Myths are stories or explanations of the origin and meaning of the world and the universe and their relation to a particular culture or civilisation. Mythological stories tend to be integrated to religious doctrines of cultures and are considered factual and sacred. Though mythological stories are characteristic of pre‐scientific world, many aspects and beliefs of the mythical tradition are perpetuated in the modern world “ It is in creation myths that cultures find basic answers. Creation myths exert comprehensive and profound influence in the saga of human history. Cultures consider their creation myths as the most sacred; the very ground on which their belief edifice stands. Holding literally to the claims of a particular myth is a great error in that it substitutes myth’s values for scientific facts and results in the worst form of religiosity. Frozen in time, myth’s doctrines come to describe a world far removed from and irrelevant to our times. Its followers consequently become strangers to modernity and real progress. Those of such blind faith are forced to sacrifice intellect and the honesty to the safety of their creeds. From the outside, myths may look like projections ; attempts on the part of believers to justify their current situation by announcing its sanction by their gods. If looked critically, they are not projections but revelations. Creation myths attempt to reveal the absolute dimension of the relative world. They encourage people to understand themselves physically, mentally and spiritually in the context of the cyclic flow of being and not being and ultimately in the absolute union of those two.”(‘Primal myths’ – Barbara Sprout‐‐ Director of Programme in Religious Studies‐‐Hunter College‐‐ City University of New York).
The Garden of Eden, an ancient myth is reminiscent of Mesopotamian imagery; the narrative makes use of a particular Babylonian tradition. The “Eden of Delight” or “Paradise” of the Hebrews was taken from the Iranian word “pairidaeza”. Parallel images of Eden were common in the Near East and the Aegean world. Eden is the Sumer word for “plain” or “steppe”, a mythical place located at the confluence of Pishon, Gishon, Tigris and Euphrates, the ultimate fantasy of a delightful and youthful life in perpetuity without labour and hardship. The fertile, silt enriched,alluvial marsh land of Mesopotamia situated in the delta between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates in the South Western Asia (the area between the Armenian and Kurdish mountains in the north and the Persian Gulf in the south in Iraq) is believed to be the “Cradle of Civilisation”. It is here that humans began farming around 10000 BCE, a radical shift from their hitherto hunter‐gatherer way of life. The paradigm shift in the method of food production was not something which was welcomed by the general populace. The taming of the marsh land to make it suitable for cultivation was intimidating as well a frustrating. These low lands were swamped by periodical floods and inundation. It may be here that the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh “ flood” or “deluge” myth originated which found a place in the later Genesis of the Hebrews. In the hunter‐gatherer days, food could be procured ready made from nature.. The food thus gathered was shared equitably among the foraging groups. Cooperation of each and every member of the group was absolutely necessary for a successful hunt with contribution of both brain and brawn. This nascent social structure was based on cooperation and mutual help which was achieved by the equitable sharing of food as well as females with each and every member of the group. In the place of this egalitarianism, in the new order, the powerful and the privileged misappropriated the bulk of the food produced for their own use. In the changed scenario, the most healthy and attractive women were the prerogative of the ruling classes. Maidens(“vestal virgins”) were set apart for the enjoyment of the priestly class in the guise of sacred prostitution. It is no wonder that the deprived were nostalgic about the halcyon days of the idyllic state in their earlier way of life. “A number of authors points out that the religion of Israel did not invent even one myth. What they did was to absorb and adapt the myths of their surroundings. The Israelites assimilated many Canaanite religious elements. ‘The Bible’ ( ‘The Book’)’ is made up of texts of different ages and orientations, representing flock‐ lore and oral traditions of considerable antiquity. They were reinterpreted, corrected and redacted in the course of several centuries “ ( A History of Religious Ideas ‐ Mircea Elide – The Sewell L. Avery Distinguished Service Professor, Divinity School, University of Chicago) The ancestors of the Hebrews, the “Apiru” were donkey breeders and merchant caravaners. The customs of and social and juridical institutions and mythologies of the Near East were known to and adapted by the patriarchs during their stay in Mesopotamia. On entering Canaan , the patriarchs confronted the god El and ‘ the God of the Father’. ‘ El’ was later transformed and identified with “Elohim” and “Yahweh”. Moses and the members of his family were Egyptian. It is possible that young Moses (some researchers say he was one among the 150 children born to the 100 wives of the Pharaoh), knew the “reform” of Akh‐ en – Aton, Pharaoh (BCE 1375 ‐ 1350 who had introduced “solar monotheism”. “There is tell tale analogy between the two religions; “Aton, the only God” is like Yahweh. Akh‐ en‐ Aton’s “instruction” is comparable to “Torah “.
