01 January 2012

Genesis (תישארב)

The Holy Bible is one of the most popular ancient scriptures of the world which has had a profound impact on human history. It has been translated, either in full or in parts, into about 2,500 languages of the world which is phenomenal when we consider that the next most translated work (I mean works translated into different languages) would fall below 500 languages. We do not know which book occupies the second place, but this could well be either the Tao Te Ching, or the Qur’an or even the Baghavad Gita.  

Bible is not one book but a Canon. In other words, it is a library of scriptures attributed to different prophets, sages or apostles. Etymologically, the word “Bible” comes from the Greek word biblia which means "books" (from it is derived the word Bibliography). With more than 30,000 verses, Bible therefore is a large work, perhaps exceeded in size only by the Buddhist Canon Tipitaka. Following table compares some of the Canonial scriptures in different religious traditions. 

Canonical Scripture
Number of divisions
Total number of books
Three: Sutta, Vinaya & Abhidhamma Pitakas
Hebrew Bible (Tanakh)
Three: Torah, Prophets & Writings
Protestant Bible
Two: Old & New Testaments
Catholic Bible
Two: Old and New Testaments
Saiva Siddhanta
Guru Grant Sahib
31 Rāgs & 37 authors

Let me begin with the Hebrew Bible which came first, before Catholic and Protestant Christianity came into existence. The Jewish Bible and the Protestant Old Testament contain the same books but they only different in arrangement.  We see this organizational difference in two areas: (i) Four of the books that Protestant Christians divide into two parts, the Jews consider them as only one book. These are Kings, Chronicles, Samuel, and Ezra-Nehemiah. (ii) Secondly, the 12 books of minor prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi) is considered as a single book. Therefore according to Jewish tradition, the Hebrew Bible (also called “Tanakh”) consists of 24 books. 

Today, there is no scholarly consensus as to when this Jewish canon was set, but it is safe to consider that the Bible as we see today existed before the time of Christ.  The oldest parchments discovered recently, the Dead Sea scrolls which is  dated circa 100 BC., is said to be almost word-for-word identical to the versions we have today. The Hebrew Bible’s name “Tanakh is an acronym formed from the initial Hebrew letters of THREE traditional subdivisions: Teachings, Prophets and Writings (In Hebrew: Torah , Nevi'im and Ketuvim respectively). This is just like how the Buddhist Tipitaka has THREE baskets and the Tamil Thirukkural has THREE divisions.
For the next five weeks, I will take up the first five books of Bible called the “Torah”. Who wrote the Torah?

"Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua;
 Joshua to the elders; the elders to the prophets;
and the prophets handed it down to the men of the Great Assembly.”
(Mishnah, Abot 1.1)

The above passage indicates that the Jewish tradition credits Moses as the author of Torah (Greek: Pentateuch or Five Books, namely Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). However, since these books including the Genesis refer to Moses in third person and so indicate him as a person from a distant past, we can fathom that this was composed by one or a group of later writers who recapitulated on the events involving Moses.   
The Book of Genesis (ஆதியாகமம்) records the creation of the universe, origin of man, stories of ancestors or first humans, beginning of culture, disobedience or corruption among humans, God’s retribution for his sin and so forth. The word Genesis is derived from the Greek work “γένεσις” which means "origin" but the Hebrew word (תישארב) there in the title of this essay mean the “beginning". Let me my presentation of the Genesis with this “Beginning”. The four subjects or passages I have quoted from Genesis are not necessarily the best of what I read in terms of quality. I have highlighted them only because these are some of the amazing references to some of the major events in the world history that sages and saints attempted to explain based on their own intuition or inspiration. 

