Creation Theories: the Egyptians, Babylonians and Genesis

Since the creation of humanity, the story behind how it all started was the sole question that preoccupied our minds. As humanity expanded to all of the continents on earth and new civilizations emerged, different cultures and traditions also evolved with those communities. In this sense, people all around the world created “myths” to justify their hunger for knowing how everything has started. To put it another way, myths can be defined simply as narratives or beliefs that are not true, merely made up for entertainment or for explaining things that our ancestors had deep interest in but no knowledge about. Myths portray characters and occasions that cannot be comprehended through common sense. 

All civilizations and communities celebrate such fantasies and credit them with varying degrees of exact or representative truth. Within this sense, there are four types of myth theories in general to understand the meaning and necessity behind the ubiquitous myths:rational, functional, structural and psychological. These theories were asserted according to the myths’ origin and moral behind them; thus, for creation myths, psychological theory-- the theory that mainly focuses on the subconscious mind and stems from the unexplainable questions that cultures ask in addition to being the main reason for why some archetypes are shared within cultures and folk tales/ myths-- is the most logical explanation for answering the question: “why did people start forming these creation myths?” In addition to the differences between creation myths and myths in general, creation myths vary with the way for how the earth was created and how the first organisms inhabited the land. There are five types of creation myths according to Charles Long: “Emergence Myths, World-Parent Myths, Creation from Chaos and from the Cosmic Egg, Creation from Nothing, and Earth-Diver Myths. The most important and well-known creation myth in our era, Genesis, is a creation from chaos type of creation myth, which means that a creator gave life to a formless expanse. 

Such a creator may or may not be existing in physical surroundings such as darkness or water, but does not create the world from them, whereas in creation from chaos the substance used for creation is pre-existing within the unformed void. In these stories the word 'chaos' means 'disorder', and this formless expanse, sometimes called a void or an abyss, contains the material with which the created world will be made of. Even though Genesis could be considered as an ex-nihilo type of creation myth according to Jewish philosopher Maimonides, where he states that “it was the only concept that the three religions shared,” it should be understood that the act of creation is the bringing of order from disorder, and in many of these cultures it is believed that at some point the forces preserving order and form will weaken and the world will once again be engulfed into the abyss. Keeping these facts in mind, these creation from chaos myths, Genesis and Enuma Elish, talk about the struggles of the God (Jehova or Marduk) to preserve order on earth and not fall into abyss. But even though it originated in the same region, the Egyptian myth “ The legend of Isis and Osiris” differs from the others by how it was written as it has been credited as a cosmic egg creation where an egg hatches the God Ra.

Humankind expanded to different territories, notably into the Mesoamerican and Mesopotamian regions. As aforementioned, the desire to search for how it all started was a huge quest for the inhabitants. To this end, they created creation stories and passed them upon us. Even though Genesis is a monotheistic scribe, the events of “fall of the man” and “the great flood” were inspired by Enuma Elish and other scribes of Babylonia, as Bertman states : “Both Genesis and Enuma Elish are religious texts which detail and celebrate cultural origins: Genesis describes the origin and founding of the Jewish people under the guidance of the Lord; Enuma Elish recounts the origin and founding of Babylon under the leadership of the god Marduk. Contained in each work is a story of how the cosmos and man were created. Each work begins by describing the watery chaos and primeval darkness that once filled the universe. Then light is created to replace the darkness. Afterward, the heavens are made and in them heavenly bodies are placed. Finally, man is created” To add onto the similarities, there are some archetypes in these three myths. There are archetypes which are identical because the writers of these myths shared the same values and similar cultures, as Jung suggests: “It seems to me that their origin can only be explained by assuming them to be deposits of the constantly repeated experiences of humanity.”. The main archetypes that are visible on both three myths are father and the hero. The hero archetype, who is the character that goes onto the quest to realize his destiny, is Osiris in the Egyptian story as he becomes the pharaoh; Adam on his quest on inheriting knowledge from the fruit and then creating life on earth; Marduk in Enuma Elish as he becomes the most powerful god by dethroning others.

