The biblical and Roman creation stories

It is basic psychology that people cannot understand a subject unless they understand its opposite. In fact, this was the first lesson I learnt at Johns Hopkins in my first psychology class. Peter Kamara’s “Ancient Roman Mythology” contains a description of a Roman creation myth. It is interesting to read the striking similarities between the Roman version of creation and what the Bible states. This will open our eyes to much that we did not see in the biblical creation story.  

Similarities

  1. Both say that before the world was established there was chaos, but while the Bible does not describe the chaos, the myth states that the elements of air, earth, fire and sea were all mixed up. The confusion was resolved by: Fire being the lightest, rose up and became the heavens. Air became the level below heaven. Earth was set below the air. And water being the heaviest element was set below.
  2. The sequence of events in scripture and the myth are remarkably similar. Initially, humans lived in a golden age. Nature provided all that was necessary. This is similar to the story of the Garden of Eden. The golden age was followed by the silver age when there were extremes in temperature and man needed to wear clothes and cultivate the ground. In the Bible, Adam and Eve put on clothes after eating the forbidden fruit and Adam thereafter needed to cultivate the ground. The followed the bronze age and the beginning of crime and the division of the people. This reflects the sequence in the Bible: Cain killing Abel and the building of the Tower of Babel. The iron age followed in which greed proliferated and there was war. Abraham was involved in such a war in Genesis 14.
  3. The gods were displeased with human activities and decided to destroy them. As with Noah’s flood, the gods flooded the earth by sea and storm. Only Mount Parnassus was not flooded. Only two Titans, Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha, who led a blameless life were spared.

Differences

  1. There were many gods. They had human attributes, including a strong sexual drive. They often fought one another.
  2. People were created before the humans who had enormous strengths called Titans. They were the offspring of Gaia (earth) and Uranus (heaven). One of the Titans, Prometheus, took some earth and created males, not women, whom he formed it into the shape of the gods. The Bible does not say there was a race of human-like beings (Titans) who existed before humans and for part of the human existence. The Bible states that God created humans, not Titans. Yet both say humans were created from earth with something about God in their being. In the Bible humans also had “the image of God, which has been variously interpreted. Maimonides states it is that God gave them intelligence.[1]
  3. While the Greek myth has Prometheus give humans fire, the Roman myth attributes the gift to the goddess Minerva who stole the fire from heaven and brought it to the men. They were then able to make tools and weapons and introduce trade. The Bible has no tale about the introduction of fire. However, it also indicates that the making of weapons and tools did not occur until the seventh generation of humans after Adam and Eve, invented by a descendant of Cain.[2]
  4. Jupiter, the supreme god, disliked that humans had fire. So, he sent Pandora to earth. She had found in the possession of Epimetheus, Prometheus’ brother a box containing war, plague, pestilence, and the like. As long as the box remained closed, there was no problem. But like many women, Pandora was curious. She opened the box and these problems were released upon the earth. Thus, as in the Bible, it is a woman who brings difficulties to man. Unlike the Bible, Pandora’s box is designed to explain how evil was created. It states that the god caused it by sending Pandora. The Bible gives no reason for evil in the world. It states in Genesis 1 that everything created was good. The narratives in the Bible show that it is humans who create the evils and their consequences.
  5. After the flood, the two surviving Titans went to a temple and were told by an oracle how to create new humans. They were to cast stones on the earth and from these stones humanity arose. Scripture does not say that every human was killed in the flood and only two Titans survived who had the recreate humans by throwing stones; Noah and his family were saved and all humanity is descendant from them.

Summary

What should we conclude from the many similarities between the myths and scripture? The myth is without doubt, a fable. A myth is a fictional traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events. While untrue, it is what Plato called a “noble lie,” what Maimonides termed “an essential truth,” necessary to make the masses feel good. It helps the general population understand life, how it began, its purpose, why there is evil in the world, will life turn out well for me, and the like. Should we understand that the biblical creation story is also a myth? Whether it is a myth or not, why is it included in the Bible?

[1] Guide of the Perplexed 1:1.

[2] Genesis 4:22.

About the Author
Dr. Israel Drazin served for 31 years in the US military and attained the rank of brigadier general. He is an attorney and a rabbi, with master’s degrees in both psychology and Hebrew literature and a PhD in Judaic studies. As a lawyer, he developed the legal strategy that saved the military chaplaincy when its constitutionality was attacked in court, and he received the Legion of Merit for his service. Dr. Drazin is the author of more than 50 books on the Bible, philosophy, and other subjects.
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