Introduction: Founder Stories
Many, many religions and nations have founder stories where the founder has some unique beginning so as to tell the listeners, “Look, this guy/gal is special!”. Below I describe three basket cases (smile): stories of three important religious/political figures which started with a basket: Sargon, Krishna & Moses.
Moses — Judaism & Christianity
In Jewish Bible (embraced also by Christians), the book of Exodus tells the myth about how the Jews were exiled to Egypt and then later Moses led them out of captivity. Very few scholars would doubt this story is fictionalized, the question is how fictional is any part of the story. See my “Jesus, myth or fact” post to see the various percentages of fiction in bible stories — or any story.
Part of Exodus myth is the part about Moses being put in a basket. Moses was born to a Jewish woman (Levite) in Egypt at a time that the Pharaoh supposedly commanded all Jewish male babies be killed. So that Jewish woman, hid her child then three-months old, but when she could no longer hide him, she put him in a basket and sent him down a river.
The daughter of the Pharaoh apparently saw the child Moses in the basket and adopted it as her own. Eventually, after baby Moses grew up in the Pharaoh’s house hold, he had a powerful position in the court and later help his people (Jews) to escape from the Pharaoh. (Exodus 2).
Sargon the Great — King of Akkadian Empire
Sargon the Great, was the King of Akkadian around 2,300 BCE and had a similar basket beginning to the Jewish Moses.
Sargon was born as the illegitimate son of a priestess or low-class woman. In shame she secretly hid her child and then placed in a basket of reeds and floated him down a river where baby Sargon was found by a man and raised as his own son — only later to become a great King and leader. The similarities to the Moses story are uncanny.
But which story came first? The earliest copy of the Sargon story we have is from the 600s BCE found in the Library of Ashurbanipal. But the original story is much earlier, of course, passed on in oral tradition. Likewise, the oldest Hebrew Bible we have are the Dead Sea Scrolls with texts dated from 150 BCE to 70 CE but the stories were likely also written in the 600s. Due to all these stories being passed on orally for most likely centuries before their recording, and not knowing when the original recording took place, dating these events is very difficult. So, did they borrow from each other, or just use an obvious literary technique or, and this is unlikely, all just tell the truth about their founders. See my post illustrating models for how Greeks and Jews shared similar stories here.
Karna — Hindu Hero
My daughter and I are now reading the Mahabharata were a similar basket story came up. I copied the page with the picture on it for you.
In this story, a virgin is impregnated by the sun god (sound Christian?). In shame the child is sent down a river and found by a charioteer (low caste) who found him a famous teacher of war. This child was Karna who would become major warrior in the Mahabharata.
Clouds of Oral Traditions
Below I point out the source of the three basket heros: Karna, Sargon and Moses (probably in that chronological order). I also added “Clouds of Oral Traditions” temporarily to my diagram to emphasize that written traditions often are patched together from very long oral traditions — often oral traditions that intermingle. I know my diagram is busy, but I hope it helps again illustrate that stories can either be the result of sharing and remixing or spontaneous creation of similar concepts in diverse cultures.