The father archetype. who is the character that often spreads and symbolizes fear, is the Lord in Genesis, Ra in the egyptian story, and the husband of Tiamata in the Enuma Elish. In addition to archetypes,there are some in-text similarities. The creation of man in Genesis mentiones a ”God” who “ created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” and the creation of man by Ea 'I will bring together blood to form bone, I will bring into being Lullû, whose name shall be 'man', I will create Lullû—man; On whom the toil of the gods will be laid that they may rest.” are similar. The notion which makes them alike is the provenance from the god himself. In genesis god blows life into the soul of “man” and creates them from scrap, likewise in Enuma Elish Ea forms the first man from the blood of the deceased god Quingu. Another thing that the myths have in common with Genesis is the “fratricide”. In Genesis, Cain kills Abel because he envies the attitude that God has towards Abel and he slews him in a field where no one can see the murder. By the same token, Osiris is loved by Ra but Set, his brother, is being neglected. So, Set kills Osiris due to the wroth hat he has against this favour. For a partial similarity between the myths of Genesis and The Legend of Isis and Osiris, Ra loves Osiris and gives him the title of “'the good god Pharaoh Osiris”. Similarly, In Genesis God : “And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth and curses Canaanas: “And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren”. 

In addition to these similarities, these three myths are all similar according to the way how mankind are portrayed in them. Humans are deemed to be servants and stewards in the God’s dominion, and their sole work is to look after Earth. This idea is present in the egyptian origin story where Ra gives ranks to his “servants” on earth, and in the closing verses of Enuma Elish, Marduk goes : “[ . . ] . Marduk, who created the Igigi gods, Though they diminish . . . let them call on his name. . . the song of Marduk, Who defeated Tia-mat and took kingship. Lastly, an intricate similarity between them is made by the wording and the plot of the myths. Enuma elish means “the high place” in babylonian and is a strong implier for the difference of positions between God and his creations. The place where god belongs is considered holy and divine with order present, whereas for the “lower firmament,”disorder is present. In Enuma elish, earth is described as netherworld, which has a negative connotation and associates with chaos. This is strongly related with the idea of “creation from chaos,”as people are thought to be viceful and sinful, and after some time the order on earth will be broken an abyss and disorder will rule again, which will be followed by a “great flood” or a total destruction by God to bring the order back. This notion of “the protector of balance” is present in the three origin stories, as God brings in the flood, slays Onan because he was “ 'evil in the sight of the Lord' and disobeyed a direct order from the Lord by being unwilling to father a child by his widowed sister-in-law”, and curses Canaan in Genesis, Marduk kills other gods to gain kingship and Ra gives ranks to Osiris back again even after he was killed.

On the other hand, creation myths slightly differ from the ones that were recorded as the need for the creation of these myths comes from people’s desire for giving explanations to the events, notions, or circumstances that are mysterious, unknown to the conscious. That is to say, when the feeling and emotional mood that govern these creation myths are considered, they seem more significant and profound than the other myths. They also stand out from other myths by their “solemnity that gives them central importance; they convey a mood which implies that what is said will concern the basic patterns of existence, something more than is contained in other myths.” This explanation purports within the question of the relationship between myths and reality. Since people who live under the same universe created myriad creation myths in their cultures and a myth that is accepted to explain the creation is refuted by another culture, we can say that a creation myth is true to its region, with its culture and time period, in addition to it being anchored in its psyche, which gives their lives meaning and importance. “This truth applies to all sacred narratives, whether those of the ancient Celts, Norse, Greeks, and Egyptians, those of the indigenous peoples of North America and elsewhere, or those of the Hindus, Christians, Jews, and Muslims, or the contemporary practitioners of Wicca.”

To sum up, it can be said that even though these three creation myths differ in many ways, there are important similarities that link them. Analyzing the likenesses between them, one can conclude that new creation myths may have been influenced by the older ones. However, the many differences between them can be interpreted as the fruit of the location and period where the myths have emerged. The main difference between them is the passage from a polyteistic approach in the myths of the Egyptians and the Babylonians to a monotheistic approach in Genesis, while the most striking resemblance is the creation of man to serve the higher powers.    

07 April 2022
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