Legends of Babylon and and Egypt in Relation to Hebrew Tradition

This valuable theory thus opens up a third possibility for our
analysis. It may also, of course, be used in combination, if in any
particular instance we have reason to believe that transmission, in
some vague form, may already have taken place. And it would with all
deference suggest the possibility that, in view of other evidence,
this may have occurred in the case of the Greek traditions. With
regard to the theory itself we may confidently expect that further
examples will be found in its illustration and support. Meanwhile in
the new Sumerian Version I think we may conclude that we have
recovered beyond any doubt the origin of the Babylonian and Hebrew
traditions and of the large group of stories to which they in their
turn have given rise.



In our discussion of the new Sumerian version of the Deluge story we
came to the conclusion that it gave no support to any theory which
would trace all such tales to a single origin, whether in Egypt or in
Babylonia. In spite of strong astrological elements in both the
Egyptian and Babylonian religious systems, we saw grounds for
regarding the astrological tinge of much ancient mythology as a later
embellishment and not as primitive material. And so far as our new
version of the Deluge story was concerned, it resolved itself into a
legend, which had a basis of historical fact in the Euphrates Valley.
It will be obvious that the same class of explanation cannot be
applied to narratives of the Creation of the World. For there we are
dealing, not with legends, but with myths, that is, stories
exclusively about the gods. But where an examination of their earlier
forms is possible, it would seem to show that many of these tales
also, in their origin, are not to be interpreted as nature myths, and
that none arose as mere reflections of the solar system. In their more
primitive and simpler aspects they seem in many cases to have been
suggested by very human and terrestrial experience. To-day we will
examine the Egyptian, Sumerian, and Babylonian myths of Creation, and,
after we have noted the more striking features of our new material, we
will consider the problem of foreign influences upon Hebrew traditions
concerning the origin and early history of the world.

In Egypt, as until recently in Babylonia, we have to depend for our
knowledge of Creation myths on documents of a comparatively late
period. Moreover, Egyptian religious literature as a whole is
textually corrupt, and in consequence it is often difficult to
determine the original significance of its allusions. Thanks to the
funerary inscriptions and that great body of magical formulae and
ritual known as “The Chapters of Coming forth by Day”, we are very
fully informed on the Egyptian doctrines as to the future state of the
dead. The Egyptian’s intense interest in his own remote future,
amounting almost to an obsession, may perhaps in part account for the
comparatively meagre space in the extant literature which is occupied
by myths relating solely to the past. And it is significant that the
one cycle of myth, of which we are fully informed in its latest stage
of development, should be that which gave its sanction to the hope of
a future existence for man. The fact that Herodotus, though he claims
a knowledge of the sufferings or “Mysteries” of Osiris, should
deliberately refrain from describing them or from even uttering the
name,[1] suggests that in his time at any rate some sections of the
mythology had begun to acquire an esoteric character. There is no
doubt that at all periods myth played an important part in the ritual
of feast-days. But mythological references in the earlier texts are
often obscure; and the late form in which a few of the stories have
come to us is obviously artificial. The tradition, for example, which
relates how mankind came from the tears which issued from Ra’s eye
undoubtedly arose from a play upon words.

[1] Herodotus, II, 171.

On the other hand, traces of myth, scattered in the religious
literature of Egypt, may perhaps in some measure betray their relative
age by the conceptions of the universe which underlie them. The
Egyptian idea that the sky was a heavenly ocean, which is not unlike
conceptions current among the Semitic Babylonians and Hebrews,
presupposes some thought and reflection. In Egypt it may well have
been evolved from the probably earlier but analogous idea of the river
in heaven, which the Sun traversed daily in his boats. Such a river
was clearly suggested by the Nile; and its world-embracing character
is reminiscent of a time when through communication was regularly
established, at least as far south as Elephantine. Possibly in an
earlier period the long narrow valley, or even a section of it, may
have suggested the figure of a man lying prone upon his back. Such was
Keb, the Earth-god, whose counterpart in the sky was the goddess Nut,
her feet and hands resting at the limits of the world and her curved
body forming the vault of heaven. Perhaps still more primitive, and
dating from a pastoral age, may be the notion that the sky was a great
cow, her body, speckled with stars, alone visible from the earth
beneath. Reference has already been made to the dominant influence of
the Sun in Egyptian religion, and it is not surprising that he should
so often appear as the first of created beings. His orb itself, or
later the god in youthful human form, might be pictured as emerging
from a lotus on the primaeval waters, or from a marsh-bird’s egg, a
conception which influenced the later Phoenician cosmogeny. The
Scarabaeus, or great dung-feeding beetle of Egypt, rolling the ball
before it in which it lays its eggs, is an obvious theme for the early
myth-maker. And it was natural that the Beetle of Khepera should have
been identified with the Sun at his rising, as the Hawk of Ra
represented his noonday flight, and the aged form of Attun his setting
in the west. But in all these varied conceptions and explanations of
the universe it is difficult to determine how far the poetical imagery
of later periods has transformed the original myths which may lie
behind them.

