Is the biblical story of Adam and Eve truth or fiction? Most Christian denominations believe that it really happened; in fact they base Christ’s redemption of humanity on our so-called first parents’ once committing this first sin of disobedience to God’s commands. However, there happens to be an epic poem, commonly known as The Epic of Gilgamesh, found carved on twelve stone tablets dating back to between 2150 BCE and 2000 BCE—a thousand-odd years prior to the writing of any Bible book—that seems to undermine this hypothesis. Please note my emphases (in italics) in what follows, as they show the parallelisms between this epic poem and the biblical account of Adam and Eve.
The Epic of Gilgamesh (Sandars)
Gilgamesh was “created from heaven and divinity downwards” (Crossan p. 56): he was created “two-thirds god … and one-third man.” He was the king of the city of Uruk in Mesopotamia—that fertile territory between the two rivers Euphrates and Tigris, which join and drain into the Persian Gulf. Since no human could match Gilgamesh in arms, “he rules Uruk with injustice, violence, and rape.” (Crossan p. 56) Unlike our modern concept of God, gods and demi-gods in ancient literature could be evil. The gods heard the citizens’ lamenting of Gilgamesh’s awful behavior, so they complained to the father of the gods, Anu, in order to do something about it. The gods, therefore, asked the goddess of creation, Aruru, to make a counterpart of Gilgamesh, so the two would fight and neutralize each other, thus Uruk could enjoy peace once again. Aruru “conceived an image in her mind … of Anu.” Keep in mind that Anu was the father of the gods—the chief god. The Bible has, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” (KJV Genesis 1:27)
Aruru then proceeded to create Gilgamesh’s counterpart, Enkidu, “from earth and animality upwards.” (Crossan p. 56) According to the poem, “She dipped her hands in water and pinched off clay, she let it fall in the wilderness, and noble Enkidu was created.” Notice that, in Genesis, also God uses moist dirt from the ground to first make the form of a man during Adam’s creation. “The Lord God formed man of the dust [slime (DRC)] of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man [Adam] became a living soul.” (KJV Genesis 2:7) So, like Adam (& Eve), Enkidu had no parents.
Again, like Adam and Eve, Enkidu was created practically naked: “His body was covered with matted hair like Samuqan’s, the god of cattle.” [Apparently, Samuqan wore a small piece of animal skin. (Sinleqqiunninni)] After Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, the Bible tells us that they were naked: “The eyes of them both were opened, and they knew [perceived (DRC)] that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.” (KJV Genesis 3:7)
Enkidu knew nothing of cultivating the land, he ate grass and ran with the gazelles, and he jostled and played with the wild animals at the water-holes. One day, he crossed paths with a trapper in the neighborhood and started filling his pits, destroying his traps, and helping entrapped wild animals free themselves. Consequently, the trapper went to the city, Uruk, and asked the king, Gilgamesh, for a harlot so that she might distract Enkidu from compromising the trapper’s living.
The harlot, Shamsat, stripped herself naked in Enkidu’s presence, who was so aroused as to have intercourse with her for an entire week. As a result his strength was diminished, it took a toll on his running ability, and he could not catch up with the wild animals any longer. As the poem puts it, “Enkidu was grown weak, for wisdom was in him, and the thoughts of a man were in his heart. So he returned and sat down at the woman’s feet, and listened intently to what she said.” Like Eve in the biblical narrative we have a female protagonist, Shamsat, who is intent on bettering herself and her mate, so she “seduces Enkidu from nature into culture.” (Crossan p. 56) A little while afterward, Shamsat noticed that Enkidu had become quite cultured, so she told him, “When I look at you, you have become like a god.” On the other hand, Eve, in the Genesis narrative, resonated with what the serpent told her when it belied God saying, “Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” She believed the serpent, rather than God, and even risked instant death. Like Shamsat, Eve then made her mate follow her in her enterprise.
