The Bible's similarities with Egyptian, Greek and Babylonian mythology are too close to be a coincidence. The writers weren’t isolated from other cultures and they didn’t get their ideas by sitting on some mountaintop meditating with God; they borrowed ideas from their neighbor's creation myths. The technical term is called called syncretism.
This sample collection is intended to show that creation myths were common to the cultures that surrounded ancient Israel. This series covers the Mesopotamian area, but they were common all around the ancient world. That question of where did we come from nags us to this day. These epic stories may have satisfied the peoples of yesteryear, but now the new frontier is in science.
Seven Days of Creation myths
To show a common scholarly awareness of the Bible’s mythological legacy, I quote from Encarta encyclopedia.
Leviathan, in the Bible, one of the names of the primeval dragon subdued by Yahweh at the outset of creation: “You crushed Leviathan’s heads, gave him as food to the wild animals” (Psalm 74:14; see also Isaiah 27:1; Job 3:8; Amos 9:3). Biblical writers also refer to the dragon as Rahab (Job 9:13; Psalm 89:10) or simply as the Abyss (Habakkuk 3:10).
The biblical references to the battle between Yahweh and Leviathan reflect the Syro-Palestinian version of a myth found throughout the ancient Near East. In this myth, creation is represented as the victory of the creator-god over a monster of chaos.
The closest parallel to the biblical versions of the story appears in the Canaanite texts from Ra’s Shamrah (14th century BC), in which Baal defeats a dragonlike monster: “You will crush Leviathan the fleeing serpent; you will consume the twisting serpent, the mighty one with seven heads.” (The wording of Isaiah 27:1 draws directly on this text.)
A more ancient version of the myth occurs in the Babylonian Creation Epic, in which the storm god Marduk defeats the sea monster Tiamat and creates the earth and sky by cleaving her corpse in two. The latter motif is reflected in a few biblical passages that extol Yahweh’s military valor: “Was it not you who split Rahab in half, who pierced the dragon through?” (Isaiah 51:9; see also Job 26:12; Psalm 74:13, 89:10).
Between 1792-1750 BCE, the empire building Hammurabi made Babylon the most important city in Mesopotamia and enthroned Marduk, Babylon’s divine patron, as head of the divine assembly of gods. Somewhere around 1100 BCE, the story of creation was compiled from Sumerian and Amorite traditions to celebrate the military and political accomplishments of the city and its rulers. The clay tablets on which the Enuma Elish stories were written on were recovered in 1849.
Israel’s creation stories are not directly copy their neighbors, but they come awfully close. The first four lines of the Amorite epic, Enuma Elish, might be too similar to be a coincidence. The God, Apsu is identified with sweet water and the goddess, Tiamet, with the sea. Their son Mummu symbolizes the mist that rises from the waters.
When above the heavens were not named
Below the earth was not called by name
Apsu, the primeval, was their progenitor
Mummi-Tiamat was the bearer of all of them…
Their waters had been gathered together
Dry ground was not formed, grass was not seen,
When the gods, not one had been fashioned,
A name was not called, destinies were not fixed,
(Then) were created the gods in their midst.
Ophiuchus and Serpens
The constellation Ophiuchus in Greek means Snake Bearer. In the Babylonian view, this constellation represented the monster Tiamat, the Bitter Ocean. Tiamat personified Chaos from which all things came forth. Tiamat took Apsu, god of the Fresh Waters, as her husband.
Out of this union were born many evil deities whose main purpose was to create conflict, confusion, friction and strife. Tiamat, however, was not satisfied with her brood and decided to destroy it. In the war that ensued, Apsu was killed by his son Ea who, fearing his mother’s wrath subsequently fled to the farthest corner of Fresh Waters.
Tiamat remarried her son Kingu, by whom she also had offspring. Still, Tiamat was not satisfied with her progeny and did battle with them—during which time she was killed by her grandson, the Sun God Marduk.
