To the people of Israel, their history was naturally integrated with mythH Gottlieb, Myths of the Old Testament
Adam and Eve
The second Genesis creation assumes a waterless waste in which is Eden (Gen 2:8-14), the mythical home of man.
Yehouah Elohim planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there he put the man whom he had formed.Gen 2:8
It has God making man from clay, like a potter. Here the word used of “forming” man means “moulded”, a more appropriate usage for the metaphor employed—that of a potter shaping clay. The word “adam” appears in Sumerian meaning a lump of clay, “adama”. So, Adam is moulded clay brought to life by the breath of God, a metaphor that now is taken by most people as true in that they still hold on to the idea of a soul or spirit—the word being simply the breath (ruach, pneuma, spiritus) of God. All of these equate with soul, the part of anyone that keeps them alive, and therefore means life. In Leviticus 17:14, the word “nephesh” (nps), the vitality of breathing things, is translated as life, and, in the following verse, it is translated as soul. The same in Deuteronomy 12:23:
Its blood is its soul.
In the Septuagint and the Syriac bibles, translate the verse as:
Its blood is its life.
The translations show how an obvious fact—life—is mystified into a meaningless nonsense—soul. The magicians who call themselves clergymen or ministers contrived to make “life” into a separate entity called “soul”, though soul was initially the breath necessary to animal life, and later the blood, both now known to be sources of oxygen, so that is the concept that the authors of the bible were working towards. Spirit likewise. Soul and spirit seem indistinguishable, but some religions succeeded in distinguishing them, so that now sometimes they seem to be the same and sometimes seem different.
Temple and tomb illustrations in Egypt show the god, Khnum, making men on a potter’s wheel. The Babylonians also had the idea that humanity was made of clay, even if the blood of a god (A Heidel, Babylonian Genesis) was needed to animate it, as the breath of God does in the biblical myth. Ninhursag was the divinity that mixed the clay with the blood of the slain god. Berosus had the same story, explaining human reason as being divine becaue Marduk had humanity made from the blood of a dead god mixed with the earth. Adam, from the first of the two Genesis myths is the image of God. In remote parts of their domain, ancient Near Eastern kings would sometimes place a statue, a “selem”, an image of themselves, to represent their dominion. “Selem” probably derives from the casting of a shadow by the sun, so is better translated as “shadow”. Blood, breath or likeness are all attempts to explain that humans differed from beasts in having about them something of the divine, and this became the divine spark of the Gnostics.
Having formed man, God makes other plants and animals, and finally woman. This is a more folksy, less theological version and was probably among the folklore brought by the colonists from Harran to Palestine. The P source has male and female created together and God “called their name Adam”, but the J-E source has the woman created as an afterthought. Babylonia and Persia held women as the equals of men in society, but this myth made her inferior, and this is the one that prevailed, though both existed side-by-side in Genesis. In the same way, the P version has man created along with the animals and so classified with them, but the J-E version puts man in charge of the whole of Nature, an invitation to disaster that we are only beginning to realize. J-E calls the woman “Ishshah” which can only be read as “ruled by Ish” where the man has been called “Ish”.
Later, her actions lead Ish to the fall from God’s grace. Jews and Christians readily accept that a perfectly good God will allow Eve to be tempted with a temptation He knew she could not resist. Such a God is so obviously not perfectly good, it throws doubt on the story, as well as the religions. Professor Tim West has also pointed out that the author of these passages seems not to realize that God is being cruel in giving these creatures desires that could be fulfilled, then forbidding them to fulfil these desires. West says that to place desire in their heart then to punish them when they seek the happiness that they are driven to by their nature, seems the pinnacle of heartlessness. It is as though God were playing a game, as he did with Job. What kind of God is this? What is the author of Genesis trying to say about God? Is the author of Genesis saying that God is good? Does he love Him, or does he wonder about His cruel pitiless control? Is he telling us that God is evil, cruel, heartless, and spiteful? Is this Creator the Demiurgos, not the High God?
In the story of the Fall, the anti-hero is a serpent which contrives to trick the human pair out of the immortality they seemed until then to have enjoyed. In the epic of Gilgamesh, the hero procures a magical herb called “Man Becomes Young In Old Age”, but a snake stole it from him and as it made of sloughed off its skin for the first time. So Gilgamesh also lost the secret of immortality to a snake. The chaos monster was a dragon, and the ancients saw dragons as the same as serpents. Moreover, snakes were popular emblems of gods, particularly chthonian ones. Snakes were associated with death and resurrection from them living in rocks like cairns and tombs, and because they sloughed off their skin, apparently to be born again. Baal was represented by a snake, it seems, and Yehouah also was, if we believe the story of Moses erecting a brass snake for the Israelites to venerate.
The Persian religion was aniconic, and they introduced aniconism to the Jews. The authors of the Jewish scriptures could not therefore allow their Yehouah to be identified with any living image, and they took the chance to identify the old symbol of God with the symbol of chaos, the dragon or serpent, though the snake might originally have been meant as the symbol of immortality. If anyone should suggest thereafter that Yehouah was represented by a snake, the claim could be easily refuted because the snake was the symbol of Chaos, god’s enemy.
Canaanite Tree of Life on Seals
The idea of a tree of life was not original with the Jewish scriptures. In the ANE, a stylized tree was often the center piece of cultic scenes, with animals such as Ibex feeding on it, or people flanking it. Eridu was a holy city because of the shrine of the god Tammuz who dwelt in the shade of a sacred palm tree, along with the goddess Bahu. A cylinder seal in the British Museum shows a man and a woman on opposite sides of a tree with hands stretched toward it. Behind the woman is an upright snake. These four elements the tree, the snake, and the man and woman appear in the Genesis myth of the fall. That its fruit of the tree conferred immortality was also not new. It was not called the tree of life for nothing. Gilgamesh had found a herb with the property of conferring immortality, and something similar is implied in what remains of the parallel myth of Adapa. Pagan religions involving a communion meal imply some divine characteristic conferred by the repast, and immortality seems to be the most likely of them. The fruit of the Tree of Life is the ambrosia of the gods that keeps them perpetually young.
