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Creation 43(3):52–55, July 2021

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Finding Adam—in Ancient Egypt

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Credit: Authorthree snapshots from Egypt

I had the privilege of living and working in Egypt, exploring for oil and gas (1999–2000; 2006–2007). While living in Cairo, I became enamoured with Egyptian history. I visited the Great Pyramid (outside and in) on a dozen occasions, as well as other historical sites. Their scale and grandeur were awe-inspiring. What intrigued me most was to discover if Egyptian history had any connections to the earliest chapters of Genesis. For instance, did the Ancient Egyptians know about Adam and Eve, or Noah and the Flood?

After over a decade of research, including two master’s degrees (Biblical Studies 2014, Egyptology 2015) I concluded, yes, the Egyptians knew, albeit in distorted, paganized ways.1

Biblical history is real history

Many ancient cultures possess accounts that have parallels to the events and persons of Genesis 1–11.2,3 Although these accounts are corrupted and often confused, aspects of biblical truth can still be recognized. This is not surprising, since all such cultures have arisen from the family in the Ark, only some 4,500 years ago. They were eyewitnesses to the Flood, and with Noah being a “herald of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5), they would have also known of Adam, Eve, and their Fall.

What’s in a Name? Adam and Atum

In the Hebrew Bible it is possible to discern what names mean by connections to similar-sounding words in the text. Scholars have long noticed Adam sounds like the Hebrew for ‘red’, ‘earth/clay’, ‘man/mankind’, and ‘blood.’ The so-called ‘phonetic root’ of Adam ‘dm’ occurs in these Hebrew words, connecting these concepts theologically with Adam. This is called paronomasia, meaning ‘word-play’, or ‘puns’.

A similar case can be made for Atum. Here, phonetic roots for Atum (tm/dm) connect to Egyptian words for: ‘red’, ‘everyone/ humankind’, ‘blood-clot’, ‘red-ochre’. Furthermore, the female version of Atum’s name (tm.t) means ‘ancestress mother’ which is like the meaning of Eve’s name: “mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20).

Cox, G., The search for Adam, Eve and creation in ancient Egypt, J. Creation 35(1):61–69, 2021.

Following the Flood, the multiplying human population remained together for at most some two to three centuries until the dispersion at Babel.4 This included the Ark’s passengers, who, since they lived for several centuries after the Flood, may even have been regularly consulted as revered ‘ancestor sages’.

Also, the structure5 of Genesis suggests that a written version of the history was available, likely preserved through the line of Shem until later compilation by Moses. This would have helped sustain the ‘memory’ of that early Genesis history.

Then (in Peleg’s days, 1 Chronicles 1:19) God dispersed the people from Babel, spreading the key features of Genesis 1–11 all over the world. Thus, for example, the hundreds of widespread stories of a global Flood, often strikingly similar to Genesis.2

Following the dispersal, some groups relatively close to Babel—e.g. in Mesopotamia and Egypt—were able to re-establish their level of civilization quite quickly.6

The Ham–Egypt connection

Noah’s son Ham had four sons. The names of three of them, Mizraim, Phut, and Cush (Genesis 10:6), have biblical and/or extrabiblical associations with Egypt and/or its neighbouring nations. In particular, Mizraim (Mitsrayim מִצְרַיִם) is the Hebrew name for Egypt throughout the Old Testament. The classical Arabic name for Egypt is Misr, used by modern Egyptians themselves.

In the Psalms, Egypt is called the “land of Ham” (Ps 105:23, 27; 106:22) and “tents of Ham” (Ps 78:51). The biblical evidence leaves little doubt ‘Ham and sons’ settled in that region. It’s highly likely that Ham and Mizraim were major figures in early Egypt, one or both being instrumental in its founding. Any non-Hamitic groups or individuals who happened to be a part of Egypt’s founding population could of course transmit information about early history. But the prominent presence of the Flood-witness Ham, raised by Noah, greatly enhances the chance of finding ‘Genesis links’ in the few early Egyptian records remaining.

In short, we would expect to find extrabiblical evidence of early Genesis in Ancient Egypt. This should be in the earliest inscriptions, closest to the time of arrival of the Babel migrants. And indeed we find such evidence in the early (Old Kingdom) pyramids. As time progressed, the accounts became increasingly corrupted. (Ancient Egyptians were very pagan, adding around two thousand gods and goddesses over time.)7

Egyptian creation beliefs

All images Wikipedia unless otherwise indicatedthe-god-khnum
Fig. 1. The god Khnum fashions man from clay (on a potter’s wheel).

