the primeval water, and did not create himself.

Genesis Creation Accounts in Their Historical Context

The people who lived in the ancient Near East all shared similar ideas concerning how the world came into existence.67 Although the ancients shared many views in common with one another, differences existed among them as well. In Babylon, creation results from a bloody battle of the gods. Marduk slays Tiamat, and splits her in two forming the heaven. However, in Egyptian creation, no violent struggle exists among the gods. Hebrew creation introduces another difference. Only one God exists who is distinct from his creation.

Historical Relationship between Hebrews and Egyptians

Since the Hebrew and Egyptian concepts of creation share more in common with one another than the Hebrew and Babylonian, this suggests that the author or redactor of the Genesis creation accounts possessed greater knowledge of Egyptian than Babylonian cosmology, or a the very least held a worldview that was closer to the Egyptian than the Babylonian worldview. If the Pentateuch was written by Moses who was educated in the courts of Egypt, the use of Egyptian ideas in the Genesis creation account should not be surprising.68

Hatshepsut and Moses

Omar Zuhdi, suggests Hatshepsut as the daughter of Pharaoh who drew Moses from the water.69 While problems exist with his theory, as he admits, it remains as a valid possibility.

As mentioned previously, Hatshepsut’s temple at Deir el-Bahari in Thebes contains a wall-relief which depicts Khnum fashioning her and her ka out of clay on his potter’s turntable. Khnum’s consort, Heket, kneels by the potter’s wheel and offers the clay effigy the breath of life, symbolized by the ankh. 70 The assertion put forth by this wall-relief, namely, that Khnum personally made Hatshepsut, validates her right to rule.71

If Hatshepsut adopted Moses as her son, he would have known about the cult of Khnum since his stepmother’s right to rule depended upon Khnum’s creation of her. Moses’ familiarity with Khnum may explain the Egyptian imagery found in the second Genesis creation account (Gen 2:4-25). Here, Yahweh-Elohim forms man out of the ground and breathes the breath of life into his nostrils causing the man to become a living being.

Demythologizing: The Historicization of Myth

As McCurley72 has shown, Yahweh often does in history the actions claimed by other gods in the mythologies of Israel’s neighbors. This process, known as ‘demythologizing,’ occurs in the Genesis creation accounts. The first creation story in Genesis demythologizes the cosmogony of Hermopolis. The four conditions present at the beginning of creation in Genesis parallel those represented by the Ogdoad of Hermopolis. However, rather than the elements of the creation having a volition of their own, the text portrays them as inanimate objects which move according to the direction of Yahweh’s word.

Genesis Creation Accounts Written as History

The wayyiqtol narrative structure of the Genesis creation accounts shows that the author/redactor(s) intended their audience to understand the accounts as taking place in history. Whether or not one chooses to accept the historicity of the creation accounts makes no difference with this issue. The original audience understood the Genesis creation accounts as describing a historical event based on the wayyiqtol narrative structure.

Polemical Elements in the Genesis Creation Accounts

Certain parts of the Genesis creation texts not only diverge from Egyptian concepts but they also form a polemic against the Egyptian gods. The scope of this paper does not permit an exhaustive listing of the polemical elements in the Genesis creation accounts. However, a few will be mentioned.

God’s creation of light on day one before the creation of the luminaries on day four forms a polemic against Atum-Re, the sun god. This shows that the source of light does not originate with the sun or the moon (i.e. Re, the sun-god or Thoth, the moon-god), but with the Hebrew God who is distinct from the light and the creation.

Another polemical element is found in the fact that the author does not name the sun and the moon. He simply refers to them as the ‘greater light’ and the ‘lesser light.’ If he intended to merely demythologize the luminaries, he could have used the Hebrew vm#v# ‘sun’ and j^r@y` ‘moon.’ By not naming the sun and the moon, he further distances them from the deities attributed to them in Egypt.

The polemical elements in the Genesis creation accounts imply that the author saw a need for his audience to understand that Yahweh, and not the Egyptian gods, is the one true God and Creator of the world. For example, a major component of the Exodus narrative concerns the battle between Yahweh, and the Egyptian gods (Pharaoh himself being the sun-god incarnate). In the context of the slaying of the first-born in Egypt Yahweh declares in Exodus 12:12, “against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments.” During the birth of Israel as a nation, the Hebrews saw the Egyptian gods, not the Babylonian, as opposing Yahweh. Therefore, a creation polemic that establishes Yahweh as creator in place of the Egyptian gods seems more plausible than one that opposes the Babylonian gods.

The presence of two creation stories in Genesis may result from the need of the Hebrews to refute the two Egyptian creation traditions, namely, the tradition of how the cosmos came into being, and the tradition of how humans and animals came into being. One creation story would not suffice to argue against the views in Egypt since the Egyptians saw the creation of the universe and the creation of humans in two distinct ways, namely, creation by divine word, and creation by forming. In order to sufficiently argue against both, two creation accounts were needed.

