Creation Myths

“Creation Myths: Traditional stories that attempt to explain the origin of the world. The earliest known myth of the creation is from Sumer of the third millennium BC. First was the goddess Nammu, the primeval sea; she gave birth to An, the sky god, and Ki, the earth god—earth and sky, both solid elements, being joined together. Their offspring, Enlil, the god of air, separated them. He lighted the his realm by begetting Nanna, the moon god, who in turn father Utu, the sun god. Enlil next impregnated Ki, who gave birth to Enki, the god of water and of wisdom. Enki ordered the universe but was unable to create man—a task that the goddess Nintu accomplished by molding him of clay.

In the Babylonian creation myth of the War of the Gods (Enuma elish), Marduk forms man out of the blood and bones of Kingu, a henchman of the defeated Tiamat, An Egyptian belief was that the original sun god, Atum, standing on a mound in the midst of the slowly receding primeval waters, gave birth parthenogenetically to the other gods and to those parts of the universe that they embodied. According to the familiar biblical story, in the first chapter of Genesis, the universe and man were created by Yahweh in seven days, beginning with light and ending with man and woman. In the second chapter appears a variation on the creation of man, which is older and closer to a folk tale: woman is created of a rib detached from Adam while he sleeps. Christian theology added that the son and the holy ghost existed with Yahweh from before the creation. The Eastern branch of the church, however, denied that Jesus had existed from the beginning and the resulting filioque controversy was the ostensible cause of the split between Eastern and Western churches in 1054.

The first Greek description of creation, in the Theogony, attribute to Hesiod, seems to have been a theological elaboration of a genuine myth. First ot exist what Chaos, from which came Earth, Tartarus, Love, Darkness, and Night. Night and Darkness gave birth to Day and the upper air (Aether). Earth parthenogenetically produced Heaven, Mountains, and Sea. After this prelude, the Hesiodic version proceeds with nearly universal mythic elements, which are probably far older. Uniting with Heaven (Uranus), Earth (Ge) gave birth to Oceanus and the Titans. The last of these was Cronos, who overthrew and emasculated his father, only to be supplanted in turn by his son Zeus (see KUMARBI). A highly artificial myth current in the doctrines of Orphism claimed that Chaos, Night, and Darkness existed at the beginning; Love (Eros) sprang from an egg laid by Night and gave birth to the other gods. The creation of human beings seems not to have interested the Greeks very deeply; of various versions, the most prominent made Prometheus their creator—he having molded them of clay.

In Vedic mythology, creation began with Aditi, celestial space. Sky and Earth were sometimes regarded as the first goddesses, sometimes as the original male and female elements, which are known to so many other mythologies; later the sky was personified as Varuna. The first man was Manu; his daughter-mate Ida was born of the food that he offered as a sacrifice to Vishnu in gratitude for being saved from the flood.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

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