For some it’s hard to swallow to accept the Noahic account of a world-wide flood as found in the Bible. But there are actually four ancient flood accounts which survive from the Ancient Near East.
Biblical (hero Noah)
Babylonian (hero Atrahasis)
Akkadian (hero Utnapishtim)
Sumerian (hero Ziusudra)
Here is the document recording the Babylonian account of the flood. It is called the Gilgamesh Epic. This is not a Hebrew account of the flood, this is a Babylonian document. It can be found in the British Museum.
It contains the following statement: “It was Shamash who the set time appointed: "Who sendeth the bane, on the previous evening will pour down the rain: then enter the vessel and close down thy doorway… For six days and seven nights the wind blew, and the flood and the storm swept the land."
We have a statement from the Babylonian culture that gives a parallel story to that of the Bible. In fact if we match up all of these ancient flood accounts some interesting parallels are seen.
Atrahasis worshipped Ia. How is it this Babylonian hero is not a worshipper of Shamash? Does the word Ia look familiar. Yes, it is the equivalent of the Hebrew God Yahweh, sometimes shortened to Yah.
Remember all those names which end in –iah. They are abbreviated references to God. Hezekiah, Jeremiah, Isaiah.
As we start to dig deeper we see some interesting parallels between the Biblical account of the flood and the Babylonian flood. Babylonians say that mankind was filled with violence and it was a judgement from the gods, that is Shamesh. It involves the same geographic region that was involved in the Biblical account. Atrahasis was commanded to build a ship; he used pitch to seal it exactly as the Bible describes it. He collected a variety of animals.
The rain lasted six days and seven nights; the flood was to punish wrongdoing. At the end of the flood Atrahasis sent out doves and a raven.
Here are two cultures separated from one another and yet similar elements of the story are recorded. We are talking about a shared experience. After all if Noah and his family were the only ones saved and the earth was repopulated through them it stands to reason that the story would have spread into the nations after the Tower of Babel. The concept of the last bird failing to return; God promising to never send another flood, and finally Atrahasis made a sacrifice to God. Basically a pretty detailed account of what is there in the Bible. The same event. In the Babylonian account the rain lasts 6 days and 7 nights. In the Biblical account the rain lasts 40 days and 40 nights. We would expect differences in the story if we are dealing with a truly human account. I find it very interesting that Atrahasismeans“exceedingly wise” or “exceedingly devout”. That is exactly how the Bible describes Noah.
Here is another ancient account
Akkadian (hero Utnapishtim)
Ea tells Utnapishtim to “tear down your house and build a boat”
“take up into the boat the seed of all living creatures”
“all mankind was turned to clay . . .
The surface of the sea stretched flat as a roof top”
Utnapishtim loosed a dove, swallow and a raven to look for land.
Here we have more parallels with the Bible story, only in this case they are found in the parallel Akkadian account. The fact that Ea’s name is spelled differently is not a problem. This was the case in the Ancient Near East when the spelling of words was not standardized. But you can see for yourself the recurring themes of the flood story coming through.
In the Nugget for next week I will keep the flood theme going.