Essays - Creation myth

Creation myths serve many purposes such as allegories of nature, the beginning of science and philosophy, and can act as a charter to justify certain customs over time.

''The deeper we sound, the further down into the lower world of the past we probe and press, the more do we find that the earliest foundations of humanity, its history and culture, reveal themselves unfathomable' (Campbell, 1987 p.5).

 

Within the creation myths of Hesiod’s Theogony, Genesis in the Bible, Enuma Elish, Epic of Atrahasis in the Nur-Aya and various Egyptian myths such as the Pyramid Texts, Coffin Texts and the Memphis; definite links can be made between them all, as if these civilizations were extensions of 'one great tree whose root is in heaven' (Campbell, 1987 p.149)

 

Found within these differing cosmologies there are variations of similar themes in the opening lines of the creation of the universe, which are listed below. What we have is the emerging of creation through a basic story line in which things come to be through the mixing of waters and an inference that water (or chaos) is the active substance in which god(s) can emerge from and in which the act of creation can take place.

 

'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the spirit of God was hovering over the waters' (The Bible, Genesis 1:1).

 

'Chaos was the very first to come into being' (Ibid, p. 158, Hesiod, line 117)

 

'Only Apsu, the first being, their father,' (Ibid, p.322, Enuma Elish, Line 5)

 

'In the darkness, the primeval sea, the chaos, and the gloom'. (Coffin Text II.4)

 

We can observe here that the creation of the universe begins with a being, Chaos, God, Father, a primordial substance. The monad that evolved is the primeval waters.

 

Although there is a correspondence between cosmologies we can take note of the monotheism found in Genesis and the Enuma Elish where both gods are self-generated beings.

 

Hesiod’s Theogony sees that out of chaos came 'broad-breasted Earth' and in Egyptian cosmology 'out of these waters emerged Atum and nun the demiurge creator-god' (Johnston, 2008, p.182). In this myth, Earth represents the feminine and Eros (love) represents masculinity, a duality from which other creations emerge. The gods Apsu and Tiamat in the Enuma Elish also represent a dualistic force in which procreation between the feminine and masculine take place - a mixing of waters. There is a consistency in myth across cultures, with the act of procreation through the masculine and feminine. From the Theogony the feminine (Earth) proceeds chaos, opposed to other traditions in which the inference and order of creation is masculine.

 

'In Genesis 1.1, the word bere sit is used to describe the beginning of Gods, creative activity. The root of the word is ros, which literally means 'head'. The Egyptian expression used to refer to primeval time or the beginning of the creation process is sp tpy, 'first occasion' or time of creation. The root of tpy come from tp, which literally means 'head' (Johnston 2008, p.183)

 

Light plays an important role and symbol in the mythology of creation. Light referring to the sun and cycles and light referring to divinity. In Genesis we can observe that God, a self- generated god, speaks the word and light appears removing darkness from the waters. 'God said Let there be light and God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness, God called the light 'day', and the darkness he called 'night' (The Bible, Genesis 1:3). This was an act of creation on the first day, yet the sun is not created till the forth day. 'God made two great lights- the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night' (The Bible, Genesis 1:16)

 

Egyptian myths speak of Ra, the sun god, and the cycle of creation, which is performed each day. The emergence of Ra corresponds with the sun that was made in his image and the reoccurring one-day-creation process. As opposed to the biblical seven-day creation process where on the seventh day God rests, thus completing the creation process. There is a correspondence with the word of god in the Memphis, Genesis and Enuma Elish. It creates light and all things as a command in the book of Genesis, the Memphis Shabaka stone 'thought and word of Ptah creates Atum (light)' (Johnston 2008, P.184).

 

A model constructed by Gordon H. Johnston illustrates the parallels between Genesis and the Pyramid Texts and Coffin Texts on the act of creation.

'1. Pre-creation condition: Life-less chaotic watery deep

2. Breadth/wind (Amun)/Elohim moves on the waters

3. Creation of supernatural light ' (Johnston 2008 p.42).

 

In the Enuma Elish we see commands from gods such as the god Ea who 'made a counter-spell, holy and more powerful, and he recited it and it came into existence in the deep' (Ibid, Enuma Elish, line 70). We can also see that the word of god/s, the command brings about the beginnings of creation.

 

Some obvious corresponding facts are the polytheistic nature of the Enuma Elish, Theogony and Egyptian traditions, which is also subtly hinted at in Genesis God says ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness’ (Genesis 1.26). The use of the word our in this case seems to point towards polytheism.

Although the other traditions are polytheistic in character, there are many Gods that present an all mighty structure such as Zeus, Ra, Marduk and the Hebrew God from the Bible.

 

Mans role in the creation of the universe varies between traditions. What is a constant throughout the above texts is the formation of man from a divine substance i.e. Ra's tears, Blood of Ilawela, blood of Qingu, the breath of God, or Hephaaestus who formed woman out of Earth. There is a difference between Hesiod, Theogony and other four cosmologies in the formation of man, which is not from a divine bodily substance. Although one could argue that Earth and Sea are both personified in Greek mythology and could be interpreted as divine substance.

 

'The account in Genesis describes God using earth to create the first man Adam, animating him with breath of life' (Dalley 2000, p.4). Here we see a direct link with the creation of the first woman in the mixing of earth. ‘Both in Greece and Mesopotamia deities associated with birth and fertility are also patrons of mining, smelting and coppersmiths craft, because they create new forms from basic materials' (Dalley 2000, p.4).

 

It seems the mixing of substance is the bases for many forms of creations throughout these traditions. For example the mixing of Lahmu (mud) and Laham (slit) in the Enuma Elish in which other deities appear and act as conductors for the natural world. This is mirrored in the creation of human beings.

 

The purpose of mankind varies between stories in the Enuma Elish. 'Ea gave them the task of serving the gods' (Plant, 2012, p. 326, Enuma Elish, line 35) and in Genesis we see god created man to 'work the ground' (The Bible, Genesis 2:6.)

Hesiod’s Theogony has a specific role for women, which is to punish mankind.

‘He had created the beautiful evil as payback’ (Hesiod, Theogony line 584)

In both stories we can observe the women as coming second in the order of creation, serving either god, man or as a curse. In both traditions Theogony and Genesis, evil is attached to women.

 

 

Having only touched upon the surface of some similarities, it is undeniable that there are parallels, as highlighted above through the various creation myths found through Greece, Egypt and the near east. Although broad at times, the simple connections spark a curiosity to go in deeper and pioneer through our human lineage. To follow the clues and uncover more of the links between the one family, the family of the Human-Being. This process of comparing creation myths is conformation of the unity in humanity and it’s themes that move and shape through time. The mere miracle is that still to this day we are speaking, listening and evolving with the very same stories which are more similar in theme then difference, which continue to shape the face of humanity and its mysterious beginnings.