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How does the Noah's Ark narrative relate to other the Gilgamesh flood account?

For reference, the Biblical flood account is in Genesis 6-10 and the Gilgamesh flood account is on Tablet XI. The British Museum holds a tablet with the Atrahasis Epic which is a more ancient flood account, but I don't know of an online translation.

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  • It is an interesting question (so +1), but I don't think it's on topic for this site since it's not asking about the Biblical text, but about other beliefs, myths, stories, etc. (so VtC)
    – Richard
    Oct 7, 2011 at 14:10
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    I see this as potentially borderline. Whether or not you (or I) subscribe to them, there are generally accepted hermeneutical approaches that do take parallel stories like this into account when interpreting Biblical texts like this.
    – Ray
    Oct 7, 2011 at 15:17
  • Like @Ray I think this is borderline. I have VtC'ed because as it stands I don't think this is on-topic or a good question. If this is about the TEXTs of other myths vs the Biblical text, that might be something, but without having named a single other text to be studied I think this leaves the question too open to being about heresay not hermeneutics.
    – Caleb
    Oct 7, 2011 at 21:48
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    Here's my suggestion to revive this question: grab a copy of Gilgamesh and the Genesis flood account and put them side by side (or on top of each other as is more natural to the site). Then post a few representative parallel passages to ask about. I'm not sure that will work, but I do think it will be a good next step. Oct 12, 2011 at 20:51
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    I've suggested an edit to bring this down to just one comparison for now. Perhaps there is something specific you can also ask about the natures of the texts or the way the language/narrative is related that would make this even more of a hermeneutical problem?
    – Caleb
    Oct 18, 2011 at 22:05

4 Answers 4

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According to evidence presented by P.J. Wiseman concerning the toledoth, the Genesis account was written by eyewitnesses to the events and therefor is the primary and older source.

The word translated 'generations' in the repeated formula "these are the generations of" should be considered the signature line on a clay tablet, and Genesis read as a string of clay tablets transcribed on to papyrus with their respective colophons intact.

The tablets would have been passed Father to son until they were carried into Egypt with Jacob and likely put into the Pharaoh's library by Joseph where Moses would have had access to them.

The archeology was rather late (1940's) and so modern source theories were already fairly well established. Wiseman's evidence has been considered favorably by Harrison.

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  • Thank you for reference to the Wiseman hypothesis. I've read a variation of the theory, but did not know where the idea originated. Looks like a have some reading before me. Nov 14, 2011 at 21:38
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    "The event"? What event? It seems as if this answer is taking the flood as an actual event. How can you do this and study the text? This is not a reasonable answer.
    – Ron Maimon
    Mar 31, 2012 at 4:42
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    The "Wiseman theory" is not accepted by any serious Biblical scholars, and certainly not by experts on ancient Near Eastern studies.
    – fdb
    Mar 4, 2014 at 11:05
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    @fdb R.K. Harrison is considered a serious Old Testament Bible Scholar.
    – Bob Jones
    Apr 2, 2014 at 0:00
  • "Genesis account was written by eyewitnesses to the events and therefore is the primary and older source" - To the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Epic of Atra-Hasis, or both? Nov 6, 2015 at 7:45
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There are some very close similarities but also some drastic differences. For similarities, there are a hero who builds a boat to preserve those chosen by a god. They build the boat with levels inside and seal it with bitumen. Both gather his family and animals in the Ark. The floods come. After the flood, they dismebark and sacrifice to the gods. Those are the broad similarities.

The differences, however, are more striking.

  1. Genesis is monotheistic. It is Elohim who sends the flood and tells Noah to build the Ark. In Atrahasis, the nasty and capricious god Enlil sends the flood while his opponent Enki warns Atrahasis.
  2. The reason for the Genesis flood is that man is very wicked. In Gilgamesh, Enlil decides to flood the world because men are disrupting his sleep.
  3. In Genesis, Elohim tells Noah directly what to do. Enki whispers to Atrahasis through a wall of reeds because he swore to Enlil that he would not warn people.
  4. Throughout the flood, Elohim is depicted as in charge and in control. The gods of Atrahasis fear the flood waters and sit in hunger and thirst.
  5. The flood in Genesis lasts 40 days and nights and takes time to recede. Atrahasis' flood lasts 7 days.
  6. The sacrifice in Genesis is to give thanks that they were chosen to be preserved. In Atrahasis, they sacrifice to feed the gods, who forgot that without man to sacrifice animals to them, they would starve.

There is a comparison of multiple flood accounts from the ANE here. However, in the Bible column, they mention a revolt of giants (with a question mark) and that it was both sin and giants that prompted Elohim to send the flood. The giants are briefly mentioned in Gen 6 but the flood is stated to be because mankind has sinned continually.

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    It's been a long time coming, but I'm glad we finally got a satisfying answer to the question. Thanks. Feb 1, 2012 at 16:35
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According to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the flood in Genesis is

"rooted in actual historical events, even if the narrative is not couched in the language of descriptive history. Mesopotamia had many flood myths, all of which testify to the memory of disastrous inundations, especially on the flat lands of the Tigris-Euphrates valley (See Commentary of R. David Zvi Hoffman to Genesis 6 [Hebrew, 140] who suggests that the Flood may have been limited to centres of human habitation, rather than covering the whole earth). Excavations at Shurrupak, Kish, Uruk and Ur – Abraham’s birthplace – reveal evidence of clay flood deposits."

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    Just so you know, the question was marginally off-topic and so this type answer, which doesn't talk about the text except in passing, probably wouldn't fly for other questions. We really would like to push the hermeneutics angle over the Biblical angle. ;-) Nov 10, 2011 at 17:49
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I hold to the view that the Genesis story of the Flood derives either from the Epic of Gilgamesh itself or from similar myth/s. In so saying I agree with the Bible commentary of the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, which says:

The biblical story ultimately draws upon an ancient Mesopotamian tradition of a great flood, preserved in the Sumerian flood story, the eleventh tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic, and (embedded in a longer creation story) the Atrahasis Epic.

I propose the following narrative as a way to harmonize the Mesopotamian origin of the story with the biblical account: Abraham lived in Ur of the Chaldeans, before coming to Canaan. This was a major religious center, where he would certainly have known the story of Gilgamesh. Abraham retained this knowledge and either he or his descendants recast the story, with variations, in a monotheistic form. Eventually, the gods who played various roles in Gilgamesh (one sends the flood, another warns Utnapishtim, while later the goddess Ishtar weeps for her lost children, and a whole crowd of gods gather at the end) are combined into one. The God of Abraham thus becomes the only divine character in the drama. Much later, the story would be incorporated into the text of Genesis.


The questioner of the OP says he does not not of there is an online version of the Atrahasis legend. This one is quite readable.

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