“The Source” (see ‘Lyrics’ menus) is a song about origins — specifically, how things tend to originate in violence and death. The lyrics are based on a book I am writing that offers a satirical look at ancient myths concerning the beginning of the universe and humankind. Like the book, the lyrics amalgamate an assortment of such myths to focus on their similar origins, plot structures, and themes.
Despite the convictions of devout Christians, there is very little that is unique or authoritative about the stories from the so-called ‘Bible’. I summarize below the Bible’s main themes concerning creation, which also happen to turn up in much older Mesopotamian myths, as well as those from ancient Greece.
- The creation of the world as a separation of opposites from a primal chaos: Separation of light from dark, as well as the waters above and waters below the sky in the Hebrew Genesis; Separation of fresh water (Apsu) and salt water (Tiamat) in the Babylonian Enuma Elish; Separation of earth and sky, as well as day and night in Greek mythology, esp. Hesiod’s Theogony.
- The world as a flat disk floating on water covered by a solid, domed roof of sky/stars: Hebrew Genesis; Babylonian Enuma Elish; Greek myth, esp. Homer’s Iliad and Hesiod’s Theogony.
- The supremacy of a storm/sky-god who sets primal chaos in order: Hebrew Elohim/Yahweh; Babylonian Marduk; Greek Zeus.
- A storm/sky-god who battles and defeats terrible, disorderly monsters: Yahweh vs. Leviathan and Behemoth (Hebrew Job; Psalms); Marduk vs. Tiamat and her demons, snakes, dragons, scorpion-men and bull-men; Hittite Teshub vs. the dragon-monster Illuyanka; Zeus vs. Typhon.
- The creation of mankind from some earthly or biological material to serve the gods and/or to tend to divine gardens: Hebrew Yahweh’s creation of Adam and Eve from soil/human rib; Sumerian Enki and Earth create first humans from the blood of a dead god, mud and spit; Babylonian Marduk creates people from the blood of an enemy; the Greek gods create the first woman out of clay.
- After the work of creation is complete, the mighty storm/sky-god feels the need to rest: Hebrew Elohim; Babylonian Marduk.
- The storm/sky-god sends a flood that wipes out most of mankind as punishment for their wickedness and/or annoyance: Noah in Hebrew myth; Ziusudra in Sumerian myth; Atrahasis in Akkadian myth; Utnapishtim in the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh; Deucalion in Greek myth.
- A trickster deity who defies the storm/sky-god and promotes human knowledge: Hebrew Satan; Mesopotamian Enki/Ea; Greek Prometheus.
- Woman as troublesome temptress and her curiosity, which leads to human suffering: Hebrew Eve and her tantalizing fruit; Greek Pandora and her alluring box.
- The decline of mankind from paradise and the corresponding divine curse: Adam and Eve in Hebrew myth; Prometheus story in Greek myth; Pandora story in Greek myth; The Five Ages of mankind in the Greek Hesiod’s Works and Days.
These ten themes represent some of the well-known parallels that anyone with half a brain can pursue in much greater detail using any reliable online or offline source.
Now then, possible reactions to these striking commonalities might include:
1) Ignore the obvious parallels (just as you might ignore the Bible’s obvious contradictions and injustices) and stand firm by your faith that biblical stories are unique and authoritative. It is certainly acceptable to believe whatever you want to believe, but only as long as you keep it to yourself. You should not attempt to convert others or influence public policy according to those beliefs any more than you should persecute, violate, or harm others for not sharing them.
2) Take the approach of the theologian, who will attempt to explain away the parallels (as well as the contradictions and injustices) according to some subtle and sophisticated theory that only the handful of experts with advanced degrees and years of Ivory Tower isolation would stand a chance of understanding. Such theories tend to appeal to arguments concerning mistranslation, offering instead the “correct,” “original” meaning of a relevant Hebrew or Greek term.
Now this is certainly admirable work, as it does make use of reason and evidence, as opposed to faith, which is by its very nature nonrational and close minded. The only problem is that my salvation should not have to depend both on my acceptance of the Bible and of some random scholar’s intricate interpretation of it.
I mean, the Bible is ‘the Book’, right? It’s meant to stand alone, wholly sufficient in its supposed truth and authority. One shouldn’t require a PhD to understand it any more than one should be required to know ancient Hebrew and Greek. Indeed, if only a select few can understand the real meaning of the Bible’s original wording, then all the more reason to conclude that it was not written for modern lay people.
