Noah’s Flood or Gilgamesh
Comparison of the Babylonian
and Noachian flood stories
Author: B.A. Robinson
Comparing the stories
The Chaldean Flood Tablets from the city of Ur in what is now Southern Iraq, describe how the Bablylonian God Ea had decided to eliminate humans and other land animals with a great flood which was to become “the end of all flesh”. He selected Ut-Napishtim, to build an ark to save a few humans, and samples of other animals.
The Babylonian text “The Epic of Galgamesh” 1,8 and the Hebrew story are essentially identical with about 20 major points in common. Their texts are obviously linked in some way. Either:
Genesis was copied from an earlier Babylonian story, or
The Galgamesh myth was copied from an earlier Hebrew story, or
Both were copied from a common source that predates them both.
In both the Genesis and Galgamesh stories:
•The Genesis story describes how mankind had become obnoxious to God; they were hopelessly sinful and wicked. In the Babylonian story, they were too numerous and noisy.
• The Gods (or God) decided to send a worldwide flood. This would drown men, women, children, babies and infants, as well as eliminate all of the land animals and birds.
• The Gods (or God) knew of one righteous man, Ut-Napishtim or Noah.
• The Gods (or God) ordered the hero to build a multi-story wooden ark (called a chest or box in the original Hebrew).
• The ark would be sealed with pitch.
• The ark would have with many internal compartments
• It would have a single door
• It would have at least one window.
• The ark was built and loaded with the hero, a few other humans, and samples from all species of other land animals.
• A great rain covered the land with water.
• The mountains were initially covered with water.
• The ark landed on a mountain in the Middle East.
• The hero sent out birds at regular intervals to find if any dry land was in the vicinity.
• The first two birds returned to the ark. The third bird apparently found dry land because it did not return.
• The hero and his family left the ark, ritually killed an animal, offered it as a sacrifice.
• God (or the Gods in the Epic of Gilgamesh) smelled the roasted meat of the sacrifice.
• The hero was blessed.
• The Babylonian gods seemed genuinely sorry for the genocide that they had created. The God of Noah appears to have regretted his actions as well, because he promised never to do it again.
There were a number of differences between the two stories:
• Noah received his instructions directly from Jehovah; Ut-Napishtim received them indirectly during a dream.
• Noah’s ark was 3 stories high and rectangular in shape. Two estimated dimensions are 547 x 91 ft. and 450 x 75 ft. The Babylonian ark was 6 stories high and square.
• Ut-Napishtim invited additional people on board: a pilot and some skilled workmen.
• Noah’s ark landed on Mt. Ararat; Ut-Napishtim’sat on Mt. Nisir; these locations are both in the Middle East, and are located few hundred miles apart
• In the Bible, some of the water emerged from beneath the earth. And the rains from above lasted for 40 days and nights. A 40 day interval often symbolized a period of judgment in the Hebrew Scriptures. 2 In the Babylonian account, the water came only in the form of rain, and lasted only 6 days.
• Noah released a raven once and a dove twice; Ut-Napishtim released three birds: a dove, swallow and raven.
Significance of the two stories
To conservative Christians, Genesis is inerrant: it is completely truthful and contained no error in its original form. God inspired Moses to write the book and preserved him from including any errors. Thus the Noachian flood really happened exactly as stated in Genesis. The similarities between the Babylonian and Hebrew texts were probably caused by two factors: both were accounts of the same worldwide flood.
The Genesis account is absolutely true and was written during the Exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt. The Babylonian account was written later; its author may have copied elements from the Hebrew story.
”The Epic of Gilgamesh, then, contains the corrupted account as preserved and embellished by peoples who did not follow the God of the Hebrews.” (7)
To liberal Christians, the flood story in Genesis were mainly written by three unknown authors: “J” used Yahweh as the name of God, and wrote circa 848 BC to 722 BC in the southern kingdom of Judah.
”P” a priest who lived much later, sometime before 587 BC.
”R”, an unknown redactor, who joined the writings of J and P and two other writers together. He added only one sentence to the flood story.
The story is a legend with spiritual significance. However there was no actual worldwide flood. The story is a myth, derived largely from the earlier Babylonian account. It was picked up by the ancient Israelites as an oral tradition and later written down by J and P.
To some Agnostics, Atheists, etc, the flood story is pure myth. The viciousness of the God or Gods who are said to be responsible for the flood is shown by the lack of concern for the men, women, children, youths, infants and newborns who died a terrible death by drowning. The myth shows how Gods are created by the minds of humans, rather than vice versa. The flood account gradually evolved from the original Babylonian version to the Hebrew version. The Babylonian version may have been a distorted record of an ancient flood which occurred when the Mediterranean Sea partially emptied into the Black Sea circa 5600 BC.
Which Came First Noah or Ut-Napishtim?
The Babylonian tablets which contain the full story of the flood have been dated circa 650 BC. However, portions of the story have been found on tablets from about 2000 BC. A study of the language used in the tablets indicates that the story originated much earlier than 2000 BC. (3) Variations of the original story have been found translated into other ancient languages. (4)
Many conservative Christians believe that the flood occurred circa 2349 BC, and that the account in Genesis was written by Moses in the 1450′s BC, shortly before his death. (5,8) Thus, the Babylonian text must be a corrupted version based on a Paganized adaptation of the true story in Genesis. Alternatively, it might be an independent attempt at describing the world-wide flood.
Liberal theologians, noting the different names used to refer to God, and the different writing styles throughout the Pentateuch (first 5 books of the Hebrew Scriptures), believe that Genesis was assembled over a 4 century interval, circa 950 to 540 BC by authors from a variety of traditions. (6)
J and P seem to have based their stories on two original stories from Mesopotamian sources, perhaps based on a massive series of floods in Ur and surrounding areas circa 2800 BC which would be perceived by the local population as being very extensive; perhaps world wide. Alternatively, it may have been based on the catastrophic flooding of the Black Sea.
1.N.K. Saunders, “The Epic of Gilgamesh”, Penguin Books, London UK (1964)
3.Alexander Heidel, “The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels”. Univ. of Chicago, Chicago IL (1949)
4.Werner Keller, “The Bible as History”, W. Morrow, New York, NY, (1956)
5.Schofield Reference Bible. Genesis, chapters 6 to 9
6.C.M. Laymon, ed., “The Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary on the Bible”, Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN (1991)
7.Frank Lorey, Impact #285: The Flood of Noah and the Flood of Gilgamesh”, Institute for Creation Research, El Cajon, CA (1997) Online at: http://www.icr.org/pubs/imp/imp-285.htm
8.”Myths of the flood: The flood narrative from the Gilgamesh epic,” at: http://www-relg-studies.scu.edu/netcours/rs011/restrict/
Copyright © 1999 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2007-DEC-19
Author: B.A. Robinson