Before the gods came into existence, there was only a dark, watery abyss called the Nun, whose chaotic energies contained the potential forms of all living things. The spirit of the creator was present in these primeval waters. From this point, their creation myths diverge in two different directions: the cosmic egg and the primeval mound.
The cosmic egg, or the Ogdoad, personified eight elements as four male and female pairs of divinities. In one, version, Hok and Hoket represent formlessness. Kuk and Kuket are darkness. Amun and Munet are hiddenness. Nun and Nunet are the primordial waters. In another version, Nu and Nut were deities of the firmament and the rain that comes from it. Hehu and Hehut appear to personify fire. Kekui and Kekuit personify the darkness which hovered over the primeval abyss of water. Kerh and Kerhet also appear to have personified Night or Chaos.
The first act of creation began when the egg hatched the sun. It was the form of the sun in which the God, Ra, made his presence known. All other gods and goddess were forms of him. Creation was said to form according to a divine intelligence called, Maa. It proceeded according to the word of another divine intelligence, called Thoth.
The primeval mound version also starts with a dark, watery abyss called the Nun, whose chaotic energies contained the potential forms of all living things. The spirit of the creator was present in these primeval waters but had no place in which to take shape. The destructive forces of chaos took the form of the great serpent Apep
The event that marked the beginning of time was the rising of the first land out of the waters of the Nun. This primeval mound provided a place in which the first deity could come into existence. When he became conscious of being alone, he used his divine powers to create order out of chaos, gods and men in his own image, and a world for them to inhabit. The first deity is represented by the sun God, who brought the first light into the darkness of chaos.
The Egyptians believed that all the fiends of darkness, led by the serpent, Apep, attacked the Sun during the darkest hours of the night and exerted all their powers in order to prevent his rising in the sky at dawn. But Ra, aided by his magical powers, pursued his course to the place of sunrise and hurled the fiery darts of his rays into Apep and his fiends, and paralyzed them and made them impotent.
The Greeks had many creation myths; no particular one became universally accepted. This account called, Theogony, was written by the Greek poet, Hesiod in the 8th century BCE.
It starts with the simple statement, “First of all Chaos came into being.” Two children were born to this shapeless nothingness. Night was the child of Chaos, and so was Erebus, the unfathomable depth where death dwells. In the whole universe there was nothing else; all was black, empty, silent and endless.
In some mysterious way Love was born. Love created light with its companion, radiant Day. Then Earth rose up, then Heaven with its blue vault on high.
Garden of Eden Myths
The purpose of recounting these ancient myths and legends is to illustrate their similarities to the events in Eden. It is not necessary to prove that the biblical writers drew directly from any one of them; but to show that they were influenced by the cultures around them.
There is no harm in recognizing them as epic fables. But when the Church insists with a straight face that The Fall of Man is an historical truth, while all the others are pagan myths, it's crossed the moral boundary into deceit and plagiarism. The Church is most importantly concerned with saving itself.
The question of origins bothered ancients as much as it bothers moderns today. The difference is that ancients had no science and written history from which to relate to their contemporaries. So they did the next best thing. They applied their imaginations. The descriptions below give a sense of the kind of pagan beliefs from which the biblical writers drew.
Traditional guesses place Eden in the Mesopotamia region, but where the Bible locates Eden to the east in Gen. 2:8, that suggests a constellation. The heavens always come from the east.
As we pass through the autumn equinox into winter, the constellations Virgo the celestial Virgin, Bootes the Herdsman and Draco the serpent appear across the sky. There is also the constellation of Ophiuchus nearby, as a serpent wrapped around the waste of a human figure.
The Virgin holds in her hand a branch of fruit, symbolizing Autumn, which she seems to offer to the Herdsman. When the Virgin and the Herdsman fall beneath the horizon, Perseus rises on the other side with a sword in his hand, seeming to drive them from the summer heaven.
The term, The Fall of Man occurs astrologically as the fall of the sun, when it descends past the halfway point towards its lowest point on the horizon during the winter months. The Christian theology of crucifixion draws from the same seasonal event, when astrologers described the sun as being crucified as it crosses the halfway point towards descent.
