With popular shows such as Ancient Aliens promoting the belief that ancient gods were just
misidentified extraterrestrials, mistaken for gods by the men who met them, the world is now
very familiar with the Ancient Astronaut Theory. Many ancient texts, especially those from the
ancient near-east, are used to support this claim. Among the most used are ancient Sumerian,
Babylonian, and Jewish texts.
However, there are certain inconsistencies found within those texts which do not seem to
promote Ancient Astronaut Theory. For example, in the creation mythology of Baal, the gods
existed in a watery abode. Ancient Astronaut theorists might be tempted to think of this as a
water-world exoplanet. If this were the case, and if these alien gods communicated with
mankind, we should expect beliefs around those communications to develop within their culture
and religion. Why is it, then, large bodies of water such as the sea were more closely related to
concepts of chaos and death in these belief systems? If alien creator gods came from water-
worlds, shouldn’t the seas of Earth represent life rather than death? A closer look at the ancient
texts themselves can provide us a clearer picture of the whole story.
The Enuma Elish is the Babylonian epic of creation, also known as The Seven Tablets of
Creation. 1 All the tablets containing the creation myth were found at Ashur, Kish, Nineveh,
Sultante, and other excavated sites. The tablets date to about 1100 BC but there are indications
that they’re copies of a much older version of the story. 2 The myth describes the birth of the
gods, the universe, and human beings. In the beginning, according to the story, there was nothing
else except chaotic water everywhere. Out of the movement of the water, the waters divided into
fresh and salt water. The fresh water is identified as the god Apsu while the salt water is
identified as the goddess Tiamat. Through these two entities came the birth of younger gods.
The younger gods were noisy and troubling Apsu, so upon the advice of Mummu, Apsu
decides to kill the younger gods. Tiamat hears of this and warns her eldest son, Enki (sometimes
Ea), so he puts Apsu into a sleep and kills him. Enki then creates his home from Apsu’s remains.
Tiamat becomes angry over Apsu’s death and consults with Quingu, who advises her to bring
war against the younger gods. Tiamat gives Quingu the Tablets of Destiny, which solidifies the
rule of a god. Quingu wears the tablets as a breastplate. Tiamat then summons the forces of chaos
and creates eleven monsters to destroy the younger gods.
Ea/Enki and the other younger gods fight against Tiamat, but are unable to win the battle
until Marduk emerges as a champion among them. Marduk defeats Quingu and kills Tiamat by
shooting her with an arrow, splitting her in two. Marduk creates the heavens and the earth from
Tiamat’s corpse (half to make the heavens, half to make the earth). He then appoints jobs to the
younger gods and binds Tiamat’s eleven monsters to his feet as trophies. He then takes the
Tablets of Destiny from Quingu, thereby solidifying his reign.
Marduk then talks with Ea, recognized as the god of wisdom, and decides to create
human beings. He does this by killing the gods who convinced Tiamat to go to war. Quingu is
found guilty and killed. Ea creates Lullu, the first man, from the blood of Quingu. Lullu’s job is
to help the gods in their task of maintaining order and keeping chaos restrained. The story then
ends with a long praise of Marduk for everything he did. The entire story is about chaos being
subdued by the destruction of a great sea beast.
In other words, the sea beast is a symbol for chaos.
A similar story can be found in the Ugaritic Baal Cycle. Ugarit was an ancient city,
located at what is now Ras Shamra in northern Syria.
In the second millennium BC, the population of Ugarit was Amorite and would have
controlled roughly 2,000 square kilometers on average. 3 During some of its history, Ugarit would
have been directly within, or at least in close proximity to, the Hittite Empire.
Ugarit was destroyed in the early 12th century BC and its location forgotten until 1928
when a peasant accidentally discovered an old tomb. The area of the tomb was found out to be
the necropolis of Ugarit. Excavations have since revealed a city with a prehistory reaching back
to c. 6,000 BC. 4
Archaeologically speaking, Ugarit is considered Canaanite. 5 Arguably, the most important
literary document recovered from Ugarit is the Baal Cycle, which describes the basis for the
belief system surrounding the Canaanite deity Baal. In fact, Ugarit bordered the northern Israelite
kingdom and can be considered the center of ancient Baal worship. Of further importance is the
discovery of the Ugaritic language, which is closer to biblical Hebrew than any other Semitic
language. There are extremely interesting word-for-word parallels between Ugaritic myths and
passages in the Old Testament which show clear polemics (controversial arguments intended as
an attack on a differing belief or idea). As we will explore a bit later, we can read the creation
account in the Bible and see a polemic to the Baal Cycle.
The Baal Cycle isn’t as much about creation as it is a competition between gods to win a
position of rulership with the supreme god El. It describes a battle between Baal (meaning
“lord”) and Yam (meaning “sea”), and another battle between Baal and Mot (meaning “death”).
