Egyptian, Babylonian, and Hebrew Religions
Egyptians, Babylonians, and Hebrews have similarities yet also differences in
their religions. The importance is not in the similarities as much as it is in
the differences that distinguish the cultures from each other and their views on
life. I would like to point out each civilization's creation and flood story.
By analyzing these stories we can come to a better understanding of their world
views. The Hebrew creation story from the book of Genesis is one that most
people know well. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. The
earth was without form and void. God said, "let there be light," and there was
light. He then separated the light from the darkness. He also created the land,
plants, and animals. He saw everything he created and, behold, it was good.
The heavens and earth were completed and all that dwelled within them. On the
seventh day he rested. The earth was complete, but there was nothing to take
care of this creation. So, God created man in the image of himself. Man was
created from the dust of the ground. God gave him the breath of life and the
man became a living soul (Moses 1:1-2:7). With the background of that story,
one should look at the Egyptian interpretation of the beginning. At first there
was nothing but chaos that contained the seed of everything to come. In this
confusion the sun god dwelled. By an effort of his will he emerged from chaos
as Ra and gave birth to Shu, the god of air, and Tefnut, the goddess moisture.
Shu and Tefnut gave birth to Geb and Nut, the earth god and sky goddess. Thus
the physical universe was created. People were created from Ra's tears. Time
passed and Ra grew frail, so the ungrateful race of men plotted against Ra.
When Ra learned of this he called the gods together. The gods decided that
mankind must be destroyed. Tens of thousands of men were killed until only a
few were left. Then Ra relented and man was spared. Nevertheless Ra was sick
of the world and retreated into the heavens, leaving Shu to reign in his place.
At that time the present world was established. The Babylonians have their own
interpretation of the beginning. All things came from the water. From the
mixture of sweet water, Aspu, with salt water, Tiamat, the gods arose. Aspu and
Tiamat gave birth to a pair of gigantic serpents, Lakhmu and Lakhamu. These two
serpents produced Anshar and Kishar, the heavens and the earth. Anshar and
Kishar then conceived Anu, Enlil, and Ea. Aspu and Tiamat grew angry because
the younger gods were noisy. So, they decided to destroy the new gods. Ea, the
all knowing, learned of this plan and used his magic to capture Apsu. Tiamat
became furious and created and army of gods and monsters to punish Ea and the
others. Marduk was asked to stand against Tiamat and her army. Marduk promised
to defeat Tiamat if he was given supremacy over the gods. Marduk defeated
Tiamat and her army. While he was cutting up Tiamat's body he used half her
body and created the dome of the heavens. With the other half he made the earth.
Then to make the other gods happy he created men from the blood of the battle.
He then made rivers, plants, and animals completing creation. With these
stories' background one can now analyze the likeness and differences among them.
The Egyptian and Babylonian stories show several gods in charge of creating the
world. The difference between these two is that Marduk was given leadership by
the gods bestowing their powers upon him. The Egyptians do not actually raise
one god above another. The Hebrews have only one God, who created the earth.
The gods from each story created man from different items. The Egyptian and
Babylonian gods created man from tears and blood respectively. The Hebrew God
created man from dust, but in the image of himself. This seems to forge a
connection or bond between the Hebrews and their god. They are not gods
themselves, but with his image they have the ability to be godlike. The flood
stories of the cultures also show how they view their gods and the attitude the
gods have toward the people. The Hebrew God flooded the world because people
had turned their backs on God and were no longer worshipping him. In short, one
could say that the people in a way deserved the punishment they received. This
is also shown in the Egyptian creation story when the people turned against Ra.
Both of these gods showed compassion and remorse after the killing was done.
However, the Babylonian gods flooded the earth because it was so noisy that they
could not sleep. Not a fitting punishment for the crime committed. The
Babylonian gods were outraged when they realized Utnapishtim was delivered from
the catastrophe. The Egyptians do not have a flood story, is this because of
the regularity of the Nile's flooding. The Egyptian saw balance and harmony
with the Nile's example. The different cultures' attitude toward their gods is
also shown in their literature. The Egyptians and Hebrews loved and worshipped
their gods.. This is shown in the Egyptian "The Hymn to the Aten" and the Hebrew
"Psalms." Each of these works praises and exalts their respective god. The
Babylonians feared their god as they did their rivers that were unpredictable.
The lifestyles and geography of each civilization helped shape each cultures
view of their gods. For nature was the only physical manifestation of their
Fiero, Gloria K. The Humanistic Tradition. 1992 Madison: Wm. C. Brown
Godolphin, F, ed. Great Classical Myths. New York: Modern Library, 1964.
Moses. "Genesis." The Holy Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1976.
The Epic of Gilgamesh. Translated by N. K. Sanders. Baltimore: Penguin, 1960.