The issue of obedience figures prominently in both "The Epic of Gilgamesh" and the book of Genesis in the Bible. These works were produced by very different cultures and traditions (Middle Eastern and Hebraic, respectively) and the characters in each react to authority or advice with very different levels of obedience. Noah is found to be righteous by God and is rewarded with a means to escape the devastation of the flood. Gilgamesh, in his arrogance, thinks himself to be above the mortal concept of death. I have chosen the two opening paragraphs from the seventh chapter of "The Epic of Gilgamesh" and Genesis 6:8-22 to illustrate the conflicts between obedience and arrogance.
One obvious distinction between "The Epic of Gilgamesh" and Genesis can be traced back to the cultures of the authors. The Gilgamesh epic comes from a culture and religion that is polytheistic. The author (and thus the characters in the epic) believed in a pantheon of gods and goddesses, each possessing human attributes and vices. The Hebraic culture that gave us Genesis revolved around the belief in one Almighty God. The Hebrew God was above man in every way: He was omniscient and all-powerful and yet retained compassion for the humans He had created. While Noah had but one God to serve, Gilgamesh was responsible to many. It seems that many human-like gods each command less respect than one all-powerful God. This idea can be examined by looking at Ishtar's advances to Gilgamesh. This goddess desired the mortal Gilgamesh and he responds by shunning her, thereby being disobedient to his gods. Gilgamesh may be king of Uruk and two-thirds god but that does not make him an equal. "Come to me Gilgamesh, ...
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... achingly close to eternal life. Each are equally immortalized by their respective cultures.
In a way, Gilgamesh did achieve his goal. His aim was to be immortal and in a way he is, witnessed by the fact that we read his story today and will no doubt continue to do so in the future. And as long as Christianity exists in the world, Noah will also be remembered. Gilgamesh gained his notoriety through his arrogance: he ravished women, was desired by a goddess, and rejected his own mortality. Noah achieved fame by being obedient: he was found worthy by God, given an escape route from death, and salvaged the creatures of the earth. Arrogance and obedience may have each achieved the same goal in the end, no one will forget Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, nor Noah, builder of the ark.
Sandars, N. K., trans. The Epic of Gilgamesh. London: Penguin, 1972.
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