2023-01-23

Primeval History from Cain to Noah — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus-Critias – 7b]

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by Neil Godfrey

With thanks to Taylor & Francis (Routledge) for the review copy

Continuing the series discussing Russell Gmirkin’s Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts . . . .

The expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden in Eden (note, not expelled from the land of Eden but only from Eden’s Garden) generally coincides with the Greek mythological Age of Zeus that succeeded the idyllic golden age of Kronos:

The proliferation of cities, kings and technology broadly conforms to the rise of civilization and self-sufficiency in the Age of Zeus in Greek sources from Hesiod to Plato. (Gmirkin, 210)

So let’s recap with Hesiod’s poem Works and Days:

The gods desire to keep the stuff of life
Hidden from us. If they did not, you could
Work for a day and earn a year’s supplies;
You’d pack away your rudder, and retire
The oxen and the labouring mules. But Zeus
Concealed the secret, angry in his heart
At being hoodwinked by Prometheus,
And so he thought of painful cares for men. (lines 42ff)

Hesiod wrote of the change Zeus sent through Pandora:

Before this time men lived upon the earth
Apart from sorrow and from painful work,
Free from disease, which brings the Death-gods in.
But now the woman opened up the cask,
And scattered pains and evils among men.
Inside the cask’s hard walls remained one thing,
Hope, only, which did not fly through the door.
The lid stopped her, but all the others flew,
Thousands of troubles, wandering the earth.
The earth is full of evils, and the sea.
Diseases come to visit men by day
And, uninvited, come again at night
Bringing their pains in silence, for they were
Deprived of speech by Zeus the Wise. And so
There is no way to flee the mind of Zeus. (lines 90ff)

Hesiod pictured successive races, each having to suffer more than the previous one:

Far-seeing Zeus then made another race,
The fifth, who live now on the fertile earth.
I wish I were not of this race, that I
Had died before, or had not yet been born.
This is the race of iron. Now, by day,
Men work and grieve unceasingly; by night,
They waste away and die. The gods will give
Harsh burdens, but will mingle in some good. (lines 196ff)

Hesiod addresses his instruction to a nobleman, Perses, appropriately given that the nobility saw themselves as direct descendants of Zeus:

O noble Perses [literally, “Perses, of the genus of the gods], keep my words in mind,
And work till Hunger is your enemy
And till Demeter, awesome, garlanded,
Becomes your friend and fills your granary.
For Hunger always loves a lazy man. (lines 299ff)

And so Adam was charged with the toil and hardship to survive:

Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread (Gen 3:17-19)

Moving ahead to Cain’s exile from the land of Eden, we cover here chapters 4 to 6 that are each widely understood to be derived from different source material. In chapter 4 Gmirkin identifies Plato’s broad narrative framework although the detail of the text originated elsewhere.

Genesis 4

Genesis 4

16 Then Cain went out from the presence of the Lord and dwelt in the land of Nod on the east of Eden. 17 And Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. And he built a city . . . 

The problems in the narrative that have long confused readers — where did Cain get his wife? how could he build a city without other people? — disappear if read against the background of Plato’s myth in Critias, his successor to Timaeus. With Critias in the background we can picture Cain being expelled from the land of Eden, which was Yahweh’s territory, into another region of other people ruled by another deity.

Unlike omnipresent depictions of Yahweh in Psalms, Amos, Jonah, here one could escape beyond that god’s presence.

Plato’s Critias 109 b

Once upon a time, the gods divided the whole earth among themselves, region by region. . . . So each gained by just allocation what belonged to him, established communities in his lands, and, having done so, began to look after us, his property and creatures, as a shepherd does his flocks . . . 

. . . and called the name of the city after the name of his son—Enoch.

18 To Enoch was born Irad;

and Irad begot Mehujael,

and Mehujael begot Methushael,

and Methushael begot Lamech.

19 Then Lamech took for himself two wives: the name of one was Adah, and the name of the second was Zillah. 

20 And Adah bore Jabal. He was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. 21 His brother’s name was Jubal. He was the father of all those who play the harp and flute. 22 And as for Zillah, she also bore Tubal-Cain, an instructor of every craftsman in bronze and iron.

Lists of inventors were popular in both the Greek world and the Ancient Near East (Gmirkin, 210)

Yahweh Elohim was the god of the land of Eden and its people.

Cassuto in his commentary (pp. 228ff) argues that the grammatical construction of the key passage better suggests that it was Cain’s son, Enoch, who built the first city, Irad — which would coincide with the Babylonian tradition that the first city was Eridu.

