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Creation stories are interesting are examples of how ancient peoples attempted to understand the world around them and to answer a philosophical question concerning the origins of life. One way of deepening a person’s appreciation of creation stories is to compare popular examples. In this regard, it is best to compare the Iroquois creation story, a Native American version of the creation event with that of the religious worldview found in the Book of Genesis.
These creation stories are similar when it comes to the basic formulation of explaining the origins of life and the physical world, but differ considerably when it comes to the finer points of authorship or creative force behind the event. There are also differences in the ultimate purpose or impetus for initiating the creation process.
Similarities in the Formulation
The Iroquois creation story shares common ground with the Genesis account when it comes to the basic formulation of how a creation narrative was developed and transmitted to its target audience. The basic formula used in both versions was to present the author or the creator and to explain how critical elements of the known world came into existence. In the Genesis version, God was the mastermind and creative force behind everything that human beings can see in the world today. In the Native American version, the creator came from the woman.
In both versions, one can also see similarities in highlighting important elements of the creation narrative. For example, in the biblical and the Iroquois version, both narrators discussed how the creator formed the heavenly bodies, the terrain of the planet, and the fauna and flora components of the living world.
Differences in Authorship and Reason for Creation
There are also sharp differences in both accounts especially when it comes to the nature and authority of the creator in the story. For example, in the biblical version, God who was the creative power of all living and non-living things was depicted as a powerful figure that existed outside the physical realm.
This can be seen in the way he commanded the emergence of light. It was through his authoritative voice that the command was executed and fulfilled. This method of creation differed significantly from the way the Iroquois described how the Good Mind labored in using the elements that were already in existence. In other words, the Good Mind did not demonstrate the capability to create something out of nothing. This was highlighted by the fact that the Good Mind used the corpse of his mother to create the sun and the moon.
There is also a big difference when it comes to providing an implied reason for the creation event. It has to be made clear that there was no explicit discussion on the impetus for initiating the process of forming the earth, plants, and human beings. However, one can make a valid argument as to the rationale behind the emergence of the plants, animals, and the heavenly bodies based on the flow of the narrative. For example, in the Iroquois’ version of the origins of the planet, human beings were not the center of attention for the whole story. This is starkly contrasted in the Genesis account because it is not possible to ignore the idea that human beings, specifically Adam and Eve, were the crowning glory of God’s creativity.
In the said Native American narrative, the main characters named the Good Mind and the Bad Mind was not the original human beings (Yasuda 5). In fact, in the first lines of the tale, it was made clear that the woman who descended to the lower world belonged to a group called mankind and they inhabited the upper world (Franklin 22). Based on this information, one can argue that the main purpose of the narrative was to explain the emergence of a new continent and not to provide an answer to the question of who created the first human beings.
It seems to correlate with the history of the Native Americans who migrated to the American continent, which is divided today as North America and South America was presumably viewed as one continent by ancient people groups. In other words, the creation narrative produced by the Iroquois Indians was an attempt to explain their arrival in the American continent.
In stark contrast to the Iroquois’ version of the creation story, the biblical account focuses the spotlight on human beings. This account also takes into consideration the origins of the first human being. However, the most important realization is on how God, as the creative force, valued human beings over other created things. This assertion is supported by elements in the narrative that pointed out how man and woman were created last and that they were created in the image of God (New Revised Standard Version Genesis 5.1). Starting in the first line of Genesis up to the fifth chapter one can see how the world was arranged to cater to human beings. However, in stark contrast to the Iroquois’ interpretation, human beings were not viewed as more important or more valuable than the other creatures found on the planet.
There are only a few similarities when comparing the biblical account of the origins of life and that of the Iroquois’ version of the creation myth. The common ground shared between the two versions was limited to the basic formulation of the story and the key elements that were identified. However, the trajectory and emphasis of the narratives diverged especially when it comes to the rationale for creating the physical world and its inhabitants.
In the biblical version, mankind was the crowning glory of God’s creative force. However, in the Iroquois Indian’s interpretation, human beings were part of the created world. One can also argue that the emphasis of the Genesis account was to highlight the establishment of an environment suited to mankind. On the other hand, the Iroquois Indian’s tale may have been developed to explain how ancient people groups ended up living in the American continent.
The Lord of the Sky lived in the 12th heaven. He started a good work by creating the stars, sun, and moon. He stretched the firmament to create the Universe. For thousands of years, the Lord of the Sky was happy to live in his kingdom. He was contented to live among his powerful and humble servants. They had wings like dragonflies and faces like lions. However, one day the Lord of the Sky wanted a companion that shared similar qualities.
He knew that this was a difficult and risky venture. Nevertheless, he took the gamble and decided to create a small version of himself. The Lord of the Sky took a seed from the center of his heart and dropped it to the lowest parts of his kingdom. The Lord of the Sky hurled thunderbolts. One managed to hit the tree splitting it into two parts. A large branch fell into the ocean producing fish and seaweeds. Another large branch fell on a mountain producing small trees and animals. From the broken trunk emerged the first man and woman. The Lord went down to work with the man and woman.
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Franklin, Wayne. “The Iroquois Creation Story.” The Norton Anthology of Americans Literature. 8th ed., edited by Julia Reidhead, W.W. Norton, 2012, pp. 20-25.
The Bible. New Revised Standard Version, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ, 1989.
Yasuda, Anita. Sky Woman and the Turtle: An Iroquois Creation Myth. ABDO Group, 2013.