The Rg Vedas are the oldest of the sacred writings in Hinduism. Being composed around 1700-1100 BC, they are roughly contemporaneous with Moses’ recording of the Pentateuch (Torah) in the Old Testament.
Purusa – The Sacrificial Man in Rg Veda
A prominent character in the Rg Veda is one called Purusa. He is a Perfect Man. In a well-known poem known as the Purusasukta (within the Rg Veda) God decided to offer him in sacrifice at the beginning of time. The concept of sacrifice is very prominent in Hinduism (as we saw regarding the Kumbh Mela Festival). What is fascinating to me is that this earliest poem, Purusasukta, is not about people making a sacrifice to God, but about God presenting the Perfect Man to be sacrificed so that humans can gain eternal life.
Conspiracy Explanation for Bible parallels
This sounds very similar to the Genesis Promise recorded in the Bible at the dawn of human history. Why this parallel? Two possible explanations come to mind. The first is that there was one ancient myth from which other mythologies borrowed. In this vein of thinking perhaps the ancient Hebrews heard these mythological promises of a future sacrifice and simply incorporated them into their early scriptures as the Genesis Promise. This viewpoint continues the argument that the Biblical record ‘borrowed’ other accounts. Thus, for example, the account of Noah and the Flood in Genesis is simply a re-hashing of the old Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh.
This thinking is then extrapolated to the New Testament Gospel. The sacrificial death of Jesus on mankind’s behalf is thus seen simply as a borrowing from Greek and Egyptian mythologies of Isis and others. This kind of explanation of the parallels between ancient accounts is advanced by skeptics of the Biblical accounts, and by those drawn to conspiratorial explanations of the Gospel (e.g. The Da Vinci Code and Zeitgeist etc. draw heavily on the idea that the meaning of the death of Jesus was simply borrowed from pagan mythology). In fact, many people I talk to believe in some pagan-mythology explanation for the New Testament view of Jesus. They only go back to New Testament and classical Greek times to look for parallels, many not knowing that these parallels go further back to ancient history into the earliest chapters of Genesis.
Historical Explanation for Bible parallels
Alternatively, parallels between ancient accounts exist because these events really did happen. The Bible records these events and we can read about them in its pages. However, other non-Hebrew cultures and civilizations also remembered and recorded aspects of these events and recorded them for us in different ways. They did so because their origins are from Babel (like the Hebrews) and thus they remember pre-Babel events in perhaps some dim way as part of their history and mythology. My previous posts (Part 1 & Part 2) about Chinese calligraphy having an ‘echo’ to early Genesis can thus be understood in this way. Similarly, the most ancient of the Vedic texts show a remarkable parallel to the ancient Genesis Promise because that Promise was really given and kept in the social memory of the pre-Babel society. The Promise was recorded and transmitted to us in the Bible through Moses. It was also remembered and recorded in slightly different form in the Purusasukta of the Vedas.
Web of Parallels
So we have two broad explanations for these parallels. What is intriguing to me are the parallels between the non-biblical ancient traditions. So take the ancient Chinese association of ‘righteousness’ with sacrifice of substitution. I have reproduced the ideogram from that post here so you can see it.
When I compare that with the ancient mythology of Purusa (Verse 1, Verse 2, Verse 3-4, Conclusion) I see parallels between them in that righteousness is conveyed by sacrificial death for both the ancient Chinese and Vedas and detail them here. It is not just that there are parallels between the Bible and some other myth – that would be an overly simplistic two-dimensional view. There is more like a web of inter-parallel themes that can be discerned across many cultures. To me this argues for the view that these events really did happen. The Bible recorded these events and Promises in one way, while other cultures retaining some memory of them, recorded them in other ways.
One cannot definitively prove or refute either view. I believe the second, but I find it interesting to hold both views explicitly in front of me and as I come across new data I see how it fits (or not) in each view. This can be done with genetic anthropological data such as the BBC genetic results showing that all Europeans trace their origins to a very recent dispersal (from Babel?) as well as historical parallels. I hope to look at a few more in the future.