Inanna and Dumuzi came before Adam and Eve.

That’s right: Inanna and Dumuzi.

Never heard of them?

Well, let me tell you a little bit about this ancient couple.

Their story takes place in the Middle East, thousands of years ago. There was a tree, known as the Huluppu tree. It stood in a holy garden. Inanna, a god-fearing woman, took care of the Huluppu tree. But then a serpent made its nest in this tree. He was a wicked serpent, who could not be charmed. And then, along came Dumuzi, a shepherd. He and Inanna fell in love, and they became lovers in the garden, by the tree, with the serpent in it. There’s much more to the story of this ancient couple – but we can stop right here and ask ourselves: anything sound familiar?

You’ve got a man and a woman, a garden, a tree, a serpent – Genesis, anyone? As any Bible-binger can recognize, the set-up is strikingly similar to the story of Adam and Eve. But guess what, the story of Inanna and Dumuzi was written around 2,000 B.C.E. – while the story of Adam and Eve, found in the Bible, was written approximately 500 years later, in around 1,500 B.C.E.

The point? The story of Adam and Eve was not the first story of the first humans, as many Americans falsely think. There were many stories about many people long before Adam and Eve. And furthermore, it is obvious that whoever wrote the story of Adam and Eve was influenced by – or ripped off – some key details from the preexisting Middle Eastern story of Inanna and Dumuzi. That’s how myths work: people invent stories, and in doing so, they often incorporate aspects of preexisting stories. This is clearly evident in the story of Adam and Eve, which is not a literal depiction of historical events, but a myth – and one that was steeped in the soup of mythological traditions of the ancient Levant.

So many other Bible stories are also directly constructed out of preexisting tales and legends, as many have documented – such as Tim Callahan in his book Secret Origins of the Bible. For example, the story of Moses sent out in a basket on a river was based on the preexisting story of Sargon I of Akkad – a story that was nearly 2,000 older than the Moses myth. The story of Noah and the flood is a direct rip off of the earlier, preexisting story of a great flood in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

The evidence of Biblical myth drawing from preexisting myths is even more pronounced when we get to Jesus. The story of a Savior who dies and then rises again was a commonly held, narrated, repeated, and believed myth throughout the ancient Mediterranean world: godmen or sons of God who died and were resurrected – long before the Jesus story was every concocted – include Zamolxis, Pythagoras, Orpheus, Protesilaus, Heracles, and Theseus – all pagan heroes who cheated death one way or another; Jesus’s resurrection was clearly derived from these preexisting stories and legends. And just about every single thing Jesus ever did or said – as conveyed in the New Testament – is a plagiarism from some pre-existing story or text. The writers of the New Testament had the Old Testament sitting right on their desk as they worked; they simply combed through the old Jewish stories and writings of the Hebrew Bible and selected quotes and passages – often directly – in crafting their story of Jesus. Examples abound and are way too numerous to list here; but I’ll just lay out a few examples: Jesus’s last words on the cross (Mark 15 and Luke 23) are direct quotations from the preexisting Old Testament (Psalms 22 and Psalm 31), and many of Jesus’s miracles are directly lifted from the preexisting Jewish scriptures, such as the miracle in Luke 7 wherein Jesus raises someone from the dead – it is a direct plagiarism, in both content and linguistic style, from the Old Testament story of Elijah performing the same miracle in I Kings 17. Randell Helms’ wonderful, accessible book Gospel Fictions lays it all out, if you’re interested.

Why does any of this matter? What’s the point?

Millions of people in this country – and around the world – believe Biblical myths to be factual and true accounts of history. They aren’t – which a mere 10 minutes on Google can readily reveal. But these Bible believers are on our school boards. They are on our city councils. They are on our police forces. They are in our Senate, House of Representatives, Supreme Court, and Oval Office. And their mistaken beliefs in ancient myths guide them in denying basic human rights to gays and lesbians, denying humane sanctuary to men, women, and children fleeing war, denying women the right to control their own bodies, denying climate change, denying humanity the benefits of stem cell research, denying all of us subsidized, universal healthcare. The myths they ground their political activism on must be deconstructed. Admittedly, not every person who mistakenly believes Biblical myths to be historically true is a right-wing Trumpian. But they are lacking in critical thinking skills, skeptical insight, and basic historical knowledge. And that is not good, for lacking such things will only hinder them as they seek to solve problems in their daily lives and understand the conditions and circumstances that keep them from achieving their goals.

Myths are wonderful things: they reveal deep truths about the human experience. They affirm values, broaden imaginations, and offer ways for us to reflect upon our choices, mistakes, foibles, passions, and aspirations. And they’re simply great stories.

But it is essential that we understand them for what they are.

And what they aren’t.

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