Here is a first draft excerpt from something I have been working on (copyright 2016 Lee Anderson):
While religious groups hail the similarity of such (global) flood myths as “proof” of the Biblical version of the tale, this is clearly not the case as vastly similar flood epics from greater Mesopotamia have been found that not only predate the first written stories of the Bible, or anywhere else for that matter, but even the Hebrew people themselves. While understandably a bitter pill to swallow for some, the Hebrew version is not the first flood myth, but rather yet another culturally adapted version of an earlier original. And though there is no such monotheistic God Yahweh at the time of these earlier Mesopotamian epics, as he too had not been “invented” yet, to its credit the Biblical account is one of the more complete renditions to be passed down from these earlier Mesopotamian accounts which is part of what makes it so historically valuable compared to other versions found around the world.
This should come as no surprise as the Bible itself clearly affirms such connections. After the flood, the Bible tells us how Noah’s descendants: “…journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there”. “Shinar”, or “Shumer”, is the Hebrew word for the Mesopotamian land of “Sumer” (largely located in what is today modern day Iraq), accepted by scholars to be the first “true” civilization dating to around 3,800BC. It is also after the story of Noah and the Flood, the Bible in Genesis 11 relates how:
And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar.
4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
6 And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.
8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.
In this one chapter we are told the descendants of Noah after the Flood settled in Sumer and began the task of building a “tower to reach the heavens”, surely a Mesopotamian pyramid like structure known as a “ziggurat, of which the city they built became known as “Babel”, or Babylon, one of the later Mesopotamian successors of Sumerian civilization of which by the time the first books of the Bible had been written were largely synonymous with one another. From this Biblical narrative we are immediately led to an accounting of the generations of descendants to follow leading to the birth of Abraham, the very progenitor of the Hebrew people, which Jewish tradition holds occurred in 1813 BC. Given Abraham, the Bible tells us, lived in the Sumerian (then Akkadian) city of Ur, meaning he himself was Mesopotamian, it should be no mystery then when Abraham left Ur he took his Mesopotamian cultural heritage with him to be told and retold becoming eventually, like all the rest, yet another culturally unique version derived from the Sumerian original. But even more likely, the Hebrew account of the Flood was derived long after Abraham from much later sources, like Babylon or Assyria, who had copied the earlier Sumerian tale themselves several hundred years before the first books of the Bible were ever written-before Abraham had even been born.
If the Biblical narrative were all that existed to hint at an older source for the Flood Myth, there would not be much to talk about beyond speculation. But in 1853 the first fragments of another such account were unwittingly found in the ruins of the ancient Mesopotamian city of Nineveh located in what is now modern northern Iraq. Amongst the hoards of other cultural treasures found at Nineveh, over 25,000 cuneiform tablets were unearthed, though it would not be until 1857 cuneiform was officially deciphered. The tablet fragment sat in relative obscurity until 1872 when it was noticed by British Museum curator George Smith that it contained a story of a great flood sent by the gods which the hero survived by riding out the storm in a boat which eventually came to rest on a mountain peak. (Gilgamesh, Steven Mitchell, pg 3,4). This fragment was but one part of an even greater story that became known as the Epic of Gilgamesh comprised of six chapters in all. Before too long, numerous other Flood Myth fragments written in several different languages were found, spanning a time of over 1,000 years, which as a group are generally separated into the various eras as the “Standard Version” (youngest), the “Middle Babylonian”, and the “Old Babylonian”. Even as recently as 2011 a fragment was discovered from Tablet V of a previously missing 20 line section.
While the oldest version dates to around 1800 BC, this was not the only Mesopotamian tale since found containing a pre-Biblical version of the Flood Myth. Though the flood is alluded to in other ancient Mesopotamian documents, like the Sumerian King’s List, two other pre-Biblical versions have been discovered: the Sumerian Eridu Genesis and the Akkadian Epic of Atrahasis. And though the superficial details vary, they all recount virtually the same tale leaving little doubt they are reproductions of the same even more ancient original source. The oldest flood text found so far is the unfortunately incomplete Eridu Genesis, which dated to c. 2,300BC is the only one of the three actually written in the Sumerian language. It, of course, tells the tale of a great flood inflicted upon man by the gods in which a lone hero is spared, Ziusudra (known in the Babylonian and Akkadian epics as Utnapishtim and Atrahasis respectively), which he survives the catastrophe in a boat.