What is unique in Genesis is that there are two trees, the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the latter being an apparent refinement of the original which has obscured its meaning, no doubt as intended. Mystery religions have to be interpreted. It does not do for them to be simply understood. Priests might become redundant! Yehouah issues the primeval pair with instructions:
And Yehouah of the gods commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it, for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.Genesis 2:16-17
The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, we discover, is the tree in the midst of the garden, but the situation and details of the Tree of Life are not given. The tree in the midst of the garden has not to be eaten, lest they die, so it is a tree of death! In fact, the pair may not even touch the tree in the middle of the garden! The serpent tells Eve something different:
And the serpent, “cunning above every animal of the field which Yehouah of the Gods had made”, said to the woman, Dying you shall not die, for God knows that in the day you eat of it, even your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.Gen 3:4-5 Litv
The woman took and ate the fruit and gave some to her mate.
And the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed leaves of the fig tree, and made girdles for themselves.Gen 3:7 Litv
God had said they could eat of any tree except the Tree of Knowledge, it turns out they could not eat the fruit of the Tree of Life either. It is called a biblical contradiction. Eternal life was apparently not an attribute of the primaeval pair, and death could not have been the punishment of the sin of disobedience. The story is incoherent. Unless, that is, the Tree of Life amd the Tree of knowledge were the same, because it is really two trees, the one entwining the other. The Bodhi or Bo Tree of Buddhism is a tree of knowledge which gave Buddha enlightenment. It is a fig growing around a palm. Inspected closely, the Assyrian depictions of the Tree of Life look like a palm and a vine, even to the ties that held the vine to the palm. The combination is sexually symbollic, the palm being phallic and male, and the vine being grasping and female.
Anyway, when the serpent in the story told the pair they would not die when they ate the fruit, he was telling the truth. It was God who was lying when He said at the outset that “in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die”. They did not die on that day. Their punishment was immediate expulsion from the garden, and death at a later date. Adam lived to be 930 years old.
Biblicists say the death spoken of that occurs by eating the fruit is meant metaphorically or poetically, and never meant instant death, as it says. In fact, the text does not literally say that. It says:
For in the day that you eat of it, dying you shall die.
And the serpent uses the same but negative construction, “dying you shall not die”, in reply to Eve. The literal construction indeed seems to mean “being mortal (dying) you shall die”. The day that the fruit is eaten is the day the eater becomes mortal, not the day of an immediate death. Even so, the serpent’s reply then is “being mortal you shall not die”, so death would not be instantaneous as if God had meant it would be.
The puzzle remains that God’s later reference to the danger that they would eat the fruit of the Tree of Life and acquire immortality means the pair were not immortal anyway. An explanation might be that, if the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is really a tree of death because death accompanied the knowledge the gods have, then the Tree of Life is its antidote, so that by eating both fruit, the pair can remain immortal but gain the knowledge that gods have. The trouble is that the pair ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and were made mortal, but still seem not to have the knowledge that gods have.
A get out might be that neither death nor knowledge is given instantly but both come slowly, thus yielding the very situation we find in our lives. Then immortality would be necessary for the full knowledge of the gods to be attained. Men only get a little of the way there, but then they die. Immortality would be sufficient for godhood, the knowledge coming through an eternal life of experience. So the only tree necessary was the Tree of Life. The primaeval pair were already gods, but inexperienced ones, and would become fully gods when they had lived for eternity.
W O E Oesterley (Immortality and the Unseen World) notes that in Genesis 3:19, Yehouah condemns the first man to return to the dust whence he came, and then explains why he was concerned at the turn of events and had to punish Adam:
And Yehouah of the Gods said, Behold! The man has become as one of us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put forth his hand and also take from the Tree of Life, and eat, and live forever, Yehouah of the Gods sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground out of which he was taken.Gen 3:22-23 Litv
God condemned mankind to return to dust, implying that before that he would not thus decay—he was immortal—but then, so that he could return to dust, Adam had to be kept from having access to the tree of life by being banished from Eden. Oesterley concludes:
The tree of life is really the most important of the two trees. The mention of the second tree overweights the story, and the surmise can scarcely be considered over bold that in its original form only one tree figured in the garden. The one tree would have been the tree of life.
It so happens that we now have access to the Babylonian myth of the Fields of the Blessed (The Garden of Eden) which had a plant, the fruit of which conferred immortality. The first man was about to eat the fruit and become immortal when the serpent seized it and made off with it sloughing its skin as it went. The origins of the story of Adam and the serpent are clear in this tale which has been elaborated in the bible.
The original story was akin to the original good creation in Zoroastrianism which was deliberately spoiled by the Evil Spirit. But here no evil could be a match for God, and so an alternative way of introducing imperfection into the world was needed. The story had been spoilt by the redacter’s changes. The aim was to make the sin the one of knowing, and knowing in the Jewish scriptures is to have sexual union! Sexual symbolism adorns the story—snakes, fig leaves, nakedness, shame. To “know good and evil” is to be sexually active. God speaks (Dt 1:39) of the children, “which in that day had no knowledge between good and evil”, as being allowed to enter the promised land, meaning they had not started their sexually active lives. Similarly, Barzillai declares he is a grown man saying:
I am this day fourscore years old, and can I discern between good and evil?2 Samuel 19:34
By disobeying the high god, they fell from grace meaning they lost their godliness and became mortal. They were deprived of access to the Tree of Life in the garden. Without it, they would die, and that would have been the end of God’s little experiment. For it to go on, because the pair were no longer immortal, they had to reproduce, and God presumably had foreseen all this and prepared for it in advance. Here was the reason for the invention of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, primarily meaning the Knowledge of Sexuality. Sex was considered the mark of the Fall from immortality or grace as Christians called it.
