The Eternal Origins of Evil in Paganism

“[Ricouer] points out that in the Babylonian myth, creation is an act of violence: Tiamat, “mother of them all,” is murdered and dismembered; from her cadaver the world is formed.4 Order is established by means of disorder. Creation is a violent victory over an enemy older than creation. The origin of evil precedes the origin of things. Chaos (symbolized by Tiamat) is prior to order (represented by Marduk, god of Babylon). Evil is prior to good. Violence inheres in the godhead. Evil is an ineradicable constituent of ultimate reality, and possesses ontological priority over good….

In the Babylonian myth, however, there is no “problem of evil.” Evil is simply a primordial fact. The simplicity of its picture of reality commended it widely, and its basic mythic structure spread as far as Syria, Phoenicia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Germany, Ireland, and India. Typically, a male war god residing in the sky—Wotan, Zeus, or Indra, for example—fights a decisive battle with a female divine being, usually depicted as a monster or dragon, residing in the sea or abyss.5 Having vanquished the original Enemy by war and murder, the victor fashions a cosmos from the monster’s corpse. Cosmic order equals the violent suppression of the feminine, and is mirrored in the social order by the subjection of women to men. Male supremacy and contempt for the womanly is explicit in the Enuma Elish: “What male is this who has pressed his fight against thee? It is but Tiamat, a woman, that flies at thee with weapons!…

The implications are clear: humanity is created from the blood of a murdered god. Our very origin is violence. Killing is in our blood. Humanity is not the originator of evil, but merely finds evil already present and perpetuates it. Our origins are divine, to be sure, since we are made from a god, but from the blood of an assassinated god.9 We are the consequence of deicide. Human beings are thus naturally incapable of peaceful coexistence; order must continually be imposed upon us from on high. Nor are we created to subdue the earth and have dominion over it as God’s regents; we exist but to serve as slaves of the gods and of their earthly regents. The tasks of humanity are to till the soil, to produce foods for sacrifice to the gods (represented by the king and the priestly caste), to build the sacred city Babylon, and to fight and, if necessary, to die in the king’s wars.” -Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers

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