Sumerian Reconstructionists hear all the time that there are biblical connections with some Sumerian myths and practices. For some these connections with the bible's ancient past are what brought them to Sumerian Reconstructionism.
Commonly Christians argue that these myths simply show that the myths only show that pagans have twisted the myths over time, and that the biblical versions are the original unaltered truth. Texts in the bible telling who wrote it and where they came from tell another story. These biblical texts are backed up by historical records and Scientific dating that tells that the biblical stories were indeed written later.
There are similarities that can be drawn between any two myths. Some of these are relevant and some of them are not. A single unqualified similarity does not mean that there is a connection. When two myths come from the same area there will usually be some awareness of an older myth by the people who profess the newer myth.
These similarities are there, but the fact that there is a similarity does not mean that the myths speak of a universal truth. What may be true for the ancient Israelites and the Sumerians or the Akkadians might not be true of the ancient people of India for example.
It is important to know the similarities are there. These myths let Sumerian Reconstructionists know their place in the modern world. They allow us to see similarities to our distant cousins in Judaism and other religions. They show us not to be offended when an over zealous Evangelical tells us that are going to hell because we don't believe in god.
The biblical story is Semitic and comes to us from semitic sources. This blurs the lines between the Sumerian gods Enlil and An. Both gods were called El, and it is from this word that we get Elohim. (See: Elohim)
The world was created six days with one day for rest. Seven is a holy number in Sumerian numerology. There were seven gods who decree fate, and seven gates to the underworld. The number seven can be seen at all levels of Sumerian Mythology.
In the bible, Elohim moved over the deep to create the universe. In Sumerian mythology the universe was created out of the deep. Likewise, in the bible the heavens were separated from the earth by Elohim. In some creation stories the Ki and An were separated by Enlil.
The second, somewhat conflicting, myth of the creation of the earth comes in Genesis 2:4 where the waters are made to flow upon the earth. This can be seen as being remarkably similar to the creation myth of Enlil's creation of the hoe. In it the rivers are made to flow over the land in much the same way as is presented in Genesis 2:6.
In the biblical account Adam and Eve live in an idyllic garden, and Eve presents Adam with a fruit that he is not supposed to eat. In the earlier Sumerian version, Enki is presented with fruits that he should not eat by his minister Isimud.
The garden itself is interesting for its parallels in Sumerian, and later Babylonian cultures. The gods were said to like plants and growing things. For this reason Temples had farms and gardens. Ziggurats were given gardens that made the long ascent up to the most holy of places at their tops more pleasant.
Even the word Eden comes from Sumer. It is derived from Edin meaning steppe plain or grazing land. The Sumerian word implied that it was between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers as that would be the logical place for such a land.
In one of the Gilgamesh myths Inanna had a garden of her own. In that garden she had a tree. At the base of this tree was a snake. In Genesis 3:1 there was also a tree and a snake. Rather than being a threat, this snake was more of a tempter.
In Genesis 4:15 Cain is banished to the land of Nod, a place east of Edin. If we take the garden as being the fertile crescent that is made lush between the Tigris and the Euphrates, then the land of Nod would be the Island of Dilmun.
The land of Dilmun itself is closely associated with gardens. The myth of Enki and the Garden is set in Dilmun. Utu, the sun god, was even said to bring fresh water up from the ground to water Dilmun.
On their own each of these things is little more than an interesting coincidence. Together these coincidences paint a picture of the sort of background that inspired the first parts of Genesis.
The Sumerians thought of man being different from the animals because man alone had the ability to create and maintain civilization. This meant that an uncivilized man was not fully human. This also means that to create humanity was to invent civilization.
This way of thinking can be seen in the creation myths where the creation of man is linked to the creation of an implement of civilization. In the myth "Creation of the Hoe" for example, man is linked to the creation of a farming implement. Likewise in the myth "Debate Between Cattle and Grain" man is created to make proper use of cattle and grain.
In the myth of Enki and Ninma the creation of man is connected with the creation of several goddesses intimately involved in civilization. The humans that were created were placed into a society that was already there. This showed that humans weren't what was being created, but rather civilized humans.
In the bible man was created in Genesis 1:27 and again in Genesis 2:7. In the first version man and woman were created at the same time in the image of God. He gave the earth to man and told them to subdue the earth. In the second version man was created first. He was made from the dust of the earth, and Elohim breathed life into him.
In the first biblical myth of the creation of man, man is created in the image of god. In several ancient Mesopotamian versions, man is birthed from special birth goddesses. In one myth a god is even used as part of the material to create man.
In Sumerian creation stories the forming of man is described as being like the baking of bread or clay. In the second version of the creation story as with several Sumerian versions man is created from clay.
In the Sumerian myth of Enki and the garden Enki cheats on his wife with his children and then consumed a group of plants created by the his union with the last of his children. Ninhursag punished him for his behavior with several curses. One of these curses caused pains in his rib.
