Sunday, March 29, 2009

Adam, Eve, Snakes, Sumeria

Yesterday, I was having coffee with a friend, and we were talking about an art exhibition involving bugs, which led the conversation to fears of bugs, spiders and snakes. She’s deathly afraid of snakes, and so naturally we turned to the Bible story of Adam and Eve and the snake’s role in their expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

I knew the general outline of the story, that the snake tricked Eve into going against God’s wishes that she not eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge, and thus represents the Devil. What I didn’t know, and learned from my husband when I got home, is that the story may originate in Sumeria. (I may have learned something about this link in my 7th grade Western Civilization class, but those days are long gone.)

There is a Sumerian creation myth dating to roughly to the 18th century B.C. in which the main mother-goddess (Ninhursag) installs her lover (Enki) in an earthly paradise that has a lush garden feauring eight special plants. Enki gets curious about the plants in the garden, and has his assistant fetch them for him to sample. Ninhursag gets wind of this, becomes enraged, and causes Enki to fall ill in eight ways. Then the other gods persuade Ninhursag to save Enki, and she creates eight goddesses to heal the eight afflictions. The one she creates to help with his rib is called Ninti.

This name is significant because the original semetic form of Eve is "Hawah," meaning life. In Sumerian, "nin" means lady, and "ti" can mean either rib or life. So Ninti means either “lady of the rib” or “lady of life.”

Naturally, on the Internet, you can find sites that both support and refute the theory that Sumerian myths are the true origin of key Bible stories. To me, the parallels are striking, and it’s always made sense to me that early Christians would employ existing mythology to make their new recruits feel more at home in a new faith.

Here's the weird thing, though: I haven't been able to find any mention of a snake in the Sumerian version.


  1. Actually, most non-crazy, non-fundy biblical scholars recognize that Sumerian myths are the basis for many of the myths in the Hebrew Bible.

    Another snake is in the Epic of Gilgamesh - it steals and eats the plant of eternal life from Gilgamesh while he's swimming & before he's had a chance to eat the plant.

    Also, for an obvious parallel between the Hebrew Bible & Sumerian myths, see the story of Utanaphishtim, also in the Epic of Gilgamesh. It's a flood story that, when it was translated and revealed during the Victorian era, completely upended centuries of Bible criticism and thought.

    For more info, see and For books, I'd take a look at Samuel Noah Kramer's History Begins at Sumer, which is endlessly fascinating.

  2. It is just the other way around: the Bible is the basis for all the myths around the world concerning the creation of earth!!!


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