Good question--is Genesis merely a rip-off of other ANE lit?

[Series Index: gilgymess.html // Last update: to this piece July 30 2005]

Part9: Egyptian cosmogonic materials (gilgy07.html)

Historically, the early 'borrowing from Babylon' ('Pan-Babylonianism') advocates developed most of their arguments for borrowing around the Sumerian/Akkadian textual corpus, with the consequence that Egyptian background for the Genesis stories was not generally supported (or certainly not emphasized). Scholars felt they could find most of biblical antecedents in the Babylonian literatures, and so there was no 'need' for Egyptian influences on the bible. At the same time, the corpus of Ugaritic/Canaanite literatures lay either undiscovered, unexplored, or under-studied.

Three factors lead to the demise (or at least the 'humbling' of the Pan-Babylonianists: (1) successive generations of Assyriologists essentially 'de-bunked' all the important alleged parallels; (2) the more recently studied Canaanite materials began to show MORE important 'alleged' parallels for biblical studies; and (3) scholars learned that the influences between Babylonia and the Western Semite cultures was NOT as one-way as originally thought (e.g., there were several early cases of West Semitic influence on Sumerian/Akkadian--loan words, for example--which called into question the 'direction of borrowing').

But during all this reassessment and restructuring, Egyptian influences were still basically confined to later-than-Genesis writings. The Wisdom literature is generally considered the flagship borrowing example, with suggestions of Proverbs, Ecclesiasties, and Job being at the forefront. Egyptian cosmogony, on the other hand, is not often suggested as a major source for Genesis 1-11.

So, we will look at the Egyptian literature first, since this will be somewhat shorter for our analysis, and then turn to Canaanite materials.

First, we should note that they are no major mythic narrative texts (of which 'cosmogonic' is a sub-category) from the relevant period to even serve as literary exemplars.

"Myths are fundamental in the narrative literature of such civilizations as ancient Mesopotamia and Greece. From Egypt, however, few mythical narratives are preserved. This scarcity has occasioned much discussion...Among surviving mythical narratives, a few are in temple inscriptions, notably the 'Myth of Horus' in the Ptolemaic [NB: Ptolemaic period is 323-30 BC--way too late for our discussion] temple of Edfu and the long cosmological text there. Others, to be presented here, are preserved on papyrus in contexts ranging from pJumilhac, a Ptolemaic period handbook of material relating to the cults in Upper Egyptian Nome 18, through magical compilations of the New Kingdom [1550-1080 BC] and later, to works than can be classified narrowly as belles lettres. One major composition of text and image, the Destruction of Humanity, was inscribed on shrines included with grave goods in the tomb of Tutankhamun [d. 1325BC] and on the decorated walls of other royal tombs." [HI:AELHF, p.363]

"Whereas allusions to creation are frequent in texts of every period, mythological accounts [of creation]--even partial ones--are rare." [OT:GOE,70]

Second, we should note that early Egypt has no actual anthropo-gonic texts, to parallel Gen 1.26-2.25:

"Regarding the place of the human community in creation, Egyptian texts stand apart from both the Bible and Mesopotamian literature. 'The existence of men side by side with the gods at the time of their sojourn on earth is assumed everywhere, but so far no detailed account of the creation of man is known.'" [OT:CAANEB, p.115]

"Preserved myths hardly incorporate humanity. Rather, they set the scene for the current world and hence precede the form it now has." [HI:AELHF, pp.364-5]

"There is little data in Egyptian literature concerning the original creation of man. The primary information comes from the Hermopolitan cosmogony... The pertinent section features the creator-god Neb-er-Djer making the following statement: "Now after the creation of Shu and Tefenet I gathered together my limbs. I shed tears upon them. Mankind arose from the tears which came forth from my eye." The connection between tears and the creation of humanity is to be found in the Egyptian preoccupation with wordplay. Since the words for tear (remeyet) and for man (romet) are similar, it was thought that there must be some kind of connection between them...The god Khnum also has a role in the creation of man in what is possibly a separate tradition of upper Egypt; but his role seems to involve only the on-going creative process. Each human is fashioned on his potter's wheel, while only the first of humankind was formed by the tears of the creator-god." [AILCC:33]

Third, there was--as in Mesopotamia--no standard/canonical 'Egyptian creation story' from which the Genesis author could have drawn:

"Like the cosmogonies in neighboring cultures, there was no one standard account to which other versions had to conform." [OT:CAANEB, 99]

This basically means that we will be dealing (a) with partial, smaller, non-narrative texts [i.e., unlike Genesis' genre]; and (b) with creation of the non-human cosmos only [until we come to the question of the Flood, in a later article].