 

The firstling of those cities, Eridu, she gave to the leader Nudimmud. (The Eridu Genesis — Jacobsen, 518)

These Apkallü . . . are the wise men known from mythology who rose from the sea in prehistoric times to reveal science, social forms and art to man. Since for the Sumerians there was something supernatural about these concepts, a primordial revelation was necessary. . . .

Ninagal . . . the blacksmith’s work; . . . Nungalpiriggal is . . . the inventor of the lyre (or the harp) . . .  (Dijk, 45, 49)

The fish-figurines …. the apkallus, often occurring in groups of seven . . . represent Oannes and the other fish-like monsters who, according to Berossos’ account, taught mankind all crafts and civilization. (Riener,  6)

First therefore he who introduced to the Greeks the common letters, even the very first elements of grammar, namely Cadmus, was a Phoenician by birth . . . The healing art is said to have been invented by Apis the Egyptian . . .  Atlas the Libyan was the first who built a ship, and sailed the sea. . . . (Eusebius, Prae X, v… vi)

Demeter – gave cultivation of grain; Dionysus, – viticulture; Apollo, the calendar and lyre; Prometheus, fire… (Seters, 83)

Arion … invented and named the dithyramb. . . . Glaucus … the inventor of the art of welding. . . .  (Herodotus, I)

With Genesis 5 we begin a new genealogy from Adam, the ten generations up to the Flood. Gmirkin first set out his case for this section being derived from the Hellenistic era author, Berossus in Berossus and Genesis, Manetho and Exodus. While Mesopotamian years for each pre-flood generation was measured in the tens of thousands (totalling approximately two hundred thousand years) Plato spoke of a beginning closer to ten thousand years before his time, and a calculation of the Bible’s beginnings are shorter still.

The most that can be inferred from Genesis itself is that the Primordial History is set a few thousand years in the past, approximately in line with contemporary Greek theories. Although Genesis 5 also adopted a scheme of ten long-lived patriarchs before the flood, under the influence of the Babyloniaca of Berossus (Gmirkin 2006: 107-8), its chronological scheme is more in line with Greek than Mesopotamian estimates of the age of the world. (Gmirkin, 213)

Calculations for the time of creation vary, and the differences between the Hebrew and Septuagint versions are most pronounced. But those who are intrigued by the common calculation that Adam was created 1656 or 1657 years before the flood will be interested in how Cassuto relates this figure to the Mesopotamian methods of calculation:

Of the round numbers referred to, which are composed according to the sexagesimal system, one is 600,000—sixty myriads— a high figure that indicates an exceedingly large amount. Now 600,000 days make 1643 solar years of 365 days each. If we add seven plus seven, as was done in the case of Methuselah’s years, we obtain exactly 1657. We have here, then, a pattern similar to that of the Babylonian chronology: a number based on the sexagesimal principle with the addition of twice times seven. (Cassuto, 261)

Genesis 5

Genesis 5

This is the book of the genealogy of Adam. In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind in the day they were created. And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. After he begot Seth, the days of Adam were eight hundred years; and he had sons and daughters. So all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years; and he died.

Seth lived one hundred and five years, and begot Enosh. After he begot Enosh, Seth lived eight hundred and seven years, and had sons and daughters. So all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years; and he died.

Enosh lived ninety years, and begot [a]Cainan. 10 After he begot Cainan, Enosh lived eight hundred and fifteen years, and had sons and daughters. 11 So all the days of Enosh were nine hundred and five years; and he died.

12 Cainan lived seventy years, and begot Mahalalel. 13 After he begot Mahalalel, Cainan lived eight hundred and forty years, and had sons and daughters. 14 So all the days of Cainan were nine hundred and ten years; and he died.

15 Mahalalel lived sixty-five years, and begot Jared. 16 After he begot Jared, Mahalalel lived eight hundred and thirty years, and had sons and daughters. 17 So all the days of Mahalalel were eight hundred and ninety-five years; and he died.

18 Jared lived one hundred and sixty-two years, and begot Enoch. 19 After he begot Enoch, Jared lived eight hundred years, and had sons and daughters. 20 So all the days of Jared were nine hundred and sixty-two years; and he died.

21 Enoch lived sixty-five years, and begot Methuselah. 22 After he begot Methuselah, Enoch walked with God three hundred years, and had sons and daughters. 23 So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. 24 And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.

