In the Beginning: Stories Of Our Origin and Creation
It has long been recognized in the world of Biblical scholarship that the stories contained in the book of Genesis are not unique and original. Similar creation myths abound in many ancient cultures. Perhaps the most well-known and well-studied is the Enuma Elish from ancient Babylon. The parallels with the first chapter of Genesis, as well as the Garden, the Tower of Babel, and the Flood, are striking indeed.
For instance, the Enuma Elish begins with primeval chaos and the goddess Ti’amat enveloped in darkness. Divine spirit and cosmic matter are both seen as coexistent and co-eternal. The order of creation is identical to that in Genesis 1: light emanates from the gods; the firmament is created, followed by dry land, the heavenly bodies, and creatures including man. Finally the gods rest and celebrate.1
This apparent dependence on a secondary source should not be terribly surprising, given the Mesopotamian connections of the Biblical patriarchs. It is also worth noting that Babylon had the “state of the art” science of the day, so drawing on their cosmology would have seemed appropriate, at least to a point.
Most scholars concede that it is very unlikely that the influence can be seen in the other direction, since the Babylonian sources are older, and there is no evidence for a third, shared source. Thus we can theorize quite soundly that the Babylonian myths formed the foundation for much of the Genesis mythology. However, while providing source material, they were not simply copied.
In those days, the line between “science” and “religion” was extremely thin. And while the Israelites may have respected the ancient “science” of their Babylonian neighbors, they brought a very different religious perspective to their cosmology. So, for instance, where we find numerous deities involved in the creation process in the Enuma Elish, one monotheistic God is posited as being responsible for all of creation in the Book of Genesis.2
Another compelling example of creation story-telling comes from the Native American culture which has always been deeply rooted in the Earth Mother. According to the Ojibway, the Anishinaubae (the Good Beings) believe that humans have inhabited the North American continent from as long as 250,000 years ago. Their oral tradition speaks of Kitchi-Manitou (the Great Mystery) who created our world, including plants, birds, animals, fish and other manitous (deities).
A flood inundates the world and new life must begin again in the sky. Geezhigo-Quae (Sky Woman) is married to a manitou and conceives a child. The surviving animals and birds realize that Sky Woman needs a place to rest and they ask one of their own, the Giant Turtle, to offer his back. Sky Woman comes to earth and settles on the turtle’s back. She asks for a handful of soil, which she distributes around the rim of the turtle’s shell. “She then breathed the breath of life, growth and abundance into the soil and infused into the soil and earth the attributes of womanhood and motherhood, that of giving life, nourishment, shelter, instruction and inspiration for the heart, mind and spirit.” The story continues with Sky Woman giving birth to twins whose descendents populate the earth. The continent is still called the Land of the Great Turtle by many North American Indians.3
Ultimately, we may ask “Why does it matter if there are parallels to the Genesis creation stories?” It matters only because there is such a history of enshrining these mythical stories as the unique and special dispensation of the Hebrew God. Our current controversy over the teaching of “intelligent design” is just one more example of this debate.
It is not the intent here to become embroiled in what seems to be largely a political issue. Each person has the right to make their own choice, but in order for that choice to be an intelligent one, the facts must be known. And the facts are that much of the first eleven chapters of the Book of Genesis are not unique to the Hebrew Bible, but derive from the ancient mythologies of surrounding cultures.
Does this make them less sacred? No, but it does place them in a different context than the literal words of the Hebrew God.
Bridging the Millennia
This leaves us with the obvious question of the relevance of these myths for our world today. Certainly there is little doubt that there is a wide gulf between the culture that produced them, be it ancient Babylon or ancient Israel, and our culture of the 21st century. Little wonder that many have deemed them worthy of the trash heap. But there is another possibility.
Just as the myths of Babylon became the stepping stones for Israel’s mythology, might not these ancient myths provide inspiration for a new mythology in our day? Remember that it is mythology, according to Joseph Campbell, that allows us to transcend our circumstances and reach for the stars. In our opinion, a culture devoid of a mythology is, at the very least, the poorer for it. But to build a new mythology we must, however painful the process, take a look at how our current mythology has been utilized. Otherwise we will be doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.
It is an unfortunate, but undeniable reality that from the time of Augustine in the fourth century, the first woman, and womankind in general, have been held responsible for the “fall” of humanity, the “loss” of paradise, and all the evils of the world. The following poem, dating from Ireland of the late first millennium, graphically portrays woman’s sorry state.
I am Eve, the wife of noble Adam; it was I who violated Jesus in the past; it was I who robbed my children of heaven; it is I by right who should have been crucified.