Scholars generally divide the cosmogonic story-lines into three groups, corresponding to three rival cities (each city had its rival mythic traditions): Heliopolitan, Hermopolitan, and Memphite. All three had some base elements in common, though:

"All the major myths claimed that each center was the place where the primordial mound, the "Island of Creation," had emerged from the ocean. Life had begun here and each priesthood claimed that their own god's temple was the physical location of that mythical island and therefore a place of great spiritual and magical potency. At this "First Occasion" light and land came into existence and the first god, in the form of a bird, alighted on the island. After this there was a gradual but steady development in the process of civilization until a golden age emerged when the gods ruled on earth, establishing law, ethics, and all the elements for orderly human existence. At the end of this era the gods returned to the heavens, but they directed the king to rule Egypt as their heir and successor according to the principles of maat (divine order, equilibrium, and justice) in order that the conditions of the golden age could be continued forever." [OT:HLAE, 115f]

Clifford identifies the common elements under 5 themes [OT:CAANEB,101-107; (Be looking for similarities to Genesis as you review these)]:

Now, the 3 Different Systems:

First, Heliopolitan.

"The major roles in the Heliopolis cosmogony were played by Atum and the Ennead (='nine gods'). Atum generated from himself, either by masturbation or spitting, the first divine couple, Shu (atmosphere) and Tefnut, who gave birth toe Geb(earth) and Nut(sky), who were then separated from each other by Shu. Subsequently there were born Osiris and Isis, and Nephthys and Seth, to complete the Great Ennead...The Heliopolis doctrine is best expressed in the Pyramid Texts of the mid-third millennium, the Coffin Texts of the late-third millennium, and the Book of the Dead from the mid-second millennium...The Heliopolis cosmogony clearly asserts that the world developed from the monad. The monad is the simple source from which all existence is derived; it is personified in the god Atum." [OT:CAANEB, 107-9]

"The most famous and influential cosmogony emerged at Iwnw (Heliopolis); it centered around Re-Atum (Re, the sun god, had assimilated some of the characteristics of Atum, an earlier deity at the site). The main source for this Heliopolitan myth are the Pyramid Texts, and the myth clearly had a great influence on many aspects of religion....Two groups of gods feature in this myth; these are the Great Ennead (group of nine gods), which included Re-Atum, Shu, Tefnut, Geb, Nut, Osiris, Isis, Seth, and Nephthys, and the Lesser Ennead, which was led by Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis. Re-Atum brought himself into existence by self-generation and produced children (Shu and Tefnut representing air and moisture) who in turn became the parents of Geb (the earth) and Nut (the sky). These gods were all cosmic deities and personified the elements that were required for creation to take place. The children of Geb and Nut-Osiris, Isis, Seth, and Nephthys-were not cosmic... The myth recounts that Re-Atum took the form of the mythical Bennu bird and alighted on the benben (a pillar associated with the sun god) when he arrived at the island. In Re's temple at Heliopolis the benben was the god's cult symbol. It had probably been there from the earliest years of the cult, and it was perhaps a conically shaped stone. The Egyptians believed that it marked the exact place of creation where the sun god had first alighted." [OT:HLAE, 116]

"In the Heliopolis version, the creator-god Atum emerged on a hill from the primeval waters. Atum's first act of creation was spewing Shu, the god of air, and Tefenet, the goddess of moisture, out of his mouth. From them deities such as Geb (earth) and Nut (sky) were brought forth" [AILCC:24]

"At Heliopolis, over the centuries Atum took many forms, rather like the Indian concept of Brahman. Atum or Ptah was the original god; Khepri (spelled in various ways-for example, Khoprer) is Atum made visible, and Ra is god as the sun. The Pyramid Texts tell us that Atum existed alone in the universe and that he created his brother and sister, Shu (air-life) and Tefnut (moisture-order) ex nihilo by masturbating or, as some texts claimed, by expectorating. In some places the original god as Khepri, the morning sun, was said to have created himself by word-by calling out his own name... Shu and Tefnut, in a sacred incestuous act to be repeated for centuries by Egyptian pharaohs (god-kings), produced the god Geb (earth) and the goddess Nut (sky). All of this was watched over by the non-interfering Eye, the original god. Geb and Nut were the parents of Osiris and Isis, Seth and Nephthys, and the older Horus. Osiris and Isis would later produce the boy Horus. From the children of Geb and Nut came all the children of Egypt." [WR:DCM, 82f]

There are not any real candidates for parallels here, and tons of anti-parallels, but we should comment on the ex nihilo remark above. We have noted earlier that Clifford pointed out that it was not really ex nihilo (since the 'stuff used' was the undifferentiated Nun), and Walton makes the same point:

"Thus, there is no specific material used for the creation of the cosmos in the Egyptian way of thinking, but neither is it creation out of nothing. All matter (existing in chaotic form) becomes part of the creator-god, who then creates, drawing from himself." [AILCC:32]

So, there's nothing really interesting in the Heliopolis version (relative to borrowing candidates, that is).

