The Garden of Eden and Its Mesopotamian Prototypes, Including the Serpent who Offered Immortality to Man
I take the " Secular-Humanist position," that the Garden of Eden is a Myth and all the dialogs coming from the characters in this Myth are from the mind of the narrator. I do, however, understand that behind all myths are historical kernels. In this case the "kernels" are vestiges of earlier Mesopotamian myths reaching back to the 3rd and 2nd milleniums BCE which the Hebrews later reinterpreted into the Garden of Eden and its motifs (I have argued in other articles posted to this website that the Hebrew Bible is a creation of the 6th century BCE).
My research has suggested that several ancient Mesopotamian myths have been combined and reinterpreted and probably lie behind the Eden story and its scenarios regarding God, Adam, Eve and the Serpent.
First, is the myth titled "Adapa and the South Wind." Adapa journeys to Heaven and loses a chance to obtain immortality by refusing to consume the food and drink which would confer it
on him, on the advice of the jealous god he serves, Enki. I suspect this where the Hebrews are getting their notion that the eating of a fruit from a plant on the earth, can give one immortality.
The Mesopotamian myths stress that Man was made in order grow and harvest food to feed and nourish the gods. He did this by presenting "real food," harvested from irrigation fed gardens, and slaughtering animals for meat. Water, beer and wine were poured out on the altars for the gods to consume. Evidently these products of the earth were conceived sometimes as rising up to heaven where the Gods dwelt, in the form of smoke, allowing them to "mystically consume or smell" the food as a sweet savour. Thus earthly grown food, feeds the gods.
When Adapa got to Heaven, he was presented food and drink, which would have conferred immortality (as the gods consume earthly food, the food they offered him, had to have been earthly in origin too). He refused the food and drink, having been forewarned by the god he served on earth, Enki, that he would surely die if he consumed them. Anu laughed to hear that Adapa wouldn't eat or drink, so he sent him back to the earth from which he came, and thus mankind lost its chance at immortality.
Before offering Adapa the food, Anu, the supreme god, made an interesting statement, after quizzing Adapa to learn how he was able to break the south wind's wing and prevent sea breezes reaching Lower Mesopotamia, he learned indisbelief, that Enki had revealed certain knowledge to Adapa, knowledge that was restricted to the gods, and not to be possessed by Mankind. It was upon this realization that Adapa possessed secret knowledge restricted to the gods, that he thereupon decided to offer him immortality by having him consume the drink and food which could confer it (If he's got a god's
wisdom, why not make him a god ?).
The Hebrews have merely "reworked" and given "a new twist" to the ancient Mesopotamian myths which attempted to explain how man lost a chance to become immortal.
Now the Serpent. Genesis portrays the serpent as possessing two rather amazing
characteristics, it has the ability to walk on legs, and it can carry on a conversation with humans. This serpent is also portrayed as dwelling in an earthly paradise with God, Adam and Eve. My research has concluded that the Sumerian Dragon-Serpent called "Nin-Gish-Zida" is what lies behind the Genesis Myth.
Although Anu allows Adapa to become immortal, it is his servant, Nin-Gish-Zida, who actually put in a good word on Adapa's behalf, and who is instructed to actually present the food and drink to Adapa. Ningishzida was a guard at the heavenly gate with Tammuz (both had in earlier myths, been dwellers of the underworld, who achieved a resurrection to heaven). Some myths call Tammuz, "Damu, the child Ningishzida," so both gods are aspects of each other. No humans got to Anu's presence without first having
Tammuz/Ningishzida take them by the hand and present them, putting in a good word for them.
Ningishzida was not only an alternate form of Tammuz, he was also called "The Great Serpent-Dragon of Heaven," being identified with the star constellation Hydra (Hydra being a creature with multiple serpent heads). He was alternately associated with the winged and horned serpent dragon called "Mushussu." Mushussu apears standing on hind legs, holding a staff (or a gate ?) in his forepaws (Langdon p.285, fig. 88). A cylinder seal of Gudaea of Lagash, shows Ningishzida in human form, taking Gudaea by the hand and presenting him as a petitioner before the god, Enki (the source of the "waters of life"). Arising from Ningishzida's human shoulders are two horned dragon heads. Behind Gudaea, on the same seal, we see Ningishzida in animal form as a horned, winged, serpent-dragon, walking on all four legs.
Ningishzida, however, is not the only serpent behind the Genesis narrative, another serpent also lurks, the serpent who deprived man of "long life" in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh searches the world for the Land of Dilmun in which dwells the ONLY humans to obtain immortality, the survivors of the Great Flood which the gods sent to destroy the world and mankind (Utnapistim, wife and Pilot). He fails to attain immortality, but is given a consolation prize, a magical plant, which if consumed will lengthen one's life. While bathing in a pool, enroute to his home (Uruk in southern Mesopotamia), a serpent appears and consumes the plant. As the serpent slithers away it sheds its skin, it has rejuvenated its life, because of the plant. Gilgamesh bemoans his fate, all his effort has come to nought. So, apparently TWO SERPENTS are behind Genesis' serpent, Nin-gish-zida of the Adapa myth and the serpent of the Gilgamesh myth.
I conclude that Christianity's later imagery of Satan as the Serpent in the garden of Eden, is a reflex of some sort of Ningishizida, who had the power to take on human form (in human form he wears a multiple horned turban, a sign he is a god, and is beared, with robe), as well as that as the Mighty-Serpent-Dragon of Heaven and of the Underworld. In the Underworld he was called the bearer of the Throne, and "binder" of those who do evil. Langdon understands he was originally a vegetation deity, and calls him a "Tree-god" (p.90, Langdon).
I understand that Christ is another myth, he arose from the underworld in a resurrection (and is associated with a tree, called a cross), to stand at the right hand of God. No man is allowed into the Father's presence without Christ bringing him to the Father. In the Christian re-working of this ancient Mesopotamian myth I understand that Christ has replaced Ningishzida/Tammuz, who offered man immortality.
So, in the Mesopotamian myths, the serpent who could walk and talk, talk not only to man, but face-to-face with the supreme god, Anu, who offered man immortality with food and water of life, in heaven, is what lies behind not only the Genesis myth, but the Christian myths about Christ as well. The benificent Mesopotamian Dragon-Serpent, has been "pre-empted" by Christ, who has taken over all his roles (Dying and being resurrected, Petitioner of Man before God, Offerer of Immortality, via the food and water of Life).
Other motifs, from additional Mesopotamian myths worked into the Edenic story, are the "Epic of Gilgamesh," and "Enki and Ninhursag in Dilmun."
The source used here is Stephen Herbert Langdon, M.A. The Mythology of All the Races, Semitic. Vol. 5. (Boston. Marshall Jones Company. 1931).
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