Dutch replica of Noah's Ark. By Ceinturion.

Genesis from where?

The first chapters of Genesis concern creation, the fall, and the flood. These stories all took place in Mesopotamia, nowadays Iraq. It is the birthplace of several ancient civilisations, such as the Sumerians and the Babylonians. These civilisations are much older than the Jewish nation, and they had myths about creation and the flood that are at least 1,000 years older than the Jewish Bible. When the Jews compiled their scriptures, they were in exile in Babylon in Mesopotamia. Most likely, they used existing myths from the area to write the first chapters of Genesis. A Babylonian creation myth, the Enūma Eliš, resembles the first chapter of Genesis:

When in the height heaven was not named,
And the earth beneath did not yet bear a name,
And the primaeval Apsu, who begat them,
And chaos, Tiamat, the mother of them both
Their waters were mingled together,
And no field was formed, no marsh was to be seen;
When of the gods, none had been called into being,
And none bore a name, and no destinies were ordained;
Then were created the gods in the midst of heaven,
Lahmu and Lahamu were called into being.

Other parts of Genesis resemble the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh. The epic tells that the gods became tired of working on Creation and created a man to do the hard work. For that, they put a god to death and mixed his blood with clay to make the first human in the likeness of the gods:

In the clay, god and man
Shall be bound,
To a unity brought together;
So that to the end of days
The Flesh and the Soul
Which in a god have ripened –
That soul in a blood kinship is bound.

In Genesis, God created humans in the likeness of the gods (1:26). God rested after six days of hard labour (Genesis 2:2-3). God then made a man to work the ground (Genesis 2:5) and made him from soil (Genesis 2:7). In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the gods created the first man in Eden, the garden of the gods in Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The same happened in Genesis (Genesis 2:14). There is an alternative account of the creation of man in the story of Enki and Ninmah. The gods, burdened with creating the earth, complained to Namma, the primaeval mother. Namma then kneaded some clay, placed it in her womb, and gave birth to the first humans.

The original man, Enkidu, was wild, naked, muscular, hairy and uncivilised. The gods sent a woman to tame him with her nakedness and love. By making love to him for a week, she turned him into a civilised man of wisdom like a god. She gave him a meal and clothed him. In Genesis, Eve made Adam eat (Genesis 2:6). Eve and Adam were naked before they came to knowledge (Genesis 3:7). God gave them clothes (Genesis 3:21).

The Epic of Gilgamesh differs from Genesis, but the similarities are striking. In both stories, a god creates a man from the soil. The man lives naked in nature. A woman then tempts him. In both accounts, the man accepts food from the woman, covers his nakedness, and leaves his former life. The appearance of a snake stealing a plant of immortality in the Epic of Gilgamesh is also noteworthy.

The flood story in Genesis closely resembles the account in the Epic of Gilgamesh. The stories are so similar that few scholars doubt the Epic of Gilgamesh is the source of the biblical narrative. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the city of Shurrupak at the Euphrates River had grown. The god Enlil could not sleep because of the sounds the city made. The gods then agreed to drown all the humans in a flood.

But the god Ea appeared to Utnapishtim, warned him and asked him to build an ark. With his children and hired men, Utnapishtim built an enormous boat, and he went on it with his relatives, animals, and craftsmen. The storm god, Adad, sent a terrible thunderstorm with pouring rains that drowned the city. Then the gods felt sorry for what they did.

After seven days, the weather calmed. Utnapishtim looked around and saw an endless sea. He saw a mountain rising out of the water. After another seven days, he released a dove into the air. The dove returned, having found no place to land. He then released a swallow that also came back. Then he released a raven that did not come back. Utnapishtim disembarked and made an offering to the gods.

Featured image: Dutch replica of Noah’s Ark. By Ceinturion CC BY-SA 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.

Earth from space

The sacredness of Creation

Thus spoke Chief Seattle

In 1854, the native American Chief Seattle gave a speech when the United States government wanted to buy the land of his tribe. You can read it by clicking on the above link.

That was a great speech. Only, these were not Seattle’s exact words. Based on Seattle’s speech, a screenwriter wrote a text that became a religious creed within the environmentalist movement. I shortened it as it is quite lengthy. The message strikes at the heart of the matter. Nothing is sacred anymore. The pursuit of money destroys our planet and values. This version of Seattle’s speech aims to make Creation sacred. The white man may think he owns the land, but he does not. He may think he controls his destiny, but he does not. Whatever befalls Earth befalls the children of the Earth. We have no destiny, no dream we pursue. Things just happen, not because we intend them to happen, but because they are the outcome of a process over which we have no control.