Enki's health degenerated to the point where he was next to death. Ninhursag finally had mercy upon him and removed his pains. The one in his rib became Ninti. The lady who makes live as well as the lady of the rib.
In the biblical version Adam's rib was used to create Eve. The word Eve is usually taken to mean the lady who makes live, and she came from Enki's rib. The double meaning of the word "ti" makes sense in Sumerian, but does not in Hebrew.
There is one more interesting thing about this myth. For a long time people thought that male humans had one less rib than females. This was simply assumed to be true because it was presented in the bible. It was thought that the biblical myth was a reflection of people realizing that one rib was missing. The interesting part comes with the fact that males and females have the same number of ribs.
In one part of one of the Gilgamesh myths a Lilitu demon is in a tree with a snake living at its base. Gilgamesh chops down the tree and chases the minor demoness off. In this myth Lilith is a wind demon similar to an owl.
The Lilitu demon was a minor Sumerian wind demoness. The name breaks down to "lil" meaning wind, and "itu" meaning moon. Together Lilitu means moon wind. Lilitu were wind demons that were dangerous to infants and pregnant women.
In a Jewish myth Lilith is a demoness who was the first wife of Adam. She wanted to be the dominant one in the relationship and was made an example of in Jewish mythology. The fact that she later became a symbol of feminism is actually a little ironic.
Lilith, in the Jewish version, was told that her children would constantly be killed. In response she kidnapped and adopted human infants to be slain instead of her own children. The reasons are different, but the elements are the same.
The struggle between farmers and herders is a common motif in Mesopotamia. It shows up early on in the story of Cain and Able where the moral is that a sacrifice of vegetation is nothing compared to a sacrifice of meat.
In the myth "Inanna Prefers the Farmer" Dumuzi, the shepherd god, competes with a farm god for the affections of Inanna. Inanna ends up preferring the farmer, but Dumuzi ends up wooing her after threatening the farm god with violence.
In each of these myths similar things happen, but with reversed roles. Cain committed violence against able, and the outside force preferred the farmer to the shepherd in the biblical version.
The theme can again be seen in the myth "Debate between Cattle and Grain" where Lahar, god of cattle, and his sister Ashnan, goddess of grain, were created so that the gods could enjoy their products. These gods were unable to make effective use of these items, so man was created.
The Sumerian gods, being relatively peaceful by comparison, did not end up at each others throats. They did however argue about who is the greater, in the process belittling the other's product. We don't know who won that argument as we do not yer have the end of that myth.
How do we know that the Sumerian myths came before the biblical myths? In the bible Abraham is said to come from the city of Ur of the Chaldeas. That means that Abraham would have come out of the middle east and been aware of the myths, customs, and beliefs of the people of Ur.
Abraham was thought to have lived sometime around 1850 BC. This would have placed him as a contemporary with Sargon the first of Assyria, not to be confused with Sargon the great founder of the Akkadian Dynasty, according to G. Roux. He would have been an Akkadian speaking person from Babylon. This would have been long before the Chaldeans, but the city would still be the same.
The bible described Abraham's behavior and the behavior of those who were with him and we can easily see that they were shining examples of what an Akkadian of the day would have been like. He was gracious as both a host and a guest. He was loyal to his personal god, going so far as to make a traditional covenant with him.
This connection is important. Some have argued over the years that the early parts of the bible were simply stories made up for entertainment or for other reasons. This connection shows not only where the myths come from, but it puts them in a context that makes sense for the culture of the day.
Over time this man who followed many gods would give rise to a people who recognized many gods but followed only one as we can see in the time of Moses. From there they would go through the reforms of Leviticus and develop into the strictly monotheistic people that we think of today as the Jews. From there the monotheism would break down into a triumvirate with an evil god as their rival and be added to a host of saints and angels to become the Christian pantheon of today.
The biblical account of the flood is presented as a dramatic and universal apocalypse. Mankind had sinned and was condemned to death. Exactly what their sin was, or why the animals and plants were being punished for these crimes remains unclear. In the biblical version the flood covers the entire world and kills everyone.
Though various similar stories have spread widely across the world starting in the middle east, it is hardly universal. Egypt, a country near Mesopotamia, welcomed flooding. In their land Floods were more of a predictable blessing than an unexpected threat.
Archaeologically we find that there is no evidence that the histories of hundreds of civilizations ended in a deluge. Palaeontology also does not bear this story out as there were no mass extinctions to suggest a world wide flood. Even common sense tells us that if the world were to flood that the fresh waters and salt waters would mix and kill all of the fresh water fish.
Where then would such a story come from? Why would it touch so many people? It did so because in a sense it happened. The world was not flooded, but all of the world that mattered to the ancient Sumerians was. They knew that the world extended beyond where they had been just as they knew that they weren't the only humans around. By their definitions though the world was flooded.
The Mesopotamians had several flood stories Atrahasis, Ziusudra, Utnapishtim, and a few others. In most Sumerian and Babylonian myths mankind was annoying to the gods and the flood was sent to shut mankind up.