(1) In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth

“:ץראה תאו םימשה תא םיהלא ארב תישארב”This is the first verse in the Bible and when transliterated it reads “be.re.shit ba.ra e.lo.him et ha.sha.ma.yim ve.et ha.a.rets:” (Genesis 1.1). Just like how “அகரமுதல் எழுத்தெல்லாம் ஆதிபகவன் முதற்றே உலகு” is the most popular and most commented upon couplet in Thirukkural, so also this first verse in the Hebrew, Catholic and Protestant Bible.  Let us take the first two verses in Genesis:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Now the earth was formless and empty,
Darkness was over the surface of the deep,
And the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters
(Genesis 1: 1-2)

தொடக்கத்தில் கடவுள் விண்ணுலகையும், மண்ணுலகையும் படைத்தபொழுது, மண்ணுலகு உருவற்று வெறுமையாக இருந்தது.
ஆழத்தின் மீது இருள் பரவியிருந்தது.
நீர்த்திரளின்மேல் கடவுளின் ஆவி அசைந்தாடிக் கொண்டிருந்தது.

Our ancestors were keen to know how the world came into existence. How the earth, stars, sun, moon, planets, plants and animals came into existence. It is only natural for them to have believed that God or gods created the world as He or they were considered immortal and uncreated.  The Bible sets to provide the answer to this million dollar question in its own way, like many other scriptures of the world. Many of these creation stories tell us that there was a state of ‘incompleteness, formelessness’ before God created the world and that there was complete ‘darkness’. We see this particular phenomenon retold in many scriptures of the world. Here are some of the major ones.

At first was neither Being nor Nonbeing.
There was not air nor yet sky beyond.
What was wrapping? Where? In whose protection?
Was Water there, unfathomable deep?
There was no death then, nor yet deathlessness;
of night or day there was not any sign.
The One breathed without breath by its own impulse.
Other than that was nothing at all.
Darkness was there, all wrapped around by darkness,
and all was Water indiscriminate, Then
that which was hidden by Void, that One, emerging,
stirring, through power of Ardor, came to be.
(Rig Veda, 10.129: 1-3) [Translation by Prof. Raimundo Panikkar]

Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.
(Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, 1)

There was something undefined and complete, coming into
existence before Heaven and Earth.
How still it was and formless,
standing alone, and undergoing no change,
reaching everywhere and in no danger (of being exhausted)!
 It may be regarded as the Mother of all things.
(Tao Te Ching 25) [Translator: James Legge]

"There was darkness for countless years.
There was neither earth nor sky; there was only His Will.
There was neither day nor night, neither sun nor moon.
He (God) was in deep meditation.
There was nothing except Himself."

One of the Principal Upanishads, Aiterya Upanishad (1.1.1-2), portrays the Spirit, Atman or Self as the divine creator: 
Hari OM. In the beginning the Spirit was One and all this (universe) was the Spirit;
There was nought else that saw.
The Spirit thought, "Lo, I will make me worlds from out my being".

These were the worlds he made:
            ambhah, of the ethereal waters, maricich, of light, mara of death
            and mortal things, apah, of the lower waters.
Beyond the shining firmament are the etheral waters
            and the firmament is their base and resting-place;
Space is the world of light; the earth is the world mortal;
            and below the earth are the lower waters. 

In all these above narratives, we see a kind of chaotic, undefined, formless state of darkness in ethereal waters prevailing before God initiated creation. They also indicate that creation came out of nothing (Creation ex nihilo) or in other words there were no pre-existing materials available to God for creating the universe, flora and fauna. Does any religious tradition deny the act of special creation? Indeed yes. Both Jainism and Buddhism, atheistic and nihilistic faiths which originated in India, do not believe in a creator God and therefore disagree with the theory of special creation.

Verily, the world is uncreated;
It has neither beginning nor end,
Iit exists by its own nature;
It is pervaded by the Jivas and Ajivas;
It exists in a part of the space and is eternal.
(Saman Suttam, 651)

That the world is born of a supreme soul and that changes are due to the qualities –
This is what the school of Kapita teaches its disciples;
But it is not the right way of thinking.
(Lankavatara Sutra, 558)

Since the objective of this essay is to present the various versions of creation stories across civilizations, I am not getting into the controversies between the theory of special creation and theory of evolution which are completely contradictory. 

