I was at Canadian Mennonite University, fresh out of high school and taking my first Old Testament course. Dr. Waldemar Janzen, our professor assigned a book report on Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan by William Albright. I started reading and grew more incredulous as I turned each page. The story of creation in Genesis I discovered was not as unique as I’d always thought. It contained elements borrowed from earlier Mesopotamian and Babylonian creation stories, had some things in common with Egyptian creation accounts, and there were many similarities between the Israelite’s god Yahweh and the Canaanite god El. I remember barging into Dr. Janzen’s office and asking him if it was true the Israelites had just cobbled together a creation story using material from other sources. Dr. Janzen reassured me my discovery wasn’t something that should shake my faith. The purpose of the Genesis story was more important than the story itself.
I have come to believe the story’s purpose was to teach us there is a life-giving creative force at work in the world and the world was made for people to care for and enjoy.
I visited a grade nine science class this month where the teacher was introducing the students to different cultural stories about the creation of the universe. He showed a beautiful video where Canadian aboriginal elders told the story of Sky Woman and the creation of Turtle Island. He used slides to tell them the Chinese story of Pangu who pushed apart the earth and the sky . Then he invited the students to do research on creation stories from other cultures around the world and share them with each other. Later the class looked at all the stories and talked about not only how they were different but also what they had in common.
Those students were discovering earlier than I did that there are lessons to be learned by looking for the common threads in the hundreds of creation stories told world-wide.