25 Methuselah lived one hundred and eighty-seven years, and begot Lamech. 26 After he begot Lamech, Methuselah lived seven hundred and eighty-two years, and had sons and daughters. 27 So all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred and sixty-nine years; and he died.

28 Lamech lived one hundred and eighty-two years, and had a son. 29 And he called his name Noah,[b] saying, “This one will comfort us concerning our work and the toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord has cursed.” 30 After he begot Noah, Lamech lived five hundred and ninety-five years, and had sons and daughters. 31 So all the days of Lamech were seven hundred and seventy-seven years; and he died.

32 And Noah was five hundred years old, and Noah begot Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Despite several of the same or similar names appearing in Genesis 4 and 5, in a different order (Westermann 1984: 348-9), it is noteworthy that no narrative connections were made with the seven generations of the line of Cain in Genesis 4, nor any attribution of important inventions to Seth’s descendants, nor any anecdotes regarding the growing violence of the pre-flood world. Genesis 4 and 5 thus appear to be independently authored narratives of the antediluvian world, linked only by the artificial coordination of these two accounts at Gen 4:25-26 (cf. Westermann 1984: 338). The names common to the two genealogies suggest they both made use of related antecedent source material whose character cannot now be recovered.

The narrative objective of Genesis 5 appears to be extremely limited: to give a detailed chronological framework for the antediluvian world. (Gmirkin, 211)

Westermann, 349

Westermann’s inability to consider the possibility that the author of Genesis was indebted to Berossus is evident when he wrote:

Before the discovery of the cuneiform texts, one had seen the prototype of Enoch in the seventh king of the list of Berossos, Evedoranchos = Enmeduranki. It was said of him that he was taken up into the company of Shamash and Ramman and was inducted into the secrets of heaven and earth. Since the new discoveries have shown that the parallel between the series of ten in Berossos and Gen 5 is no longer tenable, one can no longer maintain a dependence of what is said of Enoch in Gen 5 on the seventh king in Berossos (nevertheless U. Cassuto still does). (Westermann, 358)

The Cassuto reference to which W. refers:

In the Babylonian tradition, the seventh king in the list of ante-diluvian kings—who thus corresponds to the Biblical Enoch, the son of Jared—is likewise distinguished from the other monarchs. His name appears as Enme(n)duranna in the list of kings; as Enmeduranki in another document, belonging to the worship of the diviner-priests (K. 2486); and as (this is apparently the correct reading) in Berossus. The inscription K. 2486 records all sorts of wonderful tales about this king. Although the text has been badly damaged, the essential subject-matter, despite the obliterations, is clear, to wit, that Enmeduranki was beloved of the gods Anu, Bel, Šamaš and Adad, and that these deities, or some of them, (made him) an associate of theirs, (placed him) on a throne of gold, and transmitted to him their secrets, the secrets of heaven and earth, and gave him possession of the tablets of the gods, the cedar rod, and the secret of divination by means of pouring oil upon water (a method of divination that was also known among the Israelites . . . ). Enmeduranki was regarded as the father of the diviner-priests— their father in the sense that he was the originator of their doctrine, and also in the physical connotation of the term . . .  every diviner-priest (barû) claimed descent from him. (Cassuto, 282f)

Poseidon pursuing yet another mortal woman

We have seen how Plato described the newly created earth being divided up among the various gods and goddesses, with each pair of deities appearing to create their own first humans from the dust of their respective allotted territory. Athena and Hephaestus gave their first humans of Attica or the city of Athens, divine forms of government, wisdom, crafts, prowess in war, and so forth. The god Poseidon was given the region beyond the Straits of Gibraltar, the land of Atlantis. Poseidon … well, read for yourself Plato’s account of what happened next…

Genesis 6

Genesis 6

Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose. . . There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.

 

And the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive[a] with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” — It is omitted in the paraphrased retelling in 1 En. 6.6-11, suggesting that it might be a secondary insertion in an original text that contained only Gen 6:1-2,4 (Gmirkin, 222)

 

