Comparative Cosmogony – a Minor Rant

I’ve been reading Ancient Israelite Literature in its Cultural Context by John H. Walton. Chapter 1 gives a good survey of the cosmological material, that’s accessible to people (like me) who don’t read any ancient near eastern languages. The discussion of various theories of borrowing in one direction or another is interesting and seems, from my layman’s point of view, to be reasonably well balanced. But any time I see any discussion along those lines, it always leaves me desperately wishing that scholars of ancient near eastern literature would do at least a little reading in world mythology and the anthropology of folklore. There seems to be no recognition whatsoever that some of the themes that are the biggest areas of contention – especially the flood story and the idea of a watery primordial chaos – have a worldwide distribution. These elements are far more likely to be revealing something about the way human brains work than to be cases of borrowing from one “original” story.

That said, the comparisons of ancient narratives (irrespective of any borrowing that may or may not have occurred) has been interesting to read, and I’m looking forward to see what Walton has to say about other literary forms.


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