2) Creation of man

“Fine, the world came into existence, but how come all the beings and humans in particular came into this world?” is the next obvious question that must have come to the minds of the ancient people. We may mock at some of their beliefs but as Swami Vivekananda said, a day will come when our successors will laugh at our beliefs and concept of God etc. Let us look at the following lines from Sangam work Puranānūru:

நீரின்றி யமையா யாக்கைக்கு எல்லாம்
உண்டி கொடுத்தோர் உயிர் கொடுத்தாரே!

Those who bring together earth and water in union
Create means for bodies to exist in this world, for life to be!
(Purananuru 18)

These lines from Purananuru might suggest that this is a reference to the creation of man from clay, but it is not. Apart from the context of the verse in Poem 18, the word “உண்டி” (food) is the key to right interpretation. It only means that those who cultivate the land (by bringing soil and water together) nourish the souls and body to exist in this world. Nonetheless, many creation stories across the world tell us that the first human was created or moulded from earth, clay or mud. The second chapter in the Book of Genesis is one of the oldest records of this act of creation:

Then the Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground,
And breathed into his nostrils the breath of life;
And man became a living being.
(Genesis 2.7)

அப்பொழுது ஆண்டவராகிய கடவுள்
நிலத்தின் மண்ணால் மனிதனை உருவாக்கி,
அவன் நாசிகளில் உயிர் மூச்சை ஊத,
மனிதன் உயிர் உள்ளவன் ஆனான்.

Here are some of the similar stories of creation of humankind from many other ancient civilizations of the world:
a)    Egyptian: According to the ancient Egyptians, the ram headed god Khnum moulded human beings on a potter’s wheel  (Molyneaux, 1995)
b)    Sumerian (~ 2000 B.C.) : Enki, the god of wisdom, and midwife goddess Nimah, after getting thoroughly drunk, collect a quantity of clay with which they mould six kinds of individuals (Jordan, 1993).
c)    Native American (Muskhogean): The creator God Esaugetuh Emissee, after making his house on a hill, fashions the first human beings from the mud clay around it (Jordan, 1993).
d)    Native American (Californian): The spirit Nocuma, creator of material things, creates humankind from clay, fashioning a man whom he names  Ejoni and a woman Ae.
e)    Yoruba, Nigeria (Africa): Supreme god Olodumare, after creating the earth from the dark primeval water and after engendering plant life, decides to create humans. He moulds them from clay and breaths his life into them (Jordan, 1993).
f)     Shillluk (Africa):  The creator Juok moulds all people of earth (Frazer, 1918).
g)    Mesopotamian (Old Babylonian): Under the instruction of the great god Ellil, god of wisdom Enki and birth goddess Mami, create humankind out of clay mixed with the blood of one of the sacrificed lesser gods (Jordan, 1993).

The Holy Quran, another scripture of Semitic origin, also holds the same view on human creation:

And He originated the creation of man out of clay;
Then He fashioned his progeny of an extraction of mean water,
Then He shaped him, and breathed His spirit in him.
(Qur’an 32: 8-9)

What then is the belief in Hinduism and other theistic religion like Sikhism? Let us look at these Gurbani from the Sikhs scripture:

Know, by conjunction made by God, by His Ordinance,
You have come into the world.
All from one clay are made; all in one Light shines.
One breath pervades all, what point in any weeping over another?
(Guru Grant Sahib, p.  188)

Does Sikhism support the view that God created man from clay? கிடையாது, ஏனென்றால் இந்திய மண்ணில் உறுவான பெரும்பாலான ஆண்மீக இலக்கியங்களில், மனிதன் பஞ்சபூதங்களால் உறுவாக்கப்பட்டானென்று அறிகிறோம். அப்படியானால் All from one clay are madeஎன்றால் என்ன என்று வினாவலாம்? இறுதியில் அனைவரும் மண்ணோடு மண்ணாகிவிடுவதால் மண்ணால் உறுவானவன் மனிதன் என்பதைத்தான் குரு கிராந்த் சொல்கிறது என்று நான் நினைக்கிறேன்.

