In The Beginning
By Ian Wishart
“I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented”
Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion
If you read or listen to the Karen Armstrongs of this world, you’ll be familiar with the theory that religions “evolved” from a primitive belief in many gods, to the modern, monotheistic belief in just one Creator. Now, of course, Armstrong, John Shelby Spong, Don Cupitt and Lloyd Geering are arguing we have evolved to the next stage of religion: a non-belief in a Creator or the supernatural which, they argue, reflects our growing scientific “wisdom”.
It is said, by these writers, that the Genesis creation story featuring one God is a late development rather than an authentic representation of early Jewish belief. The Jews, argue these writers, “borrowed” their creation story from the older Babylonian civilization.
I guess, if this was all true, we would see evidence in various creation stories of this evolution of thought and belief, from primitive to sophisticated. So forget everything you’ve ever heard about creation – I’m going to take you back through history to a range of creation myths from around the world. The purpose is simple: is there evidence of common themes from different cultures all over the planet? If so, what are those common themes?
SUMERIA circa 2000 BC
When heaven had moved away from the earth,
And earth had separated from heaven,
And the name of man was fixed;
When the Sky God, An, had carried off the heavens,
And the Air God, Enlil, had carried off the earth …
Themes: No full text of the Sumerian myth still exists, so historians have pieced together fragments of what they know. The earth, it turns out, was born of sexual intercourse between the gods, out of water. It emerged from water, and the heavens had to be separated from land. There are multiple gods involved. As creation ex nihilo, or creation from nothing, is a foreign concept to the Sumerians, they believed earth must have emerged from something.
BABYLON (Enuma Elish, written circa 1200 BC)
When there was no heaven,
no earth, no height, no depth, no name,
when Apsu was alone,
the sweet water, the first begetter; and Tiamat
the bitter water, and that
return to the womb, her Mummu,
when there were no gods-
When sweet and bitter
mingled together, no reed was plaited, no rushes
muddied the water,
the gods were nameless, natureless, futureless, then
from Apsu and Tiamat
in the waters gods were created, in the waters
Lahmu and Lahumu,
were named; they were not yet old
not yet grown tall
when Anshar and Kishar overtook them both,
the lines of sky and earth
stretched where horizons meet to separate
cloud from silt.
Themes: OK. What are the themes in this? Firstly, a time when no heavens and no earth existed. Just a character called Apsu, translated as “the sweet water” and later “the father of the gods” and his bride Tiamat. By their intercourse, in a watery realm, child gods were created and silt to make earth. The myth talks in its last verse here of separating sky from earth. Anshar being a longer form of the Sumerian sky god An, and Kishar likewise a longer form of Ki. The Babylonian myth, like the Sumerian, involves creation via sex (the Sumerian word for water also meant semen) and multiple deities.
THE BIBLE circa 1400 BC
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth became formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day. 6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the expanse “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning – the second day. 9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
Themes: Creation from nothing. God creates the heavens and the earth, which remains covered by water. God then creates light, then day and night, then he separates the atmosphere (sky) from the land. It is obvious that the Jews, Babylonians and Sumerians all tell a similar story (leaving aside the mechanism of creation – sex vs divine word – and the number of ‘gods’ involved). At one level, the Hebrew story seems more ancient. It begins, after all, with a divine act of creation, followed by the emergence of earth from water. The Babylonians and Sumerians appear to begin their stories, really, with the earth emerging from water.
EBLA circa 2600 BC
Lord of heaven and earth:
the earth was not, you created it,
the light of day was not, you created it,
the morning light you had not [yet] made exist.
Themes: Here’s where our journey gets interesting. The Ebla civilization is a very recent discovery, dating back only to the 1960s when thousands of clay tablets were unearthed at Tell Mardikh in northern Syria. Many were written in a previously unknown language, and dated from a time that was contemporary with the previous oldest known civilization in the area, the Sumerians. Yet, from the text above, here is a creation story that sounds remarkably close to Genesis in the Bible. It talks of one God, the “Lord of heaven and earth” (a phrase also used in the Bible a thousand years later). It talks of a sequence of events, the creation of Earth, the creation of day and night, then the creation of the morning light (the Sun). As you’ll see, this sequence bears striking parallels to Genesis, even though the Jews would not set their own creation story down in writing for at least a thousand years after Ebla had been buried by desert sands.