Genesis 1:1-2:3 portrays Elohim as creating the cosmos by his spoken word. Although the creation of man and woman becomes God’s crowning achievement in his creation week, the specifics of how he made them receives little mention other than their creation as the image of God. For a more detailed account of man and woman’s creation, the reader must consult the second Genesis creation account.

Genesis 2:4-25 shows Yahweh-Elohim creating man and animals from the earth. Yahweh-Elohim forms man out of the earth and breathes into him the “breath of life.”

Through the two creation accounts, Yahweh-Elohim is shown to be superior to the gods of Egypt. He creates by divine word, yet remains transcendent. Unlike Ptah, he does not have to embody the creation to command it, neither does he require assistance from another god or demiurge. He simply speaks and/or acts, and the creation is completed. He also creates by forming man out of the earth. Unlike Khnum, he does not require the aid of a consort. He creates the man and breathes life into him. Thus, through the two creation accounts, Yahweh-Elohim demonstrates his ability to perform all the creative acts of the Egyptian gods.

The evidence has shown the use of Egyptian creation imagery within the Genesis creation accounts. However, rather than discrediting the Genesis creation accounts as a direct borrowing of Egyptian beliefs, the evidence shows that the author/redactor(s) possessed a knowledge Egyptian beliefs and argued against those concepts that were contrary to truth.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the author/redactor(s) of the Genesis creation accounts share certain concepts of the makeup of the world with other ancient Near Eastern cultures. However, it is especially with Egypt’s worldview that the author/redactor(s) are familiar. Evidence for this lies in the many allusions to Egyptian creation motifs throughout the Genesis creation accounts. But, rather than being a case of direct borrowing, they demythologize the Egyptian concepts and form a polemic against the Egyptian gods. Thus, they elevate Yahweh-Elohim as the one true God, who is transcendent and who is all powerful. He speaks his desire and it comes to pass. He does not require the assistance of other gods to perform the acts of creation. He alone possesses the power and means necessary to effect the creation of the world. This paper has compiled a list of the more significant parallels between Egyptian cosmology and the Genesis creation accounts, and has shown that Egyptian cosmology and the Genesis creation accounts share more affinity with one another than the Genesis creation accounts share with Babylonian cosmology.


1 A. H. Sayce, “The Egyptian Background of Genesis I,” in Studies Presented to F. Ll. Griffith (London: 1932) 421.

2 Abraham Shalom Yahuda, The Accuracy of the Bible (London: W. Heinemann, 1934); A. S. Yahuda, The Language of the Pentateuch in Its Relation to Egyptian (London: Oxford University Press, 1933). While Yahuda’s observations are helpful, he tends to pan-Egyptianize the Hebrew text.

3 Cyrus H. Gordon, “Khnum and El,” in Scripta Hierosolymitana: Egyptological Studies, ed. Sarah Israelit-Groll, vol. 28 (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1982).

4 James K. Hoffmeier, “Some Thoughts on Genesis 1 & 2 and Egyptian Cosmology,” Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society 15 (1983): 39-49. He also emphasized that Genesis 1-2 was polemical in nature having been designed to refute the Egyptian creation myths.

5 The word tyv!ar@B= appears first in the Genesis narrative and is often translated, “in the beginning.” This word expresses the idea of ‘beginning’ and comes from the root var) which means ‘head.’ A similar idea occurs at the beginning of Egyptian creation material. The Egyptians used two words in referring to ‘primeval time’ or ‘the beginning of time.’ The word sp tpy occurred frequently while the other word tpy.t rarely appeared. However, both words share the same root tp which means ‘head.’ Yahuda, Language of the Pentateuch, 122. Hoffmeier captured the essence of this relationship when he said, “The terminology, while not etymologically related, is related conceptually.” Hoffmeier, “Some Thoughts on Genesis 1 & 2,” 42.

6 Hoffmeier, “Some Thoughts on Genesis 1 & 2,” 42.

7 See Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature: A Book of Readings Volume 2: The New Kingdom, vol. 2, 3 vols. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), 81-118. Part Two: Hymns, Prayers, and a Harper’s Song.

8 Hoffmeier, “Some Thoughts on Genesis 1 & 2,” 42.

9 Brandon, Creation Legends, 61. Cyrus H. Gordon, “Khnum and El,” in Scripta Hierosolymitana: Egyptological Studies, ed. Sarah Israelit-Groll, vol. 28 (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1982), 206-07.

