Genesis vs. the Pagan Origin of Mankind

by Brian Forbes
(c) 2014


"Where do we come from?"  It's a question children ask their parents shortly after they learn to communicate.  Their parents asked their parents.  From mother to son, from father to daughter, the answer has been passed down throughout the generations.  Children will conspire, and comparing their stories, they deduce that not all parents are equal in their historical education.  Second-hand information is not as reliable as eye-witness information.  With every generation that the story is retold, it becomes more questionable.  When the scenarios diverge, who is right? 

The question of origins is a religious question, a scientific question, and a historical question.  The major world religions, in order of most popular, are: "2.2 billion Christians (32% of the world’s population), 1.6 billion Muslims (23%), 1 billion Hindus (15%), nearly 500 million Buddhists (7%) and 14 million Jews (0.2%)." [1]  That accounts for more than three out of four people alive on earth today.  It does not account for the "more than 400 million people (6%)"  who practice various folk or traditional religions, which often have more in common with the historic overarching religion of paganism than the other views.  A large portion (ranging anywhere from 23-87%) of each religion adheres to the popular scientific view of evolution.[2]  Many trust their religious and historical texts for information on mankind's origin.

Christians, Muslims, and Jews, more than half of the world's population, hold to religions that claim that Adam and Eve are our first progenitors.  Buddhists either don't try to tackle the question[3] or they have something similar to all the other folk religions around the world.[4]  Hindus, too, have a folk religion style origins narrative.[5] 

As it relates to origins, the options are:
1. The universe and humanity are eternal and cyclical. 
2. One of the folk creation narratives is true. 
3. Genesis is true.

That the universe is eternal is easily dismissed by citing the Laws of Thermodynamics.  A cup of hot water will eventually transfer its heat to the rest of the room, making everything uniform.  If the universe is eternal, and matter and energy cannot be naturally created out of nothing, it follows that the universe will have equalized its temperature in eternity past.  The only way out of this conundrum is to either claim that the universe had a beginning or appeal to something supernatural.  An alternative to figuring out how it happened is to appeal to our own ignorance and ignore the problem.  That's largely what the scientific community is doing today.

Reading the hundreds of Creation myths around the world lends to the suggestion that they can be traced back to a recent common source.  The Native American, African, Buddhist, and Hindu stories resemble those of ancient Rome.   Ancient Rome took high quality records which have come down through time to us.  Let us evaluate ancient Roman Paganism in light of this question of origins.  I will be taking quotes from Arnobius, whose work Against the Heathen[6] had a hand in causing Christianity to overcome ancient Paganism.

Did the pagans actually believe their religion?  Yes they did.  They didn't just believe it with an emotional or intellectual assent either.  They put their money where their mouth is.  They built temples.  "It is Saturn, my opponent says, and Janus, Minerva, Juno, Apollo, Venus, Triptolemus, Hercules, Aesculapius, and all the others, to whom the reverence of antiquity dedicated magnificent temples in almost every city. " (Book 3 chap. 6)  They even often had a record of who built the temple.  "Now, if you ask to be told who was their first founder and builder, either Phoroneus or the Egyptian Merops will be mentioned to you, or, as Varro relates in his treatise 'de Admirandis,' Aeacus the offspring of Jupiter."  (Book 6 chap. 3)  They also made sacrifices.  And what is a sacrifice?  It's more than a bloody mess.  The gift (be it a bull, a goat, a dog, or your own son) costs the supplicant something.  There was monetary support for this religion from the community as a whole.

Why did they believe it?  The traditions that were handed down for each of the gods credited them with certain benefactions.  For example Æsculapius was the discoverer of medicines. (Book 1 chap. 41)  Romulus was "skilful in devising new ceremonies." (Book 7 chap. 26)  And if they were around to give us skills and talents, it stands to reason that they were a part of the real history of mankind.  "The immortal gods themselves, whose temples you now enter with reverence, whose deity you suppliantly adore, did they not at certain times, as is handed down by your writings and traditions, begin to be, to be known and to be invoked by names and titles which were given to them? [...] So then, these, too, began to be at a certain time, and to be summoned among the gods to the sacred rites. This we say, in like manner, of Minerva. [...] She therefore has an origin at the first, and began to be called a goddess at a certain time, to be set up in temples, and to be consecrated by the inviolable obligations of religion." (Book 2 chap. 70)  Yes they were born and raised.  "There are some, besides, who assert that those who from being men became gods, are denoted by this name—as Hercules, Romulus, Aeculapius, Liber, Aeneas." (Book 3 chap. 39) And yes, they once lived among men.  Arnobius defends Christians against the claim of sacrilege in these words, "Did we say that Venus was a courtezan, deified by a Cyprian king named Cinyras? [...] Was it not you? Who that Mars was Spartanus? Was it not your writer Epicharmus? Who that he was born within the confines of Thrace? [...] Was it not your writings, your tragedies? [...] Is it related at our instance that Jupiter was committed to the grave in the island of Crete? [...] Is the author of our number, who is termed Patrocles the Thurian in the titles of his writings, who relates that the tomb and remains of Saturn are found in Sicily? Is Plutarch of Chaeronea esteemed one of us, who said that Hercules was reduced to ashes on the top of Mount Oeta, after his loss of strength through epilepsy?" (Book 4 chap. 25) They accepted them as histories of real people who embarked on real quests.

