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The Bible Stories You Learned In Sunday School Exist In Other Religions

For thousands of years, human civilizations have exchanged goods and ideas - which explains why all major religions include common motifs and similar stories. Every human endeavor pulls inspiration from the past, and the Bible is no exception.

Tales found in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity share many parallels, as all three religions stem from the teachings of Abraham. But Bible stories borrow from other religions, as well. The Bible is one of the world's best-selling books, and many people know its stories thanks to Sunday school or holidays such as Christmas. In addition to the variations in these broadly familiar tales as religions expand, Biblical stories have changed even within specific religious traditions.

From new translations and offshoot religious movements to followers misunderstanding common beliefs, the Bible's legacy is in a constant state of flux. And while devout followers of a particular faith may feel disconnected from people who follow different creeds, many religions teach the same lessons. 

  • Like Noah, Utnapishtim Built A Large Boat To Survive A Massive Flood

    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Sometime around 2100 BCE, Mesopotamians began writing the Epic of Gilgamesh, eventually compiling the story into a series of 12 clay tablets. The tale follows Gilgamesh, once the real-life king of Uruk, and his quest for immortality.

    After his good friend dies, Gilgamesh seeks out the sage Utnapishtim to learn how he can avoid the same fate. Utnapishtim's backstory pre-dates the Bible's tale of Noah's ark, but the two narratives contain multiple similarities.

    In Gilgamesh, wrathful gods unleash a massive flood on Earth, but first warn Utnapishtim of their plan. Utnapishtim constructs a large boat to protect himself, his family, and his animals. After surviving the storm, he sends a bird to seek dry land, just as Noah does with a dove.  

    Many historians believe this tale, and an actual flood from around 7,000 years ago, inspired the Bible's story of Noah.

  • The Buddha Resisted A Demon's Temptations, Much Like Jesus In The Desert

    Photo: Francis Chung / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Before the Buddha obtained enlightenment, he endured a period of temptation similar to Jesus's experience with Satan in the desert. 

    Born sometime around 563 BCE, Prince Siddhārtha Gautama lived a sheltered, privileged life until he met his subjects - and learned about real human suffering. The prince vowed to discover his purpose and left his comfortable home behind to travel the land.

    Siddhārtha eventually realized he needed a middle-ground between his former self-indulgent lifestyle and the complete rejection of all worldly pleasantries. So, he sat beneath a fig tree and began meditating.

    During this time, a demon named Mara appeared and tried tempting Siddhārtha. Mara brought beautiful women to entice the young man, then tried scaring him away from his searching with scores of demons. Neither tactic worked, nor did Mara's attempt to sway Siddhārtha by stroking his pride. In overcoming Mara's temptation, Siddhārtha reached enlightenment and became the Buddha.

  • As In Eden, Temptation Forces Enkidu To Leave Paradise, Naked And Ashamed

    Photo: User:FA2010, Thomas Cole / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    In the ancient Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, the titular character becomes king thanks to his incredible strength. The people of Gilgamesh's kingdom feel he has too much power, however, prompting the goddess of creation to balance Gilgamesh with a rival named Enkidu.

    Living away from civilization in the wilds, Enkidu finds contentment in his primitive lifestyle. But after trappers and shepherds complain about being bothered by Enkidu, Gilgamesh sends a harlot named Shamhat to seduce the wild man and teach him civility. After six days together, Enkidu loses his uncultured tendencies and realizes he can no longer abide in the natural world. Once he visits civilization, however, the animals shun Enkidu - forcing him to wear clothing and conceal his nakedness.

    Of course, people discovering the concept of nudity, a female temptress, and the forced evacuation of a natural paradise are all motifs in the story of Adam and Eve from the Bible's Book of Genesis.

  • Hercules And Samson Both Possessed Super-Strength And Killed A Lion With Their Bare Hands

    Photo: FelixMittermeier / Pixabay / CC0 1.0

    One beloved Bible story follows Samson, an amazingly strong man whose power resides in his hair. Unsurprisingly, many similarities exist between this legend and the story of Hercules from Greek mythology.

    A demigod born of a human woman and Zeus, Hercules possesses incredible strength. Like Samson, he kills a lion with his bare hands and overcomes even his most powerful opponents without aid. After suffering a bout of madness brought on by Zeus's jealous wife Hera, however, Hercules murders his children. Upon coming to his senses, he begins a journey of atonement - taking on 12 tasks to prove his worth.

    In addition to killing the lion, Hercules fights the Hydra, obtains a girdle from the queen of the Amazons, frees Prometheus, and travels to the underworld to bring back the three-headed dog Cerberus. As with Samson, Hercules loses his strength because of a lover. Whereas the Biblical hero's mate Delilah betrays him, someone tricks Hercules's wife into poisoning her love.