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.