The traditional Greek account of creation given in Hesiod’s Theogony and Works and Days bears remarkable similarities to the account of creation given in Genesis. One form of Mesopotamian myth about the world’s beginnings, transformed by Israelite monotheism, appears in Genesis; another form, reshaped by Greek storytellers, appears in Hesiod. Given their common origin the similarities are not surprising; however even more interesting are the distinct views of the origins of the universe that each approach puts forth.

In the Theogony, creation begins with Chaos and according to Genesis, “the earth was a formless void.” However even though both stories begin the universe in an ambiguous formlessness, there are striking differences. Hesiod’s Chaos is a spontaneously created entity—in Athanassakis’ translation, her beginnings are in the passive voice, “Chaos was born first” (line 116). Chaos, like Gaia who came into being after her, gives birth to new entities or gods. These entities further, through mating, give birth to even newer entities. The beginnings of the universe in Genesis is vastly different in that creation is not the result of the actions of various non-eternal beings whose own beginnings are a mystery; rather, the existence of all created beings is explained as dependent upon an eternal, uncreated principle, and being eternal the creation of this principle is not explained. In other words, while Hesiod sets out to explain the evolution of the universe as it is while bypassing how existence came to be in the first place, this issue of existence is the first question addressed by the book of Genesis, which in contrast leaves the mystery of an eternal Supreme Being for the reader to ponder.

This principle difference of beginnings leads to other differences in the two accounts. In the Theogony, creation results from the actions of many gods, whereas in Genesis creation is ordered by a single Creator. This difference is not merely one of polytheism versus monotheism, but runs deeper. Hesiod’s view is that creation spontaneously evolved from the actions of first Chaos and Gaia, and later various other gods. These actions result from the interactions of complicated beings with various metaphysical and psychological qualities. Order must be imposed on this teeming and fertile group of ever-more-numerous gods, primarily through rivalries and alliances (e.g. Cronos versus Uranus and Zeus versus Cronos). Rather than a by-product of an imaginative pantheon themselves created in one way or another, in Genesis creation is planned and orderly, attributed to a God set apart from his works. Even Yahweh, a more personalized view of God than Elohim, does not have the myriad human-like personality and metaphysical traits ascribed to the Greek gods (such as greediness and the ability to be deceived).

These different approaches to the nature of creation inform the two different perspectives of humanity each account takes. On the surface there are amazing similarities: humanity aspires to be like God or the gods, the action bringing this about begins “civilization” but at the same time leads to disorder, and all of this is somehow caused by woman. However the treatment of these basic themes, and consequently the theological and etiological implications, are profoundly different. In Hesiod’s Works and Days, an all-male humanity is separated from the gods by mortality, but nevertheless fraternizes with the deities. The human Prometheus, in arrogance, then steals fire from the gods and brings it to the humans, allowing them to subjugate the animals and in a sense become godlike. He also manages to deceive Zeus into choosing the inferior parts of animal sacrifices. These transgressions begin man’s dominance and entry into civilization from a formerly idyllic natural life. Because of his trickety, Zeus creates Pandora, the first woman, to punish humanity. The result is chaos, with woman frustrating man’s goals while sexual tension and rivalry characterize all human activity.

The biblical account differs in several important respects. What must be stressed is that in Hesiod’s view this all-male world order was fruitful and close to the gods before it was punished with the introduction of woman. In the Bible’s two reconcilable accounts, however, woman is a blessing to man and an integral part of creation. In the first account, “in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.” In the second account we read that after the creation of Eve, Adam exclaimed, “This at last is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh!” The writer adds, “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and joins himself to his wife, and they become one body.” The biblical account stresses that man and woman complement each other—-this is diametrically opposed to the idea that woman was a later introduction, not only unnecessary to humanity but even a punishment.

The biblical account also differs in its treatment of how man’s transgression changes the world. In Hesiod’s account Prometheus’ act bring civilization to a formerly nature-bound man, and so Zeus actively punishes him. In the biblical account, however, humans are created as the pinnacle of civilization. In the first story humans are created last at the summit of creation, and in the second account they are created first, with the other creatures created afterwards for his benefit. In either case, man does not need to achieve dominion over the animals in order to be godlike, for he was created in God’s image and this dominion was handed over to him. In the biblical account, the sin of Adam and Eve was to overstep this domain in order to see the world as God sees it, and this led to their mortality—-to sickness, death, pain, chaos and disorder.

A final difference between the two account is the approach to humanity’s future. In Works and Days, Hesiod takes a rather pessimistic view: humans will be ever fraught with turmoil and disorder, until the time when “Zeus will destroy this race of mortals” (line 180). The biblical view, by contrast, is optimistic. Rather then continue in describing the suffering of humanity (as does Works and Days), the remainder of Genesis tells the story of a people who continue to transgress a God who continues to forgive, even establishing a covenant with them that he will never break.

These two very different approaches to the creation of the world and humankind bear witness to two different purposes behind each work. Both the Theogony and Works and Days, seem to be primarily etiological in focus, explaining the existence of the gods, man, woman, sex, and every other emotion and aspect of human nature. Genesis, while it does contain have an etiological aspect (e.g. explaining the presence of disease and death through the Original Sin) is primarily theological and moral in its focus. Ascribing all of creation to a mysterious and eternal God, Genesis leaves out many of the fascinating and detailed explanations of the origins of various aspects of existence as in Hesiod, and instead tells the story of a single God who demands all of our worship, and with whom we can depend on for mercy and justice.