Western Literature 101: Genesis of All-Encompassings and Annihilation of Many Things

Foreword

Western Literature 101 articles serve as one of the academic courses in the field of English Language and Literature. The course which is a fundamental guide within the scope of general knowledge compared to the technical knowledge of English literature also addresses the readership besides students. With this goal in mind, the author has opted to write the article in very plain and basic English to convey just the necessary understanding of Western literature by making the article merely an outline introduction.

Western Literature 101 is divided into seven chapters: 1. First Leader Who Tasted the Bitterness of Immortality

2. Genesis of All-Encompassings and Annihilation of Many Things

3. Benchmark of Western Literature: Winning A Battle Losing The War At The Phalanx Of Homer's Retention Of West

4. Evaluation of Western Literature: Agony Of Lost Desires Cries Silently On Poseidon's Hammock

5. Western Roots of Comedy: Greek Comedy

6. Western Roots of Tragedy: Greek Tragedy

7. Tragedy of Western Literature: Fall of Troy & Birth of Rome



Genesis of All-Encompassings and Annihilation of Many Things

The subject of "Genesis of All-Encompassings and Annihilation of Many Things," which is considered as the continuation of the previous Western Literature 101 article called "First Leader Who Tasted the Bitterness of Immortality" is another essential western literature era in terms of evaluating literary works over history and the after-effects of some literary works over world politics and order and conventions based on their specific qualities. To access the first part of the article:


In the 21st century, whether religious whether literary, even political, Old Testament’s significance roots go back to 1200 BC-165 BC. Even today, it is still a topic that is in constant inquisition by millions of people's thoughts and beliefs on religion. Hence, there are many rumors around that it had been written at different times, that it was written by Christians before at the time of the birth of Christ. In this second article of the Western Literature 101 series, the following topic will be covered: how the Old Testament becomes a cornerstone for the majority of literary works and its true identity with comparisons to other older literary works.

Monumental Orthodox icon of the creation of the world.

The major importance of the Old Testament lies mostly in religious effects but also these religious stories and advice are being told by storifying the actions that had happened in the Old Testament. One of the important and most well-known creation stories, according to the writings of the Old Testament, is: "God created World in seven days. On the first day God created morning and night, second day God covered World with atmosphere, at the third day God created plants and soil around the World, on the fourth day Moon, Sun and start to give literary image around the World, at the fifth day aquatic living beings and birds added beauty around the World and here sixth day came, God created land animals and humans and he rested at the seventh day." The Old Testament, as one of the most theoretic creations of humans, claims "God created the human from the soil of the earth and god blow life on it. God gave life to it". Contrary to most of the beliefs and knowledge of the concept of heaven, "Eden/Heaven" was claimed to be on the World. Heaven was covered with many different pleasurable fruits with different trees surrounding it. Also, River was divided into four: Pison, Gillihan, Hiddekel, Euphrates.

“The Four Rivers of Paradise,” from the illuminated homilies of James of Kokkinobaphos, 12th century.

By these inclinations, one can follow a sparkle about how the creation story matches with other literary works of Sumerians and ancient Greeks. God created Adam as the first human. God took one of the ribs of Adam and created a companion to him, Eve. During Adam and Eve’s pleasurable lifetime at the time when they were residing in Eden, Eve was tempted by the foxy words of the Devil/serpent who was disguised in a form of snake. Even if there were different kinds of tasteful fruits which were all differently pleasurable in taste, Eve was tempted by the devil and attempted to eat the forbidden fruit even though God forbade it to them. Eve lost to the Devil’s lust and ate the forbidden fruit- apple and shared it with Adam. With the words of the Devil, "You will become like God, good – evil will be under your command, your eyes will be flourished with the knowledge of hidden truth". These words were the ones which tempted Eve to the irreversible fate waiting for them. With every bite, their awareness of nudity embraced their identity and they hid their sexual parts with the leaves of Eden. God recognized the actions of Adam and Eve and punished them for not resisting their curiosity. The most beautiful angel of heaven called Samael (Devil), Adam, and Eve. Each person in this trident had been punished especially. Adam lost his previous immortality and god-like physical attributions which were to not feel exhausted or hungry. As a punishment, he was forced to start a plantation to feed himself, his body which does not need any sleep or feel any pain starts to feel exhausted with daily plantations. Eve, as the wife of Adam was cursed to give birth in such a huge pain for three children. Samael on the other hand, "Dwell as the cattle there you go, belly on your feet you go". He was punished to live in world as an armless and legless creature.

Abel and Cain offer their sacrifice to God, Byzantine mosaic in the Cathedral of Monreale.

In the later episodes, God commands sacrifices from the sons of Eve; Cain and Abel. As a farmer, Cain offers different altars to god. But God likes Abel’s altar more favorably and due to his jealousy, Cain kills his brother Abel. This is the first murder ever known according to the book. God punishes Cain as an immortal nomad. Cain sets a city far over hills and lands later on for his exile from other societies. This painful story mentioned in the Old Testament also carries a similarity to an old Sumerian myth called Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzid and another parallel from Enlil Chooses the Farmer-God as a Mesopotamian legend story. Years after the murder and punishment, humanity as the people of earth start to question and as a result, lose their belief in God’s existence. By denying the existing god's influence, they start to commit sinful acts freely, which were forbidden according to the Old Testament. God decides to punish humanity with a great flood. He chooses the one who is the most perfect among humanity, Noah as the one who will survive due to God’s love for humanity created by his Powers. God orders Noah to construct a ship that can have all animals of the World in one of a kind as a male and female. With the will and help of a god, all animals come in the direction of Noah and enter the ship in peace. Humanity would see one of the greatest floods that ever happened since the emergence of humanity. When one looks for the lines of the Old Testament, it can be calculated and recognized that 378 days of the journey during sail before the land has been found. Noah as a grateful person decides to build an Altar over the hill and sacrifice one of the animals to God as gratitude for being alive and finding the land. God once again sees the violence inside humans. He feels uncomfortable with the actions Noah has taken against animals that God had trusted Noah to keep safe. God accepts the violence in humans once and for all and gives a promise not to destroy mankind and God creates the rainbow as goodwill to humanity. God signifies the rainbow as a symbol for every living form who lives on the earth. As the creator’s last command, God confuses the language of humans, which were one language before, so that humans would not unite again and rebel against God. This creates the roots of modern languages.

