Gilgamesh is said to have been an ancient king of Uruk, along the Euphrates River, which is in modern day Iraq. He is supposed to have lived around 2,700 BCE. We don’t know nuffin’ about Gilgamesh, but we do know that stories were collected about this ancient hero, and others, around the turn of the third millennium BCE. These legends, and others, are much older than any of the stories written in the Bible. It is commonly proposed in historical studies, that biblical writers borrowed many of their stories from earlier cultures, from earlier myths. “That’s how Dad did it, that’s how America does it, and it’s worked out pretty well so far.” – Tony Stark
My last post was a brief introduction to the Documentary Hypothesis. I am now going to make an attempt to show an instance of how this hypothesis is put to use. When reading the story closely, it appears that the biblical story of the Flood of Noah is not actually one story but two different stories combined at some later date. One is an older story, the other a younger story, the merging of the two stories would be younger still.
I will be using three different resources for this exercise;
The first is an article by the Hebrew Biblical scholar, Richard Elliot Friedman, from “The Bible’s Buried Secrets”, where one will find examples of the differences between the two stories and this graphic which will open an interactive which separates the two stories for independent review.
The second will be an English translation of The Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 11, from library of Ashurbanipal, king of Assyria in the 7th century BCE.
The third will be excerpts from the J-source portion of the biblical texts from Genesis 8, using the American Standard Version. The J-source is thought to be the oldest of the two, dating somewhere between 922 and 722 BCE.
So we understand that both of these stories existed at the same time in history. According to the Documentary Hypothesis, the P-source portion had not been written, and of course, the two had not been combined at that time.
What I am going to try to do is show the similarities between one very specific portion of the two flood narratives; one Mesopotamian, the other Hebrew. The segment that I am going to concentrate on is the end of the flood and the events that immediately followed. First I am going to provide the text-block from the Epic of Gilgamesh, then I will follow with the segments from the J-source biblical narrative, then I will compare the two. (I would always recommend reading all of both)
Excerpts from the Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 11
When a seventh day arrived
I sent forth a dove and released it.
The dove went off, but came back to me;
no perch was visible so it circled back to me.
I sent forth a swallow and released it.
The swallow went off, but came back to me;
no perch was visible so it circled back to me.
I sent forth a raven and released it.
The raven went off, and saw the waters slither back.
It eats, it scratches, it bobs, but does not circle back to me.
Then I sent out everything in all directions and sacrificed
I offered incense in front of the mountain-ziggurat.
Seven and seven cult vessels I put in place,
and (into the fire) underneath (or: into their bowls) I poured
reeds, cedar, and myrtle.
The gods smelled the savor,
the gods smelled the sweet savor,
and collected like flies over a (sheep) sacrifice.
Excerpts from Genesis 8
And he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground. But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him to the ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth; and he put forth his hand, and took her, and brought her in unto him into the ark. And he stayed yet other seven days; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark. And the dove came in to him at eventide; and lo in her mouth an olive-leaf freshly plucked; so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth. And he stayed yet other seven days; and sent forth the dove; and she returned not again unto him any more.
And Noah builded an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.
And the LORD smelled a sweet savour; and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake
Utnapishtim is the hero in the flood portion of the Epic of Gilgamesh (EoG). It appears to be a very old story, drawing from even older stories where the flood-survivor is named Atrahasis. In this story, Utnapishtim had received immortality from the gods for saving the gods from themselves. I’ll ‘splain later. A broken-hearted Gilgamesh was in search of immortality which led him on his journey to find Utnapishtim, who had survived the Great Flood and been granted what Gilgamesh sought. The above quotation is Uthapishtim telling the story to Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh does ultimately obtain immortality, but it is stolen from him by a snake, which is why snakes are immortal, but that’s a different, yet familiar, story for another time.
It is observed that both stories tell of the heroes releasing birds three different times as a test to see if the land is inhabitable; the third time the bird did not return.
It is observed that both stories reference seven days, not six or eight, but seven.
It is observed that both stories tell of the heroes building altars to the deities, or deity.
It is observed that both stories tell how the deities or deity “smelled the sweet savor”. Deities do love the smell of burning flesh, for some odd reason; also another story for another time. It is interesting that the exact same wording is used in both sources.
It can also be observed that the P-source author, the author of the other half of the biblical flood story, never once discusses ritual sacrifice until Moses’ time, when Aaron is consecrated as High Priest. That would explain why the biblical story is confusing when it says that Noah was to bring one pair of each animal, clean and unclean, onto the ark (Gen. 6:20, P-source), but only a few verses later discusses 7 pair of “clean” animals (Gen. 7:2, J-source).
In Mesopotamian theology, mankind was created to serve the deities. Those deities thrived on the sacrifices of humans which is why they “collected like flies” around the altar. If all the humans were killed…..well, duh. If you read on in EoG, you will see the deities arguing back and forth about killing off the humans, which are turned to stone in EoG. You are left with the understanding that, oops, that would have been a mistake. We need them.
If you read on in the biblical story, you find that the deity basically saying, whoa! I shouldn’t oughta’ done that. I won’t do it again. And just to make sure that [ I ] don’t forget, I’m going to put a rainbow in the sky, to help [ me ] remember.
Genesis 9:14-15 – And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud, and I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.
YHWH musta been a bit absent minded, I guess.
- Noah’s Ark Discovery in Turkey? Explorers Claim Yes (time.com)
(found on the wall of the Ark, scratched with a stone, written in Sumerian cuneiform, were the words “Atrahasis wuz here”.)
Yes I made that up.