Bible Myths and their Parallels in other Religions Being a Comparison of the Old and New Testament Myths and Miracles with those of the Heathen Nations of Antiquity Considering also their Origin and Meaning
This illustration might be used to illustrate the narrative of Genesis, and as Friedrich Delitzsch has remarked (G. Smith's Chaldäische Genesis) is capable of no other explanation.
M. Renan does not hesitate to join forces with the ancient commentators, in seeking to recover a trace of the same tradition among the Phenicians in the fragments of Sanchoniathon, translated into Greek by Philo of Byblos. In fact, it is there said, in speaking of the first human pair, and of Æon, which seems to be the translation of Havvâh (in Phenician [Pg 10]Havâth) and stands in her relation to the other members of the pair, that this personage "has found out how to obtain nourishment from the fruits of the tree."
The idea of the Edenic happiness of the first human beings constitutes one of the universal traditions. Among the Egyptians, the terrestrial reign of the god Râ, who inaugurated the existence of the world and of human life, was a golden age to which they continually looked back with regret and envy. Its "like has never been seen since."
The ancient Greeks boasted of their "Golden Age," when sorrow and trouble were not known. Hesiod, an ancient Grecian poet, describes it thus:
"Men lived like Gods, without vices or passions, vexation or toil. In happy companionship with divine beings, they passed their days in tranquillity and joy, living together in perfect equality, united by mutual confidence and love. The earth was more beautiful than now, and spontaneously yielded an abundant variety of fruits. Human beings and animals spoke the same language and conversed with each other. Men were considered mere boys at a hundred years old. They had none of the infirmities of age to trouble them, and when they passed to regions of superior life, it was in a gentle slumber.
In the course of time, however, all the sorrows and troubles came to man. They were caused by inquisitiveness. The story is as follows: Epimetheus received a gift from Zeus (God), in the form of a beautiful woman (Pandora).
"She brought with her a vase, the lid of which was (by the command of God), to remain closed. The curiosity of her husband, however, tempted him to open it, and suddenly there escaped from it troubles, weariness and illness from which mankind was never afterwards free. All that remained was hope."[10:1]
Among the Thibetans, the paradisiacal condition was more complete and spiritual. The desire to eat of a certain sweet herb deprived men of their spiritual life. There arose a sense of shame, and the need to clothe themselves. Necessity compelled them to agriculture; the virtues disappeared, and murder, adultery and other vices, stepped into their place.[10:2]
The idea that the Fall of the human race is connected with agriculture is found to be also often represented in the legends of the East African negroes, especially in the Calabar legend of the Creation, which presents many interesting points of comparison with the biblical story of the Fall. The first human pair are called by a bell at meal-times to Abasi (the Calabar God), in heaven; and in place of the forbidden tree of Genesis are put agriculture [Pg 11]and propagation, which Abasi strictly denies to the first pair. The Fall is denoted by the transgression of both these commands, especially through the use of implements of tillage, to which the woman is tempted by a female friend who is given to her. From that moment man fell and became mortal, so that, as the Bible story has it, he can eat bread only in the sweat of his face. There agriculture is a curse, a fall from a more perfect stage to a lower and imperfect one.[11:1]
Dr. Kalisch, writing of the Garden of Eden, says:
"The Paradise is no exclusive feature of the early history of the Hebrews. Most of the ancient nations have similar narratives about a happy abode, which care does not approach, and which re-echoes with the sounds of the purest bliss."[11:2]
The Persians supposed that a region of bliss and delight called Heden, more beautiful than all the rest of the world, traversed by a mighty river, was the original abode of the first men, before they were tempted by the evil spirit in the form of a serpent, to partake of the fruit of the forbidden tree Hôm.[11:3]
Dr. Delitzsch, writing of the Persian legend, observes:
"Innumerable attendants of the Holy One keep watch against the attempts of Ahriman, over the tree Hôm, which contains in itself the power of the resurrection.[11:4]
The ancient Greeks had a tradition concerning the "Islands of the Blessed," the "Elysium," on the borders of the earth, abounding in every charm of life, and the "Garden of the Hesperides," the Paradise, in which grew a tree bearing the golden apples of Immortality. It was guarded by three nymphs, and a Serpent, or Dragon, the ever-watchful Ladon. It was one of the labors of Hercules to gather some of these apples of life. When he arrived there he found the garden protected by a Dragon. Ancient medallions represent a tree with a serpent twined around it. Hercules has gathered an apple, and near him stand the three nymphs, called Hesperides.[11:5] This is simply a parallel of the Eden myth.
The Rev. Mr. Faber, speaking of Hercules, says:
"On the Sphere he is represented in the act of contending with the Serpent, the head of which is placed under his foot; and this Serpent, we are told, is that which guarded the tree with golden fruit in the midst of the garden of the Hesperides. But the garden of the Hesperides was none other than the garden of Paradise; consequently the serpent of that garden, the head of which is crushed beneath the heel of Hercules, and which itself is described as encircling with its [Pg 12]folds the trunk of the mysterious tree, must necessarily be a transcript of that Serpent whose form was assumed by the tempter of our first parents. We may observe the same ancient tradition in the Phœnician fable representing Ophion or Ophioneus."[12:1]
And Professor Fergusson says:
"Hercules' adventures in the garden of the Hesperides, is the Pagan form of the myth that most resembles the precious Serpent-guarded fruit of the Garden of Eden, though the moral of the fable is so widely different."[12:2]
The ancient Egyptians also had the legend of the "Tree of Life." It is mentioned in their sacred books that Osiris ordered the names of some souls to be written on this "Tree of Life," the fruit of which made those who ate it to become as gods.[12:3]
Among the most ancient traditions of the Hindoos, is that of the "Tree of Life"—called