Genesis confirmed in clay
A review of The Authenticity of the Book of Genesis by Bill Cooper
Creation Science Movement, UK, 2011
Bill Cooper is vice-president of the Creation Science Movement in the UK, and a respected historian and scholar. On behalf of the British Library, he transcribed and edited the latest reprint of John Wycliffe’s 1388 translation of the New Testament.1 He has also authored a number of articles and books, including the acclaimed After the Flood,2 in which he documents how the earliest Europeans recorded their descent from Noah. His latest book, The Authenticity of the Book of Genesis, is a veritable feast, with over 400 pages packed with well-documented facts confirming the historicity of the first book of the Bible.
Archaeologists and students of history know that our museums contain numerous records of the ancient civilizations that lived around the Middle East in the 2½ millennia preceding the birth of Christ. A remarkable number contain narratives that are identical or similar to events documented in Genesis, such as the creation of the world, Adam and Eve, the Flood, and the confusion of languages at Babel. Those who dismiss the Bible as no more than a man-made creation often argue that the authors of Genesis drew upon these pagan sources. Cooper, however, demonstrates that the weight of evidence points to Genesis being the original, authentic record. The many similar accounts from neighbouring tribes, he argues, are clearly corruptions of the true versions witnessed by the patriarchs, and passed down from generation to generation by the descendants of Noah.
Cooper also documents numerous accounts of creation, a global flood and the confusion of languages found in legends throughout the world. Many of these, again, are remarkably similar to Genesis in their details, indicating a common source and supporting the biblical account of the dispersal of humanity at Babel. Cooper concentrates on the Flood traditions which date from times before any Christian influence could have been the original source.
According to the ‘modernists’ and ‘higher critics’, much of the book of Genesis was compiled during the time of the exile, when the Israelites were held in captivity in Babylon during the 6th century BC. In particular, it’s alleged that the Genesis account of creation is no more than a rehash of the much earlier creation story contained in the Enuma Elish tablets of Babylonia.
As Cooper points out, this is difficult to reconcile with the facts (pp. 22–41). Firstly, the Samaritan copy of the Jewish Pentateuch is written in an ancient form of Hebrew that predates the exile. Secondly, the most ancient Samaritan copy contains over two thousand corruptions of the original Jewish manuscript. These would be expected to accumulate over centuries, making it very unlikely that the Samaritans made their copy soon after the return of the Israelites from Babylon. Indeed, it would seem unlikely that the Samaritans would make a copy of Jewish historical writings at all, given the state of hostility that existed between these two nations around that time.
According to many liberal theologians, the Genesis account of the Flood also has its origin in Babylonian myth. In this case, we’re told, the source is the Epic of Gilgamesh. This narrative poem is one of the earliest surviving pieces of literature. It is recorded on clay tablets dating from around the seventh century BC and is thought to be a copy of a much older document, from as early as 1800 BC. Its account of a global flood is strikingly similar to Genesis. For example, it records the wickedness of mankind prior to the deluge, the flooding of the earth by the gods as a divine punishment, the building of an ark by a righteous man, the bringing aboard of selected animals, the destruction of all mankind, the use of birds to monitor the flood’s recession, the ark coming to rest on a mountain and the subsequent offering of a sacrifice.
Figure 1. Tablet fragment from the Temple Library of the ancient Sumerian city of Nippur (c. 2100 BC). Discovered by the University of Pennsylvania and translated by Hermann Hilprecht, its account of the Flood agrees with Genesis in every detail.
An alternative explanation for the similarities, of course, is that the epic is one of many records of the Flood that was handed down by Noah’s family to their descendants and retained in the cultures of the burgeoning nations following the scattering of mankind at Babel.