For the most complete Mesopotamian account of the deluge, however, we must turn back to the Epic of Gilgamesh which tells the story of the semi-divine king Gilgamesh’s quest for immortality of which learning of the Great Flood is but one of the pit stops on his journey. As these ancient languages have become better understood and more fragments are found from the various eras, several “new” translations have emerged in just the last few decades alone, which though beyond the minutia of a few words that may enhance the “flavor” of the narrative as a literary work, the story itself remains resolutely unchanged. On tablet 11, chapter 5, the Epic speaks of an encounter between Gilgamesh and Utnapishtim, the Sumerian Ziusudra of the earlier Eridu Genesis and parallel of the later Biblical Noah. Gilgamesh comes upon Utnapishtim and is surprised he looks no different than himself despite the fact he stands in the “Assembly of the Gods” and has “found life”, the secret of immortality he has been searching for. The story continues:
‘You know the city Shurrupak, it stands on the banks of Euphrates? That city grew old and the gods that were in it were old. There was Anu,-lord of the firmament, their father, and warrior Enlil their counsellor, Ninurta the helper, and Ennugi watcher over canals; and with them also was Ea. In those days the world teemed, the people multiplied, the world bellowed like a wild bull, and the great god was aroused by the clamour. Enlil heard the clamour and he said to the gods in council, "The uproar of mankind is intolerable and sleep is no longer possible by reason of the babel." So the gods agreed to exterminate mankind. Enlil did this, but Ea because of his oath warned me in a dream. He whispered their words to my house of reeds, "Reed-house, reed-house! Wall, O wall, hearken reed-house, wall reflect; O man of Shurrupak, son of Ubara-Tutu; tear down your house and build a boat, abandon possessions and look for life, despise worldly goods and save your soul alive. Tear down your house, I say, and build a boat. These are the measurements of the barque as you shall build her: let hex beam equal her length, let her deck be roofed like the vault that covers the abyss; then take up into the boat the seed of all living creatures."
‘When I had understood I said to my lord, "Behold, what you have commanded I will honour and perform, but how shall I answer the people, the city, the elders?" Then Ea opened his mouth and said to me, his servant, "Tell them this: I have learnt that Enlil is wrathful against me, I dare no longer walk in his land nor live in his city; I will go down to the Gulf to dwell with Ea my lord. But on you he will rain down abundance, rare fish and shy wild-fowl, a rich harvest-tide. In the evening the rider of the storm will bring you wheat in torrents."
‘In the first light of dawn all my household gathered round me, the children brought pitch and the men whatever was necessary. On the fifth day I laid the keel and the ribs, then I made fast the planking. The ground-space was one acre, each side of the deck measured one hundred and twenty cubits, making a square. I built six decks below, seven in all, I divided them into nine sections with bulkheads between. I drove in wedges where needed, I saw to the punt poles, and laid in supplies. The carriers brought oil in baskets, I poured pitch into the furnace and asphalt and oil; more oil was consumed in caulking, and more again the master of the boat took into his stores. I slaughtered bullocks for the people and every day I killed sheep. I gave the shipwrights wine to drink as though it were river water, raw wine and red wine and oil and white wine. There was feasting then as -there is at the time of the New Year's festival; I myself anointed my head. On the seventh day the boat was complete.
-’Then was the launching full of difficulty; there was shifting of ballast above and below till two thirds was submerged. I loaded into her all that 1 had of gold and of living things, my family, my kin, the beast of the field both wild and tame, and all the craftsmen. I sent them on board, for the time that Shamash had ordained was already fulfilled when he said, "in the evening, when the rider of the storm sends down the destroying rain, enter the boat and batten her down." The time was fulfilled, the evening came, the rider of the storm sent down the rain. I looked out at the weather and it was terrible, so I too boarded the boat and battened her down. All was now complete, the battening and the caulking; so I handed the tiller to Puzur-Amurri the steersman, with the navigation and the care of the whole boat.