The following citations from scriptures of Indian origin would make it clear that the formula used for creating Purusha (man) is something else:  

ईक्षतेमे नु लोका लोकपालान्नु सृजा इति ..
सोऽद्भ्य एव पुरुषं समुद्धृत्यामूर्छयत्
The Spirit thought, "Lo, these are the worlds;
And now will I make me guardians for my worlds."
Therefore he gathered the Purusha out of the waters and gave Him shape and substance.
(Aiterya Upanishad, 1.1.3)

From Sikhism
Binding together air, water and fire,
He created the fortress of the body.
(Guru Grant, p. 1036)

3) Flood

There are certain parts of the world which get flooded every year. In India, for instance, the Brahmaputra Valley in Assam is prone to floods every year. As a result much of the famous world Heritage Site Kaziranga National Park gets inundated forcing large animals to move upwards the Karbi hills across the national highway 37. But floods that recur on a regular basis in places like Assam do not get recorded in the minds of the people as a major episode to be considered as a onetime disaster. The impact of a catastrophic flood will be greater among humans who live in a world which receives less precipitation of rainfall.

Mark Isaak (2002) in his article on “Flood stories from around the world” mentions practically all accounts of floods recorded in the mythology of various countries and civilizations. Following are some of the excerpts from this article:

In the GreeK, Zeus sends flood to destroy the men of the Bronze Age. Prometheus advises his son Deucalion to build a chest. All other men perish except for a few who escaped to high mountains.
In the Roman country, Jupiter, angered at the evil ways of humanity, resolved to destroy it. He was about to set the earth to burning, but considered that that might set heaven itself afire, so he decided to flood the earth instead. With Neptune's help, he caused storm and earthquake to flood everything but the summit of Parnassus, where Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha came by boat and found refuge.
In the Sumerian account, the gods had decided to destroy mankind. The god Enlil warned the priest-king Ziusudra ("Long of Life") of the coming flood by speaking to a wall while Ziusudra listened at the side. He was instructed to build a great ship and carry beasts and birds upon it. Violent winds came, and a flood of rain covered the earth for seven days and nights.
In the Babylonian flood myth, we see Ellil, seeing the world getting overpopulated, ordering this to be regulated through judicious balance of nature (Jordan, 1993). Atrahasis is instructed secretly by Enki to build a boat, take on it all living things of the earth and prepare for a great flood that will last for seven days. Clouds gather, winds howl and darkness sets in.  There is this interesting passage in the Babylonian clay Tablet, one of the ancient forms of writing found so far:

There was no visibility
Nothing could be seen in the devastation
Like a raging bull the flood roared in,
Like a wild ass the winds howled
The darkness was complete, there was no sun.

We see similar flood myths from Korea, China, Central Asia, Thailand, Sumatra, Australia, New Zealand, North America, South America, but I am not narrating them here. However, undoubtedly the most popular of all is the floods described in the Semitic scriptures, the Bible and the Quran. This particular narrative of prophet Noah and his Arc has become more popular than others only because it found a place in two religious traditions that dominate the world today, namely Christianity and Islam (Genesis 6-9; Qur’an 11:25-48). God, disgusted with man’s corruption on earth, decides to get rid of everyone else except Noah and his family who found favour in the eyes of the Lord (Genesis, 6:8). It is to the Babylonian flood myth that the Semitic flood story resembles the most.  The Babylonian flood myth is said to have been recorded in Tablets older than the records of the Bible. Of all the legends of a Great Flood recorded in literature, by far the oldest is the Babylonian or rather the (Frazer 1918).

