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Creation Stories of the Ancient World

Encounter the grandeur of ancient creation stories of the Mediterranean and explore the values, beliefs, and theologies of early civilizations.
Creation Stories of the Ancient World is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 15.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Question needs an answer in regards to Genisis 2 God created all this and then a bunch of animals to be a helper to man, yet why did God not know that none of those he created would be a helper to man and had to get at it again and go through the creation of woman.
Date published: 2024-07-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved It I loved this course. Even though it was primary a “talking head” reading a script, I think Dr. Lam did it well, or at least much better than some of the other recently produced lectures that that I have watched. Within the span of 12 half-hour lectures, I felt that Dr Lam did a very good job of outlining the major elements of the creation myths of the ancient near-Eastern and showing the ways in which they have been incorporated into, and modified by, the cultures of the ancient Near Eastern Mediterranean world. Reading the myths from this time, you can get a glimpse of how humans during the past 10,000 to 15,000 years have seen the world and their place within it; how they have come to perceive a variety of problems to exist and their proposed solutions to those perceived problems; and how this mythological view is still very much alive within the modern-day beliefs and practices of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). There are many more Great Courses that cover these same (or related) topics equally well and are worth the time it takes to go through them. For example (to name just a few), Vandiver’s “Classical Mythology,” Voth’s “Great Mythologies of the World” and “Myths in Human History,” MacEachern’s “Origin of Civilization;” and Fagan’s “Human Prehistory.”
Date published: 2023-11-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very interesting I enjoyed Prof Lam's course a lot, and found the varied creation myths -- and the great similarities between those of several ancient societies -- quite interesting. Prof Lam is passionate about the material and has insightful comments about each of the myths. My only hesitancy in rating this course as 5-star instead of 4-star is that for me, the passages read from translated ancient texts describing the myths are inherently a little dry. I much preferred Prof Lam's own narrative. But overall I hope he does more TC courses.
Date published: 2023-10-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting material/poorly filmed Prof. Lam’s knowledge of the subject was very evident and the information presented well worth taking the course. However, this is again an example of The Great Courses using a “Talking Head” format that is extremely distracting to the viewer. This is the third course I have taken with that format and I find it very difficult to stay engaged with the lecture. There is too much emphasis on the lecturer’s mouth and facial expressions. I find myself following along with the study guide rather than actually looking at the screen. I do wish The Great Courses would stop this presentation trend. After reading other reviews I see that I am not alone with this observation.
Date published: 2023-10-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Most Interesting This was an eye opener for me. I learned al lot and there was ample opportunity to set my mind thinking about "stuff".
Date published: 2023-08-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very interesting Creation Story Parallels! The Wondrous lecture set Creation Stories of the Ancient World delivered interesting information, if you could get by the professor's very slow speech cadence. I found myself being diverted to other items close by due to the gap in the lecturer's slow reading of the monitors. This trend from Wondrium to allow such professor delivery, is opposite of what I have enjoyed as a learner with the the GREAT Courses since 2002, and over 1000 lectures sets. One needs only compare Professor John McWhorter's brilliant delivery of 'Ancient Writing and the History of the Alphabet' as an example, or Dr. Robert Greenberg,whose 28 lecture set series on music is for one of the VERY, BEST!!!. Again, much to be gained from this lecture set if the listener is not diminished by the very slow delivery.
Date published: 2023-05-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from About as good as it gets In the 22 years (as of this writing) that I have had the pleasure of being a The Teaching Company/Great Courses/Great Courses Plus/Wondrium patron, I have been exposed to creation myths more than a few times. For some, this may lead to boredom; for me, it's just to opposite. As research methods advance, the wealth of information increases, adding to the store of knowledge on the subject at hand. Although I was well familiar with all the myths in the course, Professor Lam made use of modern research to teach this old dog a few new tricks, so to speak. The visuals were plentiful but did not make me scream, "Oy, enough with the cuneiform tablets, already!" I have heard Professor Lam in person at Chapel Hill, and this presentation was just as engaging. Yes, the "talking head" format was used (come on, Great Courses/Wondrum--listen to us when we say we're tired of it!) and yes, his teaching style suffered a bit. It's quite a difference from TGC's having a live audience as in years back to reading from a teleprompter with only cameras before you. Even so, the information was there, well-presented, and I could not have been happier. If you have never dabbled in comparative religion, this is a great way to get your toes wet. And if, like me, you're an old hand at it, you'll find some new insights adding to your knowledge.
Date published: 2023-05-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Bit of a Talking Head Presentation Joseph Lam is obviously very knowledgeable on this subject, and seems to have a real passion for it as well. I enjoyed the way he showed connections between the various Mediterranean civilizations and their creation myths. I enjoyed how he made an analogy with our current superhero/villain universes and the way the Egyptians did a similar thing with their various and many gods. I learned something I should have known, about the difference in the creation stories between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. I had never picked up on that, and certainly do not remember my Baptist preacher preaching about it. It definitely was not expressed in Sunday school. My reservation with this class is how they choose to present it. Professor Lam has a very deep voice that he works hard to keep from being a monotone. Add in his staccato style of presentation. I found it hard to stay focus, especially so as they chose to film this class as a talking head presentation. They would occasionally cut to pictures or videos of things being referenced in the presentation. My wife, who is a bit ADD, gave up after the second class, even though she was interested in the subject. I stuck out the whole 12 episodes, but it was a bit of a challenge. I will admit that, at times, the way Great Courses had presenters bouncing from one side of the carpet to the other, drive me a bit wacko. This is one course that might have benefited from that technique. Would I recommend this course, yes, with a caveat. You really need to be paying attention to keep from drifting away.
Date published: 2023-04-08
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Creation stories—which recount the origins of the universe, the earth, and humanity—show us how ancient cultures made sense of the human condition. In this course, you’ll explore great creation texts such as the Babylonian Creation Epic, the Egyptian Memphite Theology, the Hittite Kumarbi Cycle, the Greek Theogony of Hesiod, the two contrasting accounts of creation in the biblical Genesis, and more.


