Skip to comments.Is the Biblical Flood Account a Modified Copy of the Epic of Gilgamesh?
Posted on 04/08/2010 8:15:01 PM PDT by truthfinder9
Skeptics claim that the flood narrative of Genesis1 is a rewritten version of an original myth, The Epic of Gilgamesh, from the Enuma Elish produced by the Sumerians. The flood of the Epic of Gilgamesh is contained on Tablet XI2 of twelve large stone tablets that date to around 650 B.C. These tablets are obviously not originals, since fragments of the flood story have been found on tablets that date to 2,000 B.C. It is likely that the story itself originated much before that, since the Sumerian cuneiform writing has been estimated to go as far back as 3,300 B.C.
The dating of Genesis is uncertain, since the preservation of papyri is not nearly as good as that of stone. Liberal scholars place the date between 1,500 and 500 B.C., although the events are claimed to have occurred several thousand years earlier.
Here is a brief background of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh was an oppressive ruler of the Sumerians, whose people called to the gods to send a nemesis. One nemesis, Enkidu, became friends with Gilgamesh, and the two went out on many adventures. Enkidu was eventually killed and Gilgamesh then feared for his own life. In his search for immortality, he met Utnapishtim, who had been granted immortality by the gods, following his rescue from the flood. Utnapishtim then recounted the flood and how he became immortal.
Superficially, the flood accounts appear to be similar:
Despite superficial similarities, the differences between the accounts are quite significant. The table below lists most of the differences.
|Reason for flood||human wickedness3||excessive human noisiness|
|Response of deity||the Lord was sorry He made man because of his wickedness4||gods could not sleep|
|Warned by||Yahweh (God)5||Ea|
|Main character||Noah ("rest")6||Utnapishtim ("finder of life")|
|Why character chosen||a righteous man6||no reason given|
|Intended for||All humans except Noah and his family7||all humans|
|Decision to send flood||Yahweh (God)8||council of the gods (primarily Enlil)|
|Builders||Noah and family9||Utnapishtim, his family, and many craftsmen from city|
|Character's response||Noah warned his neighbors of upcoming judgment as "Preacher of righteousness"10||Told by Ea to lie to neighbors so that they would help him build the boat|
|Building time||100 years11||7 days|
|Boat size||450x75x45 feet12||200x200x200 feet (unseaworthy cube)|
|Boat roof||wood13||slate (top heavy?)|
|Humans||Noah and family7||Utnapishtim, his family, and craftsmen from city|
|Cargo||animals and food15||animals, food, gold jewels, and other valuables|
|Launching||by the floodwaters16||pushed to the river|
|Door closed by||Yahweh (God)17||Utnapishtim|
|Sign of coming flood||none||extremely bright light sent by the Annanuki (collection of Sumerian gods)|
|Waters sent by||Yahweh (God)7||Adad, with help from gods Shamash, Shullat, Hanish, Erragal, Ninurta|
|Reaction of deity to flood||in control of waters18||gods scrambled to get away from water like "whipped dogs"|
|Duration of rain||40 days19||7 days|
|Duration of flood||370 days20||14 days|
|Boat landing||Mt. Ararat21||Mt. Nisir|
|Deity's reaction to human deaths||no regret mentioned||regretted that they had killed all the humans|
|Birds sent out||raven returns, dove returns second time with olive branch, then leaves22||dove returns, swallow returns, raven does not return|
|Offering after flood||one of every clean animal and bird23||wines and a sheep|
|Aftermath||God promises not to destroy humanity by flood again24||gods quarrel among themselves, god Ea lies to Enlil. Utnapishtim and wife given immortality like the gods|
|Repopulation||Noah and family told to multiply and repopulate the earth25||Ea and Mami created 14 human beings to help repopulate the earth|
Among the similarities between the Genesis and Gilgamesh there are some that would be expected to be found in any flood account. Since both cultures existed in the Middle East, it is not unexpected to find that both accounts occurred in the plains of Mesopotamia. The Bible described the creation of humans in the locale of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, and never describes them expanding beyond that area prior to the flood. Therefore, this similarity (#1 on our list above) is just due to the nature of where the peoples lived.
