Out of deference to religious sensibilities, it's relatively uncommon even today to find much discussion in popular media of the parallels between Near Eastern mythology and the Hebrew Bible. It's not surprising, for example, to see credulous discussions of Noah's Flood without mention of the fact that the Mesopotamian peoples had the same flood myth, right down to the Ark, at least 1,500 years before Biblical version was constructed. Similarly, the most prominent person to discuss in popular literature the clear linkage between the stories of the birth of Moses and that of Sargon of Akkad, who was born sometime around 2300 BCE, was Helena Blavatsky, the Theosophical fraud, who at least did the service of bringing to a wider audience the academic work of George Smith and others on the Mesopotamian origins of Genesis.
The legend of Sargon's birth was recorded in the seventh century BCE but was based, in all likelihood, on much earlier sources. The seventh-century legend agrees with the Sumerian king of around 2000 BCE in making Sargon a commoner, the son of a gardener, and it is probable that some version of the birth legend was in circulation long before the seventh century BCE. The birth of Moses was recorded a century later and bears a striking similarity:
The detail of the baby placed on a river in a basket of rushes and sealed with pitch is identical in both. Perhaps interesting is the way that the Hebrew story inverts the story of Sargon. Sargon, of humble birth, is found by a gardener but rises to rule a kingdom by the will of a goddess, while Moses, of priestly birth, is found by a princess and leaves a kingdom to serve God.
This isn't a coincidence. The Bible is full of stories that invert or subvert Mesopotamian myths to glorify God and and denigrate the peoples of Mesopotamia. Witness, for example, the wicked Nephilim (the sons of God) and "men of renown" from Genesis 6:4, who are quite transparently the old gods and heroes of the Near East--on the order of the semi-divine Gilgamesh--turned into the wicked sinners that brought about the Great Flood, another element borrowed from Near Eastern myth. This is confirmed by the apocryphal literature, such as the Book of Giants, which in at least one version explicitly makes Gilgamesh and his arch-enemy Humbaba two of the pre-Flood giants of Genesis.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter, The Skeptical Xenoarchaeologist, for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.