The Garden of Eden Myth (Serpent, Adam, Eve & God)

Walter Mattfeld mattfeld at
Tue Aug 29 14:12:01 EDT 2000

I take the "Humanist position," that the Garden of Eden is a Myth and all
the dialogs coming from the characters in this Myth are from the mind of the
narrator. I do, however, agree with Dr. Jonathan D. Safren, that behind all
myths are historical kernels. In this case the "kernels" are vestiges of
earlier Mesopotamian myths reaching back to the 3rd and 2nd milleniums BCE
which the Hebrews later reinterpreted into the Garden of Eden and its motifs
(cf. my earlier postings to this list arguing that the Hebrew Bible is a
creation of the 5th century BCE).

My research has suggested that several ancient Mesopotamian myths have been
combined and reinterpreted and probably lie behind the Eden story and its
scenarios regarding God, Adam, Eve and the Serpent.

First, is the myth titled "Adapa and the South Wind."  Adapa journeys to
Heaven and loses a chance to obtain
immortality by refusing to consume the food and drink which would confer it
on him, on the advice of  the jealous god he serves, Enki. I suspect this
where the Hebrews are getting their notion that the eating of a fruit from a
plant on the earth, can give one immortality.

The Mesopotamian myths stress that Man was made in order grow and harvest
food to feed and nourish the gods. He did this by presenting "real food,"
harvested from irrigation fed gardens, and slaughtering animals for meat.
Water, beer and wine were poured out on the altars for the gods to consume.
Evidently these products of the earth were conceived sometimes as rising up
to heaven where the Gods dwelt, in the form of smoke, allowing them to
"mystically consume or smell" the food as a sweet savour.  Thus earthly
grown food, feeds the gods.

When Adapa got to Heaven, he was presented food and drink, which would have
conferred immortality (as the gods consume earthly food, the food they
offered him, had to have been earthly in origin too). He refused the food
and drink, having been forewarned by the god he served on earth, Enki, that
he would surely die if he consumed them. Anu laughed to hear that Adapa
wouldn't eat or drink, so he sent him back to the earth from which he came,
and thus mankind lost its chance at immortality.

Before offering Adapa the food, Anu, the supreme god, made an interesting
statement, after quizzing Adapa to learn how he was able to break the south
wind's arm and prevent sea breezes reaching Lower Mesopotamia, he learned in
disbelief, that Enki had revealed certain knowledge to Adapa, knowledge that
was restricted to the gods, and not to be possessed by Mankind. It was upon
this realization that Adapa possessed secret knowledge restricted to the
gods, that he thereupon decided to offer him immortality by having him
consume the drink and food which could confer it (If he's got a god's
wisdom, why not make him a god ?).

The Hebrews have merely "reworked" and given "a new twist" to the ancient
Mesopotamian myths which attempted to explain how man lost a chance to
become immortal.

Now the Serpent. Genesis portrays the serpent as possessing two rather
amazing characteristics, it has the ability to walk on legs, and it can
carry on a conversation with humans. This serpent is also portrayed as
dwelling in an earthly paradise with God, Adam and Eve. My research has
concluded that the Sumerian Dragon-Serpent called "Nin-Gish-Zida" is what
lies behind the Genesis Myth.

Although Anu allows Adapa to become immortal, it is his servant,
Nin-Gish-Zida, who actually put in a good word on Adapa's behalf, and who is
instructed to actually present the food and drink to Adapa. Ningishzida was
a guard at the heavenly gate with Tammuz (both had in earlier myths, been
dwellers of the underworld, who achieved a resurrection to heaven). Some
myths call Tammuz, "Damu, the child Ningishzida," so both gods are aspects
of each other. No humans got to Anu's prsence without first having
Tammuz/Ningishzida take them by the hand and present them, putting in a good
word for them.

Ningishzida was not only an alternate form of Tammuz, he also called "The
Great Serpent-Dragon of Heaven," being identified with the star
constellation Hydra (Hydra being a creature with multiple serpent heads). He
was alternately associated with the winged and horned serpent dragon called
"Mushussu." Mushussu apears standing on hind legs, holding a staff  (or a
gate ?) in his forepaws (Langdon p.285, fig. 88). A cylinder seal of Gudea
of Lagash, shows Ningishzida in human form, taking Gudaea by the hand and
presenting him as a petitioner before the great god, Anu. Arising from
Ningishzida's human shoulders are two horned dragon heads. Behind Gudaea, on
the same seal, we see Ningishzida in animal form as a horned, winged,
serpent-dragon, walking on all four legs.  I conclude that Christianity's
later imagery of Satan as the Serpent in the garden of Eden, is a reflex of
some sort of Ningishizida, who had the power to take on human form (in human
form he wears a multiple horned turban, a sign he is a god, and is beared,
with robe), as well as that as the Mighty-Serpent-Dragon of Heaven and of
the Underworld. In the Underworld he was called the bearer of the Throne,
and "binder" of those who do evil. Langdon understands he was originally a
vegetation deity, and calls him a "Tree-god" (p.90, Langdon).

I understand that Christ is another myth, he arose from the underworld in a
resurrection (and is associated with a tree, called a cross), to stand at
the right hand of God. No man is allowed into the Father's presence without
Christ bringing him to the Father. In the Christian re-working of this
ancient Mesopotamian myth I understand that Christ has replaced
Ningishzida/Tammuz, who offered man immortality. So, in the Mesopotamian
myths, the serpent who could walk and talk, talk not only to man, but
face-to-face with the supreme god, Anu, who offered man immortality with
food and water of life, in heaven, is what lies behind not only the Genesis
myth, but the Christian myths about Christ as well. A crude and shocking way
of putting this, is that the Mesopotamian Dragon-Serpent, has been
"pre-empted" by Christ, who has taken over all his roles (Dying and being
resurrected, Petitioner of Man before God, Offerer of Immortality, via the
food and water of Life).

Other motifs, from additional Mesopotamian myths worked into the Edenic
story, are the "Epic of Gilgamesh," and "Enki and Ninhursag in Dilmun," but
space forbids me going on any further. I think you get my drift .

For those intersted in further research on the above topics, any good
Ancient Near Eastern Mythology text can provide further details. Or you can
contact me off-list. The source used here is Stephen Herbert Langdon, M.A.,
The Mythology of All the Races, Semitic, Vol. 5, Boston, Marshall Jones
Company, 1931, pp.454). By the way, this is from some "old research" I did
back in 1990.

Still available via e-mail are the following papers (all said papers being
from a "Humanist Perspective"):

"Sabbath Origins and the Epic of Gilgamesh," arguing that Genesis' notion of
"a God needing to rest" and setting aside a 7th day to rest on, is derived
from motifs in this epic.

"Hell's Pre-Christian Origins," identifies motifs from the myths about the
underworld, utilized and re-worked by the Early Christians, drawing from
Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Greek stories.

"The Millenium, Christ's Thousand Year Reign (The Pre-Christain Origins
of)," Arguing that the early Christians have drawn from Pre-Christian Greek
motifs and re-interpreted them.

"The Pentateuch, A Second Temple Creation ? (Unraveling the Japheth
Mystery)," by identifying what peoples or nation Japheth is, in Noah's
prophecy, a valuable key is had to the dating of the Pentateuch. It is
argued the Persians are Japheth.

All the best,


Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld
Walldorf by Heidelberg

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