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Comparing Chinese and Hebrew creation and flood myths

Virtually all cultures have their own creation myths, and many cultures also have legends of a great flood that wiped out most of mankind. The best internationally-known flood and creation story probablycomes from West Asian Semitic mythology that was carried beyond western Asia with the spread of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Less widely known are the Chinese creation and flood myths involving the primeval goddess Nuwa (also pronouced 'Ruwa'). The earliest descriptions of the goddess stated she had a "human head and snake body". Later legends gave her a more human-like form. There are a number of different versions of the Nuwa myths; for the purposes of this article, we will use the Nuwa creation myth as recorded in Taiping Yulan and the Nuwa flood myth as recorded in Zun Nanzi.

Nuwa and the God of the Hebrew Bible bear no resemblance to each other, but yet the Chinese and Hebrew creation myths have a number of points in common:

  1. Humans were created on the final day of creation
    The Chinese Creation/Flood Myths
    On the first day, Nuwa created chickens on the second, she created dogs, on the third day, she created sheep, on the fourth, she created pigs, on the sixth day, she created horses. On the seventh day, she created humans. 1

    The Genesis Account in the Hebrew Bible
    On the first day, God created light; on the second day, Heaven; on the third day, Earth, Seas and plants; on the fourth day, the sun and the moon; on the fifth day, aquatic life and avian life; on the sixth day, land animals; and lastly, humans. 2

  2. The deity created humans in its own image
    The Chinese Creation/Flood Myths
    Nu Wa was inspired to create humans after seeing her own reflection in the yellow river. She decided to make a few clay models in her image. These came to life and became the first people. 3

    The Genesis Account in the Hebrew Bible
    "And God said, Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness...: (Genesis 1:1-26)

  3. Humans were created out of the earth
    The Chinese Creation/Flood Myths
    After shaping a few more batches of humans from clay, Nuwa found the task tedious and used a vine to scatter the unformed lumps of clay. These lumps fell to the ground and took the form of humans too. They scattered all over the earth. 4

    The Genesis Account in the Hebrew Bible
    "And the LORD God formed men of the dust of the ground..." (Genesis 2:7)

  4. Humans were given the divine command to reproduce
    The Chinese Creation/Flood Myths
    Nuwa realized her creations, unlike herself, were mortal, so she gave them the institution of marriage so that they could propagate themselves. 5

    The Genesis Account in the Hebrew Bible
    "...and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth..." (Genesis 1:28)

  5. The creator-deity stops the great flood
    The Chinese Creation/Flood Myths
    Water began to pour down from the sky because a fight between two gods had damaged the foundation of the heavens. Many humans drowned in the flood. Nuwa could not bear to see her creations destroyed, so she patched up the sky with colored stones and stopped the deluge. 6

    The Genesis Account in the Hebrew Bible
    ".. and God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters assuaged." (Genesis 8:1)

  6. The rainbow as the sign that all is well after rain
    The Chinese Creation/Flood Myths
    According to Chinese myth, the rainbow is the colored stones that Nuwa used to patch the sky.

    The Genesis Account in the Hebrew Bible
    "And God said... I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth..." (Genesis 9:12)

  1. The legend of Nuwa on renlong.com.cn
  2. Genesis 1:1-27
  3. China's ancient mythology: Ruwa creates the humans
  4. The legend of Nuwa on renlong.com.cn
  5. China's ancient mythology: Nuwa creates the humans
  6. The legend of Nuwa on renlong.com.cn
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