A major point in Zeitgeist the Movie is its claim that Christianity is no different from pagan religions. It then claims that several passages and Biblical stories had been plagiarized from ancient pagan mythology. — After the film makes the all time favorite claim that the Genesis account of the flood was copied from the Epic of Gilgamesh (which is refuted here), it goes on to make similar claims about the story of Moses,
There is the plagiarized story of Moses. Upon Moses’ birth, it is said that he was placed in a reed basket and set adrift in a river in order to avoid infanticide. He was later rescued by a daughter of royalty and raised by her as a Prince. This baby in a basket story was lifted directly from the myth of Sargon of Akkad of around 2250 b.c. Sargon was born, placed in a reed basket in order to avoid infanticide, and set adrift in a river. He was in turn rescued and raised by Akki, a royal mid-wife.
Zeitgeist makes the claim that the ancient king Sargon was placed in a basket to “avoid infanticide” and is later found by a royal mid-wife. The claim then becomes that since Sargon lived before Moses then therefore Moses must have plagiarized the story.
There is indeed a famous story of Sargon being left in a basket on the Euphrates river preserved in cuneiform tablets of Ancient Assyria. The cuneiform tablet says,
Sargon, mighty king, king of Agade, am I. My mother was a high priestess, my father I knew not; My father’s brothers live in the mountains; My city is Azupiranu, situated on the banks of the Euphrates My mother, the high priestess, conceived me, in secret she bore me; She placed me in a basket of rushes, she sealed the lid with bitumen; She cast me into the river which did not rise over me; The river bore me up and carried me to Aqqi, the water-drawer. Aqqi, the water-drawer, lifted me out as he dipped his bucket; Aqqi, the water-drawer, adopted me, brought me up; Aqqi, the water-drawer, set me up as his gardener. As a gardener, Ishtar, loved me; For 55 years I ruled as king.
The similarity to Moses is obvious to anyone who has read both the story of Moses and the legend of Sargon. But a carefull reading shows that the film, Zeitgeist, in its description of the similarities between the two stories is actually exagerated.
The claim that Sargon’s mother placed him in the basket and set him adrift to save him from infanticide is actually unsubstantiated. Nowhere in the inscription does it say that she did it to save him from anything or anyone. It just simply says she set him adrift. And the way that the tablet says “she [his mother] cast me into the river” kind of gives the impression that this is a case of child abandonment rather than to save his life.
James Holding in his essay gives background information of the importance of Sargon’s mother being a high priestess. He points out that in order to maintain her position she had to avoid pregnancy. This therefore would account for her giving birth in secrecy and would indicate that she was just disposing of her unwanted newborn child.
The fact that the story says she set him adrift also indicates she didn’t care whether or not he survived. This is a major difference between the two stories. — Contrary to what Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments shows, even though Moses was placed in a basket on the Nile river, he was not set adrift. Exodus 2: 3, 4 says that he was placed at the edge of the river among the reeds and his sister “stood” at a distance to watch him. The reeds would have kept the basket from drifting away. He was meant to survive which is not seemingly the case with Sargon.
The claim that Zeitgeist makes that Sargon was adopted by a royal mid-wife is also a mistake. The tablet says that 1) his rescuer was a “he.” And 2) he was a water drawer, not a royal mid-wife. These errors in the description of the story leads me to the conclusion that the film makers did not do independent research in this particular area.
There is one fact about the “Baby in a basket” story of Sargon that many skeptics either do not know, or just do not mention. The Historical website People and Places in the Ancient World (click here) points out,
The reputation of Sargon cast a long shadow. A scribe in 7th century Assyria left this account of Sargon’s origin, supposedly based on a first person account. [ . . . ] It is of course, impossible to know if this Moses like story circulated during Sargon’s lifetime but his humble origins are attested to by his lack of a name.
Also is should be mentioned that the Encyclopedia Britannica points out that what we know about Sargon of Akkad (who reigned from 2334 to 2279 BC) is all based on legends that were written after his lifetime.
— So the evidence is that 1) it looks as if it is impossible to date this particular story of King Sargon I and that 2) the earliest evidence we have of the story we have comes from as late as the seventh century BC. In contrast, the Book of Exodus was written between 1437 and 1397 BC. So plagiarism on the part of Moses is not necessarily what happened.