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The Sumerian account of creation is founded on the polytheistic nature of its adherents and essentially holds that the universe was created through a complex intermingling of convenience, bad judgement, evil and twists of fate. On the other hand, the genesis creation myth revolves around the monotheistic nature of the Hebrews and Christians. Consequently, the manner, purpose and events in this creation story are founded on Yahweh God. Through a comparison of the two accounts, it shall be argued that the Genesis version is a more satisfactory account.
The story of creation as found in Genesis is quite similar to the Sumerian creation account with regard to the scientific basis of both narrations. The Sumerians and Christians believed that the gods first started with energy through the creation of light and then followed this up with form as seen through creation of the planets, then that form was filled using land and water. Plants were the next item in the creation agenda and then the seasons followed this. Sea animals were next and then beasts that lived on the earth.
Man was the ultimate and final creation in both accounts (Dalley, 246). It can be stated that these versions of creation both make scientific sense because certain creatures would not have survived if they were created first. For instance, if light came before the plants, then the plants would lack a means of synthesising their own food and this would have made them extinct. Likewise, animals, came after plants so that they could feed on them. Both the Sumerian and the Genesis version had a fair degree of order and this testifies to the supremacy of their deity. These versions illustrate that the creation actions were scientifically plausible. However, the Sumerian version is less orderly and complex than the Genesis one.
Both accounts also allow for the possibility of interpreting the actions in separate ways. For instance, in the Genesis creation story, it is asserted that God created all things within seven days. However, scholars have debated this issue and asserted that the seven days could be interpreted to be longer than the normal 24 hour day as we understand it today. Christian scholars believe that in the eyes of God, time was defined differently meaning that one day could be one week and one week for man could one year to God.
Other interpretations of the Sumerian tale have also asserted that the gods discussed in the narrative are not actually real gods but are symbols for the major elements of the solar system like the sun, moon and the earth. Conversely, other scholars believe that these ‘gods’ as discussed in the Sumerian and hence Babylonian account of creation could also be the gods that were in charge of those heavenly bodies. In this regard, both creation accounts are quite similar in that certain insertions are more symbolic than factual (Wolkestein, 45).
The Sumerian and Genesis accounts are similar in terms of the creation of man. In Genesis chapter 2, it was asserted that man was made out of dust and God breathed into him. Similarly in the Sumerian account, it was asserted that man was made out of clay and water and the goddess of birth was responsible for fashioning him so that he could be a living creature.
In either creation account, there was the issue of a fall from glory for man or the creation of sin and evil in the world. In the Sumerian version, the gods Ninmah and Enki started out well because their intention was to create man so that he could be a servant to them. However, these gods let pride and selfishness get in the way and wanted to prove their supremacy over one another.
They started creating deformed creatures and it was as though those gods kept getting worse the more they let pride and ego get in the way. This represented the introduction of sin or evil in creation. Likewise, evil was also introduced in the Genesis creation story through such a way. Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden and had been instructed not to eat fruits in the middle of the garden. However, because they let greed come in the way then sin became a part of their lives and they now had knowledge of good and evil. This was the beginning of their fall from grace as it occurred amongst the Sumerians.
One of the most outstanding differences between the Epic creation (Sumerian version) and the Genesis version is the fact that there are multiple deities in the former and only one Supreme Being in the latter. In the Epic, there were a number of contributors to the creation of the universe and some of them included Apsu or the Sun, An (The sky deity), Ki (Mother earth) and Enlil (son of the sky God). It starts with the sea god called Nammu who was responsible for the birth of the heaven (An) and the earth (Ki). (Kramer, 39) However, her role in creation ended there when a child of the latter called Enlil separated heaven and earth.
More creations were done by other gods and goddesses such as Ninlil – air god and Enlil- wind god. Ninlil and Enlil then created Nana or the moon. As can be seen, this myth gives different roles and responsibilities to separate divinities thus forming a complex interrelation between parties. Conversely, the Christian or Hebrew version of creation focused on one sole divinity. He did not even get assistance from another creature- an aspect that would have undermined the greatness of this God. He was the one who separated light and darkness hence creating day or night, he created land and sea and man. Everything was done by God Yahweh thus denoting that the two stories were radically different.
It is also interesting to note that the manner of creation in the Sumerian account was fundamentally different from the Genesis one. Here, creation was sometimes done through the combination of two deities by birth, accident or some twist of fate. For instance, in the story of the creation of the moon, Enlil falls in love with Ninlil and seeks to seduce her. He wants to make love to her but Ninlil does not let him. Eventually, he follows her and rapes her. (Jacobsen, 174).
