Girsu and Ebla
Date: 3rd millennium BC
Discovered: Girsu (Tell Telloh, Iraq) and Ebla (Tell Mardikh, Syria)
Period: Genesis 1–11
Keywords: creation; Mesopotamia; tablet; Girsu; Ebla
Bible Passages: Genesis 1:1–21; Job 38:4–7; Psalm 148:1–5; Colossians 1:15–16
The Sumerians, who composed the oldest written records of any civilization yet discovered, wrote about the origins of the heavens and earth through a story of creation. A Sumerian cuneiform1 clay tablet2 discovered at Girsu (Tell Telloh) in southern Mesopotamia and composed during the Early Dynastic period in the 3rd millennium BC, perhaps as early as around 2900 BC, recounts a time at the beginning of creation in which the daylight and moonlight did not shine because the sun and moon did not yet exist, the “lesser gods” had not yet been created, the fields and vegetation were still merely dust, and the earth was filled with water as part of the creation process.
This text also mentions heaven, earth, and water, which were often personified as the original divine trio in ancient Mesopotamian creation stories, although Lord Heaven is specifically referred to in the narrative — perhaps as the creator. This tablet, which might be the oldest preserved creation story, has obvious parallels to the Genesis account as it refers to a beginning, then the creation of the sun, moon, water on the earth, and vegetation. The “lesser gods” in ancient Near Eastern literature appear to be angelic beings, which according to the Bible seem to have been created before the earth, and the concept of the Trinity even appears to be implied in the Genesis creation narrative.
Another one of the most ancient creation accounts was discovered in a cache of about 20,000 clay tablets during excavations at Ebla, Syria (Tell3 Mardikh) in northern Mesopotamia. More than 8,000 of these tablets at Ebla were from a city archive dated to about 2400–2000 BC, prior to a destruction of the city. Texts were written in the scripts of both Sumerian and Akkadian4, but a local Eblaite dialect was discovered in the documents. Out of these thousands of tablets, three that contain a short poem have been recovered and translated. The texts are in the Eblaite language and contain one of the oldest known creation accounts. The poem states, “Lord of heaven and earth, you had not made the earth exist, you created. You had not established the sun, you created. You had not made the morning light exist.” It also notes that this Lord is divine, saves, and has words that produce effects.The recovered fragments of the poem are concerned primarily with the initial creation of earth, light, and the sun, while sections such as the creation of plants, animals, and humans were either not addressed or may have been in lost sections of the poem.
The Girsu creation tablet and the Eblaite creation hymn, which share more similarities to the beginning of Genesis than any other known ancient creation texts, are also the oldest copies of creation accounts yet discovered. While these Mesopotamian creation texts are not exactly the same as Genesis or other related creation passages in the Bible, especially regarding clear monotheism, order, and comprehensiveness, they do demonstrate remembrance and knowledge of a similar creation idea throughout the ancient Near East very early in the history of civilization.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light” and there was light (Genesis 1:1–3)
- Cuneiform: A wedge-shaped form of writing invented by the Sumerians that was simplified from the pictographic writing system that preceded it. It was used to write numerous languages, including Sumerian, Akkadian, Hittite, and Eblaite.
- Tablet: The clay tablets commonly used during the Bronze Age in the Ancient Near East were typically rectangular in shape and the written text was impressed into the wet clay with a reed stylus. Some tablets were baked, others were dried, but many of the preserved tablets discovered by archaeologists underwent an unintentional hardening process when a building that housed the tablets was destroyed by fire.
- Tell or Tel: A mound consisting of debris and ruins from ancient cities or towns built on top of one another at the same archaeological site. In certain situations, the mound was formed purposefully in order to create an artificial hill.
- Akkadian: Refers to the Akkadian language of Mesopotamia, the oldest known Semitic language, or to the empire or people from the Akkadian Empire, founded by Sargon of Akkad in the 24th century BC.