Shamsat then induced Enkidu to clothe himself (as Adam and Eve did above), to eat bread and drink wine rather than animals’ milk, and, in turn, he began grooming himself. Now cultured, Enkidu was disgusted at the way Gilgamesh ran Uruk and challenged him to a fight: intending to change the current social order of the city. They started fighting each other but soon became great friends. They embarked on adventures, first outside then inside the city, that happened to upset both the father of the gods, Anu, and the god of the earth, Enlil—the executive of Anu. Consequently, Anu ordered Enlil to eliminate either Gilgamesh or Enkidu. Following a dream of his own death, Enkidu gets mysteriously ill and eventually dies. The death and bodily decay of his friend hit Gilgamesh like a thunderbolt, as he realized his own mortality; so he went on a search for the secret of immortality.
He had heard of Utnapishtim who survived the global flood and was granted immortality, thus joining the assembly of the gods. He searched for Utnapishtim, and when he found him, Gilgamesh asked him what he could do to attain immortality. He replied, “There is a plant that grows under the water, it has a prickle like a thorn, like a rose; it will wound your hands, but if you succeed in taking it, then your hands will hold that which restores his lost youth to a man.” Of course, “the plant which restores lost youth” is the equivalent of “the tree of life” in the Genesis account. “Out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” (KJV Genesis 2:9) Gilgamesh managed to procure the plant of youth, but while he was bathing, a serpent sneaks by and steals it from him. Naturally the serpent in the poem is equivalent to the biblical serpent who cunningly (stealthily) manages to rob humanity of immortality. The Bible has, “Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, ‘Yea, hath God said, “Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?”’” (KJV Genesis 3:1) Eventually the serpent convinces Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit, and she in turn makes Adam eat of it as well.
(1) A definite give-away that the biblical narrative of Adam and Eve is only a myth is the talking serpent: animals only speak in fables, no?
(2) The names ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’ are not proper names: they are generic names, so they never really existed. According to the New American Bible, “The Hebrew word ’adam is a generic term meaning ‘human being.’” (NAB Genesis 2:5n) The Bible itself tells us what ‘Eve’ means. “And Adam called his wife’s name ‘Eve’; because she was the mother of all living.” (KJV Genesis 3:20)
(3) The Epic of Gilgamesh comes from the same territory Abraham emigrated, Mesopotamia. According to the Bible, Abraham came from Ur in Mesopotamia, which is only about 50 miles (c. 80 km) south-east of Uruk. “Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his son’s son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram’s wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan.” (KJV Genesis 11:31) I propose that Abraham’s family carried the epic poem by word of mouth, and it was later adapted to a monotheistic setting in Hebrew literature, the Bible.
(4) The use of the word “us” and “our” in Genesis refers to the assembly of the gods in Gilgamesh’s tale. “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’ … The Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.” (KJV Genesis 1:26; 3:22) Admittedly the Douay-Rheims Bible, argues that the “us” and “our” in these two verses refer to the Trinity. “God speaketh here in the plural number, to insinuate the plurality of persons in the Deity.” (DRC Genesis 1:26n) I too used to think this was a fantastic prophecy of the Trinity in the Old Testament, that is, until I read The Epic of Gilgamesh. The Jews, to whom the Old Testament belongs, do not believe in the Trinity; they strongly believe in one God. Strangely enough though, linguistically the Hebrew word for ‘God,’ Elohim, is plural, possibly showing his majesty, that is, more than just a simple person: which might explain why the author of Genesis decided to follow Gilgamesh’s tale more closely.
(5) In my next blog on “Noah’s Flood,” I shall show that the correlation between Utnapishtim’s global flood account in the same Epic of Gilgamesh and Noah’s Flood biblical account is much more obvious.