3) Or we might take a rational approach, which realizes that the Bible’s stories, as all stories, were derived from prior and contemporaneous human sources. This means, in turn, that they cannot be, at least not directly, the ‘word of god’. In other words, the Bible has a traceable history of development and transmission, often using non-Jewish and non-Christian sources. One might respond by saying, e.g., that the five different flood narratives describe the same historical event (i.e., the “biblical flood”). But this still neglects to address the presence and influence of different deities who are fundamentally at odds with the Jewish/Christian god.
Anyway, in addition to these ten general parallels, “The Source” also touches on the theme of strife between divine parents and their children, esp. the conflict between father and son. In Greek mythology, Cronus mutilates the genitals of his father, king Uranus, who in turn curses his son. Now king himself, Cronus swallows his own children to prevent himself from being overthrown. But his own child, Zeus, outwits him and defeats his father in an epic battle.
Likewise, the Babylonian Apsu plots to destroy his great-great grandchild Ea, who eventually prevails, just as Tiamat plots to destroy her great-great-great grandchild Marduk, who goes on to become king of the gods. And finally, in the Hittite myth Kingship in Heaven, Kumarbi challenges and mutilates the genitals of his own father, Anush, while Kumarbi’s own son Teshub later defeats him and goes on to rule universe.
Of course, we find none of this bloody, parent vs. child power struggle between the Christian god and Jesus. Jesus does not try to overthrow his father or snip off his genitalia (although, given the maleness of this god, we must assume anatomical correctness). Jesus, however, does get to share the keys to the divine kingdom, but only after dear old dad treats him to a bloody death on the cross, which is what ends up setting things right in the world… somehow.
No… Jesus and daddy don’t go head to head in Christian mythology. But the Judeo-Christian god still harbors significant insecurity regarding his rule. That is, he constantly struggles with his human children – cursing, destroying, punishing, and denying them the possession of knowledge and power. Divine jealously is what links the Judeo-Christian god to Zeus and Marduk.
As an aside, it is silly that these Star Wars-style fairy tales and ancient metaphors of rule and kingship still mean anything to rational people in this day and age. I myself have never seen or met a king or lord. I have never lived under a kingship or in a kingdom. I have never been ruled and so have no idea what the experience is like. Lords and kings and kingships are completely foreign to me. So I have no idea why Christians today try to communicate with me, others, and themselves in these and similarly archaic terms.
I mean, I had a father growing up. So I somewhat understand what it might mean to say that some god or another is my ‘heavenly father’. But ‘lord in heaven’ and ‘kingdom of god’? No clue whatsoever. Such talk is to me as senseless as the Christian obsession with lambs, esp. Jesus as the ‘lamb of god’. What I am saying is that I couldn’t care less about lambs. I don’t find them particularly appealing or interesting. So why the hell do Christians try to convince me to join their cult with so much talk of lambs?!?!
When you tell me that Jesus is the ‘lamb of god’, what I hear this: “Blah bleo laoc lk eyznho euohdoa… lamb.” So please… just stop with the ‘lamb’ talk. And while you’re at it, cut out all the ‘lord’ and ‘kingdom’ nonsense, the references to the archaic ritual of ‘sacrifice’, and the creepy business about how eating god’s ‘body’ and ‘drinking’ his blood is going to bring me eternal happiness. The bleating of a lamb makes more sense to me than that sort of gibberish.
To wrap up: Even as the Greeks and Jews were telling myths to understand their world, early philosophers began to offer naturalistic explanations of the principles those stories represented. Instead of a violent struggle and succession of gods leading from chaos to order, Anaximander, for instance, argued that cosmic order consists in a balance of opposites (hot/cold, war/peace, justice/injustice, etc.), each side attacking and replacing the other according to a natural, impersonal cycle. No one side prevails for long before it is replaced by something else, which in turn will succumb to its opposition. This sort of explanation was meant to be a rational alternative to stories of anthropomorphic gods imposing order by dominating enemies and subjugating supposedly wicked human beings.
The same goes for myths themselves. Just like everything else, stories about the gods change over time as they are borrowed, inherited, assimilated, edited, censored, spun, omitted, transformed, die, and resurrect in new forms according to cultural, temporal, and geographical variations. The upshot is this: if one myth’s death is another’s birth, then I see no point in debating with believers. Even if you convince them of the absurdity of their beliefs, you’ll just end up with another, similarly ridiculous, story as the new supposedly authoritative tale.
I don’t want to give Christians any ideas on how to speak more relevantly to their modern audience, but I would not be surprised if two-thousand years from now rational people find themselves dumbfounded as to why the predominant religion of their time speaks of god as the ‘Divine CEO’ or ‘President in Heaven’. Maybe that will make about as much sense to them as ‘Lord’ and ‘King’ should make to us.
© Joshua J. Reynolds 2014. All rights reserved.