Joseph Lam

Creation stories tell us who we are, where we came from, and where we are going.


The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Joseph Lam is an Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He holds a PhD in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago. He is the author of Patterns of Sin in the Hebrew Bible: Metaphor, Culture, and the Making of a Religious Concept, as well as a number of scholarly articles in the fields of Hebrew Bible and Ugaritic studies. He teaches ancient languages beyond Hebrew, such as Akkadian, Aramaic/Syriac, and Ugaritic.

By This Professor

Creation Stories of the Ancient World
Creation Stories of the Ancient World


Creation Stories and Why They Matter

01: Creation Stories and Why They Matter

Begin by considering the nature of creation stories, as they encapsulate a culture’s self-understanding, showing how early societies made sense of the human condition. Look at the term “myth” as it will apply within the course’s inquiry. Examine three ancient Sumerian stories that have creation themes embedded in them, expressing conceptions of the cosmos and mankind’s place within it.

25 min
Reading Metaphor in Creation Stories

02: Reading Metaphor in Creation Stories

Metaphor and symbol are integral to creation stories, as they form a crucial part of the language of myth. Investigate the function of metaphor, as it constructs a similarity between two things and creates new meanings, and symbol, as it creates correlations of other kinds. Using examples from ancient stories, explore the metaphors of sexual procreation and fashioning in generating the world.

28 min
Mesopotamian Creation: Enuma elish

03: Mesopotamian Creation: Enuma elish

Enuma Elish, also called the Seven Tablets of Creation, is a masterpiece of Mesopotamian literature. Investigate the historical background and the cultural role of the epic. Study the narrative’s account of the creation of gods and humanity, rooted in the notion of bringing order to chaos. Look at the major themes revealed in the story, as they bear on the political context of ancient Babylon.

27 min
The Mesopotamian Flood: The Atrahasis Epic

04: The Mesopotamian Flood: The Atrahasis Epic

Examine key Mesopotamian texts referencing a catastrophic flood which decimates humanity. Focusing on the Atrahasis Epic, trace the story, recounting the motive and the means for the creation of humanity, fashioned from clay and the remains of a slaughtered god, and the reason the gods sent the disaster of the flood. Note the epic’s reflections on the interdependence of gods and humans.

25 min
Egyptian Gods of Creation

05: Egyptian Gods of Creation

Take account of funerary texts that contain allusions to the ancient Egyptian conceptions of creation. Learn about the gods who played important parts in the formation of the world, beginning with the Ogdoad and the Ennead, two groups of deities in different local traditions. Also encounter the gods Amun, Ptah, and Khnum, and note their distinct roles within the creation mythology.

24 min
Egyptian Approaches to Creation

06: Egyptian Approaches to Creation

Within ancient Egyptian culture, explore the means by which the gods created the world and humanity. Begin with non-anthropomorphic images of creation, such as the conception of a primeval mound emerging from a watery chaos, and the creation images of a lotus flower and a cosmic egg. Follow this with anthropomorphic images, such as a god spitting out other deities or willing them into existence.

23 min
The Storm God’s Supremacy in the Baal Cycle

07: The Storm God’s Supremacy in the Baal Cycle

This ancient Syrian text, though it lacks an overt description of creation, resonates with key themes of other creation stories of the ancient Near East. Study the narrative, centering on the storm god Baal, who opposes a sea god and the god of death, attaining supremacy through struggle. Grasp how Baal, patron deity of the city of Ugarit, sustains the natural world and its recurring cycles.

26 min
Hittite Creation in the Kumarbi Cycle

08: Hittite Creation in the Kumarbi Cycle

Here, encounter the Hurrians and Hittites, two lesser known but important peoples of the ancient Near East. Study two key passages from the fragmentary text of the Kumarbi Cycle, concerning the struggle for supremacy between two competing lineages of gods. Note the text’s reference to the “cutting apart” of the heavens and the earth, and to the origins of cosmic order by means of divine rule.

24 min
Greek Creation in Hesiod’s Theogony

09: Greek Creation in Hesiod’s Theogony

Hesiod’s epic poem is Greece’s oldest account of ultimate origins. Within the text, observe how the development of the cosmos is enacted through the genealogical evolution of the gods. Follow divine conflict surrounding succession, originating between the gods Ouranos and Kronos, culminating in permanent order under Zeus, and the separation between humans and gods.

23 min
Seven Days of Creation in Genesis

10: Seven Days of Creation in Genesis

This lecture examines the biblical creation story from Genesis 1. Grasp how the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem led to the vision of a god whose abode encompassed the entirety of the heavens and earth. Study the unique features of the text, and its conception of a single, supreme god, with human beings as the pinnacle of creation, endowed with a special status and responsibility.

27 min
The Garden of Eden in Genesis

11: The Garden of Eden in Genesis

The story of the Garden of Eden presents a contrasting account of creation from the seven-day creation story in Genesis 1. Study the differences between the two accounts and observe how the Eden story reflects the agrarian life of ancient Israelites. Note the different order of creation of living creatures between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, and what these differences suggest for interpreting the text.

23 min
Creation Stories and the Present

12: Creation Stories and the Present

Conclude with reflections on key themes that run through creation stories of various traditions. Among these, consider the ways in which different cultures conceived of the primordial condition of the universe before creation. Revisit the theme of the succession of kingship among the gods and grasp how these stories about the past served to express humanity’s purpose in the present.

25 min