The Genesis Account of Creation: Just a Bible Story?

Is this classic account of creation limited only to Genesis?
God Khnum molds Ihy on a pottery wheel, goddess of Heqet, mamisi (birth temple), Dendera Temple complex, Dendara, Egypt.
Roland Unger/Wikimedia Commons

The book of Genesis is well known for its account of the creation of the world, the first man and woman, the two trees, etc. Many pass it off as an allegory or simple myth. For others, it is a matter of faith. Just how accurate is the Genesis account of creation?

Recently we featured two articles on this website—one on the story of the great Flood and another on the tower of Babel. The Bible describes these events as taking place at the very heart of civilization, before mankind spread across the Earth and colonized it. Thus, if the Bible is accurate about these events, we should be able to find similar stories of them all over the globe, across all walks of society. This we do. The literally hundreds of different parallel ancient and ethnic stories of a great Flood and “tower of Babel” are simply amazing—if you haven’t yet, please do check out the above links. The sheer number and commonality of these stories points to a root event that must really have happened.

So now we ask—what about the original story of creation? Like the stories of the Flood and the tower of Babel, the creation account, of course, occurs right at the cradle of civilization. If the Genesis account really happened, surely we would be able to trace similar stories passed on, in some form or another, all around the world—not just among the ancient Hebrews.

Of course, such a search for related creation story elements would be tricky. Right at the core of creation is the central belief of a divine Creator. Clearly, different cultures would incorporate their own pagan elements and many pagan deities. And while events such as the Flood and tower of Babel happened over 4,000 years ago, the biblical creation long predates even these events. So any accurate telling of this story by various cultures would have been greatly clouded over time and embellished by many fantastical elements.

But can we perhaps see any connections—any links, any root ideas—between the ancient creation stories of various cultures around the world? Could there be a degree of commonality with the Genesis account, thus linking to one event that really did occur “way back when”?

The Genesis Account

Firstly, of course, we must establish the Genesis account. Many of our readers are familiar with this, contained especially within the first three chapters of Genesis (with various additional verses found throughout the Bible). God initially created the heavens and the Earth, which were later plunged into a state of darkness and chaos.

From out of the watery abyss that covered the Earth, the re-creation began, lasting for seven days. God spoke the commands, and various elements of the creation were miraculously formed. The first man, named Adam, was created on the sixth day from the “dust of the ground.” He was formed after the creation of the plants and animals, and was given dominion over all of the creation. On the seventh day, the Sabbath was created and ordained. Adam’s wife, Eve, was formed from one of his ribs, and they were educated in two ways of life—typed by the two central trees in the Garden of Eden: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The creation was subsequently followed by mankind’s sin—the temptation by Satan who manifested himself as a serpent, deceived Eve, and led her and her husband to take of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This original sin and choice of humanity chartered the way for mankind’s future, totally cut off from God (Genesis 3:22-24—except for the few people God has since chosen to work through). The story of Genesis then continues to unfold.

Can anything be found similarly attesting to this account? The answer is yes.

Genesis From Mesopotamia

Epic of Creation
British Museum

We start with an interesting artifact, discovered within the library of Assyria’s king Ashurbanipal. Dating to around 650 b.c.e., it is significant because it is a copy of a long and far more ancient (albeit fragmentary) creation account held dear by the Assyrians and Sumerians. The Epic of Creation, in its various versions and developments throughout history, is believed to have been composed around 2000 b.c.e., perhaps even earlier. It is one of the oldest discovered stories in the world.

The Epic talks about the creation from a state of chaos and many waters—a state of utter disorder. It describes spirit powers battling and the eventual creation of man. One of the tablets talks about a son being born, who was called “heroic” and “the avenger,” of whom was said: “We, whom he succored!” (assisted). This reference actually rings familiarly to Cain. Eve thought her firstborn son Cain would be the prophesied redeemer of Genesis 3:15, when she said “I have gotten a man from the Lord” (or literally, “a man, the Lord”; Genesis 4:1, kjv). The text also describes monster snakes—possibly in relation to the serpent of Genesis 3—and it even the term “Sabbath” has been identified within the creation text.

