Genesis and TheogonyPlagiarism?
The Book of Genesis is a compilation, and like every compilation it has a wide variety of contributors who, in turn, have their individual influence upon the final work. It is no surprise, then, that there exist certain parallels between the Theogony, the cosmogony of the early Greeks, and the Book of Genesis, the first part of the Pentateuch section of the Bible. In fact, arguments may be made that the extent of this ‘borrowing’, as it were, is not limited to Genesis; the Theogony has its own roots in Greek mythology, predating the Book of Genesis by a thousand years. A superficial examination of this evidence would erroneously lead one to believe that Genesis is somewhat a collection of older mythology re-written specifically for the Semites. In fact, what develops is that the writers have addressed each myth as a separate issue, and what the writers say is that their God surpasses every other. Each myth or text that has a counterpart in Genesis only serves to further an important idea among the Hebrews: there is but one God, and He is omnipotent, omniscient, and other-worldly; He is not of this world, but outside it, apart from it. The idea of a monotheistic religion is first evinced in recorded history with Judaism, and it is vital to see that instead of being an example of plagiarism, the Book of Genesis is a meticulously composed document that will set apart the Hebrew God from the others before, and after.
If we trace back to the first appearance of Genesis in written form, in its earliest translation, we arrive at 444 B.C.; In order to fully comprehend the origin of the story we must venture further back in time. We can begin with the father of the Hebrew people, Abraham. We can deduce when he lived, and find that he lived around 1900 B.C. in ancient Mesopotamia. If we examine his world and its culture, we may find the reasons behind certain references in Genesis, and the mythologies of Theogony they resemble.
Abraham lived during a time of great prosperity and a remarkably advanced culture. Homes were comfortable, even luxurious. We can also deduce that it was a relatively stable and peaceful society; its art is characterized by the absence of any warlike activity, paintings or sculptures. Outside the cities the early nomadic tribes of Israel were, “taking with them the early traditions, and in varying latitudes modified them” according to the current external influences. The message remained constant, but the context would subtly change. There were tribes of Israel in Egypt during the Egyptian Middle Kingdom period, which certainly exposed these people to Egyptian culture as well as Babylonian culture as a result of trade between the two kingdoms. Having placed Abraham and certain early Semites in this time, we now understand the culture they knew and the impact it had on the creation of Genesis.
The book of Genesis is about the beginnings of creation and life on earth. It begins with nothingness and in the first seven days following God creates the heavens and the earth, light and darkness, the seas, plant life, then came the sun and the moon, the fowls and the creatures who roam the lands, followed by humankind to finish it all off. Comparing the creation aspects of Genesis to Theogony, we see that the earth was again created out of nothingness known as Chaos. Chaos, instead of creating everything on earth, created several other godly beings to create the earth as it is today. Therefore, it can be deduced that the stories of Genesis we derived from the stories of the gods and goddesses of Theogony. Another similarity the stories possess is in the identity and condemnation of women as evil. In Theogony women were created to be an evil placed upon the earth to cause suffering for men because Iapetos, a mischievous god, stole fire from Zeus and presented it to man. In retaliation, Zeus had his lame smith mold the shape of a modest maiden (572). The figure was then clothed by Athena and was placed upon the earth as a tempting snare from which men cannot escape (590). This description in particular presents women as just a trap to which no man can escape. The presentation of evil by woman in Genesis comes when Eve takes a bite of the apple from the tree of knowledge. When she takes from the tree she offers it to Adam who takes his share. The woman is presented as evil in Genesis through the fact that it was she who took the first bite of temptation from the tree. Both Theogony and Genesis present women as the condemned evil placed upon the earth to plague men.
On the opposing side of the issue, it is said that Gods word alone is sufficient to render unto the world any change He so wishes. This is a radical innovation in a world where pantheistic religion more closely resembles a super-powered family that doesn’t get along very well. The word of God is all-powerful.. And here we begin to see our greatest departures. We have a monotheistic religion, the first of its kind, created amidst a culture that, in the case of the Theogony, has numerous gods. Not only is there but one god, but he is all-powerful, so much so that he does not find it necessary to wrestle with nature or defeat mighty primordial gods. He simply speaks and it is done. It is our first occurrence of divine will imposed upon the world. Furthermore, it is a god without a precursor, without creation. He is something apart from this world. Zeus lived in a world already created from Chaos. In fact, there are two words with very similar meanings in Genesis; the first word meaning “to create” and the other “to create from nothing”. The distinction is important, however, because it changes the implications involved in creating. Does God create the world from something or nothing? In the following passage, “When God began to create heaven and earth- the earth being a desolate waste, with darkness upon the abyss and the spirit of God hovering over the waters- God said, ‘Let there be light!’ And there was light.” it is inferred that God is creating with something. The next translation, “When God began to create the heaven and earth, the earth was a desolate waste and darkness was upon the abyss and the spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light!’ And there was light…” implies that God began by creating a desolate waste, then creating light, then shaping the waste, and so forth. All this is produced as a function of one verb. As another departure, examination of the creation story in Theogony show that it begins with an earth that already exists. Genesis clearly diverges from this: “In the beginning” clearly sets apart the text from any other, making it the actual start of all time and space as we know it. It also puts the Hebrew god outside of time and space.
There would be no point in arguing that the Book of Genesis was influenced by the contemporary cultures of its writers; the facts clearly point to innumerable external sources of inspiration. But while we can acknowledge these similarities, we must also acknowledge that the writers of the Book of Genesis are making a radical departure from the norm: they have created a monotheistic religion, and their god is all-powerful, beyond the scope of human comprehension. Typically, gods are represented as something akin to humans on a grander scale; the Hebrew god is simply not measured or scaled; He is an unknown quantity, set apart from the bounds of human knowledge. These similarities serve a function as a contrast to the differences between these religions. It would seem that the writers acknowledged these other religions, and addressed each one by creating a god that surpasses all others. The god that creates himself is one of many; the Hebrew god stands alone in his might. The god that created the world defeated another god, and formed the earth from the corpse; in Genesis, God speaks and his words transform into actions. God exists before the matter He shapes to His will. The writers have then, in fact, minimized the actions of all other gods in comparison to one all-powerful deity such as this. By drawing comparisons to other texts, the message can be lost in attempting to find the roots of certain ideas. But the origins of the stories are not nearly as important as the overall message being stated, and while the ideas they resemble may be old, the message is clear and unique: there is but one, and He is beyond all that is. His will alone suffices, and He predates even time itself. And that message has changed the world.
Genesis and TheogonyPlagiarism?