Cosmology in the ancient Near East (Isaiah 45)

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Illustration: Khnum is moulding a human on his potter’s wheel

Cosmology deals with the order and nature of the universe. Observations of nature by ancient peoples were transformed into metaphors by which they understood their place in the world. Many myths attempted to explain the origin and purpose of the human race.

In the most prominent Mesopotamian myth of creation, which was annually enacted at New Year’s religious festivals, the ordered universe emerged out of a cosmic struggle of the gods. The Enuma Elish vividly imagines the origins of the universe as a struggle between chaos and order. In this myth Marduk, the storm-god, defeated Tiamat, the sea dragon, and from her body created the universe. He also killed her consort, the god Kingu, and from Kingu’s blood created humanity for the purpose of serving the gods.

The actual process of humanity’s creation is better described by another ;esopotamian myth, Atra-hasis, in which Mami, the birth goddess and divine midwife, shaped clay moistened by the spittle of the gods and then pinched off pieces to deliver humans from the womb of the earth. The role of humanity, again, was to serve the gods by constructing their temples, working their lands and giving ritual service to the deities.

In the Memphite theology of Egypt, the god Ptah conceived the universe in his mind and brought it into being by his creative word. The fashioning of humanity, however, is ascribed to the potter god, Khnum, who moulded people out of clay, crafting them on a potter’s wheel, and then placed the fetus in the mother’s womb. Reliefs in Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple show Khnum sculpting her fetus and her ka, or “spirit”, on the potter’s wheel.

Yet another myth explains the origin of humanity as the joyful tears of the sun god, Ra (or Re; in Egyptian, remut means “tears” and remet means “humanity”). Although there is no clear Egyptian articulation of the purpose of humanity, there is an assertion that though human beings were created with equal opportunity to do good, they chose to device evil in their hearts.

Biblical cosmology treats natural phenomena from the standpoint of a monotheistic worldview. The primal waters are neither vilified nor defied. God commanded creation by the power of His word, shaping the cosmos in an orderly fashion and governing Hid world with wisdom (Genesis 1, Proverbs 8:22-31). A person is not a servile being meant to fulfil the gods’ need for food and worship; humanity is created in God’s image and destined for communion with God and for the purpose of blessing (Genesis 1:27-28).


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