Noah's Flood vs Gilgamesh

Discussion in 'Creation vs. Evolution' started by ChurchBoy, May 27, 2003.

  1. ChurchBoy

    ChurchBoy
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    I am trying to find information on this. I've read many sources that the Epic of Gilgamesh is actually older that the Genesis account of Noah's Flood. Liberal Scholar argue that Moses and the Hebrews "borrowed" from the Gilgamesh and wrote Genesis. I've read several other sources that counter argued that"

    "the probability exists that the Biblical account had been preserved either as an oral tradition, or in written form handed down from Noah, through the patriarchs and eventually to Moses, thereby making it actually older than the Sumerian accounts which were restatements (with alterations) to the original."

    This quote is from the Institute for Creation Research website. However, I have not been able to find any evidence from which this conclusion is based. Does anyone know how this conclusion was reached? What archeological evidence is there?
     
  2. Johnv

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    There are striking similarities between the Noah story and the Gilgamesh story:

    Both have the flood occurign in the Mesopotamian plain.
    In both, the main character is warned to build a boat to escape the flood
    In both, the main character is told to save himself, his family, and a sampling of animals
    Both stories have the boats sealed with tar
    Both the boats came to rest on a mountain
    In both stories, birds were released to determine if the waters receded
    Both involve a main character that sacrificed an offering

    The flood of the Epic of Gilgamesh is contained on a tablet of twelve large stone tablets that date to around 650 B.C. These tablets are not originals, since fragments of the flood story have been found on tablets that date to 2,000 B.C. It is likely that the story itself originated much before that, since the Sumerian cuneiform writing has been estimated to go as far back as 3,300 B.C.

    Several societies have a flood story as part of their culture. Native Americans also have one, and their history never had them cross paths with the ancient Sumerians or Jews.
     
  3. Deacon

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    Churchboy, you wrote: "I am trying to find information on this."
    Word Biblical Commentaries (Genesis 1-15) offers an excellent article called “Ancient Parallels to Flood Story” which offers much information and a translation of the text of Gilgamesh (Tablet 11).
    The Commentary offers many different viewpoints on the issues you raise. The author’s own view is a mid-point position.
    I’ll caution you before hand, WBC is a somewhat technical commentary.
     
  4. Helen

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    Hi ChurchBoy!

    One of the standard procedures in looking for an original telling of something vs. a later, possibly legendary, account, is to look for a lack of mythological elements. Just comparing Gilgamesh and the Bible, there is an abundance of mythological elements in Gilgamesh while they are totally lacking in Genesis.

    What I have here is John Gardner and John Maier's translation of Gilgamesh. It is not my favorite, but it will do for this. I'll go through some of it for you and point out some things. Also, though, notice that there are some details which the Bible does not have which make it interesting. I'll start with Tablet XI, column 1:

    Gilgamesh said to him, to Utnapishtim the remote one:
    'Utnapishtim' is the name for Noah here. I have not been able to find any literal translation of this Akkadian language name. It is interesting, however, that he is referred to as 'the remote one.' If this is a true reference, then we have a clue about how the Flood and the aftermath of civilization affected Noah -- he withdrew from men.

    "I look at you, Utnapishtim.
    Your features are no different than mine. I'm like you.
    And you are not different, or I from you.

    Here, Utnapishtim is clearly identified as a human being.

    Your heart burns entirely for war-making,
    yet there you are, lying on your back.
    Tell me, how did you stand in the Assembly of the Gods, asking for life?"

    Here we have the first mythological element: this man stood in the assembly of the gods. However, there are some interesting points to note as well -- his heart burns for war-making? Is this also a reaction to the evil which erupted so quickly again after the Deluge? Or was this person known as a warrior before? In the Bible we read of Noah's character only that he was righteous (which means he believed that God would send a Redeemer) and that he obeyed God. We know nothing of him other than that from before the Flood. So, for me, this is one of the elements that is a tease. Was it added? Or is it simply a detail the Bible does not have?

    He is also said to be 'lying on his back'. Was this from age, or is it symbolic, or is it idiomatic? We are not told, and any one of the answers can fit.

    However, a human standing in the assembly of gods is an clearly recognizable mythological element. It is seen in a number of clearly defined myths -- think about those of the Greeks and Romans which most have some acquaintance with in our western cultures.

    Utnapishtim says to him, to Gilgamesh:
    "I will uncover for you, Gilgamesh, a hidden thing,
    tell you a secret of the gods..."


    And thus begins Utnapishtim's recital of a conference among the gods. This is also a clearly recognizable mythological element.

    In stark contrast, we have, in the Bible, God -- one God -- approaching Noah with directions. Nothing is mentioned which Noah himself has not witnessed or heard, thus giving the effect of an eyewitness account to the biblical rendition of the story, again in contrast to the epic of Gilgamesh.