Next, Hermopolitan.

"The third great cosmogony emerged at Hermopolis, the cult center of Thoth, god of wisdom. There were several versions of the Hermopolitan myth, but they all attempted to establish the center's supremacy and primal role in creation. In one account the Hermopolitan Ogdoad (group of eight gods) played the major role: the four males-Nun (primeval waters), Huh (eternity), Kuk (darkness), and Amun (air)-and their female consorts-Naunet, Hauhet, Kauket, and Amaunet-created the world immediately after the First Occasion. When these frog-headed males and serpent-headed females eventually died, they continued their existence in the underworld where they made the Nile flow and the sun rise so that life could continue on earth... In another version a cosmic egg replaced the primordial ocean as the source of life. A bird (either a goose called the "great Cackler" or an ibis representing Thoth) laid this egg on the island and, when it opened, it contained air (essential for life) or, in a variant, the god Re was inside a bird when he proceeded to create the world. Yet another account describes how the ogdoad created a lotus flower that arose out of the "Sea of Knives" (perhaps the Sacred Lake of the temple at Hermopolis). When the flower opened its petals it revealed either the child Re who then created the world or a scarab that changed into a boy whose tears became mankind." [OT:HLAE, 116f]

"The Ogdoad consisted of four pairs of gods...The males were pictured as frog-headed and the females, as snake-headed... The Ogdoad represented conditions before creation, being present at the first appearance of the sun. Prominent also in the cosmogonic imagery of Hermopolis was the egg from which all things were born, and the sun, in its first appearance, as a child bursting from a lotus." [OT:CAANEB, p.112]

Again, this obviously very far removed from Genesis (and the subsequent prohibitions about representing YHWH in animal form!).

Finally, Memphite.

"Re-Atum's greatest rival was Ptah, who was worshiped as the supreme creator god at Memphis. The Memphite creation myth claimed that Ptah was in fact Nun (the state of nonexistence prior to the creation) and that he had begotten a daughter, Naunet, by whom he fathered Re-Atum. This placed Ptah ahead of Re-Atum in the creation geneology [sic]. Memphite theology (preserved in a much later text on the Shabaka Stone) claimed that Ptah was supreme creator of the universe who had brought everything into existence through his thoughts (expressed by the heart) and his will (expressed by his tongue). Ptah created the world, the gods, their centers, shrines, and images and the cities, food, drink, and all requirements for life. He also established abstract concepts and principles such as divine utterance and ethics. Ptah's mythology had no widespread popular appeal, however, and although he received royal support he was never adopted as supreme royal patron." [OT:HLAE, 116; If Israel knew this failure of support, would they have used this?]

"Memphis, the capital during the Old and Middle Kingdoms, was the most important urban center in Egypt. Ptah, like Amun at Thebes, was important because he was the god of a capital city. In all probability he was first considered a creator by virtue of being the divine craftsman (the Greeks identified him with Hephaistos); only later was creation through word or sex ascribed to him. From the thirteenth century, he was associated with, and even identified with, the Memphite god Ta-tenen, the primordial mound. Creation at Memphis was conceived on the model of artistic activity rather than natural processes, which was the tendency at Heliopolis." [OT:CAANEB, 110]

Now, here it look like we have something to think about. Ptah seems to be creating by speaking, a la Genesis 1 ("and God said, 'Let there be X, and there was X'). In fact, Clifford notes this: 'Hence many scholars believe that the process of creation described in the Memphite Theology--creation by the word of a single deity--influenced Genesis I either directly or indirectly through Phoenician models." [OT:CAANEB, 114]. Here are some of the descriptions of this process (before we look at the actual text-source, the Memphite Theology):

"The process of creation was not always a physical emanation from the creator god. The oral manifestation of his will sufficed: 'many are the transformations (kheperu) that issued from my mouth' . This is the principle of 'creative utterance'...This creative process was directly related to the personality of the old Memphite god Ptah, the divine artisan and patron of sculptors and masons. Ptah presided over the 'Mansions of Gold'--the workshops where the artisan-priests of ancient times fashioned the precious images of the deities. The conception of a project by forethought (kaa) and its subsequent realization through intelligible expression were part of the daily life of artisans." [OT:GOE,78,79]