10 Cosmogony is defined as “a creation story, a culture’s account of its cosmic origins. Each cosmogony gives spiritual or cosmic significance to the given culture’s surroundings and activities.” Cosmology is defined as “that branch of science or philosophy that concerns itself with the study of the universe as a system. A cosmogony is, in this sense, an aspect of cosmology.” David Leeming and Margaret Leeming, A Dictionary of Creation Myths (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 55-56.

11 Richard J. Clifford, Creation Accounts in the Ancient Near East and in the Bible, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series, ed. Michael L. Barre (Washington, DC: The Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1994), 100.

12 Brandon, Creation Legends, 15.

13 Veronica Ions, Egyptian Mythology (Feltham, Middlesex: Hamlyn Publishing Group, 1968), 24.

14 Brandon, Creation Legends, 14.

15 Ibid.

16 Ibid., 15.

17 Ibid.

18 Ian Shaw, ed., The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 480.

19 The Heliopolitan cosmogony consists of two, and possibly three groups of deities. Samuel A. B. Mercer, The Religion of Ancient Egypt (London: Luzac & Co., 1949), 276. They Pyramid Texts refer to these groups as psd.t ‘Ennead’ (lit. “the nine”). As the name suggests, nine gods compose an Ennead. However, a few startling exceptions exist. The Theban Ennead totals fifteen gods, and the Ennead of Abydos only numbers seven. Mercer, Religion of Ancient Egypt, 276, n 9. Initially, only one Ennead existed and as time went on the term became more loosely applied to any group of Egyptian deities. According to Pyramid Texts 177 and 178, both a great Ennead as well as a little Ennead exists. The labels ‘great’ and ‘little’ refer to prominence rather than size, and also refer to early versus late traditions. See James P. Allen, “The Celestial Realm,” in Ancient Egypt, ed. David P. Silverman (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 123, for a fuller explanation of the Egyptian concept of the Ennead.

20 The names Atum, Re, and Khepri all refer to this deity. “The hieroglyphic sign Khepri means ‘to become’ or ‘to bring into being.’” Fred Gladstone Bratton, Myths and Legends of the Ancient Near East (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1970), 173.

21 Ōn is transliterated into Hebrew as /oa. E. A. Wallis Budge, An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary: With an Index of English Words, King List and Geographical List with Indexes, List of Hieroglyphic Characters, Coptic and Semitic Alphabets, Etc., Dover ed., vol. 2, 2 vols. (New York: Dover Publications, 1920), 958. In Genesis 41:45, the author records that Joseph married Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, the priest of /oa. This city of Ōn is best known by its Greek name Ἡλιούπολις, ‘Heliopolis’, the ‘sun-city’ for its worship of the Sun God Rē. For further information concerning the background of this city, see Robert A. Armour, God and Myths of Ancient Egypt (Cairo, Egypt: The American University in Cairo Press, 1986), 15-18.

22 Raymond Oliver Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, Translated into English by R. O. Faulkner: Supplement of Hieroglyphic Texts (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), 247.

23 Ibid., 238, 46.

24 James P. Allen, “Cosmologies,” in The Context of Scripture: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World, ed. William W. Hallo, vol. 1. 3 vols. (New York: Brill, 1997), 7.

25 Ibid.

26 E. A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Religion: Ideas of the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt (New York: Gramercy Books, 1959), 45.

27 Samuel A. B. Mercer, The Religion of Ancient Egypt (London: Luzac & Co., 1949), 276-77.

28 John Wilson dates the inscription to 700 BC, but notes that the “linguistic, philological, and geopolitical evidence in conclusive in support of its derivation from an original text more than two thousand years older.” John Albert Wilson, “Egyptian Myths, Tales, and Mortuary Texts,” in Ancient Near Eastern Texts: Relating to the Old Testament, ed. James Bennett Pritchard (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), 4.

29 Shaw, ed., Oxford History Ancient Egypt, 357, 482.

30 James Henry Breasted, “The Philosophy of a Memphite Priest,” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 39 (1901): 40-41.

31 Ibid.: 40.

32 Robert A. Armour, God and Myths of Ancient Egypt (Cairo, Egypt: The American University in Cairo Press, 1986), 122.

33 Mercer, Religion of Ancient Egypt, 279.

34 Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature: A Book of Readings, vol. 1, 3 vols. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), 54.

35 Brandon, Creation Legends, 38.

36 Ions, Egyptian Mythology, 35.

37 Siegfried Morenz, Egyptian Religion, trans. Ann E. Keep (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1973), 175.

38 John Albert Wilson, “The Nature of the Universe,” in Before Philosophy, the Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man: An Essay on Speculative Thought in the Ancient Near East, ed. H. Frankfort (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1949), 61.