Yam is also called Nahar (meaning “river”) and is also described as a sea monster with seven
heads named Litanu (the Canaanite word for ‘Leviathan”). In the Baal Cycle, Yam is a symbol
for the sea and the forces of chaos, comparable to Tiamat in the Enuma Elish. Baal defeats Yam
and is declared king of the other gods, yet still under El. He is given the titles “the Rider on the
Clouds,” “Most High,” and is described as having everlasting dominion.
To a person in the ancient Near East, the sea was considered extremely dangerous,
chaotic, and even otherworldly. The sea is untamable, unpredictable, and wild. Sea creatures
themselves were considered symbolic portrayals of the place in which they lived: the sea. This is
the reason we see the symbol of the sea and a great sea beast/monster/dragon repeated in the
religious texts of the ancient near-east. To those people, there was no better representation for
death and chaos. 6 We even see this idea turn up in the Bible.
We are at least two thousand years and half a world removed from the ancient Jewish
culture in which much of the Bible was written. The best way to understand and interpret the
Bible is to put yourself in the ancient writer’s shoes. What was going on at the time of the
writing? What was the writer dealing with in terms of competing theologies? What was the
cultural environment of that time? By asking these questions and looking at the text through
ancient Near Eastern eyes, we can gain a better understanding of the scriptures.
This brings us back to the idea of polemic. As stated briefly earlier, a polemic is a type of
theological jab at a different religion or belief. These show up all over the texts in the Bible. The
idea was not always to give a literal account of something, but to attribute credit to the true God
of Israel, YHWH. For example, we find in the Baal Cycle the term “Rider on the Clouds” is
attributed to Baal. Yet, we read a response to that claim throughout the Bible as YHWH is
referred to in the same way. 7 Even Jesus Christ referred to Himself in this manner. 8 The point was
not to describe the oddity of God riding on clouds; it was to state that Baal was not the one in
charge. It is a deliberate swipe at the belief of Baal having everlasting dominion by taking his
title and attributing it to the true God, YHWH.
This is only one example of a polemic in the Bible. There are many others.
Some of the most interesting polemics can be found in the creation accounts of the Bible.
The idea of polemic will also help explain some different descriptions between these creation
accounts. For example, we can compare Genesis 1:1-3 with Psalm 74:12-17.
1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void,
and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of
the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Gen. 1:1–3, ESV)
Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth. You divided the sea
by your might; you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters. You crushed the heads of
Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness. You split open springs and
brooks; you dried up ever-flowing streams. Yours is the day, yours also the night; you have
established the heavenly lights and the sun. You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth; you
have made summer and winter. (Ps. 74:12–17, ESV)
Here, we have two very different sounding accounts. In Genesis, we learn God created the
heavens and the Earth; the Earth was without form and void; there was darkness over the face of
the deep; the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters; and then God began His creation by
The account in Genesis establishes the conflict between God and primordial chaos,
represented by the sea and a sea monster, in the very second verse of the Bible. The word
translated “deep” is the Hebrew tehom. That’s a cognate—same word, different language—to the
Akkadian têmtum, which in turn is a variant form of Tiamat, the Sumerian name for the chaos
monster of the sea.
Why did the Spirit of God hover over the waters? Although there is no record here of the
conflict between YHWH and “the deep,” it appears the intent was to restrain something—chaos
1 All seven tablets, translated to English, can be read here: http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/enuma.htm
3 Pardee, Dennis. “Ugaritic”, in The Ancient Languages of Syria-Palestine and Arabia (2008) (pp. 5–6).
Roger D. Woodard, editor. Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-68498-6, ISBN 978-0-521-68498-9
4 Yon, Marguerite (2006). The City of Ugarit at Tell Ras Shamra. Singapore: Eisenbrauns. p. 15.
ISBN 978-1-57506-029-3. Retrieved 16 May 2015.
5 Tubb, Jonathan N. (1998), “Canaanites” (British Museum People of the Past)
6 For more information on this, refer to the Chaos to Restoration Lecture Series by Dr. Michael S. Heiser
7 Psalm 68:4 and Daniel 7:13, for example.
8 Mark 14:61-62
Derek Gilbert Bio
Derek P. Gilbert hosts SkyWatchTV, a Christian television program that airs on several national networks, the long-running interview podcast A View from the Bunker, and co-hosts SciFriday, a weekly television program that analyzes science news with his wife, author Sharon K. Gilbert.
Before joining SkyWatchTV in 2015, his secular broadcasting career spanned more than 25 years with stops at radio stations in Philadelphia, Saint Louis, Little Rock, and suburban Chicago.
Derek is a Christian, a husband and a father. He’s been a regular speaker at Bible prophecy conferences in recent years. Derek’s most recent book is The Great Inception: Satan’s PSYOPs from Eden to Armageddon. He has also published the novels The God Conspiracy and Iron Dragons, and he’s a contributing author to the nonfiction anthologies God’s Ghostbusters, Blood on the Altar, I Predict: What 12 Global Experts Believe You Will See by 2025, and When Once We Were a Nation.