Ancient Egypt had three main beliefs about creation, which arose in three separate places, each with its own temple. These became known by their Greek names: Heliopolis (within modern-day Cairo, see below), Memphis, and Hermopolis (20 km and 322 km south of Cairo, respectively). Each location shared fundamental ideas including a ‘primordial ocean’ (Nu/Nun—see ‘Memories of Noah’), out of which the first created land arose8—reminiscent of Day 3 of Creation Week when “dry land appear[ed]” (Genesis 1:9). It also brings to mind the end of the Flood, when “the tops of the mountains were seen” (Genesis 8:5).

A fourth temple theology, at Elephantine, Aswan (870 km south of Cairo), involved a god called Khnum creating humanity from clay, using a potter’s wheel (fig. 1). This is reminiscent of Genesis 2:7 where “God formed the man of dust from the ground.”

Heliopolis, Atum, and the Bible

al-massala-obelisk-heliopolis
Fig. 2. The Al-Massala Obelisk at the site of ancient Heliopolis.

Heliopolis (Greek for ‘city of the sun’) was from its beginning a regional centre of worship for a god called (Re)-Atum. Its only remnant evidence is the Al-Masalla Obelisk (fig. 2). This stands in a Cairo suburb, Ain Shams, built on top of the site of Heliopolis. Ain Shams is the Arabic name (‘eye of the sun’) for the ancient city. Senusret I (died 1926 BC) of the Twelfth Dynasty erected the obelisk. It is made of red granite, some 21 m (70 ft) high, and weighs 120 tonnes.

Heliopolis and the worship of Atum both feature in Scripture. Heliopolis, with its pillars/obelisks, is judged for its idolatry in Jeremiah 43:13 and Isaiah 19:18.9 The Egyptian name of Heliopolis is ‘Iunu’ meaning ‘pillar’ (or obelisk). In Coptic10 it is ‘On’, which is judged in Ezekiel 30:17. Joseph’s wife is the daughter of Potiphera (whose name means ‘the one whom Ra has given’ and is a “priest of On” (Genesis 41:45, 50; 46:20).11 So Potiphera likely worshipped Re-Atum. Also, Israelite slaves built grain-stores for Pharaoh at ‘Pithom’ (Exodus 1:11) which in Egyptian means ‘Great House of Atum’ (pr-jtm.w).9 Atum’s name appears in Egypt’s oldest texts, inscribed on walls and corridors of burial chambers inside 5th Dynasty pyramids. He is described as the first creator god, who emerged from ‘primordial flood waters’, ascended the ‘primordial mound’ (the first land) and initiated his work of creation.12

Atum creates two children by ‘sneezing’ or ‘spitting out’ a son, Shu (representing air), and a daughter, Tēfnut (moisture). From Atum, other gods were believed to have descended by natural procreation. Thus the Egyptians thought in terms of nine (sometimes ten) gods, jointly called the Great Ennead.

The 19th Dynasty Turin Canon (or Turin King List) papyrus (fig. 3) lists rulers of Egypt and their reign-lengths. Though highly damaged, it features names from the Great Ennead amongst various mythical early rulers, each of which reined for hundreds of years.13 This suggests a corrupted memory of the long-lived generations listed in Genesis 5.14 Prominent ancestors becoming ‘deified’ well after their deaths is a known phenomenon.

Atum derived from the memory of Adam?

akhenatenator/wikimediaturin-canon-papyrus
Fig. 3. The Turin Canon papyrus, with its list of rulers reigning for hundreds of years.

Such deification may have happened in the case of Adam. Atum sounds like Adam, and may be even more similar than at first glance. Firstly, vowels were seldom marked in hieroglyphic inscriptions. What was typically inscribed were consonants, so modern Egyptologists infer what words sounded like. By agreed convention, vowels are supplied so that words can be pronounced. So Atum could have been pronounced ‘Atam’. Furthermore, the consonant ‘t’ was known to swap with ‘d’ in Egyptian—an established fact amongst linguists.1 In other words, the original name of Adam we have in Genesis could have readily come to be pronounced ‘Atam/Atum’ in Egyptian, through well-understood changes in letter sounds.

Atum battles the serpent beneath the tree of knowledge

atum-battles-serpent-apophis
Fig. 4. Atum battles with the serpent Apophis in front of the Ished tree.

Egyptian beliefs about Atum provide more clues of his connection to early Genesis. Images of Atum appear in 20th Dynasty tombs (c. 1189–1077 BC) showing him battling with a serpent called Apophis in front of a tree (fig. 4) called the Ished tree. Atum is depicted as a cat—considered the natural enemy of snakes. Such images appear c. 1280 BC in papyri collections of religious spells, called the ‘Book of the Dead’, which were buried with the deceased. Atum is shown with one paw crushing the head of Apophis, while the other paw takes a knife to decapitate it. Egyptian priests connected with this belief made models of Apophis which were trampled, stabbed, and burned, in order to vanquish the snake’s evil.1 As part of His pronouncement of the Curse when Adam and Eve sinned, God said that the serpent’s head would be bruised by the coming Seed (Genesis 3:15), whom Paul calls the ‘last Adam’ (1 Corinthians 15:45). However, the Egyptian version has Atum already victorious over the serpent—crushing its head.