It is Ebla that strikes a fatal blow to Karen Armstrong and the Axial Age theory, because it shows primitive belief in monotheism – one creator God – right back in earliest times and long before the Babylonians resurrected the old Sumerian polytheistic myths. It is also the first corroboration of the Genesis version from outside the Bible, and what makes it even more significant is that the Ebla tablets are the oldest written tablets in existence, far older than the ones retrieved from nearby Mari or the Babylonian records.
For this reason, it also spikes the guns of those who try to deny the significance of the Ten Commandments purely because similar ideas had already been expressed in King Hammurabi’s Babylonian Code of Laws from around 1760 BC. Do the math: the Ebla tablets with their Genesis-type theology and names of Hebrew patriarchs pre-date Hammurabi by around 800 years.
You would think, more than three decades after Ebla’s discovery and the translation of key tablets, that liberals would make some attempt to explain the anomaly. But they don’t. They simply ignore its existence. In her bestselling 2004 reprint of her book, The History of God, Armstrong makes no reference to Ebla, even though academic research papers on the tablets had been published over the preceding 27 years. Yet Armstrong’s book is being held up as “definitive” on the history of God!
Her refusal to even address it backfires with a statement on one of the opening pages of her book, when she says “There was no creation out of nothing, an idea that was alien to the ancient world.”
How can Armstrong make a statement like that? Remember Ebla: “Lord of heaven and earth, the earth was not, you created it.”
The earth was not, you created it.
Another who shows no appreciation of Ebla is Lloyd Geering.
“Let us now summarise the history of god [sic],” writes Geering in Christianity Without God. “The concept originated in mythology and referred to a class of powerful but unseen beings, created by the human imagination in the ancient past to explain the mysterious phenomena of what today we call the natural world.
“Then came the time, in the Axial period [800BC – 200BC], when these gods were rejected in favour of one basic concept to which everything else could be related. In both the Jewish and Greek traditions the concept of ‘god’ was retained but underwent a distinct change in meaning and usage. What became the classical understanding of God in the Christian tradition was a synthesis of both the Jewish and Greek traditions.”
Geering might be right in the relevance of the Axial period to Greek moves away from polytheism (Zeus, Hera, Apollo, Athena and the whole shebang of ‘gods’) towards Christian monotheism as preached by the apostle Paul throughout Greece, but Geering is way off beam, as you’ve just seen, in trying to explain away the Jewish concept of God. The Eblaites, 1,800 years before the much-hyped Axial period, have a creation story that talks of one God. The Hebrews, consistently, told the same story. There is good archaeological evidence to suggest that belief in one God might in fact be a pure strain of religious truth that other civilizations simply forgot. Alternatively, given that most ancient cultures still recognized one supreme god, isn’t that evidence that monotheism was the starting point to which extra deities were added as people met new tribes. Perhaps it was easier for cultures to recognize their own supreme god but keep the peace by also recognizing the supreme gods of other tribes and cultures, thus building a polytheistic pantheon over time.
Yet the Jews, who held always to their own spiritual purity (albeit with some slip-ups), were able to keep loyalty to their own single God alive.
One who subscribed to the idea that monotheism was the original, and polytheism the later, evolution, was Father Wilhelm Schmidt, whose 1912 book on the point was used by Karen Armstrong to set up a strawman introduction in her own History of God.
“In the beginning, human beings created a God who was the First Cause of all things and Ruler of heaven and earth,” Armstrong begins, paraphrasing Schmidt. “He was not represented by images and had no temple or priests in his service. He was too exalted for an inadequate human cult. Gradually, he faded from the consciousness of his people. He had become so remote that they decided that they did not want him anymore. Eventually he was said to have disappeared.
