Updated January 30, 2023

An Examination of the Creation Myths of the Babylonian, Israeli, and Aryan Civilization as a Reflection of Their Respective Cultures

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An Examination of the Creation Myths of the Babylonian, Israeli, and Aryan Civilization as a Reflection of Their Respective Cultures essay
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All ancient civilizations in our world had a religion, and nearly all of those religions had creation myths with their own explanations for the origins of the universe. Through each religious myth, one can better understand the people and society that developed alongside their various beliefs. This essay examines how the creation myths of the Babylonian, Israeli, and Aryan civilizations reflect their respective cultures. To assist in my analysis, I will be using excerpts from the Babylonian Atra-hasis, the Aryan Rig Veda, and the Israeli Torah in my essay. It finds that the creation myths of the Babylonians, the Aryans, and the Israelites all served ulterior purposes as a tool for the authority and control of the leaders of these civilizations.

The Babylonian creation myth from the Atra-hasis begins with a universe where their gods are already present and existent. The three senior gods, Anu, Enlil, and Enki agree to divide the universe into three spheres of influence: “…with Anu in charge of heaven, Enlil of Earth, and Enki of the water beneath the earth.” (28). This division of power among the three most supreme beings in the universe is reminiscent of how many governments throughout history are organized, showing how the Babylonian people favored an “ordered” society that revolves around the “authority” both in state and church.

A passage from the Atra-hasis states “While [Belet-ili, the birth goddess], is present, Let the birth-goddess create offspring And let man bear the toil of the gods.” which reveals what the Babylonians believed was humanity’s purpose in life, which was to serve as workers for the gods (28). This is a very convenient purpose of life for the leaders of Babylon, who ruled as both stately and religious leaders. If humanity was meant to serve the Gods and the leaders of Babylon are also humanity’s link to their deities, then it would have been a rather easy or at least “justifiable” reason for the Babylonian leaders to control the population and do as they will with the people.

The Aryan people of the Indian sub-continent had a religious text known as the Rig Veda which held their story of how the universe began. The very nature of their story of creation organizes Aryan society into castes, the very same Indian castes that have been a defining part of their society up until relatively recently in history. That portion of the excerpt states “The Brahman (priestly caste) was his mouth, his two arms became the Rajanya (warrior caste); his two thighs are the Vaisya (artisan caste), from his two feet the Sudra (serf caste) was produced.” (32).

The caste system of matriculating people of a society into different levels of hierarchy based upon their heritage is a highly centralist policy that forces all facets of life to focus on the needs and wants of the religious state (as the priests were considered to be above all others). The Aryan religion, now widely known as part of Hinduism, also mentions the “Purusa”, which is considered to be a cosmic entity that was sacrificed by the gods to create all forms of life and the universe, including humankind. “The Purusa has a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, and a thousand feet…

When they divided the Purusa, into how many parts did they separate him? What did his mouth become? What his two arms? What are declared to be his two thighs, his two feet?” (32). It is the Purusa that is divided into the various parts of the Aryan caste system and as it is mentioned that the Purusa has a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, and a thousand feet, etc. it makes sense to think of the Purusa as a representation of humankind itself and that not only are the parts that become the castes intended for service to the state, but that all other aspects of the Aryan world is meant to serve them, and through them, the Gods. This belief would firmly place Aryan religious and government leaders at the head of all aspects of life.

The Israelites’ sacred text, the Torah, had within it the first book of Moses, also commonly known as Genesis. It is the most recognizable creation myth in western civilization given the shared roots between Judaism and Christianity that began in Israel with the Torah. In the first chapter God creates the universe in seven days, demonstrating his overwhelming power over all existence, and in the second chapter he creates humans. First he creates man in the form of Adam: “…the Lord God formed man from the dust of the earth.

He blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” Then God creates woman in the Eve to be Adam’s “fitting helper” (36). It is clear that in the Israeli society that produced this creation myth that men were generally seen as superior to women and were the ones to be dominant while the women were simply “helpers”.

Indeed there are plenty of other instances throughout Jewish and Christian mythology that support this claim such as Eve being the one responsible for the consumption of the forbidden fruit. After a long series of events in which humans are generally considered responsible for a number of divine disasters, God appears to Abram in chapter 17 to offer a covenant with him which states, “You shall be the father of a multitude of nations…kings shall come forth from you.

I will maintain My covenant between Me and you, and your offspring to come, as an everlasting covenant throughout the ages, to be God to you and to your offspring to come. I give the land you sojourn in to you and your offspring to come, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession. I will be their God…As for the homeborn slave and the one bought from an outsider who is not of your offspring, they must be circumcised, homeborn and purchased alike… your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac; and I will maintain My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring to come…He shall be the father of twelve chieftains, and I will make of him a great nation.” (37). The passage explicitly shows that the Israelites believed that they were God’s “chosen people” and that they believed the land of Canaan belonged to them by his word.

Additionally, the framework for hereditary rule by divine right is also clearly mentioned with God’s covenant that would make Abraham’s son, Isaac, his replacement. Slavery is also mentioned here, where the mutilation of male genitalia is enforced upon those enslaved by the Israelites, whether they be “homeborn” or purchased slaves. A society based upon this covenant is one where men reign dominant and where power is passed down through families from father to son, who are more than likely also considered to be religious leaders as well. It is no coincidence that God as well as priests are often referred to as “father” in both the Christian and Hebrew traditions.

In the ancient Babylonian, Aryan, and Israeli cultures, religion was such an integral facet of life that it permeated throughout their civilizations and reflects the societies that it existed in. In all three cultures, government leaders were considered to be no different than religious leaders as there was no separation between church and state.

Considering this fact, it is not hard to infer that their creation myths were crafted not only to tell tales and explain their perspective of how the universe began, but also to give humans purpose in service to their god(s), which in societies that do not differentiate between religious and government leaders, would give said leaders vast control over their people. This is what allowed the Aryans to create and perpetuate a hereditary caste system as well as what allowed the Israelites to form a patriarchal society where rule was passed down from father to son.

These religious texts also these civilizations leeway in the legalization and enforcement of slavery, self-mutilation, and gender inequality. That is not to speak of the socioeconomic inequality that would have been rampant in such societies where religious leaders have ultimate power and that the alternative to such controlled and manipulative societies would have likely been a short and brutish life outside of civilization. The sacred creation myths of the Babylonians, Aryans, and Israelites not only reflect the realities of their societies at the time, but were also used to great effect in the control and dominance over entire civilizations of people.

Works Cited:

  1. Lambert, W. G., A. R. Millard, and Miguel Civil. Atra-Ḥasis: The Babylonian Story of the Flood. Oxford: Clarendon P., 1969. Print. pp. 57, 59, 61.
  2. Edgerton. The Beginnings of Indian Philosophy. Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1965. Print. pp. 60-61, 67-68, 73, 74.
  3. Plaut. The Torah: A Modern Commentary. Union of American Hebrew Congregations Press, 1981. Print. pp. 18-20, 29-30, 116-117.

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An Examination of the Creation Myths of the Babylonian, Israeli, and Aryan Civilization as a Reflection of Their Respective Cultures. (2023, Jan 05). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/an-examination-of-the-creation-myths-of-the-babylonian-israeli-and-aryan-civilization-as-a-reflection-of-their-respective-cultures/

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