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Creation myth

A creation myth is a specific type of myth which tells how the universe, the Earth, life, and/or humanity came into being. The term myth is used for a story with deep explanatory or symbolic resonance for a culture. The story need not be a literal account of actual events, but it may express what are perceived to be truths at a deeper level.

Many creation myths fall into similar categories: the fractionation of the things of the world from a primordial chaos, the separation of the mother and father god, from an ocean existing before the world, etc.

Traditional creation myths of various cultures

  • The first book of the Bible, common to Judaism and Christianity, contains two creation stories. The first is in Genesis 1, the second is in Genesis 2. In the opinion of many scholars, conservative as well as liberal, neither account is directly concerned with the origin of mere matter. According to the Documentary hypothesis, these two versions of the creation story existed independently, and the editor(s) of the Bible used both sources in creating the final version of Genesis that we know today.
    • The first account, which has the literary characteristics identified with the priestly ("P") source (starting in Genesis 1:1), begins: "In the beginning God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth. "(NIV). The world in the beginning is darkness and an abyss, a great body of water constantly attended by a mighty wind. Elohim then speaks commands, which are the sole cause over a period of six days, of light, the sea and sky, dry land with plants, stars, sun and moon, fish and birds, animals and finally man. At each stage the creatures are declared to be 'good'. Following the creation of human beings, Elohim surveys the whole creation, and it is declared "very good", and "finished". On the seventh day having ceased from creating, Elohim blesses and hallows the day of his rest.
      • Creation order: "one day": the earth is an uninhabited abyss of darkness, a wind moves over the waters and Elohim creates light; "A second day": sky separating waters above from waters below; "A third day": dry land; herbs; "A fourth day": sun; moon; stars; "A fifth day": sea creatures; birds; "The sixth day": land creatures; cattle; man and woman.
      • The account is highly structured. The first three days concern the creation of three habitations, corresponding to the inhabitants created on each of the last three days, culminating in the rest of Elohim on the seventh day. Original darkness and chaos is replaced with an ordered and inhabited cosmos subject to the benevolent dominion of man and woman made in the image of God, crowned by the Sabbath of Elohim; each day of the creating week is similarly marked by a beginning in darkness and an ending light, by the refrain of, "and it was evening and it was morning", except for the seventh day, which concludes with "and Elohim blessed the seventh day, and made it holy".
    • The second account, which has the literary characteristics of the Jahwist ("J") source, begins: "This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. When the LORD God (YHWH Elohim) made the earth and the heavens-"(NIV); first a man, Adam, is created out of dust, then a woman, Eve, is created from Adam's rib. However, the creation order is different.
      • 2:4: earth and heavens; 2:5 plants and mist; 2:7: man; 2:8: garden of Eden; 2:9: trees; 2:19: beasts of the field; 2:21 woman.
      • The creation is described as being in need of a man, which YHWH Elohim supplies by fashioning him from dust and breathing life into his nostrils. Man himself is described as having need of a suitable helper, which YHWH Elohim supplies by creating the woman. There is no mention of a sabbath, although the garden to the east of Eden into which Adam is placed to tend it, is situated by YHWH Elohim for the extension of paradise into the whole earth and the acquisition of all sorts of wealth, and it is already complete with everything necessary to sustain life and happiness. However, the account closes with the expulsion of Adam and his wife from the garden by YHWH Elohim, with the way barred against their access to the tree of life by an angel and a flaming sword.

  • Islam - The account in the Qur'an has only one creation story. It is based on the Biblical version (Man created from water: Surah al-Furqan 25; Man created in diverse stages: Surah Nuh 14; Man created from clay: Surah as-Saffat 11, Surah al-Sajdah 7-9; Man created from muddy dirt or scum: Surah al-Hijr 15)

  • Egyptian - In the beginning was only ocean. Then a hill became visible rising from the ocean, and at this point the first god awoke (The cosmology of Heliopolis held that this first god was the sun god Ra, that of Memphis that it was the earth god Ptah). The first god began to create other gods, who proceeded to create the various aspects of the world.

  • Japanese - In the beginning was only ocean. The god Izanagi and goddess Izanami used a spear to form the island of Japan from mud from the ocean's bottom, settled on the land, and their children became the people of Japan.

  • Zoroastrianism - Ahura Mazda created 16 lands, one by one, such that each would be delightful to its people. As he finished each one, Angra Mainyu applied a counter-creation, introducing plague and sin of various kinds.

  • The Maya of Mesoamerica creation story is recounted in the book "Popol Vuh". In the beginning there is only sky and sea, personified as a trinity of gods called Heart-of-Sky. They decide that they want someone to praise them. They begin by saying "Earth", which appears on demand from the sea. This is followed by mountains and trees, and Heart-of-Sky establish that "our work is going well". Next for creation are the creatures of the forest: birds, deer, jaguars and snakes. They are told to multiply and scatter, and then to speak and "pray to us". But the animals just squawk and howl. They are consequently humbled and will become servants to whoever will worship Heart-of-Sky. So Heart-of-Sky try to make some more respectful creatures from mud. But the results are not great, and they allow the new race to be washed away. They call upon their grandparents, who suggest wood as an appropriate medium. But the wooden people are just mindless robots so Heart-of Sky set about the destruction of this new race by means of a rain-storm. This causes the animals to turn against the wooden people, and even their pots and querns rebel, and crush the peoples' faces. The wooden people escape to the forests and are turned into monkeys. Heart-of-Sky then make yet another attempt at creating a suitably respectful race, and finally succeed by fashioning humans out of maize-corn dough.

Creation myths can be considered literally (i.e.: the events highlighted occurred as told) or as an allegory (the events did not occur, however, the telling of the tale holds important meanings, such as 'God created the universe and everything in it' for Genesis 1).

In the USA, religiously conservative Christians argue that the Big Bang theory and Darwinian macroevolution constitute the creation myth of modern Western civilization. Adherents of these scientific theories respond that unlike the creation myths of earlier cultures, they are subject to verification and refinement by the scientific method, rather than being believed only on grounds of authority and faith.

See also: Creation - Estimates of the date of Creation - Creationism - Cosmology

For ficticious accounts of the creation of earth, see: Magrathea

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