Cooper presents compelling evidence that the modernists’ claim, that the Babylonian Flood legend is the source of all other Flood legends, is false (pp. 386–396). For example, in the last decade of the 19th century, an archaeological dig by the University of Pennsylvania unearthed a tablet fragment from the ancient Babylonian city of Nippur (figure 1). It contains the Flood narrative and, most significantly, is dated to at least 2005 BC—centuries older than the original text of the Gilgamesh epic. It is written in Semitic Babylonian and is therefore closely related to biblical Hebrew. Indeed, its phraseology is so close to the Genesis text that its translator, Professor H.V. Hilprecht, wrote:
“… its significance is further enhanced by the fact that in most important details it agrees with the biblical version of the deluge in a very remarkable manner—much more so than any other cuneiform version previously known” (p. 392).
Unlike the many other Flood stories, it doesn’t depart from the Genesis account in any detail and its clear monotheistic theme is additional evidence that it predates all Flood legends of Babylonian origin. It is arguably one of the most precious discoveries ever for those who seek to defend the Bible from the liberal onslaught, and makes clear that the Epic of Gilgamesh is more reasonably seen to be an independent witness to the truth of the Flood as recorded in the Bible.
Other strong evidence that Gilgamesh is not the original, is the Ark: in Genesis, it is an incredibly sea-worthy vessel that could withstand tsunamis,3 while the Gilgamesh ark is a cube, which would capsize easily. But a cube has only one dimension to remember, and Babylonians lived far from the sea and would not have known of the nautical problems.4,5
Cooper also documents a number of fascinating details which add weight to the modern creationist understanding of the events surrounding the Flood. For example, the Flood legend related by the Benua-Jakun people of the Malay Peninsula refers to the earth as having a skin, under which there is an abyss of subterranean water. The deity, they say, initiated the Flood by breaking up this skin (p. 232). Could this refer to the movements of tectonic plates?6 The Maori account also attributes much of the Flood to geological activity and the rising of subterranean water, and describes the post-Flood earth as being “cracked and fissured in some places” (pp. 253–254). The Tahitian account (pp. 260–261) includes a great falling of stones, which may refer to a meteorite bombardment that many creationists believe took place during the early stages of the Flood.7
The Tower of Babel and the confusion of languages
Figure 2. The Assyriologist George Smith (1840–1876) who first discovered and translated the Epic of Gilgamesh. Smith was a Bible-believing Christian who worked at the British Museum. Before he died at the young age of 36, he had started to inform the public of the many ancient documents that confirm the historicity of Genesis.
As with Flood legends, there is an abundance of testimonies, from all over the world, concerning the building of a great tower and the subsequent confusion of languages at Babel. Among the more ancient accounts is one found in the Sumerian epic, Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta, thought to be composed around the 21st century BC. It refers to the worship of a chief deity known as ‘Enlil’ and speaks of a time when “the whole universe … to Enlil in one tongue gave praise” (p. 71). Another ancient account is found on a tablet discovered and translated by the Christian Assyriologist George Smith (figure 2) in 1875. A 7th-century-BC copy of an older document, it describes the sin of those who built the tower and how the “father of all the gods” judged them by frustrating their work and confounding their language (pp. 72–73). Similar accounts are related by the Greeks and Romans, including one by Hestiaeus of Perinthus, a pupil of Plato (p. 70).
The Toltecs of Mexico recount how, following the confusion of languages after the building of a great tower, their ancestors lived in caves as they migrated to America (p. 294). Could these have been some of the ‘stone age cavemen’ which evolutionists claim are evidence of primitive human life?8,9,10
The Table of Nations
The Table of Nations (Genesis chs. 10 and 11) documents the descendants of Noah in great detail. It has all the hallmarks of an authoritative and accurate account of the fledgling post-Flood nations as they were born. Cooper testifies,
“I spent more than 25 years digging into the Table of Nations, looking for a fault, an error, a false statement, or an historical inaccuracy. I found not one” (p. 75).11
Needless to say, the modernists understand it to be nothing more than an elaborate work of fiction. A popular view is that it was copied from pagan sources around the 5th century BC, during the ‘Persian period’. This, however, seems most unlikely.
