Was the God of the Bible Copied from Ancient Myths?

Did the Old Testament God (Yahweh) evolve from Canaanite gods & myths such as Baal, El, etc.?

This is a common claim by liberal OT scholars which is based on several faulty assumptions & presuppositions about the Torah (Pentateuch) and the stories that are contained in it.

The biggest (faulty) assumption is: that the first five books of the Bible were essentially “invented,” compiled (cobbled together) by Jews during Babylonian Exile (ca. 586 B.C.) who borrowed material from Mesopotamian & other indigenous (i.e. Canaanite) sources.[1]

But, it’s no surprise that there would be some similarities, simply because Hebrew is a Western Semitic language and before Moses, the OT patriarchs would not have worshiped God by his covenant name YHWH (Ex. 3:13-15).

The generic Canaanite word/name for “god” was originally  il um, which later became el. So this generic Canaanite word (name) El” was used by biblical writers, yet the usage was quite different.

For instance the Old Testament patriarchs worshipped God under various (modified) names such as: El Shaddai (Ex. 6:3; Gen. 17:1; 43:14; etc.); El ‘Elyon (Gen.14:18-24); El ‘Olam (Gen. 21:33); El Ro’i (Gen. 16:13; cf. Yahweh Yir’eh, Gen. 22:14); El Bethel (Gen. 31:13; 35:7). [2]

Admittedly, the name of the God of the biblical patriarchs (El), was at times similar & identical to their pagan neighbors, but there was a marked difference in HOW they worshipped El.

OT scholar John Bright interestingly points out that,“All of the patriarchal narratives were written from the point of view of Yahwistic theology, by men who were worshippers of Yahweh; whether they used the name or not, they had no doubt that the God of the patriarchs was actually Yahweh, God of Israel, whom the patriarchs, whether consciously or unconsciously, worshipped. Yet, there is also internal evidence in the text that the Patriarchs also knew God as Yahweh before Moses (or at least Yah”) but did not fully understand the full extent and meaning of the name until that time. [3]

One of the main (but certainly not the only) differences between God (OT – Yahweh) and Ba al, El is that, whereas the Canaanite “gods” have theogony’s (myths of their origins) such as the Baal Epic of Ugarit & others; the God of the OT has no origin. His name means “I AM.” There is no theogony for Yahweh because He has no beginning. He IS. Genesis begins with Him alone.. “In the beginning God...” (Gen. 1). Throughout the OT He is presented as standing above and apart from all other so-called “gods” & idols of the surrounding nations (see Jeremiah 10).

Another difference is that when God (Yahweh) creates, He speaks creation into existence, rather than having to fight a dragon or monster, or some other “god” in a cosmic battle for power. The Canaanite & other pagan “gods” all have to fight or go to war[4] to create, whereas God (Yahweh) merely speaks all things into existence by the power of His word (Gen. 1).

Marduk (the storm god) slaying Tiamat (chaos). Recorded in the Babylonian Creation Epic "Enuma Elish"

Marduk (the storm god) slaying Tiamat (chaos). Recorded in the Babylonian Creation Epic “Enuma Elish”

The last thing I would point out is that recent discoveries in archaeology (Egyptology) now show that the Pentateuch (the Exodus & Joshua in particular) is a record of historical events (exactly as they were recorded in the text). These discoveries and other internal literary factors, undermine the hypothesis/theory that the Torah was mythologized & invented during the Babylonian Exile. These discoveries will certainly frustrate those who have built their careers on the belief that Moses did not write the Torah.

Yahweh had no origin. He was and is from everlasting to everlasting. Certainly monotheism did not begin with Moses (anyone can know that there is one God from Creation – Psalm 19 & Romans 1:18-23), but the (monotheistic) God recorded in the early chapters of Genesis was known by His connection to certain men who had a personal and intimate relationship to Him by faith (Gen. 12; Heb. 11).

That same God still calls men to know Him & follow Him today. Two-thousand years ago, He revealed Himself perfectly in the form of a man (Jesus Christ) so that we could know Him as much as we possibly could (Hebrews 1).

Other Sources for further study:

John Walton’s book, Ancient Israelite Literature In It’s Cultural Context: A Survey of Parallels Between Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Texts is a great source to look at the major differences between the OT account of God and the surrounding pagan (Canaanite) accounts of God (Baal, El). There are too many to list here.

One more excellent source (although his section on the Exodus/Conquest is now out of date) is William F. Albright’s book, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (1968). The first three chapters are especially helpful in revealing the historical context of the religion of early Israel. Chapter 3 is “Archaeology and the Religion of the Canaanites.”


[1] This idea came to “full bloom” in the “Documentary Hypothesis of the Pentateuch” of Julius Welhausen in his works, Prolegomena to the History of Israel (1878), and Die Composition des Hexateuchs und der historischen Bücher des Alten Testaments (1885). These works were preceded & anticipated in the previous century by the writings of  Eichorn, de Wette, Graf & others.

            [2] John Bright, A History of Israel (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), 96.

            [3] Ibid. See also, Allen P. Ross, “Did the Patriarchs Know the Name of the Lord?,” in David M. Howard Jr., & Michael A. Grisanti, Editors, Giving the Sense: Understanding and Using Old Testament Historical Texts (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2003), 323-39.

            [4] for instance the epic battle between Marduk & Tiamat in the Babylonian creation myth, Enuma Elish, where Tiamat is killed by Marduk, the storm god who divides her body which then becomes the heavens and the earth.

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10 replies
  1. Kristin says:

    You need to do more research. Just because God has no origin in the Old Testament does not mean he has no origin. Many books were left out of the Bible and many oral traditions were lost. Your research is child like. Grow up!