I had heaven at my command; evil the bad choice that shamed me; evil the punishment for my crime that has aged me; alas, my hand is not pure.
It was I who plucked the apple; it went past the narrow of my gullet; as long as they live in daylight women will not cease from folly on account of that.
There would be no ice in any place; there would be no bright windy winter; there would be no hell, there would be no grief, there would be no terror but for me.4
A devastating correlation came into being at this time - a definition of sin as “concupiscence” (i.e. sexuality), which was obviously and automatically derived from woman, according to Augustine and other Church Fathers.
From the writings of St. John Chrysostom, patriarch of Constantinople in the fourth century, we read: “Scarcely had they [Adam and Eve] turned aside from obedience to God then they became earth and ashes, and all at once they lost the happy life, beauty and honor of virginity. . . they were made serfs, stripped of the royal robe. . . made subject to death and every other form of curse and imperfection; then did marriage make its appearance. . . Do you see where marriage has its origin?. . . For where there is death, there too is sexual coupling; and where there is no death, there is no sexual coupling either.”5
Note the connection between sexuality, evil and death. It is no accident that priests, who were originally allowed to marry and have families, would by the 1100’s be forced into celibacy, abandoning their wives and families. For the Church of this time, sexuality represented the gravest danger and the fatal flaw.
In the eloquent words of Marina Warner in Alone Of All Her Sex, “It is almost impossible to overestimate the effect that the characteristic Christian association of sex and sin and death has had on the attitudes of our civilization. Since the learned Saints Jerome and Augustine tackled the problem of man’s tendency to evil, the three separate concepts have been bound together tightly in a web that traps every Christian. For if desire, as natural as breath or as sleep itself, is sinful, then the Christian, like a man in the grip of a usurer, must always run back to the Church, the only source of that grace which can give him reprieve.”6
Once again it is vital that we remember that this is myth that we are dealing with, not reality. Just as this paradigm served a purpose for the ancient Israelites, it has served a purpose since in Christianity. At that time Christianity emerged as a world religion, protected now instead of persecuted by the Roman Empire. The concern of Emperor Constantine and the emerging hierarchy of the new religion was for consolidation and control. Therefore, a consistent doctrine of beliefs with enforceable boundaries was imposed on the infant church. Rising at the same time was a growing interest in an ascetic lifestyle which branded women as temptresses and the epitome of everything non-spiritual.7
Given this context, then, it is not surprising that the story of the Garden of Eden was read as the perfect answer to the issues of power, control and authority. Not for the first time in history, and certainly not the last, finger pointing and affixing blame became weapons of policy. Women were made the scapegoats so that a male-dominated hierarchy could emerge and flourish. In one of the great ironies of church history, at a time when the Gnostic teachings were banned from the Church and their adherents declared heretics, the Church itself subtly adopted much of the dualism of the Gnostic way.
Thus today what passes for orthodox Christianity is a strange mix indeed. If you ever wonder where the dualism between flesh and spirit came from; the denigration of the body opposed to the transcendent nature of God, you have only to read the writings of many of the Church Fathers from this era.8
From this time forward, Christianity has taught that humanity is born into sin, that woman is responsible for this terrible “fall” from the original grace of creation, and that our only hope of salvation is faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ who will “save” us from the flesh and lift us into the joys of Spirit. Therefore, anything related to matter, the physical body, and the feminine become defined as opposed to a life of faith, if not actual evil. We also have been taught that our destiny is to dominate our environment, rather than to work in partnership with all kingdoms of creation. But none of this is the original teaching of Jesus and his disciples, let alone the original intent of these stories of our beginnings.
It is absolutely crucial in our world of today to not only acknowledge where and why this spin on the Garden of Eden originated, but the devastating fruits that have blossomed not just for women and men, but for our planet as a whole. There is a direct connection between our attitudes about matter and the flesh, our bodies, and our attitudes about the feminine and our Mother Earth.
The connection can be seen linguistically in our words for matter and mother (both derived from the Latin mater). Simply put, in choosing “domination” of creation rather than “stewardship”, we have created our own serpents that now threaten to turn our earthly garden into a wasteland. In our fear and blame, our dethronement of the Sacred Feminine, we have placed all of creation at risk. Our mother is dying, as Matthew Fox so poignantly expresses it,9 and we have only ourselves to blame.
Indeed, far from being irrelevant, the creation stories of Genesis have the potential to become our wake-up call. Interpreted for our day, they ground us in a bountiful and abundant world of which we are the stewards. This world, our beloved Mother Earth, is alive and breathing and suffering. She desperately needs our assistance. We hear her cries and we see her convulsions.