‘With the first light of dawn a black cloud came from the horizon; it thundered within where Adad, lord of the storm was riding. In front over hill and plain Shullat and Hanish, heralds of the storm, led on. Then the gods of the abyss rose up; Nergal pulled out the dams of the nether waters, Ninurta the war-lord threw down the dykes, and the seven judges of hell, the Annunaki, raised their torches, lighting the land with their livid flame. A stupor of despair went up to heaven when the god of the storm turned daylight to darkness, when he smashed the land like a cup. One whole day the tempest raged, gathering fury as .it went, it poured over the people like the tides of battle; a man could not see his brother nor the people be seen from heaven. Even the gods were terrified at the flood, they fled to the highest heaven, the firmament of Ann; they crouched against the walls, cowering like curs. Then Ishtar the sweet-voiced Queen of Heaven cried out like a woman in travail: "Alas the days -of old are turned to dust because I commanded evil; why did I command thus evil in the council of all the gods? I commanded wars to destroy the people, but are they not my people, for I brought them forth? Now like the spawn of fish they float in the ocean." The great gods of heaven and of hell wept, they covered their mouths.
‘For six days and six nights the winds blew, torrent and tempest and flood overwhelmed the world, tempest and flood raged together like warring hosts. When the seventh day dawned the storm from the south subsided, the sea grew calm, the, flood was stilled; I looked at the face of the world and there was silence, all mankind was turned to clay. The surface of the sea stretched as flat as a roof-top; I opened a hatch and the light fell on my face. Then I bowed low, I sat down and I wept, the tears streamed down my face, for on every side was the waste of water. I looked for land in vain, but fourteen leagues distant there appeared a mountain, and there the boat grounded; on the mountain of Nisir the boat held fast, she held fast and did not budge. One day she held, and -a second day on the mountain of Nisir she held fast and did not budge. A third day, and a fourth day she held fast on the mountain and did not budge; a fifth day and a sixth day she held fast on the mountain. When the seventh day dawned I loosed a dove and let her go. She flew away, but finding no resting-place she returned. Then I loosed a swallow, and she flew away but finding no resting-place she returned. I loosed a raven, she saw that the waters had retreated, she ate, she flew around, she cawed, and she did not come back. Then I threw everything open to the four winds, I made a sacrifice and poured out a libation on the mountain top. Seven and again seven cauldrons I set up on their stands, I heaped up wood and cane and cedar and myrtle. When the gods smelled the sweet savour, they gathered like flies over the sacrifice. Then, at last, Ishtar also came, she lifted her necklace with the jewels of heaven that once Anu had made to please her. "O you gods here present, by the lapis lazuli round my neck I shall remember these days as I remember the jewels of my throat; these last days I shall not forget. Let all the gods gather round the sacrifice, except Enlil. He shall not approach this offering, for without reflection he brought the flood; he consigned my people to destruction."
‘When Enlil had come, when he saw the boat, he was wrath and swelled with anger at the gods, the host of heaven, "Has any of these mortals escaped? Not one was to have survived the destruction." Then the god of the wells and canals Ninurta opened his mouth and said to the warrior Enlil, "Who is there of the gods that can devise without Ea? It is Ea alone who knows all things." Then Ea opened his mouth and spoke to warrior Enlil, "Wisest of gods, hero Enlil, how could you so senselessly bring down the flood?
Lay upon the sinner his sin,
Lay upon the transgressor his transgression,
Punish him a little when he breaks loose,
Do not drive him too hard or he perishes,
Would that a lion had ravaged mankind
Rather than the flood,
Would that a wolf had ravaged mankind Rather than the flood,
Would that famine had wasted the world
Rather than the flood,
Would that pestilence had wasted mankind
Rather than the flood.
It was not I that revealed the secret of the gods; the wise man learned it in a dream. Now take your counsel what shall be done with him."
‘Then Enlil went up into the boat, he took me by the hand and my wife and made us enter the boat and kneel down on either side, he standing between us. He touched our foreheads to bless us saying, "In time past Utnapishtim was a mortal man; henceforth he and his wife shall live in the distance at the mouth of the rivers." Thus it was that the gods took me and placed me here to live in the distance, at the mouth of the rivers.'