Perhaps, you care for our planet, but what do you mean? If the last white rhino disappears, the Earth is still there. Most of us will survive the demise of the rainforests. Humans have finished off other species for thousands of years, so why stop now? Soon we might create new species using genetic engineering. And nature does not care. Predators kill prey all the time. So, why should we care? Mr Lind, a professor at the University of Texas, wrote an article, Why I Am Against Saving the Planet. He says, ‘Saving the planet has become the de facto religion of politicians, business elites, and intellectuals in the West, replacing Christianity’s earlier mission of saving individual souls.’1 He claims environmentalism is rooted in German 19th-century Romanticism, typified by a bias against society and civilisation and a pantheistic awe before an idealised Nature. In other words, environmentalists suffer from a religious desire for Eden.

In doing so, Mr Lind inadvertently tapped into another 19th-century German tradition, that of Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche hoped to leave traditional morality behind, so he said, ‘God is dead.’ He meant to say that religions like Christianity were ruses to enslave us with a false sense of right and wrong under rules imposed by a priestly caste. Nietzsche favoured the values of the aristocracy of ancient civilisations, the values of the strong, to those of the enslaved masses, the values of the weak embodied in, for instance, Christianity and socialism. Slaves think in terms of good and evil rather than good and bad because they resent the ruling class. Nietzsche divided humanity into superhumans and slaves. He aimed to liberate us from our self-induced slavery and realise our potential. But what happens when eight billion people try to realise their potential and strive for wealth and power? We might all end up as free people in hell.

Mr Lind argues for doing away with false sentiments. He goes on, ‘There are costs to mitigating climate change as well as benefits, and rational people can prefer a richer but warmer world to a poorer but slightly less warm one. These individual policies benefit humanity, so there is no need to justify them on the basis of a romantic creed that defines the planet or the environment.’ That may appear nice and dandy from behind the desk of Mr Lind’s air-conditioned Texas room. If you live below sea level or in an area threatened by climate-change-related natural disasters, you might view things differently. Ten million Dutch live at or below sea level, and hundreds of millions more risk suffering climate-related disasters like floods, hurricanes and failed harvests. And Mr Lind is not planning to compensate them for that or invite them to stay in his mansion. And the rainforests and the animals and plants living in them might be better off if the likes of Mr Lind go extinct.

As our production and consumption increase, new problems emerge faster than we can solve existing ones with laws, technology, targets and other solutions. More technology, rules and controls do not solve these problems. In the 1990s, the environmentalist group Strohalm wrote a booklet named Towards a Philosophy of Connectedness.2 It lays out Strohalm’s vision for a sustainable and humane society. The principal founder of Strohalm is Henk van Arkel, a dedicated individual who remained its driving force for decades. Van Arkel is a moderate man who does not blame anyone in particular.

Everything is interconnected, so actions have consequences. We often do not know them and may not be affected ourselves. Wall Street traders who sold bad mortgages contributed to the financial crisis. Do you think there are no consequences if you dump plastic in a river or post hateful comments on a message board? Western thinking, reflected in the scientific method, deconstructs reality to analyse the parts. In doing so, it focuses on detail, and the whole can get lost. It makes us act irresponsibly. A few hateful comments don’t make someone take a semi-automatic rifle and shoot innocent people. But if we think like that, we remain locked in a cynical and uncaring world.

And God is not dead after all. This world is virtual reality. You may think you make your own decisions, but you do not. You play a role in a script. You say the lines and do the things the computer has written out for you. And so, we may soon find ourselves slaves in God’s Paradise. It is not slavery as we understand it, the exploitation and repression of one group of people by another. It is slavery in Nietzsche’s sense, which is living under a self-imposed moral system. God owns this world, so it is not ours to destroy. So yes, the sacredness of Creation is a religion.

If religious zeal could feed us, Mao’s Great Leap Forward would have been a success. Instead, thirty million people died of starvation. So, we should not get carried away. Jesus might have fed 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish, but it is not prudent to bet on a miracle. For instance, if we switch to organic agriculture and do not deal with the lower output, for example, by curbing our meat consumption accordingly, the Great Leap Forward might look like a minor mistake in comparison. We can have goals, but let experts figure out how to get there. Dramatic lifestyle changes are necessary for people who have more than enough. Mahatma Gandhi once said, ‘There is enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed.’ The change will be painful. But once it is behind us, we will feel better.

You may think it is impossible, but acknowledging the problem is the first step towards a solution. Our belief that nothing will help can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We need a new starting point, a new foundation for our culture, beliefs, thinking, and our place in the universe. Small steps cannot save us anymore. We need to change the way we live.2 That is what the people of Strohalm said. For a long time, I believed they were naive dreamers. I felt sure their vision of a humane world society that respects nature would never become a reality. As we head to an apocalypse, we cannot allow realism to stand in the way of what we should do. But then my life took an unexpected turn, and I figured Strohalm’s view could be God’s vision of Paradise.

Latest revision: 18 May 2023

Featured image: Earth from space. Public Domain.

1. Why I Am Against Saving the Planet. Michael Lind (2023). Tabletmag.com.
2. Naar een filosofie van verbondenheid. Guus Peterse, Henk van Arkel, Hans Radder, Seattle, Pieter Schroever and Margrit Kennedy (1990). Aktie Strohalm.