Written in response to the creation narratives found in the Enuma Elish, Rig Veda, Genesis 1 & 2, the Quran, and Shahnameh.
In the variety of texts we read this week, I noticed a consistent theme found in each piece, which was presented and understood in both similar and different manners. The role of mankind, as decided upon during creation, is a relevant and controversial concern in these myths and stories. The Enuma Elish teaches that Marduk created mankind and named earth’s corners. Marduk brought human beings into existence through his own blood and bone in order for mankind to service and exalt the gods. I believe that the author of the Enuma Elish presented the praising of gods as man’s purpose in order to encourage a lawful religious lifestyle, but I find a conflict in this creation myth with the Enuma Elish’s overarching ideology about humility. The Enuma Elish tells the story of Tiamat’s wickedness and greed. Marduk criticizes Tiamat for exalting herself. It seems that, if Marduk purely created mankind in order to be praised by his creations, Marduk was also guilty of greedy self-exaltation.
Genesis presented other interpretations of man’s role in the world. Genesis 1 describes mankind as the final creation before God’s day of rest. All of the other creatures have inhabited the earth, but mankind is special. Genesis 1 teaches that both men and women are created in God’s image as rulers of the earth. While the phrase “in God’s image” is very debated in theology, it may be understood that these words describe the human duty. Just as God rules the cosmos and the universe, mankind possesses a mirroring authority on Earth. This idea is similar to that presented in the Quran creation story, which describes men as God’s viceroy on Earth. While the Enuma Elish upholds a humbling understanding of the human role as servants to the gods, the Hebrew Bible and the Quran promote man’s authority as a divinely chosen leader.
Genesis 2 adds another layer to this debate. We read that Adam was created from the dust of the Earth. Adam is responsible for naming all the creatures of the world, which were created after him. He is the physical source of the existence of Eve. Due to these facts, Genesis 2 teaches that mankind has even more power than an earthly ambassador—Adam essentially worked as God’s partner in creation. Adam took part in the Godly process of naming the animals, just as the gods named the corners of the earth in the Enuma Elish. Giving one his name is equivalent to helping to shape and form him. We can see an example of the importance of naming in the extensive interpretation of names found in the Shahnameh. The existence of women is also due to Adam’s contribution—it seems that God could not have created the world without Adam. Therefore, Genesis 2 offers an exalting understanding of the role of mankind in the world and stresses the partnership between man and God.
By Lucille Marshall
Written for Colloquim on Major Literary Texts from India and the Middle East with Professor Hossein Kamaly at Columbia University in the City of New York.