Posts Tagged ‘ancient myths and christianity’

Guest Post by Mark Legg

This is a great addition to the series about Christ and ancient myths.  What about how the ancient account of Gilgamesh overlaps with the account of Noah?

Though there are many accounts of a flood that extended back many thousands of years ago, the epic of Gilgamesh is remarkably like the flood narrative of Genesis in many ways. The mention of the flood begins as early as line 7-8 in tablet I. In introducing Gilgamesh, it compares him to people before the flood, and that his in his wisdom he knows many secrets of the world before it. Later, Gilgamesh hears the whole story from Utanapishtim (the Noah character), who possesses eternal life (tablet XI, 10-212). How do the stories differ, and how do they compare? Though the main narrative is similar, many details and the theology behind the story differ.

Utanapishtim’s story infers that the gods attempt to destroy mankind because of overpopulation and that population was also wicked and full of wrongdoers (XI, 185-200). Similarly, we see God’s judgment in the Bible. Genesis 6.1 begins with this sentiment: “When man began to multiply on the face of the land . . .” The text then explains that mankind has grown immoral and wicked (6.5-11). These are cited as reasons for the destruction of mankind in both cases. Also, in both instances the antagonist builds a boat at the command of a god (or the God). Both take the lives of other animals or people (XI, 27 and 6.20). Both come to rest on a mountain (of whose true identity we are unsure of) (144 and 8.4), and both offered sacrifices after arriving safely (160-165 and 8.20). Furthermore, we read a strangely similar detail in the story. To check the safety of the surroundings, they send out birds essentially as scouts (148-160 and 8.6-12). Furthermore, both generally speak of the absolute destruction and the terrible power of the flood.

However, many details differ between the two ancient accounts. The construction and dimensions of the Ark (48-75 and 6.14-22), the length of the flood (it is much shorter in Gilgamesh) (114-150 and 8.1-12)), and many other specifics contrast. More importantly, we see several theological differences. Utanapishtim’s story includes, naturally, multiple gods. All except for two wish to destroy the entire human race. We see the common attribution of gods the ancient times, that they are essentially overgrown people. They cower in fear, their “lips are parched”, and they infight (115-126, 180-200). In the Bible, God sees Noah’s righteousness and decides to save him unilaterally, since He is the only true God. Finally, Utanapishtim receives eternal life on earth (205-211). Though we can assume Noah similarly received eternal life in heaven, the two do differ in that regard (Heb. 11.7).

Though the messages are similar, the difference in deities and details pose a very interesting comparison. The overall stories do overlap in many ways, however. It could easily be theorized that the Babylonian epic drew from the real life events that transpired in Genesis 6-9.


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