Religious Studies: Would You Adam And Eve It?

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Where did life begin? Was there a universe before life, or do we create the universe out of our own imaginations as we live?

Is it in any way feasible that Adam and Eve really were the first people and, if they were not, why does the Genesis story have such a hold on the Western consciousness?

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This week, Year 8 have been having some fun with Keith Parks poem "Adam and Eve (Genesis 2 and 3)" which is written in cockney rhyming slang.

This rendition of a story we all know has provided us with plenty of giggles in class and is the jumping off point for one of the biggest topics we tackle in Religious Studies.

For example, how are we meant to feel about the idea of the fall of man? Are we all really born into sin, and is Eve, the first woman, really responsible for our exile from Eden?

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We know, for example, that centuries of mistreatment of women can be traced back to what many of us consider to be a fairy tale. Why has this story had such a grip on our society for so long?

And what about our European neighbours and their beliefs? The Norse Edda, which are the major source of Scandinavian mythology, tell us that the first man and woman were born from the armpit of the giant Ymir - a being who sprung from the space between fire and ice.

The Norse myths also tell us that the earth, rather than mankind, was fashioned by the gods Odin, Vili, and Vé from Ymir's flesh, the ocean from his blood, the clouds from his brains and our realm of existence, Migard, from his eyebrows!

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Odin, Vili, and Vé battle Ymir

This sounds so strange to many of us who have grown up with a broadly Judaeo-Christian mind-set, but are our creation stories really any more or less far-fetched?

Does the idea of the Judeo-Christian god building the world in six days and then resting on the seventh feel in any way similar to the mammoth DIY job embarked upon by Odin and his allies?

In Hindu mythology, meanwhile, there are actually multiple stories about how the world began. One myth, in the Rigveda, tells us that the universe came into existence as a cosmic egg - the Hiranyagarbha - while the Purusha Sukta says that all things were made out of the mangled limbs of Purusha, a "non-natural man" who was sacrificed by the gods.

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The Hiranyagarbha

The Purusha Sukta creation myth bears uncanny similarities to the Norse story of Ymir, but why? And does the story of the Hiranyagarbha - the 'golden egg' from which the universe hatched - bear any similarities to the Big Bang Theory?

And what about the creation myth of Zoroastrianism - thought to be the world's first monotheistic religions? In the Zoroastrian story of creation "Ahura Mazda" existed in light and goodness above while "Angra Mainyu" existed in darkness and ignorance below. The two never met until Ahura Mazda, whose instinct was to create, made the universe and all sorts of creatures in order to ensnare evil, assembling - along the way - a floating, egg-shaped universe along with Gayomard, the archetypical "first man."

While Ahura Mazda created the universe and humankind, Angra Mainyu, whose instinct was to destroy, created an opposite - an evil being for each good being - except for humans, the design of which he could not match.

Angra Mainyu led an invasion into the universe through the base of the sky, killing Gayomard, and it was from Gayomard's remains that a plant grew, from the leaves of which sprouted the first human couple.

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Giorgio Vasari's "The Mutilation of Uranus by Saturn"

This idea, of life being born from the murder of an old god, echoes the Norse, Hindu and Greco-Roman idea of the battle between Gaea (the Earth), Saturn (Time) and Uranus (The Sky) which saw the Giants, Ash Tree Nymphs, and the Erinnyes born from Cronus' blood, along with Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love.

Are there reasons why this story seems similar to yet another Hindu creation myth, found in the Shatapatha Brahmana, which says that in the beginning Prajapati, the first creator or 'father of all' was alone in the world so differentiated himself into two beings, husband and wife, whose torrid love affair created the world's creatures?

I could write and talk about creation myths all day long - there are so many, and they are so varied, but common themes and motifs seem to pervade a great number, from the Himalayas to the Maori myths of the South Pacific to those of the Amazon delta.

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Lucas Cranach the Elder's "Adam und Eva im Paradies"

This term, we will be studying some of these stories, exploring what we think they might mean and the wisdom inherent within them, while also looking at theories of creation such as those of Thomas Aquinas, the Big Bang theory and creationism.

It should make for a very interesting few weeks!

 

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