Cultural appropriation can be tremendously destructive…to the point where cultures are dismantled and lost to history. Babylon attempted to suppress the Jewish captives but were forced to appropriate parts of the their culture instead. A common practice of an invading army conquering a land was the imposition of their culture on the inhabitants. The goal being to perpetuate their own superiority and to prevent rebellion. If a culture could not be eradicated, elements of the culture could be manipulated. As was the case with the conversion of Roman Gods into Christian Saints. In this writing, I hope to explore the idea that a true and living God influences culture regardless of the environment. I will discuss, in general terms, the relationship between Babylon and its attempt to influence the Jewish culture.
Babylon formed their culture by suppressing and appropriating the beliefs of the people they conquered. Babylon, then known as the Amorites adopted the cultural heritage of the Sumerians and Akkadians through conquest (Britannica.com). This appropriation began a precedent that the Babylonians continued throughout their time in power. They attempted this same feat when they took the Jews captive. A compelling form of appropriation at the time was the development of the creation myth. Having a supernatural distinction elevated the worth of the Babylonian leaders and justified their authority. Claiming to be almost gods, myths reinforced that position. It was effective in rooting out dissent, quelling rebellion, and providing a national identity. R.N. Whybray states,
…various “origin stories” or “creation myths” about the activities of a variety of creator-gods are still extant in what remains of the literatures of ancient Egypt and ancient Mesopotamia. But the combination of such accounts with narratives about more recent times testifies to an additional motivation. The aim of such works was to give their readers—or to strengthen—a sense of national or ethnic identity, particularly at a time when there was for some reason a degree of uncertainty or hesitation about this (source).
Debate continues now and will in the future regarding the creation of the world. Christians believe that the Genesis account is true, however, comparison between the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Enuma Elis exist and should not be ignored. To avoid the obvious comparisons is to invite blind faith and The Backfire Effect. We should be willing to consider different points of view. God is more than capable of defending himself.
The Epic of Gilgamesh was the Sumerian creation myth. Sumeria was a thriving country, rich with culture and heritage. They were conquered by the invading Amorite army. The Sumerian culture was appropriated by the Amorites, who would later become Babylon. Taking pieces from Gilgamesh, the Babylonians formed their own myth: the Enuma Elis. These myths when compared to the Genesis account, have some striking similarities. This has resulted in tremendous study and exploration into the origins of the actual account and whether Genesis can be relied upon as accurate. Much debate and scholarly attention has been paid to that subject. According to WhyBray,
The creation story in Gen. 1:1–2:4a has long been thought to have particular affinities with Enuma Elish (ANET, 60–72); but a glance at the Mesopotamian myth shows that the relationship is at most a very remote one. Apart from the fact that the Genesis story is monotheistic, a crucial difference between the two accounts is that Enuma Elish belongs to the category of the conflict tradition, which is entirely absent from the Genesis account. In Enuma Elish Marduk is able to create the world only by summoning his allies and killing the sea monster Tiamat and her allies; heaven and earth are created by the splitting of Tiamat’s body into two. The commonly repeated notion that the Hebrew word translated “the deep” (tehom, Gen. 1:2) is a pale reminiscence of Tiamat cannot be sustained. There is no trace of a conflict here; God is alone, and he is supreme. There is no explicit statement in the Genesis narrative about God’s purpose in creating the world (source).
Babylon had a vested interest in imposing their culture onto the Jew’s. Just like they did with the Sumerian’s. The rulers believed suppressing and appropriating parts of the culture was necessary to preserve their cultural superiority. The Babylonian kings wanted their subjects to believe they had the knowledge of creation and a divine mandate. Their truth was controlled and supported by military might and modified myths. They were determined to undermine the culture of their subjects and they appropriated their creation myths to do this.
We can see in Daniel 1 the beginning of their attempt at appropriation. Daniel was meant to eat the diet of the Babylonians, which he refused, and was blessed because of it. The wisdom of Daniel and his companions, through God, allowed them to have influence on the culture of the Babylonian people. The Jewish culture, rather than being lost, began to influence the culture of Babylon.
Continued attempts are made at suppressing the Jewish culture and result in more appropriation. In Daniel 3, Nebuchadnezzar makes a gold statue and commands the people bow to it. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse and are cast into a furnace to die. God saves them causing the king, Nebuchadnezzar, to declare:
“And now I command that if anyone of any nation, race, or language speaks disrespectfully of the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, he is to be torn limb from limb, and his house is to be made a pile of ruins. There is no other god who can rescue like this.” Daniel 3:29
Rather than allow himself to be mocked, God rescues his people and brings glory to himself. The attempt at suppression becomes an avenue to declare the praises of Yahweh. In this then the Babylonians glorify, once more, the “Supreme Being”. The three men are promoted and have greater influence over the province. Attempts at suppression lead to greater glory for God. Nebuchadnezzar was driven mad when he declared that he had built up Babylon. For seven years he was humbled until at the end he declared praises to the Supreme God. He had attempted to suppress and distort the Jewish culture, but in the end God was glorified.
The gods of Babylon came to nothing. There history now exists in fragments and conjecture. We would be wise to remember that God is in control of every circumstance. He is moving in ways unknown to us. What glimpse we have is the knowledge that God is omniscient and will not be mocked. The Jewish captives risked losing their culture to the Babylonians. Instead, Babylon was forced to appropriate parts of the Jewish culture and acknowledge that God is the Supreme Being. God protects his people and will not allow his truth to be forgotten. Regardless of the strength of the adversary or the compelling arguments against God. He continues to build his church. We would do well to surrender to the One who is control of everything we see and do not see.
The Jews returned from captivity with their culture intact while the Babylonians were conquered by a greater army and their culture lost for thousands of years. Isaiah writes of the Babylonian gods in records passed down through the generations:
“Bel bows down; Nebo stoops;
their idols are on beasts and livestock;
these things you carry are borne
as burdens on weary beasts.
They stoop; they bow down together;
they cannot save the burden,
but themselves go into captivity.” Isaiah 46:1-2
Categories: Sound Doctrine