The ancient Sumerians believed in an original “garden of gods,” and that the land was watered from the ground (similar to Genesis 2:5-6, where God watered the land by a mist that came up out of the earth, rather than rain). They wrote of an early being named Enki, who succumbs to an illness in many of his organs, including specifically his rib. In order to heal the rib, a female is born named “Ninti” (meaning “Lady Rib”). The name “Ninti” also carries the meaning “mother of the living.” The parallels with Adam and Eve are clear.

Mesopotamia was later dominated by another culture—the Persians. And the Persians brought with them their own traditions of creation. They believed that the creation began first with the sky, then the water and the earth. Next came a primeval tree, then later a human (somewhat following the creation order of Genesis). However, according to the ancient Persians, this creation was destroyed by the forces of evil. The first human couple was attacked by an evil being who infected their minds and turned them to his side, causing them to utter the “first lie”—thus causing the first human sin and thence condemning all mankind since to lose their intended way in life. The parallels between this account and Genesis—especially with the Genesis 3 original sin—are striking.

Creation From the Mediterranean

Creation accounts from ancient Egypt are somewhat varied, and are pieced together through ancient texts and carvings. We know that the ancient Egyptians believed creation took place out of a primordial ocean—that the beginning state was one of darkness and many waters. One of the early creation myths centers around the “creator” god Ptah. In order to create, he gave spoken commands, bringing various aspects of the physical realm into being.

Further parallels are in the creation of man. Two gods are involved in this creation. One of the gods is portrayed forming man out of clay on the potter’s wheel. Obviously, this brings to mind not only the biblical account that man was made “of the dust of the ground” (Genesis 2:7) but also the account in Isaiah: “O Lord, Thou art our Father; We are the clay, and Thou our potter” (Isaiah 64:7, among many other verses referring to God as potter). Egyptian text then parallels the Hebrew in stating that the “breath of life” was afterwards given to the newly formed man.

God Khnum molds Ihy on a pottery wheel, goddess of Heqet, mamisi (birth temple), Dendera Temple complex, Dendara, Egypt.
Roland Unger/Wikimedia Commons

Across the Mediterranean, the Greeks also had interesting parallels in their creation stories—not the least of which was that all life originated from a formless “chaos.” Our readers will already be familiar with the Greek story of Deucalion and the great Flood—a story paralleling that of Noah in the Bible.

To the Greeks, a goddess named Gaia is considered the mother of all life. This name is believed to be a pre-Greek word, meaning “Earth” or “life.” Gaia, of course, immediately comes across as an Eve type. Eve’s name in Hebrew is Chavah, also related directly to the Hebrew name Chaia, both symbolizing “life.” In fact, the words Gaia and Chaia properly pronounced are very similar. Gaia’s child Cronus, whom she bore with the first “father” god Ouranus, was the patron of the harvest and is symbolized by the sickle and grain. Interestingly, Adam and Eve’s son Cain was likewise known as a “tiller of the ground”—a crop farmer (Genesis 4:2-3).

Continuing briefly with the Greek genealogy: Hephaestus was a later descendant of Cronus. He is considered the patron god of blacksmithing and metalwork, and is symbolized by a hammer and anvil. This character becomes even more interesting when considering his Roman equivalent name—Vulcan. In the Hebrew Bible, a descendant of Cain is referred to as being the pioneer in metalwork—“an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron”—and his name was Tuvalcain (incorrectly translated as “Tubalcain” in the King James Version). Thus Vulcan the patron blacksmith, and Tuvalcain the original biblical blacksmith—the similarities are too close to overlook. (Incidentally, Hephaestus’s—or Vulcan’s—sister was Athena, the goddess of weaving and crafts. The biblical Tuvalcain’s sister was Naamah, who herself is held in Jewish tradition to have been a weaver of cloth.)