The first human couple have to be assumed to have been immortal as long as they did not know about sex, and so they must have been eating the fruit of the tree of life. The purpose of sex is procreation, and immortal beings do not need to procreate, so by chosing sexual activity, the pair had forsaken immortality in favour of procreation.
Immortality and sexuality are the two main connotations of the snake in mythology and in modern psychology too. Nothing in the story suggests the serpent is the Devil, as believers assume, and the Gnostics thought that the good serpent was warning the pair against the wicked Demiurgos who had made them, and wanted to keep them in ignorance. The Jewish scriptures have Moses putting up a brass serpent for the Israelites to worship, presumably a representation of Yehouah. The Babylonian equivalent of Yehouah or Yah was Ea, their god of water—a good God—represented by the zig-zag symbol of rippling water. Do the Gnostics have a point here?
With the story as it is, God tells a lie. The pair will not die when they ate the fruit, just as the serpent said. God apparently does not want the pair to become gods so, he tells them a lie to dissuade them from eating the forbidden fruit. The pair were the “children” of the heavenly “father” and so were supposed to obey Him. A father does not have to explain anything to his children. Traditionally they just have to obey him. Created beings had no right to question their Creator even though he had given them a brain to make them inquisitive!
Let the punishment fit the crime has been a principle of eastern justice since before Hamurabi. What connexion is there between the eating of a fruit, and sorrow in bringing forth children, the punishment inflicted on women ever after? To fit the crime, eating the forbidden fruit must be a metaphor for the sexual act! Conception and childbearing are the consequences of the act forbidden. The writers of this story believed sex was the source of all evil, whence the consequences and the curse on women, and she is then no longer Ishshah but Eve (“Hawwah”). In Hebrew, the name “Hewwah”, aspirated, signifies a female serpent (Clement of Alexandria). Eve and the serpent are identified.
We can be certain that nobody was taking notes when Adam and Eve had their adventures in Eden. It must have been written much later, when the Jews were a nation, whether it is considered true by divine inspiration or not. God’s promise to Abraham was that he should have seed “numerous as the stars of heaven for multitude”, and to support this notion, the descent of Abraham is traced up to the first created man, who is commanded to increase and multiply. Yet to do so, the primæval couple had to disobey God! The condemnation of the primæval act of procreation was contrary to the central idea of patriarchal history.
The whole of the Jewish scriptures highlight the narrow boundary between life and death, in which life is the fullness of order, and death the fullness of chaos. But this dualist conception is blurred to make Yehouah into pure life with death in his own purview, not an opposite. Thereby lies the confusion, for how could a perfectly good and all mighty creator want to create and sustain evil? There is no such problem in the original dualism. The over writing blurs it thoroughly, causing the problem. The proper conception of myth is that it dramatizes a continuous happening. The struggle between order and chaos is continuous. In modern scientific terms, it is enthalpy, the struggle between energy and entropy (H = E – TS). By writing chaos out of the equation, what remains is purely static—a fixed unmoving state of pre-defined energy unable to change at all. That makes no sense. The monotheistic editor has made nonsense of the original plot.
The fears of the Canaanites, if the scriptures are any criterion, are the sea, the desert and death, all three seen as manacing, ever-present threats of the power of chaos. if God controls them all, then He seems to be sadistic. He could instantly remove all fear, by removing the threats but he does not. It is easier to think that He cannot!
The mythological serpent had, at one time, a human form. The serpent of Eden, in this myth of the fall, speaks as a wise friend of the primæval pair, but came to be thought of as the personification of evil. The “old serpent having two feet”, of Persian mythology, is Ahriman, the Evil Spirit, whence the association of Satan and the serpent in Jewish and Christian theology. According to the Persian legend in the Bundish, the full version of which will have been among the lost parts of the Zend-Avesta, Meschia and Meschiane, the first man and woman, were seduced by Ahriman, in the form of a serpent, and they committed “in thought, word, and deed, the carnal sin, and thus tainted with original sin all their descendants”. Yet, in other traditions, the serpent was the symbol of wisdom and healing, even having that role in the biblical exodus from Egypt.
Originally serpents were neither good nor bad, but, like humans, some were good and some bad. They were the dead ancestors—often the founders and spiritual guides of the clan—because snakes liked to hide in the rocky cairns that people built in memory of their dead fathers. Moreover, the serpent was always connected with adoration of the male organ—the symbol of the Bacchanalia is a serpent—presumably for its phallic shape, and the latter’s role in perpetuating the clan. The serpent thus became connected with founding fathers and gods of wisdom. It was the symbol of Thoth of Egyptian mythology. The third member of the Akkadian triad, Ea (Hea, Hoa), is also symbolized by the serpent, and his titles show him to have been the source of all knowledge (Sir Henry Rawlinson). He stands for life.
Having been cast out of the garden, God places cherubs and a flaming sword in the east of Eden to prevent the naughty couple from returning to Paradise. The popular idea that cherubs are baby angels is chocolate box nonsense. The protecting cherub of Jewish mythology was the sacred bull (Ezek 1 and 10), which symbolized the productive force in nature, and so was associated with sun gods—the flaming sword. The Persian high god, Ahuramazda, after he had created the heavens and the earth, formed the first creature, Zoroaster’s primæval bull (Zend-Avesta). This bull was poisoned by Ahriman, but its seed was carried, by the ox-soul of the dying animal to the moon, “where it is continually purified and fecundated by the warmth and light of the sun, to become the germ of all creatures”. Meanwhile, the material prototypes of all living things, including man himself, issued from the body of the bull.
