Many scholars contend that Genesis borrowed the stories of creation and the Flood from Babylonian manuscripts, particularly the Enuma elish. They suggest that biblical writers during or after the Babylonian Exile invented the early parts of Genesis by copying ancient Babylonian myths. But were the Babylonians really the first ones to perpetrate an account of the Flood? Or does a memory of Noah’s flood appear earlier, in Egyptian Hieroglyphs?
The following article is a summary of the research pertaining to Egypt’s Hieroglyphs Contain a Cultural Memory of Creation and Noah’s Flood by Gavin Cox. The views expressed reflect those of the author mentioned, and not necessarily those of New Creation.
Some Egyptologists have pointed out the biblical account of primeval history is more similar to that of Egypt than that of Babylon. This should not be surprising since either Ham (Noah’s son) or Mizraim (his grandson) founded Egypt. Much later, the Israelites spent 400 years there. In fact, it appears that Genesis 1–2 may have been written by someone who understood Egyptian primeval history and purposely corrected mistakes in the Egyptian’s version. Moses, who was raised in the Egyptian court, seems to be the ideal candidate.
In a 2013 article, Gavin Cox studies the connections between Egypt’s primeval history and that of Genesis. He also examines Egypt’s understanding of the Flood and the relationship between the Hamitic Cosmology and the Shemitic Cosmology.
What did the Egyptians Believe?
There are three main creation stories that emerged in Egypt from Heliopolis, Memphis, and Hermopolis. Some similarities between these stories are that they all feature a primordial ocean, a primeval hill, and a deification of nature.
The story from Heliopolis features a group of nine gods. It speaks of Atum, the creator god, who emerged from the primordial waters and created two other gods, Shi and Tefnut, by sneezing and spitting them out. The other gods were the descendents of Shi and Tefnut. This may be reminiscent of God creating Adam and Eve, who then populated the earth.
According to the story from Memphis, Ptah created by conceiving in his mind what should be created and speaking it into being. This seems strikingly similar to the biblical account of God speaking creation into existence.
The story from Hermopolis features a group of eight gods, known collectively as the Ogdoad, who were born in the primeval waters. They represented chaos from which a creator-god brought order.
Some Interesting Parallels
In Genesis 1:1, the word for “beginning” literally means head. In Egyptian hieroglyphs, the symbol used to describe the beginning of time is that of a man’s head.
Genesis 1:2 discusses four phenomena. Similar concepts appear in Egyptian creation stories in the form of gods. These are outlined in the table below:
|Genesis 1:2||Egyptian Creation Stories|
|Formlessness, confusion, chaos, emptiness||Hehu: Formlessness/void|
|Extreme darkness||Keku: Darkness|
|Deep Sea||Nun: The deep primeval ocean|
|Breath, wind, spirit||Amun: Wind (breath) of God|
On day two of creation, God formed the “firmament”. The Hebrew word for “firmament” is related to a word which means beat, stamp, or spread out. Meanwhile, two common Egyptian words for “creation” derive from the word meaning hammer out from metal.
The Hebrew word for “ground” shares a root with the word for “mankind” and the word “red”. Similarly, the Egyptian word for “red” shares a root with the word for “mankind” and the verb used to signify the forming of clay.
Creation by Word and Act
Just as God created the universe by speaking it into being, Egyptian mythology contends that life was created according to the word of a god. One inscription records that Atum created animal life by commanding it to be, and another describes Ptah thinking and so creating. This stands in contrast to the Babylonian myths in which creation by word does not appear.
Genesis 1:6–8 describes God separating waters from waters with the firmament between. This is similar to the Egyptian inscription which describes the heavens being separated from the primeval waters and from the earth.
The following table summarizes similarities between the Hermopolis creation story and the Genesis creation account.
|1. The chaotic deep||1. The chaotic deep|
|2. The breath (Amun) moving on the waters||2. The breath of God moving on the waters|
|3. The creation of light||3. The creation of light|
|4. Emergence of the hills from the waters||4. Emergence of land from the waters.|
Shem and Ham
The similarities between the Genesis account and the Egyptian myths are striking. Cox suggests that these similarities are due to a borrowing of values between two brothers: Shem and Ham. He says, “Ham, opposed to the true faith of his father Noah, and brother Shem, established his own rival belief system.” The biblical account derives from the Shemitic Cosmology, while the Egyptian myths follow the Hamitic Cosmology.
The Babylonian Flood Tablets
One of the most notable Babylonian flood stories, the Gilgamesh Epic, features a flood survivor named Ut-napishtim. Other flood stories have different names for the flood survivor such as Zisuthrus, Deucalion, Ogygus, Dardanus, Atrakhasis, and Ziudsuddu.
While Babylon has many flood stories, Egypt has none, which seems surprising, since flooding was a common occurrence in Egypt.
Cox notes that while the flood survivor is named in almost every Babyylonian story, his family is either ignored or left anonymous.
Despite the lack of an Egyptian flood story, Cox seeks to demonstrate that the names Noah, Shem, Japheph, and Ham are Egyptian names.The link between the biblical Flood account and Egyptian mythology appears in a creation account rather than a flood story.
The details of the creation and Flood accounts would have been handed down through the Shemite line to Abraham and his descendents, including Moses. Over time, details may have been lost, compressing the main events of 1656 years into an oral tradition passed from one generation to the next.