From India, the most famous of all accounts of a deluge is the story of the Manu and the Fish. The Matsya (Fish) avatāra is the first of the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu and each of these avatārās has their own myths.  Perhaps the earliest scriptural account of this story is found in Satapatha Brahmana wherein we see Manu alone being saved from the disaster. In the Puranic account (Matsya Purana) which is of a later date, Manu becomes a savior as he is directed by Vishnu all life on earth. The following table compares key passages of the Biblical and Brahminic accounts of the floods:

Passages from the Bible (Genesis 3: 14-20)
Passages from Satapatha Brahmana (
Corruption of mankind
Manu Matsya Katha
14 Make an ark of timber planks: you shall make little rooms in the ark, and you shall pitch it within and without. 15 And thus shall you make it. The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits: the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits.
In the morning they brought to Manu water for washing, just now also they bring. When he was washing himself, a fish came into his hands. (1)
17 Behold, I will bring the waters of a great flood upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life under heaven. All things that are in the earth shall be consumed. 18 And I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall enter into the ark, you and your sons, and your wife, and the wives of your sons with you.
It spoke to him the word, ‘Rear me, I will save thee!’ ‘Wherefrom will thou save me?’ ‘A flood will carry away all these creatures: from that I will save thee!’ ‘How am I to rear thee?’ (2)
19 And of every living creature of all flesh, you shall bring two of a sort into the ark, that they may live with you: of the male sex, and the female. 20 Of fowls according to their kind, and of beasts in their kind, and of everything that creeps on the earth according to its kind: two of every sort shall go in with you, that they may live.
It soon became a large fish; for that grows largest (of all fish). Thereupon it said ‘In such and such a year that flooe will come. Though shall then attend to me by preparing a ship; and when the flood has risen though shall enter into the ship, and I will save thee from it’
Noah and his animals in ship

Manu, Fish and Ship
As I said before, it is to the Babylonian legend that the Biblical narrative is closely related. The following table taken from Noahlegends says all:

Take the seed of all creatures aboard the ship
Gen. 6:19 And of every living thing of all flesh you shall bring.
I boarded the ship and closed the door.
Gen. 7:1 Come into the Ark
Gen. 7:16 The Lord shut him in.
I sent out a dove . . . The dove went, then came back, no resting-place appeared for it, so it returned.
Gen. 8:8 He sent out a dove...But the dove found no resting-place . . . and she returned.
Then I sent out a raven. It was the waters receding, it ate, it flew about to and fro, it did not return.
Gen. 8:7 He sent out a raven, which kept going to and fro until the waters had dried up from the Earth.
I made a libation on the peak of the mountain.
Gen. 8:20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord (on the mountain) and offered burnt offerings.

The Tamil land also has its own flood myth. Here the flooding is not due to non-stop rain, but due to an upsurge of sea water due to storm, tsunami or something of that sort. The Tamil tradition about a large continent destroyed by a deluge was committed to writing in detail after the 10th century, by commentators like Nakirar in his commentary on Irayanar Akapporulurai, followed by Nachinarkinyar and Adiarkunallar (Jayakaran, 2004). Here is the passage from Silappathigaram.

அடியிற் றன்னள வரசர்க் குணர்த்தி
வடிவேல் எறிந்த வான்பகை பொறாது
பஃறுளி யாற்றுடன் பன்மலை யடுக்கத்துக்
குமரிக் கோடுங் கொடுங்கடல் கொள்ள
வடதிசைக் கங்கையும் இமயமுங் கொண்டு
தென்றிசை யாண்ட தென்னவன் வாழி
(Silapathigaram, Kadu Kaan Kaathai 11:17-22)

