Creation v. Evolution Metaphor Watch: An Intelligent Design Analogy from Egypt, 13th Century BCE

On papyrus dated to the reign of Pharoah Ramesses II (13th century BCE), is a cycle of poems called The Leiden Hymns. These hymns have a pseudo-monotheistic tone, portraying Amun, the sun god, as first and chief god of the Egyptian pantheon.

One of The Leiden Hymns attempts to answer, in poetry, that most perplexing of questions: If God created the universe, then who created God?

Here’s the hymn, as translated by John Foster in the Norton Anthology of World Literature (2002):


God is a master craftsman;

               yet none can draw the lines of his Person.

Fair features first came into being

               in the hushed dark where he mused alone;

He forged his own figure there,

               hammered his likeness out of himself—

All powerful one (yet kindly,

               whose heart would lie open to men).

He mingled his heavenly god-seed

               with the inmost depths of his mystery.

Planting his image there

               in the unknown depths of his mystery.

He cared, and the sacred form

               took shape and contour, splendid at birth!

God, skilled in the intricate ways of the craftsman,

               first fashioned Himself to perfection.

This is a kind of “intelligent design” argument from 3300 years ago, in which the universe, being apparently exquisitely crafted, must have a master craftsman who was created by—well, who?

The poem answers: God himself.

In other words, God created himself. The buck stopped there.

He was, the writer suggests, alone in the dark, musing, cogitating, thinking.

He was, if you will, without form and void, without boundary to his person.

And when he got to work, he engaged in self-fashioning, forging “his own figure,” hammering his own “likeness out of himself,” mingling his seed with himself, and though without apparent ground, “planting his image there / in the unknown depths of his being.”

This is an almost frightening, fearsome depiction of God forging himself, with fire and sparks flying—and recalls William Blake’s tiger being forged “in the forests of the night.”

Western theology and mysticism, it seems, despite three millenia of speculation about what might be the nature of God, has not made all that much progress beyond the paradoxical poetry of this hymn.

(Nor has science, if God does not exist, made much progress in the question of why there should be anything at all.)

In this hymn, the author depicts God as a kind of ouroboros—the snake that bites its tail; the Zen koan at the edge of time; a recursive iteration, akin to this definition of what an “endless loop” is, as cited in Stephen Pinker’s The Stuff of Thought (2008, p.12):

endless loop, n. See loop, endless.

loop, endless, n. See endless loop. 

And who cannot hear, at the beginning of this hymn, an emerging Moses-like resistence to the idea that God can be, or even should be, depicted as a physical form or in human terms?

In this sense, the poem is in tension with itself, and even deconstructing itself, for God forges an idol of himself even as it is also true that:

[N]one can draw the lines of his Person.

Thus the paradoxes and confusions inherent in this poem are also its strengths, and resist closure.

As Emerson once wrote (and with apologies to hobgoblins):

Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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4 Responses to Creation v. Evolution Metaphor Watch: An Intelligent Design Analogy from Egypt, 13th Century BCE

  1. tomachfive says:

    An extra-ordinary post, my thoughts exactly.

