Published Date

September 25, 2013

Resource Type

For the Classroom


Ancient, Premodern

AHA Topics

Teaching & Learning

By William Jones
Mount San Antonio Coll.




Project Summary

Reflective Essay


The Epic of Gilgamesh


Popol Vuh

Other Creation Stories and Ancient History Links


Creation stories and epics have performed enormous and essential tasks for human societies. They have explained the universe and defined the meaning of existence. They have entertained us and introduced us to extraordinary events and individuals. Some of these narratives have done their work with such grace and power that they have long outlived the civilizations that first gave them voice. They may also have travelled thousands of miles from their homes. Some of us share the values and beliefs taught in the creation stories and epics of people who died centuries before we were born, who spoke languages we shall never understand, and who lived in places we shall never visit.

Viewed from the perspective of modern historical studies, creation stories offer evidence about religious and cultural belief systems and cosmologies. Epics also deserve our attention, for they relate the adventures and achievements of heroic figures in a culture. Both kinds of narratives can also be important clues for historians and students of history who want to understand and explain the formation of group identity, social relationships, definitions of ethical behavior, and the construction of gender roles and class hierarchies. Some tales may contain elements of both creation stories and epics, offering explanations of the cosmos as well as narratives of the deeds of key individuals.

This portion of the site offers pathways into three texts: the Epic of Gilgamesh, the book of Genesis, and the Popol Vuh. It also includes questions about each of these narratives along with links to other stories and suggestions for further study. You may begin with the Introduction and then proceed to one of the texts, or you may go directly to one of the texts, if you prefer.

William Jones wishes to thank Nancy Fitch for her help in setting up this part of the website.


William Jones began his studies in history as an undergraduate at Mt. San Antonio College and UCLA. He earned his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees at the Claremont Graduate School. While working on his dissertation, he spent a year at the Free University of Berlin as a Fulbright Graduate Research Fellow. He teaches U.S. History and World History at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California. He also teaches Modern European History as an adjunct professor at the Claremont Graduate University and as a lecturer at the California State Polytechnic University at Pomona. He is the author of The Lost Debate: German Socialist Intellectuals and Totalitarianism (Urbana and Chicago: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1999) plus articles and reviews on European politics and political theory.

Project Summary

This project on Creation Stories and Epics offers introductions to three texts: the Epic of Gilgamesh, the book of Genesis, and the Popol Vuh. The pages devoted to each text guide readers through a series of basic questions about its origins and meaning. The site also provides links to complete or partial translations of each text plus related information on writing, ancient visual arts, archaeology, and other creation stories. This project can serve both students and instructors as a point of departure for exploring the relationship between myth and history.