The Flood in The Epic of Gilgamish and The Bible
The story of the great flood is probably the most popular story that has survived for thousands of years and is still being retold today. It is most commonly related within the context of Judeo-Christian tradition. In the Holy Bible, the book of Genesis uses the flood as a symbol of God's wrath as well as His hope that the human race can maintain peace and achieve everlasting salvation.
This paper will compare The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Book of Genesis flood narratives. In Gilgamesh, the humans were so rowdy, loud and unpleasant that the god, Enlil wanted to erase humankind completely by using a massive flood. In the book of Genesis, the humans were running amok, sinning and procreating with the giants. God frowned upon their actions and was ashamed of his creation; he too decided to wipe them out and start anew. In each story there is a hero that will survive the floods. After the flood in Gilgamesh, Utnapishtim and his wife were granted immortality and in the book of Genesis, Noah made a covenant with God and was instructed to repopulate the earth again. The flood narratives in both stories are symbolic of judgment and cleansing or becoming pure again.
Over time there have been a number of flood myths identified from ancient sources around the world. Since the nineteenth century, the flood in The Epic of Gilgamesh has been an interest to Christians because of the relations to the flood in Genesis 6-9. Both flood stories, Noah’s Ark and The Epic of Gilgamesh, challenge their main character by a flood that destroys all humankind except those protected on the ark. Although the stories differ in regards to details, the plots are similar between the two flood stories. Because of the similarity between the stories, some believe that either Genesis was copied from an earlier Babylonian story, or the Gilgamesh myth was copied from an earlier Hebrew story, or both were copied from a common source that predates them both. (Robinson)
Comparison of the Flood Stories in Gilgamesh and the Bible
The two stories closely parallel each other, though Gilgamesh was written down before 2000 BCE and the version in Genesis was compiled ca. 400 BCE. Biblical writers probably knew of the much older myth but revised it so that it fit with their own history and worldview. They intended it to fit with their own mythology.
The Epic of Gilgamesh has many similarities to the Bible, especially in Genesis and it’s not just that the both begin with the letter “g”’! One major similarity being the flood story that is told in both works. The two stories are very similar but also very different. Another being the use of serpents in both works and how they represent the same thing. A third similarity being the power of God or gods and the influence they have on the people of the stories. Within these similarities there are also differences that need to be pointed out as well.
There are very real similarities between the stories of the flood and the Great Deluge in The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Old Testament book of Genesis. Although there are differences, these differences can be attributed to different cultural interpretations of events, or even changes that occurred as the stories were passed down from generation to generation, before they were written down. It seems likely that the Abrahamic stories of the Great Flood were derived from the stories contained within The Epic of Gilgamesh, although definitive proof is certainly difficult to come by in the case of these ancient texts. There could well have been a very large flood that happened in Mesopotamia many, many centuries ago; a flood so large that it remained embedded into cultural memory and was passed down as a legend in a variety of different cultural traditions (Njozi).
The Flood of Noah and the Gilgamesh Flood
The Sumero-Babylonian version of the epic of Gilgamesh, after two and a half millennia of dormancy, was resurrected by British archaeologists in the nineteenth century. Amid the rubble of an Assyrian palace, the twelve clay tablets inscribed the adventures of the first hero of world literature – King Gilgamesh, whose oral folk tales go back to at least 3000 years before Christ (Harris 1). Tablet XI contains the story of the Flood. In this essay let us compare this flood account to the more recent Noah’s Flood account in Genesis of the Old Testament.
Comparing the Flood
As human beings, we are designed to belive in something. Although the belief in a higher power or religion is diverse, many theologies share common themes. “The Epic of Gilgamesh” and the Hebrew book of “Genesis” are seemingly polar opposites. Christianity, demonstrated in Genesis, is monotheistic, and the Hebrews base their faith on their relationship with God. On the other hand, Sumerian philosophy, found in Gilgamesh, is polytheistic, and the Sumerian people base their theology on fear.
It contains useful comparisons and historical data to help support his analysis. The author considers the story to hold very value for Christians. It concerns the typical myths that were tied to pagan people. Despite that theory, there have been many Christians who have studied the afterlife and creation in the epic. He suggests an interesting thought when he starts to explain the story. The author hints that maybe the main character, Gilgamesh, was a historical figure. The base analysis for his line of thought is the story of the flood found in the bible. After looking at the lengths of time of each story, he considers it to not be a problem. To provide some evidence, the author shows a chart of a series of questions about each flood and compares the two. The most striking comparison in the chart was the command to build a boat; "O man of Shuruppak, son of Ubar-Tutu, tear down thy house, build a ship; abandon wealth, seek after life; scorn possessions, save thy life. Bring up the seed of all kinds of living things into the ship which thou shalt build. Let its dimensions be well measured."17 The text from the quote can almost match what the bible said. In both stories the person was commanded to build a boat because a flood is coming due to man’s sins or man’s wickedness. In the conclusion of the article, the author says a bold statement; “the widespread nature of flood traditions throughout the entire human race is exce...
Other similarities closely tie these two Flood Myths almost mirroring the symbolic ideas within both stories. The number seven is very significant in both of these stories. In the story of Utnapishtim, the Boat he built was finished on the seventh day. Also the rain that flooded the earth, stopped on the seventh day. In the Hebrew story of Noah, the waters of the flood were upon the earth seven days after Noah constructed the arc. After the earth was flooded and the rain subsided, during two seven day instances, Noah sent forth a dove to determine if dry land existed nearby. The two stories also showed that the Gods gave specific instructions down to the dimension regarding the construction of the two boats and both men were ordered to keep the blood line of animals alive by sparing the lives of a male a female being of each species.