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

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

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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. Despite the many similarities between the two stories, this difference in intention is revealed in a number of motifs that distinguish the biblical story from the ancient myth:



 1. Flood is caused by the fickle nature of the gods We are told in 11.1 lines 14-17 that the gods who were reclining at Shuruppak, "up the constant Euphrates," sent the flood by "intent."

 1. Flood is sent by God to destroy his creation, which has become corrupt and evil The humans are so wicked and evil that "it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart" (Gen. 6:6). He says,"I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth. . . " (Gen. 6:7)

 2. On earth one can still find demi-gods and great heroes, like Gilgamesh This is a Golden Age, like that described by Hesiod, when heroes walked the earth and humans and gods commingled.

 2. Earth once had giants and heroes, but they became part of the evil These "giants in the earth" (Gen. 6:4) were the sons of God and of the daughters of men, but they were only men of renown in the old days (Gen. 6:4). There is no Golden Age at the time of the flood.

3. One good man is saved (Utnapishtim), who obeys the god's orders to build a boat  Ea warns Utnapishtim (11.1 lns. 26ff.) to build a covered boat to save himself and the "seed of all [he'll] need" (11.1 ln. 34), to "Reject the corpse-like stench of wealth" (11.1 ln. 28) and live a charitable life of moderation. U. agrees to do this to "honor god" (l1.1 n. 39), but he will tell people he does so because Enlil hates him and he must flee by boat to where Enlil waits to kill him.

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3. One good man is saved (Noah), who obeys God's orders to build an ark God decides to destroy all but Noah who "found grace in the eyes of the Lord" (Gen. 6:8). He becomes the source of salvation for the creation, a hope for re-creation after the flood. He is also a symbol of God's mercy. God orders Noah to build an ark of gopher wood to save himself, his wife, his sons and their wives, along with animals to repopulate the earth. The exact number of animals is unclear--either 2 of each (Gen. 6:19; 7:9) or 7 of each clean beast and fowl, 2 of each unclean beast (Gen. 7:2-3).

 4. A great storm rages and wipes out everyone and everything except the passengers on the boat The gods begin to cry and their tears become rain (11.2 lns. 95-7). The rain lasts 7 days (11.3 ln. 98) and destroys everything. As the waters recede, the boat lands on Mt. Nimush (11.3 ln. 115). The boat is on the mountain seven days (11.3 ln. 116).

  4. A great storm rages and wipes out everyone and everything except the passengers on the ark After seven days "the waters of the flood were upon the earth" (Gen.7:10). The rain was "upon the earth forty days and forty nights" (Gen. 7:12) The flood lasts 150 days (Gen. 7:24) and destroys everything. As the waters recede, the ark lands on Mt. Ararat (Gen. 8:4). The other mountain tops appear after approximately 2.5 months more.

5. U. releases birds to find land (11.3 lns. 117ff): "watch-bird"--can't find land so it returns swallow--can't find land so it returns raven--finds food and rest and does not return.

 5. After a total of 40 days, Noah releases birds to find land (Gen. 8:5-11): raven--sends it out repeatedly, to and fro, looking for land dove--sent once and returns sent again after seven days, returns with olive branch, sent again after seven more days, does not return.

 6. Those saved show proper reverence to the gods and are rewarded U. offers a sacrifice to the gods. Enlil becomes angry because he is excluded from the sacrifice and because U. has defied his wishes by escaping his wrath. Ea tells him that U. figured out the plan on his own (11.4 lns170-2). Enlil then blesses U. and his wife and makes them divine (11.4 lns. 173ff).

  6. Those saved show proper reverence to the gods and are rewarded God orders Noah to leave the ark. Noah offers a sacrifice to God. God makes the first covenant of the Hebrew Bible with Noah. God gives the rainbow as a sign that He will never again destroy the earth in a flood.
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