Obviously, for humans to survive the flood, there would have to be a means of escape. A boat makes sense, since the cultures did not have the technology to build an airplane. Humans would not know that a flood was coming unless they were told so by someone. Therefore, the idea that the gods or God would warn certain humans would not be unexpected, either. Similarity #2 seems like an integral part of any ancient flood story, so does not constitute an unexpected similarity.
Since a flood would obviously kill livestock in addition to humans, it would make sense that the survivors should take some animals on board with them. They would probably want to eat during the time of the flood, so would be expected that food would be taken on board the boat. Therefore, similarity #3 would be expected in any flood account.
Since there was no glue or other sealing materials, it would be expected that the builders of the boats would use something natural that was water resistant. Hence, it is not surprising to find that both stories recount the use of tar or other natural resin. Eliminate similarity #4 as being significant.
The laws of physics require that wooden boats would float on top of the water (although this is questionable with the Gilgamesh boat, see below). When the waters began to recede, it would not be unreasonable for the boat to come to rest on a mountain or the foothills of a mountain. However, it would probably be expected that the boat would come to rest somewhere on the plains of Mesopotamia. Although superficially similar, the boats came to rest on different mountain ranges. The boat from Gilgamesh came to rest on Mt. Nisir, whereas the ark came to rest on Mt. Ararat. Why these details would have been changed is unknown.
Probably the most unique feature common to both accounts are the release of birds to determine when the waters had receded. However, there are some significant differences between the two accounts. In Gilgamesh, a dove is sent out first, whereas in Genesis, it is a raven. The second bird sent is a swallow in Gilgamesh and a dove in Genesis. A third bird, a raven, is sent out in Gilgamesh, whereas the dove is sent out again in Genesis and returns with an olive leaf. In Genesis, the dove is sent out a third time and does not return. If the Genesis account was copied from Gilgamesh, these details were changed significantly for no apparent reason.
The seventh similarity was a sacrificial offering made to the gods or God, when the main character had been delivered from the flood. The details of the offerings were quite different, since the Gilgamesh epic describes the offering of wines and a sheep. Noah sacrificed burnt offerings of all the clean animals on the ark, but no drink offering. Although it may seem like an unusual thing to do, in the cultures of the time, it would be expected that an offering would be made as an act of appreciation. In this age, it would be expected that religious people would offer prayers of thanks or at least a "Was I lucky" (depending upon one's religious worldview). Therefore, similarity #7 should not be seen as significant.
The first striking thing that one notices when reading the Epic of Gilgamesh is how silly the story is. Part of the silliness is because of the obviously human-like behavior of the gods. They are constantly fighting amongst each other, plotting and deceiving each other. One would expect this part of the story to be removed from a Genesis copy. Therefore, we would expect that the Genesis account would be changed to involve some kind of judgment, since Yahweh (God) does not capriciously destroy humans, as was done in the Gilgamesh epic. It would, therefore, make sense that Noah would be chosen for his righteousness although Utnapishtim was chosen for no apparent reason.
Even with these major changes not considered, there are many dissimilarities that would not be expected from a story copied from another story. For example, the timings of the flood accounts are vastly different. The Gilgamesh flood took only 3 weeks, whereas the Genesis flood lasted over a year. The Gilgamesh flood included several 7 day long events. This "perfect" number is found throughout the Bible, so would be expected to be retained if copied from the epic of Gilgamesh. However, the Bible uses numbers like 40 and 150 - much longer timeframes.
The boats in the two accounts are quite different. The Gilgamesh boat was an unseaworthy cube with a slate roof. Obviously, such a design would immediately flip over or roll around in the water. In contrast, the ark had dimensions that were ideal for a seaworthy ship. This fact might be surprising, since both cultures were not noted for their nautical skills. It is obvious that the gods of the Sumerians had no expertise in shipbuilding.
We have examined the similarities between the Epic of Gilgamesh and Genesis flood account of the Bible. Although there are a number of superficial similarities between the accounts, the vast majority of similarities would be expected to be found in any ancient flood account. Only two similarities stand out as being unique - landing of the boats on a mountain and the use of birds to determine when the flood subsided. However, both of these similarities differ in important details. In addition, there are great differences in the timing of each of the flood accounts and the nature of the vessels. Why these details would be so drastically changed is a problem for those who claim that the Genesis flood was derived from the Epic of Gilgamesh.
