A popular view of our times is that the creation myth has emerged from man’s will to understand the origins and phenomenas of nature. This is a view that reflects how we, in Western society are relating to the world. We are feverishly searching for ‘origin’, but restrict our search to the profane, while the deeper understanding of origin is more distant than ever. Our unconditional worship of natural science and our lack of interest in the humanities have made us blind to the creative process that remolds society after the appearance of a divinely inspired teacher. What this blog will attempt to clarify is, that for the authors of the creation myths, ‘creation’ is that process of spiritual renewal initiated by divine teachers, whereas nature contributes the symbols that help people remember and revere their spiritual ancestors.
The Creation myth deals with ‘origin’ and by its help man was, through participating in rites or recital, able to move from the plane of the profane to the realm of the sacred — that is to say, withdrawing from the familiarity of time and space and moving towards the experience of the eternal. It must then be understood, that for the myth to have any religious value, the origin of the world must take place beyond time and space. Therefore the events of the creation myths cannot be seen as mere historical events, they are archetypes that manifest themselves throughout history repeatedly. The very name Creation Myth may even be regarded as grossly misleading, as the myth does not account for a creation where there is a definitive beginning and an end. Indeed, in neither of the creation stories found in the Bible does the world appear out of nothingness. To gain a fresh understanding of these stories the word ‘creation’ could be replaced with ‘fashioning’ and ‘beginning and end’ with ‘dawn and dusk’.
At the end of every cycle all things return into the realm of nature, and at the beginning of the next cycle they are recreated. –Krishna
The theme of ‘beginning and end’ (night and day) – the eternal recurrence of creation, can clearly be seen in the Hindu scriptures, as in the Bible and the Qur’an. As we have come to interpret these concepts and themes by the standards of a materialistic paradigm, we have been deprived of that message which is truly relevant to us – the message that helps man to, under all circumstances, endure the horrors of history through reconnecting with his inner nature.
The imagery of the Creation Myth recurs in various works and traditions around the world and clear similarities can be seen between Rig Veda, Genesis and the Poetic Edda, to name a few. Had these been written down to convey something about physical nature we might have expected some degree of causality, but we oftentimes find the opposite – the stories are leaping hither and thither between events and characters, in a way that appears highly contrary to science and reason. In The Bible this is clear, firstly in that there are two accounts of creation, where the order of some events are reversed. In the first story man is created last and in the second he is created first. The fact that the first story is written in the form of six days, despite the sun and the moon appearing only on the forth day, may also strike the reader as a little peculiar. What may seemingly be anomalies will however become fully acceptable to reason as we learn to see the symbolical value of what is being told.
Over the last century much of the origin of the Biblical myths have been mapped out and it has been discovered that the story of the Garden of Eden and the Six Days of Creation are both borrowing symbols from neighboring cultures. The spring (or fountain) that waters the earth of the Garden of Eden, as well as the rib of Adam, are details that can be found in the Sumerian myth of Enki and Ninhursag, whereas the Story of the Six days of creation is written with elements deriving from the Babylonian Enuma Elish. We may keep in mind that the value of symbols cannot be restricted to a particular culture, and rather than blaming the Jews for plagiarism, we can note with what ingenuity they incorporated foreign imagery into their own mythology. In Genesis we see how water symbolism is used in virtually its entire spectrum, despite the fact that flood myths usually originate in areas where rivers overflow every year, as was the case in both Egypt and Babylon, but not in Canaan. The Jews, who at various times, were in contact with both of these cultures, were able to discern many of the mystical meanings of the symbols, meanings that had likely fallen into oblivion in both Egypt and Babylon – just as they have in the materialistic society that is ours.
The Garden of Eden is the oldest of the creation stories of the Bible and was preserved in both oral and written tradition for several centuries before the Torah was compiled, whereas The Six Days of Creation was authored during the Babylonian Captivity or shortly thereafter. The Garden of Eden is largely attributed to the group of scribes known as the Yahwist while the Six Days of Creation is attributed to the Priestly Source (P). In P’s story creation is divided into six days and according to Jewish tradition this number symbolizes the four cardinal points and heaven and earth. In this we are told that the text conveys truths involving all humanity, not just a particular ethnic group. Church Father Saint Augustine, who interpreted The Six Days of Creation in three books, stated that the meaning of the six days is not that God would be restricted to a number of days to create, but rather that the number six stands for perfection. The Qur’an also confirms that the number of days is six. In Native American mythology we likewise find that the world is created in six days and the cardinal points together with heaven and earth occur in traditional songs, stories and prayers. After the six days we find the Sabbath – the holy day of rest enacted to commemorate the covenant Moses made with the Israelites. Rest also stands for peace, and in contrast to the Babylonian Enuma Elish, wherein the god Marduk through acts of violence has to recreate the world every year, we may note that this narrative does not include violence at all, on the contrary, it is distinguished by its pacifism.
In short, it must be said that our authors knew the truth about the nature of the skies, but it was not the intention of the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, to teach men anything that would not be of use to them for their salvation. –Augustine
With these words in mind, we will step straightway into the first chapter of the Bible.
Notes and references:
1 Bhagavad-Gita 9.7 (Author’s translation)
2 Rig Veda Book 10 verse 129 www.sacred-texts.com
3 Völuspa Wikipedia.org
4 Hooke S.H, Middle Eastern Mythology, Dover Publications 2004 Google Books
5 Confessions, The Literal Meaning of Genesis & The City of God
6 Augustine City of God 11.30
7 The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 2:9