(4) Prophet Abraham, Agastiya Muni and Rishabha Deva

In many traditions, we come across the mention of one man as the ancestor or progenitor of human civilization. He is not the first man, but one who steers the people to lead a life which was radically different from their ancestors. In other words he manages to install a new system, a revised protocol or a new way of life for people to follow. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all called Abrahamic religions because they all identify him as the forerunner to monotheistic belief. This is just like how Arinjar Annā a common leader for all Drāvida Munnétra Kazhagams  (தி.மு..) in Tamil Nadu. Now let us see what Genesis says about Abraham:

No longer will you be called Abram;
Your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.
I will make you very fruitful;
I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.
(Genesis 17: 5-6)

இனி உன்பெயர் ஆபிராம் அன்று; "ஆபிரகாம்" என்ற பெயரால் நீ அழைக்கப்படுவாய். ஏனெனில் எண்ணற்ற நாடுகளுக்கு உன்னை நான் மூதாதையாக்குகிறேன்.
மிகப் பெருமளவில் உன்னைப் பலுகச் செய்வேன்;
உன்னிடமிருந்து நாடுகளை உண்டாக்குவேன்.
உன்னிடமிருந்து அரசர்கள் தோன்றுவர்.

Call it a coincidence or borrowing from another tradition or a result of parallel thinking, I see very interesting resemblance in the stories of Prophet Abrahām, Adināth Rishabha and Sage Agastiyā.  Coincidence 1: Abhraham is here called the father of the multitude or the father of human civilization (Gen. 17:1-6.).  In Jainism, Lord Rishabha is considered the harbinger of human civilization because he founded social institutes, cultivation of land, arts, reading, writing, family, arithmetic etc. (Sangave, 1999). For the Tamils, their history including language, begins with Agastiya (அகத்தியர்). He is the preceptor of the Tamil Siddha doctrine (Ganapathy, 2004) and the mythical founder of Tamil literature (Chakravarti, 1974).  Coincidence 2: They all had two wives: If Abraham was married to Sarah and Hager, Rishabha was married to Sumangla and Sunanda (Jaindiksha), and Agathyar was married to Lobha Matha and Kavéri. 

Coincidence 3: In the Bible we see God instructing Abraham to leave Haram and move South (Gen 12:1-3). Muslims believe that this migration was towards Arabia (Mecca) where he introduced monotheism among the Arabs. Similarly, sage Agastya is believed to be the first Brahman to cross the Vindhya Range and travel to southern India according Lord Shiva’s instruction to balance the tilting world. This is narrated by Naccinarkkiniyar in his commentary on Tolkāppiyam (Pāyiram ; Porul.34). Coincidence 4: According to Islam tradition, Abraham and his son Ishmael are mentioned to have laid the foundations of the Ka’ba (Qur’an 2:127). According to Tamil tradition, Agastyamalai in Kerala or Podigai in TN is said to be the place where Agastiyar established his Monastry. Modern historians like Ramprasad Chandra, Dr. Vilas Sangave , Dr. Heinrich Zimmer, John Marshall, Thomas McEvilley and Mircea Eliade are of opinion that there exists some link between the historicity of Rshabha and Indus valley civilization (Jaindiksha). Did Rishabha also come from somewhere else before settling down in Indus Valley?


  • Chakravarti, A. 1974.  Jaina literature in Tamil. Bharatiya Jnanapitha Foundation. Page 21
  • Frazer, J.G. 1918. Folk Lore of the Old Testament. Macmillan & Co.
  • Ganapathy, T.N. 2004. The philosophy of Tamil Siddhas. Indian Council of Philosophical Research, New Delhi. Page 27
  • Isaak, 2002. Flood stories from around the world. 
  •  Jeyakaran, S.C. 2004. Lost Land and the Myth of Kumari Kandam.  Indian Folklore Research Journal. Vol.1, No.4: 94–109 
  •  Jordan, M. 1993. Myths of the World.
  •  Molyneaux, B.L. 1995. The Sacred Earth. Little, Brown and Company, Boston.  Page 14 
  •  Sangave, V.A. 1999. Aspects of Jaina Religion. Bhratiya Jnanpith, New Delhi. Page 19


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