11 The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.

13 And God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth. 

This tradition describes the antediluvian world in terms wholly independent of the earlier story of Adam and Eve and their descendants. There is no synchronization between this tradition and the genealogies or chronologies of Genesis 4-5. Rather, this is simply situated in a time when the earth was populated with many inhabitants (von Rad 1973: 113), similar to the world described in Critias. In Gen 6:1-2 humanity has multiplied across the face of the earth, in coexistence with a multiplicity of terrestrial gods. Gen 6:2 acknowledges a multiplicity of lesser gods (cf. Gen 1:26; 3:22) who lived on earth and interacted intimately with humans. These lesser gods are here called the sons of God, the בני האלהים . Key questions to understanding this tradition are the identity of these sons of God and their cultural or literary antecedents. One obvious possibility must be Timaeus and Critias. In Timaeus 40d-41a, the familiar gods of Greek myth were called the “younger gods,” the sons and daughters of the Demiurge, who included in their number Hephaestus, Athena and Poseidon. Gen 6:1’s expression “the sons of God,” taken as signifying the tribe of gods descending from the cosmic Creator of Genesis 1, thus has Timaeus-Critias as an obvious source, but it is also worthwhile discussing other possibilities.

One attractive possibility is that they should be identified with the sons of El in “Canaanite” (Ugaritic) tradition (cf. Westermann 1984: 369; Cassuto 1989: 293), where El was portrayed as the father of the 70 gods of the divine council (KTU2 1.4.6.46). . .  While there is an Ugaritic tradition that El seduced two mortal women, their offspring were not giants . . .  No Ugaritic tradition has either the 70 offspring of El taking mortals as consorts or a parallel to the semi-divine Nephilim of Genesis. (Gmirkin, 216)

Later Jewish traditions implied that these were immoral unions (the gods lusted for and raped the women) and the “giants” were war-mongering monsters. But these connotations are nowhere apparent in the Genesis text.

There is no intrinsic negativity attached to the intermarriage of gods and human in Gen 6:2. (Gmirkin, p. 217)

 

Plato, Critias, 113b….

As I said earlier, the gods parcelled out the entire world among themselves, allocated themselves larger or smaller territories, and established their own shrines and sacrificial rituals. Poseidon gained the island of Atlantis as his province, and he settled there the children borne for him by a mortal woman in a certain part of the island. . . . which is said to have been unsurpassable in its beauty, and good and fertile too. Close to the plain and halfway along its extent . . . there was a hill of no great prominence. There lived on this hill a man who was one of the original earth-born men of the land. He was called Evenor and he lived with his wife, Leucippe. They had just the one child, a daughter called Cleito. When the girl reached the age for marriage, both her mother and her father died, but Poseidon, who had come to desire her, made her his concubine. . . .

[Poseidon] fathered and reared five pairs of twin sons. Then he divided the island of Atlantis into ten parts. He gave the firstborn of the eldest twins his mother’s home and the plot of land around it, which was larger and more fertile than anywhere else, and made him king of all his brothers, while giving each of the others many subjects and plenty of land to rule over. He named all his sons. To the eldest, the king, he gave the name from which the names of the whole island and of the ocean are derived — that is, the ocean was called the Atlantic because the name of the first king was Atlas. . . .

. . .

121a…

But when the divine portion within them began to fade, as a result of constantly being diluted by large measures of mortality, and their mortal nature began to predominate, they became incapable of bearing their prosperity and grew corrupt. . . .

[In Timaeus, Plato here describes the war between the people of Atlantis and those of Athens.]

Zeus, god of gods, who reigns by law, did have the eyes to see such things. He recognized the degenerate state of their fair line and wished to punish them, as a way of introducing more harmony into their lives. He summoned all the gods to a meeting in the most awesome of his dwellings, which is located in the centre of the entire universe and so sees all of creation. And when the gods had assembled, he said. . . . [the text ends here]

One thus sees a similar progression in Critias and Genesis 6. Both Timaeus-Critias and Genesis 6 picture a mythical past in which gods took human wives, the subsequent rise of a ruling race of Heroes, an attenuation of the divine element among the demigods due to their continued intermarriage with ordinary humans, a rise of unjust violence that affected the whole world, and divine judgment in the form of earthquakes and flood. In Genesis, this led to the extinction of all terrestrial life created by Yahweh (Gen 6:17; 7:4, 21-23), except for the humans and animals preserved in the ark.

This generally corresponds with the destruction of the world by flood at the climax of the story of Atlantis (Timaeus 20e, 2Id, 23c, 25c-d; Critias 108e, 112a). The Catalog of Women also concludes with a passage—unfortunately preserved only in fragmentary form—that appears to discuss a cataclysmic event initiated by Zeus and involving storms (West 1985: 120-1) and possibly, but not certainly, a flood. Various other flood stories existed in pre-Roman antiquity—Greek stories of the floods of Ogygus and of Deucalion, Mesopotamian stories with a flood hero named Utnapishtim, Ziusudra or Atrahasis—but only in the biblical flood story and in Timaeus-Critias was there an ethical deterioration into wickedness and violence that precipitated the flood as divine judgment. (Gmirkin, 225)

Again we come up against the otherwise obscure reference in Genesis to God appearing to talk to himself….

