Myths / Mythologies / Legends
Ra and the Serpent
Egyptian myth of creation
Introduction and paraphrase prepared by Angelo Salvo
Ra the Sun, the Supreme Lord of Egypt, the great Neb-er- tcher, spoke these words after appearing:
I am the one who came into being as Khepri the Lifegiver!
There is, to some extent, a cross-influence between the Old Testament story of creation and the story of "Ra and the Serpent". Like the beginning of the ancient Hebrew story of creation, the Egyptian story of creation begins with the Supreme Lord being all by himself in a dark void without even the Earth, the Sky, or the seas. However, in many specific details the Egyptian creation story does not follow the same route as the Old Testament. In the story "Ra and the Serpent", Ra does not directly create the earth(land) or the sky as the Hebrew god does after creating Day and Night, or Light and Darkness. The Egyptians assigned a wide diversity of gods and goddesses to such basic phenomena as the sky, earth, and seas. Ra produced Geb and Nut, the earth and the sky, indirectly through the wind deity Shu and the rain deity Tefnut. There is a difference between the Egyptian story and the Hebrew story in the way vegetation was created. In the Egyptian tale, Ra created vegetation directly through the tears of Eye the Overseer. However, in the Old Testament, the one and only God created vegetation indirectly by empowering mother earth to do so. The Old Testament story is more specific than the Egyptian story in its detailing of the creation of land creatures. The Egyptian merely talks about the creation of reptiles and all related creatures or companions through the tears of Eye.
In the Hebrew tale, God first created fish to live in the waters and birds to fly in the sky. On a separate occasion, the Hebrew god produced all sorts of cattle and wild animals that roamed the earth, including things like reptiles, snakes, insects, and rodents. Afterward, God according to Hebrew tradition created humankind in his image with the intention of making them pre-eminent to all other living creatures. God's creation according to Hebrew tradition occured step by step and every detail was made on purpose. Although Ra did make up a schematic plan of creation in the Egyptian tale, the various steps of creation did not occur on purpose. The creation of living creatures in the Egyptian tradition occured more in line with spontanuity than Ra's plans. For example, human beings in Egypt were a result of the tears Ra shed when he wept for joy at being united with Shu and Tefnut. Ra spontaneously began to create reptiles, other wild animals, and vegetation when Eye the Oversser began to weep tears of joy at being made the ruler of all Egypt.
Another fundamental difference between the Old Testament story of creation and the Egyptian story of creation regards the creator's attitude and expectations of his human creations. In the Egyptian tale, humans were nto directly created by the Creator god, but instead they came forth from Geb the Earth god. Ra had no intention or at least no directly-stated or implied attitude that humans must be preeminent over all living creatures. For example, scarab beetles and cats were wor- shipped as deities in ancient Egyptian traditions. In the Old Testament traditions, human beings looked on all animals wild or tame as being inferior and subservient to them. Also, in the Egyptian tradition, the god Ra did not have a directly-stated high moral expectation of humans the way the Hebrew god did. When Adam and Eve committed their original sin by eating an apple from the forbidden tree, God supposedly punished them by no longer making their lives a paradise. The Egyptian tale makes no indication that mankind is oriented to sin or that mankind has disappointed the gods. In fact, the Egyptian creation tale asserts that mankind is obedient and faithful to God because it states that "they invoke my name, they overthrow their enemies, they create words of power for the overthrow of evil [Apep]"(Budge 320). Hence, although the Hebrew tale does show some influence from the Egyptian tale through its basic depiction of an all-powerful creator god, the Hebrew tale goes in many different directions.
In both the Hebrew and the Egyptian creation tales, the narrator of the story is the creator god himself. The creator god depicts in detail what has happened and what he experienced. On occasion, the creator god in the Egyptian tale speaks of feeling such joy at being reunited with Shu and Tefnut that he wept tears and from those tears human beings emerged. In the Hebrew tale, the Lord becmae angry when he learned that Adam found out he was naked from the tree of wisdom. In both creation tales, the addresses are the people who worship in that religion and those gods. One thing that the Hebrew and Egyptian traditions had in common was that they both had creation myths which were essentially believed by all to be the way the world began.
BIBLIOGRAPHYMatthews, Victor & Benjamin, Don. Old Testament Parallels: Laws and Stories from the Ancient Near East. New York: Paulist Press, 1991. Pp. 28-31.
Shafer, Byron E. Religion in Ancient Egypt. 1991. Cornell University Press. Ithaca and London. pg.115.
Budge, E.A. Wallis. The Gods of the Egyptians or
Studies in Egyptian Mythology. 1969 edition.
Dover Publications, Inc. New York. pp.308-321.
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