References to the serpent, to the tree of wisdom, and to the bull in the legend of the fall, prove its phallic character, recognized even in the early Christian church (S Jerome, letter on Virginity to Eustochia). The serpent, like the bull, symbolized regeneration, but especially in men—fecundity in particular—while the bull stood for regeneration in Nature as a whole—fecundity in general.
This antagonism was that of Osiris and Seti (Seth), with victory for the god of Nature (Osiris-Apis). The contests between Osiris and Seth, and afterwards that between Horus and Typhon, were important in later Egyptian mythology. Typhon, the adversary of Horus, was a serpent, called Aphophis, or the Giant. He was a later form of the god, Seth. This struggle is depicted in the biblical account of the exodus, when the golden calf (bull) was set up in the Hebrew camp. Moses replaced it by a brass seraph (serpent) to heal the people. It was the emblem of the pharaohs of Egypt, who could heal, but also of the Phœnician healing god, Æsculapius, and sure enough it cured the people of the bites that afflicted them.
Serpents also symbolized eternal life from their habit of sloughing off their skins and looking renewed. Isis (Ish-Ish), the goddess of life and healing, wore a crown of asps, for this reason. The Gorgons supposedly had crowns of serpents, as well as a horrific mask, and were the three aspects of the moon goddess—which Isis was also—and the moon held the seeds of life. The Holy Word, Part 2, makes the brass serpent raised up by Moses symbolic of Christ and eternal life:
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.John 3:14-15
Before the thirteenth century BC, Seth was a great god universally adored throughout Egypt, who conferred life and power on to the sovereigns of the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties. The greatest pharaoh of the latter dynasty, Sethos, had his name from this god. Then, Seth was cast as an evil demon, and his images and name were obliterated on all the monuments and inscriptions that could be reached. Curiously, he appears in the genealogies of Genesis as the father of Enosh (the man). Here is a relic of another creation story in which Enosh was an Adam created by Seth. The religion of the Israelites favoured the ass, the firstborn of which alone of all animals was allowed to be redeemed, and the red heifer, whose ashes made a “water of separation” for purification from sin. Both of these animals were sacred to Seth (Typhon), the ass being his symbol, and red oxen being at one time sacrificed to him. It suggests Seth was once a god favoured by the Israelites.
The Egyptians celebrate the festivals of Typhon under the form of an ass, which they call Seth.Epiphanius
When Antiochus Epiphanes entered the temple at Jerusalem, he found in the Holy of Holies a stone figure of a man with a long beard, carrying a book, mounted on an ass (Diodorus). The figure is taken to have been Moses, but, in the Egyptian myth, Seth fled from Egypt riding on a gray ass! A gnostic sect taught that Christ was Seth.
The appearance of the two trees is countered by textual analysis which suggests the original story had only one as in the Persian myth. A Sumerian cylinder seal of about 2000 BC shows a tree guarded by a serpent, with a male and a female figure on either side. The female was reaching out towards the tree. In Hindu mythology, Siva, the Supreme Being, tempted an incarnated Brahma, by dropping from heaven a blossom of the sacred fig-tree. Brahma’s wife, Satarupa, instigated him to get the blossom, believing it would make him immortal, and so, divine. He got it, but Siva cursed him, and doomed him to misery and degradation.
So, it was not an apple tree, as we ought to have known because the pair used fig leaves as garments when they realised they were naked. Divers peoples in history have held the fig tree as sacred—its fruit having the significance of the virgin womb. The banyan (Ficus indicus) is sacred in Africa and Asia. In Egypt, the banyan (Ficus sycomorus) was sacred. A basket of figs was carried in processions for Bacchus. The sacred phallus itself, and the statues of Priapus were made of the wood of the fig-tree (Plutarch). The sycomore fig was also sacred among the Jews.
In the bible, the Tree of Life is distinct from the Tree of Knowledge (Gen 2:9). The fig-tree is much more likely to have been the type of the Tree of Knowledge of the Garden of Eden. The Tree of Life stood for the male organ and was the palm tree. The bo-tree (Ficus religiosa) of the Buddhists derived greater sacredness when found encircling the palm—the bo-tree united in marriage with the palm! The couple could eat the fruit of the Tree of Life and so were immortal. It is the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge that must not be eaten. The point of the modified myth is simple and direct—the people could not expect to know all things, and to attempt to do so was a grievous sin that would lose them the chance of immortality. Here was a sort of Uncertainty Principle at work—the choice was knowledge or immortality, but not both. It is the symbolic expression of the more directly admitted requirement of Christian bishops for unquestioning belief. Knowledge was restricted and no one should want to know too much:
The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.Dt 29:29
The author has drawn upon old Babylonian legends in which the first man lost his immortality through the guile of those who were cleverer than him, to construct a parable of this passage from Deuteronomy. He could do it because Deuteronomy was the first book written of the Jewish Bible, not Genesis. Its real purpose was to stop people from even thinking about questioning the rule of law. It was God’s will and that was it!
Where Was Eden?
Where was Eden? It is considered a great mystery, and there are probably a hundred theories about the situation of Eden including Luther’s that it was the whole world (ignoring what the bible says, as they do when it suits them). It has recently been put under the waters of the Persian Gulf and scarcely more reasonably in the Shatt-el-Arab, the marshes at the confluence of the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers. How the biblical dry wasteland becomes a wet wasteland is for the biblicists to explain. They will be able to!
