The Norse religion focused on a three-part, pre-Earth world: a land of fire, a great void, and a land of ice. I’m not making this up: a behemothic cow licked the god Bor and his wife into being. And from the dead body of the giant Ymir emerged all of creation. The rest is history.
According to Zoroastrianism, the religion of ancient Persia, everything including human life sprouted from a rhubarb plant.
According to the Babylonian creation myth, the Enuma Elish, the four-eyed and four-eared Marduk created the world from the dead body of a goddess whom he had killed and then created humans to do the drudge work that the gods refused to do. (Too many stimulus payments?)
Egyptian myths started with the swirling waters of the Nu, where the genderless and all-seeing Atum – who had willed himself into being – spat out a son and then vomited up a daughter.
The Aztecs of Mexico looked to the earth mother and her skirt of snakes. Her 400 sons became the stars of the southern sky, and the stories went on from there.
In China, a cosmic egg floated within the timeless world, containing the opposing forces of yin and yang – until the first being Pan-gu emerged after eons of incubation.
Japan’s gods created two divine siblings, the brother Izanagi and the sister Izanami, who stood upon a floating bridge above the primordial ocean. Utilizing the jeweled spear of the gods, they churned up the first island, Onogoro. Izanagi and Izanami married, and produced offspring who were malformed. The gods blamed the whole mess upon a breach of protocol, and I’ll stop the story there for the sake of your time (and your stomach).
The Hindus look back to a gigantic being named Purusha. Purusha had 1000 heads, 1000 eyes, and 1000 feet. (A trip to Foot Locker must have been cost-prohibitive.) When Purusha was sacrificed by the gods, his body produced clarified butter, from which came all the animals and birds. His different body parts served different roles in creating the world’s elements and in birthing the four castes of Hindu society. That was all pre-Brahma, but I’m running out of time so we’ll leave it there, except to say that the current cycle of Hinduism has a couple billion years left.
The earliest Greek poets had a few colorful stories of their own, the best-preserved being Hesiod’s Theogony. Mother Earth was Gaia, and there was a bizarre menagerie of monsters … and Cyclopes … and giants … and thunderbolts hurled by Zeus … along with a plethora of gods. Uranus despised his monstrous children and imprisoned them in the bowels of the earth. And I’ll just leave that right there.
Our Josh has just informed us that he’s learning (at MSU) how Genesis compares to the creation and flood myths from Mesopotamia (Iraq). They’re talking about the Eridu Genesis, the Atrahasis Epic, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and the Enuma Elish (which I mentioned earlier in this blog posting). I get it. I really do. In some respects, these texts look similar to Genesis. But I wanted to say to you today that, in a multitude of very critical ways, they are very different! The Mesopotamian accounts portray a beginningless primordial soup of chaos where the gods can’t stop fighting each other except to procreate, but then somehow it all manages to transform itself into an ordered universe. Hmmm. And that’s only the beginning of the critical distinctions.
In those ancient myths, humans are formed out of a mixture of clay and the blood and spittle of the gods, in order to relieve the workload of the overworked lesser gods – who are having to serve the greater gods. The gods send a flood to deal with overpopulation (or some version of too much noise), but one man (Atrahasis, Utnapishtim, or Ziusudra) is warned in advance and survives the seven-day flood in an ark with his family and animals.
But perhaps the most important distinction is that the Bible portrays THE ONE TRUE GOD, who speaks the entire universe into being out of nothing. Yahweh then fashions Adam and Eve – in His own image – and breathes His own life into them. And then this personal God bestows upon our first parents and their progeny – in fact, the entire human race – the sacred responsibility to rule over His creation on His behalf. Hallelujah!
We know from Acts 7:22 that Moses was exceptionally well-educated when it came to the culture of his Egyptian upbringing, yet God inspired what Moses wrote to oppose every godless worldview. We can rest assured that any apparent similarities between our Book of Genesis and any ancient myth are an example of God’s purposeful inclusion in the Scriptures of evidence against that myth. Genesis reveals to us – God’s people – the true nature of God and His sovereignty over all of human history. Written as historical narrative, plain and simple, Genesis purposefully undermines the false ideologies and idolatries of every culture where He is not worshipped and glorified.
Let’s be clear. Genesis describes no war among the gods. Quite to the contrary, in perfect harmony, the three members of the Godhead set in motion what later become for us our first inklings of the Covenant of Grace – by which our Lord Jesus will overcome Adam’s failure. What good news will be the empty tomb! God is the hero of the Bible and the hero of the gospel. The earliest chapters of Genesis regard every force of nature as entirely inanimate, and absolutely under the absolute control of the one true Creator God. He doesn’t need 1000 eyes. He doesn’t need a Home Depot. He doesn’t need magic or trickery. He doesn’t even need a rhubarb ruse. He is, simply, God.
Friends, most of the supposed “pagan parallels” aren’t nearly as parallel as the liberal critics claim. Upon close scrutiny, the myths have little in common with the Bible. And, even when a parallel is apparent, that in no way minimizes the historical veracity of the Scriptures. What it does is highlight for us the common longings of the human heart. In every culture, people want to know the story of how we got here, why we’re here, and why it matters. Even in cultures that are entirely hostile to the God of the Bible, and that’s our mission field, there are God-given yearnings for meaning and purpose. God “has put eternity into man’s heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Those who are not trusting Christ by faith will always twist that knowledge, as well as those yearnings, into stories which only vaguely resemble the truth.
“In the beginning, God …” I’m sticking with that. What say you?