    And yet, in the Gilgamesh epic, in lines 23-25, we have echoes of the Bible and an interesting note:

    Tear down the house. Build an ark.
    Abandon riches. Seek life.
    Scorn possessions, hold onto life.


    First of all, 'tear down the house' may be referring to an actual house, or it may be idiomatic as explained by the next two lines -- ignore and abandon what you have built up for yourself and seek life instead. This is repeated by Jesus Himself, in essence, in His advice to the rich young man in Matthew 19:16-29 and parallel verses in Mark and Luke.

    The next two lines of Gilgamesh are very interesting:

    Load the seed of every living thing into your ark,
    the boat that you will build.

    This may not be quite what it appears to be at first glance. "every living thing" may refer to those things with nephesh, or the breath of life, as referred to in Genesis 7:15. The reference to seed cannot be to the descendants of those he would take on the ark, for that is a logical impossibility. It must, then, refer to the fact that what he is to take onto the ark is the seed of 'living things' -- which may be a reference back to created kinds.

    What we do see here, though, in wading through this, is a fuzziness that is not found in the Bible. The biblical account is extremely clear about just what is and is not to be taken aboard the Ark and how many of which. This is a clear and precise detail which we would look for in an original account but which is often lost in following legends.

    We also have some direct contradiction, or at least apparent contradiction, in lines 80-95 in the Gilgamesh epic. At first we read that Gilgamesh loads all he has of silver and gold onto the Ark (thus disobeying the order to abandon riches and scorn possessions!), but at the end of column 1, we also read that "For the caulking of the boat I gave to Puzur-Amuru, the shipbuilder, my palace with all its goods."

    One of the things that has fascinated me about looking for the memories within the legends is that amazing detail can be added. In the Bible, we are told only that the great fountains of the deep burst and that it rained for forty days and forty nights afterwards.

    If we keep in mind that 'forty' may indeed be forty as well as symbolizing 'many', and if we keep in mind that 'seven' also symbolized completeness to the ancients, look at some of the detail in the Gilgamesh epic that may indeed be fleshing out a little of what the catastrophe was like. The following is from column 3:

    When something of dawn appeared
    a black cloud rose up from the horizon.
    Adad the thunder god roared within it.
    Nabu the god of despoilment and Sharru the god of submission rushed before it,
    moving like heralds over mountains and land.
    Nergal of the underworld breaks his doorposts.
    Ninurta comes, making the dikes flow.
    The Anunnaki lift up their torches:
    the land glowed in their terrifying brightness
    .
    The confusion of Adad sweeps the heavens
    turning all that was light into blackness
    .
    The wide land was smashed like a pot.

    For one day the south wind blew:
    it gathered speed, stormed, submerged the mountains.

    Like a war it swept over everything:
    brother could not see brother;
    from heaven, the people could not be sighted.
    The gods themselves were terrified by the Flood:
    they shrank back, fled upward to the heavens of Anu.
    Curled up like dogs, the gods lay outside [his door].


    Ishtar cried out like a woman giving birth,
    the sweet-voiced lady of the gods cried out,
    "The days of old are turned to clay
    since I spoke evil in the Assembly of the Gods.
    ...I myself gave birth to my people!
    [Now] like the children of fish they will fill the sea!"


    ...Six days and seven nights the wind shrieked,
    the stormflood rolled through the land.

    On the seventh day of its coming the stormflood broke from the battle
    which had labored like a woman giving birth.
    The sea grew quiet, the storm was still; the Flood stopped.
    I looked out at the day. Stillness had settled in.
    All of humanity was turned to clay.

    The ground [surface] was like a great, flat roof.
    I opened the window and light fell on my face.
    I crouched, sitting, and wept.
    My tears flowed over my cheeks.

    I looked for a shore at the boundary of the sea,
    and the twelfth time I looked, an island emerged.
    The ark stood grounded on the mountain Nisir.
    The mountain Nisir seized the boat; it could not rise.


    I have bolded the bits which interest me in terms of clues we might be able to take quite literally.

    But it is also evident that the forces of nature are considered to be under control of the gods. This is considered mythological. However a thought comes to my mind here -- there are references in the Bible to angelic beings having some identity with or control over the forces of nature here on earth. Would these, then, have been worshiped as gods by those who abandon the faith in their Creator God? Just a thought in my mind...

    At any rate, the Gilgamesh epic post-dates the Genesis account from internal as well as external evidences.

    1. The Genesis account presents a first-person eyewitness account of what happened, signed off by Noah's sons in Genesis 10:1. The Gilgamesh account is the result of an interview Gilgamesh had with Noah much later.

