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Adam and Atrahasis

So we have Her Maj, the goddess Eve, which leaves us with Adam. Adam’s origins, like Eve’s, are hinted at in his name; where the name “Eve” indicates divinity and life giving, the name “Adam” is derived from the word adama, or “from the ground.”

There is an 18th century BCE Babylonian epic you may have heard of called the Epic of Atrahasis. It begins with creation, and ends with a flood. In the beginning, Enlil, the head god in charge, makes all the other, lesser gods do intensely laborious agricultural work for thousands of years. Eventually they get sick of it and form a lynch mob to take out Enlil. However, Ea (Enki’s Babylonian counterpart) intervenes and suggests that they create humans to do the chores in their stead.

To create the human, the gods decide to slaughter a god and mix the flesh and blood of that god together with clay from the ground. Ea enlists the help of the womb-goddess Belet-ili (another name of Ninhursag; she has many) in the carrying out of this procedure. It is proclaimed that “a god and man will be mixed together in clay…let a ghost come into existence from the god‘s flesh, and let her (Belet-ili) proclaim it as his sign.” All went according to plan, and man was created and the gods no longer had to do their chores. 

That is the only part of the Epic which is relevant to Genesis 1-3. However, the remainder of the Epic is so interesting that I can’t not talk about it. After the creation of man, the human population continues to grow and multiply until their numbers grew so large that the gods could no longer handle the noise they made. Enlil decided that the best way to deal with the noise would be to send a flood which would neatly wipe out all the humans.

Ea, however, decides to save this one guy, Atrahasis, and his family. He warns Atrahasis of the imminent Flood, and tells him to build a boat to escape it. Atrahasis follows Ea’s instructions, and life is preserved. You may recognize this flood narrative from such later stories as: The Epic of Gilgamesh, and Genesis 6-9. (There are also some stories relating to Enlil or Ea being douchey about human languages.)

Anyhow, so Ea and Belet-ili create the first man from the blood of a god and clay from the ground in order for the man to tend to the earth. Genesis 2:5-7 reads “No shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no herb of the field had yet sprung up…and there was not a man to till the ground…Then the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Both Adam and Atrahasis are created through the union of god and earth for the purpose of carrying out agricultural labor.

Again, it is my view that the parallels between these texts are simply too similar for them to be a coincidence. Now, some of you who are familiar with Genesis may point out that there are actually two separate accounts of Creation in Genesis, and you are correct. The account of Creation which relates Enki and Ninhursag and Atrahasis are both in the JE material, Genesis 2:4-3:24. Genesis 1-2:4—the first account of Creation—is from the P source and has its own fascinating origins.

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