As the Egyptian Creator the claims of Ra, the Sun-god of Heliopolis,
early superseded those of other deities. On the other hand, Ptah of
Memphis, who for long ages had been merely the god of architects and
craftsmen, became under the Empire the architect of the universe and
is pictured as a potter moulding the world-egg. A short poem by a
priest of Ptah, which has come down to us from that period, exhibits
an attempt to develop this idea on philosophical lines.[1] Its author
represents all gods and living creatures as proceeding directly from
the mind and thought of Ptah. But this movement, which was more
notably reflected in Akhenaton’s religious revolution, died out in
political disaster, and the original materialistic interpretation of
the myths was restored with the cult of Amen. How materialistic this
could be is well illustrated by two earlier members of the XVIIIth
Dynasty, who have left us vivid representations of the potter’s wheel
employed in the process of man’s creation. When the famous Hatshepsut,
after the return of her expedition to Punt in the ninth year of her
young consort Thothmes III, decided to build her temple at Deir
el-Bahari in the necropolis of Western Thebes, she sought to emphasize
her claim to the throne of Egypt by recording her own divine origin
upon its walls. We have already noted the Egyptians’ belief in the
solar parentage of their legitimate rulers, a myth that goes back at
least to the Old Kingdom and may have had its origin in prehistoric
times. With the rise of Thebes, Amen inherited the prerogatives of Ra;
and so Hatshepsut seeks to show, on the north side of the retaining
wall of her temple’s Upper Platform, that she was the daughter of Amen
himself, “the great God, Lord of the sky, Lord of the Thrones of the
Two Lands, who resides at Thebes”. The myth was no invention of her
own, for obviously it must have followed traditional lines, and though
it is only employed to exhibit the divine creation of a single
personage, it as obviously reflects the procedure and methods of a
general Creation myth.

[1] See Breasted, /Zeitschrift fur Aegyptische Sprache/, XXXIX, pp. 39
ff., and /History of Egypt/, pp. 356 ff.

This series of sculptures shared the deliberate mutilation that all
her records suffered at the hands of Thothmes III after her death, but
enough of the scenes and their accompanying text has survived to
render the detailed interpretation of the myth quite certain.[1] Here,
as in a general Creation myth, Amen’s first act is to summon the great
gods in council, in order to announce to them the future birth of the
great princess. Of the twelve gods who attend, the first is Menthu, a
form of the Sun-god and closely associated with Amen.[2] But the
second deity is Atum, the great god of Heliopolis, and he is followed
by his cycle of deities–Shu, “the son of Ra”; Tefnut, “the Lady of
the sky”; Keb, “the Father of the Gods”; Nut, “the Mother of the
Gods”; Osiris, Isis, Nephthys, Set, Horus, and Hathor. We are here in
the presence of cosmic deities, as befits a projected act of creation.
The subsequent scenes exhibit the Egyptian’s literal interpretation of
the myth, which necessitates the god’s bodily presence and personal
participation. Thoth mentions to Amen the name of queen Aahmes as the
future mother of Hatshepsut, and we later see Amen himself, in the
form of her husband, Aa-kheperka-Ra (Thothmes I), sitting with Aahmes
and giving her the Ankh, or sign of Life, which she receives in her
hand and inhales through her nostrils.[3] God and queen are seated on
thrones above a couch, and are supported by two goddesses. After
leaving the queen, Amen calls on Khnum or Khnemu, the flat-horned ram-
god, who in texts of all periods is referred to as the “builder” of
gods and men;[4] and he instructs him to create the body of his future
daughter and that of her /Ka/, or “double”, which would be united to
her from birth.

[1] See Naville, /Deir el-Bahari/, Pt. II, pp. 12 ff., plates xlvi ff.

[2] See Budge, /Gods of the Egyptians/, Vol. II, pp. 23 ff. His chief
cult-centre was Hermonthis, but here as elsewhere he is given his
usual title “Lord of Thebes”.

[3] Pl. xlvii. Similar scenes are presented in the “birth-temples” at
Denderah, Edfu, Philae, Esneh, and Luxor; see Naville, op. cit.,
p. 14.