The ‘Persian period’ refers to the time when the Israelites were ruled by the Persians. Rather than being a time when the Jews were treated badly, however, they were shown much favour. Under King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) they enjoyed special protection from their enemies (Esther 8); in the first year of his reign, King Cyrus granted them the freedom to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the temple, even returning to them the treasure that King Nebuchadnezzar had looted from the original temple (Ezra 1 and 6). The Jews owed the Persians everything. Why, then, if the Table of Nations had been fabricated during this period, does it not even mention Persia? The answer is surely that the Table of Nations was compiled hundreds of years before Persia became known as a nation, i.e. that it predates the Persian Empire. Further confirmation of the authenticity of the Table is evidenced from the absence of other nations known from the Persian Period and from the inclusion of nations that had faded well before the 5th century BC (p. 76).
In Genesis 14, we read of four kings, Amraphel, Arioch, Kedorlaomer, and Tidal, who kidnapped Abraham’s nephew Lot and stole his possessions. All four are mentioned in ancient Mesopotamian tablets now held in the British Museum (pp. 138–145).12
According to the secular, evolutionary history of mankind, people dispersed out of Africa around 60 to 100 thousand years ago. If this were true, we would not expect groups now scattered across the world to have retained the same legends over such a protracted period. Yet corrupted forms of the Genesis account of creation and the early history of mankind are found in numerous cultures, on all the continents, and even among people living on isolated islands, surrounded by thousands of miles of ocean. These facts actually fit the biblical account of history very well. If people dispersed out of the Middle East a little over 4,000 years ago, as the Bible indicates, we would expect the descendants of these people to share common legends.
Cooper has spent much of his life researching the early history of mankind and this has culminated in a most valuable resource. In The Authenticity of the Book of Genesis he piles fact upon fact and argument upon argument confirming that the Bible does, indeed, record the true history of mankind. I shall never read Genesis in the same way again.
The Nippur Flood tablet is kept at the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and is designated CBS 13532. According to the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (cdli.ucla.edu), it is assigned to the Early Old Babylonian period and is dated to 2000–1900 BC.1 Its antiquity, however, is subject to some controversy. Although some consider a very early date plausible2,3,4 others would assign the tablet to a later period, possibly 1700 BC,2 fifteenth century BC,5 1300 BC6 or even as late as 1000 BC.7 All these estimates, however, predate the Jewish exile by centuries, confuting the claim that the biblical account of the Flood was derived from Babylonian myths during this period.
- www.cdli.ucla.edu/search/archival_view.php?ObjectID=P268565. Last accessed 2 December 2014.
- Rogers, R.W., Cuneiform Parallels to the Old Testament, 2nd ed., Wipf & Stock, USA, p. 108, 2005, first published 1926.
- The Oldest Library in the World and the New Deluge Tablet, Expository Times 21(8):364–369, 1910.
- Adamthwaite, M., Gilgamesh and the biblical Flood—part 2, J. Creation 28(3):80–85, 2014.
- Ref. 3, p. 368.
- Jasrow, M., Hebrew and Babylonian Traditions, Charles Scribner’s Sons, USA, p. 342, 1914.
- Barton and Gordon argue for the Middle Babylonian period which ended around 1000 BC. Lambert, W.G. and Millard, A.R., eds.,Atra-hasis:The Babylonian Story of the Flood, Oxford University Press, p. 126, 1969.
References and notes
- Cooper, W. (Ed.), The Wycliffe New Testament 1388: An Edition in Modern Spelling with an Introduction, the Original Prologues and the Epistle to the Laodiceans, British Library Publishing Division, London, 2002. Return to text.
- Cooper, W., After the Flood, New Wine Press, West Sussex, 1995. Return to text.
- Hong, S.W. et al., Safety investigation of Noah’s Ark in a seaway, J. Creation 8(1):26–36, 1994; creation.com/arksafety. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Noah’s Flood and the Gilgamesh Epic, Creation 28(4):12–17, 2006; creation.com/gilgamesh. Return to text.
