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THE BEGINNING OF HISTORY
Peter D. Goodgame
Our investigation into the identity of the historical Nimrod takes us back to the beginning of recorded history and to ancient Sumer, the world’s first civilization. The Bible refers to Nimrod as the very first human being to have a “kingdom,” as recorded in Genesis 10:10:
“And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.”
Nimrod’s kingdom began in the land of Shinar, which is the region of ancient Sumer. The city of Babel was the original Babylon, and Erech is the city also known as Uruk, which was later ruled by the Sumerian king, Gilgamesh. The name of Erech/Uruk is preserved today in the name of the modern Mesopotamian nation known as Iraq.
History Begins At Sumer
Recorded history begins at Sumer because it was in Sumer that writing was invented. The first written language was Sumerian, and later on a similar language known as Akkadian became dominant. These Mesopotamians were the first human beings to write down their history as well as their religious beliefs and, fortunately for us, they wrote their stories down on tablets of soft clay which were then baked and transformed into stone. Scholars believe that writing first emerged around 3000 BC, which means that the earliest stories that have been preserved from the time of ancient Sumer are up to five thousand years old!
Now the interesting thing about these records is that they closely parallel the stories that we read about in the early chapters of Genesis. For instance, the Sumerians had a story of the creation of the first human being; stories of immortality denied to human beings, and of a woman that became involved with a snake and a tree; stories that seem to parallel the dispute between Cain and Abel; a history of the founding of the very first city and the invention of metal-working; stories of advanced beings who descended from the heavens to teach, rule over, and even mate with human beings; a very colorful and dramatic story of the great Flood that wiped out civilization; and also epic tales that match up with the career of Nimrod, his mighty empire, and the building of the Tower of Babel.
The book of Genesis was written by Moses around 1450 BC, yet we find that very similar stories began to be written down over one thousand years earlier by the ancient Sumerians! This is amazing, right? And confirmation of the truth of the Bible!
Well, not really, as far as the secular academic geniuses are concerned. They simply assume that the book of Genesis could not have been a revelation from God of historical events, and could only have been the early Hebrews’ recollection of a partially-faded memory that must have originated with Abraham who originally came from Sumer.
A good example of such secular thinking can be found in the books written by Walter R. Mattfeld: The Garden of Eden Myth: Its Pre-biblical Origin in Mesopotamian Myths, and Eden’s Serpent: Its Mesopotamian Origins. Mattfeld began his research as a Christian believer, but because of his exposure to the arguments of secular experts, he soon lost his faith. His books document his belief that everything in Genesis was adopted by the Hebrews from earlier, more accurate, Mesopotamian sources.
Secular researchers like Mattfeld completely dismiss any possibility of the supernatural, and any possibility of the element of deception in the creation of the earliest Sumerian texts. Academics like him cannot comprehend the possibility that even though the Sumerian and Akkadian texts were written much earlier than the book of Genesis, this does not mean that they are truer, and it does not mean that they must have been the original source for the book of Genesis.
There is an amazing paradox when we compare the Mesopotamian myths with the book of Genesis. On one hand, we see that Genesis has more in common with the myths of Sumer (much of which were recorded over one thousand years earlier) than it does with the myths of any of the other cultures that existed at the same time as the Hebrews. Here is what Mattfeld writes:
“After having studied the religious myths of the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Canaanites, Syrians, Hittites and Mesopotamians I have concluded, in agreement with earlier scholars, that it is Mesopotamia which possesses the ‘closest parallels’ to motifs appearing in the book of Genesis concerning the relationship between Man and God in the mythical Garden of Eden story.” 19
On the other hand, even though the stories are similar, we find that there is actually a theological war being waged between Moses and the Sumerian and Akkadian scribes. They believed in the same events, but they had a perspective on those events that was completely opposite! Mattfeld writes,
“I understand that the Hebrews are recasting the earlier Mesopotamian motifs and concepts in such a way as to refute and deny them. Why did the Hebrews seek to deny, refute and challenge the Mesopotamian beliefs?” 20
For instance, consider for a moment the truly revolutionary statement that marks the very beginning of the book of Genesis:
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)
This was a revolutionary statement because at the time that Moses dictated these words from God, all of the surrounding cultures believed that the “gods” had originally descended from a primordial pair of a deified “Heaven” and a deified “Earth.” In other words, the pagans that surrounded the Hebrews believed that, “In the beginning heaven and earth gave birth to the gods.” In Mesopotamia, which was the very root of these polytheistic pagan ideas, this primordial pair was known as Anshar (a male “Heaven”) and Kishar (a female “Earth”). This pair mated and produced Anu, the original “Father” of the gods who then brought forth the next generation.
When it was revealed to Moses that “God created the heavens and the earth,” it was revealed that the God that Moses served and the God that he had a personal relationship with was the Creator of all, the God above all gods, the true master and ruler of everything. In this way, Genesis 1:1 was absolutely revolutionary and absolutely provocative when compared with the theological claims of the nations that surrounded the early Hebrews.
