Genesis 1: How the Hebrew Bible says God Created the World:
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the expanse “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
Where the Genesis stories really came from: Not surprisingly, it seems the Genesis stories really came from the same place that the Jewish people said they really came from– the much, much more ancient civilization of Sumer (in the region later known as Babylon). The Jews believed themselves to be descended from Abraham, who after a series of wanderings eventually moved to the future home of Israel. His homeland, or where he originally moved from was Ur (Genesis 11:31) and Ur was one of the many city states which made up the country of Sumer, called by many scholars the world’s first advanced civilization.
The Sumerians invented, among other things, the stairstep pyramid temples called ziggurats, the wheel, and, perhaps most importantly for our purposes, writing. One of the things they liked to write about, naturally, was the activities of their gods and goddesses. The first written tales of creation were recorded by the Sumerians and who did they say created the world? A goddess. Nammu, the mother of all things, Goddess of the Primordial Sea, created the heavens and earth from her own body long before Yahweh had ever been heard of. Thousands of years before, in fact, as this civilization dates to about 3,500 BC. For comparison, Father Abraham is said to have lived about 1,800 BC in the Biblical narrative, around the time that Sumer was taken over by Babylon. Scholars debate the authenticity of this tale, though. Some say that, rather than a legendary patriarch, Abraham was a literary fiction created by Jewish priests while the nation of Judah (southern Israel) was in exile in Babylon in the 5th and 6th centures BC.
Whether the Jewish people were descended from a Sumerian man, as Genesis asserts, or whether they simply stole Babylon’s ancient tales (which included Sumer’s) while they were exiled in that country much later, there is a clear connection between Israel and Sumer. This no doubt explains the reason why all the major stories of “Jewish” history prior to the beginning of Abraham’s story in Genesis 11 are nearly identical to tales written first in Sumer. There is, however, one very important difference between the Jewish (later to become Christian) version of these stories and those of the the far more ancient Sumerian culture: In the Biblical creation narrative the gender of the Creator of Heaven and Earth has been switched from female to male and the Goddess erased from the tale. Unless, that is, you know where to look.
Nammu and Enki, mother of the world and father of humankind: According to the Sumerians, Nammu, the Primordial Sea Goddess, was the first to exist and hence, the creator of all things. She began by giving birth to An, the Sky God, and Ki, the Earth Goddess. She also was mother to Enki, the God of Water and Wisdom. Enki was a bit of a trickster and troublemaker, but also the one who helped Nammu make human beings. Just as in the Biblical narrative, we were fashioned out of clay, at Enki’s suggestion (as shown in this translation by S.N. Kramer, who also translated the other verses below):
“Mix the heart of the clay that is over the abyss,
The good and princely fashioners will thicken the clay,
You, [Nammu] do you bring the limbs into existence;
Ninmah [earth-mother or birth goddess] will work above you,
The goddesses [of birth] . . . will stand by you at your fashioning;
O my mother, decree its [the newborn’s] fate,
Ninmah will bind upon it the image (?) of the gods,
It is man . . . . ”
Notice that, just like in the later Bible, humans are made in the image of the Gods. The Sumerians also first wrote about Eden, which they called Dilmun, describing it like this:
“In Dilmun the raven uttered no cries,
The kite uttered not the cry of the kite,
The lion killed not,
The wolf snatched not the lamb,
Unknown was the kid-killing dog…”
The story in which Eve (which means “mother of the living”) is taken from Adam’s rib is probably a garbled rewrite of Ninti, a Sumerian Goddess whose name is a pun, meaning both “lady life” and “rib,” and who assists Enki and Nammu in bringing forth humans.
Later, when Enlil, the king of the gods, decides to wipe the troublesome humans off the face of the earth with a great flood, Enki saves us all by convincing one man (called in different accounts Atrahasis, Utnapishtim, or Ziusudra) to build an ark.
Also here is the equivalent of the Biblical tale of the invention of multiple languages. Just as in the Tower of Babel story of Genesis, the people once spoke the same language, but when their languages were altered in the Sumerian version, Enki did it:
“In those days, the lands of Suberi (and) Hamazi,
Harmony-tongued Sumer, the great land of the decrees of princeship,
Uri, the land having all that is appropriate,
The land Martu, resting in security,
The whole universe, the people in unison
To Enlil in one tongue [spoke].
(Then) Enki, the lord of abundance (whose) commands are trustworthy,
The lord of wisdom, who understands the land,
The leader of the gods,
Endowed with wisdom, the lord of Eridu
Changed the speech in their mouths, [brought] contention into it,
Into the speech of man that (until then) had been one.”
The disappearance of Nammu: Yahweh of the Israelites was not the first Sky God to usurp Nammu’s position. Around the same century that Abraham allegedly skipped town (whether before, during, or after depends on which scholar’s estimate of his century is correct), the city-state of Babylon took over Ur and the rest of the country of Sumer. Under the much more patriarchal influence of the Babylonian Empire the Creator Goddess lost her position to the Sky God Marduk.
The Babylonians said Marduk created the heavens and earth by murdering Tiamat (Nammu’s Babylonian name) and forming the universe from her body. Tiamat did not go out quietly. The tale of how Tiamat, primordial Sea Goddess and source of all things created demonic monsters to fight against the hero god Marduk and of how Marduk defeated her, claiming kingship of the gods and creating heaven and earth from her body is told in the Enuma Elish.
Eventually, when the priests of Judah rewrote the tale, the Goddess would disappear altogether from the narrative . Well, almost disappear. She is traceable still by linguistics, for when God hovers over “the deep” in the opening scene of Genesis (Chapter 1, Verse 2), the word translated here is tehom, meaning the deeps, the abyss, and linguistically the Semitic form of Tiamat, the name of the Babylonian Goddess. In time, Nammu would be forgotten, but now, thanks to archaeologists, we can remember the Goddess who came before Heaven and Earth, before the sky gods ascended the throne of history, before even the Bible, before ever the priest put pen to scroll to write the words “In the Beginning….”