In Greek mythology, Pandora was the first woman on earth. The god Zeus gave her a box and told her not to open it. (In the original Greek, the object was a jar, but the two words are similar, and it seems that Erasmus mistranslated it as “box” and that is what stuck.) Inside the box were all the troubles of the world, including death, and, when Pandora opened it, the troubles escaped to plague the world. Zeus had given her the box hoping that she would open it, thus releasing trouble into the world. This was his way of bringing trouble upon the world since Prometheus had given fire to mankind.
The story of Pandora’s Box is an attempt to explain why there is trouble in the world. It does contain some aspects that are similar to the account of Genesis 3, where God tells us how sin and death entered the world.
In the two stories, the prohibition is similar. In both cases, what is forbidden is not something that, in and of itself, is a terrible thing—opening a box and eating fruit both appear to be innocuous. Likewise, it is a woman who is the instigator—Pandora opened the box, and Eve ate the fruit and then gave some to Adam, who also ate. Finally, in both stories the result of the woman’s action is all the evil and pain in the world. Out of Pandora’s Box came death, and out of the disobedience in the Garden came death and all kinds of suffering (Genesis 3:16–19).
However there are some differences between Pandora’s Box and the Genesis account of the fall. In Genesis 3, Eve is not held solely responsible. Although she is the one who seemed to instigate the problem, her husband is held equally responsible, and in later Scriptures he is held primarily responsible as the head of the family and of the human race (Romans 5:12). In the story of Pandora’s Box, Pandora’s moral culpability is not stressed—her act was more of a physical one—she simply let the terrors escape from the box by opening it. In Genesis, the moral aspect is stressed, and the horrors of the curse are God’s righteous response to sin.
Perhaps most importantly, the nature of the deity involved is different. In Genesis we have an all-powerful Creator who deals with sin but also provides for forgiveness and deliverance (Genesis 3:15). In the story of Pandora’s Box, Zeus is a limited and somewhat petty god who gives Pandora the box in order to try to trip up people on earth. The God of the Bible does not want people to sin; the chief god of the Greeks was laying a trap for humanity. We do not know if the people of ancient Greece believed the story of Pandora’s Box to be literal history, but the Genesis account is presented as actual history throughout the rest of Scripture.
It is not uncommon for many cultures around the world to have stories that are somewhat parallel to various biblical accounts regarding creation or the flood. If the Genesis account reflects literal history (which is the way it is treated throughout Scripture), then we would expect it to spawn all kinds of parallel stories as people separated and moved to the four corners of the earth (see Genesis 11:1–11). Although many cultures have changed or perverted the truth about historical events, a kernel of truth remains in their legends. Today, Christian missionaries can often use parallels in the folk stories of the cultures they are attempting to reach to bring people the truth, which is found in Scripture.