Consider as well the differences between the Hebrew and Mesopotamian beliefs concerning the purpose for which mankind was originally created. To put it bluntly, the Sumerians believed that humans were created to be slaves to the gods, while on the other hand it was revealed to Moses that Adam and Eve were originally created as a part of God’s family, to be in relationship with Him, and to bear His image and enjoy the God-given responsibility to rule over the earth.
Mattfeld notices this fact and observes that the Genesis account “appears to be a polemic challenging the Mesopotamian view of the relationship between God and Man.” 21 He then quotes from Old Testament scholar Gordon J. Wenham:
Viewed with respect to its negatives, Gen 1:1–2:3 is a polemic against the mythico-religious concepts of the ancient Orient… The concept of man here is markedly different from standard Near Eastern mythology: man was not created as the lackey of the gods to keep them supplied with food; he was God’s representative and ruler on earth, endowed by his creator with an abundant supply of food and expected to rest every seventh day from his labors. Finally, the seventh day is not a day of ill omen as in Mesopotamia, but a day of blessing and sanctity on which normal work is laid aside. In contradicting the usual ideas of its time, Genesis 1 is also setting out a positive alternative. It offers a picture of God, the world, and man…man’s true nature. He is the apex of the created order: the whole narrative moves toward the creation of man. Everything is made for man’s benefit…” 22
Mattfeld also refers often to Joseph Campbell as one of the most influential voices who pointed out the paradox of the relationship between the stories of Genesis and the myths of ancient Mesopotamia. Here are a few quotes (emphasis mine) from Campbell’s book, The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology, that also appear (23) in Mattfeld’s book:
“No one familiar with the mythologies of the primitive, ancient, and Oriental worlds can turn to the Bible without recognizing counterparts on every page, transformed, however, to render an argument contrary to the older faiths.” 24
“The ultimate source of the biblical Eden, therefore, cannot have been a mythology of the desert—that is to say, a primitive Hebrew myth—but was the old planting mythology of the peoples of the soil. However, in the biblical retelling, its whole argument has been turned, so to say, one hundred and eighty degrees… One millennium later, the patriarchal desert nomads arrived, and all judgments were reversed in heaven, as on earth.” 25
“The first point that emerges from this contrast, and will be demonstrated further in numerous mythic scenes to come, is that in the context of the patriarchy of the Iron Age Hebrews of the first millennium B.C., the mythology adopted from the earlier Neolithic and Bronze Age civilizations of the lands they occupied and for a time ruled became inverted, to render an argument just the opposite to that of its origin.” 26
The secular perspective on this paradox only leads to more questions because this view is dependent on a materialistic foundation and has to rule out supernatural explanations. But if we accept the Bible and the book of Genesis as the Word of God then the explanation is readily apparent. God had chosen Abraham from out of Sumer and intended to make His own nation out of Abraham’s descendants. Many generations later, after centuries in Egyptian exile, this nation had been formed. While camped at Mt. Sinai, God spoke to His nation through Moses and gave them the Torah, which included God’s version of human history as recorded in the book of Genesis.
After centuries of darkness and deception, the moment had finally arrived for God to speak and to set the record straight.
Setting the Record Straight
In Genesis we find that God created the heavens and the earth, which contrasts with the Mesopotamian belief (eventually related in the epic Akkadian creation story The Enuma Elish) that somehow “Heaven” and “Earth” gave birth to the gods.
In Genesis we find that Adam and Eve were created to be partners with God in administering over His creation, whereas the ancient Sumerians believed that humans were created to labor in service to the gods, as related in the myths Enki and Ninmah and Cattle and Grain, as well as numerous others.
In Genesis, the story of the first murder involves Cain, a farmer, and Abel, a shepherd. The brothers bring offerings to God, who accepts the animal from Abel and rejects the produce offered by Cain. Out of resentment, Cain kills Abel and is then banished from his home. The Sumerians have a version of this story (Emesh and Enten), but in the Sumerian account, after they get into a violent quarrel and bring their case before the gods, the farmer is accepted and the shepherd is rejected and must offer tribute to the farmer:
“In the struggle between Emesh and Enten, Enten, the steadfast farmer of the gods… proved greater than Emesh.” 27
In Genesis, after documenting the two genealogies of the descendants of Cain (who built the first cities and invented the art of metal-working) and the descendants of Seth (who replaced Abel), the sixth chapter provides an amazing tale of angels descending from heaven, taking human women for wives, and producing giants as offspring. These Nephilim offspring, half-human and half-fallen-angel, are noted as the “mighty men of old, men of renown.”
Following this descent of fallen angels and the appearance of the Nephilim, Genesis explains that God became distraught at the complete wickedness that had overtaken the earth: “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them” (Genesis 6:5–7).
The Sumerians tell a similar tale, but in their eyes the “fallen angels” are a group of gods known as the Anunnaki, who were created by Anu the distant and rather dis-interested “God of heaven.” These beings descended to the earth to help establish civilization in Sumer and teach, guide, and rule over mankind. They are mentioned throughout Sumerian myths, including texts such as Cattle and Grain, The Creation of the Pickax, Enki and Sumer, Enki and Eridu, and various others.