Were they myths or histories?  "Whence, then, do we prove that all these narratives are records of events? [...] For it is not to be believed that these have no origin, are practised without reason or meaning, and have no causes connected with their first beginnings." (Book 5 chap. 39) So they were records of events.  Then how did they become so mythical?  "...all these things, they say, are the fictions of poets, and games arranged for pleasure." (Book 4 chap. 32)  "...all these things which do the immortal gods dishonour, have been put forth by poets merely in sport..." (Book 5, chap. 1)  And the populous loved these flowery embellishments.  " say that those who have uttered so marvellous things are chiefs and kings among poets endowed with godlike genius, that they are persons most holy..." (Book 4, chap. 34)  In addition to their own superheroes, they adopted accounts from distant lands.  "Have you not introduced into the number of your gods the Egyptian deities named Serapis and Isis, since the consulship of Piso and Gabinius? What! Did you not begin both to know and be acquainted with, and to worship with remarkable honours, the Phrygian mother [...] Is it not said in the writings of the learned, that the rituals of Numa Pompilius do not contain the name of Apollo? Now it is clear and manifest from this, that he, too, was unknown to you, but that at some time afterwards he began to be known also." (Book 2 chap. 73)

When critically evaluated, the religion was not tenable.  Arnobius traces the reasons. The gods were inadequate to act as gods should (Book 3 chap. 21), help their venerators (Book 3 chap. 23, 26), and were the authors of moral evils (Book 3, chap. 27-28).  The thought that some gods were sovereign over everyday tasks seems impious, " Lateranus, as you say, is the god and genius of hearths, and received this name because men build that kind of fireplace of unbaked bricks. What then? If hearths were made of baked clay, or any other material whatever, will they have no genii? And will Lateranus, whoever he is, abandon his duty as guardian, because the kingdom which he possesses has not been formed of bricks of clay? And for what purpose, I ask, has that god received the charge of hearths? He runs about the kitchens of men, examining and discovering with what kinds of wood the heat in their fires is produced; he gives strength to earthen vessels that they may not fly in pieces, overcome by the violence of the flames; he sees that the flavour of unspoilt dainties reaches the taste of the palate with their own pleasantness, and acts the part of a taster, and tries whether the sauces have been rightly prepared. Is not this unseemly, nay— to speak with more truth— disgraceful, impious, to introduce some pretended deities for this only, not to do them reverence with fitting honours, but to appoint them over base things, and disreputable actions?" (Book 4 chap 6, see also book 4 chap. 12)  Indeed, Arnobius is shocked that any pagan has complaints against a Christian when their poets insult the gods by their own writings. (Book 5 chap. 30) 

The time has come to confess the obvious meaning behind these clues.  "What can you say as to this, that it is attested by the writings of authors, that many of these temples which have been raised with golden domes and lofty roofs cover bones and ashes, and are sepulchres of the dead? Is it not plain and manifest, either that you worship dead men for immortal gods, or that an inexpiable affront is cast upon the deities, whose shrines and temples have been built over the tombs of the dead? [...] It would be an endless and boundless task to describe in what sanctuaries they all are throughout the world..." (Book 6 chap. 6-7)  "Nay, have you not taken from the number of mortals all those whom you now have in your temples; and have you not set them in heaven, and among the constellations? For if, perchance, it has escaped you that they once partook of human destiny, and of the state common to all men, search the most ancient literature, and range through the writings of those who, living nearest to the days of antiquity, set forth all things with undisguised truth and without flattery: you will learn in detail from what fathers, from what mothers they were each sprung, in what district they were born, of what tribe; what they made, what they did, what they endured, how they employed themselves, what fortunes they experienced of an adverse or of a favourable kind in discharging their functions." (Book 1 chap. 37)  It is true that when you have a large body of evidence, blanket and overarching statements should be used sparingly.  Arnobius only qualifies his claim that they were worshiping dead people by telling his audience to look into the histories for themselves.  We may not have the same source histories, but it is something we see in what histories we do have.  The imperative even stands today.  Look for yourself.  It may not have been a universal trait in their deified heroes, but it was certainly common.

Why were Romans pagan?  They were pagan because their parents were pagan.  And their grandparents were pagan because their great-grandparents were.  And so it goes, back through the generations, through the poets who loved to add mythical elements to their histories to make them more entertaining.  It went back to those who founded temples.  They were not gods; they were generally extraordinary people.

