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Flood Stories of the Epic of Gilgamesh and Book of Genesis of the Christian Bible

The Flood Stories of Gilgamesh and the Bible

The amazing stories of the great flood that are described in The Epic of Gilgamesh which is translated by N.K. Sandars and “The Story of the Flood” which is the King James version, both stories similarly. Many of the events of each story are very similar in ways and very different in some of them. From reading both stories I concluded that there was a huge flood that took place in that area of the world. Even though the way both stories describe the flood; The Epic of Gilgamesh is more imaginable. I say that because it is more realistic to have rain for six days, six nights than for forty days, forty nights. Both flood stories have a major similarity and difference though. Both stories described the same flood but they did it in different ways.

One difference that backs it up is in The Epic of Gilgamesh the rains that cause the floods only last six days, six nights and in “The Flood Story in Genesis” the rains last forty days, forty nights. A quote that tells about the flood is when Utnapishtim said, “For six days and six nights the wind blew, torrent and tempest and flood overwhelmed the world, tempest and flood raged together like warring hosts (pg. 25).” This quote by Utnapishtim describes how bad the weather, rains, and wind were during the six days and six nights of the storm. On the other hand in “The Story of the Flood” it rained for forty days, forty nights. While God was talking to Noah he said, “For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth (pg. 48 line 4).” This quote describes how long God will have the rain go for. It also says that he is doing it to destroy all of mankind.

After reading the two stories I concluded that forty days and forty nights was too long for it to rain without stopping; that is why the flood in Gilgamesh is more realistic. The length of the rains in the flood story in The Epic of Gilgamesh is easier for someone to believe than the length of the rains in Genesis. Even though the stories were different there was many similarities in the stories.

Comparing Epic of Gilgamesh and Book of Genesis of the Holy Bible

Parallels Between the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Bible

The most well-known parallel between the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Bible is the story of the Flood, in Genesis 6-7. This is essentially equivalent to the story that Utnapishtim, the Sumerian Noah, tells to Gilgamesh on Tablet XI. Even the way the narrative is laid out is similar – the gods put a bug in Utnapishtim’s ear; a description of how the ark is built (“daubed with bitumen,” a common glue or mortaring agent in Mesopotamia); everyone piles in, and it starts to rain. When it’s over, Utnapishtim releases a dove, then a swallow, and finally a crow.

However, the section of the Bible that really seems linked to Sumerian mythology is the book of Ecclesiastes. The writer of that book informs us, in Eccl. 12:9-10, that in the course of composing it he read widely, presumeably everything that he could get his hands on in those days. From internal evidence it’s obvious that he read some version of the Epic of Gilgamesh. It’s fascinating to see that the story, already very ancient by Biblical times, circulated so widely in the Middle East.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (in the Revised Standard version) runs, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up.” This appears in fragmented form in Tablet V column ii of the epic. (If you want to look at the tablets in English translation the best one is by John Gardner.) It was apparently a common proverb in the Middle East, and you can easily find equivalents all over the place in literature. It appears in King Lear and in Beowulf, “Bare is back without brother behind it.” (Alliteration’s artful aid, what?)

The Epic of Gilgamesh has two main parts. In the first, Gil has a number of the standard Conan-the-Barbarian style adventures, whomping monsters, humping maidens, defying the goddess Ishtar. And he’s king of Uruk, one of mankind’s first cities – all very picturesque, and would make a great cover for a genre paperback. Then, in the second half, Gil has a spiritual crisis and goes on a quest for eternal life. Well, when he’s wandering around having angst, he meets a Wise Woman, a barmaid – it seems the Sumerians invented beer, too.

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