  2. Mary says:


  3. H.S.Pal says:

    Earlier it was impossible for us to give any satisfactory answer to this question. But modern science, rather we should say that Einstein, has made it an easy task for us. And Stephen Hawking has provided us with the clue necessary for solving this riddle. Actually scientists in their infinite wisdom have already kept the ground well-prepared for us believers so that one day we can give a most plausible and logically consistent answer to this age-old question. Let me first quote from the book “A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking:
    “The idea of inflation could also explain why there is so much matter in the universe. There is something like ten million million million million million million million million million million million million million million (1 with eighty zeroes after it) particles in the region of the universe that we can observe. Where did they all come from? The answer is that, in quantum theory, particles can be created out of energy in the form of particle/antiparticle pairs. But that just raises the question of where the energy came from. The answer is that the total energy of the universe is exactly zero.”
    Here the question stops. So the clue is this: if we can ultimately arrive at zero, then no further question will be raised, and there will be no infinite regression. What I intend to do here is something similar to that. I want to show that our God is a bunch of several zeroes, and that therefore no further question need be raised about His origin. And here comes Einstein with his special theory of relativity for giving us the necessary empirical support to our project.
    God is a Being. Therefore God will have existence as well as essence. So I will have to show that both from the point of view of existence as well as from the point of view of essence God is zero. It is almost a common parlance that God is spaceless, timeless, changeless, immortal, and all-pervading. Here we are getting three zeroes; space is zero, time is zero, change is zero. But how to prove that if there is a God, then that God will be spaceless, timeless, and changeless? From special theory of relativity we come to know that for light both distance and time become unreal. For light even an infinite distance is infinitely contracted to zero. The volume of an infinite universe full of light only will be simply zero due to this property of light. A universe with zero volume is a spaceless universe. Again at the speed of light time totally stops. So a universe full of light only is a spaceless, timeless universe. But these are the properties of light only! How do we come to know that God is also having the same properties of light so that God can also be spaceless, timeless? Scientists have shown that if there is a God, then that God can only be light, and nothing else, and that therefore He will have all the properties of light. Here is the proof.
    Scientists have shown that total energy of the universe is always zero. If total energy is zero, then total mass will also be zero due to energy-mass equivalence. Now if there is a God, then scientists have calculated the total energy and mass of the universe by taking into consideration the fact that there is also a God. In other words, if there is a God, then this total energy-mass calculation by the scientists is God-inclusive, not God-exclusive. This is due to two reasons. First of all, even if there is a God, they are not aware of the fact that there is a God. Secondly, they do not admit that there is a God. So, if there is a God, then they have not been able to keep that God aside before making this calculation, because they do not know that there is a God. They cannot say that they have kept Him aside and then made this calculation, because by saying that they will admit that there is a God. At most they can say that there is no God. But we are not going to accept that statement as the final verdict on God-issue, because we are disputing that statement. So the matter of the fact is this: if God is really there, then total mass and total energy of the universe including that God are both zero. Therefore mass and energy of God will also be zero. God is without any mass, without any energy. And Einstein has already shown that anything having zero rest-mass will have the speed of light. In other words, it will be light. So, if God is there, then God will also be light, and therefore He will be spaceless, timeless. So from the point of view of existence God is zero, because he is spaceless, timeless, without any mass, without any energy.
    Now we will have to show that from the point of view of essence also God is zero. If there is only one being in the universe, and if there is no second being other than that being, then that being cannot have any such property as love, hate, cruelty, compassion, benevolence, etc. Let us say that God is cruel. Now to whom can He be cruel if there is no other being other than God Himself? So, if God is cruel, then is He cruel to Himself? Therefore if we say that God is all-loving, merciful, benevolent, etc., then we are also admitting that God is not alone, that there is another being co-eternal with God to whom He can show His love, benevolence, goodness, mercy, compassion, etc. If we say that God is all-loving, then we are also saying that this “all” is co-eternal with God. Thus we are admitting that God has not created the universe at all, and that therefore we need not have to revere Him, for the simple reason that He is not our creator!
    It is usually said that God is good. But Bertrand Russell has shown that God cannot be good for the simple reason that if God is good, then there is a standard of goodness which is independent of God’s will. Therefore, if God is the ultimate Being, then that God cannot be good. But neither can He be evil. God is beyond good and evil. Like Hindu’s Brahma, a real God can only be nirguna, nirupadhik; without any name, without any quality. From the point of view of essence also, a real God is a zero. Mystics usually say that God is a no-thing. This is the real God, not the God of the scriptures.
    So, why should there be any need for creation here, if God is existentially, as well as essentially, zero?
    But if there is someone who is intelligent and clever enough, then he will not stop arguing here. He will point out to another infinite regression. If God is light, then He will no doubt be spaceless, timeless, etc. Therefore one infinite regression is thus arrested. But what about the second regression? How, and from whom, does light get its own peculiar properties by means of which we have successfully arrested the first regression? So, here is another infinite regression. But we need not have to worry much about this regression, because this problem has already been solved. A whole thing, by virtue of its being the whole thing, will have all the properties of spacelessness, timelessness, changelessness, deathlessness. It need not have to depend on any other external source for getting these properties. Thus no further infinite regression will be there.
    H. S. Pal

    • tracy carotta says:

      your conclusion is based on the premise that all values at the singularity are zero like hawking , i cannot wrap my brain around the concept that our universe evolved from zero or nothing==== wisdom lies in understanding our limitations, still does not explain the origin of zero?

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