"Moses Breaking the Tablets of the Law" by Rembrandt van Rijn.

Besides its religious importance, not only Jews but also Christians (some parts) accept this book's teachings while Muslims also confirm their teachings. First Hebrews, under the tellings of Jews, came from the city of Ur. Endless war, occupations, scarcity of resources and nomadic life push them from Egypt to Rome which ended up with great pain and suffering, all gathered under the one book of the Old Testament. This religious book played huge importance in the Western Literature World. Individual rights, human rights, democracy (in the mentality), and great faith in teachings are accepted as building blocks of this book. These concepts are also accepted in the 21st century, they still carry a similarity to the time of writing back millenniums ago. Same concepts of thoughts later turned into one of the fundamental parts of Western Literature in many different categories to the writers and the influence of literary products.


Some examples of the works that have been influenced by the Old Testament:

  • In William Shakespeare's Hamlet, the characters, King Claudius and King Hamlet are parallels of Cain and Abel.

  • Lord Byron rewrote and dramatized the story in the play Cain (1821), viewing Cain as the symbol of a sanguine temperament, provoked by Abel's hypocrisy and sanctimony.

  • James Baldwin's 1957 short story, "Sonny's Blues," has been seen as alluding to the Cain and Abel story.

"The Tree of Life," egg tempera and gold leaf on shaped sculpted board.

Among all of these works, it is an undeniable fact that Epic of Gilgamesh is the one that has the most common features with the Old Testament. Famous American writer Homer W. Smith points out in his many writings that the mentality behind the Old Testament's creation, as one can see in Enkidu and Eve’s purpose of creation to the knowledge of the tree and the tempting devil, can be seen as a similarity between Gilgamesh and gods who try to tempt Gilgamesh's mind. It is important not to forget that Epic of Gilgamesh is an even older creation before the Old Testament, which has many interesting parallels with the Old Testament. Gilgamesh, even though he supposes not to do that, passed the Wall of the city of Uruk and tried to dominate nature, he did not care about the gods' warnings, he rivaled to gods, and Gilgamesh’s city suffocated under the punishment of the gods as painful flood which was almost eradicating everyone. When it is compared with the Hebrew's start point at the city of Ur, name similarity catches an eye on that. Besides their similarity in storytelling and actions inside them, the Old Testament and Epic of Gilgamesh became the fundamental ideology of a god concept and created new hypotheses for literary ideologies for writers and teachers to accept one writing as a touchstone to start and rely on books that carry faith, blood and prayers inside them.


Taking everything into an account, the Old Testament has created a ground basis for Western Literature where the love relation, tragedy, and the mighty ruler complex in the stories are shaped by it. As the Old Testament's literary characteristics, it also becomes a huge example for the literary world and even to other nations' literature. However, although it has shaped many after, it should not be forgotten that this literary and religious work is heavily affected by its precursors such as Sumerian and Mesopotamian literary oral and written stories, too. Last but not least, when examining the actions and events in the Old Testament, it is a must to investigate actions with the era's social-economic evolution as one can see that Cain and Abel can be a part of agriculture and hunting style living that symbolizes the timeline in the history. In the end, the Old Testament carries huge importance still in the 21st century as a literary and religious book with many messages and symbols.



Bibliographical References

de Vries, A. (1976). Dictionary of Symbols and Imagery (p. 75). North-Holland Publishing Company.


Hamlin, H. (2013). The Bible in Shakespeare (p. 154). Oxford University Press.


MacK, M., & Lawall, S. N. (Eds.). (1999). Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces: The Western Tradition, Vol. 1: Literature of Western Culture Through the Renaissance (7th ed., Vol. 1). W. W. Norton & Company.


McKenzie, B. (1974). The Process of Fiction: Contemporary Stories and Criticism (p. 45). Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.


Smith, Z. R. (2019). ELIT 105 Introduction To Western Literature (First ed., Vol. 1). Yeditepe University.


Stahlberg, L. C., & Hawkins, P. S. (2017). The Bible in the American Short Story (p. 43). Bloomsbury Publishing.


Visual Sources

Anderson, R. (2006). The Three of Life. [Photograph]. Betsy Porter Art and Iconography. https://www.betsyporter.com/creation/


R.S. (n.d.). Abel and Cain offer their sacrifice to God. Byzantine mosaic in the Cathedral of Monreale. [Mosaic Photograph]. https://www.christianiconography.info/sicily/cainAbelSacrificesMonreale.html


van Rijn, R. (1659). Moses Breaking the Tablets of the Law. [Painting]. Gemäldegalerie, Berlin. https://www.history.com/news/who-wrote-the-bible


Unknown. Hexahemeron (1850). [Icon]. The Picture Art Collection. https://www.alamy.com/1850-122-x-10-1850-anonymous-277-hexameron-icon-russia-1850-image187426575.html


Unknown. The Four Rivers of Paradise. (12th century). [Illustration]. Bibliothèque nationale de France. https://weybridgechurch.org/2019/08/13/rivers-of-the-bible-2019-sermon-series/

Author Photo

Doğukan Ejder

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