- Osanai, N., A comparative study of the flood accounts in the Gilgamesh Epic and Genesis, M.A. Thesis, Wesley Biblical Seminary, Jackson, MS, 2004; creation.com/gilg. Return to text.
- Batten, D. (Ed.), The Creation Answers Book, 3rd edn, Creation Book Publishers, creationbookpublishers.com, pp. 165–169, 2009. Return to text.
- Oard, M.J., How many impact craters should there be on the earth? J. Creation 23(3):61–69, 2009. Return to text.
- Catchpoole, D., Cave men—in the Bible, Creation 31(3):52–53, June 2009; creation.com/bible-cave-men. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Refuting Evolution 2, Creation Book Publishers, creationbookpublishers.com, p. 200, 2011. Return to text.
- Garner, P., The New Creationism, Evangelical Press, Darlington, Durham, p. 231, 2009. Return to text.
- Ref. 2. Return to text.
- British Museum shelf mark numbers Sp. II. 987; Sp. III. 2; Sp. 158 and Sp. II. 962. Return to text.
I was wondering if he addresses colophons in the book. This idea has intrigued me since I read Bones of Contention. There is an article (http://creation.com/who-wrote-genesis-are-the-toledoth-colophons) at CMI addressing it some more, but I haven't read it yet. Any info would be greatly appreciated.
Cooper does address the interpretation of toledoths in the book, though he does not agree with Dr Taylor's conclusions. The Authenticity of the Book of Genesis is available from our webstore, and another book in our webstore that addresses the issue is Creation, Fall, Restoration by Andrew Kulikovsky.
In 'After the Flood', Bill Cooper references the 'Anglo-Saxon chronicle' for a point he makes about ancient Britain. I found a copy in my garage by accident, and sought the reference out. It was exactly as Bill had recorded it. Conversely, when I checked references in one of Hugh Ross's apologetics books, I found they referred merely to more of his own books....Good scholarship is a precious thing
Disappointed there is no reference to Chinese texts of world history that predate the Middle-East texts.
I can't wait to get Bill Cooper's book on the "Authenticity of Genesis". I got his book "After the Flood" years ago, and once I started reading it, I literally couldn't put it down and read the whole thing through in one shot. It was fascinating and captivating. I'm sure this one will be equally compelling.
The focal point of my own ministry, "Genesis Evidence Ministry", is to give evidence defending the veracity of the Bible in areas it is often doubted or scorned (creation, the flood, walls of Jericho, Sodom & Gomorrah, etc.). This book promises to give me a veritable arsenal full of ammunition.
It should be noted that when we read mythological versions of Genesis, there are nearly always some kinds of overt logical problems that thwart the myth entirely, unlike Genesis.
You gave one example as the cube-shaped Ark, which wouldn't be a viable vessel. In another mythical account it says that only humans went aboard, which would mean that logically, there would be no animals alive today, at least on land, anyway. Indeed, I find it hard to read one of the mythical versions without finding a rather obtuse and overt absurdity that makes the myth clearly false.
If Genesis is a myth, why aren't there overtly false logical problems, given this is common? ancient people, without modern scientific insight, are clearly logically BOUND to make overt mistakes. Yet the Genesis account, doesn't have any. (And I refer to ABSURDLY OVERT errors.)
I think this shows that Genesis, unlike the posteriori-myths, is the original account, because we would expect corrupted versions to contain errors and silly things. Most mythical stories contain overt absurdities that people automatically have no truth to them.
This review presents a quality summary of the book for those who may be interested in reading Bill Cooper's work. Coincidentally, I just finished reading "The Antiquity of the Book of Genesis" today. Presented herein is a formidable amount of evidence that argues the case for the book of Genesis being both ancient truth and literal history. I would recommend Bill Cooper's book to everyone, it's excellent. Finally, I strongly recommend his classic "After the Flood".
Thank you for commenting on Bill Cooper's book. I have a copy and appreciate his work on the subject of Genesis. It has the advantage of not being just a rehash of creationist thinking which most of those who read this web site know already.
I would recommend your readers to buy a copy.