Jennifer Wilber works as an ESL instructor, substitute teacher, and freelance writer. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing and English.
There are many similarities and differences between the Egyptian creation myth and the Hebrew creation myth, which appears in the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament. Both myths offer explanations about how the world and humans came to be and both tell of the nature of their respective gods, but the details in each myth vary to reflect the world view of the cultures that wrote them.
In the Beginning
Both myths begin with one almighty God who created existence out of nothing. “I was the great one who came into being of himself,” boasts Re in the Egyptian myth, “who created all his names as the Companies of the lesser gods. . .” (Leeming 18). This is similar to the Hebrew God, who created everything in existence, including light, the Earth, and all life. In the Egyptian myth, the creator God, Re, was the sun, and he rose out of the “Primeval Waters;” whereas, in Genesis, the creator God created light (the sun) and his spirit moved upon the face of the waters. The Egyptians believed their deities to be the cosmic bodies, whereas, the Hebrews believed that their God created the cosmic bodies, which were not conscious beings. The Egyptian God created additional gods according to the culture's mythology, but, according to the Old Testament, the Hebrew God remained the one and only all-powerful God, who created all living things, but only humans were created in his image.
The Creation of the First Humans
In both myths, the respective god created the first humans, a male and a female. In the Egyptian myth, both the first male and the first female were created at the same time. The Egyptian God created humans by spitting or coughing them up. The Hebrew God, on the other hand, created a male from dust and a female from the male’s rib. In the Egyptian creation story, Re tells us that “So it was I who spat forth Shu and expectorated Tefnut so that where there had been one god there were now three as well as myself and there were now a male and a female in the world” (Leeming 18). In Genesis, it first says that male and female were created together, at the same time: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (26). However, it then goes on to say that Adam (the male) was created first, and Eve (the female) was created from his rib, indicating that Genesis may actually be a compilation of stories written by multiple authors, or that part of the story (which some speculate may have originally included another female, named Lilith, who was created before Eve) was omitted.
Authorship of the Myths
For those who believe that Genesis is a compilation of multiple accounts, this is similar to the claim that the Egyptian creation myth comes from multiple books, most notably the Book of the Dead. Starting with the fourth verse of Chapter Two of Genesis, it almost seems like the work of a different writer from that of the previous chapter. God was always referred to as “God” in the first chapter but is now referred to as “the Lord God.” Chapter Two also goes on to give a detailed description of how the first male and female came to be, even though that was already explained briefly in the first chapter.
In both religions, followers believe the scriptures, including the creation myths, to be the direct word of their God. People who believe in Genesis believe it to be the direct word of God. Similarly, the Egyptian creation myth reads as though it is a first-person account of the creator God about how he created everything. Both the Hebrew and Egyptian creation stories are presented in such a way that their devout readers are supposed to take the stories as irrefutable fact.
Differences Between the Myths
In Genesis, God punishes Adam and Eve after Eve disobeyed him by eating the fruit. As punishment, they were banished from their home in the Garden of Eden. In contrast, there is no mention of God punishing the humans in the Egyptian myth. They simply “rejoiced... in the Primeval Waters in which they were” and later “joined [the God’s] body, that they might issue from [him]” (Leeming 18). The male and female also seem to be equals in the Egyptian myth, but in the Hebrew myth, the female is supposed to be subservient to the male, and is regarded as a lesser being, as shown by the claim that the man was created first, and that the woman was created second from the man’s rib so that he could have a companion (Leeming 27).
The Egyptian god, Re, seems a lot humbler than the Hebrew God. Re created humans and the world simply because that was what he was supposed to do, and he had no problem creating other gods to live in his world with him. The Hebrew God, on the other hand, wanted to remain the most powerful being in creation. He made a clear distinction between himself (God) and the humans (not gods) and when they ate the fruit that would give them knowledge, he banished them, as though knowledge was something meant only for himself. It seemed as if he made up rules just to assert his power over the humans that he created, whereas, the Egyptian God had no rules outlined for his humans in the myth.
The Hebrew and Egyptian creation myths contain many similarities as well as many differences. These are two examples of how all human cultures across time have revealed a deep need to explain and make sense of the world around them by creating creation myths and Gods.
© 2018 Jennifer Wilber