The History Channel has been featuring a series on the history of Christianity this week, and one of the shows attempted to explain the Garden of Eden and to find where it might be located.
First it is significant to know that stories change over time. And back in the day of Jesus it was common for one religious group, or one kingdom, to adapt older stories to suit their own needs. That is significant because that might have been exactly what happened to many of the stories of the Bible.
Two thousand years before the Bible was written the Ancient Sumerians had a story they called the Epic of Gilgamesh. This is a story very similar to the story of Adam and Even, and how a massive flood wiped out much of society. It also mentions a man similar to Noah.
The Epic of Galgamesh is a story of the King of Urek, a city-state in Ancient Sumeria, from around 2750-2500 B.C. It's written in Akkadian form on stone tablets. Galgamesh went on many journey's, and one of his journeys involved a Great Flood where two of each animal was collected and placed on the arc. A storm raged for seven days and flooded the earth. The ship grounded on mount Nisir, which is similar to the Biblical urartu that was used in the Bible). After a few days a dove, a swallow and a Raven were sent out. When the other two returned and the raven did not, it was understood that the waters were down enough so that there was land ahead. He set for land and let out all the animals. (2)
The writers of the Bible altered this story, but the basic components are the same. And since the readers of the Bible back then had no possible way to read the Epic of Gilgamesh, they would have had no idea the story had been changed.
Likewise, in the Bible there is no mention of the word Satan in Genesis. Therefore, there really is no proof that the Serpent is Satan, only metaphorically. The Sumerians referred to the Serpant as Tiamut (not sure of spelling spelling), which was a symbol of the snake goddess, perhaps of the sun. The Biblical writers changed the snake to be a metaphor for Satan.
Was the original metaphor of this story completely misinterpreted by both the Sumerians and the Biblical writers? Well, of course we know it wasn't "misinterpreted," because that would mean it was "accidentally," misunderstood. No, it was intentionally changed to convince people that God existed.
No, I'm not trying to convince you that God does not exist. In fact, I think it's things like this that prove that God does exist. Bare with me and I will explain.
Of course we know that God does exist, but how do you convince a people that he does. Likewise, as our Founding Fathers noted as they were writing the Constitution, a religion is needed in order to keep the people from rioting and killing each other, to prevent them from stealing, killing, and doing other things contrary to civil life. So, how do we do this? You inculcate religious values. You inculcate the idea that if you are evil you go to Hell, and if you are good you go to Heaven.
The Founding fathers knew this, and that's why they inculcated God in their speeches, and God in many of the things they did, even though many of them, perhaps Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, did not even indicate that they believed in God. Still, they were smart enough to know that society needed religion. And, since Christianity was popular and successful as a religion, that was the religion they adapted for America. Well, they really didn't adapt it because it already existed.
This idea that society needed religion was not new in 1776, it was something rulers figured out greater than 6,000 years ago. And, 6,000 years ago the Epic of Gilgamesh was adapted to represent the gods.
Still, one historian has theorized that the Epic of Gilgamesh, the story of Adam and Eve, had nothing to do with the gods, or God, at all. That's right: it had to do with something else altogether.
The main focus of research focused on the fruit. Today many people think the fruit mentioned that was on the tree of Knowledge (there were two trees, the tree of wisdom and the tree of knowledge) was an apple. However, there were no apples in Sumeria until hundreds of years later. So, it is theorized that the word apple was associated with the fruit at around 500 BC by the Romans. The word apple in Latin means evil. Thus, the apple was believed to be the fruit of the tree of knowledge.
However, historians think the fruit was a fig. They think that because figs were common in that area of the world in 6,000 BC. Likewise, a fossil of a fig that was carved into a mountain was found to be 11,000 years old. Therefore, it can be theorized the fruit was a fig.
The Bible is also inconsistent. It says once that a man and a woman were created by God. Then in the next chapter it states that God took the rib of Adam and created woman. However, and this is the part of the Bible that is ignored by many of today's religions, the Bible also mentions a woman named Lilith. Thus, it is theorized that Lilith was Adam's first wife.
She fought with Adam. She said she wanted to be on top. Adam said it was his role to be on top. Thus, man had control of women. So Lilith got mad and left Adam. The Bible states that Lilith left and randomly killed children. In ancient times, people sang songs at night to their children to ward off Lilith. That is where the term Lullaby comes from, it's a Good-by to Lilith.
Likewise, the song: Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep." Is a prayer to keep Liluth away from their child. Likewise, and this is significant, most of the kids who did die, neonates perhaps, just stopped breathing in their sleep. Today we refer to this as sids.
A neat thing about this creation story is it probably wasn't even a Christian story, but an older story adapted for the Bible. According to one Egyptian tradition the Egyptian sun got Re created man and there was no female to mate with. The first sexual act was not sexual at all as described by a German writer and historian Plinio Prioreschi:
"He grasped his phallus with his hand to produce orgasm. In this way the twins brother and sister Shu and Tefnut were born. Shu and Tefnut, were the divine equivalent of Adam and Eve." (1)
So, historians think that the Serpent was not initially associated with God. The theory goes like this: 6,000 years ago, at the time of the Sumerians, most of the people were hunters and gatherers. But, at around 6,000 BC farming and cities started to form. So, these historians think the story of Adam and Eve is a metaphor to represent the fact that once you bite the fruit of, once you start farming, you will never go back to hunting and gathering.
The story also talks about a great flood. Scientists have proven that around 6,000 BC there really was a big flood. There was a period of global warming around this time (proof that it's nothing new), and this caused many of the glaciers to melt. This would have resulted in the water level rising significantly enought so that water would have blown right over large mountains causing water falls like that of Niagara Falls. This would have cause great terror and panic, as was described in the Bible. Six-thousand BC, thus, marked the end of the ice age.
This story was told over and over and over and changed along the way by different religious leaders and rulers and by the time Jesus was born it was changed again to represent the will of God.
Now, you might ask, does this prove that God does not exist? No. It does not in any way prove that God does not exist. What it does prove is that the Bible is a historical document of significant value. It was an attempt by ancient writers to document history, and show the events that lead to the birth of Christianity.
(Originally published on December 26, 2008. This story has been edited and improved by the original author. Note: The author is a good Christian, and this post is merely an attempt to write an accurate history, and not to disprove the contents of the Bible. He believes in no way does this fray the value of virtues inculcated in the Bible.)
References (other than what are noted above):
- Prioreschi, Plinio, "A History of Medicine," vol I, page 504
- Prioreschi, ibid, page 435
- Prioreschi, ibid, page 323, in reference to Die altagyptischen Pyramidentexte, neu herausgegeben und erlaut von K. Sethe, Liepzig, 1908, 1248 a-d. German translation in Herman Kees, Des Gotterglaube im alten Agypten, Berlin, Akademie Verlag, 1956, p. 219-220. Translation from the German by P. Prioreschi.