There are a couple possible explanations for the existence of multiple ancient flood accounts. One - that Genesis was a copy of Gilgamesh - has already been discussed and does not seem to fit the available data. The other possible explanation is that the flood was a real event in the history of mankind that was passed down through the generations of different cultures. If so, the Gilgamesh account seems to have undergone some rather radical transformations. The story is a rather silly myth that bears little resemblance to reality. In contrast, the Genesis account is a logical, seemingly factual account of a historical event. It lacks the obvious mythological aspects of the Gilgamesh epic.
Maybe the Epic of Gilgamesh was a modified retelling of the actual account of the flood
In particular, the seven days just prior to the flood are mentioned twice within a short space:
Gen. 7:4 "For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights;...These were seven days of intense light, generated by some major cosmic event within our system. The Old Testament contains one other reference to these seven days, i.e. Isaiah 30:26:
Gen. 7:10 "And it came to pass after seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the earth."
"...Moreover, the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days..."
Most interpret this as meaning cramming seven days worth of light into one day. That is wrong; the reference is to the seven days prior to the flood. The reference apparently got translated out of a language which doesn't use articles. It should read "as the light of THE seven days".
It turns out, that the bible claims that Methuselah died in the year of the flood. It may not say so directly, but the ages given in Genesis 5 along with the note that the flood began in the 600'th year of Noah's life (Genesis 7:11) add up that way:
Gen. 5:25 ->
"And Methuselah lived an hundred eighty and seven years and begat Lamech. And Methuselah lived after he begat Lamech seven hundred eighty and two years, and begat sons and daughters. And all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty and nine years.
<i.e. he lived 969 - 187 = 782 years after Lamech's birth>
And Lamech lived an hundred eighty and two years and begat a son. And he called his name Noah...
<182 + 600 = 782 also...>
Thus we have Methusaleh dying in the year of the flood; seven days prior to the flood...
Louis Ginzburg's seven-volume "Legends of the Jews", the largest body of Midrashim ever translated into German and English to my knowledge, expands upon the laconic tales of the OT.
From Ginzburg's Legends of the Jews, Vol V, page 175:
...however, Lekah, Gen. 7.4) BR 3.6 (in the week of mourning for Methuselah, God caused the primordial light to shine).... God did not wish Methuselah to die at the same time as the sinners...
The reference is, again, to Gen. 7.4, which reads:
"For yet seven days, and I shall cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights..."
The note that "God did not wish Methusaleh to die at the same time as the sinners" indicates that Methusaleh died at pretty nearly precisely the beginning of the week prior to the flood. The week of "God causing the primordial lights to shine" was the week of intense light before the flood.
What the old books are actually telling us is that there was a stellar blowout of some sort either close to or within our own system at the time of the flood. The blowout was followed by seven days of intense light and radiation, and then the flood itself. Moreover, the signs of the impending disaster were obvious enough for at least one guy, Noah, to take extraordinary precautions.
The ancient (but historical) world knew a number of seven-day light festivals, Hanukkah, the Roman Saturnalia etc. Velikovsky claimed that all were ultimately derived from the memory of the seven days prior to the flood.
If this entire deal is a made-up story, then here is a case of the storyteller (isaiah) making extra work for himself with no possible benefit, the detail of the seven days of light being supposedly known amongst the population, and never included in the OT story directly.
Greek and Roman authors, particularly Hesiod and ovid, Chinese authors and others, note that small groups of men and animals survived the flood on high places and on anything which could float for a year. I do not see an essential contradiction between this and the biblical account. Noah's descendants were probably unaware of anybody else surviving and wrote the story that way.
About 4,800 years ago, a large asteroid or comet impacted in the Indian Ocean, producing a tsunami at least 600 feet high. This may be the origin of the stories of both Gilgamesh and Noah.
Did you read the article?
The article is saying the Bible is true.
Now we await trial by fire.
Genesis and Gilgamesh provide accounts of the same event. That there are similarities should be expected when describing the same event. Just because Gilgamesh predates Genesis doesn’t mean the Genesis account was copied from Gilgamesh.
It’s the other way around.
The story itself is true; the standard religious interpretation of it being a divine punishment against the entire world you could take or leave, my own choice is to leave it.
The flood happened 11,500 years ago.
You seem pretty confident on that dating.
Point is Satan lied and mankind died. Nothing has changed under the sun. We must serve God not Satan.