Yet Assyriologists and historians of the ancient near east have always known where it is. There are plenty of biblical clues. “Eden” is an Akkadian word “edinu” from the Sumerian word “eden”, meaning “plain” or “steppe”. Eden is a symbol of great fertility in Isaiah 51:3; Ezekiel 36:35 and Joel 2:3. Both Isaiah and Ezekiel promise that the waste places of Judah will blossom, becoming as Eden. Joel, referring to the locust invasion, indicates that prior to their arrival the land was as Eden but, after their departure, was a desolate place. Eden is also a place whence the merchants of Tyre obtained richly embroidered cloths (Ezek 27:23). Amos 1:5 speaks of Beth Eden in the context of punishments on Syrian nations. In 2 Kings 19:12 and Isaiah 37:12, the “sons of Eden” are mentioned with Gozan, Harran and Rezeph as the name of places conquered by the Assyrians. What could be more specific?
The plain was described as itself waterless but having a source of water nevertheless called, in the various translations of Genesis 2:6, by the Sumerian word “’ed” given as “mist”, “flood” and “stream”. The same word in Job 36:27 is mainly given as “mist”. But, though the passage in Job is highly meteorological, the Septuagint translates the same word in Job as “fountain”, suggesting that “spring” is meant. Eden was watered by a “mist” or “stream” or “spring” that “went up” (“Alah”) over the ground (Gen 2:6), a description, either of a stream or river flooding, or simply of the welling up of a spring. Either “spring” or “mist” would suit the foothills of the mountains better than an utterly flat arid plain, and since Job is considered to be of Phœnician provenance, this apparently dialect word is also a clue to where Eden was.
“Nahar” is a river, stream, or canal, in each case a permanent watercourse. In its first biblical appearance “nahar” is used for the “rivers” of Eden. The Jewish scriptures (Gen 2:8,10; 4:16) give a clear topography of Eden:
And a river went out of Eden to water the garden, and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.Gen 2:10
The Garden of Eden is described as having one river, but Eden has four significant rivers heading upstream to their headwaters (heads). The four rivers of Eden include the Tigris (Hiddekel) and the Euphrates (Prat). The other two are Pishon and Gihon, both now unknown but Gihon encloses Cush, Tigris feeds Assyria and Pishon encompasses Havilah, a land with gold. Some suggest that “heads” means the opposite, it is “mouths”, making the description one of a delta, and therefore impossible.
The Euphrates is called the “nahar Perat” (the word Euphrates is just Greek for “beautiful Parat”) or merely “nahar”, the River. The two upper tributaries of the Euphrates, the Balikh and the Khabur, may be those called the “two rivers” in the expression “Aram Naharaim”—“Aram of the Two Rivers”, or perhaps just “Aram of the Rivers”, because the expression is simply a plural. The promised land stretches from the “river (nahar) of Egypt” to “the great river, the River Euphrates” (Gen 15:18)—the very extent of the Persian starapy of Abarnahara. Incidentally, the Jordan is never called “nahar”. It is always just “The Jordan”.
The second-named of the four rivers of Eden is called Gihon (Gen 2:13) said to compass the whole land of Cush. Cush is foolishly thought to be Ethiopia, leading some “scholars” to claim the Gihon is the Nile, but this Cush is the land of the (Akkadian) “kashshu” or Kassites—a mistake made already in Genesis because Nubia was also known as Cush. Genesis 10:8 has Cush as the father of Nimrod, where Nimrod represents the Assyrians (Akkadians, Genesis 10:10). Biblical confusion over Cush has Assyria appearing in two separate groups of people when Genesis comes to dividing them. Babylonia was ruled by a Kassite dynasty for 600 years, but the word seems to have been used of the Indo-European invaders that settled in Iran at an earlier period. The Caspian Sea might be named after them or their god. So Kush is the mountain country north and east of Mesopotamia, or even Mesopotamia itself, and came to mean the lands where Babylonians and Persians lived. The Gihon must have been one of the several rivers which descend from the northern mountains to join the Euphrates river in the Syrian plain.
The Pishon, the first-mentioned of the four rivers that went forth from Eden, flowed through the “Havilah”, a land of gold (Gen 2:11). Havilah cannot be identified now but, according to the table of nations in the bible, he was a son of Cush—again evidently meaning the Kassites not the Ethiopians—so must have been one of the Indo-European Kassite tribes (Gen 10:7; 1 Chr 1:9). Eratosthenes cited by Strabo lists the Chaulotaioi (a Greek transliteration of Havilah) next to the Nabataeans in describing the route from Petra to Babylon, and Pliny also refers to them as neighbours of the Nabataeans. Havilah is therefore on the caravan route in northwest Arabia, east of the Sinai and Petra and fringing the northern edge of the Syrian desert, by Palmyra. A river that runs from the highlands into the Euphrates is the Khabur, which might have been Pishon, if Khabur could have received its name from Havilah by changes in pronunciation. The Khabur is the river of Gozan (2 Kg 17:6).
Von Soden (The Ancient Orient), discussing this region, notes:
The small water courses, which were so important for farming, were found only in a few places outside of the hill country, such as in the region of the spring-fed sources of the Habur (Khabur).
The “spring-fed sources of the Khabur” take us back to the earlier discussion of springs or mists. These northern steppe lands were such good agricultural land that intensive cultivation permitted the export of surpluses. Salination was not the trouble it was down the rivers.
