I have posted several times now on — no I haven’t, sorry, just checked. I thought I have posted on a book by the President of Biblical Archaeology Society of New York, Gary Greenberg, many times now. But a quick check in my blog’s word-search function shows me my memory is deceiving me. So let’s start, like God, at the beginning, in Genesis. I start with the opening chapters (‘myths’) of 101 Myths of the Bible: How Ancient Scribes Invented Biblical History by Gary Greenberg.
I have also posted a few times on reasons some scholars think the Genesis tales are adapted from Plato and Greek philosophy. Is there really a conflict? Was not the Jew Philo also an Egyptian? So with high hopes of an eventual reconciliation I post here Greenberg’s explanations for some of the Bible’s narrative.
Gary Greenberg shows readers that the opening two verses of Genesis point sharply at Egyptian myths of ancient times. The main difference is that the Biblical author wanted to excise Egyptian deities from the old myths and re-write the entire episode as the old Egyptian tale of creation with the Hebrew God replacing the Egyptian actants.
Let’s look, then at Genesis 1:1-2 and compare it with the Egyptian myths.
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit [=”Wind”, ruach] of God moved upon the face of the waters.
Break this down. These verses describe four things:
- an earth and heaven that took up space but had no form or content
- a watery deep, within which the unformed space existed; and
- a wind (i.e. “Spirit of God”) hovering upon the face of the waters.
Compare this “Hebrew” scheme of the beginning of the universe with the first four pairs of Egyptian deities and the elements they represented:
- Huh and Hauhet — unformed space, i.e., the shapeless bubble within the deep as described in Genesis as “tohu and bohu”;
- Kuk and kaukut — the darkness on the face of the waters;
- Nun and Naunet — the primeval flood, “the Deep,” the same as the biblical deep; and
- Amen and Amenet — the invisible wind, the biblical “wind” that hovered over the deep.
The Biblical author, wanting to promote ‘monotheism’, removed the personal gods from these images and left readers with nothing but the physical attributes with which those gods had been associated. Additionally, the biblical author removed the Egyptian god’s name from the scene and replaced it with “the wind” alone.
And God Said . . .
The process of biblical Creation begins when God utters a commandment for light to appear. The idea of Creation by command has no counterpart in the Mesopotamian Creation myths. Among the Egyptians, however, Creation by command played a basic role.
The Egyptians believed in the power of the word to create and control the environment, and many Egyptian texts speak about Creation beginning with verbal commands. One describes Amen as “the one who speaks and what should come into being comes into being.” Another text describes Ptah in a similar manner when it says, “Accordingly, he things out and commands what he wishes [to exist],” A reference to the actions of Atum in the creative process tells us “he took Annunciation in his mouth.” (p. 13)
So in the Egyptian myths, after the Theban god Amen (i.e. the wind) initiated Creation, he appeared as the four primary elements (listed above). He then appeared as Ptah, the Creator who created merely by pronouncing a word.
In Egypt the Theban god Amen, representing the wind, was the same deity as the Memphite god, Ptah, the Speaker.
Let there be Light
In Genesis 1 the first thing created was “light” and this is precisely in accord with the Egyptian (and not the Mesopotamian) myths.
So an Egyptian hymn to the god Amen reads (slightly adapted from Greenberg):
The one [Amen] who came into being in the first time when not god was yet created, when you [Amen] opened your eyes to see . . . and everybody became illuminated by means of the glances of your eyes, when the day had not yet come into being.
Compare Genesis 1:4-5
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and darkness he called Night . . .
Greenberg informs us:
In both the Theban and Memphite Creation myths, after Ptah appears, he commands the appearance of Atum, the Heliopolitan Creator god who first appeared in the form of a flaming serpent , the first light. (p. 14)
Other contingencies beckon me at the moment so I am unable to continue and complete this post as planned. But I will, Ptah willing, return and delineate Greenberg’s views that the entire Genesis Creation account is adapted from Egyptian myths – by means of the personal Egyptian deities simply being replaced with the physical phenomena that they originally represented.
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