Memories of Noah

nu-holds-sun
Nu, standing in the waters of chaos, holds up the barque of the sun containing seven other deities.

Scripture teaches that Noah, his sons and wives—eight altogether—boarded the Ark, to escape the Global Flood judgment. Did the Ancient Egyptians have knowledge of this, too?

Egyptologists know of a group of eight gods called the Ogdoad (Greek for ‘eight’). Four males and their wives, connected to the Egyptian Flood, or primeval ocean (Nun/Nu). Their names occur in the Pyramid Texts, Egypt’s oldest inscriptions. The chief god is Nu, sounds like Noah; his wife is Nu.t.

These eight were worshipped at Khemenu (Greek ‘Hermopolis’), mentioned in the Pyramid Texts. Khemenu survived into modern-day El Ashmunein (‘Eight City’ in Coptic), 322 km (200 miles) south of Cairo. A temple once stood there, dedicated to their worship.

The Egyptians believed the ‘Eight’ eventually died, and were buried. A small 18th Dynasty temple at Medinet Habu, 663 km south of Cairo, marks their tomb. Inscriptions feature their names, and describe both their burial as mummies and the Great Flood.

Cox, G., The search for Noah and the Flood in ancient Egypt—part 1, part 2, J. Creation 33(3):94–108, 2019.

The trees of Eden

inscription-at-thebes
Fig. 5. Inscription at Thebes; the gods Atum (left) and Thoth write the enthroned king’s reign length on the leaves of the Ished tree.

Genesis 2:9 names two trees in Eden; the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Ished tree is clearly connected with both knowledge and length of life in Egyptian inscriptions. For instance, a wall inscription on the Pharaoh Ramesses II temple at Thebes (c. 1300 BC) depicts Atum and a god called Thoth, writing on the leaves of the Ished tree the reign length assigned to the enthroned king (fig. 5).

Interestingly, the name Ished (originally pronounced ‘ish-d-et’ in the Pyramid Texts) sounds like Hebrew ‘tree of knowledge’—pronounced ets-ha-da-at. (Hebrew ‘tree’ = ets, ‘the knowledge of’ = ha-da-at). Therefore, the sound and meaning of a part of this Edenic tree’s name was likely incorporated into Egyptian religion.

Conclusion

As expected, ‘echoes of Eden and Genesis’ are indeed present in the records of early Egypt, in more than one form. Starting with the Bible as God’s revealed truth about history equips us to make genuine discoveries.

Posted on homepage: 3 October 2022

References and notes

  1. For more details see: Cox, G., The search for Adam, Eve and creation in ancient Egypt, J. Creation 35(1):61–69, 2021. Return to text.
  2. Conolly R., and Grigg, R., Flood! Creation 23(1):26–30, 2000; creation.com/many-flood-legends. Return to text.
  3. Wieland, C., chap. 9, ‘Echoes of Genesis’ in: One Human Family; creation.com/ohf. Return to text.
  4. This event was in the days of Peleg (Genesis 10:25), who was born about 100 years post-Flood, dying at the age of 239. Return to text.
  5. DeRemer, F., Structure, toledoths, and sources of Genesis, J. Creation 28(1):53–58, 2014; creation.com/toledoth. Return to text.
  6. Isolated groups that did not include those with certain ‘know-how’ for e.g. metal extraction and use would have had to rely on stone tools until this was rediscovered. Return to text.
  7. Mark, J.J., Egyptian Gods–The Complete List, 14 April 2016; worldhistory.org. Return to text
  8. Cox, G., What’s the point of the pyramids? J. Creation 34(1):16–18, 2020; creation.com/why-pyramids. Return to text.
  9. Where several translations have ‘Heliopolis’ in Jeremiah 43:13, the KJV has Bethshemesh (= ‘house of the sun’, per Strong’s Concordance). Isaiah 19:18 is commonly understood among scholars to involve a word-play on the ‘city of the sun’ (Heliopolis) which will be known as ‘city of destruction’. Return to text.
  10. The latest stage of the Egyptian language still spoken today. Return to text.
  11. Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, entries 244 and 7490. Return to text.
  12. Currid, J.D., Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament, Baker Books, Michigan, p. 57, 1997. Return to text.
  13. Cox, G., The search for Adam, Eve, Noah and the Flood—in Ancient Egypt? creation.com/adam-egypt, 13 Feb 2021. Return to text.
  14. There are other ancient cultures whose records likewise list ten original rulers who seem to correspond to the pre-Flood biblical patriarchs. See López, R.E., The antediluvian patriarchs and the Sumerian King List, J. Creation 12(3):347–357, 1998; creation.com/sumerian. Return to text.

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