Similarities Between Creation and the Flood
Cox draws a comparison between the four primeval elements and the four men who survived the Flood. These are outlined in the table below:
|Genesis 1:2||Flood Patriarch Name Meaning|
|Deep||Noah: rest, comfort|
|Wind/Spirit of God||Shem: name, glory, representative|
|Formlessness/Emptiness||Japheth: spacious, wide, open|
|Extreme darkness, black||Ham: black|
Noah and His Family in Egypian Myths
Cox suggests that if these names are indeed parallels to the four primeval elements, then one of the aforementioned Egyptian creation accounts may be a re-telling of the Flood story. Recall that the Hermopolis creation story features a group of eight gods. Could these represent the eight people who survived the flood?
The eight gods, known as the Ogdoad, consisted of four males and their female consorts: Nun and Naunet, Amun and Amunet, Keku and Kauket, and Hehu and Hauhet.
The names “Noah” and “Nun” have the same meaning, and speak of quiet, tranquil abiding. Noah is associated with the Flood, while Nun is associated with primeval waters. It seems likely that the Egytpian god Nun is based on a memory of biblical Noah.
The name “Shem” means name, representation, or glory. The word “Amun”, which represents the next god in the Egyptian Ogdoad, means hidden-of-name, heaven, or sun. This range of meaning overlaps significantly with that of Shem’s name. Additionally, Amun is associated with a flood. Therefore, Amun may represent Shem.
“Japheth” means spacious, wide open, youthful, and open-minded. “Heh”, the next god in the Ogdoad, has a name meaning great numbers, searching, and treading. While these meanings are not an exact match, they overlap to some extent. Heh is associated with inundation water, and may represent Japheth.
The name “Ham” means hot, black, noise, or troubled. “Kek”, the final god in the Ogdoad, means darkness, flood water, or twilight. These similarities suggest that Kek represents Ham. Additionally, Kek is also known as Horus, therefore Ham = Kek = Horus.
In addition to the similarities between name meanings, the family structure of Noah’s family and that of the Ogdoad is identical, since Nun and Naunet were the parents/creators of the other three male gods and their female consorts.
According to Genesis, the pre-Flood and post-Flood patriarchs lived for long timespans. Noah lived 950 years, and Shem lived 600 years. Ham and Japheth probably had similar lifespans to that of Shem. These patriarchs, who survived to see many generations of descendents, likely left immense legacies amongst their descendents.
Ham, Ruler of Egypt
Egyptian history records a dynasty of long-lived kings, sometimes referred to as demi-gods. Could these represent the long-lived Flood survivors? The Egyptian word for “old age” comes from the same root as the name of the god “Nun”, whom Cox equates with Noah. Additionally, the Egyptian phonetic equivalent to the name “Shem” means to be old, and the Egyptian phonetic equivalent for the name “Japheth” means to attain old age. Finally, the Egyptian phonetic equivalent for the name “Ham” means greying (of the hair).
According to the Psalms (78:51; 105:23, 27; 106:22), Egypt is the “Land of Ham”. Recall that the name Ham can mean black. Is it coincidence that the Egyptian hieroglyphs for Egypt refer to the country as “Black-land”? Additionally, the land of Egypt is figuratively referred to as Horus. Recall that Horus is the equivalent of Kek, the god that Cox equates with Ham. It seems that Ham is closely linked with the name of Egypt itself.
The Children of Horus
According to Egyptian records, Horus had four sons: Qebehsenuf, Amset, Duamutef, and Hapi. If Horus represents Ham, could these refer to the four sons of Ham: Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan? Ham would have passed the story of the flood on to his four sons, and they may have influenced the Egyptian language, especially in regard to flood vocabulary. Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan are all Egyptian names. The root for “Cush” means flood water, the root for “Mizraim” means origin of the water, the root for “Put” means flood, and the root for “Canaan” means flood.
The Family of Osiris
Stories of Osiris and his family derived from the earliest periods of Egyptian history and persisted throughout Egyptian history. According to Egyptian mythology, Osiris was the father of Horus. If Horus is Ham, is Osiris Noah?
Epithets of Osiris label him in a variety of ways. These include Osiris the Long-Lived, Osiris the Weary-Hearted, Osiris the Drowned One, and He-who-is-in-the-box (Osiris). These all seem descriptive of Noah. Furthermore, one inscription links Osiris with Nun, the flood god, whom Cox associates with Noah.
Noah’s Ark in the Hieroglyphs
The hieroglyphic sign for the Ogdoad carries two meanings. The first is eight, which is appropriate, since the Ogdoad represents a group of eight gods. The second meaning, however, is significant, since it is ship. The hieroglyphic sign includes a long rectangle with eight lines protruding from the top. Could this represent eight people, Noah and his family, in the ark?
A wall inscription sheds light on the issue. It depicts the Ogdoad standing in a ship. Another inscription, the Solar Bark, shows a similar image; it clearly depicts four males, each with a female consort, standing in a ship.
The Ogdoad: Creators or Re-Creators?
Egyptian mythology depicts the Ogdoad as creators, but perhaps it would be better to see them as re-creators. One depiction portrays the eight gods with hoes, tilling the soil. This is generally interpreted as the first acts of creation, but perhaps it instead represents Noah and his family making a new life after the Flood. According to Genesis 9:20, Noah became a farmer and planted a vineyard.
Egyptian records contain several creation stories, but the one that matches the biblical record of the Flood the closest is the story of the Ogdoad. Egyptian Hieroglyphs testify to the historical accuracy of the Genesis account by reflecting glimpses of truth through a corrupted and pagan lens. Further work is necessary to study the links between Egyptian mythology and biblical history, but many connections are already apparent.