“That, at least, is one theory…Schmidt suggested that there had been primitive monotheism before men and women started to worship a number of gods. Originally they had acknowledged only one Supreme Deity, who had created the world and governed human affairs from afar. Belief in such a High God (sometimes called the Sky God since he is associated with the heavens) is still a feature of the religious life in many indigenous African tribes. They yearn toward God in prayer; believe that he is watching over them and will punish wrongdoing.”
Over time, Schmidt argued, belief in the one was replaced by belief in the many. Karen Armstrong largely shies away from this, arguing it as “impossible to prove one way or the other”, and heads off down her Axial path instead.
But it is not “impossible to prove”. Ebla has shown that. Little wonder, however, that Armstrong and Geering steer clear of the inconvenient truth that is Ebla. There is strong evidence to illustrate that the people of Ebla in 2600 BC knew a similar creation story to the Hebrews. Archaeologists have uncovered tablets featuring the names “Adam” (Adamu), “Eve” (H’à-wa), “Abraham” (Abarama), Ishmael, Isûra-el (“Israel”?), Esau, Mika-el, Mikaya, Saul, David and even Noah.
The evidence is not clear whether these are direct references to Adam and Eve from Genesis, but they do show for the first time outside the Bible that these names existed and were written down at least a thousand years before ink was first drawn on a scroll for the Bible (possibly 2000 years if you believe the liberals who think Genesis wasn’t transcribed until 600 BC).
In another crushing blow to Armstrong, Geering and others, Ebla also blows holes in the theory that ancient cultures in the area were too primitive to have written traditions capable of being passed down.
It is staggering that people described as “learned theologians” by the popular media can get away with interview after interview without being challenged about what Time magazine described as the “20th century’s third great breakthrough in biblical archaeology [after discoveries at Ugarit and the Dead Sea Scrolls]…perhaps the most complete record of an ancient civilization ever recovered”.
The Time article, from 1981, carries some important commentary on the Ebla discoveries, including the bombshells it contains for liberal scholarship.
“Findings from Ebla may have an even broader impact. Many liberal Bible scholars treat Abraham not as a historical figure but as a sort of Semitic King Arthur. Their view is that the stories about Abraham and the other Patriarchs must have been written down more than 1,000 years later than the events they purport to describe. Now, in the area of the world that produced the Bible, Ebla has established that sophisticated and extensive written culture existed well before Moses and even Abraham, as early as the middle of the 3rd millennium B.C. According to the ebullient [scholar Mitchell] Dahood, “After Ebla, we’ve got to take the Bible much more seriously as a historical document. The people who wrote those books had a long literary tradition behind them.”
“Especially tantalizing,” reports Time, “was the appearance of two names which later appear in the Hebrew tradition: Abraham, the spiritual forefather of Jews, Christians and Muslims, and his biblical ancestor Eber (whose name formed the root of the term Hebrew)… [scholar Giovanni] Pettinato… proposed that Abraham was a native of northern Syria. An intriguing Ebla text shows a town named Ur near Haran, the biblical town in Syria from which Abraham moved into the promised land. Genesis, however, says that Abraham grew up in “Ur of the Chaldees,” understood by both the biblical and Islamic traditions to be the famous Ur in lower Mesopotamia. Ebla aside, the Israelites were instructed in Deuteronomy 26: 5 to recite that Abraham was “a wandering Aramaean.” In other words, the Bible labeled him a Syrian.
“The merest suggestion that the Eblaites might have been the ancestors of today’s Israelis fell into Middle East politics like a missile. Israeli archaeologists shuddered. The Syrians detected Zionist designs in the notion and persuaded Matthiae and Pettinato to warn other scholars publicly against making ethnic linkages between the 3rd millennium B.C. and the 20th century.”
Nonetheless, regardless of how politically incorrect they are, or how much liberal scholars try to ignore them, those linkages are there, written in stone. Hauntingly, the names of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, once considered fictional by liberal scholars, are listed on Ebla’s clay tablets – a voice from 4,600 years ago now reverberating around the halls of biblical research.