Origin From the Americas

We now look across the Atlantic Ocean for parallels to the early Genesis account from the New World. And strangely enough (or is it so strange?) we find a wealth of them.

There are many interesting ancient American Indian stories describing the creation of the world. The Cherokee believed that in the beginning was a watery mass, out of which the dry land emerged. Animals and plants were created first, after which came humans. The first two humans were a brother and sister—they were the only two in existence until the brother told his sister to “multiply” offspring. This, of course, hearkens to God’s command to Adam and Eve to “be fruitful, and multiply” (Genesis 1:28).

The Apache likewise believed in an origin of the Earth covered by many waters. They believed that one of the core deities in the beginning was a serpent. Then there’s the Chelan Indians: They believed that first the animals were made and finally humans. The humans were made to rule over the animals (hearkening to the Genesis statement that man was created to have “dominion” over “every living thing”).

The Comanche believed that man was created from the dust of the ground. They believed that man was subsequently tormented by a shape-shifting demon. This demon was dealt with by being cast into a bottomless pit. However, the demon remained in the fangs of poisonous creatures (i.e. snakes) in order to continue to inflict harm. (Throughout many American Indian stories, a serpent is featured as a spirit of evil.)

The Blackfoot Indians believed that snakes were the first created beings, which rebelled against their maker and were punished. The creator then decided to make something instead after his own image. A human was made out of mud, and life was blown into the nostrils. (“And God said, Let us make man in our image …. Then the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life …”—Genesis 1:26; 2:7.) In the Blackfoot story, the removal of a rib from the “mudman” takes place in order to make another human so that offspring might be born. And according to the Blackfoot myth, the first woman was tempted to sin by a lying snakeman, while searching for food.

There is also the belief held by native Indians that in the beginning it did not rain on the Earth; instead, moisture came up through the ground. This, again, parallels Genesis 2:5-6: “For the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth … but there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.”

Let the Stones Speak

Stories such as these prompt the knee-jerk reaction that they have simply come from Christian influence. This is vigorously denied, though, by the native people, even specifically in the case of the above detailed Blackfoot origin story.

But the parallels don’t stop with the early North Americans—they continue into Central America. The ancient Mayans had their own similar ideas of the genesis of life. Through their complex calculations, they figured the creation happened at exactly 3114 b.c.e.—remarkably close to the biblical timeframe for man’s creation, around 4000 b.c.e.! They believed that the world was originally covered in water. Two gods gave a verbal command, and the dry land came into being. The gods then made animals and later humans, first out of clay. (Incidentally, they then moved to create beings from wood—these then rebelled, and a great flood was sent to wipe them out and start again.) The Mayans also told, alongside their creation stories, the exploits of two brothers present soon after creation (perhaps a type of Cain and Abel?).

Stories and More Stories

The list of creation accounts with roots paralleling that of Genesis, go on and on. Of course, many are wildly different in several aspects, especially in incorporating pagan deities. Yet the important thing is this: A common idea points to a common root. And there are many common elements in creation traditions found across cultures all over the world. Certainly, there are many who scoff at the biblical account of creation. Yet various elements of it remain preserved around the world. How did this occur? Could the original story have been passed down through the generations after the ancestral family survived the great Flood (an event also detailed by cultures all over the world)? Could the knowledge of the true account have retained some central elements while losing certain others in a great generational game of Chinese Whispers? Where, and how else, did these traditions spread with such similarities?

Maybe our forefathers really were dispersed after the great Flood and the tower of Babel with common knowledge of the miraculous creation. And perhaps this historical and cultural mark was thus left, to varying degrees, on all mankind—not just the Israelites, who preserved record of it in the Holy Scriptures. Could the Genesis account, then, really be true? The answer to that question comes with big implications.