I think the Noahic flood was the second of God’s such judgements on the earth. “ And darkness was on the face of the deep”. Deep what? Deep water? Is that when the dinosaurs perished, perhaps?
Does that explain why those fossils are on this planet yet were not living creatures included on the ark?
I’m not the first to subscribe.
Greater Biblical scholars contemplated this before us.
When God gave the rainbow as the sign He would not destroy the earth with water again, did it mean He had only done it once before? Check it out and read slowly.
Or possibly a glacial ice dam breaking up ???
Check this out:
Yup... (the actual account being described in the Bible).
Myself, I believe the original tale goes much further back, and describes the flooding of the Mediterranean basin when the Gibraltar land bridge broke.
Or is the Epic of Gilgamesh a bad rewrite of the biblical account?
Thank you. Great Flood stories have been a part of many civilizations.
Abraham was from Ur, and Gilgamesh was a pre historic king in the Sumerian region of what is now Iraq (same area of the world).
If the flood happened, it was probably about the time of the global warming/glacial melt about 10000 BC when there was lots of floods, and climate change.
So there is an oral tradition for 7000 years before they wrote down Gilgamesh, and 8500 years before they wrote the bible down. Both probably tell of the same flood and the same survivors.
Most Christians (e.g. most Catholics, orthodox, and main line Christian) don’t think the Bible is dictated by God: (that is the Koran) and agree it was probably a local flood, not the whole world (there was a catastrophe that wiped out humanity, but that story goes back 50000 years to where most of mankind was wiped out by a super volcanic eruption, if the DNA studies are correct).
The story is how God communicated with his people, and the realization that there was a good God who ruled over all things, not made up gods who were petty and destroyed men for the fun of it.
The Sumerian Gods were evil and disliked men; the God of Abraham loved man and promised that he would never destroy man again.
uh, Catholics don’t believe that the bible is literal...since the days of the early church fathers it was recognized that a lot of the stories were stories for our eddification, not history or science lessons.
The Epic of Gilgamesh could be from the same original source as the Genesis account of the flood, but had a lot added to the telling.
Wish I had more time, but must turn in.
Numbers like seven and Forty do not have our significance. As to what says says, well, speculations have huge floods happing at the end of the ice age.
For instance, the seabed of the Mediterranean is to have been a desert until the inland sea whose remnant is the Black Sea, was inundated when the rising waters broke through at the Dardanelles. A natural explanation is that Genesis has a cataclysmic historical event embedded in a story about human beings and the God of the Bible. The story is related to the Creation stories and aims to identify the God of the Creator God, as a righteous God who is offended by man’s sins but always offers them hope for reconciliation. The gods of the Mesopotamian myth, like the Olympian gods, are quite a different sort.
“Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar.” (Genesis 8:20)
Typical of much in the Bible is things that the human mind cannot comprehend. If Noah took two of every kind of clean animal and clean bird into the Ark, and now sacrificed one of each, the human mind does not comprehend how the animals and birds would have repopulated the earth. Or the existence of pigs and carrion birds.
God is Infinite and Can do all things. It is not for us to question.
This mind comprehends that there was more than a breeding pair of each kind of clean animal and taken aboard the ark.
There were seven of each clean animal, not seven pairs, and seven pairs of each clean bird, if I’m not mistaken.
Some would have the petty, vengeful, randy “gods” of old be those that would be gods recorded in antediluvian times, Biblically. That they were nephilim, the great men of old, men of renown.
“This mind comprehends that there was more than a breeding pair of each kind of clean animal and taken aboard the ark.
There were seven of each clean animal, not seven pairs, and seven pairs of each clean bird, if Im not mistaken.”
6:19 And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring TWO of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female.
6:20 Of the birds after their kind, and of the animals after their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, TWO of every kind shall come to you to keep them alive.
7:2 You shall take with you of every clean animal by SEVENS, a male and his female; and of the animals that are not clean TWO, a male and his female;
7:3 also of the birds of the sky, by SEVENS, male and female, to keep offspring alive on the face of all the land.
7:9 there went into the ark to Noah by TWOs, male and female, as God had commanded Noah.
The twos refer to the ones that will be kept alive; while the sevens are pairs. Else why male and female?
The whole world retains the flood story and associates it with roughly the same time period i.e. around 3500 - 4000 years ago. It was a global event, affecting every corner of the earth other than mountain peaks.