Moreover, it was not the flood plains of the Nile, the Tigris and Euphrates, and the Indus that were first used by agriculturalists. The tendency to flood was not easily controlled by primitive people, the dry season was long and harsh, the swamps were malarial, and the rivers were infested with nasty biting animals and snakes. Settlers preferred the higher reaches of large rivers like these. Towards the foothills, the land was watered enough, but the other problems were less serious. This is where any sensible Eden would be, not in the marshes and swamps. Having established themselves in the foothills and high plains, the gardeners and farmers slowly spread downriver, taking their skills with them, and slowly learning how to cope with the difficulties of the flood plains.
All of this suggests that Eden was conceived of as Mesopotamia, properly speaking—what the Greeks understood as Mesopotamia—where the two great rivers Tigris and Euphrates run off the Turkish Plateau and several tributaries of the Euphrates similarly arise. The name of this area in the time of the Assyrians was, in Akkadian, Bit Adini or Beth Eden! Bit Adini stretched from the western side of the Euphrates across the northen plain to the Tigris, where the Assyrian cities were. Its main towns were Urfa and Harran!
The plain was fertile, prosperous and welcoming compared with the desiccated hills of Yehud, and the deportees’ nostalgia for it gave Eden the meaning of “pleasure” or “delight”. In the Septuagint, the Garden of Eden is the Garden of Delight—Paradise (Rev 2:7). Paradise is a word of Persian origin for a Lord’s pleasure land, like a king’s hunting park. So, even the biblical Garden of Eden was scarcely just a garden. The Persian word “pardes” from which “paradise” comes, through Greek, is used only three times (Neh 2:8; Song 4:13 and Ecc 2:5) in the Jewish scriptures. It was the archaeologist, George Smith, who discovered the Epic of Gilgamesh, that deciphered cuneiform tablets from the library of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh and found that “eden” was the Sumerian word meaning a “plain”. He also found that the Sumerian paradise was called Tilmun, a place where lions did not kill and wolves did not carry off sheep until the first human displeased the gods.
There is little mystery over the whereabouts of Eden. The Assyrians named it as Bit Adini, and Bit Adini was in a place that matches as precisely as anyone could expect, from old writings, the region around Harran that the bible suggests the Persian colonists of Yehud came from. The biblicists will not admit it because by so doing they have to accept that the bible is wrong. Eden was not a place remotely distant in time but was known in Assyrian times.
Cain and Abel
Was this the beginning of a fall or of an ascent?
The story of Cain and Abel is another allegory of the replacement of the people and their god by aliens. Abel means “[Our] Father is El”. The father of the people in old custom was their god, and the tribe or gens were sons of the god. Ebla, the ancient city of Syria, probably meant “Our Father is El” too, so the worship of El had an ancient provenance in the Levant. Abel therefore stood for those who worshipped El and his court, the original inhabitants of the Palestinian hills before the colonists arrived from Babylon.
Now Cain plainly stands for Canaan or the Canaanites, but also puns on the word “qanah” meaning “possess”. So, Cain and Abel are both the same people, the Canaanites of the Palestinian hills, but some of them, represented by Cain, killed off the others, the worshippers of El. So we see in miniature the displacement of the god El and his court when some of the Canaanites turned against him. The victors were the “Possessors” of the land, but in the development of the story they were sent into exile in the land of Nod (the land of Wanderers), so they stand for the “returners”, the colonists who were presented as people who had earlier been exiled.
The story is brief and seems to have been altered. Perhaps it was taken from the legends of the El worshippers because Abel’s offering is approved yet Abel cruelly dies, while Cain’s is not, yet Cain is protected by God and after apparently being condemned to a life of wandering becomes a builder of cities. Plainly the original story was not that which we now read. The logic is that Abel became the prosperous builder of cities because his sacrifice was proper while Cain was condemned to nomadism. Thus we see a foundation legend of a city such as Ebla which instituted proper sacrifices to El and prospered while the Canaanites remained as shepherds. It explains the differences between town and country.
That Abel was slain in the field suggests that the original sacrifice was indeed a human one for the fertility of the crops, and the Phœnicians certainly still sacrificed humans into historic times, as their tophets notably in Carthaginian cities show. Excavations near the city of Gezer have turned up clay jars containing the charred bones of babies, just like those in the tophets, showing that the Canaanites of the foothills below Jerusalem had the same sacrificial habits. Large standing stones seemed to be linked with the worship of the sun, who the Phœnicians called Salim (Solomon) in one of his aspects. The Persians abhored human sacrifice and considered such religions as those of the diva (daeva) gods, the agents of the Evil Spirit. They changed the story to condemn the El religion and its practices, transferring the success of the Canaanite cities to their less prosperous brothers in the hills.
Cain became ultimately a city builder after he had travelled to the east. It becomes another parable of return. Cain is protected by God with his mark while wandering in the land of Nod, east of Eden. Eden is Bit Adini, now Syria, and east of it is Mesopotamia and the land of the Medes and Persians, showing that that is where the colonists “returned” from. Slaves were commonly marked as such, and primitive people often marked themselves in some way to show they were slaves of their own god. This might be taken from a Canaanite legend explaining the origin of circumcision. Later, a better myth was devised, so this one was left cryptic.
Who replaces Abel? Eve has another son, Seth. Yet comparing Cain’s subsequent descendants (Gen 4:17-18) with those of Seth show that they are the same people with minor variations. Seth has a son Enosh and he has a son Kenan! The remaining people until Noah were the same as those in Cain’s list except that two are interchanged, Enoch and Mahalalel. Moreover, Enosh means the same as Adam—man! So, in both genealogies “man” has a son Cain or Kenan who then have the same set of descendants. The P author of the Seth list wanted Cain to disappear and disguised him as Kenan, but the identity is transparent. We only see it because the J list was restored, presumably after the destruction of Nehemiah’s library in the Maccabaean rebellion.