This leaves her with the pregnancy that eventually results in the birth of the moon – called Nanna. Such incidences are common throughout the Sumerian creation account and they illustrate that the process of creation was done randomly. In the Genesis, the manner of creation was quite distinct. It was carried out by Yahweh who used his spoken work to form everything except man. For example, in genesis chapter 1 verse 3, it is stated that: “God said, let there be light and there was day and night” on Genesis 1:9-10, he again used his spoken word to separate water from land by commanding each to gather in a different place.
He does the same on the sixth day when creating the animals because he commanded land to bring living creatures forward. Essentially, this illustrates that the manner of creation in the Christian version is one that revolves around Yahweh’s spoken word (Ury & Mortenson, 69). It is therefore more consistent and predictable than the Sumerian version. This manner of creation in the Genesis version illustrates why Christians look at all creation as one with them.
In other words, they have the responsibility for caring for other things in the universe because these were all created by one being who Yahweh is. This instates a duty of care among its adherents and hence allows for the creation of harmony between man and other creations. The same thing cannot be expected from adherents of the Sumerian version because creation was carried out by many different entities and in different ways so this separates the creatures (Feinberg, 105).
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Perhaps one of the most central factors that differentiate the Genesis story from the Sumerian one is the significance of divine purpose in either story. In the Genesis version, it was God’s intention to bring in everything that filled up the earth; however the same may not be said of the Sumerian version. Here, most heavenly bodies, creatures and the like were created by accident, deviance or even as a means of solving particular problems. On the other hand, Christians believe that God intended to have the earth and the universe as it was. He knew what he had set out to do and this explains why he was very orderly in the creation process.
Man’s importance in the two creation accounts is significantly different. In the Sumerian version, man was created as a product of laziness of the gods. They just wanted a supply of food and man was the means with which they could achieve this. Jacobsen (154) explains that the gods initially were expected to till and work for their food. Nammu the sea god then tells her son Enki that they should go and create servants for them. He utilises water and clay to do so but then combines this with the efforts of womb goddesses who can eventually give birth to it.
The gods had a feast after making the new creation and took beer for their pleasure. They were happy about these efforts because they now knew that they could be relieved from the problem of fending for themselves. It was as though man was nothing more than a convenience to them or an afterthought. On the other hand, in the Genesis creation account, man was seen as the central creation. In fact, even the approach used by God to create him was different. While Yahweh had consistently used word of mouth to bring forth day and night, light and sea and plants and sea creatures, he altered this principle during the creation of man.
In the book of Genesis chapter 1, God created man in his image and his likeness and then told man to “go forth and multiply or fill the earth” (Genesis 1:26-28). In the second chapter of genesis, greater details have been provided about the creation of man. Here, it is stated that Adam was formed from dust and then placed in the Garden of Eden. However, woman was created in a slightly different way because she was formed from a rib in Adam’s body; she was supposed to be his helper. From these explanations, it is evident that there is indeed a very different approach towards the creation of man because he was central to the narrative (Smith, 21).
The manner in which the divinities were depicted in both tales is very different. In genesis, God was depicted as a flawless being that did not possess any negative attributes. On the other hand, in the Sumerian version, the gods would rape one another, drink beer or even indulge in unnecessary vices. In fact, during the creation story of man, the Epic version asserts that the gods wanted to illustrate their supremacy through man.
For example, Enki told Ninmah that he is capable of finding something for all disabled people to do. In a show of might, Ninmah creates a sexless person, a barren one and other deformed individuals (Woolley, 53). Enki responds to this challenge by finding a place for sexless persons in the king’s court and also by looking for another place in the singing industry for the blind man. He does this for all the other deformed creatures. This tussle or competition between the two divinities led to the creation of extreme and deformed human beings. In the end, the gods’ inability to exercise good values is what led to flaws in humanity.
The epic/ Sumerian account is random and seems to lack a general order about it. Heavenly bodies and creatures simply came up without any real meaning and this creates disunity between man and his environment. Also the motivation for creating man and the other creatures was quite feeble. Laziness, pride and twists of fate are really inadequate in convincing followers of the reason why they were created. On the other hand, the centrality of purpose and the uniqueness of man make the Genesis creation account a satisfactory version of creation.
Kramer, Samuel. History begins at sumer. NY: Anchor, 1959.
Jacobsen, Thorkid. Sumerian Poetry in translation. NH: Yale University press, 1987.
Woolley, Leornard. Sumerian mythology. Philadelphia:PUP, 1972.
Wolkestein, Diane. The Sumerians, Culture, character and history. Chicago: CUP, 1963.
Feinberg, John. The doctrine of creation. NY: Good news publishers, 2006.
Ury, thane & Mortenson, Terry. Coming to grips with genesis. New leaf publishing hroup, 2008.
Smith, Mark. Origins of biblical monotheism. Oxford: OUP, 1963.
Dalley, Stephanie. Myths from Mesopotamia. Oxford: OUP, 2000.