The scene of the divine judgment by Yahweh in Gen 6:5-7 has close parallels to Critias 121b-c. It is the first time that Yahweh appears in his Zeus-like capacity as supreme god of the entire primordial world and judge of humanity. Like Zeus in Critias 121b-c, Yahweh surveys the entire terrestrial world and administers justice on all mortal life. Genesis does not identify the addressee of Gen 6:7, to whom Yahweh declared his intent to destroy the terrestrial life forms he had created, but the biblical authors may have pictured a divine assembly like that in Critias and similar to the divine assemblies implied in Gen 1:26 and 11:6-7. The cluster of shared motifs appears to demonstrate direct literary dependence of Gen 6:5-7 on Critias 121b-c. (Gmirkin, 226)

Although we think of gigantic offspring when we read of Atlas being the firstborn of Poseidon and his mortal partner, the biblical text does not necessarily indicate “giants” but merely “men of renown”. The Greek tales at this juncture speak of famed heroic warriors. This brings us back to the theme of violence in the antediluvian world. But there is a notable ethical gulf between the two narratives.

A difference between the Greek Zeus and the biblical god who decreed the flood, Yahweh, is that Plato explained that Zeus brought about the destruction as a corrective punishment, with the intent of teaching better behaviour, while Yahweh had simply resolved at first to kill every living thing. Plato could not imagine the gods as being totally evil.

The storyteller who authored Gen 6:5-7 apparently did not fully grasp the profoundly philosophical divine ethics laid out in Timaeus and imputed in the biblical god a desire to utterly destroy his own creation of mortal life; an action Plato would have rejected as incompatible with the goodness of the gods.

Yet God ultimately sought to preserve righteous Noah and his family (Gen 6:9, 18, 22; 7:1, 5, 23; 9:1) along with every form of terrestrial life he created (Gen 6:19-21; 7:2-3, 14-15; 8:1, 17-19), safeguarding them in the ark (Gen 6:18-21; 7:13-15; 8:1). In the end, God thus sought to preserve all the mortal life forms he had generated. In this manner, both Timaeus-Critias and Genesis exonerated the gods, depicting them as agents of goodness, even in their periodic catastrophic purging the evil from the world. (Gmirkin, p. 230)


Cassuto, U. A Commentary on the Book of Genesis. Varda Books, 2012.

Dijk, Jan van. “Die Inschriftenfunde.” Vorläufiger Bericht über die von dem Deutschen Archäologischen Institut und der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft aus Mitteln der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft unternommenen Ausgrabungen in Uruk-Warka XVIII, no. Winter 1959/60 (1962): 39–62.

Gmirkin, Russell. Berossus and Genesis, Manetho and Exodus: Hellenistic Histories and the Date of the Pentateuch. New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2006.

Gmirkin, Russell E. Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts: Cosmic Monotheism and Terrestrial Polytheism in the Primordial History. Abingdon, Oxon New York, NY: Routledge, 2022.

Jacobsen, Thorkild. “The Eridu Genesis.” Journal of Biblical Literature 100, no. 4 (1981): 513–29. https://doi.org/10.2307/3266116.

Reiner, Erica. “The Etiological Myth of the ‘Seven Sages.’” Orientalia 30, no. 1 (1961): 1–11.

Seters, John Van. Prologue to History: The Yahwist as Historian in Genesis. Louisville, Ken.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1992.

Westermann, Claus. Genesis 1 – 11: A Commentary. Translated by John J. Scullion S.J. Minneapolis, MN; London: Augsburg Publishing House; SPCK, 1984.

. . . .

Herodotus. The Histories. Translated by Aubrey De Sélincourt. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1965.

Hesiod. Theogony ; Works and Days. Translated by Dorothea Wender. Harmondsworth : Penguin, 1973. http://archive.org/details/lish00hesi.

Plato. Timaeus and Critias. Translated by Robin Waterfield. OUP Oxford, 2008.

Eusebius of Caesarea. Praeparatio Evangelica. Translated by E.H. Gifford. Accessed July 10, 2016. http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/eusebius_pe_00_eintro.htm.


 

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