Since humans have enquiring minds, almost all cultures have creations stories. Why are we here? How did we get here? How did things begin? What does it all mean?
1. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
New religions, at their start, always use cosmologies that are current and familiar to their followers, though they may expand on them later. And so it was with early Hebrew religion. The writers of the sacred texts used the basics of Middle Eastern, Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Persian cosmology—in short, every religious concept to which they’d been exposed over centuries had helped form their world view and thus figured into their writings.
In the Hebrew scriptures, the word used for “the deep” was the Akkadian/Semitic word tehom, meaning abyss or deep. It refers to the great deep of the primordial waters, referred to in Babylonian mythology as the goddess Tiamat and in the Sumerian stories as the goddess Nammu (also called Nanna), and Egyptian mythology as Nun/Nunet. We can gain a better understanding of the Tehom, the Deep, by looking at its mythological roots: both Tiamat and Nammu were looked upon as the Primeval Sea that gave birth to the first gods, including the sky god and the earth goddess. Nun and Nunet were part of the original Ogdoad—the eight deities who symbolize outer space, the primordial darkness, air/invisibility, and the primordial waters—which represent the “beginning state” from which the rest of the world was later formed.
The first verse of Genesis is merely a statement of what is to come; the rest of the story follows in the subsequent verses. The second verse begins this process by telling us how things were before this creation started: It was dark and nothing was formed; all that existed was the Deep, the Tehom, Tiamat, Nammu, Nun. The Tehom was the primal state—the great, undifferentiated Sea of Being, the Void that is not empty, but full of potentialities.
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
Within that primal Void, that sea of being, a movement occurs, and that movement is the awakening of that Sea of Being into Consciousness, a Consciousness that will soon, and intentionally, call other beings into existence.
The Original Oneness has become Two–the first separation—and the Two will eventually become the Many.
As with the Egyptian Nun and Naunet, the Babylonian Tiamat had a partner: she was the salty waters; her partner, Absu, (means abyss) was the sweet waters. They mingled their waters and thus engendered the first gods.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
With Consciousness comes Awareness....
In many old mystical traditions, the Cosmos is breathed into being on the Divine Exhalation, and out of being on the Divine Inhalation, of the great divine creative power we call God. This Great Power breathes in and out, expands and contracts, creates and destroys. As the Great Breath spirals outward, its movement creates vibration, and thus sound. The Sound is Tone; the Tone becomes the Word. The Word is uttered—“Let their be light,” and the Word, creating light, creates the world. (1)
Genesis 1: 4.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
This is the second separation of the Primal Oneness. When consciousness gives rise to awareness, things can be perceived, differentiated, evaluated—and thus Cosmos created from Chaos, because creation is, essentially, creating order, or cosmos (which means patterned or ordered world) out of chaos.
5. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
With this verse the writer informs us that the cycle of time has been launched, and the very first vibrations/emanations/variations of the Word have been given names.
6. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. 7. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
This is the third separation. What was previously one big chaotic watery “abyss” is now separated into the above and below. In ancient Babylonian myth it was believed that the earth floated on a vast sea of water; this sea was the “waters below” and the source of springs and rivers. The heavens were the “waters above.”
In the Babylonian stories Tiamat and Absu had an “intermediary” called Mummu (or Mommu), the god of mist. He was said to be the son of Tiamat and Anu, god of the heavens. As intermediary Mummu was the “mist” (moist air) which separated the sea of the sky—the waters above—from Tiamat and Absu—the waters below.
Mummu was also said to be a craftsman god, a god of technical skills; in other words, a “maker” type of god. Some scholars see him, along with Tiamat and Absu, as part of the original Babylonian Trinity.
So with Mummu, mist and craftsman god, we now have both the space made for further creation to take place— just as God’s separation of the waters and establishment of an Above and a Below formed a space for his work of creation to continue—and the emergence of one with skills to do the further creating, a role performed by God himself in the Hebrew story.
8. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
The word “firmament” has been taken to mean sky, and one can see why this word was used, as the sky does indeed seem to divide the above and below. Our English word firmament is a translation of the Hebrew, raqiya, meaning wide expanse, or raqa, which means to pound or stretch something into a wide expanse. In Mesopotamian cosmology, the sky was thought of as a dome or high vault that covered the flat earth as it floated on the sea of the “waters below.” On the other side of the sky/firmament were the “waters above.”
Picture, if you will, floating in the depths of a great sea, a flat-bottomed half-sphere covered with a dome.
9. And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. 10. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.
The major preliminary essential elements of consciousness, awareness, time, and the directions of up and down being taken care of, attention is now turned to how to turn the watery space into a habitable place. This is, once again, a separation—the fourth one. The waters under the heavens—the ancient primal sea—are separated from part of the planet’s surface so that the land beneath that water can emerge, dry out, and become fit for habitation.
In the Babylonian stories, the primeval mother Tiamat, after giving birth to the first gods, was disturbed by all the noise they made—all those further “movements and separations.” This ultimately led to Tiamat being slain by her grandson Marduk, who makes order from the chaos that was Tiamat by creating the world—earth and sky—from the various parts of her body.
“He sliced her in half like a fish for drying: Half of her he put up to roof the sky, drew a bolt across and made a guard to hold it. Her waters he arranged so they could not escape.” (2)
Here we see Marduk, in the Babylonian myth, creating a firmament from half of Tiamat’s body, to hold back the “waters above.”
1. McArthur, Margie, Wisdom of the Elements. Freedom, CA: Crossing Press, 1994.
2. Dalley, Stephanie, ed. and trans. Myths from Mesopotamia. New York: Oxford UP, 1991.