As a people, humanity has journeyed far from the gates of Eden and that ancient tree. We are no longer adolescents, let alone infants. We have come of age, with all our terrible and wonderful knowledge. Today we are being called to grow into our adulthood as never before, to assume our divinely-ordered responsibility as stewards of creation. In so doing, we have it in our power to create a new heaven and a new earth; a new cosmology for the 21st century. But we must do it soon.
"As my ancestors planted for me before I was born, so do I plant for those who will come after me."
Ancient Hebrew Scripture
As we watch the evening news, it becomes increasingly obvious that the center is not holding and that a radical change of course is necessary if we are to survive our adolescence. In a strange and prophetic way, perhaps we are experiencing the terrible consequences of that fateful bite of the apple. Not that it could or should have been avoided. Not that it was sinful or wrong. But now, today, we are faced with the responsibility and the choices of our knowledge of good and evil. Which will we choose, the darkness or the light?
Ultimately there can be only one outcome, for the light cannot be overcome by darkness. But the journey to that outcome may be much less painful, and require much less suffering, if we commit our hearts and minds to becoming the Light of God wherever we are. The simple truth, which the news would never have us believe, is that every human being on this planet is part of the same family. In the myths of Genesis, we are all children of the same God; Jew and Gentile alike; Arab, Israeli or Christian, it matters not. So why are we so intent on killing each other?
If we could believe, truly believe, that we carried in our very genes, our DNA, the same message from the Divine Source that a child in Africa carries; if we could believe, and know, that being created in the likeness of God meant carrying that likeness in our genetic code, then maybe, just maybe, we could beat our swords into ploughshares, lay down the guns, and embrace our brothers and sisters. Incredibly, this is exactly what aerospace engineer turned spiritual seeker Gregg Braden proposes as the challenge for our century. His work is cutting edge and confrontational; his theory stunning and mind-boggling.
In simplest terms, at the end of twelve years of pain-staking research, he submits his proof to the world that we are all one family. His proof, based on complex and intricate calculations with ancient Hebrew and biochemistry, brings us back to the very heart of creation; our very DNA. Every human on this planet carries a message from our Creator within them, and that message says “God Eternal within the body.”
God Eternal within the body.10
Could there be a more beautiful, appropriate message? Far from being sinful beings of the flesh, we have the very finger of God written within our bodies. We are divine temples, and God is within us, all of us. Here duality ends. Science and religion meet. Not only did God incarnate in the one named Jesus of Nazareth two thousand years ago, but the Divine has been present within each human body since the beginning of time. Iranaeus, a Christian bishop later excommunicated as a heretic, stated that “God became a human being in order that human beings might become god.” So perhaps a seed kernel of the Truth has been hidden all along. Humanity has simply needed to come of age to know and acknowledge this Truth. But the question remains - what will we do with it?
Those that would listen, let them hear.
Now that you have completed these first two lessons, take a moment to reflect on what you have learned. The following meditation is designed to allow you to take this information into your heart space and anchor it there. Once you have spent time in meditation, continue with the final questions. In the next lesson we will explore other sacred texts of the Essenes and the Gnostics. May you walk in Love, Light and peace as you re-discover your true Oneness with God.
Questions For the Heart and Mind
1. Imagine a Christianity without the influence of original sin and the fall. If we remove “fall/redemption theology” from Christianity, what is left and what can be put in its place?
2. Explain the connection between the traditional understanding of the Genesis narratives and our ecological concerns for Mother Earth. Why are the two connected?
3. How do you react to the possibility, as theorized by Gregg Braden, that you carry the message “God Eternal within the body” in your genetic code?
4. If this “God Code” is common to all humanity, how does it affect your understanding of current issues of world peace and justice?
5. Become the storyteller of your life and create your own creation mythology. What would your creation story feel, look and sound like?
Suggestions For Further Reading
Armstrong, Karen. The Gospel According To Woman, 1986.
Braden, Gregg. The God Code, 2004..
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero With A Thousand Faces, 1949.
The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology , 1959.
Fox, Matthew. Original Blessing , 1983.
Johnston, Basil. The Manitous, 1995.
Moyers, Bill. Genesis: A Living Conversation, 1996.
Murphy, Cullen. The Word According To Eve, 1998.
Pagels, Elaine. Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, 1988.
Speiser, E.A.. Genesis (Anchor Bible Commentary), 1987.
Trible, Phyllis. God and the Rhetoric Of Sexuality, 1978.
Warner, Marina. Alone Of All Her Sex: The Myth and Cult of the Virgin Mary, 1967.