"Since Ptah is the patron of artisans, particularly of stonemasons and sculptors, it is not surprising that descriptions of his creative activity combine the material and the nonmaterial. Sculptors 'in-form' or imprint a stone with their mental image. Their action makes an immaterial image into a material statue... The first verse (of the Memphite Theology) states the thesis: the creator's thought and command operated on the primordial monad so that forces and elements of the world emerged that reflected the material from which they came ("Atum's image")... All created things, represented here by the Ennead (vv10-15), are the means by which the concept is realized... As a result of the process of creating, all created reality is both the product and the image of the primordial source from which it came... " [OT:CAANEB,110f]

So, let's look at the Memphite Theology and see how close it is to Genesis 1 (text taken from [TCS1], with additions in blue from [AEL1]:

"There was evolution into Atum’s image through both the heart and the tongue. And great and important is Ptah, who gave life to all the [gods] and their ka’s as well through this heart and this tongue, as which Horus and Thoth have both evolved by means of Ptah.

It has evolved that heart and tongue have control of [all] limb[s], show[ing] that he is preeminent in every body and in every mouth— of all the gods, all people, all animals, and all crawling things that live— planning and governing everything he wishes.

His Ennead is before him, in teeth and lips— that seed [semen] and those hands of Atum: (for) Atum’s Ennead evolv[ed] through his seed [semen] and his fingers [tn: the masturbation motif again], but the Ennead is teeth and lips in this mouth that pronounced the identity of everything, and from which Shu and Tefnut emerged and gave birth to the Ennead.

The eyes’ seeing, the ears’ hearing, the nose’s breathing of air send up (information) to the heart, and the latter is what causes every conclusion to emerge; it is the tongue that repeats what the heart plans.

"So were all the gods born, Atum and his Ennead as well, for it is through what the heart plans and the tongue commands that every divine speech has evolved.

So were the male life-principles made and the female life-principles set in place — they who make all food and every offering— through that word that makes what is loved and what is hated.

So has life been given to him who has calm and death given to him who has wrongdoing.

So was made all construction and all craft, the hands’ doing, the feet’s going, and every limb’s movement, according as he governs that which the heart plans, which emerges through the tongue, and which facilitates everything.

"It has evolved that Ptah is called “He who made totality and caused the gods to evolve,” since he is Ta-tenen [tn: the Primordial Mound], who gave birth to the gods, from whom everything has emerged— offerings and food, gods’ offerings, and every good thing. So is it found understood that his physical strength is greater than the gods’ ['Thus it is recognized and understood that he is the mightiest of the gods'].

So has Ptah come to rest after his making everything and every divine speech as well ['Thus Ptah was satisfied after he had made all things and all divine words.'], having given birth to the gods, having made their towns, having founded their nomes, having set the gods in their cult-places, having made sure their bread-offerings, having founded their shrines, having modeled their bodies to what contents them. So have the gods entered their bodies— of every kind of wood, every kind of mineral, every kind of fruit, everything that grows all over him, in which they have evolved.

There are several considerations which render a 'borrowing' hypothesis extremely dubious:

First of all, there is a very real chronological problem here--this text may actually date to 150-250 years after King Solomon! (or to the 1290-1224BC period, still a little late)

"Analysis of the grammar and orthography of the text, along with studies of the religious and historical allusions made in the text, led early commentators to date the original document to the Old Kingdom (ca. 2500 b.c.), when the city of Memphis and its patron god, Ptah, held positions of critical importance in Egypt’s geopolitical environment. No matter what chronological or dating systems are used, such a provenance would place the origin of this text at a period which is substantially pre-Mosaic and therefore a challenge to the supposed uniqueness of the Genesis account... Recently, the veracity of the text’s introduction has been called into question (Junge 1973: 195). This analysis concludes that there was a deliberate archaizing of the text and that it was actually a piece of political propaganda authored in the 25th Dyn [753-656BC]. This thesis is not without its supporters (AEL 3:5), while others, although unconvinced by the argumentation leading to a 25th Dyn. provenance, see the original text as dating to the high New Kingdom, perhaps to the reign of Rameses II (Schloegl 1980: 110)." [ABD, s.v. "Memphite Theology"]

"Yet another example of the desire to use the prestige of the past for the benefit of the present is the so-called "Memphite Theology," inscribed on the Shabaka Stone. In this work King Shabaka of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty alleges to have copied an early work which he had found in worm-eaten condition. The claim, along with the strongly archaizing language of the text, misled generations of Egyptologists into assigning the composition to the Old Kingdom. A recent article by F. Junge (MDIK, 29 [1973], 195-204) makes it appear certain that it is a work of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty. Readers of this anthology should in their minds transfer this text from Volume I of Ancient Egyptian Literature into the context of the pseudepigrapha of the present volume." [AEL3, 5]

This makes the whole matter moot, since Egypt would have gotten copies of Genesis 1-2 during all the literary, trade, and political exchanges under Solomon's administration.