    2. The Genesis account contains no mythological elements. The Gilgamesh account does. Myth follows reality, it does not precede it.

    I taught Gilgamesh before in several English classes and it was actually this epic which sparked by desire to research into the legends around the world and try to tease out the cores of truth in them. It is an ongoing project and one I enjoy very much. At any rate, linguistically, internally, and historically, the Genesis account definitely shows evidence of predating the Gilgamesh account. You will find that those who try to reverse that order are those who are trying to debunk the Bible in general and Genesis in particular.
     
  5. WillRain

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    A further consideration, not from the esoteric interpretation of history, but the plain and obvious facts of human nature.

    Call 50 men into a room and put on a show...say a one act play.

    After it's over, tell the men to go out and the rest of their life tell all men what they saw and make sure that the one the tell it to tells it to others.

    Wait.

    Check and see how many diferent varieties of the actual play people tell you about.

    In other words, there are flood stories in cultures all around the world which share some elements with Genesis.
    The logical explination is that there is a cultural, oral, memory of an actual event, and that these stories were curroupted in the telling. We accept Genesis as the trustworthy acount in that we accept God's supernatural preservation of at least one true account.
     
  6. The Galatian

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    Either that, or there have been a lot of floods in human history.
     
  7. Helen

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    If there were any like that one, Galatian, then God would be a liar:

    Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: "I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you -- the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you -- every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth."
    Genesis 9:8-11

    I know you probably 'allegorize' that, Galatian, but it seems pretty clear and straightforward to me....
     
  8. The Galatian

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    I found that kind of language in the parable of the good Samaritan, too. But that was an allegory as well. The Bible often has such stories.

    But since most cultures have had historical experience with disasterous floods, there's no reason to believe that means anything but.
     
  9. Johnv

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    While there's inconclusive geological evidence for one specific worldwide flood at one time, there's ample evidence of several cataclysmic localized floods across the globe. When I say "localized" I don't mean small, though. A localized flood in Judea, for example, would have wiped out the known world at that time.
     
  10. Johnv

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    Manu and the Fish
    an ancient Indian flood story

    One Day Manu, a very wise man, was down at the River Ganges having a wash. He scooped up a handful of water, and was just about to splash it over his face, when he noticed a tiny fish in the palm of his hand. To his great amazement, the fish talked to him, begging him to allow it to live. Tenderly, he carried the little fish home and put it in his biggest water jar.

    The next day, Manu went to free his little friend. When he looked into the jar, he could hardly believe his eyes. The little fish had grown so big overnight that it completely filled the jar. As he didn’t have a bigger jar, Manu decided to take the fish to a nearby lake. Each day, he visited the lake to find out if his friend needed anything.

    To his great surprise, the fish grew so quickly that even the lake was too small to hold it. The next time Manu came to the lake, the fish asked him to take him back to the sea. This wasn’t easy, as the fish was much bigger than Manu. However after a great deal of effort, he managed to get it to the edge of the sea.

    As Manu was about to heave the fish into the water, it warned him of a coming flood. The fish told Manu what he should do. He was sent a large ship, which he was told to load with two of every living creature and seeds of every living plant. Manu did everything he was told and then got on board the ship himself. As soon as the gang plank had been pulled up, the ocean rose up and covered all the land. Even the highest mountain was soon under the sea.

    Looking over the side of the ship at the raging waters, Manu saw his friend the fish. He nearly didn’t recognise him because he had grown so large and had a huge horn sticking out of his back. He was also covered with gleaming, golden scales. This wonderful creature was really he god Vishnu. The fish told Manu to anchor the ship to his horn. Manu took the largest snake and used it as a rope to moor his ship.

    In this way, mankind, the animals and the plants were all saved from destruction.
     
  11. WillRain

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    ^^
    I find it surpassingly hard to believe that "localized flood" legends from divergent places share such cominalities as the "two of every kind" reference and so forth.

    ------------
    Galatian:

    How does a Good Samaritan story which calls no one by name or makes any specific reference but describes everything except the particular road in generic terms in any way analogus to a story which over and over agin gives highly specific details: the size of the boat, the materials used and the manner of using them, the pasanger list, the corgo, the EXACT DAY the door was closed, the exact day it started to rain, exactly how many days it rained, the exact day land appeared, the exact day he came out of the ark, the exact day he sent out birds, the exact kinds of birds and exactly what they brought back and on and on it goes.......

    THIS is just like an alagorical parable told in generic terms?

    How much salt does it take to swollow that? ;)
     
  12. The Galatian

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    Thev Good Samaratan story has a good deal of detail.

    And it certainly is true that many allegories are quite detailed, while historical accounts can be quite sketchy. It's not possible to separate allegory from history on that basis.
     

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