The Exodus did not involve the whole people; only the group led by Moses.” (Mircea Elide ibid). Departure from Egypt was put into relation with the celebration of the Passover, an archaic sacrifice peculiar to nomad herders and practised for millennia by the ancestors of Israelites. This sacrificial rite was re‐ valorised and incorporated into the sacred history of Yahwism. A ritual belonging to cosmic religiosity viz. pastoral festival of spring was interpreted as the commemoration of a historical event. The transformation of religious structures of the cosmic type into events of sacred history is characteristic of Yahwistic monotheism”. (This religious paradigm was later taken up again and continued by Christianity). “After their migration in the land of Canaan, Yahwism assimilated the most creative elements of Canaanite religion, ritual system, sacred sites and sanctuaries, priestly class and even prophets, sacred prostitution of both sexes” (Mircea Eliade ibid). “The image of the primordial ocean (Hebrew “tehom”) over which hovers a Creator God is extremely archaic. Tehom is closely connected with the Babylonian “Tiamat “ creation by the power of the word of God. Creation by word of God is documented in Egyptian theology as well as in Polynesian tradition. In an older Yahwestic account, there was no creation of heaven and earth, but rather a desert; the myth thus could have came into existence in a desert region. The myth of creation of the first man from loam is prevalent, more or less, throughout the world – Sumer, Egypt and Greece to the primitive peoples. The creation of woman from the rib of Adam indicates androgyny of primordial man; androgyne illustrates human perfection” ( Mircea Eliade ibid). Parallels between the stories of Enkidu/Shamhat in the epic Gilgamesh dating from 2100 BCE and Adam and Eve have been long recognised by scholars. In both, a man is created from the soil by a god wholives in a natural setting amongst animals. He was introduced to a woman, who tempts him. In both stories the man accepts food from the woman, felt shame resulting in covering his nakedness . He had to leave his realm. The presence of a snake that steals a plant of immortality from the hero is of similar genre. The first five books of Old Testament – Torah or Pentateuch were compiled and edited by over five centuries by four main group of authors; “P” or Priestly School who uses Elohim or “divine being” for God; a god oriented approach by this separate group of authors. It was a tradition that emerged after the Babylonian exile of 586 BCE; a long process stretching from the post‐Exillic period back to pre‐Israelite times. The Greek translation of the opening book of Genesis – its proper name “Bereshit ( “ in the beginning …………”) ; in the same fashion as the Mesopotamian creation epic Enuma Elish named after its first words.
The parallels between the first creation account in the Genesis and the Mesopotamian epic are not merely confined to their naming process. There are marked similarities in the specific details in the order of creation narrative of the Genesis showing the dependence of the Old Testament on Enuma Elish and similar Babylonian documents. The "J" tradition uses Jehovah ( Yahweh) for God. Other tradition, the“E” or Elohistic authors depict God as remote but filling distance between him and man with angels or even demons. In the “P” tradition man and God are close, people oriented. The whole enterprise would have been completed either in the tenth or the ninth century BCE. The creation myth of Genesis 1 – 2.3 is totally different from the second creation account in Genesis 2:4‐2.3. which would show authorship by different groups. “Psalm 33.6 – 16 was used for public worship during the Monarchy before the Babylonian Exile (586BCE). The theme of Psalm 33 viz. God’s creation of the universe by his word, common in Egyptian and Babylonian thought was emphasised in a new way in the Hebrew Bible; the “word” itself made the world. The concept of the “chosen” people is almost universal.” (Barbara Sprout ibid).
The authorship, of the Book of Job and its dating is in doubt due its chaotic character. Its prose section seems to derive from older Near Eastern sources; the poetic middle is indigenous to Israel. There is evidence of many reworking. The author (600‐200 BCE) who adapted the legend for the Hebrew Bible would have been a highly knowledge‐full and widely travelled Jew familiar with Mesopotamian and Egyptian myths. Proverbs 8.22 was influenced by “Wisdom” of Mesopotamia and Egypt collected after the Babylonian Exile. “Wisdom” personified as Goddess proclaims that She was present with God when the world was created. ( The ancients had observed that in nature the female is absolutely necessary in the process of “creation”) The encounter between Yahweh and the Serpent is the plot of the story of the Fall of Man in the Book of Genesis. From primordial times humans somehow came to believe that their desire to be like God was thwarted because of some “Original Sin”. The expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and Yahweh’s curse to Adam that “ in toil you shall eat …… By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” reflects the trauma of the change from the idyllic life of the hunter‐gatherer to that of the cultivator who was compelled to do back‐breaking hard work for producing food for survival. “The picture of Adam and Eve in the Garden off Eden is a reminiscence of the Yin‐state to which primitive man attained in the food‐gathering phase of the economy, after he had established his ascendancy over the rest of the flora and fauna of the Earth. The Fall, in response to the temptation to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, symbolises the acceptance of a challenge to abandon this achieved integration and to venture upon a fresh differentiation out of which a fresh integration may ‐ or may not – arise. The expulsion from the Garden into an unfriendly world in which the “Woman” must bring forth children in sorrow and the man eat bread in the sweat of his face, is the ordeal