Unlike the Biblical account, it is not the lone Hebrew God Yahweh who grows weary of the “clamor” of a growing human population, but rather the Sumerian God Enlil who convinces the rest of the gods to exterminate mankind of which we later learn is by way of a Great Flood. Again, it is not Yahweh who saves the hero of the story, Utnapishtim, not “Noah”, by instructing him to build a boat, but rather the god Ea (who is also the creator of man in some tales) who cunningly keeps his oath to the other gods and does not tell Utnapishtim of the impending doom directly, but rather speaks outside to the walls of his house so that he can be merely “overheard”.
Curiously, the boat Utnapishtim is instructed to build by Ea is not a boat shaped craft, but rather a cube measuring 120 cubits square. It is interesting to note the Greek meaning of the word “ark”, of which the word comes to the Bible though translation of the early Greek version of the Torah (Old Testament), referred to as the “Septuagint”, means “chest” or “box”, certainly reminiscent of the “cube” built by Utnapishtim which if we recall from the Greek flood myth, Prometheus (like Ea), also the creator of man, tells Deucalion to build a “chest” as well.
Regardless, Ea, unlike Yahweh to Noah, does not tell Utnapishtim to bring “two of every living creature”, a physical impossibility, but rather the “seed of all living creatures”. Though this does make more sense from a logistical standpoint as far as loading the craft is concerned, obviously this too is not meant to be taken literally which Ea’s request seems more of a “suggestion” as Utnapishtim says after he has built the boat and is ready to launch that he has “loaded into her all that I had of gold and of living things, my family, my kin, the beast of the field both wild and tame, and all the craftsmen”. In essence what Utnapishtim has done, the best any of us could do in that situation, is take whatever animals he could get his hands on and not the “seed” of every living creature let alone “two of each”.
It is interesting that Utnapishtim built his boat already on the edge of a body of water as evidenced by the fact that even before the boat was loaded it was “submerged” two- thirds. This clearly implies he was to set out in open water, not be swept away from the land from waters which the Bible claims “covered the whole Earth”, making much more sense to rise along with the waters as the rains came, an idea which seems to be later confirmed as Ishtar laments the people “like the spawn of fish they float in the ocean”. A question one would ask is which body of water did they launch to?
The story continues as the rains come, so fierce that even the gods were afraid as they sought shelter in the “highest heaven”, which unlike the forty of the Bible the storm continues for six days and six nights. The sea grew calm and on the seventh day they rested on a peak of a mountain, which the Bible tell us it was the “seventh month”. And like Noah, Utnapishtim also released several birds until they did not come back meaning they had at last found dry land. And just like the Bible that tells us how after the ark had been evacuated, the “Lord smelled a sweet savour” of the burnt offerings, so too had the gods of the Epic of Gilgamesh “…smelled the sweet savour…” of the sacrifice.
As those familiar with the Biblical version can easily see, there is little doubt the two stories share a common origin. Some details are literally all but identical, all of which, given the fact we know the Mesopotamian tales are much older than the Biblical version, some even predating the Hebrew people themselves, should give no illusions whether or not the Biblical Flood Myth does in fact come from an earlier Mesopotamian original. It is most likely that the Biblical tale comes from the Babylonian version, of whom the Babylonians for centuries were key players in the history of the Hebrews leading to the time of the first books of the Bible being written, in which it too was adapted from an even earlier Sumerian original like what is found in the Eridu Genesis. This does not mean the Biblical tales are not valuable companions, but the reality is the closer to the source we are to the original the closer we are to the actual facts.
And though this flood myth likely predates the Sumerians themselves, what should be clear is that it is very possible this was in fact a real event, not a global one, but rather one of the “known world” of the people who first told the tale. The Eridu Genesis, the oldest such version, does not speak of a flood covering the earth, but rather a flood that that “swept over the whole country”. An important distinction to make as not only does it make the tale plausible, but it also fits with known geological and archeological evidence of the greater Mediterranean region of a time still within the memory of the Sumerians of 3,800BC. The question then to be asked at this point is that if they are not the originators of the flood myth, then who before them was?
NOTE ADDED: To avoid any confusion, this is where the excerpt ends-the next part picks up with the Ubaid culture who directly preceded the Sumerians as the answer to the question in the last paragraph which asks: "The question then to be asked at this point is that if they are not the originators of the flood myth, then who before them was?" It is not an open ended question to the reader but one meant to set up the next segment of the chapter.
Edited 6 time(s). Last edit at 26-Apr-16 16:00 by Thanos5150.