Friday, October 14, 2005

EGYPTIAN MYTHS FROM WHICH THE BIBLE CAME

In an interesting book, 101 MYTHS OF THE BIBLE, I came across sometime back but which I am only now getting around to reading, Gary Greenberg explores the premise that the PENTATEUCH is made up of mythological stories about the beginning of life which were common in Egypt at the time when the people who would become the Hebrews lived there. Later, before Hebrew scribes wrote down the final edition of the Bible as we now know it, they had also been in Babylonian and Persian exile and their elite intellectual classes who wrote the Bible had experienced those culture's creation myths too. Those earlier myths were wide spread in the Mediterranean area and, of course, in writing their own myths to explain their beginnings, the Hebrew had to incorporate material which was widely and commonly believed to be true, even by them.

Too many modern Christians are just not intellectual enough to understand history and how ideas become mythical facts. They cannot understand that at one time, their Bible was not a hard and fast cannon already collected in a single document. They don't understand the mental processes by which details and bits of history and old wives' tales are woven together into myths. I think they sense that the Bible was from time immemorial in the mind of their god. In these matters, modern Christians are totally out of touch with reality.

Here's Greenberg's text on the matter and the example of the flood story to back up his claims:

"Biblical history claims a long sojourn in Egypt during Israel's formative stages. The Bible constantly chastises Israel for succumbing to Canaanite influences. Prior to the Bible taking its final form, Israel's educated elite lived in forced exile in Babylon and, a century later, under a more benevolent Persian rule when the Persians defeated Babylon and freed the Hebrew leaders. Any attempt by learned Hebrew scribes to construct their own history of the world, from Creation down to the time of the writing of any source document, would have to take into account what their neighbors have said about the same times and places, because the stories of the neighbors were well known and widely circulated. They were the stories that most educated people of those times believed.

"On December 3, 1872, this question moved into the forefront of biblical studies. On that date, an Assyriologist named George Smith read a paper in London to the Society of Biblical Archaeology. He had been rooting through a cache of thousands of tablets and fragments from a seventh century B.C. Assyrian library belonging to King Ashurbanipal. On what would become known as Tablet XI of the Gilgamesh epic, written in Akkadian, an ancient Semitic language older than Hebrew, he found a flood story that had remarkable parallels to the biblical flood account.

"Although it was polytheistic where the Bible was monotheistic, it told the same basic tale. The gods had become angry at humanity and determined to wipe out the human race with a flood. One of the deities warned a human friend by the name of Utnapishtim to secretly build an ark and prepare for the fateful day. When the rains started up, Utnapishtim brought onto the boat his family, a variety of animals, and a number of artisans. When the rains stopped and the flood subsided, Utnapishtim released three birds, spaced out over time, to determine if it was safe to come off the ark. Eventually, the boat landed on top of a mountain. As in the Bible, after the flood, the gods regretted their actions against humanity."
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Here's another sample of the format of Greenberg's book (p. 17), showing the Egyptian roots of the Bible myth about the "firmaments" arrival on the scene in the Hebrew text:

"The Myth: And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. (Gen. 1.6-7)

"The Reality. This firmament arising out of the waters is the primeval mountain of Egyptian myth.

"After calling forth the first light and dividing the light from the darkness, Genesis tells us that God caused a firmament to rise in the midst of the waters, and this firmament divided the waters from the waters. As the verses quoted above clearly show, the dividing of "the waters from the waters" refers to the separation of water above the firmament from the water below the firmament.

"In all the Egyptian Creation myths, following the appearance of the first light (usually identified with the god Atum) the Creator god caused a mountain to emerge out of the primeval waters. This mountain, by its nature, was a solid physical entity, a firmament, and according to the Egyptian view, it separated the primeval waters into waters above and waters below. The Egyptians viewed the sky as a waterway through which the sun god Re sailed the solar barque. The primeval mountain became the space in between the waters above and below and provided the force that held them apart.

"The rising firmament in Genesis is indistinguishable from the primeval mountain that emerged out of the Nun, the primeval waters, and in both the biblical and Egyptian stories, the rising occurs in the same sequential order in the Creation process, after the summoning forth of the first light by the spoken word."

3 comments:

Mathetes said...

There are Babylonian and Egyptian flood accounts, and people say that these accounts make the biblical accounts uncredible. I, however, think it makes the biblical account more credible. The bible states that all civilization spread out from Babel, which would include Egypt and Babylon, so it would make since that they had the same mythology. It would also make since that the names of the places and characters were different because the confusion of languages that God caused at Babel.

I would like to know where you got your account on the Egyptian firmament. People will never understand the bible if they do not take into account the history, culture, and myths of all of the people involved in the bible.

Mathetes said...

I see you did list the name of the book already.
Thanks

Geo said...

Mathetes,

How do you explain that linguists can show that languages did not just suddenly become split at one date and time in history into several languages, but that all languages show a slow historical change? Within our own lifetime we can see that Latin is dead and that the Romance languages split out from that language and on back into the darkness of pre-history?

Next, where is Babel? Somebody ought to be able to find that place since it is so important in it's consequences? Archaeologists can do wonderful stuff, but nobody can seem to find this Babel place!

Next, why would anyone want to make up a fairytale, like the story of Babel, now that we have evidence right under our noses that languages do change with time. Go back and try to read Old English, then try Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, then read the King James Bible, then read Victorian novels, then read a modern novel. With evidence like that, showing clearly that languages change, how can anyone cling to an obviously primitive fairy tale about a god splitting dividing people by languages?