Adam and Eve: A Babylonian myth

Adam and Eve: A Babylonian myth

Sourabh Tiwary

Sourabh Tiwary

Since the olden days, men have been pondering upon the most important questions of life, “Where did they come from”? “Where did the entire natural world come from”? The questions were difficult, the answers were nowhere and the world around was terrifying. So, they created religion to quench the overbearing thirst of their curiosities. Today we have a slight idea of our genesis but the answers are still far from complete. Science has helped us to understand how the Universe came and how life must have possibly originated from a primordial soup. As we look back in the history, we find numerous myths and legends that have been crafted to answer these questions, some of them are totally bizarre and some others might have an iota of truth in them.

Here I was researching about the Christian creation myth, that of Adam and Eve as we know it. There are two narratives in Genesis, the old and new. In the old narrative (written in 9th-10th century BC), Yahweh fashions man out of dust and places him in a garden. He permits the man to eat from the tress of the garden except from the Tree of knowledge. As Adam (the first man) lives in the garden, he soon becomes bored as he is unable to find a companion. So God comes to his aid and creates a woman named Eve from his rib and places her as his companion.

The new narrative in Genesis (written in 5th-6th century BC) states that God created man and woman as equals and placed their dominion over everything else in the world.

Although, Jesus (according to Christian theologians) built upon the new narrative that placed men and women equal, Paul built upon the older narrative in his Gospel that considered women as a subordinate of men. I do not want to get into which narrative is better because ultimately, they are both wrong. Science has proved that human beings were not created; instead they have evolved from millions of years under selection pressure and are still doing so.

There are a few more parts to the aforementioned story. A snake tempts Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge. After some reflection, Eve decides to eat the fruit, thinking that it was good for food and also pleasing to the eye.  She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. As Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge, God condemned them and the whole mankind for the sin committed by their disobedience. This is known as the Original sin in the Christian traditions.

Religious literalists have always believed that the creation story was true. In the ancient times, women were considered as the one who brought sin, death and misery to the mankind. This story has been used since the birth of Abrahamic religions to censure and subjugate women.

With the many breakthroughs of science in the modern age, most people do not believe that all humans descend from a historical Adam and Eve. Genetic evidence indicates humans descended from a group of at least 10,000 people due to the amount of human genetic variation. If all humans descended from two individuals several thousand years ago, it would require a seemingly impossibly high mutation rate to account for the observed variation. This has caused some literalists to move away from a literal interpretation and belief in creation myth, while others continue to believe in what they see as a fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith

There are a few variations in the narrations of the Jewish and Islamic stories about the creation but all are basically the same. Millions of people still believe that the story of Adam and Eve is true and human beings are special creation of God, Allah or Yahweh (whatever you want to call him).

So, where did this creation myth come from?

Look at the following image carved on a cylindrical seal. What conclusions can you draw from it? The picture shows a male and a female figure sitting on the two sides of a tree that has a snake on its background.

Adam and Eve seal

Adam and Eve seal

These kind of cylindrical seals were common in the twenty second and twenty third century BC in southern Mesopotamia. The seals in those times were a method to communicate information and were also used as ornaments and magical amulets. The seal with the picture of a seated man and woman was described by Assyriologist George Smith as showing the story of the “fall of man”. The seal known as Adam and Eve seal, also the Temptation seal dates back to 2100-2200 BC. The seal shows two figures (male and female) on each side of a tree, holding out their hands to the fruit, while between the backs of the figures is a serpent, giving evidence that the Fall of man legend was known in early times of Babylonia.

If the legend of Adam and Eve was persistent in the Babylonian era, there is a good chance that Bible plagiarized this story from the old legends. As the Babylonian merchants traveled from one place to another, they must have brought their stories and traditions with them. These stories must have been picked by the native tribes of the then Israel and must have become a part of their folklore. Sure, they must have added a bit of their own color in the old stories but I argue that the central concept has remained the same.

Religious people can still say that the seals prove that the story of Bible is eternal and has been known to men since their coming. But, for a skeptic like me, this is a strong evidence to prove how religion evolved from its rudimentary form, borrowing heavily from pagan traditions and old myths.

The Adam and Eve seal is currently preserved in The British Museum.

Author: Sourabh Tiwary

I am an atheist, freethinker and humanist, though some of my friends just call me a ”geek”. I like to read a lot and write on eclectic topics ranging from science to education. I like to travel and communicate with new people. I hope that with education and scientific progress, world will certainly become a better place to live. You can find me on Google+