Tuesday, November 27, 2018

When Ra Created the World

Illuminating the Old Testament

The Genesis 1 creation account bears a striking resemblance to other ancient creation myths, demonstrating that the author(s) simply copied from existing materials and chopped out the other gods.

At least, that's what we've been told.

Archaeology has discovered a number of ancient creation myths from the part of the world that produced the Bible. And there are some similarities between the stories. What does that mean for us?

I don't think it means anything until the similarities are examined with the differences.

When you want to compare the Bible to the Egyptian creation myth, you have to ask which one. There were several, and they were all different, though there were some similarities. One, though, is particularly telling. There are so many versions online, each a little different, and many omitting the most ... interesting part. Here is one that keeps it. And I'm sorry.

[These are] the words which the god Neb-er-tcher spoke after he had come into being: "I am he who came into being in the form of the god Khepera, and I am the creator of that which came into being, that is to say, I am the creator of everything which came into being. Now the things which I created, and which came forth out of my mouth after that I had come into being myself were exceedingly many. The sky (or heaven) had not come into being, the earth did not (exist, and the children of the earth, and the creeping things had not been made at that time. I myself raised them up from out of Nu, from a state of helpless inertness.

I found no place whereon I could stand. I worked a charm upon my own heart (or, will). I laid the foundation [of things] by Maat, and I made everything which had form. I was [then] one by myself, for I had not emitted from myself the god Shu, and I had not spit out from myself the goddess Tefnut; and there existed no other who could work with me. I laid the foundations [of things] in my own heart, and there came into being multitudes of created things, which came into being from the created things which were born from the created things which arose from what they brought forth.

I had union with my closed hand, and I embraced my shadow as a wife, and I poured seed into my own mouth, and I sent forth from myself issue in the form of the gods Shu and Tefnut.

Said my father Nu: 'My Eye was covered up behind them (i.e., Shu. and Tefnut), but after two hen periods had passed from the time when they departed from me, from being one god I became three gods, and I came into being in the earth.'
Yes you read that right. The god in question copulates with himself. After that, the new gods, Shu and Tefnut, mate and produce more gods who produce more gods, etc, etc.

Now, not all of the Egyptian creation myths include the self love mentioned above, but they all share the same general pattern: The first god or gods are created/create themselves. Then they create other gods. These gods are the personification of various aspects of the natural world — eg, the sun, the wind. So the creator god immediately makes more gods to help him create and run the world.

Read against this background, I think the differences between the Egyptian accounts and the Genesis 1 account are quite telling. The story of Genesis does not begin with the creation of YHWH. He is already there. He does not need help creating and running the world; he speaks and it simply happens. Unlike many ancient creation accounts (the Sumerian version is another popular "source" the Bible is alleged to have copied from), there is no epic battle wherein the victor uses the loser's body to create the world.

In the Egyptian accounts, humans just kind of happen. In the Sumerian account, they are created as slaves. In the Genesis account, they are created as stewards and friends.

It's been suggested that there is a polemic element to much of the Old Testament. If so, the similarities are supposed to highlight the differences. I think comparing the Bible's creation story to those of the Hebrews' neighbors makes it clear what the author was trying to say:

God did not begin; he is. God is eternal.

God created the world alone; the sun, moon, wind, and ocean are not gods. There are not multiple gods struggling against each other. There is one god, and he is sovereign.

God did not struggle to create the world; he spoke, and it was. God is almighty.

If the creation account is a polemic, the message to the hearers — the early Israelites — was that YHWH, the God who brought them out of Egypt, was far more powerful than either the Egyptians or anyone else had even dared to dream and that he had a plan, a purpose for humanity. This is the truth that they, and we, are given to give us strength as we face a world that desires to defeat us.