As a side note, each branch of the Christian cross symbolizes a season. The top: the shortest day of the winter solstice. The bottom: the longest day of the summer solstice. The two equal arms: the two equal days of the fall and spring equinox. This is not a coincidence.
Sumerian Paradise Myth
The Sumerian Eden was located in Dilmun, modern day Bahrain. Eden contained the Tigris and Euphrates rivers associated with Sumeria. The word Eden was derived from an old Babylonian name for Mesopotamia, Gan-Eden, the garden of the Middle East. Because those great two rivers watered the rich plains between them, the word Mesopotamia means between the waters.
Enki, the Sumerian water-God and God of wisdom, impregnates Ninhursag, his half-sister. Enki desires a son, but receives a daughter. He them impregnates his daughter, who in turn gives him a daughter. Ninhursag decides to put an end to this immoral procession by sowing eight poisonous plants in the garden. Enki eats of all eight plants and becomes deathly ill. On of Enki's sick organs is the rib. Nin-ti is created to heal Enki. Nin-ti means "she who makes live." It is approximately what Eve means. Nin-ti can also be translated as "the lady of the rib." "Ti" means rib and "to make live."
The Legend of Adapa
From the Babylonians comes the legend of Adapa. It carries the theme of the serpent's warning to Eve, that God had deceived her about the forbidden fruit.
Adapa, son the god of Wisdom, Ea, broke the wing of the Storm bird who attacked him in the Persian Gulf. Ea summoned Adapa to question his violence and warned him that, having displeased Anu, King of Heaven, the gods would offer him the food and drink of death, which he must refuse. Anu, however, learning of this indiscreet disclosure, tried to foil Ea by offering Adapa the bread of life and the water of life instead. When Adapa refused, Anu sent him back to earth as a mortal.
Gilgamesh and the Serpent
The Babylonians had a popular epic hero called Gilgamesh. In one story, Gilgamesh heard about a plant that held the secret to immortality. By much effort, he pulled it up from the bottom of the sea. On the way to taking it back to his people, he set the plant aside at a spring where he stopped to take a bath. Suddenly a serpent came up from the water and snatched the plant. As it returned to the water, it shed its skin.
Thus the serpent robbed humans of the potential for rejuvenation and acquired an ability to renew itself by shedding its skin.
The word "Adam," as the proper name for the first man can be misleading. It comes from ha-adam in Hebrew, which translates to "the man"—Hebrew has no capital letters. The word adam is extracted from adamah, meaning country, earth, ground, husband, earth, or land. This suggests the context in Genesis 3:19, when God says "you are dust, and to dust you shall return." The name represents the material from which he was made. He wasn't an actual person.
Likewise, "Eve" is translated from the Hebrew chavvaòh, for lifegiver, as in "the mother of all living." Its root, Chaya, means "serpent" in Aramaic. Eve and serpent are taken to be synonymous.
The word, Eden, has been traced to the Sumerian language, meaning fertile land. To the Hebrews who later settled in the region, the word eden came to mean "delight" or "enjoyment." In a sense, it is a garden of delight.
In sum, the words Adam and Eve describe nobody in particular, and Eden describes no place in particular. It belongs with all the pagan mythologies of its type.
The Elements of Creation The myth starts in Genesis 1:2
Biblical Astrology An introduction to the Bible's esoteric language
Garden Tour See the Garden of Eden in the Stars
A Dictionary of Creation Myths by David & Margaret Leeming
Myths From Mesopotomia: Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others by Stephanie Dalley
Stories From Ancient Canaan by Michael David Coogan
Metamorphoses by Ovid, translated by A. D. Melville
The Library of Greek Mythology by Apollodorus, translated by Robin Hard
Theogony, Works and Days by Hesiod, translated by M. L. West
Sumerian Mythology by Samuel Noah Kramer
Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt by Erik Hornung