THE first of the Egyptian gods, Atum, is lonely. His two children, Shu and Tefnut, created from a mighty sneeze, have wandered off to explore the waters of chaos, and have never come back. He sends his Eye (a solar disc, apparently) to find them, and the tears of joy he sheds on their return become the first human beings.
Meanwhile, in the far North, the magic cow, Audumla, is licking a lump of ice. On the first day, she finds a shock of hair coming out of the ice; on the second, she finds it is attached to a head; and on the third, a whole man appears. And all the while, over in Eden, the Lord God has made man from the dust of the earth, and woman from his rib.
THESE stories are everywhere — in scripture of course, and in all the myths that have ever been told (the British Museum has produced a very readable collection in its Legendary Past series) — and the point is, how much of this do we want to give our children?
They, like everyone else, are deeply interested in origins and, although we can offer them the first verses of St John’s Gospel and the Big Bang, Adam and Eve are going to be part of their religious and cultural inheritance. So it is no bad idea to give Genesis 2 its place among the great creation myths, if only to flag up Genesis 1 — because it is there that we find the difference.
There is no magic sneeze, or (if we look at the Babylonians for a moment) chopped-up monster, to provide the material for creation. There is nothing.
God does not make things from other things; he creates. As the first verse of The Word on the Street by Rob Lacey (Zondervan, 2005) puts it: “First off, nothing . . . but God. No light, no time, no substance, no matter. Second off, God says the word and WHAP! Stuff everywhere!”
Sarah Lenton writes, broadcasts, and lectures on lyric theatre for the Royal Opera House, English National Opera, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, and BBC Radio 3 and 4. She is studying for ordination at St Mellitus College.