Notice, in what follows, that Adam and Eve were allowed to eat of the “tree of life” to sustain their immortality, so to speak; it was only after they ate of the “tree of knowledge of good and evil” that they were prevented from eating of the tree of life. As we saw above, first Genesis introduces two special trees in the middle of the Garden of Eden: the tree of life, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. “Out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” (KJV Genesis 2:9) Next it tells us God only forbade Adam’s (and subsequently Eve’s) eating from one tree, the tree of moral knowledge. “The Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.’” (KJV Genesis 2: 16–17) Finally, after Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate of the tree of moral knowledge, it was then that God prevented them from also eating of the tree of life, which allegedly allowed them to become identical to God. “The Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man [Adam] is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.’ … [So] he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.” (Genesis 3:22, 24) Notice also the word “us,” in the last quote, which refers to the assembly of the gods in the poem: a slip, I suppose, by the biblical author in converting from a polytheistic to a monotheistic myth.
So God was not concerned about humans being immortal, he was concerned about humans being knowledgeable as well as being immortal: because, according to Genesis’s author, they would be identical to God himself. For some reason the Genesis author believed that we cannot have both eternal life and moral knowledge, otherwise we would be exactly like God, but this is nonsense because the angels seem to have both and yet they are not identical to God.
In his book God and Empire, biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan writes, “Shamsat persuades Enkidu to choose culture over nature, civilization over wilderness, knowledge over ignorance, and human-mortality over animal-immortality.” (Crossan p. 58) Of course, animals do not possess immortality: probably, they are only unaware of their mortality: animals simply live! Admittedly, on the other hand, the foreknowledge of our mortality, our self-consciousness, makes our life a kind of living death: we know we are dying—slowly. But that is the nature of this beast called human: to our demise, perhaps, but an animal’s lack of knowledge of its mortality is a far cry from actual immortality: it is a fool’s paradise. So the biblical author seems to be somewhat confused philosophically.
Before I end this blog I would like to show that it is not just my opinion that the story of Adam and Eve is only a myth, and that original sin never happened. In his book The Hell Jesus Never Intended, Presbyterian pastor Keith Wright has, “Adam and Eve were not a literal couple who lived approximately 6,000 years ago and from whom all of humanity originated. The biblical storyteller makes that evident by using the name ‘Adam’ for the man in this story. ‘Adam’ in the Hebrew means human being or humankind. It is not the name of one person. Rather, it indicates that the person in this story represents all human beings. Through the myth of Adam and Eve, the ancient storyteller tried to define the divine origins of the human race and the difficulties, burdens, strife, alienation, and discord that exist between human beings and their Creator. Since there was never a couple named Adam and Eve, there can be no original sin.” (Wright p. 60)
As one can easily see from the above, the author of Genesis plagiarized The Epic of Gilgamesh; in other words, the so-called Fall of our alleged first parents is only a myth: meaning, it never actually happened; so there was never an original sin! Naturally, if there was no original sin, Jesus had nothing to redeem us from. So then why did God conceive Jesus? God conceived his Son, Jesus, to give us a living example of how best to love God and our neighbor: not to save us from hell!
Crossan, John Dominic. God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now. New York, NY: HarperOne, 2008. (ISBN: 9780060858315.)
New American Bible: Revised Edition. Translated from the original languages, authorized by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, and approved by the United States Confraternity of Catholic Bishops. Totowa, NJ: Catholic Book Publishing Corp., 2010 (NAB). (ISBN: 9780899429519.)
Sandars, N. K. trans. The Epic of Gilgamesh. Penguin Classics ISBN 0 14 044.100X pp. 61-125.
Sinleqqiunninni, “The Epic of Gilgamesh: Character Clues” in Shmoop, accessed September 28, 2020, https://www.shmoop.com/gilgamesh/characterization.html.
The Holy Bible: Douay-Rheims Version. Revised by Richard Challoner. Douay & Rheims, France, 1752 (DRC).
The Holy Bible: King James Version. Oxford, UK, 1769 (KJV).
Wright, Keith. The Hell Jesus Never Intended. Kelowna, BC: Northstone Publishing, 2004. (ISBN: 1896836658.)