Essay On Flood Stories in Gilgamesh, Genesis, and Atrahasis
Has there ever been a more debatable topic in history more so than the flood stories of Gilgamesh,Genesis,and Atrahasis epic? This topic is highly debated in modern society because these are three different stories about a single event. Genesis,the most recent of these stories is heavily linked to Gilgamesh and atrahasis because they share similarities that would lead you to believe that it has been built off of their accounts. Although these three stories are similar it can be inferred that Genesis was not influenced by Gilgamesh and atrahasis. In this essay I will examine why I believe Genesis was not directly influenced by the flood story of Gilgamesh and Atrahasis.
The flood story of Genesis holds very similar details in comparison to Gilgamesh. For example in this excerpt from it shows the similarities and differences between these two texts when it says "Some of the similarities are very striking, while others are very general. The command for Utnapishtim to build the boat is remarkable: "O man of Shuruppak, son of Ubar-Tutu, tear down thy house, build a ship; abandon wealth, seek after life; scorn possessions, save thy life. Bring up the seed of all kinds of living things into the ship which thou shalt build. Let its dimensions be well measured."1 The cause of the flood as sent in judgment on man's sins is striking also. The eleventh tablet, line 180 reads, "Lay upon the sinner his sin; lay upon the transgressor his transgression."2 A study of these parallels to Genesis 6-9, as well as the many others, demonstrate the non-coincidental nature of these similarities.The meanings of the names of the heroes, however, have absolutely no common root or connection.
Noah means "rest," while Utnapishtim means "finder of life." 3 Neither was perfect, but both were considered righteous and relatively faultless compared to those around them.Utnapishtim also took a pilot for the boat, and some craftsmen, not just his family in the ark. It is also interesting that both accounts trace the landing spot to the same general region of the Middle East; however, Mt. Ararat and Mt. Nisir is about 300 miles apart. The blessing that each hero received after the flood was also quite different. Utnapishtim was granted eternal life while Noah was to multiply and fill the earth and have dominion over the animals" Lorey,Frank,M.D.(1997,March 1). These quotations do show some of the similarities between the texts but it also points out the major differences as well. It can be inferred that if Genesis was indeed an extension of the Gilgamesh epic then it would stand to reason it's differences wouldn't be as striking.
If Genesis was by and large an extension of Gilgamesh it would stand to reason it's protagonists would share more similarities than they do here. But as seen here not only did they have very different arks they also received incredibly different rewards. So the question now is how can Genesis be so far off in Gilgamesh's description of its protagonists and it's sequencing of events? Could one source be more reliable than the other or is it possible that Genesis hold no links to Gilgamesh? It becomes increasingly more than likely that Genesis holds no ties to Gilgamesh because the stories while similar have too many big differences to be considered a direct influence of Genesis.
Since Gilgamesh seems to not hold a direct influence on Genesis the question now becomes does Genesis get influenced by the atrahasis epic. To answer this question we must look at it's similarities and its differences. One such similarity is displayed in the article The second creation story and "Atrahasis" when it says "Atrahasis is important to biblical scholars because of its similarity to Genesis 2-9. Both stories share a similar storyline: creation, population growth and rebellion, flood. They also share some important details within that storyline.
The degree of overlap between the stories suggests to some scholars that Genesis 2-9 may be an Israelite version of Atrahasis, although it is best not to be dogmatic about that. It is very clear, however, that there is a lot of conceptual overlap between them. So there is overlap between these two stories but are those similarities enough to justify Genesis being linked to Atrahasis. To answer this question we must compare the flood stories and how far off they are from each other. In the story of Genesis it says 6:5] The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.
[6:6] And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
[6:7] So the LORD said, "I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created - people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them."
[6:8] But Noah found favor in the sight of the LORD.
[6:9] These are the descendants of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God.
[6:10] And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
[6:11] Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence.
[6:12] And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth.
[6:13] And God said to Noah, "I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth.
[6:14] Make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch.
[6:15] This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark is three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits.
[6:16] Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above; and put the door of the ark in its side; make it with lower, second, and third decks.
[6:17] For my part, I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die.
[6:18] But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you.
[6:19] And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female.
[6:20] Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every kind shall come in to you, to keep them alive.
[6:21] Also take with you every kind of food that is eaten, and store it up; and it shall serve as food for you and for them."
[6:22] Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.
[7:1] Then the LORD said to Noah, "Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you alone are righteous before me in this generation.
[7:2] Take with you seven pairs of clean animals, the male and its mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and its mate;
[7:3] and seven pairs of the birds of the air also, male and female, to keep their kind alive on the face of all the earth.[7:4] For in seven days I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights; and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground."
[7:5] And Noah did all that the LORD had commanded him[7:6] Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters came on the earth.
[7:7] And Noah with his sons and his wife and his sons' wives went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood.
[7:8] Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground,
[7:9] two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah." In this excerpt from Genesis it is clearly stated that God wanted to destroy the earth because of humankind's wickedness and after doing such would let his covenant begin with Noah but this directly goes against the story of Atrahasis and it's reasoning for the flood because in Atrahasis the cause of the floods were because they upset because mankind was too noisy. It even mentions God warning Atrahasis and promising him eternal life. So the question then becomes are the differences between these two stories enough to say that they shouldn't be linked?
The answer to this question is yes because if the differences between these two texts is as great as it is presented here then it would be obvious Genesis is not influenced by Atrahasis because like its relation to Gilamesh it holds similar ideas about the flood yes, but it also holds a very different version of protagonists and sequencing of events thus eliminating the possibility of Genesis being influenced by these other stories. It can also be inferred with this information that each story despite their similarities are their own entity and are independent. This is alluded to in the article "is Genesis merely a rip-off of other ANE lit?[Series Index: gilgymess.html // Last update: to this piece Oct 16/ 2005] it says"
It is safe to conclude that the parallels between the biblical account of the Flood and the Mesopotamian stories, being so numerous and detailed, are much more than the result of mere coincidence. Yet it cannot be claimed that any version presently known is the direct source of the biblical narrative, for the latter has points of contact with each version while it also contains items independent of them all.” (JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis, Sarna). This shows that despite the similarities between these 3 stories it can be concluded that the stories of Gilgamesh and Atrahasis are not a direct influencer of Genesis.
In conclusion the argument that Genesis was influenced by the other flood stories of Gilgamesh and of atrahasis is simply not accurate. There are far too many differences between the 3 texts and they have to be taken as their own entity. While the similarities of these texts are not a coincidence neither are their differences. There are far too many differences between the protagonists of each story and the sequencing is far too unorganized and misleading for genesis to be remotely influenced by these texts. While the topic is debated across the world it can be concluded that Genesis should be taken as its own entity.
1.The Bible as History, p. 33.
2.Sanders, The Epic of Gilgamesh, p. 109.
3.O'Brien, "Flood Stories of the Ancient Near East", pp. 62, 63