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In a society that is primarily Bible-based, students often find it difficult to compare biblical stories with tales from other cultures. Our own belief system is tough to forego, and it is hard for many of us to go against our traditional faith to evaluate other stories objectively. Thankfully, in a comparison of the biblical book of Genesis with the ancient Sumerian text, the Epic of Gilgamesh, though hundreds of years apart, many parallels suggest that the same type of spiritual searching inspired the composition of both works. It would seem that both cultures shared the same motifs, such as concern for the nature of human life, and stories, such as the serpent as the enemy who deprives humans of eternal life and, most importantly, the flood. Similarly, both works display disobedience to a god or gods as bringing dire consequences.
Despite variation in the structure and ideas, both works conveyed the creation of man as such: created from the soil by a god and living in a natural setting amongst the animals. After some time, the man is introduced to a woman who tempts him. He accepts food from her, she helps cover his nakedness, and the man is forced to leave his former realm, unable to return, because of her. Man discovers humanity and self-consciousness through the power of female sexuality. This is significant because divinity created these beings, both male and female, to be an image of themselves. While both books share this similarity, it is also important to note the differences.
Did you know that the book of Genesis holds two versions of creation: one being at Chapter 1 and the other on Chapter 2. Differences can be seen almost immediately upon reading! The well-known seven-day narrative of Genesis 1 features an omnipotent God who creates a god-like humanity, whereas the one-day creation of Genesis 2 uses a simple linear narrative, a God who can fail (Genesis 2:19-20) as well as succeed (2:21-23), who creates a humanity that is not god-like and is punished for acts leading to becoming god-like (Carr 1996 62-66). Most readers skip this analysis, simply because authors have done a marvelous job of piecing the two stories together. At first glance, it seems Genesis 2 serves as an elaboration and specification of Genesis 1.
This combined text leads readers to a world where God’s perception is that humanity’s formation is only evil (Genesis 6:5). In fact, there is a comparison in pain, where God has given pain to woman in childbirth (Genesis 3:16) in equivalence to God’s pain at having created humanity (Genesis 6:6). In this sense, God has equivalent emotions to that of humanity, feeling disappointment, pain, and love (in the beginning, God saw creation as “very good”). However, God still separates his divinity from humankind by demanding we “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28-29; 8:17; 9:1-7) – a blessing of fertility. He also blesses us with the power to rule, which is comparative to his rule over humanity; humans were destined to dominate animals, but it was not until after the flood that God granted us the ability to eat animals as meat. [God required both humans and animals to eat only plants for food (Genesis 1:29-30). ] His changing of rules displays his divine power and rule over human life, who he no longer sees as an image of himself. Notably, God addresses himself as “us” when narrating his plan to create man (Genesis 1:26) – a literary device called majestic plural, which refers to a single person who is a monarch. He holds all the power; thus, everything depends on his will. For example, “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. ” (Genesis 1:3).
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