Creation Stories of Atum, Ptah, Yahweh and Elohim

The progression from physical to cerebral creation stories in particular really seemed to spark conversation during the last post-tour social that we had for Faith to Faithless.

I have therefore reproduced the 4 texts which I spoke of below.

  • The Hymn to Atum/Amun-Ra (24th-22nd century BCE)
  • The Hymn to Ptah (22nd-20th century BCE
  • Genesis 2:4 – 3:21 (7th century BCE)
  • Genesis 1:1 – 2:3 (6th-5th century BCE)

Ra or Atum was a self-created deity, the first being to emerge from the darkness and endless watery abyss that existed before creation. A product of the energy and matter contained in this chaos, he created his children—the first deities, out of loneliness.

So, here we go:

Hymn to Atum (aka. Ra / Amun-Ra) – extract

I planned a multitude of living creatures,
All were in my heart and their children and their grandchildren,
Then I copulated with my own fist
I masturbated with my own hand.
I ejaculated into my own mouth.
I exhaled Shu the wind. I spat Tefnut the rain.
Old Man Nun the sea reared them,
Eye the overseer looked after them.. . .

AN00367440_001_l

Amun-Ra and his phallus, showing the potency of his creative powers

But in a text from Memphis (originating possibly in the Old Kingdom but preserved in an eighth-century copy), Atum’s method of creation is ridiculed. This work, known as the Hymn to Ptah, contrasts Atum (= Ra), the god of Heliopolis, with Ptah, the god of Memphis. Like a physical labourer, Atum works with material substances and engages in lower body (sexual) activities in order to create. By contrast, Ptah creates through upper body or intellectual functions— thought and speech—to create each member of the Ennead, that is, the nine deities worshipped at Heliopolis and including Atum. This text seeks to assert the preeminence of the new capital, Memphis, and its deity, Ptah, and does so by asserting the latter’s precedence over the gods of Heliopolis: The creator god Atum was himself created by the god Ptah, and the latter employed an entirely intellectual method of creation.

Hymn to Ptah – extract

Ptah gave life to every member of the Ennead and to the soul of each. Each came into being through the thoughts in his heart and the words on his tongue. Horus came forth, and Thoth came forth from the thoughts in the heart of Ptah and the words on the tongue of Ptah. The thoughts of the heart of Ptah and the words of the tongue of Ptah guide all the thoughts and all the words of the Ennead, and all the thoughts and all the words of humans, and of all life. Ptah creates the Ennead with only teeth and lips. Atum must create with hands and semen. Atum had to masturbate to bring forth the Ennead. Ptah had only to speak, and the Ennead came forth. Ptah called the names of Shu the wind and Tefnut the rain, who gave birth to Geb the earth and Nut the sky. Just as all the sense of sight, of hearing and of smell all report to the heart, and just as the heart is the source of all knowledge, and the tongue speaks what the heart desires, so all the members of the Ennead came forth … according to the thoughts of the heart of Ptah and the words of the tongue of Ptah…

The polemic, the internal cultural critique, could not be more explicit. Ancient Egypt and ancient Israel—like all cultures before and since, including our own— were complex and messy entities often at war with themselves, and here, although much more hidden than in the Egyptian version is a Hebrew version of the same type of polemic.

ptah-main-687x1030.jpg

The majestic Ptah, who creates with his lips and his tongue, not with his spit and his semen.


The Two Biblical Creation Accounts

Genesis originally started at chapter 2 verse 4. I have used the NIV (New International Version) of the Bible with some small adjustments to make the translation more accurate. See footnote (a).

The Earliest Creation Story – Genesis 2:4 – 3:21 (from the “Yahwist” or “J” Source  7th century BC)

Chapter 2

4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the god Yahweh  made the earth and the heavens.

5 Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the god Yahweh  had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, 6 but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. 7 Then the god Yahweh  formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

8 Now the god Yahweh  had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. 9 the god Yahweh  made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

15 The god Yahweh  took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the god Yahweh  commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

18 The god Yahweh  said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

19 Now the god Yahweh formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the god Yahweh  caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the god Yahweh  made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

23 The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”

24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

25 Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

Chapter 3

1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the god Yahweh  had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the god Yahweh  as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the god Yahweh  among the trees of the garden. 9 But the god Yahweh  called to the man, “Where are you?”

10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

13 Then the god Yahweh  said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

14 So the god Yahweh  said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

“Cursed are you above all livestock
and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”

16 To the woman he said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”

17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”

20 Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.

21 The god Yahweh  made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the god Yahweh  said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the god Yahweh  banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

Obviously, there is another creation story before this one that we are even more familiar with. It was written 150-200 years after the first one, and is very different in style.

