Biblical parallels in Sumerian literature

Traces of Sumerian religion survive today and are reflected in writings of the Bible. As late as Ezekiel, there is mention of a Sumerian deity. In Ezekiel 8:14, the prophet sees women of Israel weeping for Tammuz (Dumuzi) during a drought.

The bulk of Sumerian parallels can, however be found much earlier, in the book of Genesis. As in Genesis, the Sumerians' world is formed out of the watery abyss and the heavens and earth are divinely separated from one another by a solid dome. The second chapter of Genesis introduces the paradise Eden, a place which is similar to the Sumerian Dilmun, described in the myth of "Enki and Ninhursag". Dilmun is a pure, bright, and holy land - now often identified with Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. It is blessed by Enki to have overflowing, sweet water. Enki fills it with lagoons and palm trees. He impregnates Ninhursag and causes eight new plants to grow from the earth. Eden, "in the East" (Gen. 2:8) has a river which also "rises" or overflows, to form four rivers including the Tigris and Euphrates. It too is lush and has fruit bearing trees. (Gen. 2:9-10) In the second version of the creation of man "The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being." Enki and Ninmah (Ninhursag) use a similar method in creating man. Nammu, queen of the abyss and Enki's mother, bids Enki to "Kneed the 'heart' of the clay that is over the Abzu " and "give it form" (Kramer & Maier p. 33) From there the similarities cease as the two create several malformed humans and then the two deities get into an argument.

Returning to Enki and Ninhursag, we find a possible parallel to the creation of Eve. Enki consumed the plants that were Ninhursag's children and so was cursed by Ninhursag, receiving one wound for each plant consumed. Enlil and a fox act on Enki's behalf to call back Ninhursag in order to undo the damage. She joins with him again and bears eight new children, each of whom are the cure to one of his wounds. The one who cures his rib is named Ninti, whose name means the Queen of months, (Kramer & Maier 1989: pp. 28-30) the lady of the rib, or she who makes live. This association carries over to Eve. (Kramer, History Begins at Sumer 1981: pp. 143-144) In Genesis, Eve is fashioned from Adam's rib and her name hawwa is related to the Hebrew word hay or living. (New American Bible p. 7.) The prologue of "Gilgamesh, Enkidu and the Underworld" may contain the predecessor to the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This tree not only contains a crafty serpent, but also Lilith, the legendary first wife of Adam. The huluppu tree is transplanted by Inanna from the banks of the Euphrates to her garden in Uruk, where she finds that:

...a serpent who could not be charmed

made its nest in the roots of the tree,

The Anzu bird set his young in the branches of the tree,

And the dark maid Lilith built her home in the trunk. (Wolkstein and Kramer 1983: p. 8)

It should be noted that Kramer's interpretation that this creature is Lilith has come into quiestion of late.

Another possible Sumerian carry-over related to the Fall of man is the lack of "pangs of childbearing" for those in Dilmun. In particular, Ninhursag gives birth in nine days, not nine months, and the pass "like good princely cream" (Kramer 1981: p. 142,145) or "fine oil" (Kramer & Maier 1989: p. 25)

The quarrels between herder god and farmer deity pairs such as Lahar and Ashnan or Enten and Emesh are similar in some respects to the quarrels of Cain and Abel. In the Sumerian versions death appears to be avoided, although we do not have the complete Lahar and Ashnan story. (Kramer 1961 pp. 49-51, 53-54)

The ten patriarchs in Genesis born prior to the flood lived very long lives, most in excess of 900 years. The seventh patriarch, Enoch, lived only 365 years before he "walked with God". (Genesis 5). The account which numbers those Patriarchs as ten is attributed to the Priestly source. The Yahwist source (J), details only seven Patriarchs prior to Noah, so that with him included, there are eight antediluvian patriarchs. (Genesis 4: 17-18) The eight antediluvian kings of in the Sumerian King List also lived for hundreds of years. (Kramer 1963 p. 328) S. H. Hooke notes another version of the Sumerian King list, found in Larsa details ten antediluvian kings. (Hooke, p. 130) The clearest Biblical parallel comes from the story of the Flood. In the Sumerian version, the pious Ziusudra is informed of the gods decision to destroy mankind by listening to a wall. He too weathers the deluge aboard a huge boat. Noah's flood lasts a long time, but Ziusudra comes to rest within seven days and not the near year of the Bible. He does not receive a covenant, but is given eternal life. (Kramer 1963 pp. 163-164; Kramer 1961 pp. 97-98)

As far as the New Testament goes, many also draw a parallel between Dumuzi and Jesus because Dumuzi is a shepherd-king and he is resurrected from the dead. This is perhaps appealing to some as Dumuzi's Akkadian analog, Tammuz, appears in the Bible, however Dumuzi's periodic return from the underworld is not unique even in Sumerian literature. His sister Geshtinanna also rises from the dead, and if one counts those born as deities, Inanna does as well. Periodic death and rebirth is a common theme in agricultural myths where the return of the deities from the earth mirrors a return to life of plants.