There are many similarities between the first chapters of the book of Genesis and other writings from the Ancient Near East.
Examples are the Mesopotamian creation myth Enuma Elish which has similarities to the first chapter of Genesis and the Epic of Gilgamesh which tells of a flood story, very similar to the flood that happened to Noah in Genesis.
To read the full text of Enuma Elish in english see here.
To read the full text of Gilgamesh epic see here.
On the one hand, the similarities between the Mesopotamian texts and Genesis pose many problems for religious Jews, but on the other hand, it reveals another aspect of the Jewish miracle.
Comparing the texts we see how far advanced the Israelites were compared to their neighbours. The Israelites believed in monotheism. Everybody else believed in polytheism. It is truly amazing that among all the pagan nations, a people would arise that believed in a single God. Not only that, the Hebrew believed that there was an order to nature and that God was in control and created the rules of nature. The other peoples of the world saw no order to nature, but merely the chaos produced by many gods with different personalities. The Hebrews believed in a just and moral God. No such belief is present in the other cultures of the Ancient Near East. There are other amazing differences that point to the specialness of the Israelites. I leave them to you to find (or see the reading list below).
Today the Mesopotamian texts seem laughable. Nobody would read them nowadays, other than for the purpose of studying the history of man and how he used to think about the world. This isn’t the case with the Bible. It is a book that has stood the test of time. It is the most read book of all time. It has been read by so many different types of people throughout the world and it continues to be printed by the millions to this day. Christianity and Islam are both outgrowths of Judaism and that is something like half the population of the planet. My point is that whether one agrees with the teachings of the Bible or not, everybody would agree that much of its teachings are still very relevant till today. Polytheism is a crazy belief, but the belief in the God of the Bible is still a valid belief till this day – whether or not you agree with such a belief.
I am not attempting to “prove” the truth of the Bible. I also realise the many problems the Genesis narratives cause for modern man. How is one to reconcile 14 billion year old universe with the 6000 year old universe which Genesis speaks of? How is one to reconcile the scientific understanding of the development of the universe with that told in Genesis? These are difficult questions and I personally believe they cannot be reconciled and would only say in defence of the Bible that it is not a scientific or historical text. It is a book that teaches man how to live a Godly life. Genesis and the Bible as whole teaches man theological truths.
All I am trying to argue is that the Israelites were extremely advanced in their beliefs. So advanced that one may describe it as miraculous or amazing. I expect even an Atheist to agree with me on this point.
So in the very serious questions we find on traditional Judaism that we find in these texts, we also find another, astounding miracle of Jewish history. The Jewish people truly seems to be a special people on a very important mission.
If the similarities between these texts and the Bible bother you, read the Rationalist Judaism blog post “Dealing with the Deluge“. I recommend reading Nahum Sarna, Understand Genesis and Umberto Cassuto, From Adam to Noah. (I haven’t read all the books/articles on the reading list, I’m sure they all shed some light on the topic). Rav Kook and R Nadel also have very important points to make. A central one being that the Torah is not a history book or a science text book, but a book that teaches man how to be a Godly and ethical person.
In the future I intend to write a more detailed post on this topic.