The Later Creation StoryGenesis 1:1 – 2:3 (from the “Priestly” or “P” Source late 6th early 5th century BC)

Chapter 1

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 a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the vault “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.

11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds:the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animalsaccording to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

Chapter 2

1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

You may notice some key differences between the two biblical stories.

  1. The name used for the creator deity is different.
    • (a) In the prose for the earlier story “the god Yahweh” is used almost exclusively except for in the direct quotations from the serpent and Eve.
    • (b) In the later story, “God” is used exclusively.
  2. The creation stories differ in their physicality.
    • (a) The earlier story has a very physical creation with Yahweh:
      • forming the man from the dust of the ground (2:7)
      • breathing into his nostrils the breath of life (2:7)
      • planting a garden in the east (2:8)
      • taking the man and put him in the Garden of Eden (2:15)
      • forming out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky
      • taking one of the man’s ribs and then closing up the place with flesh.(2:21)
      • making a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he bringing her to the man. (2:22)
      • walking in the garden in the cool of the day, (3:8)
    • (b) The later story is more majestic with an exclusively oral creation (similar to that of Ptah):
      • let there be light
      • And God said
  3. The earlier story focuses more on the creation of humans, the later story on that of the World.
  4. Most noticeably in the original Hebrew (and to a differing extents in various English translations) the literary styles are different:
    • (a) The earlier story uses more older and less sophisticated poetic techniques such as:
      • alliteration (difficult to see in English translations, best in the original Hebrew) see footnote (b) below:
        • bone of my bones “esem me-asamay”
        • flesh of my flesh “ubasar mib-basari”
        • thorns and thistles “·qō·wṣ ·ḏar·dar”
      • puns and wordplay (impossible to see in translations apart from in the original Hebrew)
        • the word adam refers to the “human” who was taken from the adamah or the “red earth”.
        • the human couple are ărûmmîm or ‘naked’, and the serpent is ʿărûm or ‘cunning’.
    • (b) The later story uses more sophisticated poetic techniques like :
      • number symbolism: the seven creative days
      • euphonic and semantic connection – māyim (מָּיִם) for “water” connects to shāmayim (שָּׁמַיִם) “heavens” (sky-water)
      • assonance (vowel harmony): tōhû wābōhû (תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ) for “formless and empty”
      • chiasmus (a rhetorical or literary figure in which words, grammatical constructions, or concepts are repeated in reverse order) very complex to explain in one line, so see an example in the footnote (c) below.
      • parallelism or repetition: “and it was so”, “and God saw that it was good”, “and there was evening, and there was morning”
      • merism (the combination of two contrasting words to refer to an entirety): Heaven/Earth, Light/Darkness, morning/evening

CONCLUSION

We can see that there is an internal polemic within the Genesis text itself. The two parts are evidently written by different authors. We can gather either (1) that by the time the later story was written, the Jewish superstition about pronouncing Yahweh’s name had already taken root, or (2) that the timing of the revelation of God’s name is different.

We can also see that the later text seeks to supplant the earlier one, or append itself to the earlier text to assert its dominance. It seeks to change the context in which the earlier text is understood, and has succeeded in doing so for over 2500 years in Jewish and Christian theological discourse.

FOOTNOTES

(a) Note that I have used the NIV translation as a basis, but translated YHWH ‘LHM as “the God Yahweh” and ‘LHM as “God” to emphasise an important distinction which is not made in many Bibles. I have chosen “the god Yahweh” over “Yahweh God” because the latter is strange in English (or for that matter “Jehovah God”, “Ra God”, “Atum God”, “Zeus God” or “Thor God”). I also changed “had formed” in 2:19 to just “formed”, as this more accurately fits the Hebrew and also emphasises the difference in the order of creation.

(b) What examples of alliteration are there?

  • According to Gen 2:7, God fashioned this human out of the “dust” or “soil of the ground” (Hebrew, afar min ha-adamah). Thus this first human is a dirt creature, made of the very stuff that in turn will sustain human life. Given the respective cognates from Assyrian, Ugaritic, and other ancient sources, it is possible that both words are derived from a root signifying redness—red blood in the case of adam and red earth in the case of adamah. But the etymologies of both words remain uncertain.
  • The last verse of ch. 2 portrays the first human couple as יםִ מּוּרֲע ʿărûmmîm ‘naked’, while the first verse of ch. 3 describes the snake as וםּרָע ʿărûm ‘cunning’.

(c) What examples of chiasmus are there?

Chiasmus is basically like a literary sandwich, squeezing concepts into each other in a Russian-doll-like structure:

chiasmus

Although chiasmus exists in the earlier creation story, it is stronger in the later one. This screenshot is from: https://www.chiasmusxchange.com/2015/01/21/genesis-1-2/ an entire website devoted to chiasmus, *geeeeeeeeek*

REFERENCES

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s