Secondly, there is a distinct possibility that 'Ptah' in this passage is not even a god, and hence his 'speaking' is some kind of metaphor for 'intelligibility':

"Scholars have thought that the Shabaka Stone reflects the syncretistic ambition of Ptah of Memphis and his clergy: Ptah, in his form of Ta-tenen ("the rising land"), "gave birth to the gods" and organized the land. Recent research, however, has shown that "Ptah" and "heart and tongue" are not divine personages, but rather philosophical terms designating the intellectual creative process. Ptah is the name of the tool employed by the creator god. Thus, according to the Memphite theologians, at the beginning of creation, the "principle of Ptah" (heart and tongue) was preexistent." [OT:GOE, 79]

Thirdly, there really doesn't seem to be any real 'uttering' going on here...

If you look at the text, the superiority of Ptah over Atum is clearly being highlighted in the 'clash of creation means'. Ptah uses 'heart and tongue'; Atum uses semen and fingers (i.e., masturbation). The Atum cosmogony is not explicitly repudiated ("Though not phrased as an outright repudiation...", [AEL1]), but is subjugated/sublimated under Ptah's 'design'. Consider the translation given in [OTPs:33]:

"Ptah's Ennead serves as his teeth and lips. They are the semen and the hands of Atum, they came into being as he masturbated. The Ennead is the teeth and lips which pronounced the names of all things..."

The gist of this passage is this: although Atum brought the Ennead into being by masturbation, this same Ennead is used by the superior Ptah in the divine speech act (i.e., 'teeth' and 'lips' being used by Ptah's 'tongue' to do the uttering/pronouncing). This is not interesting until we realize what the Ennead actually is--the nine gods who incarnate the cosmos. They ARE the creation, the earth, the sky, the water, etc. If these phenomenal elements of cosmic reality are 'speech organs' through which Ptah 'speaks', then there is no REAL 'speaking' (as in "Let there be X") going on. This speaking is more like a 'principle of intelligibility' or 'Logos-like principle of design' than any speech-act comparable to Genesis 1. This kind of 'speaking' (especially through masturbation-generated skies, seas, land masses, etc) would not have had any appeal (or perhaps even any intelligibility) for the author of Genesis. Even the main point of alleged contact/similarity is not there--there IS NO 'creation by speaking' in even a roughly analogous sense!

Fourthly, even if it were 'divine speech' in the same sense, it would not be an 'odd enough' parallel to create a suspicion of borrowing--'creative speech models' are a dime a dozen in the world!

"While these technical matters remain topics of debate among Egyptologists, developments in other disciplines permit a better understanding of the salient feature of this text, creation through thought and word. This method was considered to be a highly sophisticated, almost metaphysical, description of creation which held a preeminent place within Western religious tradition because of its biblical roots... Phenomenologists of religion have come to understand, however, that the actions of a creator god who uses thought and word are directly related to the incantations of a magician or the promulgations of a king. Indeed, specialists in comparative religion have found this type of creation story among many groups with strong magical or shamanistic traditions (Bergounioux and Goetz 1965: 69)." [ABD, s.v. "Memphite Theology"]

Indeed, this creation-by-word motif can be found in Mayan and Navajo cosmogonies, and Mesopotamia and Canaanite literature as well. [WR:DCM , 59]

Notice how any one of these objections would defeat the 'borrowing' argument, and there is a strong chance they all are correct... "Nothing here to look at, folks...Just move along"


[Now, before some one says it (smile)...

"No, that line in the Instruction Addressed to King Merikare ["He (god) made breath for their (humans') noses to live. They are his images..."] does NOT sound like "Let us make man in our image", because EVERYTHING in Egyptian creation was in the image of Atum--not just lowly mortals. But thanks for asking..." (smile).]


Okay, where does this leave us?

This is an easy summary, too: there are no parallels and there are TONS of anti-parallels, contradictions, and elements distinctly rejected by the author of Genesis (as well as MOST of the ANE!). This literature just is too distant from the biblical document in content, tone, intent, themes, particulars, and sequences...


On to the next...(gilgy07b.html),

The Christian ThinkTank...[] (Reference Abbreviations)