And what of Genesis?  It may be the only option left, but what saves it from elimination?  Why shouldn't we hold on to our own ignorance?  Why should we accept that as an account of history, unembellished in the retelling?  Can we appeal to the popularity of the view?  No.  An appeal to popular opinion is not a logical argument.  Should we accept the view because Rome was strong?  "But this is the state of the case, that as you are exceedingly strong in war and in military power, you think you excel in knowledge of the truth also..." (Book 4 chap. 37)  Strength no more made paganism true than the Supreme Court of the United States makes evolution true.  Can we say that it's less supernatural than the other creation myths?  No.  There are supernatural aspects in every part of the Genesis narrative.  Creation cannot happen without a supernatural interaction.  Remember thermodynamics.  Should we accept the popular science and inject the supernatural?  Doing that would give whatever origins scenario we come up with negligible credibility.  It would be about as trustworthy as a science fiction novel! 

What gives Genesis credibility?  Genesis makes sense of animal sacrifice. (Genesis 4:1-15, amplified by 1 Sam. 15:22 and Isaiah 1:10-20, more at "The Gospel" below.)  Jesus was descended from Adam. (Luke 3)  Jesus also appealed to Moses (Mt. 17, Mark 10:3-9, Luke 10:26, John 3:14-16, 5:46), and Genesis was the first book authored by Moses.  We can accept Genesis because of the authority of Moses.  Are there any other reasons?  Absolutely!  We could discuss the other genealogies of 1 Chronicles, or the lineages of British, Icelandic, Nordic, Danish, and Irish kings.[7] Real people are not born from fake people.  We could trace the names from the table of Nations through the Hebrew language to Heber or the Assyrians to Asshur.  The connections between nations and their founders is found throughout the history of Josephus.[8]  We can compare the flood myths from around the world as a sign of a shared history.  We might consider the logic of a very ancient mankind without the intelligence to build or write for tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of years, and in the space of a thousand years, we have pyramids, temples, and many forms of writing.  We can work through the population growth statistics and the genetic load in human DNA.  We can read the historical, archaeological, and scientific articles on the Answers in Genesis website.  Many strings of evidence converge to form a tapestry of history consistent with Genesis, and those are very good reasons for believing it.  But that's ultimately not the reason why we believe Genesis either.  In the end, we believe Genesis because we choose to.  We decide which camp we're going to pitch our tent in and then we select the evidence that supports our prejudice.  We are faced with the same choice as Adam and Eve were in the garden: do we take God at his Word, or do we doubt him in pursuit of strange knowledge?  We can choose to believe anything we want to.  But if we're being honest and logical, if we are being faithful, there's only one option.

In summary, half of the world already has reason to accept the account of Genesis.  Thermodynamics makes the science fiction of Isaac Asimov equal to that of Neil deGrasse Tyson.  You can't get something from nothing, and if we have eternal materials, they will have equalized in eternity past.  The myths of paganism were histories embellished by poets that came out of the funerals of famous people.  The only true historical option is Genesis.  All else is ignorance.


The Gospel ("Good News"):
Why did they sacrifice animals?  "We have next to examine the argument which we bear continually coming from the lips of the common people, and find embedded in popular conviction, that sacrifices are offered to the gods of heaven for this purpose, that they may lay aside their anger and passions, and may be restored to a calm and placid tranquillity, the indignation of their fiery spirits being assuaged." (Book 7 chap. 5)  Why should a bloody death appease anyone?  We know from Genesis that the death of the animal was a reminder to us that sin causes death.  We know from Jesus that our sin would cause us to even kill God, if we had the power to do so.  The Hebrew name of Jesus is Yeshua, which means salvation.  Why did the angel command that He be called Salvation?  Mt. 1:21 tells us that He would save us from our sins.  How?  By his own death, through faith, we are promised resurrection from the dead. (1 Cor. 15:14)  Through our great and glorious Yeshua (Salvation), death becomes a great blessing.  (John 3:1-21, 1 Cor. 15:35-58) The pagan ritual meant nothing.  Jesus alone made sense of animal sacrifice.  Judaism alone preserved the truth about it.  It was handed down from Noah, our true common ancestor.


For more about the origin of man, click: Pagan Origin of Mankind



[3] I Brahmajila Sutta: The Supreme Net 1:37 "This, monks, the Tathágata understands : These viewpoints [on the eternity of the self and the world] thus grasped and adhered to will lead to such-and-such destinations in another world. This the Tathágata knows, and more, but he is not attached to that knowledge. And being thus unattached he has experienced for himself perfect peace..."

[4] AGGANNA SUTTA: On Knowledge of Beginnings


[6] -

[7] After the Flood by Bill Cooper

[8] See also Noah's Three Sons by Arthur Custance