The same process of reconstruction undertaken by the Maccabees accounts for omissions, doublets, triplets and confused passages found elsewhere in the bible. Abraham (twice, Gen 12, 20) and Isaac (Gen 26) trade their wives as sisters to a foreign king, Moses is called twice (Ex 3 and 6), Beersheba is named twice (Gen 21 and 26) and Hagar flees twice (Gen 16 and 21). Two stories of the Flood are woven together from the P and the J-E sources. The biblical passages that look complete and do not contain any or many such problems have probably been composed or at least rewritten from scratch by the Maccabaean priests in the second century BC. An overall editor must have been in charge which explains much of the unity of style of the bible.
We read at this point:
And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of Yehouah.Gen 4:26
Restoring Yehouah instead of “The Lord”. For the J author Yehouah was always god’s name but the P author wants to reserve the name Yehouah until it is revealed to Moses. Again, the contradiction appears because both versions have been clumsily included presumabnly after the civil war.
For Christian Fundamentalists, the story of Noah is true. As part of the bible, it was the Word of God, and God never lies, even if Christians themselves cannot stop doing it. Scholars examining the text of Genesis realized it was not a single story. Two versions, differing in some respects, had been combined into one. Believers did what they always do—they denied that God was an editor.
Then, excavations of the ruins of the ancient cities of Mesopotamia revealed clay tablets with other versions of the Flood story. In them, the gods decided to destroy humanity for being too noisy. The kind god, Ea, warned his friend, a good man, to build an ark for him and his family and animals. He did so, and the rains and floodwaters came. When the waters abated, the ark ran aground, so the man sent out a dove, a swallow and a raven to bring back news. When the raven did not return, the man knew it had found land elsewhere, so he made a sacrifice, and the hungry gods, responsing to the sweet smell, “came round it like flies”. They set the rainbow in gratitude. The hero of the Sumerian tale was Ziusudra, and of the Assyrian was Utnapishtim (entitled Atrahasis, “unsurpassed in wisdom”). As the biblical Flood narrative is taken from a Sumerian legend, it will have been brought in to Yehud by the Persian colonists.
The biblical version of the Flood begins with humanity’s abominations. Yehouah decides to cut His losses and kill off all of humanity.
And Yehouah saw that the wickedness of man was great in the land, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And Yehouah repented that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And Yehouah said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air, for it repenteth me that I have made them.Genesis 6:5-7
Then He must change His mind, because He warns Noah to build an Ark to save some of the flesh in which was the breath of life under the heavens. So, God now decided to save from His own punishment those He had decided before to punish. If He had changed His mind, why did He not just cancel the Flood? When the pointless flood is over, and despite killing off most of life, He promises the few survivors not to do it again. All of this derives from the older, Sumerian account which was more coherent because the gods, not God, disagreed on the punishment of humanity. Some wanted them to be punished but others decided to foil their plan. That makes sense, but a single God doing it all does not.
The essence of the Genesis tale is the same as the Mesopotamian ones, but the earliest of them were written long before even believers thought that Genesis had been written by Moses—even before the time of Abraham. The Flood story could not have been a Hebrew story, since Abraham was the first of them in the bible, but had been taken from the Pagan Sumerians. Why should believers think a Pagan myth is true? Well, the biblical Flood is supposed to have effected everyone, and supposing everyone in the world to be descended from Noah’s family, all nations would have a flood legend. If any of them yielded archaeological proof, then the Fundamantalists would suddenly become lovers of archaeology. And they did!
In 1929, Sir Leonard Woolley thought he had found evidence of the biblical flood in the form of thick deposits of mud near the city of Ur. He sank a test shaft to see what might be lower than the 2,800 BC treasures he had already found. Down through mud brick ruins, ashes and broken pottery went the shaft showing nothing unusual. Then suddenly there was nothing but clean, water laid mud. After eleven feet of mud, flint tools and sherds of painted pottery appeared. Woolley decided it was the flood. To be sure, he extended the site. Eight strata were cleared as the larger pit went down. Then the ruins stopped and huge layers of broken pots and kilns signified a pot factory that had operated for centuries. Then came the pots of the city of Erech, and at the bottom rougher pots of the earliest immigrants into Sumer. That was the start of the mud. Coming before the city of Erech, it matched the king lists of ancient Sumer, Erech being the first city built after the flood. Reed huts before the flood matched the Sumerian flood story. Woolley calculated the flood water would have to be over twenty five feet deep. Genesis says the flood was fifteen cubits deep, about thirty feet, a lot less than three miles deep to reach up to Ararat, but lower Mesopotamia is so flat that a flood that deep at Ur would extend about 300 miles, so would seem vast.
Believers and biblicists were overjoyed… Then other towns were found to be associated with similar thick deposits… but they corresponded to different times. They turned out to be large lakes fed by the rivers and used as a resource of the cities, probably to supply fish and reeds. Christians are still citing Woolley as evidence of the Flood, even though it has been disproved, and never matched a world wide flood in the least.
The extraordinarily long lives of the antidiluvian heroes of the bible echoes the even longer lives of the Sumerian pre-flood kings. They allow the symbolic chronology of the bible to be met without extending the book to a vastness. The Sumerians listed ten antidiluvian kings and the Seth genealogy also has ten names on it, from Adam to Noah. The seventh Sumerian legendary king was considered specially holy and so too we find here the name Enoch as the seventh in line, and he “walked with Elohim”. Hooke comments that “these striking correspondences can hardly be due to chance”.