From this much, it should now be apparent that the ancients in the Middle East shared some very similar views on the creation of Earth, and that there is now independent support for the Genesis version of creation, from a civilization that pre-dated Moses by more than a thousand years. At the stage Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, the civilization of Ebla was a dusty, abandoned mound in the desert, its original inhabitants and greatness long forgotten, the tablets long buried in the sand. The idea that two civilizations, separated in time by more than ten centuries and hundreds of kilometres, could both share the same creation story, lends weight to those who argue the stories might be the same because they are true.
To see whether belief in creation is a peculiarly Middle Eastern phenomenon, or whether it is widespread, we need to study the myths of other cultures. If all are singing a similar song, is it possible that humanity may have a collective mythic memory of those first events?
To understand the creation myths, you have to see them firstly for what they are – stories handed down from generation to generation to explain the origin of humankind. As we’ve already seen from the Middle East, it is possible for a pure story to become more and more corrupted over time as wilder and more fantastic bits are added to it. Recognising the clearly mythical aspects, then, is the first step towards finding the kernel of truth that may lie at the heart of each creation story.
JAPAN (Translated by Yaichiro Isobe)
“Before the heavens and the earth came into existence, all was a chaos, unimaginably limitless and without definite shape or form. Eon followed eon: then, lo! out of this boundless, shapeless mass something light and transparent rose up and formed the heaven. This was the Plain of High Heaven, in which materialized a deity called Ame-no-Minaka-Nushi-no-Mikoto (the Deity-of-the-August-Center-of-Heaven). Next the heavens gave birth to a deity named Takami-Musubi-no-Mikoto (the High-August-Producing-Wondrous-Deity), followed by a third called Kammi-Musubi-no-Mikoto (the Divine-Producing-Wondrous-Deity). These three divine beings are called the Three Creating Deities.
“In the meantime what was heavy and opaque in the void gradually precipitated and became the earth, but it had taken an immeasurably long time before it condensed sufficiently to form solid ground.”
Themes: An infinite void exists prior to the creation of the heavens and earth. But the deity of High Heaven appears to be created as part of the process. In the end, three gods rule heaven (a primitive allusion to the Trinity concept, perhaps?)
“In the beginning nothing existed – no earth, no sky, no sun, no moon, only darkness was everywhere.
“Suddenly from the darkness emerged a thin disc, one side yellow and the other side white, appearing suspended in midair. Within the disc sat a small bearded man, Creator, the One Who Lives Above. As if waking from a long nap, he rubbed his eyes and face with both hands.
“When he looked into the endless darkness, light appeared above. He looked down and it became a sea of light. To the east, he created yellow streaks of dawn. To the west, tints of many colours appeared everywhere. There were also clouds of different colours…”
Themes: Creation from nothing. One supreme deity.
CHELAN (native American)
“Long, long ago, the Creator, the Great Chief Above, made the world. Then he made the animals and the birds and gave them their names – Coyote, Grizzly Bear, Deer, Fox, Eagle, the four Wolf Brothers, Magpie, Bluejay, Hummingbird, and all the others.
“When he had finished his work, the Creator called the animal people to him. “I am going to leave you,” he said. “But I will come back. When I come again, I will make human beings. They will be in charge of you.”
“The Great Chief returned to his home in the sky, and the animal people scattered to all parts of the world.”
Themes: One supreme deity. Animals created first.
DIGUENOS (Native American)
“When Tu-chai-pai made the world, the earth was the woman, the sky was the man. The sky came down upon the earth. The world in the beginning was a pure lake covered with tules. Tu-chai-pai and his younger brother, Yo-ko-mat-is, sat together, stooping far over, bowed down by the weight of the sky.
“…All of this time the Maker knew what he was about to do, but he was asking his brother’s help. Then he said, “We-hicht, we-hicht, we-hicht,” three times. He took tobacco in his hand. and rubbed it fine and blew upon it three times. Every time he blew, the heavens rose higher above their heads.
“…We are going to dig in the ground and find mud to make the first people, the Indians.” So he dug in the ground and took mud to make the first men, and after that the first women. He made the men easily, but he had much trouble making women. It took him a long time.