That seems to be a leading alternative. I am not sure though that it would produce in the Mideast the violent storms associated with Noah’s adventure.
That seems too old an event — about five million years ago.
You can thank me later.
I thank you now.
Whole gene pool was on that boat. The memory would filter to every culture.
I figured it was a race memory. Many cultures, not just those in the eastern Med, have a flood story, and that long ago, pretty much everyone was fairly near there. It certainly would have made an impression on anyone who saw it. Granted, though, that to the best of our scientific knowledge, the “humans” around at that time were little differentiated from ordinary apes.
If the Biblical flood account is true (and it is) wouldn’t one expect other cultures to have handed down accounts of it which became mythic over the centuries? I think the fact the Gilgamesh epic exists enhances the credibility of the Bible epic.
There is evidence of the Gilgamesh flood. Noah not so much.
Biblical narrative in tension with Biblical law....
I believe God made Earths atmosphere different then it is today. Thats one reason people lived much longer and the earth was more like a paradies with fruits and veggies growing everywhere.
There was a canopy of water that surronded the earth before the flood. It protected us from the Sun and everything from asteroids to comets.
The light you mentioned is interesting because that may be what made the water canopy fall to earth.
I have not heard of that before and would like to learn more. Thanks for bringing that to my attention
I think that early humans were more advanced than they are commonly given credit for being. Brain capacity was as large or larger than it is today, and there is evidence of sophisticated tool making, language, and religious belief. Yet five million years ago seems too far in the past for a cultural memory to survive to be recorded in even the Old Testament.
The basic question I’ve asked myself is this:
If there were a really, really big flood a long time ago and it left only one family, wouldn’t various accounts, even incorrect ones stem from it?
Sorry, Gilgamesh hopefuls.
I’m about as far from the current oceans as you can be- in the middle of the US , (KS) where they have uncovered huge prehistoric fish fossils- 2-3 thousand feet above sea level. I’m about 1000 feet above sea level and there are all kinds of sea creature fossils here in the limestone underlaying the soil.
Literalists generally have a hard time with dinosaurs and extinct mammals that predate the time frame for Noah’s flood.
I am a literalist who believes that there have been other ages on the planet, and other cataclysmic events ( at least one other worldwide flood) meteor strikes, etc.
Nepthalim (sp?), dinosaurs, etc. all had their time. The Biblical account picks up about 7000 years ago, with the 1st man created with an eternal spirit in the current conflict.
Not well worded, I know, but I have yet to see any science which causes me to even slightly doubt the Word of God.
September 8, 2008, National Geographic
"Three-dimensional computer-assisted reconstructions of Neanderthal infants based on fossils found in Russia and Syria suggests that our closest human relatives had brains as large as ours at birth and larger than ours as adults."
My mistake, as I thought you were asserting a much earlier period.
I have the worldview that scripture is truth (see 2 Timothy 3:16) so science will never cause me to doubt the Bible.
I do not have a problem with dinosaurs or extinct mammals that supposedly predate the time frame for Noah's flood...the dating techniques are flawed. Each of the dating techniques used that give old ages (potassium-argon, rubidium-strontium, or uranium-thorium-lead methods) use assumptions as to what the original chemical composition of the item was and that the rate of decay has stayed at a constant. This has been shown to be flawed since running water over an item (in a river?) has caused leaching of elements into and out of rocks (fossils) which will change the “age” of the fossil.
I simply take God at His word...
Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
2 Peter 3:3-6 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water.
As for dinosaurs read Job 40-41 “Behold now behemoth”
The dinosaurs lived at one time with man...and there are plenty of reports of “dragon (read dinosaur) legends” in cultures around the world and old “text books” of science from hundreds of years ago that actually list some of these creatures as being alive at the time...
I agree with you that I have not seen any science that would cause me to doubt the Word of God. Hold to God's Word.
P.S. For more information I would suggest the book “In the Beginning” by Dr. Walt Brown
1 Corinthians 15: 21-22 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
If death is not the result of sin then we have removed the need for a savior and Christ died in vain. This undermines the enter gospel and is not true.
As for fossils on the planet not being living creatures included on the ark...the actual fossils would be the creatures not on the ark (that's why they died), but that does not mean that two of each kind of those same creatures were not on the ark. I don't believe we have a detailed “shipping manifest” of each creature as they boarded.