So the book of Genesis views these beings from the heavens as disobedient fallen angels ultimately responsible for bringing violence and wickedness, whereas the Sumerians viewed them as “gods” worthy of worship who brought technology and civilization.
As in the book of Genesis, the Mesopotamians had a very distinct memory of a great flood brought about by a great god for the purpose of wiping out civilization. The primary source for this tale can be found in the Akkadian myth known as The Atrahasis Epic (image above) now located in the British Museum. Elements of this tale can also be found in the Sumerian texts The Deluge and The Epic of Gilgamesh. However, as should be expected, these Sumerian and Akkadian stories have some very key differences when compared with the biblical account. In these stories, the god responsible for sending the Flood is Enlil, and the god who saves mankind is Enki. Here is what I write in The Giza Discovery:
Atrahasis is the Akkadian name for the Noah-like figure who is known in similar Sumerian accounts as Ziusudra (The Eridu Genesis) or Utnapishtim (The Epic of Gilgamesh). According to all of these accounts the creation of mankind eventually became regretted by the chief god Enlil. The Atrahasis Epic reads,
And the country was as noisy as a bellowing bull.
The god grew restless at their racket,
Enlil had to listen to their noise.
He addressed the great gods,
The noise of mankind has become too much,
I am losing sleep over their racket.
To deal with the problem of human over-population Enlil causes first a plague, and then a famine, to strike the land. In each case Atrahasis calls upon Enki to help mankind and offer a solution to the calamity. Enki responds by giving advice to Atrahasis but his interference on mankind’s behalf causes Enlil to become very angry. The final solution, which is agreed upon by the gods despite a passionate argument from Enki, is that a flood will be caused to wipe out mankind entirely. This decision is kept secret and Enki is forced to make an oath that he will not speak of it to any human being. In spite of his oath Enki cleverly conceives a plan to save Atrahasis and still remain true to his word. He contacts Atrahasis from behind a reed wall, and then gives instructions as if he were talking to the reed wall. In this way Atrahasis is informed of what is coming and told how he can prepare for the calamity. He is told to build a boat as long as it is wide and to build a solid roof over the top. The Gilgamesh Epic includes the instructions to “load the seed of every living thing into the boat.”
After the flood passes Enlil becomes enraged after finding out that mankind survived through Atrahasis and his family. However the other gods and goddesses rejoice and praise the wisdom and compassion of Enki. The anger of Enlil is eventually subdued after Atrahasis reverently builds an altar and offers him sacrifices. In the end Enlil becomes reconciled with Enki, blesses Atrahasis, and gives Atrahasis the gift of immortality. 28
So according to the Mesopotamian story, there was a wicked god, Enlil, who was irritated at the noise and human over-population of the earth, who decided to wipe them all out. He tried a plague and then a famine to no avail, before deciding to send the Flood. In response to Enlil’s madness, the kind, wise, and merciful god Enki stood up to defend the blameless human victims. He tried to stop the Flood, but could not prevail over Enlil’s agenda. Instead, Enki decided to disobey Enlil and save the righteous Atrahasis. Because of Enki’s courage, mankind was saved from extinction, and in the aftermath Enlil and all the other Anunnaki gods recognized Enki’s wisdom and honored Atrahasis.
The Genesis story, although following a similar pattern, brings several corrections to the tale. First of all, God loves people and was never irritated at noise or human over-population. In fact, God continuously commanded mankind to “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” Secondly, the Flood was a response to sin and violence that was rooted in the fallen angelic (Anunnaki) influence over human society. It was not an impulsive act against blameless victims, but was justice against widespread wickedness. Furthermore, the saving of Noah, the last righteous man, was God’s idea; it was not something undertaken against God’s wishes by a secondary and adversarial deity.
In the next chapter we will take a closer look at the religious beliefs of the ancient Sumerians, the people who wrote the very first histories of mankind. What kind of spiritual influences were they under, to write stories that so blatantly contradicted those written down by Moses hundreds of years later? These answers will then provide a foundation for us to better understand the life and times of Nimrod in his historical setting.
on to chapter four
Peter D. Goodgame
posted and updated on November 30, 2015
19. Walter R. Mattfeld, Eden’s Serpent: Its Mesopotamian Origins (Lulu, ebook edition, 2010), page iv.
20. ibid., page iv.
21. Ibid., page x.
22. Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 1 (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1987), page 37.
23. Mattfeld, Eden’s Serpent, pages xi–xii.
24. Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology (New York, Arkana &Viking Penguin, 1961 ), page 9.
25. Ibid., pages 103-106
26. Ibid., page 17
27. Samuel Noah Kramer, Sumerian Mythology (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1972 ), page 51.
28. Peter D. Goodgame, “The Giza Discovery, Part Five: The Spirit World and Civilization”, http://www.redmoonrising.com/Giza/SpiritCiv5.htm.
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