39 Brandon, Creation Legends, 46.

40 Mercer, Religion of Ancient Egypt, 157.

41 In describing Amun’s role in the creation, Brandon wrote, “It would, therefore, seem reasonable to suppose that, if Amun did personify wind, he was conceived as such moving across Nun in the beginning to stir it into activity—to cause such eddies and convolutions in it, that from its depths the primeval hill began to emerge.” Brandon, Creation Legends, 47.

42 Henri Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods: A Study of Ancient Near Eastern Religion as the Integration of Society & Nature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948), 155.

43 See A. H. Sayce, The Religion of Ancient Egypt, 2d ed., Gifford Lectures (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1913), 29, for more discussion concerning the contradictions within Egyptian religion.

44 See Brandon, Creation Legends, 15, for a fuller discussion.

45 The three main Egyptian cosmogonies do not address the creation of humans or animals except for the brief mention of man being created from the tears of the sun-god, Re. Brandon, Creation Legends, 55-6.

46 Gordon, “Khnum and El,” 203.

47 Barbara Watterson, Gods of Ancient Egypt (Godalming, Surrey: Bramley Books Limited, 1996), 191.

48 Ibid., 189.

49 Gerhard von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961), 64.

50 Morenz, Egyptian Religion, 161-66.

51 Erik Iversen, “The Cosmology of the Shabaka Text,” in Studies in Egyptology: Presented to Miriam Lichtheim, ed. Sarah Israelit-Groll, vol. 1. 2 vols. (Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, The Hebrew University, 1990), 489-90.

52 Allen, “The Celestial Realm,” 124.

53 Hoffmeier, “Some Thoughts on Genesis 1 & 2,” 45.

54 Yahuda proposes that the author of Genesis adopts from the Egyptians the idea of creating man out of clay and of animating him by blowing the breath of life into man. Furthermore, he describes the creation of man in the “image of God” as a typical Egyptian conception deriving from the belief that the first primeval god begat children “out of his body” thus bearing his likeness. Yahuda, The Accuracy of the Bible, 146-7. Hoffmeier also comments on the “image of God” parallel. An Egyptian wisdom treatise from the 10th Dynasty, Merikare, states that man is the “snnw of the creator-god. Snnw is derived from the word meaning ‘second’, hence ‘likeness’, ‘image’, and it is frequently written with the statue for the determinative.” Hoffmeier, “Some Thoughts on Genesis 1 & 2,” 47. The type of determinative that follows a word is important since it helps specify the word’s meaning. Mark and Bill Manley Collier, How to Read Egyptian Hieroglyphs: A Step-by-Step Guide to Teach Yourself (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 5.

55 Gordon, “Khnum and El,” 204.

56 Ibid., 208.

57 Ibid., 203-4.

58 Ibid., 204.

59 R.T. Rundle Clark, Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt: With 18 Plates, 40 Line Drawings, a Chart of Religious Symbols, and a Map (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1959), 35.

60 Hoffmeier, “Some Thoughts on Genesis 1 & 2,” 43. Henri Frankfort, H. A. Groenewegen-Frankfort, and John Albert Wilson, Before Philosophy: The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man; an Essay on Speculative Thought in the Ancient Near East (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1949), 61.

61 Hoffmeier, “Some Thoughts on Genesis 1 & 2,” 42-44.

62 John Albert Wilson, “The Nature of the Universe,” in Before Philosophy, ed. H. Frankfort (Baltimore: 1946), 61.

63 Morenz, Egyptian Religion, 175.

64 Hoffmeier, “Some Thoughts on Genesis 1 & 2,” 42-44.

65 The Hebrew expression <yh!l)a$ j^Wr in Genesis 1:2 is best understood as ‘mighty wind’ or ‘wind of God.’ Orlinsky has shown that j^Wr began to be translated as ‘spirit’ instead of ‘wind’ as a result of Hellenistic influence. Furthermore, he has demonstrated that translating רוּחַ as ‘wind’ is supported within the context of Genesis. Harry M. Orlinsky, “The Plain Meaning of Rah in Gen. 1.2,” Jewish Quarterly Review 48 (1957): 180-81.

66 Hoffmeier, “Some Thoughts on Genesis 1 & 2,” 44.

67 Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, vol. 1, Word Biblical Commentary, ed. David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker (Waco: Word Books, Publisher, 1987), xlvii.

68 James Hoffmeier provides substantial arguments in support of Egyptian elements in the birth narrative of Moses. He also mentions that Egypt often educated princes from vassal states who would one day become vassal kings to Egypt. See James K Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 135-63.

69 Omar Zuhdi, “Pharaoh's Daughter & Her Adopted Hebrew 'Son',” KMT A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt 14, no. 4 (2003): 48-50.

70 Watterson, Gods of Ancient Egypt, 191.

71 Gordon, “Khnum and El,” 206.

72 Foster R. McCurley, Ancient Myths and Biblical Faith: Scriptural Transformations (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983).

Related Topics: Creation