Comparing the Gilgamesh and Genesis Floods
The rendition of the historic, worldwide Flood recorded in Genesis of the Old Testament is similar to the account recorded on Tablet 11of the Sumero-Babylonian version of the epic of Gilgamesh, discovered in the 1800’s by British archaeologists in Assyria. Let us compare the two in this essay.
Alexander Heidel in his book, The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels, provides a background for the survivor of the Sumero-Babylonian Flood, Utnapishtim:
Utnapishtim was the son of Ubara-Tutu, the Otiartes, or, rather, Opartes of Berossus. According to Berossus, the deluge hero was the tenth Prediluvian king in Babylonia. Also in the Sumerian inscription he is referred to as king; there he occupies also a priestly office, viz., that of the administrator of the temple provisions of a certain god. In the Gilgamesh epic, Utnapishtim is not invested with any royal power or entrusted with any priestly office; from it we learn simply that he was a citizen of Shurippak (Tablet XI:23) and a man of considerable wealth (XI:70ff). (227)
N.K. Sandars in the Introduction to his book, The Epic of Gilgamesh, sums up the involvement by the pagan gods in the Sumero-Babylonian Flood narrative:
In the Gilgamesh flood Ishtar and Enlil are as usual the advocates of destruction. Ishtar speaks, perhaps in her capacity as goddess of war, but Enlil prevails with his weapon of the storm. Only Ea, in superior wisdom, either was not present, or being present was silent, and with his usual cunning saw to it that at least one of the race of men should survive. (41)
Column 1 on Tablet 11 begins the Sumero-Babylonian Flood narrative (Gardner 226). The sage Utnapishtim from Shurippak (100 miles south of Babylon), says:
The great gods stirred their hearts to make the Flood.
[. . .] Build an ark.
[. . .] Load the seed of every living thing into your ark,
the boat that you will build.
Let her measure be measured;
let her breadth and length be equal.
Cover it with a roof as the abyss is covered. (Gardner 226)
There is no reason given by Utnapishtim for the deluge. On the contrary, the Judaic version of the Flood in Genesis states in 6:5-8 a very clear, explicit reason for the Flood:
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that very imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the ground, man and beast and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”
Likewise in Genesis 11:13 God gives a reason for the Flood:
And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh; for the earth is filled with violence through them; behold, I will destroy them with the...