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Genesis Flood of the Christian Bible and the Flood of Gilgamesh

The Flood of Noah and the Flood of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh has been of interest to Christians ever since its discovery in the mid-nineteenth century in the ruins of the great library at Nineveh, with its account of a universal flood with significant parallels to the Flood of Noah’s day.1, 2 The rest of the Epic, which dates back to possibly third millennium B.C., contains little of value for Christians, since it concerns typical polytheistic myths associated with the pagan peoples of the time. However, some Christians have studied the ideas of creation and the afterlife presented in the Epic. Even secular scholars have recognized the parallels between the Babylonian, Phoenician, and Hebrew accounts, although not all are willing to label the connections as anything more than shared mythology.3

There have been numerous flood stories identified from ancient sources scattered around the world.4 The stories that were discovered on cuneiform tablets, which comprise some of the earliest surviving writing, have obvious similarities. Cuneiform writing was invented by the Sumerians and carried on by the Akkadians. Babylonian and Assyrian are two dialects of the Akkadian, and both contain a flood account. While there are differences between the original Sumerian and later Babylonian and Assyrian flood accounts, many of the similarities are strikingly close to the Genesis flood account.5 The Babylonian account is the most intact, with only seven of 205 lines missing.6 It was also the first discovered, making it the most studied of the early flood accounts.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is contained on twelve large tablets, and since the original discovery, it has been found on others, as well as having been translated into other early languages.7 The actual tablets date back to around 650 B.C. and are obviously not originals since fragments of the flood story have been found on tablets dated around 2,000 B.C.8 Linguistic experts believe that the story was composed well before 2,000 B.C. compiled from material that was much older than that date.9 The Sumerian cuneiform writing has been estimated to go as far back as 3,300 B.C.10

The Story

The Epic was composed in the form of a poem. The main figure is Gilgamesh, who actually may have been an historical person. The Sumerian King List shows Gilgamesh in the first dynasty of Uruk reigning for 126 years.11 This length of time is not a problem when compared with the age of the pre-flood patriarchs of the Bible.

The Transformation of Gilgamesh in the Epic of Gilgamesh

The Transformation of Gilgamesh in the Epic of Gilgamesh

In many literary works we see significant transitions in the hero’s character as the story is developed. This is also true in the Epic of Gilgamesh with its hero, Gilgamesh. In this narrative poem, we get glimpses of who Gilgamesh is and what his purposes and goals are. We see Gilgamesh act in many different ways — as an overbearing ruler resented by his people, a courageous and strong fighter, a deflated, depressed man, and finally as a man who seems content with what he’s accomplished. Through all of these transitions, we see Gilgamesh’s attitude toward life change. The goals he has for his own life alter dramatically, and it is in these goals that we see Gilgamesh’s transition from being a shallow, ruthless ruler to being an introspective, content man.

The epic begins with the men of Uruk describing Gilgamesh as an overly aggressive ruler. “‘Gilgamesh leaves no son to his father; day and night his outrageousness continues unrestrained; And he is the shepherd of Uruk, the enclosure; He is their shepherd, and yet he oppresses them. Strong, handsome, and wise. . . Gilgamesh leaves no virgin to her lover.'”(p.18, Line 23-27) The citizens respect him, but they resent his sexual and physical aggression, so they plead to the gods to alleviate some of their burden. The gods resolve to create an equal for Gilgamesh to tame him and keep him in line. This equal, Enkidu, has an immediate impact on Gilgamesh. When they first meet, both having never before met a man equal in stature, they brawl. “They grappled with each other, Snorting like bulls; They shattered the doorpost, that the wall shook.”(p.32, lines 15-18) In giving Gilgamesh a real battle, Enkidu instantly changes him; having this equal gives Gilgamesh a sense of respect for another man. These two men fighting each other creates a serious mess, but they both end up without animosity toward the other.

The next time we see them, their friendship is concrete. “They kissed one another, And formed a friendship.”(p.33, line 19-20) Gilgamesh seems to be the leader at the start of their relationship, and right away, he plans an adventure for them. “In the forest dwells the terrible Huwawa. Let us, me and thee, kill him, And let us destroy all the evil in the land.”(p. 34, line 96-98) Here, Gilgamesh reveals one reason that he wants to kill Huwawa – to destroy the evil in the land.

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