“After the Indians, he made the Mexicans…At last he told them that they must travel toward the East, where the sun’s light was coming out for the first time. The Indians then came out and searched for the light, and at last they found light and were exceedingly glad to see the Sun. The Maker called out to his brother, “It’s time to make the Moon.”
Themes: No separation between earth and sky. Humans fashioned from mud. Similar to Genesis in these two aspects.
MIK’MAQ (Native Canadian)
“After the Mik’Maq world was created and after the animals, birds and plants were placed on the surface, Gisoolg caused a bolt of lightning to hit the surface of Ootsitgamoo. This bolt of lightning caused the formation of an image of a human body shaped out of sand. It was Glooscap who was first shaped out of the basic element of the Mik’Maq world, sand.”
Themes: A main Creator, Gisoolg, and humans made from sand.
“Io is known as the Supreme Being and ex nihilo (out of nothing) creator of the entire universe. He creates Ranginui (Rangi) and Papatuanuku (Papa), Sky Father and the Earth Mother, respectively. The sky and earth produce numerous offspring while they are physically, “cleaved together in a procreative embrace.” The children are forced to live in the darkness since their parents block all the rays from the sun. They soon become restless and worn out from the living conditions and gather to question whether to separate their parents or to kill them for more room and light.
“The fiercest of the offspring, Tumatauenga (Tuma) voices his opinion for death, while Tanemahuta (Tane) wishes to just separate the mother and father so that the earth will “remain close as our nursing mother.” Most of the sons, including Tuma, finally agree with the plan for separation with a major dissenting vote from only one sibling, Tawhirimatea. As the guardian of winds and storms, he fears that his kingdom will be overthrown if the parents are torn apart. In the minority, Tawhirimatea remains silent and holds his breath.
“The children begin to divide Rangi and Papa, and they soon realize their task is very difficult to accomplish. After many siblings attempt to separate the parents, Tane finally succeeds as he places his shoulders against the earth and his feet against the sky. He pushes slowly with both his upper and lower body with great strain. “Soon, and yet not soon, for the time was vast, the Sky and Earth began to yield.” The Earth Mother and Sky Father bleed and this gives rise to ochre (red clay), the sacred color of the Maoris. As the parents cry out for Tuma to stop, he only presses on harder. Sky Father and Earth Mother’s blood spills on his head, known as the kokowai, the sacred red earth that is created when the first blood spills at the dawn of time. Now that the separation is complete, there is a clearly defined sky and earth.
“One of the offspring, Urutengangana, states that there is one element still missing, and he urges his siblings to find the female element, ira tangata, to enable the creation of woman. The search spans both land and sea, and Tane finally consults his mother, Papa, for her advice and knowledge. The earth takes pity on Tane and tells him to search an area named Kura-waka. Tane returns to his siblings with the new insight and they travel to the location. The children find the element in the Earth and dig it out to contribute in the creation of woman and her form. The elder siblings shape the body and the younger siblings add the flesh, fat, muscles, and blood. Tane then breathes life into it, and creates Hine-ahu-one, the earth formed maiden.”
Themes: As one commentator has noted, the Maori creation myth has some strong similarities with others in the world, particularly the recurring theme of the sky and earth needing somehow to be physically separated – an element that even Genesis 1:7 refers to. But let’s return for a moment to the brief mention of Io, the supreme creator being, and a more detailed extract pertaining to his involvement in the process:
Io dwelt within the breathing-space of immensity.
The Universe was in darkness, with water everywhere.
There was no glimmer of dawn, no clearness, no light.
And he began by saying these words,-
That He might cease remaining inactive –
‘Darkness become a light-possessing darkness.’
And at once light appeared.
(He) then repeated those self-same words in this manner.
That He might cease remaining inactive:
‘Light, become a darkness-possessing light.’
And again an intense darkness supervened.
Then a third time He spake saying:
‘Let there be one darkness above,
Let there be one darkness below.
Let there be one light above,
Let there be one light below,
A dominion of light,
A bright light.’