In the Babylonian Flood narrative in the Epic of Gilgamesh, Utnapishtim was the only immortal man. He had survived the Flood. Genesis 6:5-8 is like the Utnapishtim story in which the gods had planned to destroy humanity, but Ea, the god of earth and fresh water, warned Utnapishtim to build a boat and take upon it the seed of all life. But Enlil tries drought and plague before settling on a flood. Until Genesis 6:17, no flood is explicitly mentioned in the scriptures either, and nor are the other attempts, but when the story resumes at Genesis 7:1, the flood is imminent, and Noah is being instructed in how to load his ark. Something is missing. The P source seems to give the more complete narrative and uses Elohim as the name of God. The theme of punishment is Deuteronomic and therefore suited the Persians, and the sign of the rainbow seems to be nothing less than their Chinvat Bridge between heaven and earth, an easy crossing of which was promised to those who obey God.
The Flood myth repeats part of an old creation epic as the separate story of Noah’s flood except that…
From a literary point of view, the Gilgamesh epic is far superior to the biblical flood narrative.B Otzen Myth in the Old Testament
It is actually a creation myth that presupposes that this world was preceded by another one destroyed by the gods. (Who Knows how often this might have happened?) The boat is built in seven days, corresponding to the seven days of creation in Genesis. It is the world! The ark has to survive a storm, and Genesis can best be read as beginning with a storm. The weather was “awesome to behold”, and Utnapishtim battened down the hatches. A black cloud arose over the horizon, and the storm was so fearful that even the gods were frightened into taking refuge in the heavens where they “cowered like dogs”. The storm is described as a battle, and again it lasts for six days before it blew itself out on the seventh.
The sea grew quiet, the tempest was still, the flood ceased… All of mankind had turned to clay. The landscape was as level as a flat roof.
On the seventh day, the ark held fast on mount Nisir. A dove was released and returned. A swallow was released and it also reurned. A raven was released, flew in a circle, then cawed and flew away. Utnapishtim offered up a sacrifice, that all the gods smelled and came swarming to him like flies, but Enlil whose plan it all was, was annoyed that a man had escaped. Ea mollified him into blessing Utnapishtim with immortality, and we might guess that at this point he is placed in the Garden of Eden. The ark is the earth represented as a womb containing all the seeds of life. It floated on a great sea of fresh water, just as these ancients pictured the world.
The earth is Yehouah’s, and the fullness of it, the world, and those who live in it. For He has founded it on the seas and established it upon the rivers.Psalms 24:1-2
Ea was the life giving helpful god of earth and fresh water who ensured that the world was recreated to survive the supernatural storm sent by the gods to destroy everything. Ea is Iah—Yehouah—who ensures that the destruction of the previous world leaves the Ark, the cosmic egg of the new world—our world. The Babylonian account can be traced back into the third millennium BC, so it cannot have owed anything to the bible.
The P source says nothing about Noah offering sacrifices after the inundation, while the J source does. The priests had perhaps by then devised the Moses saga and wanted to reserve the initiation of sacrifice for their new hero. Genesis 9:1-17 is the P account of God’s covenant with Noah. It is the first covenant in the biblical scheme of history, but really was an echo of the covenant introduced in reality with Deuteronomy, the law brought by Ezra from Persia.
The New Year Festival must have been held originally in the autumn, before the winter rains and after all the harvests were in. As part of the creation myth, the flood narrative will have been recited, mimed to song or enacted. Noah survived to be the first vine grower (Genesis 9:20, so he might have been a type of Orpheus. The aim of the cult festival was to reinforce cosmic order, and rebuff the forces of chaos assailing it. The original flood myth might have been to explain an immersion ceremony. After the initiate had been baptized, he was promised eternal life with the gods. It was might have been the founding myth of the mystery religions which spread to Greece and the Roman empire.
Walter Mattfeld has shown that Noah’s blessing of Japheth is a blessing of Cyrus and his Medo-Persian empire. Cyrus had royal Median blood from Astages, his grandfather (the last king of Media). Arabs, Egyptians, Greeks and Jews all called the Persians Medes (Madai). They are descendants of Japheth who is Iapetos, the father of the Greeks, who were also Indo-Europeans. Madai’s Japhethic descent is based on the Persian royal court’s reworking of the Athenian Greek Medus myth, used by Datis, Darius I’s Median general, in 490 BC to justify the invasion of Greece. The Persian administrators used the same tale in Genesis, hinting at it being composed in the 400s BC.
The Tower of Babel
In the other was the sacred precinct of Zeus Belus, a square enclosure, two furlongs each way, with gates of solid brass; which was also remaining in my time. In the middle of the precinct was a tower of solid masonry, a furlong in length and breadth, upon which was raised a second tower, and on that a third, and so on up to eight. The ascent to the top is on the outside, by a path which winds round all the towers. When one is about half way up, one finds a resting place and seats, where people are wont to sit some time on their way to the summit. On the topmost tower, there is a spacious temple, and inside the temple stands a couch of unusual size, richly adorned, with a golden table by its side. There was no statue of any kind set up in the place, nor is the chamber occupied at nights by anyone but a single native woman, who, as the Chaldaeans, the priests of this god affirm, is chosen for himself by the deity out of all the women in the land.Herodotus, Histories 1, 181
From the foot of the ziggurat, the appearance was that of a stairway to heaven, and this stairway, described as a ladder might have been what the author envisaged when he described Jacob’s vision of a ladder ascending to heaven (Gen 28:12). What is also interesting about Herodotus’s account is that it seems contemporary, implying that the Tower of Babel was still operating even after Xerxes was said to have plundered it. Herodotus speaks of a large golden statue having been removed and perhaps it can be assumed that the temple was stripped of much of its wealth, but it seemed not to have ceased functioning in the time of Herodotus, about 450 BC. Indeed, the absence of a statue in the topmost room, presumably a Holy of Holies, reminds us of Persian practice in general, and the Jewish practice, in particular.