A Textual Analysis of Genesis and the Epic of Gilgamesh
The stories of the floods found in both Gilgamesh and Genesis contain many striking
similarities that are inevitably beyond mere coincidence. One could surmise that both of these stories might have a basis in common historical occurrence. However, despite the fact that both of these works discuss a common topic, the portrayal of this event is quite different. Like identical twins raised in different cultures, the expressions of these works are products of their environment.
The focus of this analysis is on Genesis (chapter 7) and Gilgamesh (lines 1 - 25). These two different passages will be analyzed to relate each document and how the author's worldview shapes his account of the flood.
First we shall examine the background of text so that we might understand how the culture and society had an impact on the works. The story of Gilgamesh supposedly started to take form around the year 2500 B.C., but was not written down until about 1300 B.C. The epic was passed down and developed in oral form for approximately one thousand years. As a result, the story must have changed drastically from the original, until it was finally written down on Sumerian clay tablets.
The Old Testament of the Bible, which includes the Book of Genesis, was also passed down through oral tradition before the Hebrews wrote it down from 1000-300 B.C. Both of these documents express the religious attitudes of these people as their story of the creation of the world and of humankind unfolds.
So let's look at how these two selected passages allude to the nature of the works as they each give account of the great flood that kills all of mankind. The author of Gilgamesh portrays the gods as that of being evil and unjust. Unlike the Hebrew God, these gods are full of human character flaws. This is manifested in the pleasure that they derive from the pitiful condition of mankind.
Another prevalent character flaw is the disharmony among the gods. The description of the gods during the flood aptly illustrates how imperfect these beings are. This is found in the line "Even the gods were terrified at the flood, they fled to the highest heaven." A truly powerful being such as these gods should never experience such a humanistic quality such as fear. Another problem stems from the fact that the gods are in disagreement on how to handle the mortals. The great god decided to destroy the world because he is missing out on sleepy time. As a mortal, this paints a grim view on what to expect out of your daily prayers. This worldview seems to paint a world full of misery and despair. This atmosphere dramatically affected the style and content in which Gilgamesh was written. These themes of disorganization and futility run deep throughout Gilgamesh and seemingly stem from the fact that the gods possess the tragic character flaws of mortals.
In Genesis, however, we see a more organized and focused,...