Accidents in writing and creativity happen to the best of us. Sometimes you write something and someone’s already done it, sometimes you accidentally include some wording or concept from a book you read a long time ago or a cartoon you don’t entirely remember. Anyone that tells you this has never happened to them is a liar. Unfortunately for the G-man, it is statistically improbable that the Bible’s overlaps with previous myths and folktales are mere coincidence. They say everything that can be done has already been done before, I guess that was true even several thousand years ago.

First let me start by giving proper credit where it is due. The quotes used in this comic are from the following sources: Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Ozymandias by Percy Bisshe Shelly, George Bernard Shaw, and finally Dick & Jane by William S Gray and Zerna Sharp. Whew…

Reading Gilgamesh, I was struck by the incredible similarities between the story of the Great Flood it tells. In it, a man named Utnapishtim, a king and a pretty swell guy, hears (with divine aid) the plan the gods come up with to destroy mankind for their sins. These gods plan to send a great flood to wash the land clean. With the help of Ea, one of the gods sympathetic to mankind, Utnapishtim manages to build a huge square boat, fill it with two of every animal and some friends and family, and seal the thing up before the rains arrive. For six days, it rains and the land is covered with water. Eventually, the ship runs aground on top of a mountain and they send a dove out to see if the land is dry. The dove wings back to the ship, a twig in its beak, and thus the people know their ordeal is over.

Does any of this sound familiar? It did to me. There are a lot of other instances in the Bible of myths being reused and recycled and even more examples in general Christian culture. The devil, for instance, is a strange amalgamation of ideas for various pagan gods in Europe and the original Hebrew idea of a divine persecutor. That whole thing with the snake in the garden of Eden? Snakes had been seen as tricksters, tempters, and liars around the world for thousands of years before Judaism came around. Even Jesus falls into some of the same pitfalls. The stories of Jesus and Dionysus, for example, share some key elements such as resurrection, wine, baptism, and transubstantiation. There’s been a lot of discussion about Jesus being a carbon copy of Horus from Egyptian myth but this is, largely, a fallacy. There are a few overlaps there, but, as with Dionysus, Jesus’s story isn’t a direct copy of anything else. Rather, it shares elements of many stories, much like the Bible itself.

There are a couple of ways to look at all of this. Either the Bible is built on the foundations of the past, utilizing elements of stories from previous times to tell something more relevant to the people of its time, OR it is simply coincidental and a brilliant example of humanity’s archetypal style storytelling. There are, after all, examples of stories (read Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces) spread across the world between cultures that had no contact with each other utilizing the same archetypes in their myths. The trickster, the earth mother, the dying and resurrected hero, and so on and so forth. These are popular and useful devices that we find at the roots of many many myths. The thing that catches ME up is the sheer volume of key concepts that seem to be taken and reused from older myths.

I guess this is just the way that humanity works. We’re always building on the past, erecting an ever taller, ever larger monument to ourselves. We take this archetype, these story elements, these character traits, and these memes and we turn them into something different that speaks to who we’ve become to keep them current and meaningful. Writing, art, and culture in general are about inspiration and we are, and always have, been inspired by those that have come before us whether we recognize it or not. The people of the past were not as different from us today as we like to think. They, like us, rejoiced in stories and they recognized that life is just that, a story we tell ourselves. Every life has plot points, character development, strange events unfolding, and a dash of madness thrown in. And like every story, every life shares many of the same qualities as other, seemingly disparate lives.

I like to think that if there is a god, that this is the sort of thing he’d do to influence us to think in more positive ways. He’d write this crazy book about wars, murder, laws, a savior, and most of it would be totally ripped off from a bunch of stuff from the past. People would later read it and realize the rather obvious plagiarism, draw parallels between storytelling and the lives of humans, and then tell other people about it. They’d read it, maybe come to the same conclusions, and feel better about the world and their place in it and share the idea with friends and so on and so forth.

Though I guess that would probably be a silly thing to do.

I feel like I’ve heard something like that before anyway.