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The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies Provides a comprehensive survey of Biblical scholarship in a variety of disciplines.

History (I): Up to the Flood

The Israelite faith was, much more than other ancient Near Eastern religions, tied up with history. The Hebrew Bible begins with creation and proceeds in a straight line in what the Israelites conceived as history—with diversions—to the Babylonian captivity. Some additional books take the story down to the return from the Babylonian captivity. For us it is a matter of concern how historical in our sense of the word these narratives are. The first nine chapters of Genesis—from creation to the Flood—have Mesopotamian parallels. The two accounts of creation—the first in seven days, the second, the Garden of Eden—bear no close relationship to other creation myths, though the first contains some elements, such as beginning from earth and water, found elsewhere in the ancient Near East and beyond. After the accounts of creation, Adam, the first man, heads a line of ten long-lived patriarchs, culminating in the Flood. The Sumerian King List, known from copies c.2100–1600 BCE, in some copies begins with from eight to ten long-reigning kings following the institution of kingship by the gods, and culminating in the Flood. This antediluvian section was originally a separate list, lacking in a late third-millennium copy (c.2100–2000 BCE) and from some early second-millennium copies. However, the form with the prefixed antediluvian section became the norm, and was copied out so that we know it from a late Assyrian copy (c.750–650 BCE) and in Greek from Berossus, a Babylonian priest c.300 BCE. The post-diluvian kings were originally Sumerian rulers, but as the list was copied out over the centuries, the Babylonian kings were added on until at least the earlier part of first millennium BCE. There is one literary version of the Flood in Sumerian, and two major ones in Babylonian, the Atra-hasis Epic, and Tablet XI of the Gilgamesh Epic. Atra-hasis in known from copies c.1700 BCE, long before the earliest possible date for Genesis, so priority in time seems to rest on the Mesopotamian side, where floods are an annual occurrence.

It would appear that the Hebrew author or authors used traditions of Mesopotamian origin in the early chapters of Genesis, but produced something very different in detail. The Sumero-Babylonian list is of kings, not necessarily father and son in succession, while Genesis offers a genealogy leading eventually to the Hebrew monarchy of David and his line. For this too there is a parallel of Mesopotamian origin. A Babylonian tablet with ritual content invokes all the ancestors of Ammi-saduqa, great-great-grandson of Hammurabi, king of Babylon in the seventeenth century BCE. A total of twenty-eight ancestors is given, the last nine being the well-known kings of the First Dynasty of Babylon, the earlier ones not so far identifiable as historical figures. The First Dynasty of Babylon were Amorites, part of a migration down the Euphrates c.2000 BCE. No documents in the Amorite language survive, but thousands of personal names are known, from which it appears that Amorite was a kind of primitive Hebrew. Part of this traditional ancestry of the kings of Babylon also survives in the Assyrian King List, a document first attested in the thirteenth century BCE, but regularly updated until the closing days of the Assyrian power. The information it contains after c.1500 BCE is generally reliable, but the earlier material is a garbled hotchpotch. The section which parallels some of Hammurabi's ancestors is in fact the ancestry of Shamshi-Adad I, king of Assyria c.1800 BCE, and he was not an Assyrian by descent, but an Amorite who had imposed himself on the Assyrians by force of arms. Thus the Amorites in Mesopotamia in the eighteenth and seventeenth centuries BCE had rulers who professed to be descended from a long traditional ancestry, and this is what is combined with the Sumero-Babylonian tradition of long-reigning kings before the Flood in Genesis.

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