which the acceptance of the Serpent’s challenge has entailed. The sexual, intercourse between Adam and Eve, which follows, is an act of social creation. It bears fruit in the birth of two sons who impersonate two nascent civilisations: Abel the keeper of sheep and Cain the tiller of the ground.” ( A Study of History – Arnold.J. Toynbee – Abridgement of Volumes I‐ VI by D.C. Somervel) “It was only ‘after’ Adam and Eve had been expelled from their Eden Lotus‐ land that their descendants set about inventing agriculture, metallurgy and musical instruments” ( A Study of History ibid). "Eden"‐ is the Sumer word for ‘plain’ or ‘steppe’ in the Middle East, where four rivers Pishon, Gishon, Tigris and Euphrates join presumably at the head of Persian Gulf. The paradigm shift in the method of food production showed that everybody need not get involved in the process. The cleverer of the lot found out ways to live off comfortably by exploiting the weak and the less intelligent. They became rulers and shamans/ magicians who later metamorphosed as priests. They fooled the the ignorant and the superstitious with their nostrums, mumbo‐jumbo, rites and antics ostensibly to ward of evil forces as well finding cures for illness, lived in comfort and higher social status. The brave and the strong assumed the role of the so‐called protectors of the community from enemies. Later an unholy nexus between the priestly class and the ruling cliques emerged and dominated and controlled the others. This mutually advantageous alliance held sway over society in various guises to control, exploit and dominate the common man till equal rights, democracy and secularism became the order of the day in modern societies. The priesthood in connivance with the ruling class still holds absolute sway over the ignorant superstitious and credulous lumpen masses in the third world and fool them with their meaningless religious ceremonies and mumbo‐ jumbo. This unholy nexus and con‐ game is the order over a very large swath of humanity with impunity in the name of gods and religion. The new social order that emerged with the privileged class of rulers, priests and landlords rules the roost even today in many parts of the world. The first group imposes taxes and other levies in the guise of preventing social disorder, the second group engages administrates magic and mantras purported to ward of evil forces believed to be responsible for deceases and natural calamities collects , their gifts, fees and other charges. The menial work is done by the lumpen masses.
Free from the tedium of physical labour for food and other amenities, the rentier class can indulge in pleasurable activities such as composing music, writing stories and plays, acting in dramas, painting and other forms of fine art and above all enjoying sex with the women they fancy. . They speculate on the meaning and purpose of life, stories and myths on gods and heavens, demons and hell, soul and life after death; moksha and nirvana. Metaphysics and a priori reasoning is the general methods resorted to. Organised religions like Christianity have made the myths to solidify as immutable articles of faith in their holy books as revealed words of their gods. Further quests for knowledge are frowned upon and suppressed with all the means available. The story of Cain and Abel represents the conflict between the cultivator and smith Cain and the shepherd Abel. The Hebrews being herders, Yahweh was shown to accept the sacrificial offering of Abel and reject and cursed that of Cain. The story illustrates the dominance of the herder in the extant economy who wanted free run for his animals to feed without hindrance on farm land. It reflects the helpless predicament of the cultivator who, with all the mean available to him resisted this encroachment of herder in order to protect his crops and his livelihood.
A number of Iranian religious ideas notably the motifs of the nativity, angeology, the theme of Magus, the theology of Light and certain other elements of mythology ended up being assimilated in Christianity. (c.f.Mircea Eliade ibid). “Much of what we do as adults is based on the imitative absorption during our childhood years. Frequently, we imagine that we are behaving in a particular way because such behaviour accords with some abstract lofty code of moral principles, when in reality all we are doing is obeying deeply ingrained and long ‘forgotten’ set of purely imitative impressions. It is the unavoidable obedience to these impressions, along with the carefully concealed instinctive urges, that makes it so hard for societies to change their customs and their ‘beliefs’. Even when faced with exiting, brilliantly rational new ideas based on the application of pure, objective intelligence, the community will still cling to its old home‐based habits and prejudices. This is the cross we have to bear if we are going to sail through our vital juvenile ‘blotting paper’ phase of rapidly mopping up the accumulated experiences of the previous generations. We are forced to take the biased opinions along with valuable facts”(The Naked Ape – Desmond Morris – Renowned Zoologist and writer). "There seems to be problem with some of the most cherished beliefs about the world. They are leading many inexorably to kill one another. A glance at history or at the pages of a newspaper reveals that ideas which divide one group of human beings from another, but unite them in slaughter, generally have their roots in their religion. If our species ever eradicates itself, it will not be because it was written in the stars, but because it was written in our holy books. Most of the people in the world believe that the “ Creator” of the world has written a book. We have the misfortune of having many such books on hand. Each group makes an exclusive claim as to its infallibility. People tend to organise themselves into factions based on the incompatible dictates of their “holy” books”. (The End of Faith– Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason – Sam Harris).
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