[4] Cf. Budge, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 50.

The scene in the series, which is of greatest interest in the present
connexion, is that representing Khnum at his work of creation. He is
seated before a potter’s wheel which he works with his foot,[1] and on
the revolving table he is fashioning two children with his hands, the
baby princess and her “double”. It was always Hatshepsut’s desire to
be represented as a man, and so both the children are boys.[2] As yet
they are lifeless, but the symbol of Life will be held to their
nostrils by Heqet, the divine Potter’s wife, whose frog-head typifies
birth and fertility. When Amenophis III copied Hatshepsut’s sculptures
for his own series at Luxor, he assigned this duty to the greater
goddess Hathor, perhaps the most powerful of the cosmic goddesses and
the mother of the world. The subsequent scenes at Deir el-Bahari
include the leading of queen Aahmes by Khnum and Heqet to the birth-
chamber; the great birth scene where the queen is attended by the
goddesses Nephthys and Isis, a number of divine nurses and midwives
holding several of the “doubles” of the baby, and favourable genii, in
human form or with the heads of crocodiles, jackals, and hawks,
representing the four cardinal points and all bearing the gift of
life; the presentation of the young child by the goddess Hathor to
Amen, who is well pleased at the sight of his daughter; and the divine
suckling of Hatshepsut and her “doubles”. But these episodes do not
concern us, as of course they merely reflect the procedure following a
royal birth. But Khnum’s part in the princess’s origin stands on a
different plane, for it illustrates the Egyptian myth of Creation by
the divine Potter, who may take the form of either Khnum or Ptah.
Monsieur Naville points out the extraordinary resemblance in detail
which Hatshepsut’s myth of divine paternity bears to the Greek legend
of Zeus and Alkmene, where the god takes the form of Amphitryon,
Alkmene’s husband, exactly as Amen appears to the queen;[3] and it may
be added that the Egyptian origin of the Greek story was traditionally
recognized in the ancestry ascribed to the human couple.[4] [1] This detail is not clearly preserved at Deir el-Bahari; but it is
quite clear in the scene on the west wall of the “Birth-room” in
the Temple at Luxor, which Amenophis III evidently copied from
that of Hatshepsut.

[2] In the similar scene at Luxor, where the future Amenophis III is
represented on the Creator’s wheel, the sculptor has distinguished
the human child from its spiritual “double” by the quaint device
of putting its finger in its mouth.

[3] See Naville, op. cit., p. 12.

[4] Cf., e.g., Herodotus, II, 43.

The only complete Egyptian Creation myth yet recovered is preserved in
a late papyrus in the British Museum, which was published some years
ago by Dr. Budge.[1] It occurs under two separate versions embedded in
“The Book of the Overthrowing of Apep, the Enemy of Ra”. Here Ra, who
utters the myth under his late title of Neb-er-tcher, “Lord to the
utmost limit”, is self-created as Khepera from Nu, the primaeval
water; and then follow successive generations of divine pairs, male
and female, such as we find at the beginning of the Semitic-Babylonian
Creation Series.[2] Though the papyrus was written as late as the year
311 B.C., the myth is undoubtedly early. For the first two divine
pairs Shu and Tefnut, Keb and Nut, and four of the latter pairs’ five
children, Osiris and Isis, Set and Nephthys, form with the Sun-god
himself the Greater Ennead of Heliopolis, which exerted so wide an
influence on Egyptian religious speculation. The Ennead combined the
older solar elements with the cult of Osiris, and this is indicated in
the myth by a break in the successive generations, Nut bringing forth
at a single birth the five chief gods of the Osiris cycle, Osiris
himself and his son Horus, with Set, Isis, and Nephthys. Thus we may
see in the myth an early example of that religious syncretism which is
so characteristic of later Egyptian belief.

[1] See /Archaeologia/, Vol. LII (1891). Dr. Budge published a new
edition of the whole papyrus in /Egyptian Hieratic Papyri in the
British Museum/ (1910), and the two versions of the Creation myth
are given together in his /Gods of the Egyptians/, Vol. I (1904),
Chap. VIII, pp. 308 ff., and more recently in his /Egyptian
Literature/, Vol. I, “Legends of the Gods” (1912), pp. 2 ff. An
account of the papyrus is included in the Introduction to “Legends
of the Gods”, pp. xiii ff.

[2] In /Gods of the Egyptians/, Vol. I, Chap. VII, pp. 288 ff., Dr.
Budge gives a detailed comparison of the Egyptian pairs of
primaeval deities with the very similar couples of the Babylonian

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