    • Ted Wright says:

      Kristin – I have three questions for you: (1) In what way is my research child-like? If all you can do is make insulting comments then I have no interest in what you have to say or think. If you want to provide counter evidence, then do it. What evidence & arguments do you have? (2) What do you mean by the following two statements? – “Many books were left out of the Bible and many oral traditions were lost” – How do you know this? What evidence can you provide? (3) I assume that you believe monotheism (or Theism) to be an invention and/or modification of ANE cultures (Mesopotamia, Sumeria, Egypt, etc…)?

      My article is only a brief literary/historical analysis (really, more of an observation), based on a broader argument for “Original Monotheism.’ If you wish to study the argument in a more robust form – (i.e. from, cultural anthropology, mythological studies, & linguistics) then you should check out Winfried Corduan’s book, “In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism.” Corduan’s book is based on the work of 19th C. German scholar, Wilhelm Schmidt from his massive 12 volume, “Der Ursprung der Gottesidee.”

      • N Waff says:

        I think Kristin provided a childlike comment and leave it there.
        I give you credit for trying to be civil anyway.

      • H says:

        “many oral traditions were lost”

        If they were only oral and they were lost, how would one know that oral traditions were lost in the first place?

  2. Linds says:

    Thanks for your short summary. Informative and appreciated.
    ” A good understanding have those who obey God’s commandments.”
    That’s straight from the Bible.
    So for Kristin and others who may think your work childish, this would be my only comment. Regards Linda.

  3. Oswald Frakes says:

    Could you provide a different source for the “archeological findings” that corroborate the particular stories in the Pentateuch that you are referring to in this article. By different sources I mean sources that don’t lead back to this website but a third party research team?

  4. Hiram says:

    Actually, a case has been made by the biblical scholar Dr. Michael S. Heiser in which there is a Psalm creation narrative that aims a shot at Enuma Elish and the Battle of Baal against Yamm in Psalm 74. In this passage, creation happens after God subdues a tremendous monster. He makes the case with this statement that you can find in his draft “The Myth that is True”:

    “An ancient Israelite would have no trouble deciphering the messaging in Psalm 74. In the literature of ancient Mesopotamia and Canaan (particularly from Ugarit, a city state in ancient Syria), neighboring regions with which the Israelite had frequent contact, these symbolic images were very familiar.”

    “God didn’t really fight a literal dragon at the beginning of creation and use parts of it to build heaven and earth. Rather, these are images that convey important ideas. The people of the Biblical world knew nothing of physical science process for the creation.. They merely assert who was responsible (Yahweh) and describe his acts with imagery familiar to all at the time.”

    Here is the portion of Psalm 74 he mentions:
    Psalm 74:12-17
    English Standard Version (ESV)

    12 Yet God my King is from of old,
    working salvation in the midst of the earth.
    13 You divided the sea (Gen1:6-7) by your might;
    you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters.
    14 You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
    you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
    15 You split open springs and brooks;
    you dried up ever-flowing streams.
    16 Yours is the day, yours also the night (Gen 1:4-5);
    you have established the heavenly lights and the sun (Gen 1:14-18).
    17 You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth (Gen 1:9-10);
    you have made summer and winter (Gen 1:14).

    • Todd Rubenack says:

      Not that I’m claiming to be an apologetics expert or anything, but simply reading the passage and your statement regarding the argument, I see a major assumption being made. The argument is focused on the second part of verse 13 and then verse 14. These 2 verses are being made out to be ‘Battles’ because the the words ‘Crushed’ and ‘Broke’, implying a fight, yet when you read the passage in context as a whole, it is describing the works of God as a creator, not a fighter. Is the one making the argument stating God fought bodies of water because He ‘Split them open’? Of course not. In verse 13, when it is mentioned God divided the sea by His might, did the thought ever occur that the ‘Breaking of Heads of the sea monsters on the waters’ was a by-product of the first action? In verse 14, an assumption is being made that God had to ‘Fight’ to defeat. I see it as a continuation of the description of the by-product in the beginning of Verse 13 as ‘Leviathan’ is a word meaning sea creatures from the old text (From what I understand, not being an expert). Psalm 74 is a cry for deliverance when the temple is defiled by the enemy (J. Vernon McGhee Commentaries) and this set of verses in context is a declaration of the power of God given in this prayer made by the writer based on historical references in early scripture which the writer would have. Since when has God ever struggled in battle. He is above all things, therefore an absolute would be the He cannot struggle with anything. I think people forget the ‘Absolutes’ of God when forming theology and that is where most discussion gets lost.

      I appreciate you bringing this up Hiram! Loved talking to God about it. 😀 God Bless You!

      • RCt says:

        everything you provide as “evidence” in this post is assumption. You clearly have bias in what you are trying to spread. It is like two people trying to debate whether someone else did something for a certain reason. Everything biblical is assumption and we cannot rely on any texts that have been changed, edited or banned through time. There are references to earlier creation myths in the biblical text (Psalms, Job) so therefore early jewish sects were reading or combining older traditions. Let us not forget that Akhenaten and Abraham were the driving forces of a change from paganism to monotheism. That is historically proven. On a side note, speaking of Abraham, in the christian canon the story that is taught about destroying idols, etc is not even mentioned. This tale comes from a completely different set of texts that are not taught in christian canon. If you base your beliefs off of tales picked and edited to conform to a certain belief then you are the rebel rouser and not the “follower” you are trying to portray.

  5. Mark Maine says:

    Moses didn’t write any books of the bible. It’s a fact. Accept it. You’re clutching at straws. Archeology cannot prove that he did unless you manipulate it to produce a desired outcome. The bible was rubber stamped by a Jewish scholar once before as well. It turned out to be an elaborate ruse.


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