The Creation – The Ebla Tablets

by Josh D. McDowell

The opening chapters of Genesis (1-11) are typically thought to be mythological explanations derived from earlier versions of the story found in the ancient Near East.  But this view chooses only to notice the similarities between Genesis and the creation stories in other ancient cultures.  If we can propose derivation of the human race from one family plus general revelation, some lingering traces of the true historical account would be expected.  The differences are more important.  

Babylonian and Sumerian accounts describe the creation as the product of a conflict among finite gods.  When one god is defeated and split in half, the River Euphrates flows from one eye and the Tigris from the other.  Humanity is made of the blood of an evil god mixed with clay.  These tales display the kind of distortion and embellishment to be expected when a historical account becomes mythologized.

Less likely is the notion that the literary progression would be from this mythology to the unadorned elegance of Geneis 1.  The common assumption that the Hebrew account is simply a purged and simplified version of the Babylonian legend is fallacious.  In the Ancient Near East, the rule is that simple accounts or traditions give rise (by accretion and embellishment) to elaborate legends, but not the reverse.  So the evidence supports the view that Genesis was not myth made into history.  Rather, the extra biblical accounts were history turned to myths.

The recent discoveries of creation accounts at Ebla add evidence for this fact.  This library of sixteen thousand clay tablets predates the Babylonian account by about six hundred years.  The creation tablet is strikingly close to Genesis, speaking of one being who created the heavens, moon, stars, and earth.  The people at Ebla believed in creation out of nothing.  The Bible contains the ancient, less embellished version of the story and transmits the facts without the corruption of the mythological renderings. (Geisler, BECA, 48-49)

An archaeological find that impacts biblical criticism is the recently discovered Ebla tablets.  This discovery was made in northern Syria by two professors from the University of Rome, Dr. Paolo Matthiae, and archaeologist; and Dr. Giovanni Pettinato, an epigrapher.  The excavation of the site, Tell Mardikh, began in 1964;  in 1968 they uncovered a statue of King Ibbit-Lim.  The inscription refers to Ishtar, the goddess who “shines brightly in Ebla.”  Ebla, at its height of power in 2300 B.C., had a population of 260,000 people.  It was destroyed in 2250 B.C. by Naram-Sin, the grandson of Sargon the Great.

The apologetic importance of the Ebla tablets is that they parallel and confirm early chapters of Genesis.   Although clouded by subsequent political pressure and denials, the published reports in reputable journals offer several possible lines of support for the biblical record.

Tablets contain the names of the cities Ur, Sodom, and Gomorrah, and such pagan gods mentioned in the Bible as Baal. (Ostling, “New Groundings for the Bible,” in T, 76-77)  The Ebla tablets reportedly contain references to names found in the book of Genesis, including Adam, Eve, and Noah. (Dahood, AETRBR, 55-56)

Of great importance is the discovery of the oldest known creation accounts outside the Bible.  Ebla’s version predates the Babylonian account by some six hundred years.  The creation tablet is strikingly close to that of Genesis, speaking of one being who created the heavens, moon, stars, and earth.

Parallel accounts show that the Bible contains the older, less embellished version of the story and transmits the facts without the corruption of the mythological renderings.  The tablets report belief in creation out of nothing, declaring:  “Lord of heaven and earth;  the earth was not, you created it, the light of day was not, you created it, the morning light you had not [yet] made exist.” (Ebla Archives, 259)

One very significant implication in the Ebla archives is that they destroy the critical belief in the evolution of monotheism from supposed earlier polytheism and henotheism.  This evolution of religion hypothesis has been popular from the time of Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882) and Julius Wellhausen (1944 – 1918).  Now monotheism is known to be earlier.  Also, the force of the Ebla evidence supports the view that the earliest chapters of Genesis are history, not mythology.  (Geisler, BECA, 208)

Another significant outcome of the Ebla discovery delivered a crushing blow to the documentary supposition that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch because writing was nonexistent in his day.  The proponents of the documentary hypothesis have claimed that the period described in the Mosaic narrative (1400 B.C., a thousand years after the Ebla kingdom) was prior to all knowledge of writing.  But the findings from Ebla demonstrate that a thousand years before Moses, laws, customs, and events were recorded in writing in the same area of the world in which Moses and the patriarchs lived.

The higher critics have taught not only that this was a time prior to writing but also that the priestly code and legislation recorded in the Pentateuch were too far developed to have been written by Moses.  They alleged that the Israelites were too primitive at that time to have written them and that it wasn’t until about the first half of the Persian period (538 – 331 B.C.)  that such detailed legislation was recorded.

However, the tablets containing the law codes of Ebla have demonstrated elaborate judicial proceedings and case law.  Many are very similar to the Deuteronomic law code (example:  Deuteronomy 22:22-30), to which critics a very late date.

An additional example of the contribution of the Ebla discovery relates to Genesis 14, which for years has been considered historically unreliable.  Abraham’s victory over Chedolaomer and the Mesopotamian kings has been described as fictitious, and the five Cities of the Plain (Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim and Zoar) legendary.

Yet the Ebla archives refer to all five Cities of the Plan, and on one tablet the Cities are listed in the exact same sequence as appears in Genesis 14.  The milieu of the tablets reflect the culture of the patriarchal period and depict that before the catastrophe recorded in Genesis 14 the area was a flour8ishing region, prosperous and successful, as recorded in Genesis.

Used with permission
Article taken from the book "The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict" written by Josh D. McDowell.
Thomas Nelson Publishers.  Copyright 1999