And now a great light prevailed.
(Io) then looked to the waters which compassed him about,
and spoke a fourth time, saying:
‘Ye waters of Tai-kama, be ye separate.
Heaven, be formed.’ Then the sky became suspended.
‘Bring forth thou Tupua-horo-nuku.’
And at once the moving earth lay stretched abroad.
This account, again, bears a spooky resemblance to Genesis. Intriguingly, few ordinary Maori were ever permitted to hear the full stories of Io. According to researchers working with Maori in the 1840s, the legend of Io was something only the tohunga, or shaman priest, was permitted to know or talk about. More often than not, they refused to talk, with one document now held in New Zealand’s National Library recording, “The presence of the Christian God has silenced the Maori gods, but the gods of the Maori still hold us in their power, and if I break their laws they will punish me with death.”
In other words, the tohunga movement was guarding its own secrets from perceived corruption by Christianity. They couldn’t protect it forever, though, as “Io” or “Iho” was close enough to the Maori word for Jehovah, “Ihowa”, to allow Maoridom’s supreme deity to easily be absorbed into Christianity. This may have been one of the reasons the Maori, unlike many other tribal nations around the world, took to Christianity like ducks to water: instinctively, it felt to them that Christ was a reconnection with the creator God.
Explorer and anthropologist Elsdon Best, writing in the Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand comments:
“All ritual and ceremonial pertaining to Io was retaining in the hands of the superior priesthood, by no means a numerous body. It may be described as an aristocratic cultus, known only to such experts and the more important chiefs. It is quite probable, indeed, that this superior creed may have been too exalted for ordinary minds, that such would prefer to depend on more accessible and less moral deities.
“It is interesting to note that no form of offering or sacrifice was made to Io, that no image of him was ever made, and that he had no aria, or form of incarnation, such as inferior gods had.”
These are just some of the creation stories assembled from around the world. So much for the Axial period and the theory that primitive humans believed in polytheistic creation before evolving towards monotheism. This then is what ancients across the globe believed about the creation of the earth and heavens. How does it compare to scientific knowledge?
 Gen 14:22, Eza 5:11
 There has been enormous debate about whether the Old Testament books of the bible are historically authentic, or whether they are merely myths written between 600 and 400 BC and projected backwards in time to give the Jewish people a “backstory” that they could believe in. This came to the fore earlier this decade with the publication of archaeologist Israel Finkelstein’s book, The Bible Unearthed. In it, he claimed that a review of the archaeological evidence led him to believe that ancient Israel did not, in fact, exist, and that most of the OT was therefore entirely myth. This led William Dever, another leading archaeologist and agnostic, to deliver a stinging rebuke of this theory in his own book, What Did The Biblical Writers Know? In it, Dever points out massive errors made by what he calls “the revisionists”. They include that the Hebrew used in the Old Testament is genuine Iron Age Hebrew, not the later dialects in use closer to the time of Christ. “Finally, we must confront the dilemma that the revisionists pose, but have never acknowledged. If the writers of the Hebrew Bible living in the 4th to 1st centuries BC, and they succeeded in producing a `story’ that was artificially and deliberately projected back into the Iron Age, several conclusions must be drawn. a) They did so without trace of any anachronisms that would have given them away, that is, implicit or explicit references to conditions of their own day. b) They wrote this purportedly historical account without any of the historical records that we take for granted, since most of these had disappeared with the end of the Iron Age (i.e., Assyrian, Babylonian and Egyptian records) and were not recovered until the 19th-20th centuries AD. The biblical writers simply `invented’ the story of an ancient Israel in the Iron Age and got right virtually every detail that we can now confirm. c) Finally, if the revisionists’ view of the nature and origins of the literary traditions of the Hebrew Bible were correct, the biblical `fiction story’ of an ancient Israel would constitute the most astonishing literary hoax of all time and the most successful, too, since it fooled almost everyone for 2000 years. Possible? Yes: but not very likely.” – WDTBWK?, p. 276-277
 Elsdon Best, Some Aspects of Maori Myth and Religion, p.20